§ 3.11 p.m.
§ Read a third time.
§ Clause 2 [Constitution of new principal councils in Wales]:
The Lord Advocate (Lord Rodger of Earlsferry) moved Amendment No.1:
Page 3, line 11, leave out ("Canolbarth Cymru") and insert ("Powys").
§ The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No.1 is consequential upon the amendment which, noble Lords will recall, was carried at Report stage changing the name of the "Mid Wales" authority to "Powys". This amendment carries through the spirit of that amendment. I beg to move.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, I rise in sackcloth and ashes, for the simple reason that at Committee stage I expressed my unqualified preference for the romantic name "Powys" over the much more prosaic name of "Canolbarth Cymru", Mid Wales. However, I discovered afterwards that I was 'not representing the views of those who had fought with me. My own committee was very deeply divided about this matter and the district council very strongly took the view that the Secretary of State was right. If one starts with a new council, and there has been a great deal of friction, — for example between Powys County Council and the district councils, and so on— it is very much better to 1245 start with a new name. I therefore simply expressed that view. I do not object to the amendment save that when the Committee in the other place looks at this matter anew it had better take further soundings.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 20 [Unitary development plans and National Parks]:
Lord Rodger of Earlsferry moved Amendments Nos.2 and 3:
Page 16, line 5, after ("Park") insert ("area").
Page 16, line 45, after ("Parks") insert ("and countryside functions").
§ The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, these are minor technical amendments. The first merely inserts an omitted word so that the references in the relevant subsection all accord with each other. The second provides for the wording of the subsection to reflect the full extent of the provisions of the Local Government Act 1972 which are dealt with in Part I of Schedule 6 to the Bill. The headings used in the provisions of the 1972 Act to which Part 1 of Schedule 6 relates— namely, Section 184 and Schedule 17— refer to both national parks and countryside functions. This amendment merely ensures that the wording used in the Bill accords with that in the 1972 Act. I beg to move Amendments Nos.2 and 3 en bloc.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for explaining the purposes of these amendments. On looking at them I was not sure whether the addition to Amendment No.3 meant additional functions. This might be an opportunity for the noble and learned Lord— since a Bill on national parks is now in the process of being introduced to this House— to remind us of the relationship between this piece of local government legislation in Wales and that Bill should it receive the support of this House.
My understanding is that Clause 19 of this Local Government (Wales) Bill upgrades the present committees to boards and removes all the barriers for upgrading in previous legislation, which is what I believe we are specifically debating on these amendments. What then is the position should the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, fail? Is it that in any event these sections will be enacted in Wales? Now that that Bill has been introduced, this might be an opportunity for the Minister further to explain and clarify the position.
§ Lord Rodger of Earlsferry
My Lords, so far as I can, perhaps I may simply clarify, or confirm, the understanding of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. These provisions are here and will provide a regime for planning matters in relation to the national parks which will be enacted and put into force if the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, does not get on to the statute book. If, on the other hard, that Bill gets onto the statute book and is put into force, then the provisions here will not need to be used.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos moved Amendment No.4:
After Clause 24, insert the following new clause:
— (1) A principal council shall, in accordance with the provisions of this section, make proper arrangements for the preservation and management of any records which have been—
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No.4 standing in the name of my noble friend and myself. The archive service is a small service, but one that is vital if we are to protect our heritage; yet there is nothing in the Bill thus far about the service, though there was a reference to it in the White Paper. It is therefore not surprising that there are anxieties in Wales and beyond among historical societies, scholars. archivists and all those who value our heritage that the Bill could be unhelpful to the archive service in Wales.
I should add that the noble Marquess, Lord Anglesey, and the noble Lords, Lord Raglan and Lord Teviot, all have a close interest in archives and have shown a concern since the publication of the White Paper. My noble friend Lord Prys-Davies has also been uniformly helpful and knowledgeable on the subject.
The House may recall that in response to those concerns I put forward an amendment in Committee and a different one on Report. Both were rejected by Ministers. But on Report the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate suggested that the Secretary of State for Wales would be willing to see me on the subject. I was grateful for that and welcomed the opportunity of discussing the issue with the Secretary of State. I was delighted when, at the end of that discussion, he indicated that the substance of the amendment which is now before the House, and which is an improvement on the two earlier amendments, was acceptable to him.
