HL Deb 17 January 1994 vol 551 cc327-80

3.8 p.m.

The Lord Advocate (Lord Rodger of Earlsferry)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Rodger of Earlsferry.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [The local government areas]:

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 13, at end insert: ("(aa) the principality of Wales;").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move the amendment standing in my name and in that of my noble friend on the Marshalled List. This amendment paves the way for Amendment No. 3. I made the case for this amendment and all the implications in my speech on the Second Reading of the Bill. If we believe in democratic government as against bureaucratic administration, and if we want to treat Wales with respect in the developments that are going on in the United Kingdom and in the European Community, then we shall feel impelled to support this amendment.

There are profound weaknesses in this Bill. That should not surprise us because at every level there was inadequate consultation; and there was no commission, as was established for England. The White Paper which preceded the Bill was widely criticised. That was a warning to the Government. As a result, much of the Bill has been rejected by a number of organisations: namely, the CBI in Wales; the Welsh TUC; all the county councils; most of the district councils; and by a range of voluntary organisations.

The Bill is fundamentally flawed. It vests in the Secretary of State for Wales unprecedented powers to direct and control local affairs in Wales. The creation of unitary authorities without an elected body will result in local councils that have only a limited capacity to fulfil their services. I find that quite unacceptable. I want to see unitary authorities with a strong backing from an elected authority, and not authorities manipulated by the Welsh Office and overshadowed by quangos in Wales.

When I was Secretary of State for Wales 25 years ago, I worked to expand the functions of the Welsh Office. But I did so in co-operation and in co-ordination with the local authorities whom I consulted, as some of my noble friends will recall. With regard to quangos, I can see that there are circumstances in which an appointed body may be necessary, and where Ministers and the Government will have to set up such a body. But now matters have gone too far. I believe that noble Lords on all sides of the Committee accept that. In the past 15 years—it is necessary for me to give the facts to support what I am saying—the number of quangos under the patronage of the Secretary of State for Wales has doubled. There are now 80 quangos in Wales, with a budget of £1.8 billion and a staff of 57,000. I regret to say that appointments in Wales to these highly influential bodies are made to a large extent on political grounds. I have never before known in my parliamentary experience appointments to be made at that level and in that number for political reasons. It is not only unsatisfactory; it is disgraceful. And it is our duty in this Committee to point it out. We have other matters of importance to discuss today, such as the local boundary issues which concern a large number of noble Lords. But the matter that I now pose goes to the heart of the democratic process in our country. I wish to make it plain at the start of this debate that it is to be exposed and condemned.

A Welsh assembly is therefore urgently needed to subject the functions and actions of the Welsh Office to proper public scrutiny and to bring the quangos under public democratic control. Recent experience in Wales proves that we must demand more accountability and more openness at the highest levels of Welsh public life. Without that, the reputation of Wales will suffer, although that will not be the fault of the Welsh people. In short, we believe that the powers given in this Bill to the Welsh Office should be vested in an elected body of councillors representing Wales as a whole.

Secondly, given the heavy dependency on nominated bodies, there will be a need to improve co-operation and co-ordination between the local authorities and the nominated agencies, such as the health authorities, the Further Education Funding Council, the training and enterprise councils, and other important bodies. Unless we accept this amendment, no action can be taken to deal with this undemocratic structure. In my view, co-ordination is essential.

Thirdly, an elected assembly would act as a co-ordinating forum stimulating inter-authority co-operation, which I believe to be essential.

Fourthly, it would address the relationship between Welsh local government and the relevant European Community institutions, such as the Committee of the Regions or the Social and Economic Committee. The Government failed to address that issue in all the consultative papers, and that was a very grave omission.

I must say that to thrust this flawed structure upon Wales without any consideration of the European Community dimension does great disservice to the people of Wales. Why are some people afraid of an elected Welsh assembly? That fear has existed for far too long. Are they afraid of placing too much power in the hands of the Welsh people? I hope that that is not true, and that this House will therefore support the amendment. I beg to move.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Elis-Thomas

I rise from these Cross-Benches to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and to argue the case for a democratically elected all-Wales body as part of this Bill.

Since the referendum in 1979, when the people of Wales rejected the proposals by the then lately to be lamented Labour Government, both the structure of government and the nature of public opinion in Wales on this whole subject have changed. We have seen a massive increase in executive government and in decision-making by direction from the Welsh Office. Of course, I have to include myself in a small capacity as part of that process. The creation of non-departmental public bodies and the way in which the Government of Wales proceeds by direction from the Welsh Office can only be seen as a negation of democracy. However, there are those who see this as a transitional stage in the inevitable return of the argument for an elected, all-Wales body. That argument is located precisely in the context to which the noble Lord referred; namely, that of the European regions. For, increasingly, at that level, there are now institutions which represent local and regional authority.

The notion of the regional authority features strongly in the Maastricht Treaty, which last year took up so much of the time of this House. The regional authority exists as a policy making and representative level in the overwhelming majority of member states. The United Kingdom is clearly an exception. We lose out in the whole of the United Kingdom for not having national and regional structures to parallel those which exist in other member states, and also those which are increasingly now recognised and used by the European Union in the development of its policies. That applies not just to regional policy and regional expenditure but increasingly now to regional representation through the Council of the Regions and bodies of that kind. It is at that level that Wales needs to be directly represented. The creation of an all-Wales body would enable that.

As I said at the beginning of my short remarks, increasingly we find that public opinion in Wales is moving in that direction. Clearly in all the recent opinion polls there has been a majority in favour of an elected all-Wales body. To transfer the powers of the Welsh Office in this Bill—the powers of direction given to the Secretary of State in this Bill—to an elected body, seems not only appropriate but in line with the historic attempts of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, in the past to create an all-Wales body.

The Government will say that such an all-Wales body is not part of the structure of local government in this Bill. But the Government will have to return—as they have already done so in the case of Northern Ireland and as they will again, I am sure, in the case of Scotland—to the issue of an all-Wales body, either in this term of their office if they remain in office or if the Government revert to the Opposition. Certainly the next Labour Government, if we live to see one, will have the obligation of legislating on this matter. I hope that they also will have the determination to do so.

Lord Gibson-Watt

The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, who moved the amendment, knows a great deal about Welsh politics and more than I do. He said quite rightly that on Second Reading he had referred to the question of the assembly. He did. So did I. I pointed out to him and to the Chamber that in 1979 that question was put before the Welsh people; and by over three-and-a-half to one the decision was against.

That happened not very long ago. I very much doubt whether an assembly, which is an extra tier of government, is the right answer at this moment in time. I do not deny that the growth of quangos irritates Members Opposite. I am considerably irritated by the fact that there are too many of them. Their appointment is a very difficult responsibility for any Welsh Minister. I accept that. Despite that remark, this is no time to create a Welsh assembly. I urge the Committee not to support the amendment.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

I have great respect for the noble Lord—almost my noble friend—Lord Gibson-Watt. But on this matter, I feel that he underestimates the change that has taken place since 1979. In 1979 there was an arguable case both ways. But I must say to the Committee that it seems to me that the policy of this Government over the past 15 years in weakening local government and in strengthening the quango system (if I may use such a word for it) has altered the whole balance of the argument.

What is sought here is a very modest committee to co-ordinate or oversee in some way such quangos. Many Members of the Committee will probably be slightly surprised when I say that the budget of the quangos in Wales today is equal to if not slightly greater than the local authority budget of all the local authorities there. That cannot be satisfactory in any way at all. To deprive the local authorities of the responsibility may be in accordance with government policy; but to make them accountable only to the Secretary of State for Wales simply is not acceptable in Wales to all those of us who think about these matters.

There is also the subsidiary question, which I suppose in some ways is as important, and to which my noble friend Lord Cledwyn referred; namely, the nature of appointments. One would think that, given the tremendous power put into the hands of the Secretary of State for Wales, he would have been extraordinarily careful to have preserved a balance of appointments that would have reflected to some extent the political complexion of Wales, though I would not ask for that absolutely. I have seen—I believe it is within the knowledge of every Member who knows what is happening in Wales—very good public-minded and devoted people excluded from committees on which they previously sat and of which they had knowledge. No rational reason was ever given for it.

I am told by a leading contender for the Conservative Party leadership (in the future but not today, so I understand) that cynicism is rife in our country. In Wales a great deal of cynicism has been bred by what has happened in the matter of those appointments. I am not one who believes that one has to have exact representation or that Ministers should be attacked for the nature of their appointments. But so flagrant has that been in Wales, through the concentration of power in the hands of the Secretary of State and his advisers, whoever they may be, that it has become shameless. It is high time that the situation was exposed. I do not propose to go into the issue this afternoon. I suppose that we shall not carry the amendment today. But I have great belief in the influence of this Chamber. When these matters are ventilated and known, I believe that these situations to some extent can be remedied.

It is wholly unsatisfactory that the budget of those quangos should be equivalent to if not greater than the budget of the local authorities in Wales and that the appointments have proceeded in the way in which they have done.

Lord Chalfont

I rise not to become engaged in the argument about quangos and the broader aspects that that argument raises, but simply to support the general thrust of the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, in the more general geopolitical sense. He and my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas identified a trend which is undoubtedly taking place and which to my mind is inexorable in the whole field of modern political science.

Some of the great centres of decision-making are moving further and further away from our national capitals. There may be some of us who deplore that, but it is a fact of life. Decision-making is moving away from nationalities and national capitals into broader and bigger social entities. As that happens, it becomes of greater importance that local democracy should be strengthened. As the big macro-decisions are taken further away from Westminster, Paris, Berlin or Bonn, so the decision-making of local authorities and local people has to be strengthened. Indeed, that is part of the ostensible reason for the Bill; namely, to bring local government closer to the people.

I believe that there are many cases—I know that this point will emerge from some of the amendments tabled to Schedule 1 of the Bill—in which what is now proposed in the Bill takes government further from the people rather than bringing them closer. But in a more general sense what the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and others have said about a Welsh assembly reflects an inexorable fact of history. It will happen sooner or later. It should happen sooner. I hope, as the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, said, that the Government, whether this amendment is agreed today (I suspect that it is doubtful), will bear in mind the views that have been expressed in the Committee today.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

I hope that I may be forgiven for intruding into this matter. Undoubtedly, the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, raised an extremely important point.

The only issue on which I tend to differ from him is that it is not a specifically Welsh point. As the last speaker said, it is a point which affects and will continue to affect the whole of the United Kingdom. I shall not now talk about the unhappy story of Northern Ireland because that is not relevant to the present discussion, but it should be in the back of our minds.

What is true of Wales is reflected in current opinion in Scotland. Again, I am not in a position to speak about Scotland. But ever since 1963, when I had a certain responsibility in the North-East of England, I have been heretical from my own party's point of view about an underlying difficulty in regard to the constitution of the United Kingdom as a whole; that is, that there is room for an intermediate level of authority between Parliament and Westminster and its Ministers—whose sovereignty I should like to see unabated because I remain an unrepentant unionist in such matters—and local authorities, which we have in this country de facto and which have existed for countless centuries. My belief is that they are inadequate in point of size to deal with the problems with which regions have to deal. For example, in the North-East, when I had that special responsibility in 1963, I had to deal with 146 different local authorities of different sizes. That was rather a lot. There were only three counties as they then stood.

I believe that there is room for a regional authority. My only criticism of speeches delivered by the other side in support of the amendment is that it is inherent in the structure of the United Kingdom that sooner or later this issue must be addressed. There is the problem of tertiary education; there is the problem of quangos, to which every speaker has referred. It is undoubted that the districts and counties into which the United Kingdom—by that I include England—is for the moment divided are divided into local authorities insufficiently large to discharge a great number of what are in fact regional problems.

As I said, I am a heretic on this point. I hope that my noble friends on the Front Bench will forgive me exposing my heretical views. But it is a fundamental problem which sooner or later must be addressed by the whole of the country.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Hooson

I found it interesting to listen to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. He is developing a theme today on which he has touched over many years in articles and speeches. It is right that there is scope for another tier of authority in our country on a regional basis. Within the Bill we see the weaknesses of the present approach. We have authorities that are far too large to be local governments and too small to be regional governments. There is certainly scope for a different kind of authority.

As the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, knows, when I saw the amendment tabled I was placed in a quandary. Like himself I have always been a supporter of Welsh devolution. We campaigned together in the Parliament for Wales campaign in the 1950s. In principle I always support moves for a Welsh assembly. I never subscribed to the view that if we went down that road we would be furthering the cause of separatism in Wales. Far from it; we would be strengthening the case for unity within the United Kingdom.

Having said that, when I saw the amendment I had extreme doubts that this was the right vehicle by which to present that idea—for this reason. As the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, intimated, the matter needs an airing and the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, did a great service in calling attention to the point. But what would worry me with this specific amendment—for which I shall certainly vote because in principle I agree with it—is the question of how a Welsh assembly should be set up. It would mean such a great change in our arrangements that it should be done in a separate Bill. No doubt if the Labour Party win the next election, that will be done.

I agree entirely with the points made in regard to quangos. But the amendment gives the assembly no control whatever over quangos. I am entirely in favour of an assembly that would have control over quangos. I am entirely in favour of an assembly to which a Secretary of State would be answerable. But under the formulation of this amendment the Secretary of State would only need to consult the assembly; there would be no obligation on him to take account of anything it said following the consultation.

On the drafting of the amendment the assembly may do anything that it considers necessary. That is far too wide a power unless it is circumscribed in some way. Subsection (3) states: The Assembly may do anything it considers necessary to—

  1. (a) facilitate the co-ordination of administration of local government in Wales, and
  2. (b) promote greater co-operation between the Welsh local authorities and public agencies and voluntary organisations in Wales".
What does that mean? It means that, prima facie, it can do anything it likes. I should have thought that that was an unconsidered power.

All I am saying is that if this is an exercise in pointing the way in which Wales should go—that is the way in which it has been interpreted so far in the debate—then I am entirely in favour of it upon the grounds submitted on all sides—by the noble Lords, Lord Cledwyn, Lord Callaghan and Lord Elis-Thomas, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. In principle we are in favour of the amendment. But, if we arrived at the situation where we had to consider in detail the powers of an assembly, I should prefer to see many of the powers devolved from our Parliament to the assembly. I should like to see the specific relationship between the Secretary of State and an assembly set out rather than it being merely left to consultation. I should like to see the question of the relationship between an assembly and Welsh local government much more carefully thought out. All I am sure of is that, if we had a Welsh assembly, we should have unitary authorities in Wales which were much closer to the people than those we have been presented with in the Bill.

Lord Elton

The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, draws us to the beginning of a much larger debate than we perhaps thought we were to have on the amendment. I was surprised to hear him let drop, in the middle of what he said, an intention to vote for the amendment because he approved of the general direction in which it pointed. We need to know a great deal more in regard to what is proposed before anybody should feel themselves in a position to commit Parliament to this form of delegation or whatever else the process is described as. In particular, how is it that we listened to so many no doubt well-founded lectures regarding the appointment of quangos, yet what the amendment puts forward is a body which, in spite of its name, has no provision for its election? Is that not a super-quango? Or have I missed something in the Marshalled List which shows that it is to be an elected body?

