HL Deb 18 July 1994 vol 557 cc11-5

1 Clause 1, page 1, line 19, after '21' insert 'or 21AA'.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1. I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 7 to 12, 14, 15, 19, 35, 36, 46, 47, 63, 65 and 127.

The main amendment in this group is Amendment No. 8. The remaining amendments are very small. Amendments Nos. 1, 10, 11 and 12 are directly and wholly consequential on Amendment No. 8. Amendment No. 127 repeals Section 24 of the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994, which was a stopgap provision needed to deal with changes to police areas in Wales if this Bill were not to be passed. All the remaining amendments in the group are to take account of the fact that some principal councils in Wales from 1st April 1996 will be called county boroughs.

Amendment No. 8 is necessary in order to enable us, after Royal Assent, to settle outstanding questions relating to the police boundaries in Wales. As your Lordships will know, this Bill has been proceeding through Parliament in parallel with the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994. By convention, each Bill was drafted as if the other did not exist so as not to anticipate Parliament's decisions on either Bill. The Welsh Bill has received Royal Assent now. It was therefore necessary to make amendments to this Bill in order to take account of the new local government boundaries which will be created in Wales with effect from 1st April 1996.

For North Wales and Dyfed-Powys police areas this would be entirely straightforward, with only minor boundary changes. But the shape of the new boundaries in South Wales will require significant changes to the boundaries of the South Wales and Gwent police areas, because the new Caerphilly district straddles the existing boundary between those two police areas.

The boundaries of the new Caerphilly district were not finally settled until a late stage during proceedings on the Local Government (Wales) Act some three weeks ago. Although we have been discussing with the two police authorities and the two police forces the options which are available for settling the boundaries, obviously those discussions could not be brought to a conclusion until the boundaries of the new local government areas were settled.

The changes which will affect the South Wales and Gwent police areas are quite large, and it is obviously right that we should give sufficient time for all concerned to consider the available options. It is important that there should be adequate discussions between all the interested parties in order to try to come to a solution which is acceptable to all sides. The powers which are provided by this amendment will require the Secretary of State, before 1st April 1996, when the Welsh local government changes take effect, to make an order settling the police boundaries in Wales.

I can confirm that, in respect of North Wales and Dyfed-Powys, the order will merely redefine the existing boundaries in terms of the new Welsh local government areas, including some small changes in the north-east of Dyfed-Powys police area. But I cannot say what will need to be done in South Wales and Gwent. The position today is that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has not reached any decision on how to resolve the boundary problem which affects the South Wales and Gwent police areas. Discussions have been going on with the police authorities on the basis of the available options. There are three options, any of which could be put into effect by means of the powers which are set out in this amendment. The first is to put the whole of the new Caerphilly district into the Gwent police area, thereby making the Gwent force a little larger than it is at present. The second is to put the whole of the Caerphilly district into the South Wales police area, which would make the South Wales force a little larger and the Gwent force somewhat smaller than at present. The third option is for the two police areas to be combined.

The discussions which have already been held with those concerned mean that we have committed ourselves to a process of consultation on the basis of those three options. Although it is in no one's interest to have any prolonged uncertainty, my right honourable friend certainly will not wish to make up his own mind too quickly.

If those concerned in the area can reach agreement on a way forward, on a basis which provides a solution which my right honourable friend regards as satisfactory in policing terms, this would be an excellent outcome which we all hope will be able to be achieved. My right honourable friend would then use this new power to give effect to that agreement. We certainly want to proceed on the basis of agreement if we possibly can.

But the point which I must emphasise to the House is this. The new boundaries of Welsh local government areas will necessitate changes to the present South Wales and Gwent police areas. We would have liked to amend the Bill to give effect to such changes, but we do not yet know what those change!) will be. As a result, this Bill will be passed into law with Schedule 1A in it, which defines Welsh police areas by reference to Welsh counties. Those will cease to exist and they will therefore need to be replaced in mat schedule by reference to the other new police areas. The present amendment therefore imposes a requirement—and it is a requirement—on my right honourable friend to make an order settling the new Welsh police areas and making consequential amendments to the way in which they are defined in Schedule 1A.

As I have explained, my right honourable friend would hope to use that power to give effect to a satisfactory agreement which could be reached between all the parties concerned. But we must cater for the possibility that satisfactory agreement might not be reached and, in that unhappy event, this amendment gives my right honourable friend the power, if necessary, to give effect to his decision where no satisfactory agreement is reached. Without that power to impose a solution, we could not be certain that suitable arrangements for the policing of the present South Wales and Gwent police areas could be in effect from 1st April 1996.

As I have explained, consultation is going on between all the parties concerned and we very much hope that these will reach a satisfactory conclusion for everyone. Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1.—(Earl Ferrers.)

