HC Deb 15 March 1994 vol 239 cc749-847

Order for Second Reading read.

Madam Speaker

I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

3.42 pm
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Redwood)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Local government reorganisation has been debated extensively. The Government have consulted widely, issuing three documents and subsequently publishing the White Paper on Wales on St. David's day last year. Each of those papers generated many hundreds of responses, which have been placed in the Library.

We established the Welsh Consultative Council on Local Government so that representatives of both counties and districts could advise us. Groups of local authority workers worked with the Welsh Office to consider the practical implications of our proposals. More recently, working groups have been considering how to manage the transition to the new structure. I and my ministerial colleagues have had many meetings with Members of Parliament, councillors, professional organisations and members of the public. I am grateful for the positive co-operation of so many local councillors and their officers and much of the good advice from Members of Parliament.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

Does the Secretary of State accept that, after having all that consultation with local government organisations and Members of Parliament, he still proposes a Bill that is actively opposed by 32 out of the 38 Members of Parliament who represent Wales, as is shown by the amendment on the Order Paper? Can he confirm that in the Cabinet in the autumn he offered to withdraw the Bill but that that offer was swept to one side on the basis that a consensus existed in Wales? Is not it clear now that there is no consensus in Wales for the Bill, and will the Secretary of State now withdraw it?

Mr. Redwood

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's premise. As the reasoned amendment makes clear, there is strong support for the idea of unitary authorities in Wales. Labour Members have different arguments. They wish to see an additional assembly on top of the unitary authorities that we are proposing. I know from my discussions with hon. Members on both sides of the House that there is a lot of support for the thrust of having unitary authorities, and quite a lot of support on the ground for many of the boundaries that we have proposed. Later, I shall make some additional amendments which I think will be welcomed by Labour Members.

As the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) knows, the Cabinet discussions are private. However, I can assure him that I vigorously defend the interests of Wales. I have no difficulty in recommending the Bill to the House this afternoon.

As I said, we have had plenty of opportunity to debate the proposals in the Welsh Grand Committee and during debate on the Queen's Speech. The Bill has been fully considered in another place and we have another all-day debate today. The Government have listened carefully to representations. In response to the consultation, I have made a number of changes to the boundaries proposed in the White Paper. I have included all of Delyn in the new Flintshire, which has been welcomed by many Labour Members; restored the communities of Ystradgynlais and Tawe Uchaf to Powys; returned Coychurch Lower to Bridgend; reunited the community of Llanelly Hill with the rest of Breconshire in Powys; and moved the communities of Cynwyd and Llandrillo to Denbighshire. I have always chosen to move territories that test Welsh pronounciation to the extreme. I have accepted a number of amendments in another place—most importantly, agreeing that any joint authorities established under clause 31 should be composed of local councillors.

The aims of local government reorganisation in Wales are to create good 'local government close to and accountable to local people based on a strong sense of community identity, and to establish authorities that can operate efficiently, buying in services where that is better.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

The Secretary of State gives way to a Scot who apologises that he must flee to the fiasco of the Committee dealing with the reform of Scottish local government, which meets every Tuesday and Thursday from 10.30 am to 1.00 pm, 4.30 pm until 7.30 pm and then 9.00 pm to 1.00 in the morning. If he looks at the report of our proceedings, he will see that it is a fiasco. What is the cost of Welsh local government reform?

Mr. Redwood

A range of costs have been estimated by a consultant. I believe that the cost will be modest. I do not believe that there will be a large number of redundancies, so the result is that there will not be large capital costs for the transition. I will be working closely with local government to ensure that we do not need a lot of additional administrative office blocks, for example, which are some of the other costs that some people have proposed.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned redundancies. May I tell him that my constituents who work in Alyn and Deeside district council and Clwyd county council are anxious about the future and about whether they will have a job once the Bill is enacted and the measures are in place. What reassurance can the Secretary of State give to my constituents who work in local government that they have a future?

Mr. Redwood

Most local government workers will have a good future in the new unitary authorities. If they are delivering services—if they are teachers or care workers providing a front-line service—I envisage them being transferred in their entirety in practically every case. I hope that that is the sort of reassurance for which the hon. Gentleman wishes. When it comes to senior management and administration, there will need to be some competition for the posts that are required in those local authorities.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

If one of the main aims of this reorganisation is to bring local government nearer to the people, can the Secretary of State explain how that is possible in south Meirionnydd when it is proposed that there should be a centre at Caernarfon, which is 110 miles and a good two-hour drive away? Is that bringing local government nearer to the people?

Mr. Redwood

The hon. Gentleman's area may well be one which would want to take advantage of the decentralisation proposals. That would mean that some of the functions could be carried out closer to his own constituents in Meirionnydd, and I will give more information on that if I can make progress with my speech.

The aim is to have just one council in each area which is close enough to people to represent them, strong enough to command respect and able to decide for itself and get on with the job. No one will be left in doubt who is responsible. Each constituent will be able to turn to one council through his own local councillor for help, redress and service. The present system divides responsibility for planning and economic development between county and district.

Closely related areas, such as social services and housing, and trading standards and environmental health are given in part to the county and in part to the district council. A local developer may take a planning application to his district, only to be told that the highway issues are for the county, which in turn must advise the district. An elderly person who is seeking help may be shunted from county social services head office to area social services to district housing. I believe that we can do better than that, and the proposals will provide a clearer service for all.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

I recognise that, as an English hon. Member, I am looking forward and beyond local government reorganisation in Wales. There are to be 21 highway authorities, and I accept that there will be co-ordination in some planning matters. Is my right hon. Friend confident that 21 highway authorities will have the competence to be able to carry forward co-ordinated routes? Will we find that, on the boundaries, there will be a change from salting to non-salting, or roads not meeting? How will those be co-ordinated?

Mr. Redwood

The principal routes are trunk roads, for which I and the Welsh Office are responsible directly to the House. In other areas, there will be agreement between local authorities on the ground and, of course, the Welsh Office will offer guidance and some strategic information which may help in the development of a proper highways strategy.

Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

The Secretary of State talked about people being shunted from county social services to area social services in a critical way. Does not the right hon. Gentleman understand that area social services offices are out-stations of county social services? Is he proposing now to abolish area social services offices?

Mr. Redwood

Of course not. I was drawing attention to the difficulty that constituents have when they first go to headquarters, are then told quite properly to go to an area department and are then told that it is a housing matter and that they must go to the district. We are producing a rather simpler procedure which will help the hon. and learned Gentleman's constituents and others.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

The Secretary of State is showing an abysmal ignorance of how local government works. When people go for help from social services, they immediately go to the local offices. They do not go to county hall for a walking aid. They go through their local offices. The Secretary of State's argument surely defeats the object of the exercise of creating unitary authorities. He is arguing that the proper relationship between what people can have and the best way of delivering the services can be achieved by two-tier local government, which we will get at the end of the day anyhow.

Mr. Redwood

That is not what I said. We are moving from three points of contact either to two or to one, and that to me is an improvement and simplification in the services. It will make it better for individuals, and it is common sense. Many who now go direct to their area office still have the tension of wondering whether they will be dealt with by the area office or by the housing office. That will go under the proposals which I am putting forward.

Mr. Roger Evans (Monmouth)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a particularly compelling example of the point that he is making is the responsibility for land drainage and for flooding? At the moment, the county authority has the responsibility if the water comes from a highway while the borough or district authority has powers but limited duties. Is not the confusion in the mind of the person whose house is flooded quite impossible?

Mr. Redwood

My hon. Friend has chosen a good example. There are many such examples, but I shall not bore the House with more of them. The case rests, and it is a strong one.

In building a new structure of local government, the Government wanted each council to represent a community, to enjoy the loyalties of local people and to be sufficiently strong to manage services well. The pursuit of the objectives has resulted in a varied pattern of authorities proposed for Wales—varied in geographical extent and in populations.

It has also led in some cases to vigorous argument about the need for smaller or even occasionally for bigger councils. I cannot respond positively to every demand of community identity. If we did, we might well return to the days before 1974 when there were 181 local authorities in Wales, few of which were big enough to do a good job. Nor do I intend to seek larger units on the ground that they may produce more economies if that means an unacceptable erosion of loyalties.

Following the debates in Parliament and in Wales generally, I have decided that there is a good case for a unitary Merthyr and a unitary Blaenau Gwent. Although I am reluctant to increase the number of authorities in the Bill, I understand the differences between Merthyr and its proposed partner in Blaenau Gwent. I understand Merthyr's long, proud history and its former status as a county borough. Its size, which is comparable to that of Cardiganshire and Anglesey, also works in its favour.

Mr. Rogers

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) will also want to intervene. I find the Secretary of State's statement amazing. I congratulate Merthyr on becoming a unitary authority, but the same arguments that he put for a unitary authority in Merthyr could be put for Rhondda. Rhondda is the only authority that has not changed since the local government structure was set up last century. What is the difference?

Mr. Redwood

The arguments on size, history and former status do not all apply in the same way to Rhondda. As I have just explained, I cannot continue indefinitely creating many more authorities because they would not be sufficiently strong, firm or large to do the job. Merthyr is a special case. I am granting it unitary authority status because I can see the force of the argument.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for, on this occasion, being a listening Secretary of State. He has listened to the universal representations that he has received. The proposed Heads of the Valleys authority had no supporters whereas there was an alternative consensus such as he described. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) and others who joined in making the representations.

Twenty two years ago I returned to the House in a by-election in the very year that the then Government abolished the county borough of Merthyr Tydfil. It is a great pleasure to be here when we are about to restore it.

Mr. Redwood

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. I think that it is the right decision and I look forward to his support when the amendments are tabled. We intend to move amendments to add the northern Rhymney valley to Caerphilly and to create the two new unitaries that I have described, bringing the total number of authorities up to 22.

Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)

While I welcome the Minister's statement that unitary status will be given to Blaenau Gwent, may I ask him to comment on the decision to take the Llanelli community into Powys, especially in view of the recent referendum? Although the result of the referendum was not in favour of Blaenau Gwent, only approximately 15 per cent. voted for the Llanelli community to go into Powys.

Mr. Redwood

As the hon. Gentleman said, the result certainly was not in favour of Blaenau Gwent. There was a stronger feeling that the community should not be in Blaenau Gwent than for anything else. I have responded to that feeling.

I have revised my original proposals for 1,100 councillors, following consultation. The Standing Committee may wish to discuss my present proposal for 1,260 councillors for the new authorities. There will be an additional 15 for the extra council that I have announced today.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

While I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) and for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith), may I ask the Secretary of State to explain why Cynon Valley is not to be a unitary authority? In the original proposals of his predecessor, Cynon Valley was to be a unitary authority. What has changed in the meantime? Why has he not changed his mind on that issue, as he has on the other two areas?

Mr. Redwood

I have not amended the White Paper proposals of my predecessor in this respect. I think that they were right. I have described the special circumstances that apply to Merthyr which, as the hon. Lady will understand only too well, do not apply to her area. That is where the matter rests.

Mr. Rogers

The right hon. Gentleman's memory is selective. The original proposals made by his predecessor showed Rhondda borough as a unitary authority. The proposals were later amended when the Secretary of State made the amalgam of the Glamorgan valleys, which he has now altered simply by name. Will the Secretary of State explain why he is setting up one authority with a population of a quarter of a million, and saying that that is the right size for a unitary authority, when next to it—I do not carp about the fact that Merthyr has received selective treatment—he is setting up an authority with a population smaller than two of the authorities immediately adjacent? Both Taff-Ely and Rhondda have larger populations than Merthyr.

Mr. Redwood

I think that it is Opposition Members who have selective memories. The White Paper was published by my predecessor and I have not changed the White Paper proposals in the areas in which Opposition Members are now asking me to change them. I think that my predecessor's judgment was right. It is a balance between the sense of community and the scale and size of the authorities in the way that I have described. I believe that we have now come to the right judgment in the light of the decisions that I am proposing today.

Mr. Carlile


Mr. Redwood

May I be allowed to finish with one set of interventions before coming to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile)—who, I seem to remember, did not want to allow me to speak at all to the House when we last debated the subject on the Floor of the House? I will offer him a courtesy that he did not offer me when we last debated the matter.

I have already made the point about Merthyr. Its former status, its sense of community identity and the special unpopularity of simply putting the two communities together across the Heads of the Valleys swayed my judgment, which makes it different from some of the other cases that we are examining.

I will now give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. Carlile

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman because I wanted to ask him a question in the context of his current remarks. Bearing in mind the consideration that he has given to Merthyr and Blaenau Gwent, what special historical and community circumstances apply to Merthyr and Blaenau Gwent, the decisions on which are welcome, that do not apply to Montgomeryshire?

Mr. Redwood

I have already dealt with that. The hon. and learned Gentleman obviously was not listening. If he were a better advocate of his case, perhaps we would be making more progress. He should be aware that Merthyr Tydfil was the only county borough whose former historic status was not recognised in the White Paper proposals —that is one of the points that is of importance—whereas several historic shire counties unfortunately have not had that recognised in the form of separate unitary status because of size and service delivery problems, of which the hon. and learned Gentleman should be well aware.

As to the issue of councillor numbers, the Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales will, following implementation, conduct further electoral reviews of each of the new authorities. Some areas will be reviewed before the second elections in 1999, and the whole of Wales will have been covered by the time of the third elections to the new authorities in 2003.

Mr. Nick Ainger (Pembroke)

Will the Secretary of State explain to me, and to the House, why he wants to delay the Boundary Commission's review? I can give him examples in the proposed Pembrokeshire unitary authority of wards that, under his proposals, will have two members and 4,000 electors, yet there will be another ward with fewer than 800 electors with one member. Surely those anomalies should be tackled at the earliest opportunity and not delayed for six or more years.

Mr. Redwood

We are simply trying to come up with a practical programme for the local government Boundary Commission, but I am happy for my hon. Friends to consider that matter again on our behalf in Committee if that is the wish of the Committee. However, we need a realistic timetable that provides a sensible work pattern for Wales.

I am currently considering responses to my announcement that elections to the new authorities could be held on 6 April 1995. That would allow a full year for recruitment of senior staff and for planning the provision of services. I think that that is long enough, but I will consider all responses carefully, including those of people who want May rather than April, and I will welcome the further views of Members in the debate and subsequently in Committee.

In some cases, the new unitary authorities contain towns and historic shires that retain a strong sense of identity. To take account of that, the Bill proposes, in clauses 27 and 28, special arrangements for establishing area committees where those are requested by not fewer than 10 members from those areas. Where those arrangements are invoked, it would be for councils to come up with their own decentralisation schemes. That means that if Powys or Carmarthenshire proposed suitable schemes in respect of Montgomeryshire or Llanelli, local councillors could make their own decisions on matters such as housing allocation, planning applications, local social services, local roads and amenities and leisure facilities.

Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd)

Is the Secretary of State saying that those would also apply to the Cynon Valley, Rhondda and Taff-Ely administration that he wishes to create? If it does, where does it make sense? In Taff-Ely we have created, since 1974, a cohesion out of what were two very different boroughs. It has taken 20 years to create that. The borough has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Wales. It is a go-ahead borough which has been a success. Why does the right hon. Gentleman insist on coming up with that second-best method of running local government when a perfectly good unitary authority already exists? Where is the sense in it?

Mr. Redwood

The hon. Gentleman has forgotten that this is an enabling power. I am leaving the decision where I hope that he wants it—with local councils. If elected councillors, on behalf of their electorates, believe that they need those special local responsibilities, they have them in an area committee. If they believe that they do not need them and that they would get in the way, they need not have them. That is true local democracy. I hope that the Opposition will reflect on that and see the advantage of my proposal.

Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor)

It would be helpful to have an explanation of what my right hon. Friend has in mind concerning area committees. Does he agree that local councillors who seek to take advantage of the area committee idea would want to be in a position where they also controlled the finance for providing local services, as they do not have proper autonomy unless they also hold the purse strings? What are my right hon. Friend's proposals for financial arrangements?

Mr. Redwood

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pushing me further on that point. We may be able to come up with arrangements in terms of block grant or block money voted by the local authorities concerned. I wish to return to that matter and I hope that the Committee will return to it. I hope that we shall return to it in the form of guidance and in developing more details of the system.

What is important for the statute is that it will provide a guarantee, if the scheme is approved by me, of the local decentralisation sought by local councillors. [Interruption.] I shall explain that in a little more detail for those hon. Members who seem unable to grasp the essential point.

Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way on this important point. If I heard him correctly, he proposes to come up with something in Committee. If the decentralisation proposal is of such fundamental importance that it will deal with the particular problem of Powys and recognise the case of Montgomery for unitary authority status, he should have given more thought to it. He should be in a better position to put explicit proposals to the House this evening, rather than hoping that, in Committee, he or the Committee will come up with something.

Mr. Redwood

I shall go on to explain the positive proposals incorporated in the Bill.

There is then the separate issue of what local schemes councillors might like to design in order to seek my approval to them. They should include some discussion of how the money will be handled. I firmly recommend that we do not go all the way, as some hon. Members might like, and give separate tax-raising powers to area committees. That is not part of the proposal.

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

The Secretary of State has not responded to the acute question put by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) concerning the connection between responsibilities in practice and finance in practice, which is the essence of democracy. It simply is not good enough, after Green Papers, White Papers, consultation, sessions in the Welsh Grand Committee, consideration with his civil servants and contacts with local authorities, to say on Second Reading that he might be willing to allow certain things to occur and we must see what he can come up with in Committee. We are discussing the Second Reading of a Bill to which he is committed. We are discussing not an intimate detail or a tiny matter of consideration at the margins of public importance but a matter that is central to the operation of local government in Wales, as the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor pointed out. The Secretary of State must give a much more convincing answer to the questions raised by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor and my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) than he has given so far.

Mr. Redwood

The right hon. Gentleman would be right if we needed some legislative provision to cover that point, but we do not. We need legislative provision to cover the constitutional issue of the area committees' power vis a vis the principal council. I recommend firmly to the House that they should not be given separate tax-raising powers.

Mr. Rogers

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Redwood

May I explain this point first and come back to the hon. Gentleman if he is still not satisfied?

The proposals for decentralisation schemes have been criticised both for not giving councillors enough power and for trying to recreate a two-tier system of government by the back door. Opposition Members cannot sensibly argue both those propositions at the same time. There is a third possibility: that the Government have struck the right balance. There will be savings in cost because there will not be two groups of councillors and two corporate structures and overheads to maintain. There will be strong local interest in being represented by local committees. Councillors could meet for that purpose in the principal town of the area and could have staff working in the same place.

Authorities do not need my approval to establish a decentralisation scheme. There would be nothing to prevent the new authorities from establishing, as now, a wide range of decentralisation measures, including an area committee system using existing powers. I see no need, in Wales, to impose a duty on all the new authorities to submit general schemes to me indicating how they propose to apply those existing powers.

Mr. Rogers

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Redwood

I should like to finish this important point. I shall then give way, if I have not dealt with the hon. Gentleman's problem.

The Bill offers members of local authorities representing particular areas—such as Montgomeryshire —a guarantee that a decentralised system of administration will be adopted and maintained.

The Secretary of State's involvement in the process is required to provide that guarantee. The Bill does not require me to have a detailed or continuing role. It is for the authorities concerned to submit a scheme to me for approval. In that way, the schemes that emerge should be tailored to the particular local circumstances. The schemes should, of course, have something to say about how the money is to be granted, in what blocks it can be granted and how it can be protected under the Bill.

Once a scheme has been established and the guarantee given, the Secretary of State's involvement would cease. In keeping with the thinking that runs throughout the Bill, to which I am strongly committed, any decision to amend the scheme or to abolish it altogether would be for local determination—not for mine—in this case requiring the agreement of not only the principal council but also the area committee. Does the hon. Gentleman still have a problem?

Mr. Rogers

I still have a problem: it is the Secretary of State. Quite frankly, he has been duplicitous on a number of occasions. I have asked to see the Secretary of State and I have put forward arguments about the reorganisation in regard to the Rhondda. I have also seen the Under-Secretary of State.

The Bill went through the House of Lords; there were never any proposals along those lines except that we have to have authorities of a certain size to do the job. We are not carping particularly about Merthyr or Blaenau Gwent, but if the Secretary of State says that two areas—one with a population of 73,000 and one even smaller—are able to be unitary authorities, how is it that three authorities—Taff-Ely with a population of more than 90,000, Rhondda with more than 80,000 and Cynon Valley—are now not worthy of unitary status?

The Secretary of State has certainly misled me all the way and on every representation we have made to him. He has seen me on a number of occasions, he said that he would take our representations on board and then, at the end of the day, between the Lords and here, he has now turned on his head. Quite frankly, it is a disgusting thing that he has done.

Mr. Redwood

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reflect and will withdraw those remarks. I have never promised an independent Rhondda authority. The representations I received were particularly strong in wishing to have the important name of Rhondda reflected in the local authority. I met that in the change of name I recommended to the House which has been approved in the other place. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will remember that I listened carefully to what he said. I reached the judgment I am putting to the House today which reflects the facts on the ground in the different circumstances of different councils in Wales.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

May I move my right hon. Friend to another point? The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children is concerned about the fact that the Bill places no statutory duty on local authorities to have a social services committee. Can he give me some reassurance about how social services will be structured in Wales after the changes have taken place and let me know whether the same child protection arrangements will be in place for each local authority'?

Mr. Redwood

The Bill does not change the statutory responsibilities of local government; they will transfer to the new unitary authorities. Social services will be one of the most crucial areas for which they are responsible, but in accordance with the settlement in the Bill, we are leaving the maximum amount of freedom to those unitary authorities to decide how to organise their political and administrative arrangements. I reassure my hon. Friend that the real concerns that he has in mind will, I am sure, be properly taken care of by responsible local government in Wales. The statutory requirements will remain in place to ensure that they stay up to the mark in delivering these important services.

I disagree with those who say that we need larger councils to deliver effective services. There were several debates in another place on trading standards. I believe that trading standards services, such as environmental health, can be organised by councils smaller than the current counties. Powys, one of the smaller new unitary authorities in population terms, is already a county authority responsible for trading standards and provides that service without problems. If councils believe that they can provide a better service by subcontracting to a neighbouring or larger authority, or alternatively by sharing their service with their neighbours, powers are available. I have confidence that local government will be able to sort out its own arrangements for those important services and will want to do a good job for their local communities.

Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower)

Is the Secretary of State satisfied that voluntary arrangements between the new unitary authorities will tackle planning issues, knowing what a mess the voluntary arrangements for waste disposal turned out to be? If strategic plans will remain in position, do not the Welsh people deserve to have at least the same treatment as Scotland?

Mr. Redwood

The Welsh Office will retain its interest in planning matters and has a responsibility for the general planning strategy and guidance affecting the whole of Wales. Many of the big investment decisions will be made by the House and financed out of central taxation, which will have a considerable influence on the development of Wales.

One of the most important strategic planning statements that I have made since taking up office was the statement on road priorities, which will in turn have a considerable impact on development patterns. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that, at strategic level, the House and the Welsh Office will have strong responsibilities. I have every confidence that 22 local authorities—not many more. as 22 is the maximum that we could allow—will be able to plan for their local areas within that general strategic guidance and advice from the Welsh Office.

Mr. Ainger

The Secretary of State mentioned roads as an important strategic issue. Will he give an assurance during the debate that, on the problems that will undoubtedly he faced by the new unitary authority in Pembrokeshire for the funding of the Cleddau bridge—both the outstanding debt burden that exists and the strengthening that will have to take place to comply with European Union legislation from 1 January 1999, which, with the outstanding debt, could total more than £30 million—he will investigate the possibility of tabling an amendment to the new legislation so that grant aid can be given to the new Pembrokeshire unitary authority to offset that massive burden, which will undoubtedly strangle any unitary authority at birth?

Mr. Redwood

I do not agree with the apocalyptic vision of the hon. Gentleman, but the spending requirements and needs of each area are, and will be, taken into account when we come to settle both capital programmes and revenue support grant. I am sure that nearer the time the hon. Gentleman will remind me of the need to take that into account. I cannot hold out the assurance that he would really like—that I would transfer the whole thing to my Department's responsibility. That would not be the right course. But that local authority needs to have a reasonable settlement and to bear in mind its obligations.

It may be helpful if I repeat the undertaking given by my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Redwood

May I make this point, as I have been trying to make it for some time? I will come back to the hon. Gentleman.

In response to cross-party concerns expressed about the future of existing archive collections, an amendment will be tabled in Committee providing for the new authorities to consult me and my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor before arrangements are made for the archive service. That is a concession to the cross-party team in the other place. I assume that it is also satisfactory from the point of view of hon. Members who might serve on the Committee.

Mr. Ray Powell

I am still rather confused about the financial structure that the Secretary of State has outlined. Some of my hon. Friends have already suggested that he should be more explicit, and I think that Welsh local authorities would like more information than he has offered. I know that the right hon. Gentleman was a great supporter of the poll tax; perhaps he will suggest a similar scheme in Committee. We do not know what is in his mind at this stage. It is essential for him to be more explicit about the financial structure before we go into the Lobbies to vote for or against the proposals.

Mr. Redwood

I have been extremely explicit, as have the Government as a whole. It fell to me to help to see the council tax through, but we have nothing further to add on that side of the local government ledger. The new tax was enough for me; I wish to live on with it, rather than with some replacement.

As for the other side of the accounts—the question of grant and revenue funding for the services for which the area committees will be responsible—I have been crystal clear in explaining that that is a matter for the local authorities to recommend under the decentralisation scheme. The Bill must give a guarantee that the approved scheme will work, and cannot be reversed by the principal councils; it is now up to local government to decide how far it wishes to go within the law of the land and the general rules in regard to those decentralisation arrangements.

It is not for me to be over-prescriptive in the world in which I wish to create—a world in which local authorities take more responsibility. I thought that Opposition Members were trying to encourage that, but now, at every turn, they are trying to make me answer all the questions rather than just those that should properly be answered by the holder of my office.

In another place, concern was expressed that local authorities would be unable to make representations to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary about the membership and structure of combined fire authorities, and any new amalgamation schemes for police authorities. The Government are considering the matter. We believe that one way forward could be to impose a duty on the Home Secretary to give notice of any new proposals to the existing fire and police authorities, as well as to the relevant shadow unitary authorities. The giving of notice would carry with it a duty on my right hon. and learned Friend to consider representations. I am sure that the Committee will return to that issue.

To allow for an orderly handover, the existing counties and districts will be under a duty to come together in transition committees—one for each of the new authority areas. The committees will need to identify the property, assets and staff that should transfer, and the existing service delivery arrangements. Clauses 29 to 31 provide a package of reserve powers enabling me to intervene if there is any risk of a breakdown in service delivery. I have already stated my clear preference for local arrangements. I see the reserve powers as very much a last resort, for use in the transitional period only. If hon. Members wish to modify them, I shall be happy to consider their requests.

Part V of the Bill provides for the establishment of the residuary body for Wales and the Staff Commission for Wales. It sets up mechanisms for transferring staff to the new authorities, and for the payment of compensation in appropriate circumstances. The residuary body's prime function would be advise me on the transfer of assets, and to manage and dispose of redundant assets. The body could also end up in temporary ownership of an asset if two or more authorities disputed its future. That would allow time to sort out the matter.

The residuary body is not a means for the Secretary of State to deprive Welsh councils of various assets that are unaffected by the reorganisation. Transfers would be made under the order-making power in clause 53. Clause 53 could not be used, for example, to transfer the St. David's shopping centre in Cardiff to the residuary body; such a transfer would not fall within the purposes of the Act, nor would it be a consequence of its provisions.

Assets that might be transferred to the residuary body are those such as administrative buildings which are, or are likely to become, redundant because of the organisation. I propose to use a mixture of asset proceeds and credit approvals to fund any new administrative buildings that might be required by the reorganisation. The precise arrangements in each case will need to be judged on their merits nearer the time.

As far as possible, I want to achieve two objectives in the transfer of staff. First, staff in district and county councils should be treated equally; secondly, the large majority of staff should pass to a new employer with a minimum of disruption.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

I should like to pursue with the right hon. Gentleman a very important matter that has been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) from a sedentary position. There has been huge county council investment in Cardiff Wales airport. Will responsibility for the airport stay within local government after reorganisation?

Mr. Redwood

Recently I had a useful meeting with representatives of interests at the airport. We discussed the future investment and shareholding. There may be moves afoot to secure a local answer. I should like to see one that is good news for the future of the airport and that brings in the right kind of investment and management partnership. I should like to see how far we can get in discussion following our useful first meeting. I am not making any distinct proposals for the airport under this provision.

The Government's present proposal, which has been set out fully in another place, is that the vast majority of staff should be transferred by statutory transfer order. Other staff would be able to compete for jobs with the new authorities or receive a severance package. Some commentators have pressed the Government to transfer all staff to the new councils. That is an option which the Government are considering and which the Standing Committee will undoubtedly wish to debate further.

Whichever option is finally adopted, I do not expect the reorganisation to lead to a dramatic cut in the number of local authority staff in Wales. Inevitably there will be reductions in some areas as a result of the removal of the duplication that exists in the present two-tier system. As I mentioned earlier, I anticipate that all teachers, care workers and other local service operators are likely to transfer. My present estimate is that at least 95 per cent. of all staff will transfer. I hope that most people in local government will find these comments reassuring, which is what they are intended to be.