I intervene merely to draw attention to that point. As my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham said, we are addressing the central issues of the constitution and this is a central part of that issue which does not seem to have been touched on at all.

Lord Molloy

Perhaps I may briefly make a submission. The debate so far has been quite reasonable. I could not understand why the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, was so anxious. If the measure is established, many of the points raised today in an apprehensive manner will be discussed and put right.

The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, when supporting my noble friend Lord Callaghan, said that this was not solely a question of quangos. However, in Wales there is grave apprehension that the number of quangos will grow. We shall need some assurance from the new Bill, as my noble friend Lord Callaghan said, that we shall return to democracy.

It cannot be denied that the quango is the first small move towards authoritarian rule. That is why I hope that the speeches of my noble friends Lord Cledwyn and Lord Callaghan will be examined by the Committee. My noble friend Lord Cledwyn has enormous experience. Like my noble friend Lord Callaghan, he knows precisely both the problems of the United Kingdom and the features that particularly affect Wales, our country. I therefore ask the Committee to listen carefully to my noble friends Lord Cledwyn and Lord Callaghan and ensure that the measure before us is adopted. We can then move forward in raising the status of democracy by abolishing the so-called "quangos" and, at the same time, letting the people of Wales know that this Chamber discussed thoroughly both their apprehensions and their desires.

The Earl of Lauderdale

As a Scotsman, I have listened to the debate with great interest and some perplexity. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, or other Members of the Committee can explain whether doing anything considered necessary includes raising taxes or rates. The financial powers of an assembly are crucial to its essential functions. I simply ask for information. I am not commenting either way. It is a matter that exercises those of us in Scotland who are worried about the problem. I should like to hear what our Welsh friends have in mind.

Lord Thomas of Gwydir

It is with—

Baroness White

I was about to give way to a former Secretary of State for Wales. I was no more than a Minister of State but I had the privilege of serving under my noble friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos in the later part at least of his term of office as Secretary of State.

Over many years I have steadfastly opposed various proposals for a parliament for Wales mainly on the ground, which has become all too familiar in your Lordships' House in recent times, that it is difficult enough to secure satisfactory general legislation in one legislative body. To attempt to do so in three or four separate legislatures in an area the size of the United Kingdom seems to me wasteful of time and effort and to be quite unnecessary. When some years ago there was an official referendum in Wales on the subject I agreed with the majority against it.

But the purpose of the amendment of my noble friends Lord Cledwyn and Lord Prys-Davies is something different. Several noble Lords have already explained the reasons why we are so dissatisfied in the Principality. To my mind the proposed Welsh assembly, which would be an elected body, would provide an absolutely essential channel to secure and maintain an effective and democratic administration for the local government of the Principality. It is not to be more than concerned with our domestic affairs and our links with Europe and the wider world, which are now developing, with the arrangements for the regions and so on, at quite a rapid pace. In those circumstances it is not just a matter of the quangos, difficult as that may be. It is a serious proposition for extending democratic government in a way which can satisfy local people that their needs and opinions are having some effect.

The difficulty with the Bill as it stands, even from the most cursory reading of it, is the astounding range of powers within the competence of the Secretary of State for Wales, with minimal restraint either by Parliament or by people. As one despairing chief executive of a county said to me last week: If he wants to, the Secretary of State can change almost the entire Bill simply by using his discretionary powers, without local consideration or consent". That is how it appears to the rest of us.

As we proceed through the Bill we shall have to take notice of the circumstances to which reference is made in the report of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee of the House and also of the circumstances where no reference to Parliament will be required. As my noble friend has said, we in Wales have had no commission about local authority reorganisation. We have had no one with whom we could speak freely. In Wales the Welsh Office proposes and the Welsh Office disposes. This is the basis of some of our very serious dissatisfaction with the Bill before us.

I am sure my noble friend Lord Cledwyn would agree with me that over the years since we were together in the Welsh Office the range of responsibilities of that department has increased enormously. For the Secretary of State to be adequately and effectively advised over the whole area is, in my view, not feasible—certainly when it comes to making valid judgments on the numerous details of local administration with which the Bill before us concerns itself. The well-known phrase "It is not what you know but who you know that matters" becomes more and more of a byword in such a situation. Those of us who have had some experience of the Welsh Office in recent years—we would not necessarily be able to prove it in detail—know exactly what we mean.

I shall not weary the Committee by carrying on further on this matter, but it seems to me that what my noble friend has proposed, or something very like it, is essential if we are to have a feeling of confidence with regard to the local affairs and the local needs of the Principality of Wales.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Gwydir

It is with an understandable degree of diffidence that I rise to intervene in this debate. The Bill we are considering today is not my Bill. My Bill went through both Houses of Parliament just over 20 years ago. The passage of time has brought about a change inasmuch as it is now thought, and quite widely thought, that the two-tier system which was in my Bill no longer gives the satisfaction that it was hoped it would give and that changes are needed. It seems to me that the changes proposed in the Bill—the replacement of the two-tier system with a single tier unitary authority based on historic counties and county boroughs—are generally acceptable. I am therefore in many ways the villain of the piece and I intervene to make one short point.

Reorganisation as demonstrated in the Bill is reorganisation about removing an unnecessary tier of government. What is proposed in the amendment is the creation of a new and expensive tier of government and bureaucracy, one which will erode the responsibility of local government. As much as I understand how important it is that there should be consideration of the need for a Welsh Assembly, it seems to me that it is inappropriate that it should be introduced into this Bill. Using the Bill as a campaign for a Welsh Assembly is to distort the whole purpose of the Bill, which is to make local government close to the people it serves. I therefore agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, that if one is going to have a Welsh Assembly, it is such an important change that it deserves a separate Bill.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

I feel the same diffidence as my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham and the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, at intervening and for the same reasons. I intervene only to draw attention to a very important commitment that the Government won at Maastricht; namely, the vindication of the principle of subsidiarity. As I understand it, that means that no decision should be taken by any decision-making body if it could reasonably be taken by some subordinate body which is closer to the person affected by the decision. If that is right, it is a powerful argument in favour of the general principle of this amendment.

For the reasons that were given by the noble Lords, Lord Hooson, and Lord Thomas, this measure is not an entirely suitable vehicle for a Welsh assembly; nor is the amendment entirely satisfactory. In fact, on the arguments heard today, there seems to be an unanswerable case for a royal commission on the constitution. This problem of assemblies in Wales and Scotland is bound up with a number of other constitutional questions.

If the noble and learned Lord who is to reply to this debate were to say that the Government will establish a royal commission on the constitution, I hope that this amendment will be withdrawn. Unless he says that, the argument in favour of vindicating the principle, which is really the principle of subsidiarity, is best served by voting for the amendment.

Lord Moran

This afternoon I do not wish to enter into argument about the merits or demerits of a Welsh assembly, but merely to say that I believe it is, as has been made clear by a number of speakers, a very big question. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, spoke about regional matters throughout the United Kingdom and my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale spoke about a possible royal commission. They have both indicated the width and importance of this question. It is not only very important but it is a controversial question.

We were privileged to hear this afternoon from the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, who introduced the Wales Act 1978 when he was Prime Minister; and from the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, who led the "Vote No" campaign in 1979. He was supported then by a number of Labour MPs, including Mr. Neil Kinnock.

I say this only because it indicates that this is a controversial question. Therefore it is in my view inappropriate to try to include it in a Bill such as this, which deals solely with the reorganisation of local government in Wales. The matter should be dealt with either on its own or as part of a review of the whole question of regional government within the United Kingdom. Consequently, I am not happy about these amendments.

Lord Elton

It is Committee stage so I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I intervene briefly again. It would be helpful if we could have some reply before we hear from the Front Benches on the question I asked as to whether we are dealing with an elected or an appointed body. If we are dealing with the latter, then what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, puts forward falls to the ground because one is not bringing decision making closer to the people but taking it further away—it is being given to people appointed by central government.

However, if it is to be an elected body, surely we need to know a great deal more about it—as well as what its powers will be and whether it can raise taxes—so that we can talk about it in a sensible way. However, at the moment we are speaking in a vacuum about a body which we can only see most dimly and certainly not well enough to give it any support.

Lord Prys-Davies

I should like, first, to thank my noble friend Lord Cledwyn for having explained the background to the amendment. I also wish to thank my noble friend Lord Callaghan and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, for their contributions.

Perhaps I may now deal with the three detailed points of criticism which have been made. The first point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, as to whether it is to be a directly or indirectly elected body or a nominated body. I have no shadow of doubt that my noble friend Lord Cledwyn and I had in mind that this would be a directly elected body; but somehow or other the word "elected" disappeared between last Thursday and today. If the principle of the amendment is acceptable to the Committee, this is a matter to which we can return at Report stage.

I shall now deal with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt. He was returning to a point of criticism which he made at Second Reading when he suggested that in 1979 Wales had decided that it did not want an elected assembly and that that decision was to be binding on future generations. That was the implication of his intervention. With respect to the noble Lord, that decision was not irrevocable. As my noble friend Lord Callaghan has pointed out, we are living in a different world from that of 1979. I believe that today a referendum would produce a very different result.

In any event the assembly offered in 1979 was one which devolved the powers of central government. The amendment before the Committee does not devolve power from central government (that may be a point of criticism) and it does not deal with the powers of central government because they would not come within the Long Title. That title has been narrowly drawn. So the assembly which is the subject matter of this amendment would be concerned with the administration of local government in Wales.

A third point has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gwydir. He said that it is inappropriate to deal with an all-Wales unit in a local government Bill. The answer to that criticism is simple: the word "local" is itself a relative term. It may mean a street or a village, such as Ewenny, which is the subject matter of an amendment to be dealt with later on today, or a town such as Merthyr Tydfil or Ebbw Vale, which is the subject matter of another amendment to which we shall come later today. It may mean one of the oldest surviving constituent parts of the United Kingdom such as the Principality of Wales. In other words, it is a relative term and we are perfectly entitled to discuss the place of an elected assembly concerned with the administration of local government when this Bill is before the House.

Regrettably, we cannot deal with the mischief of the nominated bodies. Except for that, it seems to me that the amendment, modest though it is, is in line with what is recommended by most experienced councillors in Wales and most officials of local authorities in Wales and academics who are involved with Welsh local government. It is supported by the opposition parties in Wales.

I support the amendment on three specific grounds. First, the increase in the number of authorities that will be responsible for strategic services if the Bill is enacted points to the need for a central co-ordinating body in Wales. There will be a need to secure co-ordination and a need to promote co-operation. That work could be done by a Welsh assembly which would have a voice in the government of Wales. The phrase "a voice in the government of Wales" is not our creation. It was much used by the Welsh Office when it published its first consultative document in 1991. Today, however, that phrase has disappeared from the consultative document and the Bill. In the absence of a Welsh assembly, there will be increased Welsh Office involvement, which in due course will also mean the need for additional Welsh Office staff. To the best of my knowledge, that has not been discussed anywhere in the consultation paper and, to the best of my knowledge, the accountants Touche Ross were not asked to examine the issue.

I turn now to the second ground on which I support the amendment. It has been touched on by a number of noble Lords. The amendment—modest though it is—would give the Welsh local authorities a voice within the European Union institutions. Rightly or wrongly, European Union policies and funds, such as the regional fund and the social fund, are of increasing importance to local authorities in the United Kingdom. We in Wales have more than our fair share of the most needy regions of the Community. Local authorities in the United Kingdom generally are being increasingly asked to implement EC primary and secondary legislation in areas relating to trading standards and environmental protection. For all those reasons, it is essential for a lasting reform of Welsh local government that it should be actively involved in Brussels. From my experience as a member of the European Economic and Social Committee, I know that Brussels would much prefer to deal with a Welsh elected assembly than with up to 21 smaller authorities. The amendment would give Welsh local government a voice in Brussels.

My third reason for supporting Amendment No. 3 is this: it seeks in subsection (5) to improve the checks and balances within the Welsh local government structure. Given the experience of the past 15 years, we submit that a major aim of the reform of Welsh local government should be to prevent too great a concentration of power from residing in the hands of the Secretary of State for Wales. That has been happening progressively over the past 15 years.

As the Labour Party sees its, the amendment addresses positively the three main issues which have been totally ignored by the Bill. Moreover, I believe that an elected assembly with a modest role—this is a compromise of a model—would bring a new impetus to Welsh life. We believe that it would provide a focus for democratic action

4 p.m.

The Earl of Lauderdale

Before the noble Lord sits down, can he say whether it is intended that the assembly is to vote supply and to raise money?

Lord Prys-Davies

In our submission, no. It would not have that power.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

It will not surprise the Committee that the Government find the amendment unacceptable. I realise that the purpose of the amendment was to raise a matter of general importance. My noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham has stressed just how wide is the issue raised by this amendment. It is the kind of issue that affects the whole of the United Kingdom and raises matters relating to Scotland as well as to Wales. I accept that what has been said reflects the deeply held views of many of your Lordships, including the heretical views held by my noble and learned friend.

However, the question is whether the amendment should form part of the Bill. It is clear from the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, that the assembly envisaged in the amendment is not the kind of assembly that would satisfy anybody. It is a compromise of a model. The wording of the amendment has been chosen to allow it to squeeze into the confines of this particular local government Bill. Whatever assembly might or might not be appropriate for Wales, this is certainly not it.

The basic point about such an assembly as it relates to this Bill is that it runs contrary to the whole thrust of the Government's proposals in the Bill. Those proposals are aimed at reforming the system of local government and at removing a tier of local government. The aim is to entrust the new authorities with appropriate responsibilities.

By contrast, the amendment cuts across that scheme and envisages certain strategic functions being given to the new body, which would have sweeping powers, the nature of which were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, to intervene in local government under the disguise of facilitating co-ordination and promoting co-operation. The Secretary of State would be bound, on matters of local government, to consult not the local authorities, but the assembly. That is interposing an extra tier and it is not the way in which the Government believe that one can set up the best kind of local authority. It would diminish rather than enhance the role of the local authorities.

In any event, as has been pointed out, the amendment leaves rather a lot unsaid. It does not even state whether the assembly is to be elected or appointed. However, we have now heard that it is not to be an additional quango and that it is intended that it should be elected. The precise method is left to the imagination—

Lord Prys-Davies

With great respect, I have made it clear that in the event of the principle being acceptable to the Committee, we shall return on Report with the further particulars.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

I take the point, but the amendment as it stands leaves such matters unsaid. It has been admitted that the amendment does not tackle—and cannot tackle—what is thought to be the problem of quangos. It is confined entirely to the matter of local government.

