HC Deb 22 March 2000 vol 346 cc962-3
2. Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central)

What discussions he has had with the Welsh Local Government Association about the Local Government Bill [Lords]. [114263]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson)

Both my right hon. Friend and I have had discussions with representatives of the Welsh Local Government Association about the Local Government Bill. On 25 February, I addressed a meeting of the Welsh Local Government Association co-ordinating committee.

Mr. Jones

Is it true that the First Secretary, Rhodri Morgan, has insufficient powers to deal with the abuse of allowances in Cardiff, whereby the new leader of Cardiff council receives an allowance that is three or four times greater than that of any other leader throughout the United Kingdom? If it is true, what will the Minister and the Government do to amend the Local Government Bill to give the Welsh Assembly sufficient powers to deal with the issue, which is of widespread public concern?

Mr. Hanson

As my hon. Friend may be aware, under clause 88 of the Local Government Bill, the Assembly will have the power to make regulations to require councils to set up an independent panel to review councillors' allowances. The Government are looking at the feasibility of including a provision in the Bill to enable the Assembly to set up an all-Wales panel. The Assembly has certain powers under existing legislation to examine that issue.

I recognise that, at the moment, local government has the autonomy to set its own allowances. However, like my hon. Friend, I think that councils and their members should bear in mind their responsibilities to the electorate and exercise their judgment with care and prudence.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

I am interested in that response. I agree with much of what the Minister has said, but, with all the talk of modernising local government in the Local Government Bill, is he not embarrassed that there is a dose of good old-fashioned Labour greed? I am talking about Russell Goodway, the Labour leader of Cardiff council, who receives £58,000 and is the highest-paid councillor in Britain, working a three-day week.

There is another point here, too. When eight Labour councillors refused to back Russell Goodway's £58,000 salary, initially, they were suspended. Will the Minister say what discussions he is having with his colleagues about introducing some true democracy into the Labour party in Wales? Earlier today, Russell Goodway said: I'm saying that in 5 years time, what's happened in Cardiff now will be the norm across the country. Does the Minister agree with that?

Mr. Hanson

I remind the hon. Gentleman—he may have forgotten—that, in 1995, it was a Conservative Government who changed the legislation and allowed councillors to set their own allowance levels. Labour Members will look after the Labour party, and the hon. Gentleman should look after Conservative-controlled councils—such as Westminster. Although he may not be aware of it, the Labour party in Wales has upheld the appeals of the members who were suspended and has asked the council to review its expenditure on councillors' allowances. I reiterate that councillors and Members should bear their responsibilities to the electorate and exercise their judgment with prudence.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

When my hon. Friend next meets the Welsh Local Government Association, will he tell it to get on with the fundamental review of the whole revenue support grant arrangement—which, over a number of years, has led to the most extraordinary distortions in council tax figures, and has particularly led to huge increases in some of our poorest authorities?

Mr. Hanson

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. He will be aware that the Assembly and the Welsh Local Government Association have examined the formula and agree that it needs revision. They are examining how they will develop a new formula, to be agreed and in place for next year's financial settlement.

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