This amendment was drawn up in the light of the best advice that was available to me from people with expertise in the field. I am very grateful to them for their advice. I, believe I am right in saying that they also warmly welcome the amendment as it is drafted. On the one hand it ensures that the existing repositories and their management will be protected, while on the other it makes it possible for some dispersion to take place in 1247 the future should that be desirable or necessary to satisfy community pride and interest, but subject to compliance with the guidance of the Secretary of State for Wales.
I assume that that guidance will ultimately depend on the advice that he will receive from the Lord Chancellor or the Public Record Office, to which the Lord Chancellor has delegated his responsibilities in this matter. Since I tabled this amendment, I have wondered just a little whether the source of the Secretary of State's advice should be spelt out in the Bill. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord could say a few words on that.
I believe that the amendment conveys the right message; namely, that the new councils are trustees of our historical records. As such, they are conscientiously under a duty to our past and to the future to ensure the preservation and management of those records while in their care, subject to consultation with the Secretary of State.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, I should like to say a few words in support of the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Cledwyn. Unlike any other local government service, the archive service relies entirely on historical material which has been gathered together over generations and indeed sometimes over centuries. Without that material there is no need for such a service. But, as my noble friend pointed out, as it stands the Bill contains no specific reference designed to protect the historical material in the existing archives. So their preservation and management depend on transfer orders under Clause 52 and the general arrangements for the discharge of functions.
In a sense that is rather odd, bearing in mind the fact that the Bill contains specific provisions to safeguard the ancient offices of lieutenancies and sheriffs, although their functions today are primarily ceremonial. The preservation of the records of past events, in the opinion of many and possibly most people, are of equal importance to the preservation of the two offices that I have just mentioned.
I believe that the amendment moved by my noble friend tackles the problem in a very effective way and is an improvement on the other two amendments which I brought before the Committee and then before the House. I am sure that all the bodies with a special interest in the archives, including the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts and the Society of Archivists, as well as scholars in Wales, would be delighted if the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate could indicate that the Secretary of State is minded to accept the substance of the amendment.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, I said at Committee stage when the noble Lord moved his earlier amendment that it was a very valuable amendment. The wording of this one is much improved. I should like to seek elucidation on the use of the phrase "proper arrangements", which is very important. I agree, though it might be subject to criticism, that a principal council, in making arrangements under Section 24 of the Act or Section 101 of the 1972 Act, should consult the Secretary of State. 1248 I believe that on this particular subject it is important that there should be overall supervision by the Secretary of State.
I referred at Committee stage to the role that the National Library of Wales, which is a national institution, might play in that regard. It seems to me that the issue of county archives and their relationship to the National Library of Wales should be explored in some detail and at much greater depth than is possible for us today. It has already caused some controversy. For example, it seems to me totally unacceptable that certain of the historical treasures of a small town can be removed to a remote local authority centre which is far away from those who particularly value those treasures and those local historians who would like to use the local records. That matter has been raised with me by local historians. In Montgomeryshire, as I am sure throughout rural Wales, there are a great number of local historical societies which treasure the archives and records of their own locality. I believe that here there is a national interest, a county interest or unitary authority interest and a much more local interest.
A proper organisation to safeguard the archives is clearly necessary. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, has performed a great service in bringing this matter to your Lordships' attention. But careful consideration is necessary of the position of those who want access to those archives. It is no use simply safeguarding the archives and treasures if they are in inaccessible places. Therefore "proper arrangements"— I refer to the wording used by the noble Lord in his amendment— will have to be carefully supervised by the Secretary of State after proper consultations have been undertaken with a much wider range of authorities than has been suggested hitherto.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, as one of those who spoke on this side of the House in support of earlier attempts to bring about this reform, I am very glad to add my name to those who support this amendment. I do not see in it a danger that papers will be moved to less accessible places, although the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, is right to voice any concerns that he might have.
On reading the noble Lord's remarks, I hope that the Secretary of State and others concerned will consider whether there is sufficient accessibility of catalogues. If a master catalogue for all the archives in Wales could be kept at the Welsh National Museum, it would save a good deal of shoe leather and a lot of time for researchers.