In the light of the debates in another place on staffing, the Government will be looking again at the drafting of clause 44. We wish to reassure staff that they will have their full rights under employment protection legislation—including consultation with staff and trade unions about prospective redundancies and notice of redundancy. Any amendments that are necessary to achieve this will be brought forward in Committee.

My right hon. Friends and I are still considering carefully the compensation arrangements that should apply to the reorganisations in Wales, Scotland and England. We shall consult on our proposals when they are finalised.

Finally, I plan to set up the Staff Commission for Wales in shadow form immediately after Easter. That is in accordance with the undertaking given in the White Paper. I hope that the House will agree that it is important for the commission to begin its work as soon as possible, building on the valuable work already done by the advisory committee on staffing matters. I shall make an announcement about appointments to the staff commission in due course.

The Bill will create strong new local authorities—local authorities based on communities, able to represent them well and serve them better. The Bill will strengthen local government. It should lead to better local government. It will lead to a renaissance of local government in Wales. I commend it to the House.

4.27 pm
Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: this House, while recognising a broad measure of support for the principle of unitary authorities in Wales, declines to give a Second Reading to the Local Government (Wales) Bill [Lords] since it fails to establish a directly elected all Wales tier of government, concentrates further power over local government in the hands of the Secretary of State for Wales, abolishes a democratic tier of local government in favour of joint boards and other joint arrangements, threatens to undermine the viability of local services, provides opportunities for further privatisation and the possible creation of even more Welsh quangos, does nothing to improve the system of Welsh local government finance, ignores important traditional and historic Welsh local government boundaries and will cost the Welsh people at least £100 million which could be better used in improving basic local government services. I should like to draw attention to the fact that, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), this is the first occasion on which such an amendment has united all Opposition Members representing Welsh constituencies against the Second Reading of a Bill that relates exclusively to Wales.

Following the Secretary of State's uncertain and hesitant introduction, I am not convinced that the right hon. Gentleman has major areas of discretion that he wishes to see clarified in Committee if the Bill is given a Second Reading. I believe that, rather, he is full of confusion, reflecting the fact that he has not thought the proposals through as carefully as he ought to have done.

Before moving to the detail of the Bill, I want to reflect on three matters. The first is the strength of feeling in Wales against these proposals. Of the 38 Welsh Members of Parliament, 32 have signalled their opposition. The three major political parties are united in opposition. I exclude the Conservative party, of course, as, given the level of its electoral support and its current showing in the opinion polls, it can hardly be described as a major political party—least of all in Wales.

It is worth noting that the reason for reorganisation of Welsh local government being carried through by the Secretary of State, without the benefit of a commission as is the case in England, was made clear in the original consultation paper of June 1991. The then Secretary of State, in paragraph 1.5 of the paper, trusted that, in light of responses to the ideas set out in this consultation paper, it will prove possible to reach a broadly based agreement on the way forward in Wales. As we all acknowledge and as the Secretary of State mentioned in his speech, there has been extensive debate in Wales, especially in local government, on the most appropriate course for reform. The proposals before us have managed to unite all parts of Welsh local government, but to unite it in opposition to the Bill. The county councils that have the relevant responsibility believe that too many councils have been proposed and that the smaller unitary authorities will not be sufficiently viable to undertake the necessary planning and co-ordination of services for which they will become responsible, notably strategic planning, education and social services. The districts contend that there are too few councils and that the historic boundaries of areas such as Radnorshire and Meirionnydd, in rural Wales, and Merthyr and Blaenau Gwent, in the valleys—which were in the right hon. Gentleman's initial proposals—are not reflected in these proposals.

Mr. Jonathan Evans

During his address the hon. Gentleman has told us of the views of the county councils in Wales. Looking at the hon. Members on the Opposition Benches behind him who have made contributions so far, it seems to me that every single one was asking the Secretary of State to go still further in setting up even more unitary authorities. In those circumstances, will the hon. Gentleman clarify for the benefit of hon. Members and of Wales where he stands on the proposals of the county councils in Wales?

Mr. Davies

I will certainly give the hon. Gentleman the satisfaction of clarification on one important matter. As I understand it, he is concerned about the future of the unitary authority of Powys. I shall give the hon. Gentleman the opportunity in Committee to vote on whether Powys should continue as a unitary authority.

I am sure that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) will see to it that an amendment is tabled allowing the Committee to vote for the creation of unitary authorities for Montgomery and for Brecon and Radnor. I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that it is my firm intention to support him.

If the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) wishes to table an amendment to create a unitary authority for Brecon and Radnor, I give him the firm assurance that I am prepared to support it. If, on the other hand, he wishes to submit an amendment to create a unitary authority for Radnorshire alone, I shall give the matter careful consideration and I should be delighted to receive any representations that he cares to make.

Mr. Jonathan Evans

I note the hon. Gentleman's response in relation to mid-Wales. Perhaps he will now answer the question that I put to him: what is the position that he takes on the representations made by the county councils in Wales?

Mr. Davies

Given the confusion that exists in Powys, I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would want to resolve that problem rather than involve himself in debates elsewhere. However, I can give him an assurance that in the latter part of my speech I intend to refer to the proposals that the Secretary of State announced today with reference to Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr, and I will certainly give him a clear indication as to the map of local government in Wales that would be preferable.

Mr. Jonathan Evans

Answer the question.

Mr. Davies

I have given the hon. Gentleman a clear answer to his question—[Interruption.]—even if he does not like it. I have twice given way. I am amazed that, every time we have a debate on Welsh affairs, the conduct of Conservative Members seems to sink to the level of the gutter. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor has intervened twice and I have given way to him twice. He has asked questions and I have responded to them. If he wishes to pursue that issue, he will doubtless attempt to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. If he wishes to pursue it in Committee, I shall be happy to do so, too, but I should now like to make progress.

I have said that the county councils believe that too many councils have been proposed and that the smaller unitary authorities will not be viable. Of course, the districts take a counter-view; incidentally, that is despite the 1991 consultation paper which boldly declared guiding reform as one of its five fundamental principles. Paragraph 1.6 of that paper stated: local authority boundaries should as far as possible, reflect and strengthen existing community loyalties. Setting aside the vexed question of boundaries, on which the counties and districts understandably have different perspectives, both tiers are united in opposing the reforms precisely because they reflect a deliberate attack on the ability of local government to plan and deliver local services. How can anyone welcome the proposals, especially those in clause 25 that will weaken direct democratic control in favour of centralised Welsh Office control, in light of the inefficiency, waste, corruption and incompetence that characterise the Welsh Office and its attendant quangos?

Democratic local government clearly has a direct interest, but its objections to the proposals are echoed by, among others, the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress in Wales, the Churches, the training and enterprise councils and a swathe of community opinion. According to the latest opinion poll undertaken for BBC Wales, 47 per cent. of the Welsh public were against these proposals and only 20 per cent. were in favour. Paragraph 1.6 contains a fundamental principle: local authorities should be democratically accountable to their electorates". What clearer expression could there be of public opinion—of the democratic wish of the electorate—than all those varied views?

Only one local authority out of 45 has declared support for the proposals—Conservative-controlled Monmouth. As we know, its agenda is to protect its own party political interests. The last elections in Wales were held in May last year. Of the 502 county councillors elected, 31 were Conservative. As I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) will point out, last week Labour had a resounding victory in the Bassaleg ward of Gwent county council, for the first time taking a Conservative-held county council seat. The 31 Conservative county councillors are represented by the independent group on the Assembly of Welsh Counties. In representing their views, the Assembly of Welsh Counties has made it clear that the leaders of Conservative opinion—Conservative local government in Wales—are vigorous in their condemnation of the proposals.

The second matter on which I wish to reflect is how the Government have managed to squander the genuine consensus in Wales in favour of reform. As our amendment makes clear, there is a broad measure of support in Wales for the principle of unitary authorities. Indeed, unlike the Secretary of State, most of us who stood as candidates and were elected for Wales in the last general election had such a manifesto commitment. Those of us who represent Wales understand that a sensible reform of local government could allow more unitary authorities, recognising the important traditional and historic boundaries to which our amendment refers.

We also recognise that any sensible reform of government in Wales has to include reform of all tiers of government. As well as democratising the existing devolved tier of government in the Welsh Office, a Welsh assembly or parliament would provide precisely the right mechanism for the strategic planning and co-ordination of the services that are delivered by the unitary authorities but that would require such an overview.

Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West)


Mr. Davies

You were present, Madam Deputy Speaker, at the previous debate on Welsh affairs and you had to draw the hon. Gentleman's attention three times to the codes of courtesy and good conduct that we apply in the House. He took it on himself to launch a sustained, vicious and unsubstantiated attack on people outside the House of Commons who were not in a position to defend themselves. Until he understands that there are codes of good conduct and courtesy with which we should all comply, I have no intention whatever of giving way to him in the debate.

There is now an overwhelming view in Wales and a genuine consensus that to have an assembly and unitary authorities is the appropriate way to proceed. Certainly, it is the considered and joint view of the Assembly of Welsh Counties, the Council of Welsh Districts and 70 per cent. of the Welsh electorate who voted for those policies at the general election and the overwhelming majority view of those of us who represent Wales in the House of Commons. It is a pity that those who now run Wales—Conservative Members—are so lacking in confidence, so hidebound by their own centralising tendencies and so determined to cling to power for their own party's sake that they cannot bring themselves to acknowledge our majority view. I have never been one to regard the House of Lords as some beacon of democracy, but overwhelming support was forthcoming there for an all-Wales tier of government, even from the likes of Lord Hailsham in Committee, and it certainly managed to demonstrate how the Government are so out of date and reactionary.

By their failure to come to terms with the issue, the Government are proceeding with legislation that, inevitably, will be unsatisfactory. It will create a pattern of local government that will be inherently unstable and history will judge the Bill as the starting point for a fundamental and radical reform of Welsh government.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)

May I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that, far from proposing to enhance democracy in Wales, which is what a directly elected assembly would do, the Government are undermining democracy, taking away democratic powers and placing them under the control of centralised authorities, especially in education? Do the Secretary of State and the hon. Gentleman recognise the great anxiety in Wales, especially about education, because of the reduction in democratic accountability and the effect of the opting-out process on the delivery of services to schools? Confusion will be created by having, in effect, two education systems—two school systems with two systems of funding—and that will have a terrible effect on services.

Mr. Davies

I know that the hon. Gentleman made that compelling case in the Committee on the Education Bill. It is a point that I intend to address shortly.

The explanation for the stubbornness and the state of affairs lies in the real motivation for the reforms. They are designed not to improve Welsh local government but to take forward the political agenda of the Conservative party. The proposals represent a massive assault on the independence of local government and provide a far greater concentration of powers in the Welsh Office.

Mr. Redwood


Mr. Davies

I shall give way, but allow me to complete the point. Democratic local government in Wales is overwhelmingly anti-Tory, with the Labour party the dominant force. The Welsh Office is currently, albeit temporarily, on a short lease under Conservative control, hence the need for a concentration of power in Tory hands in the Welsh Office—powers that will, no doubt, in the normal course of events, be exercised by quangos that will be staffed by Tory candidates who either have been defeated or are about to be defeated at the polls by the electorate.

Mr. Redwood

Given the way in which I have described the Bill as extending the choice, powers and responsibilities of local government, which is what the Bill says, will the hon. Gentleman point to anything in the Bill that will centralise or take powers away from local government in the way he described? That simply is not on the face of the Bill. It is a charter for stronger, better local government, not for less local government.

Mr. Davies

The problem is that the right hon. Gentleman's rhetoric is far removed from reality. I have marked out parts II and III of the Bill. Every clause in part III refers to powers being given to the Secretary of State. In part II, clauses 19, 20, 23, 24 and 25 all refer to additional powers being given to the Secretary of State. In addition, there are the reserve powers of the Secretary of State and the special powers relating to the education function, to which the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) referred. Such references are abundant in the Bill and I have suggested to the Secretary of State where he can find them in his legislation.

The Bill represents an assault on democratic local government. For example, the number of councillors will be dramatically reduced from 1,976 to about 1,250. For the first time in our history, the numbers of democratically elected local councillors will be exceeded by the 1,400 quango members—not elected but selected covertly by the Secretary of State.

The ability of the new authorities to undertake cross-border trading arrangements will be severely curtailed. Of course, that has nothing to do with the development of viable local authorities or good practice; it has everything to do with the ideological view of the Conservative party. It is a view to be imposed by central control because it would never be adopted by democratic local control.

Above all, the Bill provides an opportunity—obviously too good to miss—to gerrymander the boundaries of the parliamentary constituencies in Wales. If the Bill is given a Second Reading tonight, under the terms of the Boundary Commissions Act 1992, the Boundary Commission will have to take into account those new boundaries and, in effect, redraw the electoral map of Wales on which the next general election will be fought. Part III of schedule I provides an interesting insight into the Government's or, should I say, the Conservative party's intentions. Of the eight "preserved" counties, Dyfed, Gwynedd and West Glamorgan have unchanged boundaries. The other five have small, but significant, shifts of population. Those changes and those changes alone will have an impact on parliamentary constituency boundaries and, in each case, the direct or indirect consequence will be to the detriment of the Labour party's interests at the next general election.

In mid and south Wales there are only four Tory-held seats at the moment. Of course, after the next general election, the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) will doubtless join the former Member for Cardiff, Central, Mr. Ian Grist, in semi-retirement. I can assure—

Mr. Kinnock

We will not give him a job as chairman of a quango. It will be Jones the Dole after the election.

Mr. Davies

My right hon. Friend beat me to my punch line. I was about to assure the hon. Member for Cardiff, North that, in his retirement, he will not find that the next Labour Government offer him a post as chairman of a quango.

In the mid and south Wales seats of Monmouth, Brecon and Radnor, Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiff, North, the interests of the sitting Tory Member are potentially advantaged by the changes. The clearest possible case is evidenced by the transfer of Wick, St. Bride's Major and Ewenny from Mid Glamorgan to South Glamorgan and, more accurately, from the political point of view, from the Bridgend constituency to that of Vale of Glamorgan. Despite overwhelming evidence that local opinion is opposed to those changes, those communities and their supposed Tory votes are used in the most corrupt of ways to attempt to shore up the 19-vote majority of the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney). Any reputation that the Secretary of State has, either for intellectual honesty or for political probity, will be shredded if he fails to concede that those changes are indefensible.

Clauses 1 to 16 establish the new authorities. I am pleased to welcome the Secretary of State's announcement on Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil. My noble Friend Lord Prys-Davies presented a powerful case in the House of Lords. My hon. Friends the Members for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) and for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) have argued powerfully and consistently, publicly and privately, on behalf of their respective communities. I am grateful for the fact that the Secretary of State acknowledged that and saw fit to announce today that he would table amendments to create the unitary authorities of Merthyr Tydfil and Blaenau Gwent.

The strength of my hon. Friends' case lay in the public support that they enjoyed. Having made that concession, the Secretary of State must understand that he will now receive further strong representations from authorities all over Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) was the first to his feet pressing the case for Rhondda. No doubt Taff-Ely will wish to make a similar representation, as will Cynon Valley, Neath, Port Talbot, Llanelli, Meirionnydd and Montgomery, which all feel a sense of injustice at the way in which they have been treated.

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, now that he has acknowledged that his original proposals are capable of amendment, we shall want to examine the revised boundaries in great detail in Committee. I did not understand his response to one intervention during his speech, when he said that 22 was the maximum number of authorities that he could allow. Why 22? There is no particular reason for that number. Indeed, when the consultative paper was produced in 1991, the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor suggested that 24 was an option. If 24 was an option then, why does the Secretary of State now assert without evidence or argument that 22 is the absolute maximum?

Mr. Redwood

I explained that a balance had to be struck between the strength of feeling about community identity and the size and scale of local authorities for delivering services. The Labour party is split on the issue, because it argues that it wants both bigger authorities, for the delivery of certain services, and more smaller authorities, for community identity. I have struck a balance in the way that I described, and I commend it to the House.

Mr. Davies

The Secretary of State has not answered my question. The Labour party's position is clear. We want a Welsh assembly and more unitary authorities. We have argued that clear position, and it commands overwhelming majority support in Wales. The problem lies with the Secretary of State and his party. They cannot accept the fact that that is the consensus in Wales.

The Secretary of State is creating problems for himself. He cannot concede the larger number of unitary authorities, and he will not concede the county case for a smaller number of larger authorities. In the absence of a consensus he is merely splitting the difference, and has arrived at an arbitrary figure of 22, which he cannot and will not justify. He must understand that that is in direct contradiction to the position adopted by his predecessor. The right hon. Gentleman is frowning. If a total of 24 local authorities was an option in 1991, when the consultation paper came out, why can he now not move from 22? Why is 24 not an option?

Mr. Redwood

I have answered that question.

Mr. Davies

All that the Secretary of State did was to ask me a question. He refused to respond to mine.

Mr. Roger Evans

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies

I understand the sense of gallantry that makes the hon. Gentleman want to come to the Secretary of State's rescue.

Mr. Roger Evan


Mr. Kinnock

Here comes the dock brief.

Mr. Davies

I must reassure my right hon. Friend that on this occasion the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) is probably not being paid.

The Secretary of State must understand that real and strong arguments have been advanced in respect of small communities in south Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda put a compelling case for the Rhondda. He knows the difficulties in the mid-valleys area of Mid Glamorgan and the concern in towns such as Neath, Port Talbot and Llanelli and in the rural parts of Wales, such as Meirionnydd and Montgomery. If, having made the concession on Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil, which I unreservedly welcome, the Secretary of State were prepared to make another concession and allow 24 authorities—I do not suggest that that would be adequate—and if he undertook now to allow the Committee to reflect natural justice, I am sure that he would find it possible to achieve greater agreement on the proposals.

Mr. Roger Evans

The hon. Gentleman told us that his party's policy was to have a Welsh assembly plus a larger number of unitary authorities. Does that mean that Labour policy for Gwent, for example, is that there should be a number of unitary authorities, such as Newport, Torfaen and Blaenau Gwent?

Mr. Davies

I am not sure what point the hon. Gentleman is trying to make. If we had a Welsh assembly and a pattern of between 25 and 30 unitary authorities, we would wish to discuss the details with the local authorities involved. We should really be debating the proposals before us, Madam Deputy Speaker, rather than the Labour party's proposals, but I am happy to answer the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Richards

Has the hon. Gentleman read the amendment?

Mr. Davies

Conservative Members are anxious to intervene from sedentary positions. Certainly, I have read the amendment; I wrote it, and I am fully aware of its contents.

The hon. Member for Monmouth must understand that, in any pattern of local government for Wales that included between 25 and 30 unitary authorities, there would clearly be unitary authorities in places such as Newport, Torfaen and Blaenau Gwent. I have already said at least twice that I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement today that there will be a unitary authority for Blaenau Gwent. I assure the hon. Member for Monmouth that, if we had a unitary authority for his part of the world to replace Monmouth district council, it would be called Monmouth, not Monmouthshire.

Mr. Roger Evans

Will the hon. Gentleman ensure that he has put his party's policy absolutely clearly? Is it Labour policy, on the premise of a Welsh assembly, to abolish Gwent county council?

Hon. Members


Mr. Davies

Our policy has been absolutely clear at every stage. I have had discussions with the leaders of Gwent county council. Councillor Graham Powell is a model of moderation, and my colleagues and I have had many warm fraternal discussions with him and with his good friend Harry Jones, the leader of Newport council. On several memorable occasions, we have even met in the same room.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is complete unanimity in Wales. All the Labour leaders of local authorities in Wales—that means all the Labour-held county councils and district councils—have put their names, as has every Labour Member of Parliament, to the document that we issued in February last year, which made clear our proposals for the reform of government in Wales, based on a directly elected assembly and a pattern of between 25 and 30 unitary authorities. Naturally, the existing pattern of district and county councils would then be abolished.

Mr. Roy Thomason (Bromsgrove)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies

With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, I must say that, with the exception of the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards), I am happy to take interventions from any hon. Member who I believe has a proper interest in the matter under discussion. I know that the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) had a former—[Interruption.] There is no need for Conservative Members to chatter at me. I well know who he is, and of his former role in the Association of District Councils. I am concerned with democratic government in Wales, and I am happy to discuss that with anyone who receives a mandate from Wales, who stands for election in Wales or who creates policies that are chosen by the people of Wales. I am sorry, but I do not recognise the hon. Member for Bromsgrove in that context.

I shall now proceed with the rest of my speech.

Mr. Richards

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it is order for a Member of the House to select from whom he will take interventions on the basis of geography and race?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. It is the absolute right of any hon. Member to give way or not to give way. What his reasons may be is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Davies

When I select my targets for political debate, I select targets who can reply.

The central flaw in the Bill is clearly demonstrated in part I. The Secretary of State wants to create unitary authorities, yet if they are large enough to be viable they will be too large to reflect identifiable local communities and historic boundaries. For reasons of dogma and party political interest., the right hon. Gentleman cannot accept the solution that is not only logical but commands overwhelming popular support—more unitary authorities with our all-Wales tier of government.

The Secretary of State's response has been to introduce two elements to the Bill, both of which fundamentally weaken it by undermining the principle of unitary authorities. The first is the concept of decentralisation, which was mooted last summer in an attempt to reconcile conflicting interests in Powys and is enshrined in clauses 27 and 28. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) was quick to point out the flaws in the Secretary of State's argument. I was singularly unimpressed by the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the Committee would have to come up with suggestions on how the proposal could be financed.

If the proposal for decentralisation works, it will undermine the Powys unitary authority. If it does not work, it will fail to meet aspirations for local self-determination, especially those expressed by Montgomery district council. My right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) christened that the "Powys pudding". The chairman of Montgomery district council, David Jones, wrote to me this week to say that the "Redwood recipe" for the "Powys pudding" was fatally flawed. Indeed, that was the almost universal view in the House of Lords and on all sides in local government in Wales.

Mr. Redwood

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he thinks that the recipe is so unattractive that no one will wish to mix the ingredients up and eat it? I suspect that there would be deep resentment in Wales if the enabling power were stripped out, because many local communities would welcome it. Does he agree?

Mr. Davies

I agree that the provision is included in the Bill to meet an inherent defect, which is especially relevant to a county such as Powys. If the right hon. Gentleman had made the concession demanded by the people of Powys and parliamentarians who represent Wales, there would have been no need for the compromise arrangement.

The second element relates to joint boards and joint working arrangements. A properly constructed system of unitary authorities should have no need of those arrangements, which will be an insecure base for the planning and delivery of services in the medium to long term. The compromise in the arrangements will be prone to lowest common denominator services and will lack the consistency and clarity of decision making that a single authority can provide. Even worse, as the number of joint arrangements increases—as it inevitably will if smaller local authorities wish to provide services—the system will come to resemble a two-tier structure, except that there will be the disadvantage that the upper tier will be neither directly elected nor directly accountable.

One way to obviate some of those difficulties would be to allow greater cross-border trading, especially in professional services and sectors of specialist expertise. If the Bill proceeds, clause 25, which gives great power to the Secretary of State, will need close scrutiny. The fear shared by all who care for local government is that the Bill may become a charter for privatisation because of that provision.

In any event, the Bill's assault on the principle of social services committees, the prior removal of mandatory education committees—to which the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North referred—and the renewal of compulsory competitive tendering after reorganisation are a further step towards the destruction of publicly delivered services in Wales.

In part II, in addition to clause 25, clauses 19, 20, 23 and 24 confer on the Secretary of State powers over local government. Clauses 27 to 33 in part III confer more such powers on him. Given the demonstrable incompetence and undemocratic nature of the Welsh Office, that centralisation of power is reason enough to oppose the Bill.

Little attention has been given to the interests of the 140,000 local government employees, many of whom face worry, insecurity and possible redundancy. Many have given a lifetime of dedicated public service. I hope that the employment of all those people will be protected by transfer to the new authorities. I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement that he will allow flexibility and consider the options in Committee. I am also grateful that he has announced a compensation scheme in clause 44.

I welcome the establishment of the staff commission. Should the Bill proceed, I trust that the Secretary of State will do all that he can to ease the worry of staff during the transitional period.

The Bill heralds turbulent years for local government. The reorganisation that it proposes will be costly and controversial. Much of Wales will be badly served by it. It contains proposals that are badly thought out, undemocratic and deeply flawed. Many Conservative Members, including Ministers, have made clear their intention to oppose the introduction of similar measures for their county councils in England. It is a sad reflection on our democracy that they are asked to vote tonight to enforce on Wales a system that they would reject for Somerset, Hertfordshire or wherever. If the Bill succeeds on that basis, it can proceed only in a Committee packed with compliant Back Benchers without an interest or a mandate in Welsh affairs. If it passes into law, my hon. Friends and I will not regard it as the end of the process; rather, it will be the start of the process of the reform of Welsh government. That reform will become more radical, more democratic and more relevant to the needs of Wales when the Government are thrown out at the next general election.

5.5 pm

Mr. Roy Thomason (Bromsgrove)

I have two interests to declare. The first is pecuniary—I am a consultant with solicitors Dyson Bell Martin, whose clients include local authorities in Wales. The second—an interest in legislation of this type—goes back many years. Ten years or more ago, in my capacity as the leader and subsequently chairman of the Association of District Councils, I held discussions with leaders of Welsh district councils about abolishing the county councils in Wales. They were keen advocates of the introduction of smaller unitary local authorities. Their trust has been let down by the Labour party, which wants to torpedo the legislation that those leaders have been seeking for more than 10 years. Their interests are not being represented by the Labour party.

The Bill represents an opportunity for local government to be a significant force in Wales. It gives a chance for communities to be more closely identified with local government and for councils to be more imaginative and innovative in their approach to community problems. Such an approach has been denied to district councils in the past because so many functions have been undertaken by larger county councils.

The Bill represents the chance for a better future for local government in Wales and it should not be cast aside in the dismissive manner proposed by Labour Members.

Mr. Alex Carlile

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving his vision of successful, small unitary authorities. Does he agree that, 10 years ago, when he had those discussions, he envisaged unitary authorities similar to the ancient county of Montgomeryshire? Will he give an assurance that if he is a member of the Committee he will vote for a unitary authority in Montgomery?

Mr. Thomason

The size of local government units is critical. I think that the Rowntree Foundation has argued that it is viable to have units of 25,000 people—[HON. MEMBERS: "25,000?"] It is argued that units of that size are viable. The local government reforms were introduced in the first place in 1974 to create authorities with proper career structures for officers and with a proper committee structure to deal with important policy issues. Therefore, there is a nice balance to be arrived at between a minimum size for local authorities on the one hand and a proper career and committee structure on the other. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) contended that area offices were not an appropriate way to deal with social services functions. I think that that was the hon. Gentleman's argument. Of course, there is a difference between an area office that is carrying out an administrative role and a fully accountable unit of local government.

I have great sympathy with the arguments advanced by authorities such as Montgomeryshire and Brecon and Radnor. However tempted one may be by the proposals in the Bill that allow for a decentralisation mechanism to be introduced, which may address those subjects, one must balance the need for creating a properly resourced local authority unit reflecting the needs of a community.

In some instances the community issue will be so strong that it may be appropriate for a smaller authority to be introduced. However, there may be other occasions—the vast majority of local government units will fall into that category—where the size requires something a little larger. With Montgomeryshire and Brecon and Radnor there is the delicate balancing exercise to be made of whether it might be appropriate for them to be individual units.

Mr. Alex Carlile

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. He gives us the great advantage of his expertise on such matters. Does he agree that a strong natural community with ancient roots and 57,000 people is a viable basis for a unitary authority? Can he answer yes or no?

Mr. Thomason

I consider that it is a viable basis, provided that the community interest is as strong as the hon. and learned Gentleman is inferring. I believe that it is possible to have a unit of that size. However, there is a downside to the argument, and that is that the quality of the staff and their career prospects, and the committee structure for the elected members which may be introduced, may not be as strong as would be the case in a Powys authority with decentralisation. As I have already made clear, the argument is a fine one. I have much sympathy with the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument that there is a case for Montgomeryshire being an authority on its own, as for Brecon and Radnor.

Mr. Kinnock

I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman's experience in local government. However, I must say that, in speaking in support of the Local Government (Wales) Bill, he is fulfilling the function of someone who kicks the ball high into the back of the crowd and, without having time added on for injury, wastes a considerable portion of the game. I suppose that by speaking in support of the measure he is talking his way on to the Committee that will deal with the Bill. What strong and repeated representations has he made to the Government in support of a proposition that the Government should impose on England exactly the same sort of measure as is being imposed on Wales?

Mr. Thomason

I have encouraged the Government to proceed with local government reorganisation in England. I wish that we were debating a smaller measure for England today. I make no apology for saying that. My position is absolutely clear: I want a reorganisation of local government in England based on smaller unitary authorities introduced as quickly as possible because it will serve both the national interests and the interests of local government that much better. I assure the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) that I am making no bid to serve on the Committee that will deal with the Bill. However, I am happy to support the Bill because of the important steps that it makes.