The Government's opposition to the concept of a Welsh assembly is well known. We believe that it would detract from the proper powers of Parliament, exercised in your Lordships' House and in another place. We believe that it is there that the responsibility of the Secretary of State for appointments and other matters should be brought home. Interposing such a body between local authorities and Parliament or between local authorities and the Community is not the way to advance the cause of local government. We believe that it would remove powers and functions which properly belong to local government. The matter of an assembly was raised and debated at length in 1979. I know that it has been said that much has changed, but the matter was raised and determined at that time. We believe that this is certainly not the amendment to bring the matter forward again.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. I found the speeches helpful and interesting. I have a great deal of sympathy for the point that was made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. I believe that what he said was valid and right. Nevertheless, I was dealing with the Bill which relates to Wales and putting the arguments that I feel are necessary at this time. My main objective was to draw attention to the weaknesses of the Bill and to the need for another level of government to repair the flaws—if that is possible.

I should prefer to see the Government withdraw the Bill completely, because it is unacceptable. I wanted also to draw attention to, and to stress, the worries which exist in Wales on the issue of quangos. I do not deny that those worries exist also in England and Wales. I was anxious, too, to draw attention to the danger which will flow from the increase in the powers vested in the Secretary of State for Wales.

As my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies said, we have not been able to spell out the detailed functions of the assembly in the Bill. That is not possible. We have given the main functions in relation to the Welsh Office and the unitary authorities. We have received a reasonable reply from the noble and learned Lord; but it was a technical reply. It failed to grasp or to understand the reactions of the Welsh people to the Bill.

Baroness White

And made no allowance for the difference from 1979 to now.

Noble Lords


Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My noble friend has always been helpful to me. If the noble and learned Lord had shown some sympathy for the objective or promised that the Government would look again at this or set up a commission to examine the position and the constitutional implications referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, I would consider withdrawing the amendment. But I cannot say that I am satisfied with the noble and learned Lord's response, and I therefore wish lo take the view of the Committee.

4.12 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 115; Not-Contents, 123.

Division No. 1
Addington, L. Boston of Faversham, L.
Airedale, L. Bottomley, L.
Annan, L. Bramall, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Broadbridge, L.
Ardwick, L. Brooks of Tremorfa, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Bruce of Donington, L.
Avebury, L. Callaghan of Cardiff, L.
Aylestone, L. Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.
Barnett, L. Carter, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Chalfont, L.
Blackstone, B. Chapple, L.
Bonham-Carter, L. Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. McGregor of Durris, L.
David, B. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Donoughue, L. McNair, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Mallalieu, B.
Elis-Thomas, L. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Ennals, L. Mayhew, L.
Ezra, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Falkender, B. Mishcon, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Molloy, L.
Gallacher, L. Monckton of Brenchley, V.
Gladwyn, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Glenamara, L. Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Nicol, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.] Ogmore, L.
Greene of Harrow Weald, L. Peston, L.
Gregson, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L
Grey, E. Plant of Highfield, L.
Halsbury, E. Prys-Davies, L.
Hamwee, B. Redesdale, L.
Hanworth, V. Richard, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L
Haskel, L. [Teller.] Robson of Kiddington, B.
Hayter, L. Rochester, L.
Healey, L. Sainsbury, L.
Henderson of Brompton, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Serota, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Shaughnessy, L.
Holme of Cheltenham, L. Shepherd, L.
Hooson, L. Simon of Glaisdale, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Stallard, L.
Hunt, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Hutchinson of Lullington, L. Strabolgi, L.
Jay, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Jay of Paddington, B. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Jeger, B. Tordoff, L.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
John-Mackie, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Judd, L. White, B.
Kennet, L. Wigoder, L.
Kilbracken, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Kirkhill, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L. Wilson of Rievaulx, L.
Lockwood, B. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Longford, E. Young of Dartington, L.
McCarthy, L.
Aberdare, L. Cranborne, V.
Addison, V. Crathorne, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Cullen of Ashbourne, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Cumberlege, B.
Arran, E. Davidson, V.
Astor, V. Dean of Harptree, L.
Birdwood, L. Dixon-Smith, L.
Blatch, B. Eden of Winton, L.
Blyth, L. Elles, B.
Borthwick, L. Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Elton, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Erne, E.
Braine of Wheatley, L. Flather, B.
Bridgeman, V. Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Fraser of Kilmorack, L.
Bruntisfield, L. Gainford, L.
Butterworth, L. Gardner of Parkes, B.
Cadman, L. Geddes, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Gibson-Watt, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Gilmour of Craigmillar, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Goschen, V.
Carnock, L. Granard, E.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Gray of Contin, L.
Chelmsford, V. Gridley, L.
Chesham, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.
Clanwilliam, E. Harding of Petherton, L.
Cochrane of Cults, L. Harmar-Nicholls, L.
Cockfield, L. Hayhoe, L.
Colwyn, L. Hemphill, L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Henley, L.
Cornwallis, L. Hesketh, L.
Cox, B. Holderness, L.
HolmPatrick, L. Plan of Writtle, B.
Hood, V. Pym, L.
Howe, E. Quinton, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Rankeillour, L.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Kenyon, L. Renwick, L.
Lauderdale, E. Rippon of Hexham, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Rodger of Earlsferry, L.
Lyell, L. St. Davids, V.
McAlpine of West Green, L Seccombe, B.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L. Selkirk, E.
Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Chancellor.] Shannon, E.
Macleod of Borve, B. Shrewsbury, E.
Mancroft, L. Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Manton, L. Stewartby, L.
Marsh, L. Strange, B.
Merrivale, L. Strathclyde, L.
Mersey, V. Strathmore and Kinghorne, [Teller.]
Miller of Hendon, B. Swansea, L.
Milverton, L. Teviot, L.
Montgomery of Alamein, V Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Moran, L. Trumpington, B.
Morris, L. Ullswater, V. [Teller.]
Munster, E. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Nelson, E. Vivian, L.
Orr-Ewing, L. Wakeham, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Oxfuird, V. Waverley, V.
Park of Monmouth, B. Westbury, L.
Pender, L. Wise, L.
Perry of Southwark, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

4.20 p.m.

Viscount Ullswater

It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I report that, due to the lack of custom for dinner in the dining room tonight, it has been agreed through the usual channels that dinner in the dining room will be cancelled. I remind your Lordships that the Bishops' Bar and the Barry Room will be open for dinner as usual.

[Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 not moved.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Schedule 1 [The New Principal Areas]:

Lord Kenyon moved Amendment No. 4: Page 49, line 10, at end insert:

("Breconshire and Radnorshire Brycheiniog a Faesyfed The districts of Brecknock and Radnorshire together with (from the district of Blaenau Gwent) the community of Llanelly")

The noble Lord said: Perhaps I may offer my condolences to my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate on his countrymen's defeat at Cardiff Arms Park last Saturday. However, I congratulate him on winning the first goal this afternoon.

During our debate on Second Reading my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate acknowledged that the changes in local government in the early 1970s had cost Wales some of its cultural cohesion. He expressed the view that this Bill will go a long way towards restoring some of that cultural cohesion and sense of belonging.

The cultural structure of Wales, which has developed over the centuries, is not something that can be regulated by statute. Its origins are in the mists of time and no amount of local government Bills will alter the allegiance of people to their local communities. It would not be untrue to say that the strength of these cultural bonds is in inverse proportion to their length, even in these times of high mobility. The longer one tries to make the bond, the weaker it will be.

As Members of the Committee know, I have some practical experience as a local councillor on the relatively compact council of Wrexham Maelor. But even there I live in and represent a ward which is some 10 miles from the guildhall. I frequently find that the council is discussing matters pertaining to an area about which I am totally ignorant. Local government really does mean "local", often involving discussion of nothing more than a few hundred square yards of land, the provision of a piece of equipment in a children's playground or the lopping of a branch off a tree. Those matters are not worthy of discussion in your Lordships' House but are of prime importance to the local community.

In moving the amendment, which must be taken with Amendments Nos. 9 and 10, I propose that the old county of Montgomeryshire shall stand alone as one of the new unitary county authorities and that the balance of the Mid Wales county shall be re-named as Breconshire and Radnorshire. That will retain those historic county names in place of the eminently functional but somewhat colourless title of "Mid Wales".

Members of the Committee have heard that the new county of Mid Wales would be more than 100 miles long; that is the distance from Bristol to London. But between Bristol and London one has the benefit of a magnificent motorway or a motor railway which will carry people comfortably from one end to the other in less than two hours. I challenge anyone to undertake the journey from one end of this county to the other in less than three hours. That is on a good day, and heaven knows what it might be in fog or snow. I ask the Committee: what cultural cohesion can exist under those circumstances?

But in Montgomeryshire and in Breconshire and Radnorshire there are well-established community relations which go back many centuries. This Bill, if enacted without this amendment, will do much to destroy them. I must pay tribute to the dedication shown by the body of local councillors, even if in doing so I seem to be blowing my own trumpet. The councillors put in long hours to make their local communities work well and all for very little reward. The last thing that they want to be lumbered with now is the additional burden of travelling many unproductive hours from their homes to their town halls in order to spend time discussing matters of detail which are of little interest to them or to their local communities. Faced with that prospect, I fear that many good and able councillors or prospective councillors will be deterred from standing for the council of Mid Wales.

In a consultation paper on the structure of local government in Wales which was issued in 1991, the then Secretary of State indicated that the principal pillar on which his considerations would be based would be financial. That was a very worthy pillar indeed on which to base a structure for the 21st century. But two other pillars must also be considered. They are those of responsiveness in the delivery of our services and accountability for our actions to the people. Indeed, it is the apparent lack of accountability in certain areas of local government that made this Bill necessary in the first place. Without a visibly creditable performance in these areas the whole purpose of the Bill will be lost.

The countrymen of my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate will have another bite at the cherry next month at Murrayfield. I hope that he will now feel able to give the inhabitants of Montgomeryshire and of Breconshire and Radnorshire the opportunity to show that they can govern themselves in the way that they perceive will retain their cultural ties most strongly and will agree to the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Hooson

During our debates on the gracious Speech and on Second Reading I was able to set out the overwhelming case for a unitary authority for Montgomeryshire. The noble Lord, Lord Kenyon, in an impressive speech favouring his amendment—which I signed, having withdrawn my amendment after seeing its terms—set out the geographic problems. He has considerable experience of local government, as had his father. The noble Lord spoke of the need for local government to be local. Here we are discussing a unitary authority which will cover one-quarter of the area of Wales. Even if it were divided into two, one would still be the largest unitary authority in area in Wales and the other would be the third or fourth largest.

I wish to go in particular to the reasoning of the former Secretary for Wales, the right honourable David Hunt. In 1991 he issued a consultation paper which was in favour of 20 unitary authorities for Wales. Of those, Montgomeryshire would be one and Breconshire and Radnorshire would be another. That was at the beginning of the consultation. After the consultation he stated: in the rural areas I want to see local government based on the traditional counties, such as Pembrokeshire, Montgomersyhire, Cardiganshire and Anglesey".—[Official Report, Commons, 3/3/92; col. 171.] Therefore, a year after the consultation the Secretary of State stated that he wanted Montgomeryshire. He named that as No. 2. I believe that he did so because in the 1991 debate the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, then a Member of another place, was eloquent in support of Pembrokeshire and against the creation of the huge county of Dyfed. I too was in support of Montgomersyhire and against the creation of the mammoth authority of Powys.

During the parliamentary election campaign which followed that statement in 1992, the Secretary of State attended a meeting of Conservatives in Montgomersyhire. I referred to that on a previous occasion. I now have a little more information about it. He spoke at a village called Llanfechain. As it was his only speech in Montgomeryshire during the campaign, the Conservative Association attended in full strength. I have checked this matter with the then chairman of the Conservative Association in Montgomeryshire. The Secretary of State said, in the course of his speech, that, among other things, he was looking forward to a Montgomeryshire unitary authority. That was not an Opposition MP or any other MP speaking but the, Secretary of State who has direct responsibility for the matter.

On Second Reading the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, on instructions—of course, he can only speak as instructed on this Bill—said: Reference was made from time to time to a promise which it was said that the then Secretary of State made that Montgomery would indeed be a unitary authority. I was not present, but I have been told that the Secretary of State did not make any such promise. He certainly supported the idea".—[Official Report, 14/12/93; col. 1319.] Therefore, the then Secretary of State supported the idea; and he, and he alone, has the power, subject to Parliament, to grant the authority. He has said in Parliament that Montgomeryshire will be a unitary authority. He then made that statement to great acclamation at a meeting in Montgomeryshire, having dealt with the negotiations which had apparently taken place.

However much "back to basics" may be misinterpreted by some people, it must mean at least that when a Secretary of State makes that kind of statement to a meeting in an election campaign, and then re-states what he has already stated in Parliament, he is leading peopie to believe that, if this Government are returned, Montgomeryshire will become a unitary authority.

As I have said, the movement for a unitary authority for Montgomeryshire, of which I am chairman, is supported by all parties. The chairman of each party is on the central committee and they have been totally steadfast in their support. No one doubted at that meeting but that Montgomeryshire would become a unitary authority.

After the election, there was a change. Why was that? Nobody has ever explained. If Mr. Hunt said, "Well, I may have given the impression that I was going to create that unitary authority but I was overruled in the Cabinet" (which I suspect is what happened) or, "Somebody in the Treasury forced me to change my mind", I could understand that. But many representations have been made to me on this matter and everybody left that meeting absolutely convinced that an undertaking had been given that Montgomeryshire would become a unitary authority.

As I said on Second Reading, the Tudors had it right as regards local authorities. They paid attention to the watersheds. It so happens that I live about eight or nine miles from the sources of the Severn and the Wye. As Members of the Committee will know, they rise about half a mile from each other. The Severn flows to the east. It goes through the Severn Vale to the English border at Shrewsbury and then turns down and goes via Worcester. The communications in Montgomeryshire have always been governed by that. On the other hand, the Wye flows for about six or seven miles to the east, to the village of Llangurig and then, as the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, knows, it turns south and eventually goes through Radnorshire and Breconshire. Of course, the communications there are governed entirely by that.

As regards the administration of those authorities, the electricity in Brecon and Radnorshire is supplied by the South Wales Electricity Board. In Montgomeryshire, it is supplied by the Merseyside and North Wales Electricity Board. As regards government departments, the Audit Office in Wrexham deals with Montgomery, whereas Brecon and Radnor are controlled from elsewhere. The Severn Trent Water Authority supplies, save for a small part, Montgomeryshire, whereas the Welsh Water Authority serves Brecon and Radnorshire.

I know of no single private business which is based on a Powys concept. It is merely a question of administration. The Powys eisteddfod, which has been in vogue for well over a century now, is coming to my small town of Llanidloes this year and that is as far south as it ever goes, because Brecon and Radnor have their own distinctive and proud heritage and were never a part of Powys. It is only in the mythology of Wales in the 10th century that there is the possibility that there may have been a short period during the life of the son of Hywel Dda when they could have been part of Powys. The language pattern in Montgomeryshire is different.