If the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, has been as successful as he believes in his approach to the Secretary of State, I felicitate both on what I believe is a very happy issue.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, perhaps I may reinforce the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, about consultation with the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth. Has there been any consultation on the part of the Government? I am sure that my noble friend Lord Cledwyn will agree that that is the central place at the moment for concern with the fate of our national archives and the local ones which partly comprise them. I have received entirely informal, personal approaches 1249 from the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth. I should like to be reassured that it is being taken fully into consultation in this matter.
§ Lord Rodger of Earlsferry
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord who moved the amendment and indeed to all those who have spoken on it this afternoon. As I said before, the Government share the general concern that the archive service should not be disrupted or fragmented by the process of reorganisation. We welcome the constructive proposals that have been put forward today.
All of us will recall from the hours of debate on this Bill as one of the highlights the occasion when the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, moved this issue at Committee stage. We are all grateful to him for having raised the matter. As I believe my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has already informed noble Lords, the Government accept the principle of this amendment. Before I comment briefly on the amendment itself, I should set out a little of the background to our thinking on archives.
I have previously expressed our belief that there was no need for a provision in the Bill to create statutory joint arrangements for the archive service or any other local government function. That was on the basis that the best collaborative arrangements are likely to be those which emerge voluntarily in response to particular local circumstances. In our view, such voluntary arrangements are on the whole preferable because they preserve local accountability and choice and allow for the maximum degree of flexibility. The general safeguard underpinning that approach and applying to all services, not merely archives, is that of the Secretary of State's package of reserve powers which we have discussed on a number of occasions.
In respect of archives there are a number of other important safeguards. First, upon reorganisation, the existing repositories will be transferred to the new authorities in whose area they lie by means of property transfer orders under what is now Clause 53 of the Bill. The archive collections themselves will transfer with the repositories but to the joint ownership or custody of the successor authorities. New authorities without existing repositories will need to rely on joint arrangements, at least until they are able to acquire an adequate facility of their own or make adequate alternative arrangements. Secondly, there is existing statutory provision in Section 224 of the Local Government Act 1972 which imposes a duty on the authorities to,make proper arrangements with respect to any documents which belong to or are in the custody of the council".That applies both to records created by the new authorities and to those in which they have inherited obligations of custody.
Finally, the keeper of public records exercises powers delegated by the Lord Chancellor to approve places of deposit for public records. While public records constitute only a part of local collections they are generally housed together so that the oversight exercised by the Lord Chancellor's officials and the Public. Record Office extends, in effect, to the entire collection.
1250 That is our general approach. Having said that, we acknowledge the nature and strength of noble Lords' anxieties and are satisfied that there is little in the amendment which breaches the principle of local responsibility for local services which underlies our approach in the Bill. While we do not believe that the amendment is totally necessary, nonetheless, for the reasons I outlined, we are happy to accept it in principle and to take it away and consider the detail of its drafting. The Secretary of State has already indicated that he would be prepared to bring forward a proposal embodying the principle of the amendment when the Bill is considered in another place. But he indicated also that he would first like to consult other interested parties such as the Public Record Office. I noted what the noble Baroness said in regard to the National Library of Wales and I am sure that he will bear that in mind. In the process of consultation I am sure that he will also take on board the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, as to what bodies might be consulted
There are one or two drafting matters to be considered. For example, as it stands the amendment refers to making "proper arrangements". As I said, such an obligation already appears in another form in Section 224 of the 1972 Act. The drafting will therefore need to be looked at. For that reason it is not possible for me to present to the House today the Government's substantive amendment. But your Lordships will have the opportunity to consider the amendment agreed to in another place when the Bill returns in due course to your Lordships' House.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords. I warmly welcome the noble and learned Lord's helpful and constructive speech, which will be acceptable over a wide area. I note also what he said about the need to study the amendment as drafted to consider the matters he explained and the need to amend the drafting perhaps in more than one way. Of course I accept that. I only wish that the noble and learned Lord could respond to every amendment in the same spirit. If he was able to do that he would become one of the most popular men in Wales, well in line to become Arch Druid in due course. Bearing that in mind, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Elton moved Amendment No.5:
After Clause 27, insert the following new clause:
.— (1) It shall be the duty of the new principal councils to draw up proposals for establishing either—
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I move Amendment No.5 with somewhat less confidence than the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, as to its reception. But I do so, if not at length, with conviction. It addresses a real problem and provides a possible solution.
At earlier stages I explained to the House that it had been demonstrated that there was a correlation between the size of a population and the cost of providing it with the service of trading standards enforcement. The smaller the unit of population, the less efficient and the less cost-effective that enforcement was, and therefore the less effective the protection of the public.