I return to what I was saying a few moments ago. The great mistake of the local government reorganisation in 1974 was to abolish many proud county boroughs such as Cardiff—places that had a long tradition, and an understanding of where their people stood and what their problems were—and to impose a county council covering a wider and more remote area. Those reforms were wrong.

Mr. Win Griffiths

It was a Tory Government.

Mr. Thomason

The reforms were wrong, whoever introduced them. Attempts by Labour Members to sabotage the Bill today is not a constructive way forward. I understand that some of them have difficulty understanding such matters.

The history of local government is one of continuity, to which this Bill will add. When the 1974 reforms were introduced, the philosophy of the day was that size mattered—the big unit offered opportunities for savings and the organisation, above all, should be self-sufficient: for example, it could have its own in-house violin or oboe teacher; it could provide all the services within its own boundaries; and it could service a mainframe computer and all the staff who went with it. However, those days have changed.

There is no need now to talk of self-sufficiency within local government. There is no need to argue the case that big is beautiful because a smaller unit, by contracting out its services and sharing its facilities with other local authorities, is well able to provide the full range of local government services, often more efficiently and effectively than those provided by the previous in-house services.

Mr. Rogers

Like the hon. Gentleman, I have had considerable experience of local government. Throughout the years that I served on district and county councils, I tried to discover what would be an ideal size. The hon. Gentleman is constructing an argument on what is a reasonable size and saying that small is beautiful. Can he put a figure on that for an urban area? I know that the Secretary of State does not want him to do so because of the peculiar way in which the Secretary of State's mind works. Can the hon. Gentleman put a figure on that? He has much more experience than the Secretary of State.

Mr. Thomason

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's blandishments. Earlier, I made the point that the minimum size depends in the end on the strength of the community.

Although it is clear that an authority with more than 150,000 inhabitants, say, can provide a worthwhile structure, it could be argued—I believe that it is right so to argue—that much smaller authorities are appropriate, depending on the strength of community which attaches to them. One must balance those two aspects. It is a perfectly legitimate and proper process to do that. There may be a strong case for the establishment of an authority such as Montgomeryshire, with 57,000 people, because it has a long tradition.

Equally, one can think of other examples of authorities of about 100,000 people where the strength of identity and traditions may not be sufficient to warrant its independent existence. Those matters must be looked at case by case. It depends on the individual authority—its community identity and traditions. One should avoid making wide generalisations in the way that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) is seeking to do. He is trying to impose a blueprint, a formula, across the whole of Wales. That will not work. He should know and appreciate that Wales has a much richer pattern than that.

Mr. Rogers

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. If he is saying that in the parameters or guidelines that the Secretary of State should adopt—I wish the Secretary of State would listen to some sound advice from his more knowledgeable Back Benchers—there should be a marriage between the size of the authority and its traditions and background, what advice would he give to the Secretary of State with regard to the Rhondda Valley? That council is the only one that has maintained its boundaries. It is probably the most famous community in Wales, yet the Secretary of State refuses to accept that it could be a unitary authority. It has never been anything other than the Rhondda Valley. Could the hon. Gentleman tell the Secretary of State how, in order to follow his argument, he could gauge the feelings of the people in the community?

Mr. Thomason

I have already made clear the balancing act that must be undertaken between the considerations of efficiency and size and there is no need for me to repeat the arguments. If the hon. Member for Rhondda could not understand them, I am sure that he will read Hansard and they may be clear to him tomorrow.

I was talking a moment ago about the ability to move away from the requirement of self-sufficiency in local government. Smaller councils have the opportunity of contracting out services which allows them to use the services of a large operator. The operator may be able to provide extensive services in a regional sense, yet the services might be specifically honed, in a contractual arrangement, with that local authority to meet its specific requirements. It follows that size is no longer anywhere near as important, although it has some importance.

Equally, there are many examples across England and Wales of local authorities which are working together. We need to foster partnership between local authorities, just as there has been a fostering of the partnership between local authorities and the private sector. The Bill creates opportunities for that to be undertaken.

Local government must be close and responsive to its communities in a way that a smaller authority can be—that was the point I was making a few moments ago. An authority that is the right size to allow it to be representative of a community will be more effective. I say that because I believe that the councillors representing that unit will have a much closer relationship with the area.

I give the example of a typical county council. The councillors and officers of the county council cannot have an intimate knowledge of an area which may be 30, 40, 50 or 100 miles away from where they live and work. At that distance, they cannot have the sense of individual community issues and the objectives of that community. It is only by being in close proximity to the local area that they can gauge the temperature of the people of that area and properly reflect their aspirations.

There is a unity of objective to be sought in the local government reorganisation which is proposed today which the Bill gives an opportunity to progress. Some hon. Members suggest that reorganisation will be an expensive exercise. There are different factions which fight over these points and counties and districts have advanced their own figures. One must make a careful judgment as to which is to be considered the more appropriate. However, it is quite clear that local government reorganisation of the type proposed in the Bill can lead to a revenue saving year on year.

There are possibilities, in streamlining the authorities' organisations, to produce a saving over a period of a few years. It has been suggested by the Association of District Councils in Wales that the cost of reorganisation could be recouped within two or three years, but it may be longer. However, an overall saving can be made on the costs of reorganisation. It need not be the call on the public purse to the extent that many have suggested will be the case. The House has heard through parliamentary answers that the cost of the abolition of the metropolitan counties in England produced a revenue saving overall and there is no reason why that cannot be replicated in Wales.

The objective of local government reorganisation should be to invigorate local government. I pay tribute to the councillors and officers in local government in Wales for the work that they do at county and district level. Too few hon. Members speak of that, and it is right that it should be acknowledged. However, they can operate only within the structure that the House has created for them. It is not possible within the present structure for county councillors and officers to represent and seek the sort of partnership with the communities to which I have referred. There are opportunities in the Bill to create a local government that can be much more responsive.

One looks to the district councils in England and Wales for some of the leading innovations of local government in the past 15 to 20 years. The district level of local government led the way in economic development opportunities. The counties have done a great deal of work in that field, but the districts led the way and ultimately created a function for local government based upon their work. That was something which they saw as necessary because of their close proximity to the communities that they represented.

Mr. Win Griffiths

In the context of Wales, what the hon. Gentleman is saying is a travesty of the truth. The counties, as well as the districts, in Wales have been particularly active in the area to which he refers and there has been a partnership. Let us not talk about one tier providing pioneering work and the other doing nothing. Both tiers have been doing it in Wales and the counties have been very effective.

Mr. Thomason

The hon. Gentleman did not hear me say that the counties have done work in economic development. My contention was that district councils led the way in creating economic development opportunities. They created the opportunity and the counties have come along as well and work has been done by county and district councils. If we look back to the first economic development initiatives in the 1970s, we see that the work was undertaken by the smaller units of local government. That was because they were close to individual towns and groups of villages and could understand the employment prospects. They could seek to generate the jobs that could be directed at specific problems.

Finally, I turn to the question of accountability. The present arrangements of two-tier local government create confused accountability: first, a financial one because the council tax bill arrives in two stages; and, secondly, a democratic one because people do not know whether to turn to town or to county hall for their services.

The introduction of the proposals in the Bill will lead to a single point of contact and a single authority providing the whole range of local government services. The Bill will provide for a single authority which is raising a single council tax. It follows that people will be able to see clearly what their local authority is doing, what it is costing and to whom they should complain if they feel that the services are not being delivered in the correct way.

That will make local government not only responsive, but more aware of its need to react to the people whom it represents. I believe that the blurring of accountability since 1974, and before, has been a great failing in local government which will be strengthened substantially by the proposals. The Bill will introduce into local government an opportunity for invigoration, better accountability, improved partnership, greater value for money and enhanced services. It should be supported.

Mr. Ray Powell

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I know that this is a United Kingdom Parliament and that all hon. Members in the Chamber can catch your eye. However, I would ask you to use your discretion when Labour or Conservative Members who have been elected to Welsh parliamentary seats wish to catch your eye. Might not they have preference over hon. Members from areas outside Wales on the crucial issue of local government reform? The issue affects all hon. Members, particularly those from the Labour party, and they would all like to participate in the debate.

The hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) has taken 21 minutes out of a very short debate and some of us will be excluded from participating because of the time factor. I ask you to use your discretion to ensure that all Welsh hon. Members are afforded the opportunity to participate in the debate.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Both Madam Speaker and I have already exercised that discretion and I hope that that will be the end of the matter.

5.29 pm
Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)

Given the competition to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, the House will be delighted if I promise to make a short speech as an elected Member for a part of Wales. The House listened with a great deal of attention to the Secretary of State's final piece of rhetoric. He expected the Bill to provide a renaissance in local government in Wales. That was putting it a bit high. Moving the chess pieces across the boundaries board will not provide the renaissance. Giving the cash to local government to provide local services will achieve the renaissance.

There is a great deal of unanimity in Wales about the concept of unitary authorities. It is certainly the policy of my party. The argument is about the size and powers of unitary local government. I shall return to that point in a moment. That unanimity in Wales, as my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) emphasised, hinges on the concept of a Welsh assembly. In England the term "regional authority" is used. I despair when that term is misused in Wales. One thing that we are not is a region. We are a nation. If we were not, the Secretary of State would not have his seat in the Cabinet.

We have debated a Welsh assembly on previous occasions and we shall return to it in the future. I shall not discuss it this evening. As the years have gone by, I have become more and more confident that what I believed in 1974 and earlier was right then and is even more right now. I raise the matter because the concept of unitary local government as we understand it in Wales hinges on its being accompanied by a democratically elected body covering a substantial area—in this case, the whole of Wales. That is the fatal flaw in the Government's proposals. Why? Many functions could not be performed by small units of local government. The units could not discharge their functions effectively without an assembly. That is the fatal flaw.

I am particularly anxious about the problem that will face us in Wales in recruiting more than 20—now 22—directors of education with the necessary qualifications and the right experience and in paying them properly. Of course, if the Government have their way and every school opts out, there will be less of a problem for local government. But the problem will remain in the case of joint provisioning, about which we heard a little from my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly.

I am equally worried about how we will find people of the right calibre to head social services departments. Of course, if everything that moves is privatised, the local problem will be very much reduced. But what will happen to the remainder of the services that are not privatised? Society will have to carry the burden one way or the other of meeting those needs. Of course, for those who are Thatcherites—they are an endangered species—there is no such thing as society. Yet the problem will remain. I am deeply worried about finding people of the right calibre, given the need for so many of them to cover the essential functions in Wales.

Apart from being fundamentally flawed on the grounds of not including a national dimension—

Mr. Jonathan Evans

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Morris

No, I am trying to be brief. I mean no disrespect to the hon. Gentleman, but I want to keep my remarks brief so that other hon. Members can speak.

I am deeply worried about whether the numbers envisaged by the Secretary of State are right. The Secretary of State is not lacking in confidence. No one would belittle him for that. However, his high office was thrust upon him. It never crossed his mind in his wildest ambition that he would be called to grace it. Worse than that, I am confident that until he went to the Welsh Office, the problems of local government in Wales had never crossed his mind.

Lord Walker tried his hand in the 1970s. The pattern that he imposed will not be allowed to celebrate even its 25-year anniversary—its silver jubilee. It will not have lasted. It will have been cut down. No one in the House would say that he lacked confidence—certainly not Lord Walker. The present Secretary of State, with his limited experience, puts forward a prospectus with some confidence and tells the House that it will provide the renaissance for Wales. I fear that he will live to regret that particular piece of rhetoric.

I believe that the proposed units—this is not an inconsistent observation—are too large to reflect adequately the need to preserve local loyalty and a speedy response to people's needs. Yet they are too small effectively to carry out the functions proposed for them. In any event, as for all local government reorganisation, I am confident that the costs, and certainly the transitional costs, will prove much more expensive than envisaged in any of the examples given by the Secretary of State.

I ask the Secretary of State, through the Minister on the Front Bench, to write into the Bill an amendment to ensure that two or three years after the new units of local government come into force and after the first elections, an independent body, for example, the Audit Commission or some other body of that calibre, will examine, assess and publicise the costs of local government reform. That will be a test of the cost estimates given by the Secretary of State.

I shall now deal with the problems of my areas. I have had the privilege to represent the borough of Port Talbot for more than 34 years. I have the privilege of being a freeman of the borough. I represent, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), part of the borough of Neath and I have done so for the past 11 years. We in Port Talbot and Neath want to know—if my hon. Friend the Member for Neath catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am sure that he will ask the same question—how we differ from Merthyr and Blaenau Gwent, about which the Secretary of State made an announcement today.

One reason that the Secretary of State gave for his change of heart was the particular unpopularity of putting those boroughs together. I assure the Minister that the unpopularity that was expressed when the first proposals were published remains both in Neath and in Port Talbot. It is stronger now than it was at the beginning. How do we differ in terms of the service that is delivered, our traditions, our civic pride and loyalty and the factor which the Secretary of State added, the unpopularity of the proposals? I expect an answer from the Secretary of State tonight.

What are the local views? We do not have a commission for local government in Wales because the men in Cathays Park think that they know better. I note with approval the words of Mr. John Banham, the chairman of the English commission. He said: The Commission is in a sense the catalyst, seeking to identify a realistic choice, consistent with our guidance that we put before local people. The local people are the jury. What does the jury say in Neath and Port Talbot? A ballot was held in Neath. The form of the ballot can easily be criticised, but the result was a pretty strong indication. Of the 6,000 ballot papers returned, only 135 voted for the Secretary of State's solution of joining Neath and Port Talbot together in what was regarded and is still regarded locally as a shotgun marriage. An opinion poll in Port Talbot found that 95 per cent. of people did not want to merge with Neath, and there were 10,000 letters of support from residents and organisations in the borough. I suspect that, in relation to the third leg of the proposal, people in Lliw do not feel especially warm towards the concept of being swamped by either Neath or Port Talbot.

Will the Secretary of State answer a question? Who, in either of those two boroughs or in Lliw, who knows the citizens, their problems and their history, wants the proposal suggested by the Secretary of State? If he can name an individual or an organisation, let us have their names, which I am sure can be counted on the fingers of one hand, so that we can examine their experience and on what basis they support the Government. I know not of one, and I am confident that my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) has the same experience. I know not of one who wants the shotgun marriage proposed by the Secretary of State. If I can be told differently by the Minister tonight, I will be grateful. I am glad that he is listening and I am sure that he will send out his minions to provide an answer for me by the end of the evening. I look forward to that with great enthusiasm.

The Secretary of State was foolish enough, in the Welsh Grand Committee, to regard the map of Wales as being important. He never understood that the map of Kent, where he was born, is totally different in its geographical components to a land made up of hills and valleys, as is Wales. The bright idea that came from the Welsh Office of looking at a map and finding Neath next door to Port Talbot and using that as an argument for putting them together is sheer idiocy. The Welsh Office fails to understand the nature of our valley communities, and that a common interest does not run across mountains and valleys but runs down valleys. That is why the antipathy was so strong, and is equally strong now.

The Secretary of State and the Government have failed to understand the importance of local loyalties, proud civic traditions and the knowledge and understanding in the locality that the existing machinery—"warts and all"—provides a responsive and sound service. People know where to go.

It is proposed to combine two main communities between which there is deep-seated rivalry. Let me give the House an illustration. The original proposal for the name of the new borough was West Glamorgan—a misnomer. When the subject was discussed in Neath, it was suggested that it should be Nedd-Neath. If that was an exercise in trying to win friends when there was Port Talbot and Lliw, I hope that it does not augur for the future. I was glad that that proposal was not pursued, but it is indicative of something and perhaps I need not pursue it further. I make the argument, for what it is worth. Despite the subservience of the Secretary of State to the map, community affinity runs downhill, not across mountains.

I thank the Secretary of State for the one good thing that he has done—as I raised in the Welsh Grand Committee—which is to increase the number of councillors. I regard that as very important. We are losing a tier of local government and simultaneously reducing to 1,250 the number of councillors in the new authorities. Councillors and their leadership provide an avenue for the community to explore problems. They are the great safety valve. They are very important in the communities. To reduce the numbers is to cause a great loss. That is what is happening and therefore I thank the Secretary of State for his revised provision to increase the numbers. It is important and will be valued.

I could have spoken at much greater length, but I do not propose to do so. Some of the arguments have been ventilated in the other place and I am grateful to noble Lords on the Front Bench and the Back Benches for the way in which they have reported on what they understand to be the lack of affinity between the two boroughs. My hon. Friend the Member for Neath and I were elected by those two boroughs and I think that we represent as well as anyone can the deep-seated feelings there.

The Secretary of State seemed to be vague and uncertain of himself when he discussed the problems and the provisioning of area committees. I ask him the following questions. First, what type of provision would he expect as regards financial provisioning in a scheme put to him? What does he expect to come forth in the schemes that he has to consider? Secondly, bearing in mind the numbers of people referred to in the schedule who can request such a committee, will he be sure to resist any amendment to tilt the balance against those people who request such a committee in a new unit, in favour of the central new unit itself? If there is to be any purpose—it may be attractive in some parts of Wales—it is important to preserve the interests of the locality that requires it.

I say to the Secretary of State, in accordance with the words of Lord Ferrers, who replied to the debate on Second Reading in another place, I would hope that the door is not shut. The figure has increased from 21 to 22. When the Secretary of State said today that his proposal was 22—I do not think there could he many more", I regard that as not closing the door and I hope that he will reconsider.

5.46 pm
Mr. Roger Evans (Monmouth)

The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) made two points that will be remembered in my constituency and in Gwent generally. Neither of those two points was perhaps quite so clear before he spoke as afterwards. First, we were interested to learn that the policy of the Labour party, in the premise of a Welsh assembly, is to have unitary authorities and more of them.

The hon. Member for Caerphilly referred to the fraternal discussions between the socialist leader of Gwent county council and the socialist leader of Newport borough council. It is clear, for the first time, we are told, that Mr. Graham Powell, the leader of Gwent county council, has lost that internal Labour party discussion, and that it is the Labour party's policy to abolish Gwent county council. That will be welcomed in most quarters, but it will be a matter of some surprise, I suspect, to some supporters of the Labour party in Gwent.

The second point that the hon. Member for Caerphilly made—it is a matter that my constituents especially will wish to note—was the suggestion that if he had his way—

Mr. Ron Davies

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Evans

Of course.

Mr. Davies

I should like to clarify one point in case the hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. The policy that I outlined to him in our earlier discussion has been the policy of the Labour party in Wales for well over 12 months. It emerged as a result of a detailed consultation exercise. It was made public as early as February last year and the leaders of all the Labour-controlled county councils in Wales have been signatories to that policy statement, so there is nothing new.

Mr. Evans

I hear the hon. Member's protestations. That is not what many of his supporters in Gwent have been saying, whatever the position might happen to be, as a matter of technical constitutional right, in the Labour party's policy-making process. We now know the position and we are grateful to know it.

I go on to the second point that the hon. Gentleman's speech revealed, which will be treated in my constituency as a typical example of the rather curmudgeonly approach of the Labour party: if it had its way, our new authority would be known as Monmouth, not Monmouthshire. "Monmouthshire" is what resonates with my constituents. They do not want the simple title "Monmouth".

Mr. Paul Murphy Torfaen)

As someone who was born in Monmouthshire, as was my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies)—

Mr. Kinnock

And me.

Mr. Murphy

And my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock). We would find it deeply offensive not to be called "men of Monmouthshire", even though we do not live in the district of Monmouth. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that his own Monmouth borough council does not want to change the name to Monmouthshire?

Mr. Evans

When history is torn up, as the noble Lord Walker's proposals tore it up in 1972–74, and when new creations that are not consistent with history are proposed, conflicts of feeling arise. I respect that and understand the point made by the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy). However an area is renamed, one cannot change the name that it had when one was born or first educated there. We must consider modern reality, which is that a division exists between the urban and rural areas in our part of the world. Local people want to call the area Monmouthshire.

On clause 2, if a council is called a shire, it would be duplex and bad English to call the local council the shire county council. In the case of Monmouthshire, it would be much simpler to call the new council Monmouthshire council. That answers the point made by the hon. Member for Torfaen, as it avoids confusion with the pre-1972–74 position.

Clause 14 introduces for the first time a proposal to require consultation with community councils, which receive little attention in the Bill. I do not like the term "community council". Why cannot they be called parish councils? They may not technically be parishes in the old sense, but it is a much better word. The community councils want the right to be consulted and the Bill recognises that important right.

The worry at unitary authority level is about how the proposed mechanism will work in practice. Unitary authorities must sometimes make speedy decisions and a requirement to consult in all cases may be inconvenient and unnecessary. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister would clarify that point.

On nomenclature, clause 16 uses another unhappy combination of terms from the 1970s—a "town council" and a "town mayor". In my area, there has been an unfortunate confusion between the community council of Monmouth town, which was an ancient borough until the noble Lord Walker's proposals came into effect, and the mayor of Monmouth borough. To use the present terminology in all cases would be unfortunate and unfair. As Monmouth used to be an ancient borough, I do not understand why the mayor cannot be known as the borough mayor. I am happy to say that, with the creation of a Monmouthshire council, that conflict has been resolved for the unitary authority.

I was surprised to hear what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said about clause 27. I had assumed that the decentralisation provisions were intended and designed for the problem of Powys. I had not realised that they were intended to be adopted elsewhere in Wales. The clause stipulates that 10 councillors must be connected with an area before it can be decentralised, which means that those provisions will come into operation only in councils of a certain size. I should be grateful for clarification on that.

In pouring scorn on part III of the Bill, the hon. Member for Caerphilly did not do justice to clause 32, which is potentially one of the most useful, helpful and practical provisions in the Bill. Local authorities' present rules on who can delegate decisions to whom and in what circumstances are arcane, legalistic and unhelpful. Clause 32 addresses that difficulty for the first time. I should be grateful for clarification on how it is envisaged that that will be done.

Clause 50 deals with Welsh church funds. I note the proposal simply to apportion the funds among the new unitary authorities. Given the time that has elapsed since the Welsh Church Act 1914 came into force, has not the time come to review the purposes for which those trust funds are held and their whole position? In the 1990s, there is a powerful argument for those funds to be applied for conservation purposes on a non-denominational basis, rather than for a diffuse mixture of community purposes.

Clause 51 introduces a power to control disposals by councils that are to be abolished from an operative date. When do the Government envisage that operative date? It would be a much happier matter if it could be the same date on which the Bill is enacted, rather than some uncertain future date. The purpose of clause 51 would be frustrated by a delayed date—if the clause is necessary at all. Clearly, my right hon. Friend considered that it was necessary to include it. If it is to be in the Bill, it must be effective and it should be effective from an early date.

Finally, may I raise the ghost of Gwent? Paragraph 1 of schedule 2 contains a peculiar drafting device to preserve counties of Wales in certain cases and not others for the purposes of the Lord Lieutenancy and the High Shrievalty —[Interruption.] I notice the ribaldry with which certain Opposition Members greet that comment. It is up to them if they want to humiliate Newport, for example, and say that it should not enjoy the privileges of Bristol. Let them say that to their electors. I should have thought that, in 1994, Cardiff has a strong argument for being a city and a county, as Newport and Monmouthshire have the right to be shire counties in the proper sense.

Under clause 58(2) and clause 59(2), arrangements for the reordering of Lord Lieutenancies and High Shrievalties enable the boundaries of a preserved county to be adjusted, but do not seem to provide for the creation of a new Lord Lieutenancy and High Shrievalty solely for Monmouthshire. If I am wrong about that, I should welcome a correction.

Despite the criticisms that have been made of the Bill, it is popular in my part of the world. I leave other hon. Members to argue their own circumstances. The wording of the amendment is minimally negative. It recognises a broad measure of support for the principle of unitary authorities in Wales". To judge by the temper of the debate, that measure of support has been less broad than the wording of the amendment. The Bill is welcomed and my constituents, in particular, will be grateful to my right hon. Friend.

5.59 pm
Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

Let me start by welcoming the opportunity to debate Welsh local government and to reform Welsh local government. The time has long been due for the existing Welsh local authority structure to be changed.

I have a clear vision of a new local government framework which would be much more democratic and accountable and which, above all, would improve the delivery to the public of the range of services that are the proper responsibility of local councils. Unfortunately, however, the Bill does not provide the framework for changes that would be beneficial to Wales and could be made to last.

A new framework of local government for Wales should include unitary authorities, and, to an extent, the proposed one does. It should also include an important and new elected tier of government at an all-Wales level.

The concept of a Welsh senedd or parliament has become something of a bogey to the Government, although, in my view, it is only a matter of time before we are driven to accept a form of government similar to that which has served so well in modern Germany. I see that structure not as giving rise to separatism or home rule, but as being entirely compatible with a strong United Kingdom. Indeed, I see it as strengthening the wider national interest by confirming the importance of Wales under the Crown and as part of the developing regional structure of the European Union.

In the Bill, no Welsh parliament is on offer. That makes it doubly important that we should ensure that the unitary authorities which are created reflect the best possible solution for local government.

Mr. Jonathan Evans

The hon. and learned Gentleman is expounding a view that he has held for some time and which he certainly held in the 1970s. He well knows that when we held a referendum at that time, there was a substantial vote against. In those circumstances, why should he deprive the people of Wales of the opportunity of a referendum on his proposal on a second occasion?

Mr. Carlile

I do not believe that I have ever said that I was opposed to giving the people of Wales that opportunity. I am confident that much has changed since 1979 and the result would be different.

To return to this Bill, in which a Welsh parliament is not on offer, it seems to me that two principles must be fulfilled if we are to achieve a worthwhile unitary system.

First, the new system must command sufficient support and consensus to be permanent. To reorganise Welsh local government every 20 years or so is disruptive to too many people and services. It is also very expensive, as the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) was just saying.

It is not fair to people involved in local government, whether as councillors or as servants of local authorities, that they should face a reorganisation every 20 years. It is plain that the proposed reorganisation does not command the type of consensus that would give it 50 or maybe 100 years, as happened with the reorganisation of local government in Wales in the late 1880s. We should be aiming at a new disposition which will not be the subject of acrimonious debate when the Government next changes, particularly as, given only a little more flexibility, considerable consensus could be found through the machinery of the Bill.

Secondly, the new system must prove to be better than the present one in terms of service delivery if it is not to be regarded as change merely for the sake of change.

It is stated at the beginning of chapter 2 of the Government's White Paper: Local government is government for local people by local people. Amen to that; of course it is a principle which I accept.

My constituency, the county constituency of Montgomery, has been a unit of government since 1542. Twenty years after the creation of the new county of Powys in 1974, Montgomeryshire still resists giving up its social cohesion. Whether we talk of the young farmers' club, the women's institute, the cricket team, or many other institutions, we talk naturally of Montgomeryshire, not Powys. Despite the passage of those 20 years, there is no Powys society of exiles in London, yet there is a strong Montgomeryshire society founded upon that strong and historic local tie. The Secretary of State should recognise that 20 years of opportunity have failed to make Powys a community.

In another place, the Lord Advocate said in introducing the Bill that few would deny that the changes of the 1970s cost Wales some of its cultural cohesion. He was right. He claimed that Pembrokeshire, Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire still retained distinct identities. He was right. He said that local people identify not with the new county imposed in 1974, but with the historic shires. He was right.

No distinction, however, can be drawn intellectually, emotionally or on any grounds between Mongomeryshire and those counties of Pembrokeshire, Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire except that Montgomeryshire is a little smaller in population. As the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason), who spoke with great experience of local government, pointed out, if natural ties are strong enough, 57,000 people are more than enough to make a valid and valuable unitary authority, particularly with the opportunities that are now available to purchase services outside the county.

If the Government value the sense of belonging and cultural cohesion which is Montgomeryshire, they have only to take the simple step of accepting the same approach for Montgomeryshire as for the other counties that I have mentioned.

Those who have served in and worked for Powys have done so honourably and with determination, and generally without political rancour, yet all their efforts, honestly made, have failed signally to build in the public mind an identity for Powys which touches hearts and minds as well as pockets. Montgomeryshire is a natural point of contact for both hearts and minds.

What particularly puzzles us in Montgomeryshire is that the Government recognised and accepted that fact as long as three years ago. In their consultation paper in 1991, the Government rightly recognised the importance of a structure of local government founded on natural communities. Montgomeryshire was held as a example of that in the then Secretary of State's preferred solution. He spoke of it in the House.

I hope that we shall be told by the Minister who replies to the debate the answer to this question: why have the Government changed their mind about Montgomeryshire since then?

The preference for Montgomeryshire as a unitary authority was not just a passing fancy of a transient Secretary of State. In March 1992, just weeks before the last general election and therefore when he well knew the weight that would be attached to his words, the right hon. Member for Wirral, West (Mr. Hunt), now the Secretary of State for Employment, announced: in the rural areas I want to see local government based on the traditional counties"—[Official Report, 3 March 1992; Vol. 205, c. 171.] Montgomeryshire was expressly cited with Pembrokeshire at the head of the list of examples. Please will the Minister answer this question, too: why, if the Government had changed their mind, did they not say so then? Perish the thought that it had anything to do with an impending general election.