The size is reflected in costs. Currently Powys County Council has the highest expenditure per head on corporate management of any county in Wales. It spent two and a half times as much as Montgomeryshire, despite having the same number of committees and members; and more than double is spent on members' travelling allowances. That is not to criticise Powys County Council. That cannot be helped when people must travel in order to attend meetings. If that follows for a unitary authority as regards housing and so on, it makes a mockery of local government.

Let us consider the position of the parishes of Denbighshire which have been joined on to Powys, about which the noble and learned Lord will know. When it was announced that Montgomeryshire would become a unitary authority, they wished to leave Clywd to join Montgomeryshire. That made a great deal of sense because they have much in common with Montgomeryshire. To their horror they now find that they have been lumped into Powys. For councillors to travel from those parishes to Llandrindod Wells for council meetings means a journey of about an hour and forty minutes each way. In inclement weather, such as we have had recently, they would probably never reach there at all. Therefore, there is an overwhelming case for a unitary authority for Montgomeryshire.

The combined population of Brecon and Radnor—the other area concerned—is larger than that of Cardiganshire and its area is considerably greater than that of Cardiganshire, and yet Cardiganshire is to have a unitary authority. Why should not Brecon and Radnorshire be that? Everything points in that direction.

As I said on Second Reading, the principles set out in the Government's White Paper are all met by Montgomeryshire and Brecon and Radnorshire.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Chalfont

I support the amendment, which also stands in my name. It is a happy coincidence that the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, should have so eloquently supported this amendment on Lloyd George's birthday.

The amendment is simple. I should like to concentrate especially on the aspect of it to which the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, referred in the last part of his speech; that is, the viability and general wisdom of Brecon and Radnorshire as a unitary authority. We propose that as an alternative to this monstrous invention of Mid Wales which is, as has already been said, an authority which covers a quarter of the Principality and which from north to south—the longest axis of this new authority—is roughly the same distance as the distance from Hammersmith to the Severn Bridge. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Kenyon, has pointed out, from Hammersmith to the Severn Bridge there is a motorway.

Anyone who has lived in, or even visited, Montgomeryshire, Breconshire and Radnorshire will know that one of the great problems of that area is communication. This simply underlines the fact that while the object of this Bill is, rightly, to bring local government closer to the people, the creation of this kind of authority—the Mid Wales proposed authority—does quite the reverse. It takes local government away from the people because the expense and difficulty of administering an area this size at the local government level is obvious for anyone to see. We must bear in mind that the elected representatives on local authorities do not—as we do in the national Parliament—spend most of their time on these affairs. They are local businessmen, local farmers and local people who devote their time, generally in the evenings and at weekends, to this kind of work. They are not going to travel the sort of distances that are implied in this curious new invention of the Mid Wales local authority.

On the other hand, it is true to say that Radnorshire on its own is probably not viable as a local authority although there was an idea at one time that it might well be. However, Breconshire and Radnorshire together—that combination has a certain historic viability anyway—have an administrative viability. They would cover a population of about 68,000 people, and those two counties together would constitute a larger authority than some of the unitary authorities already proposed. I therefore support most strongly the amendment which stands in my name and that of the other two noble Lords who have just spoken. It is an amendment which would improve the Bill. I do not suggest in any way that the Bill itself is at fault, although I know that the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, believes that the Bill is a bad one. I do not entirely agree with him on that. There are many ways in which this Bill improves local government in Wales; but it would be further improved if this amendment were accepted.

Lord Gibson-Watt

The question which we are discussing is not an easy one. It is one which has vexed a great number of people of various opinions. My noble friend Lord Kenyon, who is a councillor, knows some of the problems of being a councillor. I, too, 40 years ago, was a Radnorshire local councillor. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, is right to say that in his opinion—and also in mine—Radnor is too small to be an authority under today's economic circumstances. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Kenyon, who argued his case for Montgomeryshire in a persuasive and rather aquatic way. The points he made about the Severn Valley and the Wye Valley were correct. However, what I believe he and his colleagues have overlooked is that the present Powys County Council has worked extremely well. I know that it is a long way for people from Ystradgynlais or from the north of Montgomeryshire to travel to Llandrindod Wells, but the fact remains that the Powys County Council delivers good services to its inhabitants and it is for that reason in particular that I oppose this amendment. However, I would ask the Government why they propose to call the authority Mid Wales. Why do they not continue to call it Powys? That would certainly be much more acceptable to me.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Elis-Thomas

I wish to pick up the final point made by the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt. The county or the principal council area which is designated as Mid Wales Canolbarth Cymru is just not that. Mid Wales is an economic region, so defined by the activity of a number of different statutory bodies, principally the Development Board for Rural Wales. That board operated for a period, using a short title of Mid Wales, as did two of its predecessor authorities—the Mid Wales Industrial Development Association and the Mid Wales Development Corporation. I mention all those because they were either statutory agencies established by Parliament or they were voluntary associations brought together by local authorities, using this description of Mid Wales. I speak as a former resident of the area for 23 years. Mid Wales certainly includes the whole of southern Meirionnydd. It certainly includes Montgomeryshire, Brecon and Radnorshire, but also includes Ceredigion and arguably could include parts of Carmarthenshire and Dinefwr; and no doubt for some purposes Hereford and Shrewsbury, too. But what we are talking about here is a unit which had an important function and worked as an area—certainly during the period of the 30 years since the Beacham Report—of regeneration at the heart of Wales. I use another designation applied to that area, particularly by the tourist board.

In my view, to create one unitary authority calling itself Canolbarth Cymru Mid Wales is not to strengthen the structure of political administration in that area but rather to weaken it. I shall argue my next point a little later. When we were operating in Mid Wales with a number of unitary authorities working together under the old district system and under the previous local government system of counties pre-1974, we were then able to identify the region and take action in the region. I believe that performance will be less easily delivered under a system which centralises the concept of Mid Wales in an authority. Therefore for reasons of name and for reasons of structure I oppose the view being taken by the Welsh Office and I support this amendment.

Lord Avebury

The noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, said that Breconshire was too small to be an authority under today's economic circumstances. I wonder whether we ought not to challenge that view before we reach a decision on this amendment because for years and years people have said that larger authorities are better in some mysterious way; but the proof of the pudding is that they are always worse. I remember back in 1962 when my constituency was a local authority in Kent and it was put into a larger local authority in Greater London as part of the London Borough of Bromley. We were told that all sorts of improvements in efficiency would result from that change; but the numbers of staff employed in the authority became much larger than in the combined four authorities that were merged, and the service to the community became much worse.

The clerk of the urban district of Orpington at that time was a Mr. King. I remember being a devil's advocate and saying to him, "You must agree that at least there will be only one clerk, whereas formerly there were four in Bromley, Penge, Beckenham and Orpington". He replied "Don't you believe it, there will be four clerks and another one above them". That is what has happened. There was an enormous increase in administrative expenditure because of the size of the new authority, and the service to the community deteriorated partly because of the distances that people had to travel. That factor has been mentioned by several Members of the Committee. Formerly every service was administered from the town hall in Orpington or Beckenham, as the case may be, whereas after the change the planning offices were situated in one part of the borough, the treasurer's officers in another, the housing offices in a third part and no one knew where to go.

I have a question for the Minister, which was prompted by a discussion that took place at Question Time, on the financial effects of the Bill. The compliance cost assessment note reads: This Bill will not result in any significant additional burdens on business. Business will however benefit from having fewer local authorities with which to deal". I should like to ask the Minister to consider the case of a business which is engaged in building in the area of mid Wales and has to deal constantly with the planning authority, for which purpose it has to send members of its staff to the place where the planning authority is located, wherever that may be. Is it not obvious that in a vast local authority such as this the members of staff of that business will have to travel much greater distances than if they dealt with an authority within the boundaries of Montgomeryshire? How can the calculation find that no increase in costs is imposed on businesses of that character?

The noble Lord who answered the Question at Question Time said that careful procedures were laid down to ensure that cost assessments were correct. I should like the noble and learned Lord to explain how it emerges that no additional costs will be imposed on businesses as a result of the creation of this enormous local authority. That is one example of how services to the community can degenerate as a result of the creation of bigger local authorities. If businesses have to travel large distances to deal with council departments obviously they will not get the same service as they would if the offices were more locally based, to say nothing of the effect on ordinary citizens. I believe that it was Aneurin Bevan who once said that the essence of local government was that people should be able to walk to their town hall. Obviously there is no question of that in an authority which, as a noble Lord remarked, stretches the distance between Hammersmith and the Severn Bridge.

I put it to the Minister that it will be extraordinarily inconvenient for members of the public who have to deal with the offices of their local authority to get to those offices and transact their business. It will also be extremely expensive for them. I appeal to the Minister to consider the proposal and when he winds up at least to let us have some figures as to what the costs will be to the businesses which are involved with local authorities in such a vast area.

Lord Moran

The Local Government Commission for England stated in paragraph 41 of the progress report which it published in December last year that the expected population range for an English local government unit was from 150,000 to 250,000. It went on to say that for Wales the expected population range was between 67,000 and 295,000, with an average population of 137,000. It can be seen from those figures that the lowest figure put forward by the commission, which knows a good deal about the organisation of local government, is 67,000. However, Montgomeryshire is well below that, with a population of some 54,000. Therefore, although an eloquent case has been made today, as on previous occasions, by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, for an independent Montgomeryshire, I do not believe that it has been proved that it would necessarily work.

I am concerned not so much with Montgomeryshire, because I do not live there. I live in Radnorshire. I am afraid that Radnorshire is in danger of being neglected in this argument. As I said at Second Reading, my heart is with Radnorshire and, ideally, I should like to see Radnorshire as an independent unitary authority standing on its own. But, if I express doubts about the validity of Montgomeryshire with a population of 54,000, I am bound to express greater doubts about Radnorshire, which has a population of only 24,000. This has resulted in this amendment, which suggests that Radnorshire should be combined with Breconshire, as is the case with the parliamentary constituency.

I have talked to a great many people in Radnorshire. Although many of them would like to see an independent Radnorshire and are not too happy about the continuation of Powys, or Mid Wales, they are much more unhappy about the idea of being swallowed up by Breconshire. Breconshire has a population of well over 45,000 and, inevitably, if one was to put Breconshire and Radnorshire together, the weight of power and influence would move to Breconshire. Although to begin with there might be an arrangement—as has been suggested by the Brecknock Borough Council—for services to be split or to alternate between Brecon and Llandrindod Wells, inevitably in the course of time the argument would prevail and the headquarters would be moved to Brecon. That would be a disaster for Llandrindod Wells, where at present some 500 people are employed by the two councils. One of those councils is bound to go in any case, but if both went that would be a catastrophe for Llandrindod Wells. In addition, a move to Brecon would damage the whole economy of Radnorshire, which is fairly fragile in any case.

The fundamental argument is that people in Radnorshire do not want it. Of all the proposals put forward the one they like least is being put together with Breconshire. I do not believe that one should ignore the wishes of the people. Just to meet the wishes of people in Montgomeryshire one should not ride roughshod over the people of Radnorshire.

There is the problem of the strategic services—trunk roads, strategic planning and so on. That would be a great problem for a small unitary authority. I believe that it is best addressed by the proposed larger authority. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt. Why not call it Powys? I believe that smaller unitary authorities would be bound to result in increased costs.

One point that has not yet been made is that, if there were two or three small unitary authorities, inevitably for many of the functions of local government they would have to resort to joint working. As that is done most effectively with larger authorities, they would have to make joint arrangements with larger authorities to the north and south of the present Powys in order to secure those services. That would be unsatisfactory. It would not happen if the Powys authority was preserved.

There has been a good deal of criticism of Powys in this House. It is fair to say that there has also been a great deal of support for it in mid Wales. Powys Family Health Services, Powys TEC, the CBI, the NFU and the Farmers' Union of Wales, have, I understand, all written in support, as have many individual schools. Therefore there is quite a body of opinion supporting it.

As I said at Second Reading, I believe that the best practical solution would be to retain Powys but to increase the amount of devolution planned to the shire committees in order that matters which are really local could be dealt with locally by the three shire committees, and that matters that are strategic, in particular strategic planning, can be dealt with by the larger authority.

For all these reasons, I am not happy with the proposed amendment.

5 p.m.

Lord Swansea

I support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Kenyon and the noble Lord, Lord Hooson. I was born and brought up in north Breconshire. It is a part of Wales where my heart remains and which I know well and love. I have a great attachment to that lovely part of Mid Wales. I look back with great pleasure to the time when my permanent home was in those parts. I was a member of a rural district council which covered a fairly small area. It was a small friendly authority, completely non-political. Members got on very well with each other; and I believe that we did a good job. I disqualified myself from membership by moving out of the council area. That council no longer exists; but I often shed a quiet tear over the memory of it.

Local government should be local. The council depends greatly on an intimate knowledge by councillors of the area and its inhabitants. That principle has been entirely lost sight of. We now have an enormous, amorphous county in Mid Wales called Powys. I shall not venture into unparliamentary language by attempting to describe what I think of it. However, although with respect to my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt the system works well, nevertheless it is a great disaster. That may be a contradiction in terms. It is a disaster that the council loses the close intimacy between councillors and the people it represents.

We have heard from several noble Lords that the county of Powys is over 100 miles long. It stretches the distance from the Severn Bridge to Hammersmith. What member of a council based, say, in Bath or Bristol knows anything of Hammersmith? Members of the council would not know the people they represent. The concept of a county of that size is nonsense.

Since the reorganisation of local government areas in 1972, the former shire counties have been subsumed in those vast, totally impersonal, new counties. The councillors do not know the people they represent; and the people they represent hardly know their councillors.

I believe that Montgomeryshire is a viable unit. It has a population of about 54,000. If it were taken away from Mid Wales, Breconshire and Radnorshire would be a viable unit with a total population of about 69,500. That is a greater population than that of Cardiganshire, which is a proposed unitary authority.

I urge the Government to think again. In the past they have said that they would take Montgomeryshire from Powys. Perhaps the Government will consider again whether they were not right the first time. I agree with my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt. If a county in Mid Wales is to be maintained, let us stick to the name of Powys.

Lord Prys-Davies

The amendments present difficulties. We have had interesting speeches both for and against them. The people of Montgomeryshire have a genuine complaint about the attitude of the Government, bearing in mind the statement that was read by the former Secretary of State.

My initial worry about the amendments is that they will destroy Powys. That could present problems for Breconshire, with a population of about 41,000; and Radnorshire, with a population of about 23,000. On the other hand, the combined Brecon and Radnor authority would have a population of 64,000. On balance, we believe that the problems can be overcome with the aid of the enabling concept, although I do not accept for one moment that that concept is a panacea.

Both new authorities will have access to the enabling authorities. They can set up joint arrangements. We therefore believe that we can support the amendment.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

This is the first of a number of amendments that we shall consider today, all of which have the common characteristic that they have the effect of increasing the number and therefore reducing the size of authorities created in the Bill. The Committee may therefore find it helpful if, without seeking to pre-empt debates in later amendments, I explain at this stage some general points in response to the amendments.