I reminded your Lordships that the Local Government Act 1985 had conducted a similar process of reorganisation and fragmentation of local government authorities on a much greater scale and that a decline in the efficiency of trading standards enforcement had resulted. There is a parallel between that legislation and this in that there was a power for smaller newer authorities to combine to provide a more effective joint authority and a power for the Secretary of State to intervene if, in his opinion, that was not being effectively done. But in neither case was there a duty.
The sad expectation therefore is that our experience following that Act will be repeated when this Bill is implemented; that is, there will be an initial production of joint authorities which are sufficient in size and effective in operation but that they will later fragment. That is a matter for concern. As I told your Lordships at earlier stages, the duty of trading standards officers is 1252 not merely to see that everybody receives a fair pint at the pub or a fair litre at the filling station. It is to protect the lives of members of the public as well as to facilitate the pursuit of trade in the Principality of Wales. That is a complex job involving the enforcement of 70 statutes and a great many statutory instruments. The idea that it can be done by local principal authorities employing on average only 2.5 trading standards officers is clearly not entertainable.
I brought forward less developed amendments at earlier stages to secure a requirement that principal authorities should combine into joint authorities. They met with no approval from Her Majesty's Government and I withdrew them. I now bring forward one which is not perfect but which comes closer to the Government's wish that the arrangements that emerge should be those wished for by the principal authorities themselves. I recognise that there is a democratic motive behind their wish, but I am concerned with the survival of individuals as well as democracy.
It was suggested that it is necessary to leave the Bill as it is because new local authorities may wish to contract out the service of trading standards enforcement. I remind your Lordships that the enforcement involves both powers and duties to prosecute and powers of entry. I should have thought that those were entirely unacceptable for a delegated service and not in any way compatible with the provisions of legislation, now in another place, which we shall soon be considering; that is, the deregulation Bill.
At an earlier stage I read out a list of over 30 bodies of commercial and consumer organisations, all of them broadly supporting my proposal. Since then I have received only two objections; one from the Consumers Association, which I believe aspires to be an authority to which the function is delegated— inappropriately, as I suggest— and the other the Council of Welsh Districts which aspires to carry out the legislation and wishes to retain as many functions as possible.
In view of the very large body of concern that I have drawn to the attention of the Secretary of State through the good offices of my noble and learned friend, I hope that he will be able to confirm that the Government are aware of this concern and will at least be monitoring what happens after implementation with a view to intervention, should that be necessary to protect the consumer and indeed commercial interests. If they do so, it is under Clauses 30 and 31 that the Secretary of State can intervene. The power in Clause 30(1) to make an order expires on 31st March 1999, and the power is similarly restricted in Clause 31. That being so, I think there is a duty on the Government to keep a very close eye on developments between now and then.
If my noble and learned friend is not, as I fear, going to accept the amendment, I hope that when it comes to another place they will read not only the feeble, condensed summary which I have given your Lordships in six minutes at this stage, but the rather more powerful and extensive speeches I made in favour of this proposal at an earlier stage. I hope they will also consider the possibility of doing something on the lines which they have agreed to do with Amendment No.4, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, which comes quite close to 1253 what I am looking for, which is a means for the Secretary of State to endorse the democratically arrived at decision to co-operate by principal authorities before, under the stress of local and economic pressures in later years, the system again fragments as it has done in the past. That would be a great step forward. What I principally want to hear from my noble and learned friend is an acknowledgment that there is wide concern about this, of which they are aware. If he is able also to put a gloss on what I have said about the suitability of this function for contracting out, that would be helpful. I beg to move.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, I should like to support the amendment so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I have indeed supported him at earlier stages in making similar proposals. As was then said, and as he has said today, the task of trading standards officers has now become extremely sophisticated in many respects. While it may be argued that some of those functions could be properly disposed of and exercised at district and local level, nevertheless there are many functions which, if fragmented in the way that is implied in the Bill, could seriously suffer. The concept of a voluntary association of councils has been tried in England and with two exceptions has failed. What we need therefore is either an acceptance of the amendment as proposed by the noble Lord or the kind of steer that he has mentioned at the end of his remarks; namely, that the Government should at least recognise that there is a problem here because of the number of organisations which have expressed concern about it; and that when it is discussed in another place something along the lines of what has been offered to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, in relation to archives might also be proposed in connection with this vital issue of trading standards.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, I should like to support the general thrust of the amendment, as indeed I did at an earlier stage. I think it is true to say, as I did on Report, that even if the amendment is accepted— the noble Lord, Lord Elton, seemed pessimistic about that chance— a great number of functions will remain with district council trading standards officers. I read out an extensive list of those functions at an earlier stage. Nevertheless, there will be functions which in our view should be exercised at a level which is greater than that of the district.