The intention to provide unitary status was reaffirmed yet again by the then Secretary of State in dramatic circumstances. During the 1992 general election, he paid a visit to Montgomeryshire. He addressed a meeting in the pretty village of Llanfechain. Ministerial visits there are as rare as memories of what Ministers say are long. He made as explicit an electoral promise as anyone could imagine—that there would be a unitary authority for Montgomeryshire.

Perhaps the Minister will answer these questions. What does he think now of his right hon. Friend's remarks on that occasion? Was the right hon. Member for Wirral, West—as one would expect of him—being truthful, or was he reckless or negligent? His statement in Llanfechain was important. It almost certainly confirmed the loyalty of a significant number of usually Conservative voters for whom it was a key issue in their voting intentions. The then Secretary of State knew that. That is why he did not equivocate.

What has happened since then to persuade the Government that a new unitary authority, perhaps with fewer councillors than the existing Montgomeryshire district council—the Secretary of State knows that I do not quarrel with that proposition—is no longer the natural solution for the historic community that I represent? Why is history to be treated under one heading for Merthyr and Blaenau Gwent and an entirely different heading for Montgomeryshire? The suspicion exists strongly in my constituency that Montgomeryshire is being sacrificed to a mistake—the Secretary of State's mistaken belief that what he is currently proposing will serve the interests of his political party—rather than to any valid consideration of the merits.

The people of Montgomeryshire, a mere 16 per cent. of whom expressed a preference for a unitary Powys according to an NOP poll taken last summer, want to know why their opinions have been rejected in the face of the clearest possible governmental and electoral commitments. That is not just my view; it crosses political party lines. Indeed, I pay especial respect to the support that the Campaign for Montgomeryshire has received from the Montgomeryshire Conservative association, the leading members of whom are entirely opposed to the current proposals.

Chief among those Tory opponents is the former chairman of the Development Board for Rural Wales, Mr. Leslie Morgan, CBE. Mr. Morgan, former Tory candidate for Montgomeryshire and president of the local association, is no namby-pamby sentimentalist. He is a hard-headed local business man, head of a now fourth-generation business straddling the English and Welsh heartlands of the county, with a wide grasp of the social and economic structure and needs of the area. He is not only convinced of the merits of the case for a unitary Montgomeryshire, but has also told the Secretary of State, in my presence, and in the clearest possible terms, of the damage that he believes that the current proposals will do to the Conservative party locally.

Nor can that be claimed as the view of only the older members of our community. Recently, I was given the opportunity to make a short film on the issue for BBC Wales. As part of it, I interviewed a young woman called Gillian Plume. She is Welsh speaking and comes from Bont Dolgadfan, near Llanbrynmair. She is articulate, intelligent and successful, working in a responsible position for a significant inward investor in Newtown. Hers is a representative view to be given credence. When I asked her for that view, she revealed that, to her generation, Llandrindod Wells, the county town of Powys, seems remote and irrelevant. When we pondered in detail how often she had been there, it became apparent that her only visits were several years ago for a schoolgirl hockey match. That is but a single illustration—one of many—of how Powys has failed to become a natural part of community life, even for young people.

In his speech in the House on 3 March 1994, the Secretary of State spoke of his plans for Welsh roads. His strategy can be summarised tidily as taking as its emphasis an east-west-east axis. He was right in relation to Montgomeryshire. The natural swing of communications is not between the north of Montgomeryshire and the south of Breconshire, but between ourselves and Shropshire to the east and Aberystwyth to the west, and, to an extent, north-eastwards towards Wrexham and Chester. Little trade or travel has Powys as its natural sway.

Of course, the provision of the functions of local government must be sound and efficient in any changed system. There is plenty of evidence that Montgomeryshire could provide good and efficient service. The existing district council has discharged its functions without the need to impose high levels of tax on residents. Naturally, the question has arisen whether it would be able to discharge the heavy burden of administering education—so long as the Government leaves education in the hands of local authorities. All I ask the Secretary of State to do is look at the record of one of the best education authorities that Wales, indeed, I say confidently, the United Kingdom, has ever had—the old Montgomeryshire county council. It provided an estate of schools of which we are still proud. It had at times the highest academic achievements of any education authority. The morale of teachers and the quality of the directors was second to none.

I turn now briefly to the organisation proposed in the Bill for what is currently, and unfortunately in my view, perpetuated under the name of Powys in the amended text. The proposed arrangements for a partly devolved system, in which an attempt is made to perpetuate vestiges of the old county, are simply unsatisfactory. Whether one calls these arrangements "Powys pudding" or a muddle in the middle, one has a clear picture of the view held of them in mid Wales. Even partial devolution would not be guaranteed under the Bill, but would remain at the discretion of the Secretary of State. As the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) pointed out, there would be no real financial independence. It would he less efficient, less accountable, less acceptable than the current two-tier system.

If the Secretary of State insists on having a two-tier system and remains convinced that he cannot trust the people of Montgomeryshire to run their affairs, I suggest that he excludes Montgomeryshire, Radnorshire and Breconshire from this reorganisation altogether and avoids the upheaval, uncertainty and expense that is being caused.

One of the finest sights in Montgomeryshire is a great avenue of redwood trees. They were planted late in the last century, shortly before the reorganisation that created in its statutory form the efficient Montgomeryshire county council of which I spoke a little earlier. They were planted for a great Montgomeryshire man who became one of the county's Members of Parliament. They stand for the stability, solidity, honesty and determination of our community. It would be an irony if those trees were now to stand as a reminder of the destruction of our community's local government tie by their namesake, especially as they dominate the ground of my noble and learned Friend Lord Hooson, who represented the county for 17 years from 1962 with such distinction.

I ask the Secretary of State to read with great care the speeches of my noble and learned Friend in the debates on the Bill in another place. I tell the Secretary of State sincerely that my noble and learned Friend and I will be the first to praise him if he feels able to respond to our advice. We give it in the authentic voice of our county.

6.19 pm
Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)

I am pleased to follow the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile)—[Interruption.]—because I want to make some comments that relate very much to his speech.

I am sorry to hear sedentary murmurs from the Opposition Benches, perhaps suggesting that it is inappropriate for an hon. Member representing an English constituency to speak in the debate. Hon. Members who have attended debates on the subject will have observed that I have been present for all of them, since the moment when the Bill was first mentioned in the House. It is regrettable that the hon. Members for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) and for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) do not welcome the fact that people from outside Wales show an interest in the legislation. In doing so, they risk unduly fragmenting the House into regional areas. That does no good to the House, and I argue that, ultimately, it does no good to Wales.

As I have said, I have attended all the debates on this subject. When the Secretary of State's predecessor first mentioned the Bill, I asked him a few questions about the status of smaller counties such as Montgomeryshire, Breconshire and Radnorshire. Clearly, there is a coincidence of interests between people in those counties—which will be affected by the Welsh local government reorganization—and myself, representing the ancient county of Rutland. On the basis of that coincidence—but concentrating, of course, on Wales—I wish to make some observations, which I hope my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will consider.

When we were in government in the early 1970s, we made a big mistake in setting local government reform as we did. There was a drive for managerial efficiency; in redrawing the map, supposedly to serve the interests of that efficiency, we trampled over historic boundaries, creating artificial counties that have been unpopular from the day of their introduction. Now, after 20 years of complaints and unsatisfactory arrangements, we are having to "unbundle" those rather silly artificial creations.

This debate deals mainly with the question of size. What is a suitable size for the system of local government administration, enabling it both to pay attention to community identity and to deliver services efficiently? I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) will not object too strongly if I take him to task for having advanced the least persuasive argument. He said that we must pay attention to the career structure provided for officers in local government administration; I do not see why the career structure for local government officials should be the strongest argument on which to determine the size of any local authority. If that argument reached my hon. Friend from any other source, I detect an ill-considered influence.

My hon. Friend said that a population of 25,000 might be all right, but then argued that, for career-structure reasons, it would not be. Local government administration is there for local people: it is there primarily for those who elect local government members. We must consider what is a sensible number to represent the interests of the electors.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Duncan

Of course I will.

Mr. Flynn


Mr. Rogers

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have just returned to the Chamber; I apologise for having left it. I now find that yet another English Member is speaking. I know the problems involved, Madam Deputy Speaker, but—like other Front Benchers—I registered my wish to speak in a debate that affects our constituencies, and, like them, have not been allowed to do so. I understood that Parliament was a body in which we could speak on behalf of our constituents. I know that the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) is an expert on council houses, but I cannot see that he has any locus in this debate. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. This is a matter for the Chair to determine. The best way to ensure that all who wish to speak will be called is for the earlier speakers to speak briefly.

Mr. Duncan

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a matter of regret to me that an attempt to contribute to the debate—and, indeed, to express opinions that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) might find that he shared, if he only had the courtesy to listen—has been treated in such a facile way.

As I was saying, we should consider the size of local government administration. It should work for those who elect the councillors and wish the councils to deliver services. We may have risked being unduly carried away in our wish to make some local authorities too large, and failed to appreciate that small units of local government administration can deliver services in an efficient way that has not been recognised in the past by those who have shaped Welsh local government administration, and who are now embarking on the same process in England.

If we returned to what I understand to be truly Conservative principles of local government reform, we would want diversity rather than uniformity. We wish to preserve historic identity. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery said that his county was created in 1542. If I may say so, he is rather nouveau: Rutland can beat that by the best part of 450 years.

Mr. Flynn

Is the hon. Gentleman going to inform us of the benefits to be obtained from profiteering in council houses, from the benefit of his personal experience?

Mr. Duncan

I think that the best service I can do the House is to ignore comments of that kind.

Mr. Alex Carlile

May I say that I welcome the constructive contribution that the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) has made to the debate? Hon. Members representing small counties would very much like to hear that contribution. I ask others to listen to the hon. Gentleman with patience; I know that, on this matter at least, he has a valuable contribution to make.

Mr. Duncan

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman, if only for his slightly qualified endorsement of what I have been saying.

Let me make a simple point, to which I know my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will listen carefully. I raised it at the outset, when his predecessor introduced the legislation. I asked him a specific question about Powys, which results from an amalgamation of smaller counties creating a larger county. That question was this: did he not appreciate that smaller counties—smaller units of government—could, if they wished, combine with their neighbours when they saw fit to do so, for the purpose of delivering a service? By the same token, a larger unit of government containing parts with a strong sense of community identity cannot declare unilateral independence for the purposes of local government administration.

When it comes to constructing a sensible arrangement for local government, it makes sense to preserve smaller units, leaving them a measure of flexibility to combine with their neighbours when they see fit in order to make the delivery of services as efficient as possible. I urge the Secretary of State to present us with the arguments that he considers strong—that he thinks will really work—"for the supposed economies of scale that attach to the larger units of government proposed in the Bill, which I fear will be proposed for England later. I hope that he will see fit to value the ability of smaller units, with a strong historical identity, a community interest and an understanding of the services needed within their small communities, to deliver those services efficiently—while being able to combine with their neighbours to meet any necessary economies of scale and serve the best interests of those who elected them.

6.29 pm
Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)

I have particular expertise in this subject as one of the few Opposition Members—indeed, one of the few Members of the House —who took part in the Committee stage of the Local Government Act 1972. I remember well the two Ministers who were in charge. Lord Walker has been mentioned. The person who was then his Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of the Environment is now a president—President of the Board of Trade. Indeed, I know a good deal about Conservative principles of local government, about which the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) waxed so lyrical.

The 1972 reorganisation was not worth the candle, and I suspect that this one is worth not very much more. Having participated in debates on this subject for more than 20 years, I tend to think that local government reorganisation is very often a matter for the professionals, who enjoy discussing and debating size and so on. But the public are pretty fed up with these reorganisations, which—certainly in the case of Conservative changes—end up in far greater expenditure, more concentration of power and very little increase in the accountability of those who provide the services.

It has been rumoured that the current Secretary of State would have been quite pleased to withdraw the Bill. I do not know whether he ever made such a promise to the Cabinet or to a Cabinet Committee, but I suspect that his heart is not fully in the legislation. After all, he had to take it over from his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Wirral, West (Mr. Hunt), who had a very obsessive attitude towards unitary authorities. What deep psychological reason there might have been, I do not know. I cannot divine whether it was the right hon. Gentleman's Liverpool youth or the fact that he was in charge of the poll tax. Ministers who are fellows of All Souls do not have a very high reputation. Certainly this Bill does not have the mark of what I consider to be a fellow of All Souls.

The legislation is not worth the candle. It will result in much higher expenditure, and it will not create the kind of democratic accountability that we want. If the Secretary of State wants to do something for democracy in Wales, he could start by making more democratic not just the quangos in general but, for example, the hospital trusts. Why does not he announce that, to begin with, 50 per cent. of the members of hospital trusts are to be elected? Let us have an election—and I say so to members of my own party too.

Let us have a ballot paper such as is used in the United States of America. Let us have an arrangement that will enable local people to be really involved. That would be an advance for democracy. This legislation does very little except shuffle matters around.

As usual, the Tory party is completely out of touch with popular feeling in Wales, especially in respect of a Welsh assembly or parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) made very clearly the point that if the Bill contained a proposal for a Welsh parliament or assembly we could support it. My hon. Friend argued that such an arrangement would make it possible to have more unitary authorities. We could have a Llanelli unitary authority, and we could have similar arrangements for Port Talbot and Neath. Now, indeed, we do have Merthyr Tydfil and Blaenau Gwent as separate authorities. Like other hon. Members, I ask the Secretary of State what is the difference, in terms of the Bill, between Llanelli and Port Talbot, between Llanelli and Neath, between Llanelli and Merthyr Tydfil and between Llanelli and Blaenau Gwent.

The Secretary of State has conceded that all logic, the entire intellectual basis for the legislation—if it has an intellectual basis—has gone. All of us shall now quite properly press the case for our own areas, as there is no longer any logic or any understanding as to correct size or the reasons for the figure of 22.

I return to the question of a Welsh assembly. Whenever the matter is raised, Tory Members, as happened yesterday, talk about a high-taxing, high-spending body. I am sorry to tell those people that they are completely out of touch with the mood in Wales. I do not fear another referendum. I have little doubt that, if one were held, there would be an overwhelming majority in favour of a Welsh parliament or assembly. As we are debating local government in Wales, I do not want to dwell on the question of an assembly, although the amendment refers to the matter. However, I want to make the point that there are many reasons for the shift in opinion that has taken place.

Perhaps the Secretary of State will be very interested in one of the reasons—the ever closer union in the European Community. That is one of the reasons for the ever greater consciousness of identity in Wales. People are beginning to ask why on earth we should look towards London when power is passing more and more to an ever closer union of European states. We have not yet reached that point, but this is one of the reasons that we may very well see gradually a demand not only for a Welsh parliament or assembly but for representation in the Council of Ministers for such a body or for the Welsh nation. I do not know whether that will happen, but I suspect that if the London Government, of whichever party, are bent on moving towards a single currency and a central bank and on transferring economic power to Brussels, people in Wales, as they are doing now, will ask what is the point of talking to the Secretary of State for Wales or to other Ministers in London when the thing to do is to talk to the people in Brussels. That is just one reason for the change in the mood in Wales about an assembly. The Tory party is making a very big mistake if it thinks that matters have stood still since the referendum of 1979.

Mr. Richards

I have been listening very carefully to the hon. Gentleman. It is always worth hearing what he has to say. Does he think that if a Welsh parliament were established, a Welsh currency would be a good thing for the Welsh economy?

Mr. Davies

I can see that the hon. Gentleman is a bit concerned about my remarks. He obviously remembers the debates on the Maastricht treaty. As I do not want to return to those matters, I shall not pursue the point that he has raised. Indeed, there will not be an English currency if we have ever closer union. The Minister of State likes to talk about the ecu, although I do not think that he, any more than any of the rest of us, has ever seen one.

I should like to turn to the question of what this Bill will do for my constituency—indeed, for west Wales. In many ways, Llanelli's natural area is west Wales. Everybody knows that Llanelli is the cultural and industrial capital of the region. It is the sporting capital of west Wales and may be the sporting capital of Wales as a whole after 4.30 pm on Saturday of the coming week. Dyfed, although it is an artificial creation, has been able to provide certain strategic planning services for the area of west Wales stretching from Llanelli all the way down to Pembrokeshire. If the Bill becomes law, Dyfed will go. Who will then provide the strategic planning for that area? Pembrokeshire, Cardiganshire or Carmarthenshire? Or can we hope that it will be a Llanelli unitary authority? It will not be possible to provide the sort of strategic planning that Dyfed has tried to provide.

At Question Time yesterday I referred to the problem of transport and communications from west Wales to continental Europe. The Minister of State dismissed my point. He was not very concerned. He said that responsibility for roads and railways lies with his Department. There is very little co-ordination, and the situation will worsen if Dyfed as a strategic area is abolished.

When I became the Member of Parliament for Llanelli in 1970, there was a Llanelli borough council—the old borough council—and a Llanelli rural council, which took into account the fact that the villages in my area are different from Merthyr Tydfil and some of the other valley communities. The rural council took in all the old anthracite mining villages. Those bodies were amalgamated. We had one council, but at least we shared power with Dyfed. Previously, we had shared power with the Carmarthenshire county council. Now we are to lose it all. We shall not have the old Llanelli borough council or the new Llanelli borough council, and we shall not have a Llanelli rural council. In the whole of my constituency there will be no local government with real power or power sharing. Everything will be transferred to the new Carmarthenshire county council. My constituents find this quite extraordinary—a point that will be pressed in Committee.

The Lord Advocate in the other place and the Secretary of State here have mentioned the decentralisation initiative. Some people have called it the "Powys pudding". It is the Tower Hamlets neighbourhood council idea. It is no good the Secretary of State shaking his head. I say it neither in praise nor in condemnation but merely from my observation. It is the Tower Hamlets neighbourhood council idea.

Mr. Alex Carlile

They have found out the hard way.

Mr. Davies

I do not know about that. It may suit London areas such as Bow and Poplar and Stepney, but the whole concept of a local area committee is quite alien to the traditions of local government in the part of Wales that I represent. How are these area committees, if they were to come about, to dovetail, if at all, with community councils? In my area the community council is very important. The hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) said that he did not understand why they were not called parish councils. I will not go into it; I will merely tell him to read the speech by Lord Tonypandy, who led for the Opposition in that famous 1972 local government debate. He will find out why they were not called parish councils. The reasons are obvious to those who know Welsh history.

Leaving that aside, however, how are these area committees supposed to dovetail in? If the Secretary of State is going down that road, I would prefer the emphasis to be placed on the community council; the town council. The town council can perform the function of the neighbourhood council or of the area committee, and it is there; it exists; it is elected. How on earth this hotch-potch will work out in practice, I do not know.

One of the disappointments of the Bill is that, although they have done a little, the Government have not tried to strengthen the basis of the community council which in Wales is extremely important, certainly in the part of Wales that I represent.

This is a hotch-potch of a Bill. It will do no good. It deprives my constituency of democratically accountable local government. It takes it and puts it somewhere else. We shall come back to this argument in Committee. All I can say now is that the sooner the Bill is thrown out, the better.

6.41 pm
Mr. Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan)

When I read the Labour amendment, I was surprised because, although it started well by recognising, rightly, that there was a broad measure of support for the principle of unitary authorities, it went on to criticise every conceivable aspect of unitary authorities. My surprise diminished when I heard from the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) that he was the draftsman. What does not dim my surprise is the fact that all Opposition Members from Wales have signed the amendment, the various aspects of which I would like to deal with one by one.

First, the Opposition claim that the Bill fails to establish a directly elected, all-Wales tier of government. That is pretty clear. What it does not say is what it would cost were any such tier of government to be provided. That is rather strange because the last point in the Opposition's long list of criticisms is that the reorganisation of local government in Wales will cost the Welsh people at least £100 million. If the Opposition are so worried about expenditure on reorganising local authorities, how is it that they can face with equanimity the costs of setting up and running a directly elected, all-Wales tier of government?

Mr. David Hanson (Delyn)

The hon. Gentleman intimates that he is worried about cost. Opposition Members make the point that the cost of the quango system currently in operation exists day in, day out and that the cost of a Welsh assembly would be no more, and probably less, than the cost of quangos. The difference, however, is that the services would come under some form of democratic accountability. The hon. Gentleman fails to grasp that point.

Mr. Sweeney

The hon. Gentleman has missed the point that I was making, which is that setting up and running a directly elected, all-Wales tier of government would cost money, whereas the cost of reorganising local government is a one-off cost that will ultimately lead to savings.

The second point on which the Opposition belabour the Government is that the Bill concentrates power in the hands of the Secretary of State for Wales. My first response to that is that the reforms will increase the accountability of local councillors. Presumably that is why the Opposition began by welcoming the principle of unitary authorities, because they realised that benefits will accrue from having a single tier of local government and that it will enhance rather than diminish the power of locally elected representatives.

Perhaps the real reason why they are concerned about the possibility of power residing in the hands of the Secretary of State is that, after 15 years in opposition, they have come to the reluctant conclusion that they will never be in the position of fielding a Secretary of State for Wales and therefore they resent any power that the office-holder may have.

Mr. Redwood

I wonder whether my hon. Friend noticed that, when I challenged Labour Members to say where the Bill was going to centralise, they chose to give as an example clauses whereby I would be strengthening local power at the request of the local authority and its elected members—the complete opposite of centralising power.

Mr. Sweeney

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for making the point.

The third criticism in the amendment is that the Government will abolish a democratic tier of local government in favour of joint boards and other joint arrangements. If the Opposition accept the principle of setting up a unitary authority, how on earth can they criticise us for wanting to abolish a democratic tier? One cannot achieve single-tier local government without abolishing a democratic tier. It follows that if there are more unitary authorities than there have been county councils hitherto, it makes sense to set up some sort of joint arrangements, crossing the boundaries of the new unitary authorities, for certain purposes where it seems appropriate.

The fourth criticism is that the Bill undermines the viability of local services. That is a bit rich, coming from an Opposition who have today called for more unitary authorities. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has referred to 22 unitary authorities. The hon. Member for Caerphilly asked why there should not be 24. Why not 26 or 28, if that is the sort of reasoning that Opposition Members apply? Other things being equal, the smaller the local authorities are, the less viable local services will be. The proposals in the Bill serve to ensure the viability of local services by achieving a sensible compromise between size of authority and genuine accountability to the public.

Mr. Ainger

The hon. Gentleman has not mentioned in his list of criteria a community of interest. Both the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) and the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) have mentioned it. Does he not accept that as an important point as well as the scale or the size of the operation?

Mr. Sweeney

I recognise the importance of a community of interest; it is a considerable factor. It is also why I have urged the Government to create a unitary authority based on Vale of Glamorgan.

Mr. Win Griffiths

The hon. Gentleman and I were at a meeting on Friday night which was attended by about 200 people, only one of whom wanted to belong to Vale of Glamorgan. Does he recognise the fact that the community of interest in Ewenny, St. Bride's Major and Wick is to be with the Bridgend unitary authority, not with the Vale of Glamorgan unitary authority?

Mr. Sweeney

I was certainly pleased to visit the hon. Gentleman's constituency last Friday at the invitation of the people of Ewenny, Wick and St. Bride's Major. It is fair to say that almost all the people in the hall—about 175 from those communities—were opposed to joining Vale of Glamorgan. I shall deal with that issue later, but I feel that their interests will be best served by joining Vale of Glamorgan because they will benefit from lower local government costs and will, in all probability, receive a better service.

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Sweeney

I shall not give way as I must make progress.

The fifth criticism in the Opposition's amendment is that they fear that further privatisation and … even more Welsh quangos will result from the Bill. I expect that knee-jerk reaction to the possibility of further privatisation, and I shall be interested to hear about the Opposition's new-found interest in keeping down the number of civil servants and bureaucrats. I hope that in future the Conservatives will have more support from the Opposition when we try to reduce, rather than increase, the amount of red tape.

The sixth criticism in the amendment is that the Bill will do nothing to improve the system of Welsh local government finance". I strongly repudiate that notion. One of the main purposes of the Bill is to ensure more democratic accountability. People will no longer be confused about whether to go to councillor Bloggs or councillor Snooks to deal with a housing or education problem. If it is a matter for local government, they will know who their councillor is and who is responsible.

Mr. Win Griffiths

Some will go to their Member of Parliament.

Mr. Sweeney

Indeed, some will still go to see their Member of Parliament, as I discover every Saturday morning at my two surgeries.

The Opposition's seventh criticism is that the Bill ignores important traditional and historic Welsh local government boundaries". Members may have something to say about their boundaries, but I am delighted that that of Vale of Glamorgan is to continue to exist. There is a great deal of local pride in the area and I am sure that it will be strengthened by the addition of the three communities that have already been mentioned.

The Opposition's final criticism of the Bill relates to costs. The amendment states that the Bill will cost the Welsh people at least £100 million which could be better used in improving … services. Labour Members have missed the point. The Bill will improve public services not only in two years' time but for every year thereafter, which is why I support it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already explained how the initial investment will be financed, and it will be money extremely well spent.

I told the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) that I would speak of the boundary between his constituency and mine. What particularly prompts me to do so were the remarks made by the hon. Member for Caerphilly, who is not in his seat at the moment but who suggested that a number of boundaries were being determined in the political interests of the Conservative party. He singled out my constituency for special mention.

I should like to set the record straight by pointing out that my constituency already has 67,000 electors. In other words, it has about 8,000 electors too many for the typical Welsh seat. In its provisional recommendation based on the existing local government boundaries, the Boundary Commission said that my seat—or Vale of Glamorgan seat—was on the large side and that it was a matter of concern but that it was inclined to leave matters as they were, for the time being at any rate.

It is certainly not a foregone conclusion that the Bill would be of any benefit to me. Indeed, one possibility is that the Cardiff boundaries might be altered and the existing Vale of Glamorgan seat could disappear. I do not know what final recommendation the commission will make, but it is important to set the record straight and stress that the reason for the inclusion of Ewenny, St. Bride's Major and Wick is in order to benefit the people of Vale of Glamorgan, including those who live in the three communities. [Hon. Members: "None of them believes that".] It is interesting that Labour Members interrupt from a sedentary position to say that local people will not believe it. The fact is that—

Mr. Ray Powell


Mr. Sweeney

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

I outlined the arguments to a public meeting at which about 175 constituents of the hon. Member for Bridgend were present. None of them refuted what I had said. With a population of about 120,000 after reorganisation—

Mr. Powell


Mr. Sweeney

I am sorry; I did say that I would give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Powell

I represented Bridgend from 1979 to 1983 when Ewenny, Wick and that part of the vale were part of the Ogmore constituency. I was secretary and agent to Walter Padley, my predecessor, who served the Ogmore constituency for 28 years during which time the area now in dispute was included in it and for 10 years before that. The area has a history of belonging to the Ogmore constituency and there is no doubt that it should now join Bridgend. All the people whom I represented there and whom I still know have said to me, not once but many times, that they should not become part of a different constituency when they have always been oriented towards the market town of Bridgend where they do their shopping. They can also walk from Ewenny to the town of Bridgend and it would be a disgrace if the area were included in Vale of Glamorgan.

Mr. Sweeney

Constituency boundaries are wholly irrelevant in this context. Changes to constituency boundaries are a matter for the Boundary Commission, not for the House.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

The hon. Gentleman mentioned them.

Mr. Sweeney

I mentioned them because an accusation was made against me earlier in the Chamber and I was anxious to refute it.

With a population of about 120,000 once the reorganisation proposals are in place, the vale will be big enough to achieve economies of scale and to manage major services effectively while remaining small enough to maintain its existing character, foster pride in the community and delivering high quality services at a competitive cost.

The people of Ewenny, St. Bride's Major and Wick will benefit financially from joining the vale. In 11 of the past 12 years, people living in the vale have had lower council tax, community charge and rate bills than in Ogwr. The strong likelihood is that, just as the total council tax bill now imposed by South Glamorgan county council and the Vale of Glamorgan borough council is substantially lower than the total bill imposed by Mid Glamorgan county council and Ogwr borough council, everyone living in the new vale unitary authority will pay less than those living in Ogwr.

Mr. Win Griffiths

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that, when he was making that point at the public meeting on Friday, people shouted that they might have to pay a bit more, but that the convenience of being in the Bridgend unitary authority would far overcome any slight reduction in cost from being in the Vale of Glamorgan? They laughed at that point, and when the vote was taken at the end of the meeting, only one person was persuaded to follow the hon. Gentleman's line.

Mr. Sweeney

The hon. Member is quite right to say that I was interrupted at that stage of my speech before I had a chance to develop the other aspects of my argument.

Mr. Griffiths

What about the vote at the end?

Mr. Sweeney

The vote at the end reflected the fact that some 175 people turned up at a meeting and clearly almost all those individuals had made up their minds beforehand. [Laughter.] The meeting was distorted by a 20-minute speech by the chairman, who introduced the debate in such a way that, in effect, doubled the time spent on the platform by speakers who opposed the communities coming into the vale.

With regard to the services, I believe that the people living in Ewenny, St. Bride's Major and Wick will receive a better quality of service in the vale. There has been a lot of misinformation flying about. For example, some people in Ewenny, St. Bride's Major and Wick believe that after they join the vale they will have to go to hospital in Cardiff if they are ill, instead of going to Bridgend. That is nonsense.

