§ 3.45 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE FOR WELSH AFFAIRS (LORD BRECON)
My Lords, perhaps this would be a convenient moment for me to give to your Lordships the text of a statement on local government reorganisation in Wales which has been made by my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs in another place. I will repeat the statement in his own words:
"The Local Government Commission for Wales have proposed reducing the Welsh counties from 13 to 7.
"They have also proposed some extension of the county boroughs of Cardiff, Newport and Swansea; that Merthyr Tydfil should become a non-county borough; and that no new county boroughs should be created.
"There have been many objections to these proposals, and the next step would be to hear them by way of public inquiries. Inquiries are being held to hear the objections to the extensions of the three county boroughs. But the Government do not wish, for the time being, to pursue the other proposals.
"The Government are convinced that local government in Wales is in urgent need of reorganisation. The Commission found, following exhaustive examination, that'the machine in Wales needs radical overhaul'.But the Government are not convinced that the proposals in the Commission's Report would provide a fully satisfactory basis for an effective local government structure in Wales.
"This implies no criticism whatever of the Commission's work. Within their terms of reference they did a first-class job. Their proposals may well prove to be the foundation for reorganisation in Wales. But they themselves said that to be fully effective their investigation should have gone beyond consideration of the boundaries of local government to its structure, its functions and its finance.
1125 "The Commission, it is true, said that they believed it urgently necessary that action should be taken on their present recommendations, which would go some way to remedy existing weaknesses and which could provide the foundations for more far-reaching reforms in the future. But the Government believe that it would be right, before going ahead with these proposals, to see whether they cannot find a basis for reorganising local government in Wales likely to prove more satisfactory and more enduring.
"The Government accordingly propose now to reconsider the pattern of local government which might be appropriate in the circumstances of Wales. The mountainous character of much of the country, the sparsity of the population, the relative difficulty of communications, present problems different from those to be found generally in England; and it may well be that a different pattern of local government—a different distribution of functions among authorities as well as alteration of boundaries—would better suit these conditions.
"The financial position of the Welsh local authorities will be considered as part of the general review of the relationship between central and local government finance. The financial review is of course complementary to the review of local government now taking place throughout Great Britain, and the two will be completely interrelated.
"If the Government conclude that a different pattern would better suit the conditions in Wales, a White Paper will be laid setting out suggestions for discussion with the local authorities and other interests concerned; and if, in the event, it is decided to go forward with proposals for a new pattern of local government in Wales, reorganisation will be effected by legislation.
"I cannot conclude this statement without expressing my very deep regret over the death, recently, of the chairman of the Local Government Commission for Wales, Sir Guildhaume Myrddin-Evans. He was an excellent chairman and the cogency of the Commission's Report owed, I 1126 know, a great deal to him. We shall miss his wise counsel in considering how best to build on the Report to provide a local government structure fitted to the needs of Wales."
§ EARL ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, we are obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Brecon, for giving us the statement in this House with regard to this matter. It seems to me a little strange that we should have arrived at quite this situation. But, judging from the report I have heard of the very widespread criticism of the general proposals in the Commission's Report, it may well be that we ought to welcome the statement of the Government as to how they are putting off almost all the contents of the Report of the Boundary Commission, except the public inquiries they are going to hold into the recommended expansion of three county boroughs. I must say that, judging by this statement itself this afternoon, it looks as if they are quite right in saying the Boundary Commission cannot be blamed, because apparently the terms of reference given to the Boundary Commission by the Government were not sufficiently wide to give full discussion of the matters which ought to have been discussed. That seems to have been no fault of the Commission, but the result of their inadequate terms of reference.
I am not quite sure exactly what the situation is going to be in regard to integrating the future inquiries in Wales with those to go on in the rest of Great Britain. I welcome the suggestion that there will be a White Paper, and that there will be further discussion when that White Paper has been produced. Apparently there is just a short reference to the fact that perhaps then, some regional steps could be taken, which many people have been talking about but upon which no fixed proposals have been made.
My Lords, I also should like to express our thanks for this statement, which does strike me as unusual. It seems to me almost a negative statement. You have had the Commission; you gave them a job to do; you do not like the way they did it but say that they did it very well. You gave them terms of reference which were not wide enough. 1127 Now you are starting again with something new—it may be new terms of reference, or possibly a new Commission—after a lot of time and money and trouble has been spent. We on these Benches have particular ideas about Wales and Scotland which are at present not before the Minister. I hope that he will give much wider terms next time, and make quicker progress with what is decided.
§ LORD BRECON
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl and the noble Lord for at any rate welcoming the statement, even if they are critical upon the duties that the Commission were given. But this matter was discussed in another place in Committee, and in fact my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, who was then the Minister for Welsh Affairs, wanted to take a particular line, but on that occasion the Welsh Members did not want to treat it any differently from the rest of England. Therefore, we perhaps did not get the advantages that we might have obtained had they then accepted his proposals.
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he will look at the pamphlet which I have sent him for Liberal partnership in Wales, and consider carrying out some of the excellent proposals in that pamphlet with reference to regional devolution in Wales, in particular the appointment of a Secretary of State for Wales, and an elected Regional Council?
§ LORD BRECON
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, for having sent me a copy of the Liberal proposals for Wales. When we produce the White Paper, I can assure him that it will be Conservative policy and not Liberal policy that will be produced. The White Paper that will be produced by my right honourable friend will provide for full discussion to take place with the local authorities, and at the moment the Minister does not have any particular scheme in mind. He wants to leave it as wide open as possible for full discussion with the local authorities.