We believe that either a conglomeration of districts or indeed the Principality itself are the proper vehicles to exercise those functions. Subsection (7) of the amendment specifies which functions should be performed at a rather higher level than that envisaged in the Bill as presently drafted. We would go along with the general principle of that. Although I am afraid that the noble Lord may not find, as he said, the Government very sympathetic to the amendment, we very much hope that the discussion will take place and will indeed continue in another place and that the Government will see fit to be a little more sympathetic than they have been hitherto.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Rodger of Earlsferry
My Lords, rather as. my noble friend anticipated, I regret that I cannot accept his amendment today for the kind of reasons which I have explained on previous occasions. It comes to the fact that, while the Government accept the importance of these services, we believe that they can best be delivered by means of the new authorities, and where appropriate by those authorities co-operating together, with the back-up of the reserve powers of the Secretary of State. I shall of course draw my right honourable friend's attention to the particular points made in debate today.
On the specific matters that my noble friend raised, I can assure noble Lords that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is very well aware of he concerns expressed on all sides of the House about the future of the trading standards service under the proposals contained in the Bill. He is also aware of the concerns which have been expressed by bodies outside the House about the same matters. As I have indicated, he is not persuaded that special provision needs to be made to deal with those in the Bill. Nonetheless I can tell my noble friend that I am sure that this is one of the areas where the Welsh Office will be monitoring developments very carefully with a view to seeing whether there is a need to exercise the Secretary of State's reserve powers.
My noble friend also mentioned the matter of contracting out. Indeed, some words of this matter were mentioned at the meeting which he had with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. As I understand it, my right honourable friend was referring to the fact that, as now, there are some elements of the trading standards service which could, if the authority concerned so wished, be undertaken on the basis of the kind of provision— for example, of contracting with other authorities— that one finds in Clause 25, which will provide for a greater scope for such contracting of services among unitary authorities in Wales in future. The actual technical form of contracting out as we know it is not a matter which would be an issue in this area.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I am formally grateful to my noble and learned friend for that reply. Although I am, not unnaturally, disappointed at the extent of his recognition, I am grateful to him for having put on the record that the Government recognise that this is an area of real and general concern outside the House as well as within it and that the Welsh Office will be monitoring it carefully. I hope that that care will increase with the approach of the expiry of the Secretary of State's reserve powers in 1999 and that in another place it will be considered whether they should in fact expire.
As regards contracting out, the references were a trifle Delphic as I believe that they referred to parts, but not all, of the functions of the trading standards officers. Am I to take it that the powers of entry and the duty of the prosecution are thought not to be susceptible to contracting out whereas the remainder of the functions may be? Was that what my noble and learned friend was intending to imply or can he not be so precise?
§ Lord Rodger of Earlsferry
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I intended to imply that there would be room for the provision of such services by one council to another, under Clause 25 for example. That was what I had in mind.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I am reassured by that to understand that the contracting out to the private sector is not in question for these functions. With that understanding I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 52 [Consequential and supplementary provision]:
Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No.6:
Page 39, line 30, at end insert:
("(j) any grants made to voluntary organisations.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, with all the tenacity normally attributable to a Pembrokeshire corgi I return to the topic of this amendment, as I threatened I might earlier in the passage of this Bill, because the answer that the noble and learned Lord felt able to give me on that occasion was, in my view, distinctly dusty. I am only sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, is not once again in her place this afternoon because normally I feel distinctly fortified by her agreement to anything which I am suggesting, if only for the reason that she thinks up much better arguments than ever I do.
Voluntary organisations in Wales fulfil a vital role in meeting the needs of individuals and local communities. They do so by working alongside local government. They provide essential services as well as giving information and advice in helping people to get their voice heard. Much of this work is well supported by grant aid from local government which recognises the added value which it gets from working closely with the voluntary sector.