Mr. Griffiths

They do not believe that.

Mr. Sweeney

The hon. Member interrupts from a sedentary position to say that they do not believe that. I have had letters from people claiming that, I have heard people saying it, and that is why I am dealing with it. People living in places such as Cowbridge, Colwinston and Treoes in my constituency already go to hospital in Bridgend and it will be no different for the people who join the Vale of Glamorgan unitary authority. Under the recent reforms of the national health service, the money follows the patient. That will not be changed by local government reorganisation.

There are excellent schools on both sides of the present western boundary of the vale. I freely acknowledge that Bryn Teg, the comprehensive school which children from the three communities currently attend, is excellent. Cowbridge school, which has the fourth best academic record in Wales, is heavily oversubscribed; and Llantwit Major school, which is in the process of being rebuilt to a very high standard, is also expected to be full in the near future. The sensible course is therefore for the new vale unitary authority to purchase places at Bryn Teg to avoid disrupting the education of children from the three communities.

I acknowledge that there may well be some difficulties for people who live close to Bridgend in travelling to Barry, but the need to do so has been grossly exaggerated. People who live in the three communities will doubtless continue to shop, for example, in Bridgend. If the people who live in Llantwit Major and Cowbridge, who all live in the existing Vale of Glamorgan, find that they cannot get what they want in the local shops, they often shop in Bridgend. The new local authority boundary will not affect that.

The increase in population in the western vale will tend to improve access to services. The new council is more likely to delegate certain administrative functions to the western vale if the population balance shifts westwards. For example, it is already possible to pay council tax and council house rent in Cowbridge and Llantwit Major. The new unitary authority will make its own decisions, but, when planning the local services, it is bound to take into account the wishes and needs of the population that it will serve.

The population of the three communities have a lot more in common with Treoes, Llangan and Colwinston in my constituency than they do with Bridgend. There is no natural boundary between the vale and the three communities. Part of Ewenny is physically separated from the vale and joined to Bridgend. That problem can be overcome by the local government Boundary Commission, which will have power to recommend detailed amendments, as it has already successfully done for the eastern vale boundary. The addition of the new communities to the Vale of Glamorgan will provide an extra rural councillor and give more clout to rural points of view.

In essence, the proposals are in the interests of the whole of the Vale of Glamorgan. They are certainly in the interests of my constituents, whose interests I must represent today, in that the Vale of Glamorgan unitary authority will be significantly larger than the existing vale borough council area. The new authority will be in a position to deliver a high level of services at a lower cost than is being experienced at present by people living in Ogwr.

7.6 pm

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

The Opposition realise that the Secretary of State is in a predicament because he has effectively inherited a rather unfortunate Bill. I am sure that Opposition Members would be more than willing to discuss and to rework the Bill with him. The Secretary of State is laughing. I had always thought that the whole point of the Bill was to bring some consensus in the matter. If there is to be consensus—he may not understand this—there has to be discussion. That is why the Secretary of State is typical of the Government. He does not listen and he will not listen. I should be obliged if he would listen during the few minutes in which I shall speak.

Mr. Redwood

I was smiling because, as I explained to the House, that is exactly what I have been doing for months since taking the job. I entirely agree with the need to discuss, think it through and see whether we can reach agreement. That is what I have been doing.

Mr. Llwyd

May I take that as an indication that discussion on the Bill has not yet ended and that there will be some give and take in Committee on various important amendments that may seem necessary?

Mr. Redwood

indicated assent.

Mr. Llwyd

I am obliged to the Secretary of State for that indication. None the less, I appeal to him to recognise that there are aspects of the Bill which worry many Members on both sides of the House. No doubt the Secretary of State will have seen the recent amendment and will have noticed that every Opposition Member has put his or her name to it.

I believe, as others have said, that the fatal flaw in the Bill is the absence of an all-Wales tier of government. Members of my party make no secret of the wish to see a full tax-raising and legislative Welsh parliament. Colleagues in other parties have a Welsh assembly firmly set in their manifestos, and I need not remind the Secretary of State that no fewer than 72 per cent. of the Welsh electorate voted at the last general election for parties to include various forms of devolution in their manifestos. So important was that issue that every party had a most definite view on it.

The vote on the amendment moved by Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos in another place sent a true and honest signal to the Government of the need for an all-Wales tier. The amendment was lost by eight votes only and the fact that the other place came that near to such a substantial constitutional change tells its own story.

Mr. Morgan

A moral victory.

Mr. Llwyd

The hon. Member chips in with the right phrase. I would have used it, but he used it first.

No lasting and meaningful review of government in Wales can take place without dealing with the all-important need for an elected all-Wales tier of government. The so-called democratic deficit in Wales is huge, and even as I speak it is dividing the people of Wales from this place. A Welsh parliament is absolutely necessary, and in addressing the need for a Welsh assembly pro tem, I say that it is not only desirable but vital that such a body be set up. It, and it alone, could exercise truly democratic control over the executive functions of the Secretary of State for Wales.

The case for an assembly is now overwhelming, if only because of the recent revelations about the Welsh Development Agency and other non-departmental public bodies in Wales. Such organisations must be made thoroughly accountable to a fully democratically elected all-Wales body. The non-departmental public bodies have a huge budget—£1.8 billion per annum—and a staff of 50,000. They are peopled by about 1,400 members, the overwhelming majority of whom are Tory placemen and placewomen. Under the proposals in the Bill there will be about 200 fewer councillors than quango members in Wales. Democratic accountability is lacking, and I am afraid that the system is in disrepute.

The answer is clear. In a recent public opinion poll 45 per cent. of respondents favoured a Welsh assembly, and only 22 per cent. were against; the "don't know" element was 33 per cent. If we eliminate the "don't knows", 67 per cent. of the people tested were in favour and only 33 per cent. against. The same poll revealed that there is no support in Wales for the current proposals for reorganising local government. Only 20 per cent. of the people of Wales support them. No reorganisation of local government should be implemented until the new structure has been considered and approved by a democratically elected Welsh assembly or parliament.

Any reasonable or acceptable form of local government should act as a counterweight to the centralist direction and tendencies of central Government. For that to work, local government must be returned to the people. Professor Ivor Jennings, in his excellent book "Principles of Local Government Law", puts it thus: Local government may have a wide variety of meanings. Since it is 'government', the system of local government which a country adopts must be part of its governmental or constitutional structure. Since it is 'local', it relates to specific portions of the country defined by locality. The institutions of local government are thus governmental organs having jurisdiction not over the whole of a country hut over specific portions of it". The words "defined by locality" need further emphasis, and I shall talk briefly about them later.

As I have said, local government's role is as a counterweight to the state. It is vital that it should so act, because so long as the Government retain their financial stranglehold through charge capping and the like, councils are dangerously near to becoming mere agents or rubber stamps for Westminster rule. For good or bad, the system that we have relies on a healthy balance between local and central Government. That balance is now heavily weighted towards central Government, and that all-important balance in our democracy is under serious threat.

As though to further that damaging process, the Bill adds considerably to the Secretary of State's powers over local government. It is a centralising measure, transferring powers from democratically elected councils to the Welsh Office. It weakens democracy yet further, and does not address the serious problem of accountability in Wales. The draconian and far-reaching powers to be conferred on the Secretary of State must be brought under full democratic control.

The European aspect is interesting. The concept of subsidiarity means in essence that decisions best reached at a local level should be made at a local level. That applies not only to the relationship between the European mainland and Westminster, but to the relationship between Westminster and Wales. The need for that link is obvious, as is the need for a proper division of decision taking to be enshrined in any measure that purports to review local government law in Wales.

Mr. Redwood

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that I have explained that I want many choices, responsibilities and decisions to be dealt with locally? It is Opposition Members who say that I must specify in each case what the answer should be. The argument on local accountability is the other way round from what the hon. Gentleman has described.

Mr. Llwyd

With the greatest respect, I must point out that the right hon. Gentleman's attention has already been drawn to various parts of the Bill, such as clauses 29 to 33. We know of the many reserve powers throughout the Bill. I admit that the right hon. Gentleman said that those powers were a last resort, and that he would not wish to use them—but I am sure that he would not wish to use his power of rate capping either. None the less, those powers are there, and they were nearly used recently against a borough council in north Wales.

When one dissects the Bill carefully, one finds numerous areas in which the Secretary of State and the Welsh Office have a firm grip on everything that goes on. The powers might not be used—but they are there, and I call attention to them.

Mr. Redwood

The powers are either transitional or enabling. They do not take functions and duties from local government.

Mr. Llwyd

But with various bits of work being farmed out—[Interruption.] Conservative Members are having a laugh about this argument, but I do not believe that it is all that funny. Inevitably, various directly provided local government services will now go out to tender. We know that that will happen; compulsory competitive tendering may have been postponed, but it is coming in the next few months, as sure as eggs are eggs. I therefore question the Secretary of State's assertion.

I was talking about the relationship between Westminster and Wales, and I still say that the Bill will deliver the reverse of subsidiarity. It flies in the face of mainstream political and constitutional thinking in mainland Europe.

While we are on that subject, let us remember another fact. Only 15 per cent. of local government funding will come from council tax; 85 per cent. will come from central Government. That will perpetuate the financial stranglehold. The Audit Commission, referring to the European dimension, recently said that the absence of forums in which local authorities can meet to represent the interests of a broader region was beginning to disadvantage the United Kingdom local government system in its representations to the European Commission.

We know about that in Wales, because we have often failed to obtain structural funds for various areas of our country. We cannot allow our local authorities to operate under such a disadvantage. A democratic assembly for Wales is essential to safeguard and promote the interests of Welsh local authorities in Europe. Aberconwy, in my constituency, lost out and was denied assistance under the assisted area schemes because the local authority did not have a suitable voice in Europe.

One of the justifications for the Bill is the Government's belief that the public are confused about the role of county, district and borough councils. If there was such obvious confusion, why has it taken 20 years for the Government to notice it? The alleged duplication is also a bad point.

What of the alternative structures now being produced to clear up the confusion? The Bill purports to replace the existing structure of two tiers—besides the community councils, that is—with a single tier of unitary authorities. However, in Committee in another place, Lord Elis-Thomas said: Let us not mislead ourselves. We are not talking about a simple scheme to create unitary local government; we are talking about a very complex multi-tiered structure".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 17 January 1994; Vol. 551, c. 360.] Although local government functions will initially be vested in the new principal authorities, there will be substantial delegation to area committees, especially in rural areas such as Powys, Caernarfonshire and Meirionnydd. Other functions will be discharged jointly, either voluntarily or by joint authorities or statutory joint bodies. Moreover, police, fire and other services will be arranged on a combined authority basis. The new structure will be more confusing to the citizen than the present one. The reference to area committees shows that the Bill is bad.

If one of my constituents wishes to set up a business in the region, perhaps after being made redundant as a result of the decommissioning of Trawsfynydd nuclear power station, he or she will need planning permission for the business premises. Which authority will that person approach? Will it be the area committee or the new principal authority? It will probably be neither. He will have to seek planning permission from the new national park authority, with its headquarters in Penrhyndeudraeth. He will need building regulation consent, which may be available from the area committee's office in Dolgellau. As a prudent business person, he will seek advice from the local authority's economic development department. He might require technical advice from the professional officers of the trading standards service.

Will those functions be discharged by the local area committee, the new principal authority or through joint arrangements'? Which authority should he approach'? Where will he receive his advice'? He may need advice on fire precautions for the new premises. For that, he will have to approach the new combined fire authority, with its headquarters at heaven knows where. Will the new system cause less confusion or make life simpler'? I doubt whether it will be the latter.

There is also great concern about staffing. I welcome the Secretary of State's assurance that the likely loss of staff will amount to only 5 per cent.

Mr. Redwood

I said not that there would be a 5 per cent. loss of staff, but that 95 per cent. of staff were almost certain to be transferred over. I wanted to reassure all those people, but that does not mean that the other 5 per cent. will lose their jobs.

Mr. Liwyd

I make no issue about that matter. I apologise for misreading the position.

Mr. Ainger

But there is no guarantee.

Mr. Llwyd

No. I shall come to that.

There is considerable concern in my region about the potential loss of well-paid jobs in Dolgellau, which will deprive the economy of the spending power of many people and families and will weaken the social fabric in Meirionnydd. That is a major concern in my constituency, which has already suffered heavy blows in recent months, especially as a result of the decommissioning of Trawsfynydd nuclear power station.

There is also deep concern among members of staff, many of whom will be unable to transfer to Caernarfon even if jobs are offered there, for family and other reasons. They must at least be entitled to generous compensation. When will the Secretary of State make an announcement on that issue?

There is also great concern about the Government's view that those employees whose contracts of employment end on 31 March 1996 will not be made redundant but will have their contracts terminated by frustration of contract. That view is unacceptable. Employees who end up without a job must be entitled to all the protection afforded by the relevant employment legislation. Those matters must be considered in great detail in Committee.

The Secretary of State will recall addressing a meeting of the Wales Trades Union Congress in January at which he said that there was need for a substantial contribution on the issue of staffing during the Second Reading debate. With great respect, I have not heard him say much about that matter today. I invite him to develop his theme since he advanced it in January.

It would be worthwhile to mention what the Staff Commission for England recently said on the subject, and I invite the Secretary of State to comment on it. It advised the Department of Environment that the reorganisation compensation scheme should be mandatory, include age and length of service banding, and have a lump sum upper limit of 82 weeks for the under-50s and a 30-week maximum for the over-50s. It said that it should also give maximum added pension years for the over-50s, come into force with the reorganisation order and last for a year after the reorganisation day.

Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that he will accept those points as minimum criteria and that the matter will be considered in great depth during the passage of the Bill'? Such matters are more vital in Wales. A recent survey by Manpower Watch shows that a disproportionate number of employees in Wales are over 50 years of age compared with their counterparts in England. It is even more important for Wales that we are able to reach an early conclusion on the matter, and that it is satisfactory and fair to staff. The subject has naturally caused great worry throughout local government in Wales.

I am sure that the Government are aware of the recent study that was carried out by a team of top local government finance officers. It showed that the transitional costs of creating 21 unitary authorities would amount to £202.3 million at 1995–96 prices over a 15-year period. It also found that running the new authorities will cost another £6.2 million per annum more than at present. Does the Secretary of State agree with those figures? If not, what are his estimates of the transitional and annual running costs of the new authorities compared with those of the existing structures? Will the Secretary of State guarantee that all such additional costs are financed by the Treasury and will not result in any further squeezing of local government services or other Government-financed activity in Wales?

The debates in the other place began to expose the cracks in the Bill. For instance, great concern has been expressed about the restrictions that the Secretary of State intends to impose in clause 25, which allows authorities to provide services for each other. The Secretary of State has made it clear, however, that he will take away the powers conferred by clause 25 in respect of all services that are subject to compulsory competitive tendering. Those will soon include not only basic services, such as school meals and roads maintenance, but white-collar services, such as information technology, construction-related services and legal work. Does not the Secretary of State's intention to impose those restrictions militate against the lead authority's provisions and the joint working arrangements that he has advocated so strongly? What is the relationship between clause 25 and the working arrangements in clauses 29 to 31? Those provisions must be examined carefully and in great detail in Committee.

The Bill is being rushed through and implemented without sufficient consideration. Also, the timetable does not add up. The election of members to the new councils will take place in April 1995. The chief executives will be appointed in June or July and the other chief officers will probably not be in post until September or October 1995. Service delivery plans, however, are to be prepared in draft form by 1 November 1995 and finalised by 1 February 1996.

The Secretary of State can issue a direction to a local authority to prepare a decentralisation scheme as late as 1 July 1996. Once the scheme is submitted, therefore, he has up to 12 months in which to approve it. A decentralisation scheme might, therefore, not be approved until late 1997.

Mr. Ron Davies

They will all be gone by then.

Mr. Llwyd

That may be the case. If the scheme is not approved until late 1997, that will be about 18 months after the new authorities have come into operation. Whether or not a decentralisation scheme is implemented is crucial to the arrangements for service delivery and for local government democratic control. The Secretary of State must allow more time for those matters to be considered properly by the new authorities and brought into effect in a rational and orderly fashion.

Hitherto I have talked about the generality of the Bill. I shall identify some further areas which will undoubtedly concern me in Committee. I heard the powerful speech of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) on behalf of Montgomery. Of course, I add my voice to what he said, as I have done consistently. I hope that he will succeed in his difficult and arduous task of reinstating that honourable county status.

I ask the Secretary of State to think again about the excellent case for unitary status put forward by Meirionnydd. Meirionnydd has been a unit of local government since 1284, and was an excellent county council until 1974. Lately, the district council has been an excellent deliverer of local services. No fewer than 12,500 people signed a petition presented to Parliament last July calling for a unitary authority for Meirionnydd. Not one of the detailed reports prepared by Meirionnydd district council and the Meirionnydd campaign received a reasoned response. That is not acceptable. It is not acceptable for the Under-Secretary merely to say, as he did yesterday at Welsh questions, that matters relating to the Bill are for Parliament to decide. We know what that means.

I ask the Secretary of State again to give further consideration to the Meirionnydd case. Some weeks ago, during a meeting I had with the Under-Secretary, he admitted that only two campaigns had been mounted in Wales for unitary status of the nature of those run by Meirionnydd and Montgomery, so the argument that floodgates would be opened because some concessions had been given today does not add up. I am pleased for the hon. Members for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) and for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith). However, merely not to respond in any detailed way to the arguments put forward by my authority and, indeed, the Montgomery authority, and to disallow them out of hand, would be wrong, undemocratic and totally unacceptable to the people in those areas.

Does the Secretary of State further accept that communities such as Bro Garmon, Bro Machno, Dolgarrog, Llanrwst, Maenan and Llanddoget, Trefriw, Ysbyty Ifan and Eglwysbach have all indicated a preference for joining—that list will ensure that the Hansard reporters send me a note. If they send me the book down, I shall take the time to write it all out. I apologise —I should have taken it a bit slower; it comes as second nature to a Welsh speaker. Indeed, those communities are listed in the Official Report of the House of Lords as a result of an amendment moved by a noble Lord in Committee.

Those communities have indicated that they want to join with Caernarfon, as indeed have Penmaenmawr and Llanfairfechan. They want to move in with the Caernarfon set-up. We are talking about a large number of people and a large number of councils. I ask the Secretary of State to consider the matter because it is important across all shades of political opinion. Later, I intend to table an amendment to that effect, but I shall be grateful if the Government will consider the matter in the meantime.

As the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) said earlier, the borough of Taff-Ely is an excellent deliverer of services—it may be because it is run by Plaid Cymru. In any event, that authority has made a very strong case for unitary status. I ask the Government to re-examine that particular aspect. I join the hon. Member for Pontypridd in his arguments on behalf of that authority.

We are dealing with the every-day lives of our citizens. Their aspirations must be taken into account because the Bill will mean nothing unless it carries with it the consensus of Welsh opinion. I welcome the concession on archive services and their provision. I ask whether there will be a similar approach to trading standards departments. Earlier, the Secretary of State said that that service could also be provided by smaller authorities. Therefore, I ask him to develop that aspect further, if not in this debate then obviously in Committee.

I also ask the Secretary of State, who has just left his seat, whether he can give an assurance that council employees will not be ineligible to stand for office. Undoubtedly, amendments will be tabled in Committee, but an indication at this stage would assist. Failure to allow employees to stand for office would, of course, deprive thousands of citizens of their basic democratic rights.

I shall refer briefly to the question of a Welsh assembly. I remind hon. Members that a vote was taken on the amendment tabled by Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos. Although the House of Lords is not noted for radical decision making, the amendment failed unfortunately by only eight votes. Surely that must be a telling point that the Government will have to bear in mind.

Mr. Jonathan Evans

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way because I appreciate that he is reaching the end of his speech. Surely he is not telling the House that the form of assembly which was proposed in another place is a form of assembly that would satisfy the hon. Gentleman or any of his parliamentary colleagues.

Mr. Llwyd

It is an indication of principle. Earlier, I said that I did not want a Welsh assembly; I want a Welsh parliament. In the meantime, and on a pro tern basis, I shall fight hard for a Welsh assembly, which has been requested by other Opposition Members.

I reiterate that Opposition Members sympathise with the Secretary of State. He has been saddled with his predecessor's proposals, for which he has no enthusiasm. Moreover, as a former local government Minister in the Department of the Environment, he knows that the proposals in the Bill will not lead to effective and efficient local government in Wales. He should have the honesty and integrity to express his true feelings about the Bill and consign the proposals to the wastepaper basket, where they belong. He should consult widely in Wales across the political spectrum and bring forward new proposals for the government of Wales which will be acceptable to our people; otherwise the Bill will only give rise only to resentment and dismay. Surely that must be avoided if the process is not to be utterly discredited.

7.36 pm
Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor)

I contratulate the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) on his achievement in getting such a large number of signatures for the reasoned amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. In view of the confusion and divisions that pervade the Opposition Benches, it was no mean achievement to gain all those signatures. However, having read the Order Paper, I note that the names are arranged in alphabetical order and therefore I have no doubt that all the names owe more credit to the skills of the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) than those of the hon. Member for Caerphilly.

Like a music hall conjurer, as it were, the amendment is a conjuring trick by the hon. Gentleman, which Tory Members can see through. The perception that the hon. Gentleman wishes us to gain from the Order Paper is that there is some unanimity that binds Opposition Members. However, we know about the manifest divisions in the hon. Gentleman's and between his party and the nationalist and Liberal parties in Wales. Those divisions exist with regard to the assembly itself.

Mr. Ron Davies

If the hon. Gentleman thinks that my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) does my bidding on such matters, I can assure him that he grossly misreads the relationships within the parliamentary Labour party.

Mr. Alex Carlile

You do his bidding.

Mr. Davies

I certainly do not. I hope that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) is not impugning the integrity of the hon. Members who signed the amendment. It is a fact that all 32 Opposition Members agree that the Government's proposals are fundamentally flawed and that the system of unitary authorities is not acceptable without a Welsh assembly. I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that that is an accurate reflection of the views of the 32 hon. Members who signed the amendment.

Mr. Evans

It is common knowledge that there are some among the hon. Gentleman's parliamentary party in Wales who are far less enthusiastic about the idea of a Welsh parliament than he would have us believe. More importantly, the amendment condemns the Government proposal because it abolishes a democratic tier of local Government". The democratic tier to which the amendment refers presumably is the county councils. Yet Opposition Members—including the hon. Members for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), for Blaneau Gwent (Mr. Smith) and for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) —have demanded that further action be taken to place local government unitary powers in the hands of those at the district level, and that the new unitary authorities should be based on the districts rather than on the counties. The amendment derides and attacks the Government because they are moving away from county councils.

Dr. Howells

My difficulty in the matter is in trying to understand why, when there are local authorities and district councils that are exactly the same size, which have the same population and offer the same services—which are twins, in many ways—one becomes a unitary authority and the other is linked with neighbouring authorities. I am looking for the logic in it. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can give me a better idea of where it derives from than the Secretary of State did.

Mr. Evans

If the hon. Gentleman remains for all of my speech, he will find that I shall ask certain questions along those lines in relation to my area. I have not noticed the hon. Gentleman saying that we need to retain the two-tier system, or that we need a unitary authority based upon Mid Glamorgan county council. I have not heard those claims from Opposition Members, but I have heard claims that we need more unitary authorities, rather than fewer.

Mr. Rogers

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman understandably shows a complete lack of knowledge of local government. He ought to realise that services are provided at different levels. It is a matter not of drawing boundaries on a map, but of delivering services. The Opposition are anxious to ensure that there is an optimum size for the delivery of the best services. Our argument is that an authority of 240,000 is too big to deliver many of the personal services. On the other hand, such an authority may in some senses be too small to provide all of the support facilities for the delivery of education and social services.

What is dumbfounding for Opposition Members is the fact that the Secretary of State can propose that an authority bounded by the same mountains and adjacent to our local authority can be big enough when it has a population of 70,000, and yet other authorities which are bigger again are not big enough. Where is the logic in the argument?

Mr. Evans

I am perfectly happy to debate the issues. In relation to the hon. Member's opening statement, I always find that arguments are not advanced by abuse.

The hon. Gentleman seems to be proposing that, in certain circumstances, the retention of a two-tier system would be desirable.



Mr. Evans

May I just put a point to the hon. Member which I think is of fundamental importance? We must look at the basis from which the Bill springs. It springs from a consultation exercise undertaken by the Secretary of State's predecessor in which he asked authorities within Wales at both county and district level whether there was a case to justify retaining a two-tier structure, or whether we should move to unitary authorities. I know about that because I was involved in the debate with each of the local authorities in my area.

Mr. Rogers

I did not mean to be abusive to the hon. Gentleman in a personal sense. I was commenting simply on the problems of deciding on the correct size for local government. Some of my hon. Friends do not agree with me, and it is not my party's policy, but I believe in two-tier local government. Frankly, the Secretary of State's proposals will create two-tier local government, because unitary authorities will have to combine to provide bigger services. In effect, there will then be two-tier local government. Why on earth must the county councils be abolished to start with?

Mr. Evans

The hon. Gentleman will find as my speech develops that there is much which, perhaps surprisingly, unites us in the matter.

I feel strongly that we should not base local government on some desired percentage, or a gross number which is the desirable figure upon which every local authority should be based. The basis of my argument is that there are different circumstances in different parts of Wales. The proposals in the Bill that govern the situation within Powys create the retention of a form of two-tier structure.

I shall return to the thrust of my speech, rather than just responding to interventions from the Opposition. It is important that the debate should be seen to be about the initial step taken by the Secretary of State in asking whether there should be unitary authorities or the retention of the two-tier structure. The response from virtually throughout Wales was in favour of unitary authorities, and there can be no ducking that.

The response from the counties was that we must have unitary authorities, but they must be based on the counties. The response from the districts was that we must have unitary authorities, but they must be based on the districts. The problem identified by the Secretary of State, and which we have heard about during the debate, is that there has been confusion in the roles of the authorities.

There has been confusion in terms of the delivery of services. The counties and districts have agreed on that; otherwise, they would not have proposed creating unitary authorities in the first place. Sadly, I do not think that the authorities have looked in as much detail as they might at some of the difficulties that might arise if we went for one desirable size for a local authority area. For instance, I understand that the desirable population for a local authority within Wales must be 70, 000. However, I know that the English local government commission has argued that 150,000 is the desirable population. Why should the appropriate population be twice as big in England as it is in Wales?

Within Wales, a number of authorities proposed in the Bill have a population significantly lower than 70,000. In the Government's proposal for Scotland there are two authorities that are smaller than Radnorshire. Those authorities are proposed in the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill, which is being debated in Committee, and the Government recognise that a proper level of local government service can be delivered by an authority based on a population as small as in those areas.

I am sure that that is anathema to some of those who advise the Secretary of State, and to the Assembly of Welsh Counties. They see things very much in the context of the remarks of the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason), who said that one important consideration has to be the career structure of those who work in local government. I am not unsympathetic to the concerns of those who work in local government, and we should provide proper terms and conditions for them. However, our fundamental and primary role must be to ensure that we create a structure of local government that is right for local council tax payers and the local population.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me that smaller district councils have been able to attract a high quality of officer? Some have been brilliant young officers who have moved on, and some have been slightly older officers who were looking to work in a rural authority.

Mr. Evans

I agree entirely, and the hon. and learned Gentleman will know that, in my constituency, Radnorshire district council has a chief executive, Mr. Geoff Read, who is widely respected. He has also created a structure within the district council in which it is not the perception that whoever fills a council role must only perform that job and no other. The hon. and learned Gentleman will know that in career structures it is desirable to bring in people who train in one environment and move on to other local authorities.

To say that we must all conform to one template for the structure of local government and the desired size of population, with the lines then being drawn over Wales accordingly, runs entirely contrary to local sensitivities and does not produce the best form of local government reorganisation.

Another caveat in respect of the Local Government Commission has been referred to in the debate. Proposals are being made for the retention of a two-tier structure in certain parts of England. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) suggested such an arrangement as a backstop position for Montgomeryshire. People in Montgomeryshire may have said to him that they want their own unitary authority, but certainly do not want to lose control over local services. We should ponder hard before we create a structure in a year or so of unitary and two-tier authorities over England, but only unitary authorities across Wales, created in the face of local opposition. That would not be in anyone's interests.

At the time of the debate about whether it was helpful to move towards unitary authorities, I discussed with the authorities in my area whether they believed that Powys uniquely had reasons for retaining a two-tier structure. The hon. Member for Rhondda spent a good deal of time interrupting me and I gave way to him. I see that he did not choose to remain for the rest of my speech. It is rather a shame. I accept entirely the point that he made in this regard. Some services need to be delivered to a much larger population; other services need to be delivered much closer to the people. How are we to deal with that key problem?

I see no reason why we should not have a structure of unitary authorities based on small populations. I am sure that the authorities in the constituency of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery and those in my area would work together constructively to deliver strategic services over a wider area. Furthermore, that might even involve some councillors from the area of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). I know that his authority has discussed the matter within the mid-Wales context with other authorities. That is a constructive debate.