3.15 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for explaining in such detail this tricky problem. I am grateful to him for giving me notice, as soon as he knew it could arise, that there was the possibility of the Government and the Minister in particular going back on their indication that there were unlikely to be any amalgamations for 10 or even 20 or 30 years. I understand his reluctance to explain in detail the problem that might have arisen in North Wales as between North Wales and Dyfed-Powys authority. It concerns the village of Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant and I am sure he would not have wished to spell that out to the House.

The situation in South Wales, as between South Wales and Gwent, is not quite as unsettled as the Minister seems to think. As I understand it—and my honourable friend Alun Michael has been taking a lead in trying to reach agreement on this—the Gwent police authority, both Islwyn and Rhymney councils and all the other councils concerned and the —Members of Parliament have agreed that the correct solution is for Rhymney to move into the big Gwent police authority area.

The only fly in the ointment, as I understand it now, is the South Wales police authority. At its meeting last week it decided first that it was against the merger proposals which were supported by its own chief constable; and then it decided only on the casting vote of the chairman that it wanted Rhymney to move into the South Wales police authority. The possibility of a change in the view of the South Wales police authority still exists. What I wish to hear from the Minister in terms is that the possibility of a merger, which would be thoroughly undesirable and which is not wanted by any except about half the South Wales police authority, is the last possible resort. We would like to hear that the Government will seek, so far as it is within their power, to secure agreement to the rational solution to the problem. That is the inclusion of the whole of the new Caerphilly county borough into the Gwent police authority area.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

Yes, my Lords, I agree with that. The situation is as described by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. The fact is that it is only half the members of the South Wales police authority who want, despite the views of its own chief constable, to transfer the district into its police force area.

It would seem to me to be an extraordinary proposition were we to be faced later next year with any proposal basically to wipe out the existence of the Gwent police force. If that district is transferred to the area of the South Wales police authority, Gwent will cease to be a viable force, as I understand it. No doubt the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, will confirm whether that is true. Virtually everybody who has looked at this situation, including the local Members of Parliament and the local district council, is of one mind. I therefore very much hope that the Government will certainly try to bring half the members of the South Wales police authority round to a sensible conclusion in this matter, and will enable Gwent under no circumstances to agree to an amalgamation of those two forces which has virtually no public support in South Wales.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

My Lords, I have received no representations on this matter; nor has my noble friend Lord Cledwyn. That is some indication of the degree of public anxiety about this issue, which really does not extend beyond a relatively few people. If I may express a personal opinion, I would have no hesitation at all in saying that it seems to me that the logical outcome is the one that has; been proposed; namely, Caerphilly and the borough concerned should be included in Gwent. If that were the solution I would heartily support it.

Baroness White

My Lords, as I am Lady White, of Rhymney—after the comma—I fully support what was said by my noble friend. It would be very unsatisfactory if the two police authorities were to be joined into one. It is essential to maintain a Gwent police force. I hope that that will be the result.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, I support my noble friends Lord Callaghan and Lady White. I agree with what they say about the need for a strong force in the area. Although I am not familiar with the details on this matter, I know that that is the view of the people living in the area.

The noble Lord referred to the strength of the Gwent police force. I think that the House would be interested to know what is the strength of the police force and what its strength would be without an amalgamation with Caerphilly, and what the addition of Caerphilly to Gwent would mean in terms of numbers. My view coincides with that of noble Lords who have spoken; namely, that the amalgamation is desirable.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for the understanding way in which they have accepted this problem. I entirely agree with everything that has been said. It is highly desirable that there should be an agreement over what should take place in the future. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said that his honourable friend Mr. Michael had been taking an interest in this matter. Indeed he has, and he has played a very considerable part in helping to try to bring all the parties together.

It is always difficult to get an agreement on matters of what might be called a territorial distinction such as this. But the fact is that Schedule 1 lists the names of all the police areas. When one comes to Wales, the schedule refers to Dyfed Powys being the counties of Dyfed and Powys; Gwent being the county of Gwent; North Wales being the counties of Clwyd and Gwynedd; and South Wales being the counties of Mid-Glamorgan, South Glamorgan and West Glamorgan. Those are to be the police areas. Those areas will have to be changed because of the alteration of the boundaries. Therefore there has to be an order to change them.

What the areas are to change to entirely depends on what arrangements can be arrived at. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harris, who asked: will we do all that we can to ensure that that comes about by agreement? I can assure him that we in the Home Office are, have been, and will be continuing to do exactly that. But in the end there has to be adequate policing. In the rare event of there being no agreement, my right honourable friend would have to take a decision. I think that that is highly unlikely—I hope that it is highly unlikely. For those reasons, I hope that I can assure noble Lords that we shall do all we can to try to bring about a satisfactory solution to this matter.

On Question, Motion agreed to.