For example, in mid-Glamorgan there are four projects going on now to support carers— an absolutely vital voluntary job. They are jointly funded by the mid-Glamorgan Social Services Department, the Welsh Office and the Princess Royal Trust to the tune of £ 300,000 per annum over five years. For that they provide 26,000 hours of respite care annually for carers in their own homes; information and advice for those carers; help in setting up carers' support groups and representation of carers' needs to the statutory bodies.
Surveys conducted by the Wales Council for Voluntary Action show that in 1992– 93 the total grant aid to voluntary organisations in Wales from local authorities was £ 5.982 million from the county councils and £ 6.587 million from the district councils. In addition to that, under the urban programme, in the same year Welsh local authorities contributed £ 1.7 million to support 149 voluntary sector projects. The total value to the sector with the central government contribution taken into account would have been several times that amount.
Those figures demonstrate that the voluntary sector services are not simply peripheral things— the icing on the cake; the additional little bit— but that they make a significant and long-term contribution to support Welsh communities. In my view, and that of this side of the 1256 House, they should be given the same level of commitment during the transition as statutory services. It does not seem very much to ask. So I ask again of the noble and learned Lord: what assurances can he give that funding for these important services will be continued over the period of the transition to the new councils? I beg to move.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, I wish to say a few words again in support of the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Moms of Castle Morris. As he said, he moved an identical amendment on Report, but it was rejected. The Lord Advocate then told the House that there were only two situations where a grant made to a voluntary organisation would be assured for the year 1995– 96. First, it would be paid if payable under the terms of a contract which expires after 31st March 1995. That follows from a general contract. Secondly, it would be payable to the extent that it had not been paid in full during the year ending March 1995.
I wish to press the Lord Advocate further. Is it right that the payment of a grant as of right for the year 1995– 96 should be limited to those two situations? My noble friend has argued that a grant should be available to all the organisations which are in receipt of grant for the year ending 1994– 95. I suggest that it should be paid as of right in at least four other situations which I shall mention briefly.
The first example is where the project in respect of which the grant was paid has not been completed for reasons which were not foreseeable when the grant was agreed. That situation often arises in practice. The second situation is that which arises if the failure to remove the grant for 1995– 96 would result in the benefit of earlier work on this project being emasculated or lost; otherwise we would be back with a stop-go policy and the wastage of resources which have been spent prior to 1995– 96.
The third situation is where, owing to unexpected conditions or causes beyond the control of a voluntary organisation, a financial loss is suffered in the conduct of the project in respect of which the grant was made. I believe that those of us who have been involved with charities know that that situation can often arise. The fourth example is where a voluntary organisation can show that it had a reasonable expectation that the grant would be renewed for 1995– 96.
I believe that the Lord Advocate dealt with that situation on Report, but took the view, as I read his words, that an expectation in those circumstances does not give rise to a binding liability. I suggest that the noble and learned Lord was taking too narrow a view of the legal position. There are situations where the court would step in to safeguard the position where a voluntary organisation had acted to its detriment in the well-founded expectation of continuous financial support.
It would have been fascinating to have heard the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning— alas, he is not with us this afternoon— developing this theme. This was his particular speciality. If the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate cannot go all the way with my noble friend's amendment, then I press for a clear assurance 1257 that the guidance to the transition committees should specifically cover the four situations which I have mentioned; otherwise I suspect that they may not receive the priority to which, in our view, they are entitled.
Like other noble Lords, I have been involved with charities for a number of years. If the four situations that I have specified can he covered by the guidance to the transition committees, it seems to me that we will then be well on the way to protecting the position of the voluntary organisations.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Lord Rodger of Earlsferry
My Lords, as I said the previous time that this matter was discussed, the Government recognise the value of the great contribution which the voluntary sector makes to the delivery of many local services and we acknowledge that the prospect of reorganisation has, not surprisingly, led to concern on the part of those voluntary organisations which depend largely or in some cases even solely on local authorities for their funding. Nonetheless, we believe that the arrangements provided for in the Bill and in guidance, which has already been issued in draft form, will ensure that there should be no disruption to the constructive relationship which exists between local government and the voluntary sector in Wales.