However, I was a little disappointed by the remarks of the hon. Member for Caerphilly. He said that he was committed to voting in Committee for Montgomeryshire or a Brecon and Radnor authority, but had not yet decided whether he was prepared to support a Radnorshire authority in its own right. One aspect of the debate in another place that particularly disappointed me was that it was proposed that Brecon and Radnor should be merged, against the wishes of the people of Radnorshire and in the teeth of the opposition of those people. Such proposals are not helpful in developing the best form of local relations.

The authorities in my constituency are fundamentally independent. Most of the councils are under independent control. Yet we have Labour representation in Radnorshire. I know from speaking to the Radnorshire Labour councillors last week that they intend to urge the hon. Member for Caerphilly to change the position that he outlined tonight.

Mr. Ron Davies

I said that we had taken a view on Montgomeryshire. The spokesman for the Labour party in the House of Lords said that that was the policy which we would be prepared to support officially. The problem that we now face is that the hon. Gentleman is engaging in a tortured approach to his county of Powys. He obviously cannot make up his mind whether to argue the case for a unitary authority in Radnorshire and/or a unitary authority in Breconshire. As soon as he decides which side of the fence to come down on, we can consider whether to support his argument.

Mr. Evans

I am surprised to hear that remark from the hon. Gentleman. He clearly cannot have listened to any of my speeches in the House on the matter in the past two years. If he had, he would know my position.

Mr. Win Griffiths

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Evans

If the hon. Gentleman will stop seeking to intervene and allow me to develop my argument, he will understand clearly. If he had listened on previous occasions, he would understand.

Mr. Griffiths

I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's argument that Radnorshire should not be drawn into a combined Breconshire and Radnorshire unitary authority. He said that if they were combined, they would be dragged kicking and screaming into the new structure and he would not approve it. Is he prepared to support our amendment? The communities of Ewenny, St. Bride's Major and Wick have shown that they do not want to be part of the Vale of Glamorgan, but want to stay with the Bridgend unitary authority.

Mr. Evans

I am prepared to listen to any arguments advanced by particular communities. The hon. Gentleman ought to know that I met representatives from Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr. The hon. Member for Caerphilly knows that I expressed some sympathy with the observations that they made. I was pleased to hear the announcement that by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made about those authorities. I am certainly prepared to listen to the arguments on those matters, although I cannot give a definitive response at this point.

I return to my theme. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made his proposals. The somewhat surprising proposal for a unitary authority based on Powys was not one which the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery expected or one which I expected. The consultation paper referred to the creation of either a Brecon and Radnor joint authority or separate authorities. We in mid-Wales well remember the dotted line between the two district areas. I pay credit to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and to his predecessor for what they have done since that time. It is churlish of some Opposition Members to suggest that there has been any lack of consultation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I have been to see him on four or five occasions with representatives of the local councils to discuss the issues.

The Government clearly must recognise that the proposal for a unitary authority based on Powys in its own right is a major problem. That is why the area committees proposal is in the Bill. In fairness to the Government, that is a recognition of many of the points that we have made. However, there are dangers in the proposal for area committees. If the area committees are to have real autonomy, they must have financial control. That is a fundamental aspect which I have argued privately with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in meetings when representatives of the local councils have been present, and on other occasions. That is one of the reasons why I have raised the matter yet again in the House.

Again, in fairness to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, he went much further in his response today than he did on a previous occasion on the issue of financial autonomy. As yet, all we know is that my right hon. Friend recognises the problem and we must examine what he proposes as the solution. The problem is not limited to financial autonomy. One of the problems that have arisen from the way in which the debate has been conducted is some difficulty in the relationship between the councils in mid-Wales. That is unhelpful and those of us who have a parliamentary role in the area should do our best to resolve it.

I am greatly displeased by suggestions that I have heard that, if ultimately there should be a Powys authority, the stronger authorities to the north or to the south of Radnorshire may choose to operate Radnorshire on a north-south basis, with disastrous effects on Llandrindod Wells. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery said that some people in his constituency feel that Llandrindod Wells is remote from them. I recognise that they have that perception, but it is inevitable when one is dealing with a vast geographical area such as Powys.

Nevertheless, if we had a Powys authority, even with that financial devolution, it would create difficulties for Llandrindod Wells, which depends substantially on being the administrative centre of Powys, because there would be a perception of a north-south split in the county.

It was surprising that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy said that he was sorry that 85 per cent. of the funding for those new authorities is likely to come from central Government, as at present. He suggested that that was too much; that we needed to change that balance. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would clarify those remarks.

Mr. Llwyd

I am invited to intervene. The simple point was that the longer and the firmer is the financial stranglehold on local government by this place, the less likely we are to have any democratic development in local government generally. The point is fairly obvious. I know that the hon. Gentleman wanted to make a point, but it really is a silly point.

Mr. Evans

The clear thrust of the hon. Gentleman's remarks is that, if 85 per cent. central Government funding to local authorities is too much, ultimately there will be a switch in the balance of resources so that more resources are raised locally. Presumably that is the hon. Gentleman's point.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones), although he has not spoken in the debate, was present at a Parliament for Wales meeting in my constituency recently. He made it absolutely clear at the meeting that, on instructions from the hon. Member for Caerphilly, he was arguing the case for keeping central funding from this place, that the block grants must still come from the House of Commons, and that we must not get into a debate about there being tax-raising powers for any assembly in Wales. That is yet another of the slight divisions between the position of the hon. Member for Caerphilly and the nationalists on that matter.

I ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State to give me reassurance about two aspects of the detail of the Bill. Clause 24 deals with police authorities and gives certain powers to the Secretary of State to bring forward plans in relation to proposed amalgamations. That issue causes great worry in my constituency.

I was happy to hear today that within the Dyfed-Powys police force in my constituency there have been recorded reductions in crime rates of 48 per cent. in Brecon and 28 per cent. in Llandrindod Wells—and that from a police force which has the lowest crime rate and the highest clear-up rate in the country. It may be a small police force, but it is an efficient and well-run police force. We must oppose any forced merger with another police force authority such as South Wales, which is formulated on the basis of a much bigger population, but is being run into the ground through poor financial management. I therefore urge my hon. Friend to clarify what may be in the mind of the Government in relation to clause 24.

Clause 23 includes powers concerning the fire authorities. It is proposed, as the Under-Secretary of State knows, that there should be three fire authorities in Wales. I view that with substantial anxiety. People in my constituency will want reassurance about service delivery if there were to be such a reorganization.

I echo the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) about the concerns of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children regarding children's services in Wales.

I conclude by referring to the fundamental part of the Opposition's reasoned amendment. In essence, it proposes that the Bill should not receive a Second Reading because it fails to establish a directly elected all-Wales tier of government. That is the fig-leaf covering the hon. Member for Caerphilly. The proposal that there must be a parliament for Wales draws the Opposition together.

Opposition Members say that 70 per cent. of people in Wales support the policy. That is manifest nonsense. In 1979, more than 80 per cent. of the people in Wales voted against a parliament for Wales; two months later, 67 per cent. of them voted for parties who were committed to it. Does that mean that in two months all the people in Wales changed their minds? No. It means that some of the people who support some of the Opposition parties vehemently oppose a parliament for Wales.

Several factors lead to people voting for some of the Opposition Members. I wish that we could persuade them to vote otherwise. Be that as it may, the creation of a separate Welsh parliament is not one of the fundamental things that cause people to vote for some of the Opposition parties, save only perhaps in the case of Plaid Cymru.

In those circumstances, it is manifest nonsense for Opposition Members to claim that vote as evidence for support for a separate parliament for Wales. They had 67 per cent. of the vote in 1979 and 70 per cent. of the vote at the most recent election—a 3 per cent. change in the vote in that period.

Further, recently a poll recorded that 45 per cent. of people in Wales are in favour of creating some type of assembly. What do those people want? What do they imagine the parliament leading to? It is my case that 82 per cent. of the people who propose the idea of a separate Welsh parliament regard it, as does the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, as a step on the road to an independent and separate Wales.

Mr. Llwyd

indicated assent.

Mr. Evans

I am glad to see that the hon. Gentleman nods his support for that, because he spoke of the debate in another place, and said that, during that debate, the Welsh parliament idea had only just failed to get through, but it was not the type of parliament that he wanted. He wanted very much more control over a wide range of matters in Wales. So we are concerned with people who wish to be on the road to an independent, separatist Wales, and who view the establishment of a separate Welsh parliament as a step on that road.

Mr. Llwyd

I have no embarrassment about wanting a Welsh parliament—obviously not—and I wonder why the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) should suddenly be surprised when I nod my head. My argument was that a Welsh assembly is necessary now to sweep away the quango system, or at least to bring some scrutiny to bear on the quangos, because the system is in complete disrepute. We waste £1.8 billion per annum on running quangos in Wales without any proper scrutiny. A Welsh assembly could start by considering that.

Mr. Evans

Every public organisation that has been set up by the Secretary of State for Wales is answerable, through him, to Parliament. That is why we have questions on the Order Paper about them every day—most of them tabled by the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent.

I am very pleased to see the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) in his place. I was sorry that he, not discourteously, would not allow me to intervene earlier because he was keen to keep his remarks short. He said that his views about a Welsh assembly had not really changed since the 1970s. As he said that, I remembered those famous remarks that he made in 1979: when an elephant is on your doorstep you know it for what it is. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was most eloquent on that occasion. He was saying, in essence, that, whatever his own views may have been, the people of Wales had a totally different view.

As regards the current situation and the bankruptcy of the approach of so many Opposition Members, we know that the Labour party is not prepared, as part of its policy for a separate Welsh parliament, to put it to a vote of the people of Wales. The assiduous response of the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), during the Parliament for Wales campaign meeting, was that he had the authority of the hon. Member for Caerphilly to say, "We will have a separate Welsh Parliament and we will bring that Parliament about within 12 months of an incoming Labour Government, but there will be no referendum on it." Those were the reported words of the hon. Member for Neath. I was with him when he said that and he did so with the authority of the hon. Member for Caerphilly.

Mr. Ron Davies

For the sake of clarity, will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether he is in favour of a referendum for an assembly or parliament for Wales?

Mr. Evans

The hon. Gentleman pays too little attention to my remarks. I have consistently said that anybody who proposes a separate Welsh parliament should, in the context of the 1979 referendum, be prepared to put it to a vote by the people of Wales. Were the hon. Gentleman to do that, I should be delighted to take him on at the hustings, because I have no doubt that the outcome would be exactly the same as that of the previous referendum.

8.10 pm
Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)

Given that unitary authorities have such widespread support in principle across the country and the consensus that local government should be reorganised on the principle of unitary authorities, how has such a popular policy become so unpopular in Wales? The answers are self-evident.

First, the Conservatives are riding roughshod over the interests and democratic wishes of the Welsh people. That is the background against which they are introducing the Bill and why it is meeting such opposition and criticism. My constituents describe the Secretary of State by all sorts of names, some of which are too unparliamentary to repeat here. One of the nicer ones is Dr. Strangelove because of his approach to Welsh politics and the fact that his single greatest achievement has been to reduce Conservative support in Wales to its lowest level ever.

The second reason why the Bill is so heavily criticised and greeted with such suspicion is that the Government are defying the electorate. They are seeking to overturn the democratic results of general and local county council elections by instituting a new tier of quangos to replace elected representatives with a new elite. The "quangie are exercising great powers but are not accountable.

The Bill runs alongside and encourages that development because it sets up new quangos that will be less democratically accountable than the local authorities that they replace. Despite the welcome increase in the number of councils, there will be fewer elected local councillors than members of the various quangos in Wales. That will encourage elitism and toadying, which is now such a feature of public life in Wales. Tory placepersons are put on quangos when they cannot get directly elected. It will also produce what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) appropriately described as a loss of democratic legitimacy.

When elected councillors are taken out of their communities, a vacuum is left. The whole system of politics and democracy rests on legitimacy. Whatever their imperfections, local councillors are an important part of creating building blocks for that legitimacy, but they are being replaced by an unelected elite throughout the system of government in Wales.

Combined with the economic and social policies that the Government are pursuing to disastrous effect in Wales, there will be increasing problems of ungovernability, not just in Wales but throughout the United Kingdom. We shall certainly see that in communities such as those that I represent, with a strong democratic tradition and sense of community. If those features are destroyed, the traditional sense of legitimacy and respect that the communities in the valleys of south Wales have for the democratic process will also be destroyed. That is a serious consequence of the Government's open defiance of democratic wishes.

The third reason why the Bill is so unpopular is that it entrenches the fragmentation of government, the problem of quangos to which I have already referred, and the associated process of opting out which some local hospitals and schools are forced to adopt. The parallel developments of contracting out, market testing and privatisation also contribute to the fragmentation of government. The result is a system of politics in which voters no longer achieve their true role as citizens whose place in the democracy exists by virtue of exercising their democratic rights. They become mere customers of services that have been opted out, contracted out, quangoised, market tested or privatised.

That result is the destruction of local policies, and the Bill entrenches that process. Ultimately, local policies are the cement that binds local communities together. Unless people are involved in local policies, their respect for priorities cannot be attained. Moreover, the process by which cohesion can be sustained and priorities set within a community cannot be attained. The essence of politics is to set priorities, which will advantage some people and disadvantage others. One retains the respect of those who have been disadvantaged only if they feel that they have participated in the democratic process of arriving at those priorities.

However one looks at this remorseless, systematic fragmentation of politics, democracy and local government, it is a serious phenomenon that will be one of the Conservative regime's principal legacies when the Conservatives are finally driven from office. They intend to turn local authorities from democratic agencies, for which socialists have always argued, into mere administrative outposts of Whitehall. That is what the Bill is about. It seeks not to empower local citizens or local democracies but to reconstitute local authorities as administrative agencies for central Government, a process that is entrenched by the fact that some 90 per cent. of local authority finance is now provided centrally. Coupled with the capping of local authorities' scope to allow local autonomy and democracy to flower and reflect local wishes, that power is virtually extinguished. It is a top-down version of democracy—if we can still call it democracy. It is certainly a top-down version of government, as opposed to an empowering bottom-up one.

The other key consequence of the fragmentation and destruction of local government is that the strategy and mechanism for determining the strategic approaches to policy matters and for developing policies with strategic consequences no longer exist. A cluster of competing fragmented units are responsible for carrying out services or deciding on policies. The ability to determine an overall strategic approach to Wales' future is lost, which is why the biggest gap in this process of reform of government in Wales is the absence of an all-Welsh tier of government —a Welsh assembly or parliament, whatever it is called when it is brought in, as I believe that it will be in the end, despite Conservative resistance.

The biggest hole in this reform of local government is the ability to have an agency capable of taking a Wales-wide strategic approach to policy. The Secretary of State has all but recognised that by conceding the case for establishing an economic council. Why is such a council to be established? That is an interesting question for a Government who reject the idea of an all-Wales tier of government. At least in respect of economic policy, the Conservative Government recognise that there is a hole in their policy and that they need a Wales-wide approach. Therefore, instead of conceding the case for a Welsh assembly or a Welsh parliament, they are setting up a puppet quango in the proposed economic council. They have at least recognised the need for an overall strategy on economic policy development.

Another concession that is even less acceptable is the Secretary of State's proposed forum, which he is trying to cobble together without co-operation from the Labour party, at least in terms of the forum's composition. Why did he make that suggestion? Because he sees a gap in his approach to government. Associated with that policy is the encouragement and promotion of joint boards and consortia that do irreparable damage to the democratic process and the lines of local accountability.

What will a local citizen in Neath be voting for in education and social services or the fire service if those vital emergency and general services are run by joint boards or consortia? How will his or her vote determine the policies of those new quangos, consortia and boards? How can they be held accountable when they are fragmented and dispersed into parallel bodies working alongside elected local authorities? As a consequence, we have a real dog's breakfast of local government reform.

That is why, relatively late in the day, the Secretary of State has come upon the wheeze of decentralisation. It is not really decentralisation; if it were, as my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) has pointed out, the Government would need to devolve real power, not least over finance. That is not proposed. The consequence will not be real decentralisation, but the danger of reconstituting old districts in their parochial sense without being empowering agencies. That could lead to the paralysis of the new unitary authorities rather than to their being genuinely powerful and dynamic in implementing their policies and reflecting local wishes.

That brings me to the future of Neath. The borough of Neath has been in existence for some 900 years. The town dates back to Roman times. To defend the legitimacy of its existence is not simply to indulge in a local whim or some parochial self-interest; it is not the reaction of local politicians who want to cling to office.

Neath borough council employed independent consul-tants, Touche Ross, a company of which the Government normally take considerable notice—but in this case they have not. Touche Ross looked carefully and in detail into the case for Neath remaining on its own and took the view that it could meet all the criteria required for successfully functioning as a unitary authority.

Mr. Richards

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hain

I am not taking any interventions from the hon. Gentleman, who is known in my constituency as Rod Gwenwn.

Neath borough council has put together detailed proposals for Neath to remain a unitary authority. The Minister might at least note that even local Conservatives have enthusiastically backed them. It is not simply the Labour party that has put the case for Neath; a broad section of the community, from the Churches to the trade unions, has endorsed virtually unanimously the case for Neath to remain on its own.

My right hon. and learned friend the Member for Aberavon pointed out that, in an independent ballot conducted for the local authority, only about 135 of the 6,000 or so votes cast were actually in favour of the Government's proposals.

The Touche Ross report pointed out that a Neath unitary authority would offer real benefits for social services, where the model of working together currently applied most successfully between housing and social services in Neath is capable of extension to include local health service professionals and will provide a sound basis for strategic planning". It also pointed out: a Neath local education authority would be small enough for the chief education officer to have immediate personal contact with head teachers through the appraisal system". It set out the benefits for highways and transportation, where the benefits of unitary status in Neath could offer better coordination between highways and planning departments without involving the difficulties of merging two district planning departments", as is proposed for Neath and Port Talbot and half the planning authority for the upper Clwyd valley.

The report, which was delivered in May 1992, stated: a Neath authority would have a much clearer community focus than a combined Neath/Port Talbot authority could achieve. It argued The lack of community links between Neath and Port Talbot reflects the topography and shows through in patterns of shopping and personal mobility. Neath's vibrant pattern of sporting, leisure and cultural activities is largely independent from Port Talbot. There are significant differences in the transport focus and industrial character of the two boroughs". It concluded: We believe that Neath is well placed to operate as a unitary authority in own right, meeting the criteria set out in the Welsh Office Consultation Paper of being able to deliver high quality services while meeting the financial objectives set out in Section 7 of the paper". I need not rely simply on Labour advocates or independent consultants for that view; those opinions were voiced in another place recently. In the debate on the Local Government (Wales) Bill, Lord Howe of Aberavon said: We like people from Neath as long as they keep their distance and t hope they take the same view of we people from Aberavon, but that there could not be two more distinct communities. It would be a mistake to merge them".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 February 1994; Vol. 551, c. 1740.] Viscount Tonypandy, a former Speaker of the House, speaking of Neath and Port Talbot, said: I was going to say that they are like salt and sugar, but I do not wish to offend one side or the other. Those two have a fierce rivalry … I am afraid that the Government could not be making a bigger mistake."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 December 1993; Vol. 550, c. 1287.] Those are the views of two eminent and experienced former Members of the House whose views should be taken into account by the Government but clearly are not.

The Secretary of State has conceded the case for Neath's existence as a separate unitary authority without implementing the necessary changes to the Bill but by conceding the case for Merthyr and Blaenau Gwent to go their own way. I do not quarrel with that; I congratulate those areas on their achievement and my hon. Friends on having secured it.

What criteria were used in the Secretary of State's decision that could not be applied to Neath or Port Talbot? It cannot be size, because Merthyr and Blaenau Gwent are of similar size. It cannot be geographical convenience, because the journey between Glyncorrwg in Aberavon and Cwmllynfell at the top of my constituency takes perhaps an hour and a half through tortuous, winding, traffic-ridden roads.

There is no common community interest between those villages and it is not a question of geographical convenience or civic pride; there is tremendous civic pride in Neath and Port Talbot which will be extinguished as a result of the reform. It is not a matter of history, as that is being ignored. It is not a question of community, because that is being defied. It is not a question of functions, because no logical explanation is given for Merthyr and Blaenau Gwent being single local authorities that could not be applied to Neath or Port Talbot.

It is not a question of service delivery. No criterion has been given for the optimum level at which different services are to be delivered in Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr, which have been given their own opportunity, that could not equally be applied to Neath and Port Talbot. It is not a question of finance either, because, as the Touche Ross report showed; the Neath-going-alone option would be cheaper.

None of those principal criteria is the reason chosen for the Bill's final form; it is a question of expediency, of what the Secretary of State feels that he has been able to get away with. The Bill will be bulldozed through with the votes of Conservative Members of Parliament sitting in English constituencies. I am delighted that the constituencies of my hon. Friends have achieved unitary status, but I believe that that decision has stripped the Secretary of State of all his defences.

There is no logic, conviction or honesty in the Bill. It does not have credibility. For those reasons, there will be widespread opposition to it throughout Wales, and certainly in my constituency. We will fight it every inch of the way in Committee, and will do so from a principled basis, opposing the Government's unprincipled expediency.

8.30 pm
Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West)

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your eagle eye and for calling me.

As I listened to the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), I was reminded of a recent opinion survey conducted by the Labour party in Ystradgynlais, when the boundary between his constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) was in dispute, or under discussion. The Labour party conducted a survey asking the good people there whether they wished to be included in the constituency of Neath or stay in the constituency of Brecon and Radnor. It showed that 97 per cent. of the people surveyed wished to stay with my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor rather than go to the hon. Member for Neath.

There is general agreement in the House that local government in Wales is in need of reform. The debate, however, is about how best to achieve that. The reasons for the divisions between Conservative Members and Labour Members are quite easy to understand. Conservative Members believe that the purpose of local government is to provide quality services at minimum cost to council taxpayers. One would have thought that that would be a common primary objective. Unfortunately, to the Labour party, local government is about creating employment first and delivering services second.

Since the Government announced their reform proposals, the two boroughs that cover my constituency have got on with the job of making reform work—would that that were true everywhere in Wales. Colwyn borough got together at an early stage with neighbouring Aberconwy, with which it will form a new unitary authority, and has co-operated well since. When I recently asked Colwyn borough how it was progressing, it expressed pleasure at the latest Welsh Office consultation paper under which it will have equality of numbers with Aberconwy in the new unitary authority and at the fact that the rural wards in Colwyn will be preserved.

What has not yet been announced, but which I am sure will be widely debated, is the name of the new authority. I do not intend to get involved in that debate. The other borough authority, Rhuddlan borough council, is reasonably content with my right hon. Friend's proposals but will make representations on a few matters. Given that boundaries are intended to reflect and strengthen existing community loyalties, Rhuddlan borough council argues that it is illogical to exclude certain communities from the new Denbighshire. In my constituency—the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) will have views on this—that would affect Kinmel bay and Towyn. The only other matter on which the authority feels strongly is its name; it would prefer the new authority to be called Vale of Clwyd, or Dyffryn Clwyd. If all the local authorities in Wales were as well organised and progressive as the two with which I have to deal, the debate would have been over in next to no time. That is all I want to say about the Government's proposals.

Members from each of the Opposition parties in Wales are signatories to the Labour party motion. I shall devote the bulk of my comments to the issue on which there is a clear and unmistakable distinction between Conservative Members and Opposition Members. Opposition Members want a Welsh assembly or parliament; Conservative Members want neither. The Labour party wants this so-called "devolution" because it now realises that it is the natural party of opposition in the United Kingdom. It knows that the only chance it has of power is by dividing up the United Kingdom in a way that, in my view, would surely lead to its break-up.

In a television debate with me this morning for "Westminster Live", the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers)—I notice that he is not in his place, although he was active earlier—said that he wanted to see an independent Wales. I took that to be the policy of the Labour party. It is significant that the hon. Gentleman is an Opposition spokesman on foreign affairs. The Labour party lives in fear of the nationalists. After years of the Labour party dominating local government in south Wales, the ordinary people who voted for socialist principles now realise that they were sold short by the Labour party. The Labour party knows that the electorate are gradually being won over by the compelling case for Conservatism. In the meantime, there is the real risk to the Labour party that those people will defect in droves to the nationalists.

Mr. Dafis

How many Conservative members are there on local authorities in the Rhondda area?

Mr. Richards

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a tradition in Wales that members stand as independents. Very often they are Conservatives, very often they are nationalists, very often they are Liberals, but in my experience, most of the independents whom I know—there are many in Wales—are Conservatives.

Labour Members who campaigned ardently against an assembly in 1979 now say cynically that they are in favour of devolution. They call it devolution—the setting up of unitary authorities with an elected body to oversee them. Surely such a body would have powers of its own, thereby weakening the powers of the unitary authorities. That is not devolution of power, but centralising of power in Cardiff.

Labour would do that, although the only real test of public opinion was a referendum in 1979, when the people of Wales voted against devolution by 4:1. I do not believe that the people would vote differently now. The truth is, neither does Labour—which is why it has ruled out a referendum on this issue. Even if the Labour party formed a Government, it would have to implement its current policy, because it has ruled out a referendum.

One of the reasons why the people of Wales would reject, in a referendum, the assembly proposed by Labour is that—as Labour has made clear—such an assembly would have tax-raising powers. "No representation without taxation": that is the slogan of the Welsh Labour party conference. Perhaps the party should stick to the word "parliament", as opposed to "assembly"—as, of course, some do. I understand that the hon. Member for Neath, who seems to have left the Chamber, is one such person.

Is it any wonder that Labour Members have rejected the idea of a referendum? Imagine the question on the ballot paper: "Do you want to pay more tax—yes or no?" I suspect that the answer would be a resounding no. The other question is, what would the good people of Wales receive in recompense for that additional tax burden? One thing is certain—they would get a parliament costing an additional £50 million a year. What else would they get? No-redundancy guarantees, which would smother the free flow of workers, protection for lame-duck industries, and probably the opportunity to fund a few of them. A minimum wage, perhaps—now, there is the ultimate guarantee of greater unemployment. Legislation to give trade unions more power—why not? Labour has done it before, and will do it again.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Very subtle.

Mr. Richards

Absolutely. The hon. and learned Gentleman is listening for a change—and, indeed, he is present.

The unions would be given more power, so the flood of inward investment would dry up in Wales and emerge elsewhere. There would be more unemployment.

It is already possible to paint a picture of Wales under such a Labour Government and with such a parliament. The people would migrate to neighbouring England to escape the tax burden and find jobs; there would be a migration of talent such as we have not seen since the 1930s. In those days, when young men and their families boarded the trains at Cardiff, Swansea or Carmarthen, the cry would go out as the train left the station, "Never forget your Welsh." Well, the next generation of migrants will be able to call back, "Never forget your Welsh tax."

As if what I have already said were not enough to make people reject the concept of a tax-levying Welsh parliament, my constituents have even, more to fear. A parliament in Cardiff would care little or nothing for north Wales—just as Labour cares little or nothing for it now. Labour cares only for its stronghold in the valleys. Seldom, if ever, does it venture into the north.

Mr. Win Griffiths

Has the hon. Gentleman been to Bridgend?

Mr. Richards

Will Opposition Members be quiet for a moment?

When we debated Welsh affairs on 3 March, I challenged the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) to tell us who and what he had visited in north Wales in his capacity as an Opposition spokesman on Wales. I note that he is not present now; I am sure, however, that my comments will be relayed to him. What was his response to my challenge? He scuttled across the Floor to huddle with his hon. Friends at the Bar of the House, like a frightened lamb. They were all gathered there like sheep in a thunderstorm, lacking leadership and lacking direction—all because of the truth about Labour party lackeys. Since that day, the hon. Members who gathered at the Bar of the House have been known throughout Wales as "the Bar-Baas".

It must be said that the nationalists are more honest about their demand for a Welsh parliament. They have at least been consistent. For them, the Welsh parliament is a stepping stone towards an independent Welsh republic. I understand from Plaid Cymru literature that that republic's head of state—its president—will be invested, or inaugurated, by the arch-druid himself. I have no doubt that that ceremonial occasion will bring tears to the eyes.

What would such a republican utopia hold for the people of Wales? Even more of the same, I fear. Inward investors and key workers might be required to learn Welsh by statute; the housing market might collapse because of planning restrictions and residential qualifications. I note that the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) is present; perhaps he would like to comment. I envisage an economy yearning for the good things of the 21st century, but not allowed to engage in any activity more robust or imaginative than the production of love spoons and trinkets. Would the hon. Gentleman care to comment on that? I see an economy managed by people who believe in seeking out subsidy and support from others, now and for ever, without the vision to perceive the productive potential and talent that we have in Wales.

Fortunately for the people of Wales, the Government have woken them from Labour's pipe dreams. The Government will create a structure of local government that will promote local democracy, reduce costs and duplication and deliver cost-effective local services, while retaining Wales's voice at Westminster and the integrity of the United Kingdom.