First, the Government of course recognise the strength of feeling which is often based on historical factors, as the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, mentioned in connection with Montgomeryshire. Those are historical factors which exist in many areas and which underlie many of the amendments before us. However, as has been made clear throughout the consultation process, which has been an extensive one, the desirability of establishing authorities with boundaries which reflect or strengthen existing community localities is just one of the factors which the Government have sought to take into account in determining the authorities. It would not be right to set up what might initially appear to be locally popular authorities if those authorities proved unable to deliver the services necessary for the people.

Therefore the Government have consistently emphasised that they also want to establish authorities which will be able to provide public services of a high quality which can be delivered efficiently, economically and effectively. It is against that criteria that we have difficulty with the amendments before us today, including Amendment No. 4, to create separate authorities for Montgomeryshire, Breconshire and Radnorshire.

We have in effect two main anxieties, the first of which was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, in relation to Radnorshire. The greater the number of very small authorities, the greater the number and complexity of the joint arrangements that are likely to be required to give effect to the new structure for services. The Government are not opposed in principle to having such arrangements. Indeed, it is one of the principles in the Bill. But we do not wish to have unnecessary situations in which those complex arrangements may be required.

Secondly and more important, we have very serious doubts about the ability of such smaller authorities to manage their resources in the most efficient and effective way. In our view, the smaller the authority, the greater the proportion of its resources which would have to be spent on central overheads such as finance, personnel and management generally.

At the same time, such small authorities would in practice be likely to find it difficult to attract staff of the same calibre as larger authorities. They would therefore suffer a double impediment and the losers, if that proved to be the case, would be the recipients of local services.

It was with those considerations much in mind that both the present and the former Secretary of State looked particularly closely at all the proposals that had been put forward for small authorities. They accepted those proposals only where they were convinced that a sufficiently good case had been made for their establishment as effective authorities. It is nonetheless worth noting in this context that the proposals for Wales in the Bill already involve the creation of authorities which, on average, are of a smaller population size than those proposed in the parallel legislation for Scotland and those which seem likely to be created for England. So in no sense have the Government been parsimonious with authorities in Wales.

Those are the matters which create the general context.

Turning to the specific group of amendments, the Government of course acknowledge and have acknowledged the strength of the tradition and community identity in the three pre-1974 counties which make up Mid Wales. That strength has come over in the debates in your Lordships' House. But, in taking his decisions, the Secretary of State had to balance those principles against considerations of population and rural sparsity. The considerations suggest that the people of Mid Wales would be better served as part of a single large authority which would be better able to plan the delivery of the full range of local government services. Mid Wales would have a population of about 109,000; Breconshire and Radnorshire would have a population, as the Committee has heard, of about 70,000; Montgomeryshire, with the three communities from southern Glyndwr, would have a population of only 55,000. The smallest among the 21 authorities included in the Bill is Cardiganshire, with almost 68,000.

Again, I take up a point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Moran. The Government believe that a Breconshire and Radnorshire unitary authority is not one which would meet either the best interests or—and this is important—the wishes of residents of the areas. In particular, it would not be popular, the Government understand, with the residents of Radnorshire. The two districts, with populations of about 46,000 and 23,000 respectively, are considered too small to be self-standing unitary authorities and there appears to be little enthusiasm among residents for an alternative proposal based on a merger of the two districts.

It has been pointed out that earlier proposals put forward by the Secretary of State made provision—and this was put forward very forcefully by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson—for a separate Montgomeryshire. However, the proposals provided no more than a basis for further discussion, consultation and consideration. Subsequent to the Statement of the then Secretary of State on 3rd March 1992, detailed consultations were held on the basis of the then 23-authority proposal which accompanied that Statement, involving the local authorities through their associations. Also consulted were private bodies, professional organisations and members of the public.

During the consultations, genuine anxieties were expressed about the ability of small authorities to manage the delivery of the full range of local government services. The concern was reflected in the report of the Structures Group to the Welsh Consultative Committee on Local Government. The report was published in September 1992 and a copy is in the Library of the House. In formulating his final proposals, the Secretary of State took account of those anxieties.

Taking up the question of the inaccessibility of those authorities, the Government have put forward in the Bill—and we shall come to this when we reach Clause 26 and so on —proposals for decentralisation. They are put forward as a genuine response to the concerns of people in areas such as Montgomeryshire, Breconshire and Radnorshire. They are designed to deal with precisely this kind of case. What is envisaged is that, where appropriate and desired by the people in these areas, area committees may be set up which would have responsibility for the delivery of many local services and would be fully accountable locally. They would not be mere talking shops, but places in which much of the relevant business of local government for that area could be transacted. Therefore, when it is said that the new body would, in effect, be too remote, too big and too far away, one must measure that in the context of the proposals for decentralisation.

Taking up the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, as to whether there might be more cost involved on certain occasions in travelling some distance to see planning authorities, on certain occasions there might be. However, one must remember that under the existing system those businessmen would have to take planning matters to two authorities rather than one. Under the new proposals they would only have to deal with one. Therefore, in that sense the burden would be lighter.

I have explained the thinking of the Secretary of State in the matter and I have made it clear that, in reaching these proposals, the Secretary of State has listened carefully to what was said in consultations on the White Paper. The Government do not accept the amendments, but the Secretary of State will want to reflect on what Members of the Committee have said today and what may be said subsequently in another place.

Finally, on a point which was raised by some Members of the Committee, including the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, about the name, it is something upon which the Secretary of State would listen to suggestions. In some senses, the name "Mid Wales" may be desirable because in no sense does it overshadow the historic names of Montgomeryshire, Breconshire and Radnorshire. Therefore, some may think it preferable for that reason. However, if the overwhelming sentiment of the Committee is that some other name would be preferable, that is something which the Secretary of State would also wish to consider.

In the light of all that and on the basis of what the Committee has said and that the matter will be considered, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, to withdraw his amendment.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Hooson

Before the noble and learned Lord sits down, is it not correct that what he is saying is that the Secretary of State has a closed mind on the subject? Am I not right in interpreting it that way?

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

The position is that the Secretary of State has considered the representations that have been made by all the various public bodies and so on. It is now time for Members of your Lordships' House to make representations and for representations to be made by Members of the other place. All those matters will be taken into account by the Secretary of State and I do not think it would be correct to put it that he has a closed mind. He has put forward his policy but he will take into account what your Lordships say and also what Members in another place say.

Lord Hooson

That is a most disappointing answer. When the Minister replied he referred to the average and lower figures that were considered for England and Scotland but did not mention that there are two unitary authorities in Scotland with much smaller populations than Montgomeryshire which work perfectly well. That is why I said on a previous occasion that the Scottish experience is much more relevant. Of course, he has corrected the figures put out so far on population. In Brecon and Radnor it is very nearly 70,000; in Montgomeryshire it is 55,000, anticipated to come up to 60,000 by 1998. It is very significant that the only two noble Lords who have spoken in favour live in Radnorshire. They live very close to Llandrindod Wells—they do not live away from it at all. It has been in one sense a godsend for Radnorshire to have the headquarters of Powys there. Surely the proposal is totally unacceptable. I intend to test the feeling of the Committee on this matter and press this amendment to a Division:

5.20 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 4) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 102; Not-Contents, 113.

Division No. 2
Aberdare, L. Hanworth, V.
Addington, L. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Ailesbury, M. Haskel, L.
Airedale, L. Henniker, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Hollis of Heigham, B.
Avebury, L. Holme of Cheltenham, L.
Aylestone, L. Hooson, L. [Teller.]
Barnett, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Howie of Troon, L.
Blackstone, B. Hunt, L.
Bonham-Carter, L. Hutchinson of Lullington, L
Boston of Faversham, L. Irvine of Lairg, L.
Broadbridge, L. Jay, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Jay of Paddington, B.
Bruce of Donington, L. Jeger, B.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L. Jenkins of Hillhead, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Kennet, L.
Carter, L. Kenyon, L. [Teller.]
Chalfont, L. Kilbracken, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Kirkhill, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Lester of Herne Hill, L.
David, B. Lockwood, B.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B. Longford, E.
Donoughue, L. McGregor of Durris, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Elis-Thomas, L. McNair, L.
Ennals. L. Mallalieu, B.
Ezra, L. Masham of Ilton, B.
Falkland, V. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Mayhew, L.
Gallacher, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Gladwyn, L. Mishcon, L.
Glenamara, L. Molloy, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Mulley, L.
Greene of Harrow Weald, L. Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Gregson, L. Nicol, B.
Grey, E. Ogmore, L.
Hamwee, B. Peston, L.
Pitt of Hampstead, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Prys-Davies, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Redesdale, L. Tordoff, L.
Richard, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Ritchie of Dundee, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Robson of Kiddington, B. White, B.
Rochester, L. Wigoder, L.
Sefton of Garston, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Shepherd, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E
Swansea, L. Young of Dartington, L.
Addison, V. Layton, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Liverpool, E.
Arran, E. Lucas of Chilworth, L
Astor, V. Lyell, L.
Blatch, B. McColl of Dulwich, L
Blyth, L. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Boardman, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.[Lord Chancellor.]
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Mancroft, L.
Braine of Wheatley, L. Manton, L.
Bridgeman, V. Merrivale, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Mersey, V.
Cadman, L. Miller of Hendon, B.
Campbell of Croy, L. Milverton, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Carnock, L. Moran, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Morris, L.
Chelmsford, V. Mottistone, L.
Chesham, L. Mountevans, L.
Clanwilliam, E. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Cochrane of Cults, L. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Colwyn, L. Orkney, E.
Cranborne, V. Orr-Ewing, L.
Crathorne, L. Oxfuird, V.
Cumberlege, B. Pender, L.
Davidson, V. Perry of Southwark, B.
Dean of Harptree, L. Platt of Writtle, B.
Dixon-Smith, L. Quinton, L.
Downshire, M. Rankeillour, L.
Dundonald, E. Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Eden of Winton, L. Renwick, L.
Ellenborough, L. Rodger of Earlsferry, L.
Elles, B. Rodney, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. St. Davids, V.
Elphinstone, L. Seccombe, B.
Elton, L. Selborne, E.
Flather, B. Shannon, E.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Shrewsbury, E.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Geddes, L. Stewartby, L.
Gibson-Watt, L. Strange, B.
Gilmour of Craigmillar, L. Strathcarron, L.
Glenarthur, L. Strathclyde, L.
Goschen, V. Strathmore and Kinghorne, E. [Teller.]
Gray of Contin, L. Sudeley, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Swinfen, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Teviot, L.
Harrowby, E. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Hayhoe, L. Trumpington, B.
Hemphill, L. Ullswater, V. [Teller.]
Henley, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Holderness, L. Vivian, L.
HolmPatrick, L. Wakeham, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Howe, E. Westbury, L.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Wise, L.
Kimball, L.
Kinnoull, E.
Lauderdale, E.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Elis-Thomas moved Amendment No. 5: Page 49, line 12, leave out ("and Merionethshire").

I hope that the last debate that we had, and particularly the last vote, will give the Welsh Office cause to reflect on the feelings of this House on the question of the scale and size of unitary authorities, and on the difficult balance between a sense of community and the need for efficient government, which is what we are debating. It was quite helpful that we, as it were, got the result of the game in the last debate. It was not as successful as Saturday—but then I would say that, wouldn't I? However, the fact that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate was able to set out the principles under which he, the Government and the Welsh Office approach the matter of the numbers and size of authorities makes it easier for me in moving my Amendments Nos. 5 and 6.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate referred to the strength of feeling and the wishes of residents. The evidence from Merioneth is certainly that a majority of the electors of the district, and a majority of residents, in responding both by petition to another place and by correspondence with the Welsh Office, indicated a wish that Merioneth should be a unitary authority. Merioneth was an historic county and was also the parliamentary constituency which I represented, on the old boundaries, from 1974 to 1983. Certainly my experience is that there is the required strength of community identity which must be the basis of an effective democracy.

I am the first to recognise that there are other considerations and that historical and cultural considerations are not the only ones which apply in matters of local government structure. But I am also faced with another difficulty; namely, that we now see quite clearly the alternatives before us in Merioneth and other would-be unitary authorities. We have received from the Minister the paper from the local government reorganisation group at the Welsh Office which now sets out the criteria for the alternative status that we might have; namely, that of an area subject to a decentralisation committee.

Obviously, we shall talk about the detail of the different structures later in the Committee. But, when we look at that paper, we see that among the criteria set out for applications to be considered for a decentralisation scheme are included geographic, historical, cultural and demographic circumstances. But the paper goes on to set out quite clearly what will not be in the functions of a decentralisation committee. With the exception of some interesting proposals on the relationship between an area committee and the area-based social services provision and the possible linkage between that and housing, it is clear that all major services are to be mainly centralised. For example, the paper says that no education functions could be delegated to area committees. To me it is quite unacceptable that a district such as Merioneth, which has a long and honourable tradition of developing its education policy, providing school and adult education policies and so on, should not be able to have under its area committee much of an influence over education policy at all.

Faced with a choice between arguing for a unitary authority for Merioneth, with a slight extension of the boundaries as set out in the amendment, and the possibility of being only an area committee, I am certain that the majority of the population of the district of Merioneth and a number of surrounding communities both to the north and to the east would certainly want to be identified as a unitary authority.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate mentioned the other criterion of size. As my noble friend Lord Hooson said, there are at least two unitary authorities in Scotland currently under the proposed reorganisation which are significantly smaller in size than would be the unit of Merioneth that I propose in these amendments.

It seems to me that the other aspect of the argument relates to the structure proposed in the Bill. 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. Again, I hope that we may return to this matter later in the Committee and at Report stage. There will be local government areas which are communities, counties and county boroughs. But there will also be the new principal councils and the area committees subject to the decentralisation schemes. Joint working arrangements will be established by direction of the Secretary of State—the Welsh Office will be extremely busy implementing the whole of the Bill—and there will also be possibilities for joint working authorities, which are in fact further bodies to be created by the Secretary of State (the Welsh Office) on the basis of this Bill. We are told that those bodies are to be treated as new principal councils. So we are talking about a structure of local government which will look much more like a kind of territorial federal system than simple single unitary authorities.

I can see the argument that possibly the majority of powers will be placed with the principal councils. But if the decentralisation schemes and the joint working arrangements, including the joint working authorities, are to be effective, as the powers are set out in the Bill, we shall have a complex system of different levels of powers.

Quite simply, my question, in putting forward the case for Merioneth as a unitary authority, is: what is the difference between having Merioneth as a unitary authority and having a series of powers for decentralisation schemes and for joint arrangements between different authorities? Why is it suddenly thought that a principal council of a certain size, which could itself share its joint arrangements with other authorities around it, is not at least as efficient a way of delivering local government to the residents of that district as the scheme now proposed whereby Merioneth is to have possibly only a decentralisation scheme and not be a unitary authority?