8.47 pm
Mr. Nick Ainger (Pembroke)

I believe that I am the only former councillor to have spoken so far. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) will speak later; he, too, used to be a councillor. I bring a certain amount of experience to the debate—experience that was clearly lacking in the speech of the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards).

Although many people in Pembrokeshire will welcome the fact that unitary authorities are on the horizon, the Bill contains an enormous flaw, or gulf, in that it includes no proposals for either an assembly or a parliament in Wales. I am interested to observe that the Minister of State, Welsh Office is not present—the reason being, of course, that he is out meeting his opposite number in not the Spanish but the Catalonian government. That is a regional government, to which—along with Alpes-Rhone, Lombardy and Baden-Wurttemberg, the Minister of State referred on 25 February, in an interview with Vincent Kane on "Welsh Lobby".

Let me quote from that interview. I am not being selective; the Minister made it very clear that he thought the four "motor regions" in Europe were operating wonderfully. He said that we should try to create a skilled work force in Wales and learn and benefit from the experience of those regional governments. The right hon. Gentleman said: We should rub shoulders with our betters, and we might get somewhere. In the opinion of the Minister of State, regional government in Europe is an obvious success. I was interested in the comment of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans), who claimed that the quangos in Wales are accountable to the Welsh Office. The sad fact is that had it not been for my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), as well as the Audit Commission and the Public Accounts Committee—not the Welsh Office—all the sleaze and corruption that has gone on in the quangos of Wales would not have been discovered. What faith can we have in the present regime in the Welsh Office when it cannot account for £200 million of public money? The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor talks about how wonderful the Welsh Office is and about forcing quangos to be accountable, but we cannot accept what he says.

Recently we had the so-called St. David's day debate on St. Winwaloe's day, which is two days after St. David's day. A great deal of that debate—in particular, the speech of the Secretary of State—concerned roads in Wales. This House is not the proper forum for such a discussion. Regional functions, such as a transport system, should be the responsibility of a regional government. Conservative Members refer constantly to the 1979 referendum. They say that there has been no real change in the political feelings of the Welsh people on the question of a Welsh assembly or parliament. That is not my experience— certainly not of Pembrokeshire, which is not known for particularly radical views and was fundamentally opposed in 1979 to the idea of a Welsh assembly.

Recently the Western Telegraph, which is the largest-selling weekly paper in Wales, carried an editorial referring to the Interreg funding, on which Dyfed is currently losing out. It said: The parts of Europe which have benefited most from EEC funding are those that have a regional parliament to fight on their behalf. Without our own regional parliament, and with even the small Welsh presence now in Brussels under threat, Wales will become increasingly marginalised, receiving only token representation by the single-minded English lobby. That is what is happening at the moment. The Minister of State is talking to his counterpart in Catalonia, rather than lobbying in Brussels on behalf of Dyfed.

The whole thrust of this proposed legislation causes great concern throughout Wales, particularly when one reads views such as those expressed in another local paper in Pembrokeshire under the heading "The Conservative Column". Referring to Labour's plans for Health 2000, whose intention is to democratise the health service—again the Conservative view of more democracy—this paper said: Labour wants to reintroduce politics into the NHS by having local councillors play a prominent part in the running of the health service. Many of these councils do enough damage already within their own town halls, and they must not be allowed to get their hands on our health service. The Minister of State, looking slightly tanned, is now in his place. It is good to see him back. I am sure that he had a very enlightening discussion with the regional government in Catalonia.

The views put forward in the column to which I have just referred are Conservative Members' true views, which dare not be spoken openly, as those Members know very well that they will never have an opportunity to take control of local government in Wales and will certainly have no opportunity to take control of a Welsh assembly or parliament.

There are two problems, particularly in relation to this legislation, and other hon. Members have referred to them. I highlight clause 22, which refers to the creation of joint boards for fire brigades. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor mentioned this matter. In fact, he referred to the wrong clause—23 instead of 22—but perhaps Hansard will fix that for him. The present arrangement, under which there are eight fire brigades in Wales, is an excellent one. Dyfed's fire brigade has a worldwide reputation following some of the fires that it fought in the refineries of Milford Haven. The proposal is that the Secretary of State, and not local representatives, may bring forward an order. If that is done before 1 April 1996 there will be no public inquiry.

Mr. Jonathan Evans

Clause 23, which I quoted, refers to combination schemes involving fire services. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his remark.

Mr. Ainger

Clause 23 refers to the police—[Interruption.] Not in my copy.

The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor spoke for 34 minutes, but did not give us his view of the plans for Brecon and Radnor. It is unacceptable that he should now interrupt a person who is speaking as quickly as possible so that other hon. Members may participate in the debate.

Were the Government truly concerned about democracy and local accountability, they would create a fire brigade with an area stretching from Swansea to the north of Powys, and from Aberystwyth right across to the English border, but only if the local people believed that that was the best policy for delivery of the service. There is no question but that local representatives totally oppose such a proposal. Not only that, but I am certain that it would be linked with the creation of only three police authorities in Wales. Hon. Members on both sides have mentioned the excellent performance of Dyfed-Powys police and of the Gwent police force, proving that small is efficient as well as beautiful.

It concerned me when Lord Hooson proposed an amendment in the other place that would give the Secretary of State power to introduce decentralisation proposals. At present in Tower Hamlets, if things go from bad to worse and two more fascist, British National party councillors are elected in the Isle of Dogs, £23 million of public money per annum will be under the control of three fascist councillors. I am not suggesting that fascists would ever be elected in Wales—I am certain that they would not—but trying to solve a problem in Powys by coming up with this concept of decentralisation may open up a can of worms that we may live to regret. It gives a great deal of power to a small number of people. They are not properly accountable and the system is not democratic. I urge the Secretary of State to reconsider that matter very seriously.

8.59 pm
Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd)

I begin by mourning the passing of county councils. We have not heard a great deal about that tonight, but county councils have done a superb job in many respects, and they have had some great officers serving in them. This is especially true of Mid Glamorgan where the officers have had to operate in extremely difficult economic circumstances, with a gross domestic product per capita of 64 in a British index of 100. It would have been an enormous task in any circumstances. Given also that they have had to operate under a flawed model for the past 20 years of overlapping responsibilities, of vague demarcation lines and so on, they have done sterling work, as have the rest of the county authorities in Wales.

The councils have carried out, in many respects, the strategic planning functions; functions which presumably will now be assumed by the so-called joint arrangements. As far as I can see, these are vague and nebulous bodies and have about as much credibility at the moment as the three-ring circus that met in Brussels last week—the Committee of the Regions. My constituents will ask who is to take the responsibility for strategic decision-making formerly taken by the county councils. They will ask a number of questions about this vagueness. They will want to know on what basis the Secretary of State for Wales decided that it was quite proper for Merthyr and Blaenau Gwent to become unitary authorities and did not allow Cynon valley, Rhondda and Taff-Ely the same right when they have bigger populations.

Even before today's announcement, there was mystification at the proposition that two authorities which were twins in so many ways, Torfaen and Taff-Ely, should have such different fates. I hate to say, and generosity of spirit prevents me from doing so seriously, that the Secretary of State is keeping Torfaen a separate entity from Monmouth or Monmouthshire because he wants to retain some chance of the Conservatives hanging on to that seat or of winning it in the future, whereas he seems to be consigning Taff-Ely, Rhondda valley and Cynon valley to a ghetto where people do not vote Tory anyway and are unlikely to do so in the future. These questions must be asked seriously.

Let me assume that the Secretary of State believes that Taff-Ely has as much right to remain a unitary authority as any of the others to which he has given independence today. I assume that he understands the logic of that. There can be no reason for it or, if there is, I have no idea what it is. I want to hear what he is going to come up with. I hope that he does not assume that by bolting on a relatively rich authority, Taff-Ely, to two authorities that face great economic and social problems, Rhondda and Cynon Valley, he will somehow ratchet up the GDP of those two local authorities so that their problems do not look as severe as they are at present. Does he think that if he links them with Taff-Ely, with the new industry along the M4 corridor, with the terrific, new, high-tech industries that are coming into Nantgarw and Llantrisant—only this week we learnt of 600 new jobs that may be coming in the Gooding/Grundig electronics venture—this will somehow solve the problems of Cynon valley and Rhondda valley?

That will not solve the problems any more than it will solve the problems faced at the northern end of Taff-Ely. They are severe structural problems which are being dealt with by district authorities which have a tradition of taking on such tasks and combining with private enterprise, the Welsh Development Agency and the Welsh Office to transform the local economies. In many ways, they have done a wonderful job and they do not need the kind of artificial arrangement being proposed.

For the Secretary of State's proposals to gain credibility and acceptance in Wales, people have to believe in the motives behind them. People who, like me, live in a borough such as Taff-Ely will have listened to what has been said today and said that what is good enough for Merthyr, Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen is good enough for Taff-Ely.

Mr. Rogers

I do not entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is important for Cynon valley and the Rhondda to have access to areas which, as he said, are likely to offer development opportunities. He talks about bolting on the Rhondda valley and the Cynon valley to Taff-Ely, but I remind him that it was only about 20 years ago that a number of district councils were bolted together to make Taff-Ely. If it has worked for Taff-Ely, there is the possibility that the new authority will work. At any rate, that is what the Secretary of State is gambling on, although I disagree with that gamble.

Dr. Howells

I am sure that my hon. Friend makes a good point although I am not sure exactly what it is. I know that he believes that Rhondda wants unitary status as much as Taff-Ely, but what he said is true. Twenty years ago Taff-Ely was artificially created. It was the creation of a very rich authority—Llantrisant rural district council—and a traditional valley authority—Pontypridd urban district council. There is no question but that it took a long time for the two authorities to be brought together but they have pulled together very well. All of the indices show that we are making a success of it. I should hate that success to be stymied by a decision that will have long-term effects.

Taff-Ely is lucky in many ways: we have beautiful countryside and ready access to the M4 and we are on the A470. I am sorry that the Secretary of State is going to give the Pentyrch wards to Cardiff because, in order to attract more industry, we need executive housing and areas into which executives want to move. It is very important that our districts retain such assets but it appears that they are to be filched for whatever reason and given to Cardiff, North, Greater Cardiff or whatever one wants to call it. Incidentally, the House should remember that Labour has just won those wards, so one should not assume that it will be a soft touch for anyone else to win, especially not the present hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones), the Under-Secretary of State.

In the past 20 years, the borough has forged itself into an entity that deserves respect—

Mr. Morgan

Pontypridd rugby team.

Dr. Howells

Indeed, Pontypridd is the best rugby team in Wales—

Mr. Morgan

Does my hon. Friend mean that they are forging tickets as well?

Dr. Howells

If my hon. Friend will wrap up for five minutes, I shall be able to continue.

Many mistakes were made in 1974 when the present model of local government was created. One of its strengths was the ability of local councils to provide a degree of strategic planning and service. Presumably, we are now creating a new structure that is supposed to last for at least 20 years, although I should think that the Secretary of State hopes that it will last even longer.

We cannot afford to make those kinds of mistakes again. They will be very expensive mistakes. I am sure that we shall lose the services of a great many professionals and executives and people who have served the county very well. Let us ensure that, when we create the unitary authorities, they are the right size, they have the right identity and they see themselves as viable entities for creating a new future for Wales.

9.9 pm

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

I shall underline and support the sentiments of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) about the work of county councils in Wales and especially that of Mid Glamorgan county council, which has done a sterling job under the most difficult of circumstances.

May I appeal again to the Secretary of State to consider his White Paper—it was not his to start with, but he has taken it over—in the context of the changes proposed for the boundary between Bridgend and the Vale of Glamorgan. Paragraph 1.4 of the White Paper "Local Government and Local People" said: The Government is committed to the creation of good Local Government which is close to the communities it serves. Its aims are to establish Authorities which, so far as possible, are based on that strong sense of community identity that is such an important feature of Welsh life; which are clearly accountable to local people; … The proposal set out in this White Paper will achieve those aims; they will establish new and innovative local Authorities, firmly-rooted in their communities and enjoying strong local support. In paragraph 2.1, the Secretary of State said: Local Government is government for local people by local people. One of the objectives of re-organisation is to establish Authorities which, so far as possible, are based on a strong sense of community, evident in Welsh life. In paragraph 3.1, which the Secretary of State repeated in a written answer to my question on 29 April 1993, the White Paper said: Local Authority boundaries should, as far as possible, reflect and strengthen existing community loyalties; and local public services should he of high quality, and delivered efficiently, economically and effectively. In that context, I want to remind the Secretary of State that there have been several tests of opinion in those three communities. First, there was a postal ballot, organised by Ogwr borough council. The result showed that 80 per cent. of people were in favour of staying with the Bridgend authority, from a turnout of almost 60 per cent.

There was also a business referendum for which half of the businesses returned their papers and it showed that 84.5 per cent. wanted to stay with Bridgend. There were public meetings in each community, where 93.3 per cent. wanted to stay with Bridgend and only 2.5 per cent, expressed the vale as a preference.

A ballot was also organised by the Electoral Reform Society, in which almost 80 per cent. of Ewenny residents voted and 89.7 per cent. of them wanted to stay in Bridgend. Almost 75 per cent. of the residents of St. Bride's Major voted and 87.8 per cent. wanted to stay with Bridgend. In Wick, 74.6 per cent. of residents voted and 81.2 per cent. wanted to stay with Bridgend. That is a clear picture of the loyalties of those three communities.

On top of that, the Vale of Glamorgan borough council, in its own representations to the Secretary of State, said: The council would only support the inclusion of those additional communities if the proposal was supported by the majority of the people concerned. They clearly do not support the proposal.

In letters to constituents and in letters to me, the Secretary of State's civil servants have said that the reason for the change is that the Vale of Glamorgan authority is more used to dealing with small, rural communities.

When I tabled a question asking the Secretary of State for Wales about the size of the communities in the Vale of Glamorgan, in Ogwr and in other parts of Wales, I was told that the information was not held centrally. So I could not understand how the Government had come to know that there were more small communities in the Vale of Glamorgan than in Ogwr.

I asked both borough councils to send me the information about their communities, and I found that in the Vale of Glamorgan there were seven communities of fewer than 4,000 people, but that in Ogwr there were 10. There were six small communities of a similar size to St. Bride's Major in Ogwr, but only one in the Vale of Glamorgan. So Ogwr borough council is more used to dealing with small communities than is the Vale of Glamorgan council.

Next I concentrated on the rural or agrarian nature of each borough. I contacted the planning departments of both the borough councils, and was told that 15.4 per cent. of the borough of Ogwr is designated for planning purposes as "built up", whereas 20 per cent. of the borough of the Vale of Glamorgan is so designated, so there is a greater percentage of rural areas in Ogwr than in the Vale of Glamorgan.

I accept that there can be different ways of defining rural as opposed to urban communities, but between 20 and 28 per cent. of councillors on the Vale of Glamorgan council and between 20 and 24 per cent. of those on the Ogwr council represent communities which are defined as rural, so there is virtually no difference between the two.

Employment in farming could also be a measure, and that is just under I per cent. in Ogwr and just over 1 per cent. in the Vale of Glamorgan. On all those criteria, there is little to choose between Ogwr and the Vale of Glamorgan. If anything, on the basis of the number of small communities, Ogwr has the stronger case.

I cannot understand why on earth the Secretary of State is not prepared to listen to what the local people say. I hope that even at this late stage he will be prepared to accept that the overwhelming majority of people in the three communities concerned, including their two borough councilors—both Conservative party members—are totally committed to keeping those communities in Ogwr.

In my remaining two minutes I shall deal with some of the general issues and the type of service that the Secretary of State's plans will provide. Some have been mentioned already, so I need not say much about them. First, it is clear that joint arrangements will lead to a second tier of local government that will be neither as clear nor as accountable as the present two-tier system. On that ground alone the proposals should be rejected.

As for the delivery of services, there are serious doubts everywhere about smaller authorities' ability to provide a comprehensive range of services such as special education services, and trading standards services. The trading standards people have asked for statutory provision to be made for combinations of authorities to deliver services. Organisations such as Children in Wales are concerned about issues in the interface between social services and health, such as reporting schemes for child abuse.

The reserve powers that the Bill will provide for the Secretary of State for Wales are enormous. That will mean centralisation into the Welsh Office. For all those reasons, it is clear that the Bill should be rejected, so I hope that our amendment will be accepted.

9.18 pm
Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

The review of local government in Wales has been a shoddy and undemocratic process which reflects little credit on either the Secretary of State for Wales or his predecessor. It has left many communities perplexed and disillusioned. For a reorganisation to be successful, it must be based on sound principles of good and lasting government, on a cross-party consensus and on community support, not on plucking numbers out of the air, which is clearly what the Secretary of State has done. The Bill fulfils none of those criteria.

It is perhaps a sign of a dying and obsolete Government that they should choose to exercise their powers in a frantically dogmatic fashion and introduce legislation that puts decisions in the hands not of local people, democratically elected, but of a single Minister, whose governorship of Wales is neither respected nor wanted. The Secretary of State today mentioned the archives. I hope that he will be relegated to the archives of Wales as soon as is humanly possible.

Since the publication of the Bill, we have seen the Government's true agenda for local authorities in Wales. Far from creating progressive unitary authorities with powers to act, the Government are attempting to belittle the last vestige of democratic government in Wales. Ministers should take note that, despite all the odds, local authorities provide value-for-money services in Wales. We need no instructions from those responsible for the waste and inefficiency of unaccountable quangos, and from a Welsh Office that could lose £300 million. The "Charter for the Future", as the Secretary of State's predecessor ineptly called it, is a charter for the private sector and nothing more.

That a Conservative Secretary of State should seek to limit the powers and tie the hands of local government is no surprise or mystery. Last July, I criticised the lack of an independent commission to determine the issue. Such an organisation might have listened to evidence, undertaken extensive and proper research on opinions, and reached sound and lasting conclusions. Instead, we are faced with a map of Wales which provides neither community identity nor effective units of local government.

Faced with a lack of any independent organisation, councillors in Cynon Valley commissioned a poll which showed that 66 per cent. of people questioned supported the retention of an authority that was based on current borders. Virtually no one wished there to be an amalgamation with the Rhondda and Taff-Ely authorities —and I mean no disrespect to my hon. Friends.

In addition to that poll, hundreds of people attended public meetings in Cynon Valley and supported the council's bid to become a unitary authority. I draw the Secretary of State's attention once again to a map produced by his predecessor entitled "Local Government—the way ahead." If he looks at it, he will note that Cynon Valley is clearly marked as a single unitary authority. Only 12 months later, a White Paper proposed the unlikely amalgamation to which I referred. What rationale was employed in making the radical change from a self-contained community of 60,000 people to an authority of 240,000 people?

Independent academic research by the Centre for Advanced Urban Studies in Bristol emphasised the futility of arranged marriages between distinct valley communities. It stated: Unitary options based on the amalgamation of two or three Valley authorities fail, on the grounds that they lack local responsiveness and do not generate any scale or specialisation advantages in service planning and provision. Such authorities would be characterised by divided, rather than locally united, civic leadership". In addition to the evidence of unanimous public meetings and opinion research, a 10,000-signature petition was raised and presented at the Welsh Office by a large delegation from Cynon Valley.

The Secretary of State is offering us the potential for a confusing two-tier set up and for Welsh Office manipulation and priority setting. The opportunity to give councils the ability to effect social and economic change is denied. Fewer councillors will deliver fewer services in authorities that are dictated to by a central Government bureaucracy that has little knowledge or understanding of local affairs or priorities. I hope that I do not need to remind the Secretary of State that the economy of the Cynon Valley is in a fragile, if not critical, state, thanks to him and his Government.

The only motor for substantial change—the local council—is to be disbanded and relocated elsewhere. I only hope that the Secretary of State will explain to the people of Cynon Valley his reasons for replacing popular, effective councils with the sort of weak, unwieldy and hamstrung authority that the Bill seeks to create.

9.24 pm
Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen)

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) said, 22 years ago the House considered a Bill to reform local government which then, as now, was imposed by a Conservative Government on an unwilling Wales. What my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) said should be repeated: we should remember the county councils, which are by far the losers in this reform, as the providers of education, social services, the fire service and the police. Since those councils were created in 1888, a great number of Welsh people have benefited from what they have done.

The House should realise that my hon. Friends the Members for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) and for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) and my hon. Friends the Members for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn), for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) and for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) were all members of local authorities 22 years ago when that reform came into operation, as I believe was the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and the Secretary of State for Wales, as a member of the Oxfordshire county council. They will recall that all those years ago the cost and the upheaval of reform, as it was called, was much greater than Ministers predicted.

This time, the costs for local government reorganisation are grossly underestimated. Anywhere between £100 million and £150 million is the likely cost. The county councils say that the transitional costs will be something like £200 million over the period. When we bear in mind the fact that redundancies alone could cost anywhere between £50 million and £90 million, what will happen to our redundant offices, whether they be county halls or town halls? We already know that the estimate for changes in information technology has doubled to nearly £14 million for the whole of Wales.

My right hon.and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) and the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) rightly asked where the money will come from. How will we pay for the reforms? There is nothing in the White Paper, little in the Bill and nothing in ministerial statements to tell us how the reorganisation will be financed. I suspect, as do many of my hon. Friends, that the reorganisation will be funded by cuts in the services that our local authorities provide for the people of Wales. When we bear it in mind that only a few weeks ago the Secretary of State introduced a revenue support grant settlement which will mean huge cuts in education, housing, roads and other services across Wales, we understand that Wales simply cannot afford the cost of this reorganisation.

The Bill does not address the problem of Welsh local government finance. It is not a question whether there should be rates. The system of grant allocation clearly needs to be examined, capping is universally unpopular, and there is a gearing problem in local government finance. However, none of those matters is addressed by the Bill. Nor does it address what the districts call the "burgeoning quangocracy" in Wales. The Bill ignores completely the growing concern about the lack of proper accountability of the unelected quangos in Wales. I believe that if the Bill had been called a Quango (Wales) Bill, it would have been much more popular in the hills and the valleys of Wales than the Local Government (Wales) Bill.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon and my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd all mentioned the question of government at an all-Wales level. There is growing support in Wales for a Welsh assembly. That is not just a reaction to 15 years of Conservative government, although it is a good enough reason. There is a genuine need for strategic decisions to be taken on an all-Wales basis. The main difference between what the Bill will do and what the creation of an assembly together with our local authorities would do is that we are talking about more elected representatives of the Welsh people taking decisions. The Bill reduces the number of people who are elected in Wales, and that cannot be good for democracy.

The absence of an assembly and the abolition of the counties means, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd pointed out, that there will be many joint boards and joint arrangements, about which the Bill is unclear. The Council. of Welsh County Councils said recently that the Bill will introduce a second tier, which will be obscure in its operations and unaccountable to the person in the street. Local government will be one step further removed and accountability will be blurred as a consequence of joint arrangements.

All the services that the counties now provide, together with some which the districts provide, must deal with joint arrangements. Libraries, museums, planning, social services, highways, transport, magistrates courts, fire services and trading standards are to be subject to what the White Paper calls vaguely "joint arrangements".

The worst affected area, as my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly and the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) said, will of course be education. What will happen to county drama services, county youth orchestras, outdoor pursuits, the child psychology service, curriculum advice and special education? We are concerned about those areas, and we are rightly concerned about the creation of 21 local education authorities.

The Secretary of State has been sent letters from the Welsh Association for the Performing Arts and from Gwent's visually impaired children taking action group. They are concerned about the effects of so-called joint arrangements on the delivery of vital services for the education of our children. Many have doubts whether the Government are really serious about the new unitary authorities becoming education authorities. It was only at the very latest stage in the other place that the Government introduced a new clause which mentioned education at all.

The Minister of State went around Wales a number of months ago and told schools and head teachers to opt out of local education authority control, because they would not know what the future will bring as a result of unitary authorities. However, these are the Government's unitary authorities. They are their creations and either they believe that the authorities are proper LEAs or they do not.

What the district councils have said is absolutely right and the Government should suspend the opting out of schools in Wales until the reorganisation is complete.

One former director of education recently wrote to the Western Mail about the omission of education from the Bill. He said that it was a brutal insult to a century of Welsh tradition. Cllr Ferguson-Jones, the Conservative leader of the city of Cardiff council in the 70s, and always proud of the city's schools, would have found a salty, maritime word to describe this arrogant Bill". The Government have tried to appease, and the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) has introduced what has been called the "Powys model". I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman wants for his area, but if it is the status quo he should say so. Opposition Members are concerned about the area committees. They will lead to a confused relationship among health authorities, housing associations, police authorities and, of course, the electorate. The districts have said that they will lead to a confused, inefficient, chaotic, unaccountable, unco-ordinated two-tier system. They are absolutely right.

It was particularly interesting that when the Secretary of State was asked this afternoon about the financing of the area committees he was not sure, but could come up with something. Like Mr. Micawber, he believed that something would turn up. We have to be much more definite about how the area committees will work, who will pay for them, what money they will control and where the money will come from. There was not a word about that in the White Paper and certainly there has been nothing since. We look forward to the Committee stage so that we can question the Secretary of State and his Ministers about how the committees will be financed.

The Secretary of State complained that we had argued that he was increasing his powers. But he is increasing them. He will have more powers affecting the direct provision of services, privatisation and joint arrangements. There is no question but that the Bill is a centralising measure. The Prime Minister talked at Question Time this afternoon about the Labour party being a centralising party. Yet the Bill is all about the centralisation of Welsh local government.

Opposition Members believe that councils should be, as well as enablers, providers of services. The Government see authorities in terms of management and service delivery, but they are more than businesses. They are proper, elected, accountable representatives of com-munities. Local government is a pillar of any democratic system and it should be able to speak out on behalf of a community. We believe that that is right. That is why we are worried that there is little in the Bill or in the White Paper about the role of members of local authorities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly rightly compared the number of councillors, even with the increase, with the number of members of quangos. There will be 1,200 councillors compared with 1,400 members of various quangos and advisory bodies. Not all those 1,400 members are appointed by the Secretary of State. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] No, they will not all be appointed by the Secretary of State—I understand that. Nevertheless, they serve on bodies that are not elected. The purpose of democracy is to elect people to take decisions on one's behalf.

There is a need to encourage council membership from a wide cross-section of the community. There is nothing in the Bill to review the wholly inadequate system of remuneration for members of local authorities. There is nothing in the Bill to review the restrictions placed on the staff of a council in participating in local democracy. Unless that is altered, after the creation of the unitary authorities, 10 per cent. of the working population of Wales will be debarred from holding local public office.

There is no real consensus for the Bill in Wales, even though the Government have argued for months that there is. There is a consensus for unitary authorities, but that is a world away from saying that the type of unitary authorities that are encapsulated in the Bill is what people in Wales want. The Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress are together in their opposition to the Bill. Some of the districts, all the counties, all the political parties, except the Conservative party—even it is split in different parts of Wales—and the vast majority of Members of Parliament who represent Welsh constituencies oppose the Bill.

Wales has a proud history of local democracy. Even Conservative Secretaries of State have said that Welsh local authorities are responsible and proper bodies. The Bill undermines the effectiveness of Welsh local government. Every Act affecting local authorities introduced by the Government in the past few years—there have been 150 of them—has increased the powers of central Government and weakened local government. Every grant settlement in Wales in those 15 years has robbed our councils of necessary resources and tightened the grip of the Welsh Office over all Welsh local authorities. The result has been a scandalous democratic deficit in a country which is proud of its history of fighting for democratic rights. The Bill blurs accountability, with its joint boards and lead authorities. It fails to address the problems of an over-complex and unfair system of local government finance, it does nothing to satisfy the Welsh people's worries about the growing number of quangos in Wales and it ignores the obvious need for an all-Wales democratic body. In fact, it is a bad Bill. It is bad for democracy and bad for Wales. The House should reject it.

9.39 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Gwilym Jones)

I am glad to have the opportunity of following the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) —as he acknowledged, one former councillor following another former councillor—as we debate this great step forward in reorganising local government in Wales.

We can fairly say that it has been a good debate—an even-tempered one. There have been constructive contributions from my hon. Friends, and even some penetrating questions from my hon. Friends the Members for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) and for Monmouth (Mr. Evans), to which I shall refer later. A breadth that does not always characterise debates on Welsh affairs was provided by my hon. Friends the Members for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) and for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan).

However, there was a more mixed contribution from Opposition Members. It was no small delight to hear from the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies). He again confirms that he is probably the most effective voice on the Opposition Benches, but his anti-European credentials ensure that he stays on the Back Benches.

It was with nostalgia that I heard the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris). Obviously the spectre of the elephant still looms so large in his mind that he, diplomatically, does not want to discuss the Welsh assembly.

The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) made the usual disappointing contribution. He could not take every intervention; he could not give answers. Perhaps he had not read his speech—he did not know what had been written for him to say. There were some matters about which he could not give a response to earlier interventions. He had not thought them out. My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor pursued him about his attitude towards the county councils; he could not answer. Then, when he was drawn out, he said that he was thinking about 25 to 30 councils. What vagueness to offer at this stage in the debating of the reorganisation of local government in Wales! The closest he can get to it is give or take live or six councils in Wales.