All those matters are by direction of the Welsh Office. Should the Welsh Office have so wished, it could have created—this point refers to our earlier debate—a structure for local government in Mid Wales which was more flexible than the model of the principal council as a unitary authority. It could have created by a small act of the imagination—I believe the department to be increasingly capable of imagination—a system of local government reorganisation which balanced between those criteria of efficiency, skill of delivery of service and community identity.

It is precisely when one comes to those sparsely populated vast terrains of rural areas that the issue of community identity becomes very important in efficiency of delivery of service and identification between population, representatives and both staff and members of authorities. In my view it would have been possible, even within the terms of the Bill as it stands, to designate a historic county such as Meironnydd as a unitary authority and make it subject, by direction of the Welsh Office, to schemes for joint working arrangements or joint authorities which would have met the efficiency criteria and also maintained the notion of community.

That brings me back to the Mid Wales argument. Historically, geographically, sociologically, industrially or whatever criteria one wants, Meironnydd looks in many different directions. It certainly is a part of Mid Wales. It is also part of North-West Wales. It has historic links with North-East Wales, with Clwyd and Powys. The example I quoted in my days as a Member of Parliament for the area was to point out that I had constituents with postal addresses in at least three different postal centres—up in Bangor, over in Wrexham, down in Aberystwyth, and even some as far east as Shrewsbury. That was the nature of the territory. The area is still served by NHS trusts and district general hospitals based in Bangor, Aberystwyth, Gwent, Shrewsbury, Wrexham and Glan Clwyd Bodelwyddan.

Those were the nature of the services delivered for a district such as Meirionnydd. For those reasons, to lump it in with the historical county of Caernarvon, and the district of Arfon and Dwyfor, does not meet with the feelings of the community; nor does it meet with the criteria for effective delivery of service to that area. It will he more difficult to deliver an effective service to the southern part of Meirionnydd if the centralisation with Arfon and Dwyfor based in Caernarvon is the course to be followed.

Historically, the communities of Meirionnydd have been linked eastwards as well as north-westwards. That is why the amendment looks at those communities that have already indicated a wish to maintain a link with Meirionnydd if it were to be a unitary authority; to have them included within the borders. Of course, they are practical people and when they realised that the Secretary of State was not proposing Meirionnydd as a unitary authority, those communities indicated that they would prefer to be part of Sir Ddinbych, Denbighshire authority, which was to be a unitary authority, rather than to be lumped in with an authority centred on Caernarvon.

But given the option of being part of a historic Sir Meirionnydd, Merionethshire, the communities to the east indicated that they would wish to be part of that, as indeed have a number of communities to the north that are now part of the parliamentary constituency in another place of Meirionnydd Nam Conwy. Those issues will arise in a number of further amendments about the possibility of a local option for community councils to decide as to which community they wish to belong.

That brings me to my final point. Of course in the United Kingdom we deal with a centralised system of government, as the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, reminded us. Local government is not really local government. It has no basis of power; it has no statutory basis apart from what is established for it by central Government. Its boundary is not determined by the natural sense of community of how people operate in their social lives. It is determined artificially by central Government and the Welsh Office. In this exercise it is historically the case that the wishes of the people of Meirionnydd are not paramount. The wishes of the people of Meirionnydd have not been sufficiently considered by the Secretary of State in coming to his decision. The only logic that we have heard in any of our local government debates and in the whole discussion on the consultation papers, is to do with the number of authorities.

If the Meirionnydd or the Montgomeryshire cases were conceded, then at least two or three other cases would have to be conceded. In fact, it is only two or three other cases. We are looking at a specific historical community with a particular mix of geography, culture and demography. When we are dealing with that we must also take into account the way in which local populations express their wishes. Those arguments must be balanced with the argument for efficiency. Given that we have a structure within the Bill through the joint working arrangements which could deliver both a unitary authority for Meirionnydd and efficient services across border with Arfon, Dwyfor, Sir Ddinbych, Montgomeryshire or whichever neighbouring authority could be part of those joint arrangements, we could have both the central identity and the sense of community maintained, and also efficiency delivered. I beg to move.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Hooson

I support the amendment, which will be no surprise to any Member of the Committee. If the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rodger, is to take our views to the Secretary of State on this matter, he should pay a great deal of attention to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas.

Historically the term "Mid Wales" was used to denote an area that benefited from certain economic measures. My own county of Montgomery benefited a great deal. Its population is on the increase and has been increasing swiftly over the past few years because of the work of the Rural Development Corporation which was an evolution from the Mid Wales Development Association. That was a voluntary body set up by the five county councils which are to be historically regarded as Mid Wales—Cardigan, Merioneth, Brecon, Radnor and Montgomery.

Bearing in mind that it is an extremely large area, sparsely populated, and that one has in Cardigan two universities which played a vital role in advising the development of the economic rehabilitation of Mid Wales in the Rural Development Corporation, it would have made a great deal of sense if there had been five unitary authorities and they had shared an organisation to provide services. Providing services is not the be-all and end-all of local government. Local government must be local. I advert to what was said earlier in the debate by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, that we need to provide certain services on a regional basis. There is a danger in the Bill of falling between two stools; that is, creating a mammoth authority in order to say that it needs a minimum population to provide the services, and at the same time failing to provide local government. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, proposed one solution and this is another possible solution.

With the Government's emphasis on the role of a local authority in providing services—that is, they do not have to provide them themselves; they are an enabling authority —it would have made a lot of sense in Mid Wales to have that solution. On the consultation process the truth, as I am told it, is that the Welsh Office took the bit between its teeth and was not paying any attention to suggestions made to it of this kind of alternative. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Rodger, can probably appreciate that with his experience of Scotland. There are areas of Scotland with which there is no comparable area in England and they must be dealt with on a different basis. Likewise with Mid Wales.

I was struck by the opposition of Arfon District Council to the proposition that there should be a Gwynedd unitary authority including Merioneth. It did not want Merioneth to be joined on to Arfon and Dwyfor. It pointed out that the lines of communication in Merioneth lead into Montgomeryshire. People in Merioneth do not shop in Bangor, as do the people in Arfon and Dwyfor. If they want to shop in a large town, they shop in Shrewsbury, because they use the natural lines of communication. As the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, pointed out, there is a great deal of cross-border co-operation, as it were. There is a tradition of it.

I ask the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rodger, to persuade the Secretary of State for Wales not to have a closed mind on these matters but to look at this problem anew. If he had not created a Ceredigion unitary authority and left it at that one would have had Ceredigion as a central point for Mid Wales, with its two universities available to give expert advice from, for example, its two education departments to the education departments in each of the unitary authorities. That would have made a great deal of sense. With the economic and agricultural departments at Aberystwyth guiding and providing the expertise, there would be no need for unitary authorities to hire for themselves. They could have had it by contract.

I very much support the amendment. I know perfectly well—for I was for 12 years successively the deputy chairman and chairman of the Quarter Sessions in Meirionnydd and I have a great affection for the area—that it would run it perfectly efficiently. It is quite interesting that the clerk, as he was then called, of the Meirionnydd County Council, this tiny county council which we are told was not capable of running itself, was appointed successively when we moved on to these larger authorities. He became the administrator of the Wales and Chester circuit, selected in preference to anyone else, and then became the ombudsman for Wales. That shows the quality of the person who had been attracted to that position. I totally disagree with the broad brush approach taken by the Government, as though local loyalties, local feeling and local tradition mean so much less than the figures provided for them by the Treasury.

Lord Prys-Davies

From these Benches I support the amendment so ably presented to the Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson. I believe it to be true to say that Meirionnydd is one of the oldest surviving units of government in Wales and indeed has its origins in the old Hundred of Meirionnydd which predates even the 1284. Over the centuries Meirionnydd has adapted itself to changing circumstances. It was a staunch supporter of Owen Glendower's revolt in the 15th century. It continues to this day to be a very efficient unit of local government and a source of community pride.

If I remember correctly, the motto of Meirionnydd is "Tra Môr, Tra Meirion", which translated means "While there is the sea there is Meirionnydd". The sea is there; the sea will be there; Meirionnydd is there; and Meirionnydd should be allowed to develop as a unitary authority to serve its people in the coming century. I have great pleasure in supporting the amendment. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate can persuade his right honourable friends to take this proposal back to the drawing board and return with a proposal that will be acceptable to the people of Meirionnydd.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

It goes without saying that the Government well appreciate the sense of history and the other factors which go to make up the identity of Meirionnydd, matters which have been put forward so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. But as he himself acknowledged, in considering the question of what is the appropriate local authority area, other factors come into play. In considering that the Secretary of State has taken into account the very factors which have been mentioned—the sparse population scattered over a very large area. Those factors simply cannot be overlooked when determining and settling the boundaries of the new authority.

The population of Meirionnydd would be somewhat less than 35,000. The Secretary of State believes that that is too small to constitute a self-standing unitary authority. It is said that the Bill encapsulates the idea of enabling authorities. I accept that. But that does not get over the point which I made in my general remarks that when one has an authority as small as that, the proportion of its resources that has to be devoted to overheads—of finance, personnel and so on—would be, in the Government's judgment, much too high. It would also leave it vulnerable in competition for staff with the larger authorities. While the enabling concept in some sense has a bearing on this matter, it does not provide the complete answer.

The Secretary of State believes that the people of north-west Wales as a whole—Meirionnydd, Arfon and Dwyfor —will be better served as part of a unitary authority large enough to co-ordinate and provide for the delivery of the full range of local government services and one in which no single part would be able to predominate over the others. The decision to merge Meirionnydd with Arfon and Dwyfor results, as in the decision in the case of Montgomery, from consideration of the consultation documents and from all the representations made by different people. The decision was not taken lightly or blindly. It was taken as the result of considering all that was said, and the points which I have mentioned were the kind of points which weighed.

I accept that joint authorities may be useful in the provision of services. But again, as I stressed in my general remarks, it is not the Government's view that that is an ideal solution. It is better than one should consider whether or not one has authorities which in the first place seem to be able to be large enough and substantial enough to provide services and to enable services to be provided properly for their own areas.

I stress again that in considering this proposal for Meirionnydd one does so against the background of the mechanism which we shall come to consider in due course under Clauses 26 and 27 for area committees. I accept, as the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, said, that the guidance indicates that education could not become the responsibility of such an area committee for the reasons which are given in that document. But equally the Committee will have noticed that many other relevant functions, such as housing, planning, environment, health and leisure, can be dealt with by these area committees, which would therefore give an opportunity for the policies to be developed very much with the needs, desires and wishes of the community of Meirionnydd in mind. I believe that when it is looked at overall that is an acceptable way forward, an acceptable compromise, if one likes, between the desire to represent the local community and the importance of getting a stable and balanced structure of local government.

The Government do not accept the amendment, but I stress and say quite sincerely that the Secretary of State will wish to consider what has been said in Committee today and what may be said in another place. In the light of that assurance I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, may feel able to withdraw his amendment.

6 p.m.

Lord Elis-Thomas

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his response and for an indication that there can perhaps he further consideration by the Secretary of State at least of the separation of powers between the area committees and the unitary authority. I should also like to thank the noble Lords, Lord Prys-Davies and Lord Hooson, for their contributions. I believe that we have seen, particularly from the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, the alternative route which the department could have pursued. I still take the view that the response to the sparsity question is not to say that because. they are sparse these people should not be properly governed. The response should be that because these people are sparse, in a sense they require more government. I do not mean that in the sense that they require more forms of intervention, but that a larger proportion of overheads may need to be available to them in order that services are sensitively delivered to that area. That is the argument I am putting forward.

I now turn to the staffing argument. I will not accept, and I know that all my colleagues in this House who know Welsh local government will not accept, that some of our smaller authorities have not in the past produced innovation of policy, standards of public administration and innovation in all aspects. I refer to the Isle of Anglesey in the 1940s and 1950s as regards education and the leisure services, and the small authority of Dwyfor which has struggled to develop its environmental service and leisure potential. It has a language policy which has set an example to many other authorities in the past. Therefore, it is possible to have within the smaller authorities forms of innovation which match the needs of the local population and which can provide for a high quality of service and a high quality of life.

I am in a little difficulty here because I have recently moved from the district of Merioneth to Caernarvon so in a sense I do not want to appear too critical of the possibility of cohesion between Caernarvon and Merioneth in a future authority. It is definitely the case, as the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, pointed out, that the district of Arfon did not want to be part of this unit with Merioneth. I am yet to be convinced that the solution of the area committee is one which will excite people in Merioneth. They will not feel that they have real autonomy. They are not even allowed to make the final decision for any schemes prepared under the Welsh Language Act 1993. If the area committee of an area like Merioneth cannot even make its final decision on language policy, the area committee is hardly likely to represent an autonomy which will satisfy the community.

Having said all that, so that further consideration of this matter can take place and the Welsh Office can have an opportunity to look at our debate and the Secretary of State and the Lord Advocate can discuss these issues, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

Lord Brooks of Tremorfa moved Amendment No. 7: Page 49, line 17, column 2, at end insert ("and (from the community of Taffs Well) the wards of Taffs Well and Ty Rhiw with (from the district of the Vale of Glamorgan) the communities of Barry, Dinas Powys, Llancarfan, Llandough, Michaelston, Penarth, Pendoylan, Peterston Super Ely, Rhoose, St. George Super Ely, St. Nicholas and Bonvilston, Sully and Wenvoe.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, perhaps it may be convenient to the Committee if I also address my remarks to the two other amendments which stand in my name. There is a wide consensus in favour of single-tier local authorities. I have long held the view that Cardiff should never have lost the unitary status which it enjoyed prior to 1974. It is right that we should seek to restore to the capital city a local authority capable of exercising all the local government functions.

My concern today is that the provisions of this Bill constrain the capital city of Wales within artificial boundaries created by the Local Government Act 1972. The Government maintain that that Act had many flaws which require the wide-ranging revisions contained in the present Bill. The boundaries established in 1972 may have been appropriate 20 years ago in the context of county and district government, but they are not appropriate today for a unitary authority and most certainly will not serve the needs of the future.

Cardiff deserves the same opportunities which other United Kingdom and European cities enjoy. Cities such as Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh, Cologne, Copenhagen, Seville and Bologna, are emerging as driving forces in their areas. Indeed, Professors Minford and Parkinson have described cities as the "wealth of nations" and as "economic dynamos". I agree with that view. Therefore, I believe it is essential that Cardiff should encompass all the strategic assets which drive cities forward.

There are many key assets in the area—that is to say, the M.4 corridor, Cardiff Bay, the city centre, Barry Docks, the green belt and the Cardiff (Wales) Airport are among those. Cardiff must have room to accommodate planned development without destroying important environmental assets. It must have a population base approaching 450,000 in order to register on the European and world stage. Cardiff must not be denied this opportunity which will enable it to take its rightful place along with the United Kingdom and European cities which are poised to take us forward into the 21st century.

The boundaries of Cardiff have been extended on six occasions since 1875. There is nothing special about the 1972 arrangements. At that time Parliament did not expect them to be regarded as the final solution. This Bill provides for a Cardiff authority with the highest population of the 21 proposed authorities. In doing so it recognises that Cardiff is a special case. In geographical terms, the Bill will make Cardiff the second smallest of the 21 new authority areas and the highest population confined to one of the smallest areas. It provides a recipe for urban sprawl, for unplanned expansion into valuable green belt areas which is something we must avoid. I understand that the Land Authority for Wales will shortly be announcing that housing land in Cardiff will dry up in five years.

The future of the city was of some controversy during the passage of the 1972 Bill. The noble Lords, Lord Aberdare and Lord Gibson-Watt, both made contributions at that time. The problem which was faced then was that Cardiff was having many of its powers taken away from it, such as education, personal social services and others. These powers were being handed over to the new county of South Glamorgan. Speaking about Cardiff at the time the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said: We feel that it is undesirable that areas which ought to be looked at as a whole for such matters as town and country planning, roads, education, and personal social services, should be split by boundaries which are based on the out-dated idea that the county borough should begin where the continuously built-up area ends".—[Official Report, 31/3/71; col. 1406.] The noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, when he was a Minister in another place, in defending the setting up of South Glamorgan County Council, said that Cardiff would be split: permanently from the coastal plain with which it has close geographical, social and economic links". Those views are even more appropriate today than they were when they were uttered.

The partnership between central and local government and the wider business community has been particularly successful in Wales, supporting the claims that are being made daily that the Principality is leading us out of the recession. The capital city has been a very powerful component of that success. It is essential that the fragile recovery in Wales is not strangled at birth. The Cardiff Bay development will be an essential ingredient and, with the eventual passage of the Cardiff Bay Barrage Act, Parliament has recently decided that the city should be physically joined to the Vale of Glamorgan, ensuring that the futures of both areas are inextricably linked. Artificially to separate complementary areas which will be joined physically will serve only to slow down or even derail the proposed development.

The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, when he was Secretary of State for Wales, said in another place when proposing the creation of the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation: The objective … is to put Cardiff on the Map as a superlative city which will stand comparison with any such City in the world, thereby enhancing the image and economic well being of Cardiff and Wales as a whole". The city cannot fulfil its role if it is to be constrained within the boundaries suggested in the Bill.

I understand that if the Government were to regard my amendment sympathetically, a number of consequential amendments would be necessary. It is in that light that very serious discussions have been going on back home between the local authorities. Although one can never get agreement on everything, I assure the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate that there is a very large measure of support for an agreement in which we could bring forward the consequential amendments.

In conclusion, I think that I heard the noble and learned Lord say that all the amendments concerning boundaries would increase the number of local authorities. That is not true in this case. This amendment would reduce them. I beg to move.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

Over 30 years ago as chairman of the Welsh parliamentary party, I had the privilege to lead a deputation to the then Home Secretary, the late Lord Tenby, Gwilym Lloyd George, to seek government agreement to the appointment of the City of Cardiff as capital city of Wales. Leading the Welsh parliamentary party, I had the support of all the Members of all political parties in the other place, including that of my noble friend Lord Callaghan who was one of the distinguished Members representing the capital city at that time. Of course, there were other distinguished candidates for the post of capital city—some in North Wales and one in my own constituency. But Cardiff was chosen and since then has grown in importance and dignity.

It has one of the most attractive city centres in Europe. It is a centre of government, of education and the arts, not to mention sport—especially last Saturday. I live as far from Cardiff as a Welshman can go. Indeed, another capital city, Dublin, is much nearer to my home than Cardiff. However, Cardiff is a great city and a great capital of which we are proud. It deserves all the privileges and honours which local government can bestow upon it. For those reasons, I support my noble friend and his amendment.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Chalfont

I rise briefly to support the amendment for the reasons that have already been stated. I shall not rehearse them except to say that as the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, said, Cardiff nowadays (unlike its aspect in the 1930s) is a city of great beauty and great spaciousness. It is a dynamic city. The Cardiff Bay development project, the concert halls, the opera house, Welsh National Opera and, as the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, has said, the sports centres have made Cardiff into a great capital city of a great Principality. However, Cardiff can and should go further. It should become one of the great cities of Europe, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooks, has said. I wish that we could get away from the curious conceit of the "Euro-capital", which to me is an ugly phrase. The phrase "European capital" does well enough. For all the reasons that I have given, I can see Cardiff in the next century as one of the great European capitals, and it is for that reason that I have much pleasure in supporting the amendment.

Lord Molloy

I should like briefly to voice my appreciation of and support for the amendment which has been tabled by my noble friend Lord Brooks of Tremorfa and for the way in which he presented it to the Committee. The final and absolute proof that everything that he has said about Cardiff is correct is when somebody from Swansea agrees with him. I am proud to be able to do that tonight because I believe that not only Swansea and Neath but all the other towns in Wales, particularly in South Wales, will appreciate the fact—there can be little doubt about it—that in the past 20 to 30 years Cardiff has grown in all ways, particularly culturally. It is not merely a great Welsh city and a great British city, but a great European city. Therefore, I hope that the reasoned amendment of my noble friend Lord Brooks will find support in this noble Committee.

Lord Hooson

I, too, support the amendment. It seems to me that, as I said on Second Reading when the noble Lord, Lord Brooks, said that he intended to table such an amendment, he must be right to do so. Unlike other noble Lords, I do not have the detailed geographical knowledge that would enable me to agree with all the points raised in the amendment, but in principle it must be right that a greatly developing capital city such as Cardiff should have room to expand and should be able to control those areas into which it probably will expand.

Lord Aberdare

To square or round up the circle, perhaps I, too, may say a word in support of the amendment, particularly in view of the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Brooks, quoted my words of considerable wisdom of some time ago. What is more, as I was in charge of that Bill in this House, those words represented the views of the Government, so I have no reason to withdraw them. I think that it is right that the capital city of Wales should have room for expansion. It certainly should have within its borders its own airport and the area of the Cardiff Bay development.

Baroness White

I had hoped that my noble friend Lord Callaghan would favour us with a contribution because he, after all, has a close connection with Cardiff—

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

If my noble friend will permit me to intervene, I was reserving my fire until I had heard the speech of the noble and learned Lord the, Lord Advocate.

Baroness White

I apologise unreservedly if that was my noble friend's intention.

Unfortunately, it was impossible for me to be present on Second Reading, but naturally I read the report of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, who has now left his place, referred to way back in 1969–70 when the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, was Secretary of State. He was the Secretary of State who succeeded my noble friend and for whom I was a Minister of State. The noble Viscount was chided by the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, for not having undertaken at that time a reconstruction of Welsh local government. We left it for succeeding Welsh Office Ministers so to do. Apart from the fact that we had many other things to do, one of the reasons that we hesitated in 1969–70 was the difficulties attaching to some areas in Wales. We did not want to embark upon a wholesale reorganisation of Welsh local government until we could see the way clear.

I am afraid that subsequently, when the succeeding Conservative Government took charge and introduced the Bill in 1972, they understandably made some errors of judgment, and who would not in such complicated situations? To my mind, one of the most serious of their errors of judgment was the creation of South Glamorgan and the lack of concern for the capital city of Cardiff. I do not want to go into the whole question of South Glamorgan, but anyone with any sense would have realised that what Glamorgan needed at that time was a west Glamorgan with Swansea and an east Glamorgan with Cardiff. The whole nonsense of the creation of South Glamorgan arose from mistaken political aspirations, which I am afraid the Conservative Party found not to be as promising as it supposed they were going to be. But I must not go into that further.

Unless we do something specific in the Bill, Cardiff will remain hemmed in physically from the area to which it should be entitled, because as far as I can see there is nothing in the Bill which will help Cardiff. Therefore it was extremely important that my noble friend Lord Brooks should have put down the amendment. I cannot pretend for a moment that I agree with every detail of it, but something serious should be done to enhance the possibilities for the capital city of Wales. That is an extremely important part of the Bill. I hope that it will be taken seriously and that the error of 1972 will be corrected forthwith.

Lord Prys-Davies

My noble friend Lord Brooks of Tremorfa has developed the case for a greater Cardiff council. Indeed, he touched upon that point on Second Reading. He has been well supported in Committee, and I am sure that that has given him great pleasure.

The amendment seeks space to enable Cardiff to develop not just as the capital city of Wales but as one of the more important capital cities of Europe, with its appeal to the European investor. I understand—I am not sure whether my noble friend mentioned this—that the case is supported by business interests in Cardiff, and that the two county councils are supportive of the proposal, and that is good.

There is one point—it would be putting it too high to say that it causes me concern—about which I have a little anxiety. It arises out of two letters which I have received. It is only fair that I should mention this. I have received a letter from the leader of Cardiff City Council which seeks to set out an alternative view for Cardiff's future. I cannot offer a judgment on that alternative view. I have also received a letter from the leader of the Vale of Glamorgan Borough Council, who tells me that his council is opposed to the amendment. Clearly those letters contain relevant information, and I should be failing in my duty if I were not to mention them.

I am the first to accept that my noble friend Lord Brooks of Tremorfa has raised an important issue which must be addressed seriously as quickly as possible. Of course, as so often happens when one embarks upon an inquiry, the answer may give rise to other issues which may not have been identified or thought through. I have no idea how the Government will respond to my noble friend, but we on this Front Bench hope that the Government will give further consideration to the amendment and report back. I thank my noble friend for the way he presented the case.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

It has been said by several Members of the Committee that Cardiff is a great capital city for Wales. I do not believe that anyone in this place would disagree with that description. It describes how Cardiff has developed over the years and how it has grown to the state that it now enjoys. That does not mean to say that a Scotsman necessarily approves of everything that happens form time to time in its Arms Park. But otherwise it is undoubtedly a capital city which has the admiration of people not just in Wales but throughout Britain and elsewhere. That has happened with Cardiff within its present boundary.

The amendment proposes to do away in effect with the Vale of Glamorgan unitary authority, partitioning it so that the Cardiff authority would acquire the eastern two-thirds, with the rest going to Bridgend. The Government do not believe that that proposal would reflect the wishes of the people in the areas concerned. When the White Paper was produced, Cardiff City Council and the Vale of Glamorgan Borough Council expressed support for the proposals contained in it. Therefore, it seems to me to be wrong to say that the White Paper contained nothing for Cardiff; it obviously contained what Cardiff City Council thought was appropriate. It therefore comes as no surprise to hear that correspondence to that effect has been received. On the contrary, it is clear from the consultations that we have had that the proposal would meet the strongest possible opposition from the areas in the Vale of Glamorgan which under this proposal would be absorbed by Cardiff. This is an occasion when I can say that we are taking carefully into account the views of the local people.

The idea behind the proposal seems to be that Cardiff needs this expansion of its boundaries to enable it to grow. My understanding is that redevelopment sites are available in Cardiff, particularly of course those which will become available in the Cardiff Bay area. There are also other sites, major and minor, on the periphery of the city. The Welsh Office does not have the information given by the noble Lord, Lord Brooks of Tremorfa, about that being available for housing for a period of five years only. It is possible also to identify other sites within the existing boundaries in accordance with Cardiff's local plan. As for sites for employment, they are available in the Cardiff Bay area and the Wentloog area. The development of transport also means that facilities can be found in Pentwyn and elsewhere on the city's periphery.

For those reasons, the Government believe that there is enough land available for expansion of Cardiff for the foreseeable future within its existing boundaries. The Government believe that the proposal is therefore unnecessary on the terms on which it is presented and would be bitterly resented by the population of the Vale of Glamorgan. It is not desired by either the Cardiff City Council or the Glamorgan Borough Council. For those reasons the Government cannot accept the amendment.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate will understand that his comments will be received in Cardiff with great disappointment. I assume that that applies too to a number of Members of the Committee who have spoken in favour of the amendment. There is no need for me to state the case because it has been put extremely well, and a good wine needs no bush. I must say, however, that the plans which exist for Cardiff and the development which is now taking place are of great benefit not only to Cardiff but to all the contiguous areas and to Wales as a whole.

I too have had the privilege of seeing the architectural plan for the proposed new Welsh National Opera House. There is no need for me to say in this Chamber that the Welsh National Opera is of international fame. I do not say that in a parochial way, because the opera company is recognised throughout the world as being remarkable and of outstanding ability. If the competition produces the expected results, it is to be housed in what I hope will be a splendid building.

That will be of benefit not only to Cardiff but to Penarth, Barry, Peterston Super Ely and to the other areas which join in the cultural and sporting activities in Cardiff. During the 50 years that I have known the area those districts have become one. There used to be separate boundaries but the districts which I have mentioned are now almost part of Cardiff. The area is becoming a whole. I say with reluctance that it is not sufficiently convincing to say that, because the local inhabitants are opposed to this—and the noble and learned Lord is probably right in saying that—the future of Cardiff as a great international city should be set on one side.

I have known the area for many years and I have never known a time when the local inhabitants on the borders of Cardiff and surrounding Cardiff have not been opposed to absorption by Cardiff. I doubt whether there is any city where that is not true. To be fair, some of the local communities have first-class local institutions; urban and rural district councils, parish councils and so on. But, frankly, that time has now passed.

Although we are always telling the Government to listen to the people, surely there must come moments in the history of a nation—and we are speaking of the capital city of that nation—when its interests as a whole should be placed first. One might compare the constriction of the areas around Cardiff—it is almost like a surgical neck brace—with other cities. I have seen maps of some cities but not, I regret to say, of Edinburgh. I only wish I had—

Baroness White

It has far more than Cardiff.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

As always, my noble friend is better informed than I am. She first interviewed me in 1942 when I wanted to become the candidate for Cardiff South and asked me the most pertinent questions. She has done so ever since and has been putting me right. I am sure that my noble friend is right in her comment. I wish to make the point that the constriction is more severe around Cardiff than around any other capital city that I saw in the series of maps that was produced to me.

I strongly urge the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate not to rely only on the argument that there is well-found opposition among some local authorities on the border; that is to say, parish councils, rural councils and so forth. There is well-found opposition, but the noble and learned Lord should look at the interests of the nation as a whole and of its capital city. I have no doubt that in any objective context it will be said that Cardiff should have an opportunity to breath. It does not have that opportunity at present.

I wish to ask the noble and learned Lord a question and perhaps he will be good enough to rise to his feet again. Will he examine that argument before Report stage? Will he ask the Secretary of State whether the department has looked at the matter from this point of view? It may recognise that there is an objection from local people, but will it ask whether that should be the final argument? If the noble and learned Lord will do so, many of us will be given a great deal of hope. We shall work closely with him to see what can be done to achieve a proper solution.