Inevitably, the hon. Member for Caerphilly made the token references to a Welsh assembly as the answer to everything. Amazingly, there was no reference to the costs that a Welsh assembly would add to the burden of all the taxpayers in Wales, in addition to the costs of the increase to 25 or to 30 councils—however many the hon. Gentleman might conjure up on the back of an envelope. My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) mentioned the absence of a reference to that in the reasoned amendment.

It was no surprise that the hon. Member for Caerphilly confessed that he had written the reasoned amendment. My only surprise was that he managed to obtain the signature of the lone Liberal in Wales and the four Welsh nationalists. We are well aware how apprehensive the Labour party has been, in the valleys in south Wales, about the Welsh nationalist party breathing down its neck. Now that very poorly worded reasoned amendment can be waved at the voters in the forthcoming elections in Wales, and it can be said, "There is no difference between the Opposition parties; they all sign up to the same thing."

The reasoned amendment says that the Bill will concentrate further power in the hands of the Secretary of State for Wales—untrue. It says that the Bill abolishes a democratic tier of local government in favour of joint boards —untrue. It says that the Bill threatens to undermine the viability of local services —untrue. It says that the Bill provides opportunities for further privatisation". If competitive tendering means that, local government reorganisation delays that coming about. Then the amendment criticises the creation of even more Welsh quangos, but the hon. Member for Caerphilly welcomed one of those—the Staff Commission for Wales—and I am glad to have his welcome for that. The amendment says that the Government have done nothing to improve local government finance. We did that last year. The amendment suggests that the Welsh people will pay more, in spite of the even greater cost of the unthought-out version of local government reorganisation that the hon. Gentleman would foist on us.

In all those tensions, I enjoyed the references of the hon. Member for Caerphilly to the discussions that he has had with Councillor Graham Powell of Gwent and Councillor Harry Jones of Newport. It must have been in one of those smoke-filled rooms at a Labour party conference. I hope that I am never drawn into anything like that.

As well as the hon. Member for Caerphilly's welcome for the Staff Commission, I am grateful for his welcome of the Secretary of State's announcement about new councils for Merthyr Tydfil and Blaenau Gwent and of the reassurance that my right hon. Friend sought to offer staff working for local government in Wales.

Many hon. Members asked about my right hon. Friend's powers under the Bill. Parts II and III contain no major new centralising powers for the Secretary of State. The reserve powers in clauses 29 to 31 are strictly time-limited to 31 March 1999. A safeguard against a possible breakdown in services is necessary, as was recognised in the debate in another place on archives, for example, but we hope that there will be no need to use them. We have said that we are happy to debate the details in Committee.

Most of the other new powers of the Secretary of State offer local authorities new opportunities. Clause 25 deals with cross-border trading; clauses 32 and 33 deal with experiments in decision making; and clauses 27 and 28 are about decentralisation schemes. Because of the continuous attempts to suggest that those are centralising powers with the Secretary of State, I shall go through them and show that the contrary is true. Clause 17 simply interprets or makes minor amendments to existing legislation and clause 18 introduces no new powers.

Clause 19 contains a power to establish joint planning boards. It replicates an existing power and is to be used to establish joint national parks boards. Clause 20 amends the planning legislation to take account of unitary authorities and contains powers comparable to those in existing legislation. Clauses 21 and 22 contain no new powers; clause 23 largely replicates existing powers; and clause 24 deals with the fire and police services.

Clause 25 provides a new power for local authorities for cross-border trading. My right hon. Friend's powers are designed simply to limit the potential extent of that new power. The clause empowers unitary authorities to provide services to each other. I should have thought that the Opposition would welcome an extension of local authority powers. The clause enables authorities to sell specialist services to each other in areas such as education, trading standards, social services and environmental health.

Mr. Murphy

Will the Minister give way'?

Mr. Jones

I am afraid that I do not have time.

The Government do not think that clause 25 should be available for services subject to compulsory competitive tendering, such as refuse collection or school catering. Nor should it be available for those parts of legal or financial services that are to become subject to competitive tendering. The private sector is available to take on the financial risks of providing those services where authorities do not provide them themselves.

We should be willing to consider proposals that would enable authorities to trade in the full range of services if they would protect the position of council tax payers in the providing authority's area. That offer remains open. The clause is not about privatisation but about authorities providing services to each other.

Mr. Murphy

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Jones

No. The hon. Gentleman was not interrupted and I must press on.

Clause 26 merely provides guidance on service delivery plans. Clauses 27 and 28 are about decentralisation schemes. My right hon. Friend's powers there are the minimum required to provide the guarantee. They can be invoked only when enough local members ask him to exercise them. Clauses 29 to 31 deal with the reserve powers that I have already described. Clauses 32 and 33 deal with the experimental power that adds to local authorities' existing decision-making procedures following a request from an individual authority. It is right that my right hon. Friend and Parliament should have a role in that.

I wish to deal with all the questions that have been raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor asked about clause 24 and the police. The clause simply preserves the status quo. A similar provision exists in the 1992 Act. The Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill in the other place may overtake that provision. He also asked about fire authorities, which are a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. Service delivery will be protected and the proposals are designed to improve services.

On staffing matters, the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) asked us to reconsider our view of frustration of contracts and to announce compensation proposals. My right hon. Friend announced this afternoon that the Government would be looking again at clause 44, which deals with redundancy payments, to reassure staff that they would have full rights under employment protection legislation. So we are doing what the hon. Gentleman asks.

The Government will finalise their compensation proposals in the autumn and we shall consult before then. We shall consider all the views put to us about compensation, including those of the English Staff Commission and the Local Government Management Board for Wales.

My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth asked about "Monmouthshire Council". I am certainly prepared to consider my hon. Friend's suggestion. He might like to pursue that in Committee.

As for consultation with community councillors, the power in clause 14 is permissive, enabling my right hon. Friend to intervene if unitary authorities are not consulting communities. If he makes an order, he may make exceptions to permit speedy action.

As for the experimental powers, it is open to new authorities to come forward with new ideas for the political management of the authority. We retain an open mind on such proposals.

My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth asked about the Welsh Church Act funds. We have no plans to review their purpose outside the scope of the Bill. We are willing to consider my hon. Friend's suggestion about the operative date for control on disposals. Finally, he asked whether the Bill would create new Lord Lieutenancies. Yes, there is a power in clauses 58 and 59 to permit the creation of new Lord Lieutenancies, but we have no plans to use those powers at present.

There was the warmest of welcomes when my right hon. Friend announced this afternoon that he would amend the proposals to create new councils for Merthyr Tydfil and Blaenau Gwent. That was welcomed particularly by the hon. Members for those constituencies. However, I fail to understand the construction that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) placed on that announcement. It was more like sour grapes when he tried to allege that our motivation for changing the boundaries was gerrymandering. I marvel at the breadth of the hon. and learned Gentleman's imagination if he thinks that the proposals for Merthyr Tydfil and Blaenau Gwent were made on the basis that we are confident of winning those seats. We have no more than reasonable expectations in those constituencies.

I acknowledge that good cases have been made today and previously for differing forms of boundaries in Wales. The hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) cited the support of the local Conservative party in favour of the case that he was advocating. That was also true for Llanelli, where the local Conservative party has been to the fore. As the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery said, his noble Friend Lord Hooson said that nobody has been more assiduous in fighting the cause of Montgomeryshire than the Montgomeryshire Conservative association.

The right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon referred to the position of Port Talbot. I rather thought it was an echo of my right hon. Friend Lord Howe, who made the same case in the other place on behalf of Port Talbot.

I was struck to hear the converse when I met representatives of Llanelli, who were arguing their case for being a unitary authority, but went on to suggest that if they had to be linked with anyone, they did not want to be linked with Carmarthen, but preferred to be linked with Swansea. They advocated as a reason for being linked with Swansea that Llanelli and Swansea rugby teams could be linked as easily as those of Neath and Aberavon. That seemed to substantiate what we are doing there. I rush to agree with the right hon. Member for Llanelli in his expectation of victory at Twickenham on Saturday—something which ought to unite us all.

I wish also to acknowledge the arguments similarly made by the hon. Members for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), and for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd). As the hon. Member for Meirionnydd and Nant Conwy reminded us, I had the opportunity of meeting him when he brought his council to discuss this matter.

The arguments of all those Members, not least that of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd and Nant Conwy, are not insubstantial. I recollect that his council said that by first choice it preferred to be a unitary authority, but if it had to be linked with anyone, it wished to be linked with Montgomery.

My hon. Friends the Members for Brecon and Radnor, for Bromsgrove and for Rutland and Melton made the point well that there is no template for a reorganisation of local government in Wales. It is a matter of trying to arrive at the best judgment for each part in Wales, trying to determine councils where, as far as possible, the boundaries strengthen and reflect existing community loyalties, while providing local public services, ideally of the highest possible quality, efficiently, effectively and economically.

The greatest apprehensions were expressed about Powys and Meirionnydd. Following the statement on 3 March 1992, we listened carefully to the arguments on numbers, most obviously to the view of the Assembly of Welsh Counties that there should be fewer larger authorities. That led us to look closely at all the pre-White Paper proposals for authorities that had particularly small populations. Montgomeryshire, with only 54,000, and Meirionnydd, with only 32,000, failed that test. We could not be satisfied that such a sparsely populated authority could be relied on to manage the provision of local services efficiently. We recognise that Montgomeryshire and a number of the other areas mentioned today would have a case for unitary status if community loyalty were the sole criterion. To take account of that, we introduced in the Bill our proposals for the decentralisation schemes.

I am confident that we have come forward with the right structure, particularly for Powys, Caernarfonshire, Meirionnydd and the other 20 councils that we brought forward, including the three communities in the Vale of Glamorgan that were mentioned by the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths). I believe that, with the added dimension of the area committees, we will provide exactly the right combination for taking forward local government in Wales.

We have not only been looking forward in Wales today. Some hon. Members have insisted on living in the past. As my hon. Friends the Members for Brecon and Radnor and for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) reminded us, some are harking back to 1979, when Wales voted 4:1 against the setting up of a Welsh assembly. What has changed since then? I know that an opinion poll has claimed that 45 per cent. might now be in favour of a Welsh assembly, but that is fewer than half the people of Wales and, if measured by those who say that they would vote for the Opposition parties, it is only about half the people who would vote for them. The other half are yet to be convinced. I doubt whether they will be.

It can be no surprise to anyone that the Opposition parties refuse to have a referendum on the subject. But I feel that the line is not holding. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery said that he would not be opposed, as did the right hon. Member for Llanelli. That proposal would be the first break up in the United Kingdom and no responsible political party could put such a major constitutional change forward without allowing the people of Wales to have a say in a referendum.

I feel that the time has come for us to press on with this important and right reorganisation of local government in Wales. I feel that this is where I came in, because 25 years ago this year I was elected to Cardiff city council, a pre-reorganisation council. I can even claim that I predate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State; mention was made of his being a councillor, but that was of a reorganised council. He was not only a member of his county council but a committee chairman.

My right hon. Friend described what we are doing here as a renaissance for local government in Wales. I fully endorse what he said. I think that the Second Reading will give us the first stage of real devolution—the way forward. That is what Wales wants, and that is what Wales should have.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 285, Noes 313.

Division No. 166] [9.59 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Barron, Kevin
Adams, Mrs Irene Battle, John
Ainger, Nick Bayley, Hugh
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret
Allen, Graham Beggs, Roy
Alton, David Beith, Rt Hon A. J.
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Bell, Stuart
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Armstrong, Hilary Bennett, Andrew F.
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Benton, Joe
Ashton, Joe Bermingham, Gerald
Austin-Walker, John Berry, Dr. Roger
Barnes, Harry Betts, Clive
Blair, Tony Godsiff, Roger
Blunkett, David Golding, Mrs Llin
Boateng, Paul Gordon, Mildred
Boyes, Roland Gould, Bryan
Bradley, Keith Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Grocott, Bruce
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Gunnell, John
Burden, Richard Hain, Peter
Byers, Stephen Hall, Mike
Caborn, Richard Hanson, David
Callaghan, Jim Hardy, Peter
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Harman, Ms Harriet
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Harvey, Nick
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Henderson, Doug
Canavan, Dennis Heppell, John
Cann, Jamie Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) Hinchliffe, David
Chisholm, Malcolm Hoey, Kate
Clapham, Michael Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Home Robertson, John
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hood, Jimmy
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Hoon, Geoffrey
Clelland, David Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Coffey, Ann Hoyle, Doug
Cohen, Harry Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Connarty, Michael Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Corbett, Robin Hutton, John
Corbyn, Jeremy Illsley, Eric
Corston, Ms Jean Ingram, Adam
Cousins, Jim Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Cox, Tom Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Cryer, Bob Jamieson, David
Cummings, John Janner, Greville
Cunliffe, Lawrence Johnston, Sir Russell
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Dafis, Cynog Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Dalyell, Tam Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Darling, Alistair Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Davidson, Ian Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) Jowell, Tessa
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Keen, Alan
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, Hdge H'l) Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)
Dewar, Donald Khabra, Piara S.
Dixon, Don Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn)
Dobson, Frank Kirkwood, Archy
Donohoe, Brian H. Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Dowd, Jim Lewis, Terry
Dunnachie, Jimmy Litherland, Robert
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Livingstone, Ken
Eagle, Ms Angela Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Eastham, Ken Llwyd, Elfyn
Enright, Derek Loyden, Eddie
Etherington, Bill Lynne, Ms Liz
Evans, John (St Helens N) McAllion, John
Ewing, Mrs Margaret McAvoy, Thomas
Fatchett, Derek McCartney, Ian
Faulds, Andrew Macdonald, Calum
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) McFall, John
Fisher, Mark McKelvey, William
Flynn, Paul Mackinlay, Andrew
Foster, Rt Hon Derek McLeish, Henry
Foster, Don (Bath) Maclennan, Robert
Foulkes, George McMaster, Gordon
Fraser, John McNamara, Kevin
Fyfe, Maria McWilliam, John
Galloway, George Madden, Max
Gapes, Mike Maddock, Mrs Diana
Garrett, John Mahon, Alice
George, Bruce Mandelson, Peter
Gerrard, Neil Marek, Dr John
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Godman, Dr Norman A. Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Rowlands, Ted
Martlew, Eric Ruddock, Joan
Maxton, John Salmond, Alex
Meacher, Michael Sedgemore, Brian
Meale, Alan Sheerman, Barry
Michael, Alun Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute) Short, Clare
Milburn, Alan Simpson, Alan
Miller, Andrew Skinner, Dennis
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Moonie, Dr Lewis Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Morgan, Rhodri Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)
Morley, Elliot Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe) Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Snape, Peter
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Soley, Clive
Mowlam, Marjorie Spearing, Nigel
Mudie, George Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Mullin, Chris Steinberg, Gerry
Murphy, Paul Stevenson, George
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Strang, Dr. Gavin
O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire) Straw, Jack
O'Brien, William (Normanton) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
O'Hara, Edward Taylor, Rt Hon John D. (Strgfd)
Olner, William Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
O'Neill, Martin Trimble, David
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Turner, Dennis
Patchett, Terry Tyler, Paul
Pendry, Tom Vaz, Keith
Pickthall, Colin Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Pike, Peter L. Walley, Joan
Pope, Greg Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Wareing, Robert N
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E) Watson, Mike
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Welsh, Andrew
Primarolo, Dawn Wicks, Malcolm
Purchase, Ken Wigley, Dafydd
Quin, Ms Joyce Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Radice, Giles Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Raynsford, Nick Wilson, Brian
Redmond, Martin Winnick, David
Reid, Dr John Wise, Audrey
Rendel, David Worthington, Tony
Robertson, George (Hamilton) Wray, Jimmy
Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW) Wright, Dr Tony
Roche, Mrs. Barbara Young, David (Bolton SE)
Rogers, Allan
Rooker, Jeff Tellers for the Ayes:
Rooney, Terry Mr. Peter Kilfoyle and Mr. John Spellar.
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Aitken, Jonathan Booth, Hartley
Alexander, Richard Boswell, Tim
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia
Amess, David Bowden, Andrew
Ancram, Michael Bowis, John
Arbuthnot, James Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Brandreth, Gyles
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Brazier, Julian
Ashby, David Bright, Graham
Aspinwall, Jack Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Browning, Mrs. Angela
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Budgen, Nicholas
Baldry, Tony Burns, Simon
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Burt, Alistair
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Butcher, John
Bates, Michael Butler, Peter
Batiste, Spencer Butterfill, John
Bellingham, Henry Carlisle, John (Luton North)
Bendall, Vivian Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Beresford, Sir Paul Carrington, Matthew
Biffen, Rt Hon John Carttiss, Michael
Body, Sir Richard Cash, William
Churchill, Mr Hayes, Jerry
Clappison, James Heald, Oliver
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hendry, Charles
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Coe, Sebastian Hicks, Robert
Colvin, Michael Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L.
Congdon, David Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Conway, Derek Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Horam, John
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Cormack, Patrick Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Couchman, James Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Cran, James Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Hunter, Andrew
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Jenkin, Bernard
Day, Stephen Jessel, Toby
Deva, Nirj Joseph Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Devlin, Tim Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Dickens, Geoffrey Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)
Dicks, Terry Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Dorrell, Stephen Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Key, Robert
Dover, Den Kilfedder, Sir James
Duncan, Alan Kirkhope, Timothy
Duncan-Smith, Iain Knapman, Roger
Dunn, Bob Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Durant, Sir Anthony Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Dykes, Hugh Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Eggar, Tim Knox, Sir David
Elletson, Harold Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield) Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Legg, Barry
Evennett, David Leigh, Edward
Faber, David Lennox-Boyd, Mark
Fabricant, Michael Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Lidington, David
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lightbown, David
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Fishbum, Dudley Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham)
Forman, Nigel Lord, Michael
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Luff, Peter
Forth, Eric Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman MacKay, Andrew
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) Maclean, David
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger McLoughlin, Patrick
French, Douglas McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Fry, Sir Peter Madel, Sir David
Gale, Roger Maitland, Lady Olga
Gallie, Phil Malone, Gerald
Gardiner, Sir George Mans, Keith
Gamier, Edward Marland, Paul
Gill, Christopher Marlow, Tony
Gillan, Cheryl Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Gorst, John Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW) Mellor, Rt Hon David
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Merchant, Piers
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Mills, Iain
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Grylls, Sir Michael Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Moate, Sir Roger
Hague, William Monro, Sir Hector
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Moss, Malcolm
Hampson, Dr Keith Needham, Richard
Hanley, Jeremy Nelson, Anthony
Hannam, Sir John Neubert, Sir Michael
Hargreaves, Andrew Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Harris, David Nicholls, Patrick
Haselhurst, Alan Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hawkins, Nick Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hawksley, Warren Norris, Steve
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley Stern, Michael
Oppenheim, Phillip Stewart, Allan
Ottaway, Richard Streeter, Gary
Page, Richard Sumberg, David
Paice, James Sweeney, Walter
Patnick, Irvine Sykes, John
Patten, Rt Hon John Tapsell, Sir Peter
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Pawsey, James Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Pickles, Eric Temple-Morris, Peter
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Thomason, Roy
Porter, David (Waveney) Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Rathbone, Tim Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Redwood, Rt Hon John Thurnham, Peter
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Townend, John (Bridlington)
Richards, Rod Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Riddick, Graham Tracey, Richard
Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm Tredinnick, David
Robathan, Andrew Trend, Michael
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Trotter, Neville
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S) Twinn, Dr Ian
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Viggers, Peter
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent) Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela Walden, George
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Sackville, Tom Waller, Gary
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim Ward, John
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Shaw, David (Dover) Waterson, Nigel
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Watts, John
Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian Wells, Bowen
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Whitney, Ray
Shersby, Michael Whittingdale, John
Sims, Roger Widdecombe, Ann
Skeet, Sir Trevor Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Wilkinson, John
Soames, Nicholas Willetts, David
Speed, Sir Keith Wilshire, David
Spencer, Sir Derek Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset) Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Wolfson, Mark
Spink, Dr Robert Wood, Timothy
Spring, Richard Yeo, Tim
Sproat, Iain Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Tellers for the Noes:
Steen, Anthony Mr. Sydney Chapman and Mr. Robert G. Hughes.
Stephen, Michael

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to standing Order No. 60 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading):—

The House divided: Ayes 313, Noes 285.

Division No. 167] [10.14 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Banks, Matthew (Southport)
Aitken, Jonathan Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Alexander, Richard Bates, Michael
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Batiste, Spencer
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Bellingham, Henry
Amess, David Bendall, Vivian
Ancram, Michael Beresford, Sir Paul
Arbuthnot, James Biffen, Rt Hon John
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Body, Sir Richard
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Ashby, David Booth, Hartley
Aspinwall, Jack Boswell, Tim
Atkins, Robert Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Bowden, Andrew
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Bowis, John
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes
Baldry, Tony Brandreth, Gyles
Brazier, Julian Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW)
Bright, Graham Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Browning, Mrs. Angela Grylls, Sir Michael
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Budgen, Nicholas Hague, William
Burns, Simon Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Burt, Alistair Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Butcher, John Hampson, Dr Keith
Butler, Peter Hanley, Jeremy
Butterfill, John Hannam, Sir John
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Hargreaves, Andrew
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Harris, David
Carrington, Matthew Haselhurst, Alan
Carttiss, Michael Hawkins, Nick
Cash, William Hawksley, Warren
Churchill, Mr Hayes, Jerry
Clappison, James Heald, Oliver
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hendry, Charles
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Coe, Sebastian Hicks, Robert
Colvin, Michael Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L.
Congdon, David Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Conway, Derek Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Horam, John
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Cormack, Patrick Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Couchman, James Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Cran, James Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Hunter, Andrew
Davis, David (Boothferry) Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Day, Stephen Jenkin, Bernard
Deva, Nirj Joseph Jessel, Toby
Devlin, Tim Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Dickens, Geoffrey Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Dicks, Terry Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)
Dorrell, Stephen Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Dover, Den Key, Robert
Duncan, Alan Kilfedder, Sir James
Duncan-Smith, Iain Kirkhope, Timothy
Dunn, Bob Knapman, Roger
Durant, Sir Anthony Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Dykes, Hugh Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Eggar, Tim Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Elletson, Harold Knox, Sir David
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield) Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Evennett, David Legg, Barry
Faber, David Leigh, Edward
Fabricant, Michael Lennox-Boyd, Mark
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lidington, David
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lightbown, David
Fishburn, Dudley Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Forman, Nigel Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Lord, Michael
Forth, Eric Luff, Peter
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodsphng) MacKay, Andrew
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger Maclean, David
French, Douglas McLoughlin, Patrick
Fry, Sir Peter McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Gale, Roger Madel, Sir David
Gallie, Phil Maitland, Lady Olga
Gardiner, Sir George Malone, Gerald
Garnier, Edward Mans, Keith
Gill, Christopher Marland, Paul
Gillan, Cheryl Marlow, Tony
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gorst, John Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Mellor, Rt Hon David Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Merchant, Piers Spink, Dr Robert
Mills, Iain Spring, Richard
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Sproat, Iain
Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW) Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Moate, Sir Roger Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Monro, Sir Hector Steen, Anthony
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Stephen, Michael
Moss, Malcolm Stern, Michael
Needham, Richard Stewart, Allan
Nelson, Anthony Streeter, Gary
Neubert, Sir Michael Sumberg, David
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Sweeney, Walter
Nicholls, Patrick Sykes, John
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Norris, Steve Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Oppenheim, Phillip Temple-Morris, Peter
Ottaway, Richard Thomason, Roy
Page, Richard Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Paice, James Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Patnick, Irvine Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Patten, Rt Hon John Thurnham, Peter
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Townend, John (Bridlington)
Pawsey, James Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Tracey, Richard
Pickles, Eric Tredinnick, David
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Trend, Michael
Porter, David (Waveney) Trotter, Neville
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Twinn, Dr Ian
Rathbone, Tim Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Redwood, Rt Hon John Viggers, Peter
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Richards, Rod Walden, George
Riddick, Graham Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm Waller, Gary
Robathan, Andrew Ward, John
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S) Waterson, Nigel
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Watts, John
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Wells, Bowen
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent) Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela Whitney, Ray
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Whittingdale, John
Sackville, Tom Widdecombe, Ann
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Wilkinson, John
Shaw, David (Dover) Willetts, David
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Wilshire, David
Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'fld)
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Wolfson, Mark
Shersby, Michael Yeo, Tim
Sims, Roger Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Skeet, Sir Trevor
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Tellers for the Ayes:
Soames, Nicholas Mr. Sydney Chapman and Mr. Timothy Wood.
Speed, Sir Keith
Spencer, Sir Derek
Abbott, Ms Diane Beggs, Roy
Adams, Mrs Irene Beith, Rt Hon A. J.
Ainger, Nick Bell, Stuart
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Allen, Graham Bennett, Andrew F.
Alton, David Benton, Joe
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Bermingham, Gerald
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Berry, Dr. Roger
Armstrong, Hilary Berts, Clive
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Blair, Tony
Ashton, Joe Blunkett, David
Austin-Walker, John Boateng, Paul
Barnes, Harry Boyes, Roland
Barron, Kevin Bradley, Keith
Battle, John Bray, Dr Jeremy
Bayley, Hugh Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Gunnell, John
Burden, Richard Hain, Peter
Byers, Stephen Hall, Mike
Caborn, Richard Hanson, David
Callaghan, Jim Hardy, Peter
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Harman, Ms Harriet
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Harvey, Nick
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Henderson, Doug
Canavan, Dennis Heppell, John
Cann, Jamie Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) Hinchliffe, David
Chisholm, Malcolm Hoey, Kate
Clapham, Michael Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Home Robertson, John
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hood, Jimmy
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Hoon, Geoffrey
Clelland, David Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Coffey, Ann Hoyle, Doug
Cohen, Harry Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Connarty, Michael Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Corbett, Robin Hutton, John
Corbyn, Jeremy Illsley, Eric
Corston, Ms Jean Ingram, Adam
Cousins, Jim Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Cox, Tom Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Cryer, Bob Jamieson, David
Cummings, John Janner, Greville
Cunliffe, Lawrence Johnston, Sir Russell
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Mori)
Dafis, Cynog Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Dalyell, Tam Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Darling, Alistair Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Davidson, Ian Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) Jowell, Tessa
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Keen, Alan
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l) Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)
Dewar, Donald Khabra, Piara S.
Dixon, Don Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil (Islwyn)
Dobson, Frank Kirkwood, Archy
Donohoe, Brian H. Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Dowd, Jim Lewis, Terry
Dunnachie, Jimmy Litherland, Robert
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Livingstone, Ken
Eagle, Ms Angela Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Eastham, Ken Llwyd, Elfyn
Enright, Derek Loyden, Eddie
Etherington, Bill Lynne, Ms Liz
Evans, John (St Helens N) McAllion, John
Ewing, Mrs Margaret McAvoy, Thomas
Fatchett, Derek McCartney, Ian
Faulds, Andrew Macdonald, Calum
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) McFall, John
Fisher, Mark McKelvey, William
Flynn, Paul Mackinlay, Andrew
Foster, Rt Hon Derek McLeish, Henry
Foster, Don (Bath) Maclennan, Robert
Foulkes, George McMaster, Gordon
Fraser, John McNamara, Kevin
Fyfe, Maria McWilliam, John
Galloway, George Madden, Max
Gapes, Mike Maddock, Mrs Diana
Garrett, John Mahon, Alice
George, Bruce Mandelson, Peter
Gerrard, Neil Marek, Dr John
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Godman, Dr Norman A. Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Godsiff, Roger Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Golding, Mrs Llin Martlew, Eric
Gordon, Mildred Maxton, John
Gould, Bryan Meacher, Michael
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Meale, Alan
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Michael, Alun
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Grocott, Bruce Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)
Milburn, Alan Sheerman, Barry
Miller, Andrew Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Moonie, Dr Lewis Short, Clare
Morgan, Rhodri Simpson, Alan
Morley, Elliot Skinner, Dennis
Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)
Mowlam, Marjorie Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Mudie, George Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Mullin, Chris Soley, Clive
Murphy, Paul Spearing, Nigel
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
O'Brien, Michael (N Wkshire) Steinberg, Gerry
O'Brien, William (Normanton) Stevenson, George
O'Hara, Edward Stott, Roger
Olner, William Strang, Dr. Gavin
O'Neill, Martin Straw, Jack
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Parry, Robert Taylor, Rt Hon John D. (Strgfd)
Patchett, Terry Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Pendry, Tom Trimble, David
Pickthall, Colin Turner, Dennis
Pike, Peter L. Tyler, Paul
Pope, Greg Vaz, Keith
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E) Walley, Joan
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Primarolo, Dawn Wareing, Robert N
Purchase, Ken Watson, Mike
Quin, Ms Joyce Welsh, Andrew
Radice, Giles Wicks, Malcolm
Raynsford, Nick Wigley, Dafydd
Redmond, Martin Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Reid, Dr John Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Rendel, David Wilson, Brian
Robertson, George (Hamilton) Winnick, David
Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW) Wise, Audrey
Roche, Mrs. Barbara Worthington, Tony
Rogers, Allan Wray, Jimmy
Rooker, Jeff Wright, Dr Tony
Rooney, Terry Young, David (Bolton SE)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Rowlands, Ted Tellers for the Noes:
Ruddock, Joan Mr. Peter Kilfovle and Mr. John Spellar.
Salmond, Alex
Sedgemore, Brian

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and command to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).