Lord Brooks of Tremorfa

My noble friend Lord Callaghan addressed the opposition which comes from perhaps a majority of the people in the Vale of Glamorgan. I shall say nothing about that, except that in local government terms the favourite word of the Vale of Glamorgan District Council is no. It says no to everything. Successive Secretaries of State, not necessarily of my party, will tell the Committee that the local authority of the Vale of Glamorgan is not the most accommodating when it comes to innovation and development.

As leader of South Glamorgan County Council I had the most tremendous problems in attracting one of the most welcome industrial developments in Wales. The Bosch company approached the council and said, as footloose companies do, "That is where we want to go". That was in the Vale of Glamorgan. Thankfully the land belonged to South Glamorgan and it was able to give itself planning permission. But the day after the announcement all hell broke loose. There we were trying to get first-class jobs into the area but the Vale of Glamorgan District Council opposed us. That will be the pattern in the future.

I am trying to ensure that one local authority is created for that area so that those tensions will not exist. If a local authority is created along the lines which I am suggesting it will protect the rural part of the vale. There are economic growth points in the Vale of Glamorgan which the district council has done little or nothing about since reorganisation. Barry is virtually in a time warp; nothing has happened. Whenever the county council has approached the Vale of Glamorgan District Council in order to get something done it has been unable to get anything off the ground.

My noble friend Lord Prys-Davies stated that he has received letters from the Vale of Glamorgan District Council and the Cardiff City Council. I am sure that he has had letters from other organisations too in support of what I have said. My noble friend nods his head in agreement. The Vale of Glamorgan District Council has not written to me, nor has the leader of Cardiff City Council. Ironically, the member would be the district councillor of the ward in which I live. However, he has not been in touch with me and perhaps I am not surprised. The Vale of Glamorgan District Council would write such a letter, and I am sure that it has written many others of the kind. One can expect no other response.

Many members of the Cardiff City Council, certainly those of the controlling Labour group, were convinced by their officers that on an appointed day the council would take over the responsibilities currently carried out by South Glamorgan County Council. Since that, they have learnt that that is not the case and that, as with the 1972 reorganisation, ward boundaries have to be drawn; ward parties must meet to choose their candidates, and many may not be councillors in the new authorities. The same applies to the present county councils. But that did not occur to them until later. I assure my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies and the Committee that there are members of the Cardiff City Council who have since changed their minds. Whereas the Vale of Glamorgan may or may not be unanimous in its view, Cardiff City Council is not unanimous in its view.

There are members of the city council who will say that they did not have the opportunity to study the evidence putting forward the Cardiff case, which was sent to the Welsh Office. The case was given to them in documentary form; they were addressed; and it was immediately taken away from them. At least when I was leader of the county council, members of all parties were informed stage by stage of the approach that was being taken.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate appears to have thrown cold water on what I seek. However, I do not believe that the door is yet closed. I believe that there is still time to persuade the Secretary of State for Wales that this is the opportunity to create a Cardiff of the kind that I seek. If it is not done today, it will have to be done fairly shortly and we shall have the agony all over again. In that light, and to give us more time to impress the Secretary of State, I shall not press the amendment.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate wishes to speak again.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

I have noted what Members of the Committee, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, have said. It would be wrong for me to say that I shall not convey that to the Secretary of State. But it would also be wrong for me to raise any hopes by doing so. This case is different from the others because there is a distinct body of opposition in the Vale of Glamorgan. I have heard what the noble Lord, Lord Brooks, said about that; but that opposition exists, and it must be borne in mind. Therefore, I do not wish to raise any hopes. I shall draw what Members of the Committee have said to the attention of the Secretary of State, and I can go no further than that.

Lord Brooks of Tremorfa

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Chalfont moved Amendment No. 8: Page 49, line 20, column 2, leave out ("Llanelli").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 19, which is, in every sense, consequential upon it. In doing so, I must point out that there is a misprint in the Marshalled List in that in Amendment No. 19 Llanelli should be spelt with an "i" and not with a "y". That is not merely a matter of Welsh susceptibilities. There are two places with the same name but one is spelt with an "i"; and one is spelt with a "y". I am talking about the one spelt with an "i".

The purpose of the amendment is to establish Llanelli as a single unitary authority. That would correct another anomaly in Schedule 1. The first major anomaly is one on which we have already had an interesting debate—that is, the question of Mid Wales. At that time I was beginning to fear that the Government were proceeding upon the familiar precept: "My mind is made up. Pray do not confuse me with the facts". However, since then the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate has indicated that he is willing to take back some of these matters to his right honourable friend. If he is prepared to do that, he will find that in most cases the amendments are unlikely to be pressed to a Division.

The issue as regards the amendment is the identity, integrity and local autonomy of Llanelli, which I was beginning to think had become something of a lost town. When I first looked at Schedule 1, I saw Cardiff and Swansea among the counties, and Bridgend, Newport and Neath among the county boroughs; but I saw no sign whatever of Llanelli. Indeed, there is no sign of it until one looks at the "small print" and the districts of Carmarthenshire. There Llanelli is shown in small print and is given very much the same kind of status as Gwyddelwern or Blaenau Gwent or any of the other smaller units in Wales.

and yet Llanelli has a population of between 75,000 and 80,000. That is well above the lower limit of viability set out for Welsh unitary authorities. It is at least worthy to be treated on a level with Caerphilly, Bridgend and Wrexham, all of which are to be county boroughs.

But the argument here is not merely one of size and importance. I understand entirely the thrust of the remarks made by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate on size and the other factors which must be built into the calculations and considerations about the establishment of unitary authorities. Therefore, I am not making much of an argument as regards size in this case, although I believe Llanelli to be in every way sufficiently large and important to create a viable local unitary authority of its own.

The important fact is that the Bill provides that Llanelli is to be part of a unitary authority in Carmarthenshire with Carmarthen. That would cover another large area of South Wales—nearly 1,000 square miles of South Wales. That is nothing like as large as Mid Wales, but it is still sufficiently large and widespread to present difficult and expensive administrative problems.

Even that is not really the crux of the argument. The real issue is one which I might call synergy. I know that "synergy" has become a buzzword in business and political science but it has a real meaning. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it means the combined or correlated action of a group of organisms. If that is taken to be the definition of synergy, there is no synergy between Llanelli and Carmarthen. Economically, socially and culturally, they are entirely different communities. They are organisms in which combined and correlated action is unlikely, if not impossible.

I do not take sides as between Carmarthen and Llanelli. It would be quite wrong for me to do so. I have a great affection for Carmarthen, which is the cradle of so much Welsh history. Indeed, some 20 years ago in Carmarthen, at the time of the national eisteddfod, I unveiled a memorial window to Iolo Morganwg. Iolo might not be everybody's cup of tea but he was a Welshman whom many held in great esteem. Those familiar with Welsh history will know that Iolo Morganwg first integrated the Gorsedd of Bards into the national eisteddfod in that great eisteddfod also held in Carmarthen in 1819. I do not suppose that any Members of the Committee will remember that, but those who know the history of Wales will know that little titbit.

I also have an enormous affection for Llanelli if only because for many years I have been vice-president of the Scarlets, Llanelli Rugby Club. Indeed, I could almost claim that my spiritual home is at Stradey Park.

Several remarks have been made with the utmost delicacy about the tragedy which befell Scotland in Cardiff on Saturday. I shall not dwell on those events in deference to the susceptibilities of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate. I merely point out that of the 15 heroes who ran onto the field at Cardiff Arms Park, eight came from the Llanelli Rugby Club. I do not put that forward as any qualification for the status of the unitary authority. but It is not a matter to be treated lightly.

To be somewhat more down to earth and serious about this, there is a fundamental difference between the cultures and the economies of the town of Llanelli and Carmarthen and Carmarthenshire as a whole. Carmarthenshire is predominantly rural and agricultural, It has some industry. Morgan Marine and Albion are situated in the county of Carmarthenshire but the industry of Carmarthen accounts for only 7 per cent. of its whole workforce. In Llanelli 31 per cent. of the workforce are engaged in industry in such great industrial concerns as British Steel and the Delta Group. The difference is enormous. In Llanelli the borough council has put large sums of money—some from the Welsh Development Agency and some from the European Union—into a carefully co-ordinated and planned infrastructure designed to develop the industry in the town.

In 1993 the capital expenditure was something of the order of £14 million. That was a much larger sum than the capital expenditure in Carmarthen. This is a springboard for some exciting and dynamic projects in Llanelli. There is a business park, a country park at Pembrey where the ordnance factory used to be, a motor sports centre and the imaginative and exciting plans for the town centre itself. I suspect that, if the present scheme is implemented and if Llanelli is absorbed into the unitary authority of Carmarthenshire, a local government authority based in Carmarthen is unlikely to pursue with sufficient vigour this kind of development strategy.

The other point which has been made on several occasions in this debate—it is equally true in this case—is that we seem to be running counter to the professed aim of the Bill, which is to bring local government nearer to the people. We shall again have a large area—not anything like as large as Mid Wales, but large enough—and there is a real feeling that this will take away from the people of Llanelli the sense of being governed by people who know their interests, aspirations, economic plans and ambitions. I think there will also be—if this plan as it is at present set out goes forward—a certain amount of hostility and resentment, as there was when Pembrokeshire was obliged to be amalgamated into Dyfed. Many of my noble friends in this Chamber will remember the effects of that. I put it to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate—I ask him to ask his right honourable friend to reconsider this—that it would be better both for Carmarthen and for Llanelli if they were two smaller unitary authorities. Neither would be too small and each would be well over the lower limit which is generally accepted as the smallest size for the viability of a unitary authority. Several proposed authorities in the Bill at the moment are considerably smaller than either Carmarthen or Llanelli standing on its own.

I wish to make a final point in the context of many things that have been said in this debate. Some Members of the Committee have put forward as a reason for rejecting or accepting an amendment the feeling, support or opposition, of the local people. In this case there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever and no equivocation. Right across the political spectrum in Llanelli, in business and everywhere else, there is support for this wish to be separated and for Llanelli to become a unitary authority on its own. It would be a tragedy if a forced marriage of incompatibles were allowed to discourage and damage the vibrant sense of enterprise that everyone finds now on even a brief visit to Llanelli. It is in that context that I move the amendment standing in my name. I beg to move.

Lord Howe of Aberavon

The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, may be surprised to find Aberavon coming to the rescue of Llanelli. I rise to my feet—I am only just within the margins of the rules of order—to inform the Committee that Amendments Nos. 26 to 30, which stand in my name, are designed to save the integrity of the borough of Port Talbot in the same way as the noble Lord has sought to save the integrity of Llanelli. Unhappily I shall shortly have to preside over an Anglo-Japanese dinner which has been transplanted to London. However, it is a good cause. Therefore I fear I shall not be able to speak to my amendments tonight, although I hope I shall have an opportunity to return to them on Report.

The case for Port Talbot was presented on Second Reading by the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy. He and I are two freemen of the same borough of Port Talbot. Yet another who was born in the same borough is to be made a freeman next month—Sir Anthony Hopkins. There is therefore quite an army of distinguished citizens from that borough who I am sure would wish to support me now in speaking up for Llanelli. That is the only reason I am able to rise to my feet at this moment.

I believe the question of synergy is important in all these cases. Having started my life as a relatively radical Conservative I am becoming increasingly conservative with the passage of time and I am becoming increasingly hostile to the upheaval of local authorities for the sake of principled tidiness. I believe there is a great deal to be said for preserving those which have worked well and which have a distinct sense of identity. There is no doubt that Llanelli has a powerful sense of identity. Port Talbot and Neath are situated in separate valleys and constitute quite separate communities. They would make uneasy bedfellows. I hope I may be allowed to trespass that far on the goodwill of the Committee and commend the amendment that I shall not be able to speak to as being at least as valuable as those which have been so eloquently commended by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont.

Lord Hooson

My late lamented friend, the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Elwyn-Jones, would never have forgiven me if I did not support this amendment, because much of the knowledge I have of Llanelli is based on stories that Elwyn used to relate to me. Everyone who knows Llanelli knows that its background is very different from that of Carmarthen. Carmarthen is a rural area and has rural values, whereas Llanelli was a thriving industrial town. Much of the emigration which took place from Montgomeryshire to the United States of America in the early part of the 19th century was from Llanelli. The Committee will be surprised to learn that in those days Llanelli was a thriving port. The silting up of the port has spoilt that these days.

I believe Llanelli needs to make good the ravages of the industrial revolution. It needs to maintain its industrial background. Carmarthen, however, is a totally different place. I know Carmarthen rather better than I know Llanelli. I believe that the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has a great deal of sense in its favour. I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Howe, appear at this late stage. He should have told the Government of the importance of synergy at an earlier stage. I am sure his comments on Llanelli, Port Talbot and Aberavon are absolutely correct. I am pleased to support this amendment.

7 p.m.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

Despite what has been said, the proposed restoration of the pre-1974 county of Carmarthenshire has been much welcomed by residents in the county, by businesses and public bodies. It will have a fairly large population base of 170,000 and therefore will provide a basis for social, economic and tourism development in that part of Wales.

Perhaps despite the presence of the eight Llanelli heroes, I acknowledge what has been said about the fact that Llanelli is in many ways different from the surrounding areas. Above all, it has been stressed that it has an industrial character. However, although the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said that the proposal to give Llanelli unitary status has received a wide measure of support it is also true to say that it has received some measure of hostility, precisely because it would sweep up into that area localities which are not industrial but are outlying rural communities. People in those areas are not supportive of the proposal.

I do not want to go over the same ground as with the other amendments, but I point out again in connection with Llanelli that its peculiar characteristics could be taken into account by the establishment, if that seemed appropriate, of an area committee to discharge the functions which such bodies can discharge for that type of area.

My noble friend Lord Howe of Aberavon spoke in support of the amendment. At the same time he drew attention to his own later amendment relating to Port Talbot. If he is not present when we reach that amendment perhaps we may hear him speak on the subject at Report stage.

On the particular matter of Llanelli, the Government do not accept the amendment. However, I am prepared to draw the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to what has been said and ask that he considers these matters and what is said on the same matters in another place.

Lord Chalfont

The response of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate is not surprising, although it is disappointing. I recognise that, as in the case of the arguments that were put forward regarding the Vale of Glamorgan, there will be those outside Llanelli who will welcome the absorption of Llanelli into the larger unitary authority. My purpose in moving the amendment was to put forward the case of Llanelli as a unitary authority and to propose that it is large enough, strong enough and sufficiently industrialised to form a strong and powerful unitary authority of its own. It was also to advance the proposition that it is just possible that, if the larger unitary authority comes into being, some of the dynamism which is at present evident in Llanelli may be diluted. I shall not rehearse all the arguments again.

I hope that, when the Bill is further considered in another place and the Lord Advocate's right honourable friend comes to reconsider what has been said in your Lordships' House, there may be some room for changes and that the door is not entirely closed on the aspirations of the people of Llanelli.

In that context, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment. As a courtesy to the Committee, I mention that I shall not, of course, move Amendment No. 19.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Viscount St. Davids

I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving this Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage begins again at 8.5 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.