As I have explained before, in this Bill on local government reform the Government have no intention of altering the statutory basis of local authority support for the voluntary sector; it is discretionary and it will continue to be discretionary. As I have explained, subsection (2) (c) of Clause 53 of the Bill ensures that any obligation entered into by an old authority will become an obligation of the successor authority. Therefore, contractual arrangements will have to be honoured by the successor authority or authorities.
However, once that arrangement comes to an end — I hope that noble Lords will accept this in the generality— it will be for the new authority to determine its own priorities in terms of funding for the voluntary sector. I think that it is only right that that should be the case because circumstances may change. New voluntary bodies may come forward and it is only right that such new bodies should be able to consider the new situation. On the other hand, I have no reason to think that it would not be the case that, if a voluntary organisation had been providing an area with services of a worthwhile standard, the new authority would not wish to maintain the relationship. Ultimately, however, that is a matter for decision by the new authority.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, perhaps my noble and learned friend will forgive me for intervening but this is the last opportunity on which one can ask a question about the Bill in this House. As one who has been closely connected with a number of voluntary bodies for a long time, I wonder whether my noble and learned friend could resolve an anxiety that I still have. A voluntary body often has to retain paid workers. Those paid workers need some security of income. Where that cannot be given, provisional notices of redundancy have 1258 to be given at the end of every year, which absolutely destroys morale. What I would like my noble and learned friend to say, if he can, is how he sees the transition from the current arrangements to the new arrangements getting over that difficulty. In other words, if an old authority has been in the habit of supporting a particular charitable body for a number of years and has a three-year rolling programme of grants, when we come to transition will it be possible for the security of that rolling programme to be transmitted across that division? Is that provided for in the Bill? If it is, I have no concerns at all. If it is not, I think that the noble Lord has a point.
§ Lord Rodger of Earlsferry
My Lords, strictly speaking, the answer is that there is no legal obligation in the situation to which my noble friend has referred. If my noble friend is putting forward a situation in which there is no continuing legal obligation to provide the funding, the position is that the obligation to provide that funding does not transfer. Therefore, in that situation, the difficulty that my noble friend envisages might arise.
However, as I have said, the Secretary of State's draft guidance to the transition committees suggests that they should take steps to identify the level of existing support for the voluntary sector and to propose a strategy for their future development. Voluntary organisations will have the opportunity to see the draft service delivery plans prepared by the shadow authorities and to make representations, if appropriate, on matters such as those to which my noble friend has referred.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, referred to four particular circumstances. Without going over them in detail, they are circumstances which in a particular case may or may not be more or less compelling. They are obviously in broad terms particular circumstances. What I am prepared to say is that I shall draw the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to the particular cases to which the noble Lord referred and shall ask him to consider with his officials whether it would be appropriate to include (in the final form of the guidance to the transition committees) a reference to such cases or to an amendment of such cases or to any other particular kind of cases where there may seem to be a particular reason for sympathetic consideration to be given to the continuation of funding for the kinds of reasons to which the noble Lord referred.
I do not think that one can go further than that. One could not provide for such cases to transfer under an amendment to Clause 52. Indeed, the exact effect of the amendment which has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, is not clear. As I have said, I am prepared to give the undertaking which I have given to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, which would provide a basis in the guidance for the matter to be considered. We believe that, in principle, it is right that the new unitary authorities should ultimately exercise their discretion. I would expect them to take into account fully the circumstances to which attention has been drawn.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord for what he has 1259 just said. He has certainly done his best. He has sung the same hymn as he sang at an earlier stage, though he has transposed it up a minor third. I wish that I could feel so confident that we shall get a few further concessions from the Secretary of State, even when he has received the advice of the noble and learned Lord, whose representations, I am sure, will be trumpet-tongued. Alas, I do not think that we can rely upon any such thing.
The noble and learned Lord was asked by my noble friend whether he was able to give a clear assurance that guidance to transitional authorities would instruct them — I repeat the words "instruct them"— to pay on the four typical occasions that he mentioned. It is unfortunate that the noble and learned Lord is unable to do so. Very well, we must accept that. I have to say that in the examination that we have set him, which seemed to us to be perfectly fair, his answers have been good, but not good enough. He has scored only two out of a possible six, so he has failed the examination which we have set him and I am afraid that we must ask the House to express an opinion on this amendment.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No.6) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents,76; Not-Contents,120.1260
|Acton, L.||Kagan, L.|
|Addington, L.||Kennet, L.|
|Annan, L.||Kilbracken, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Barnett, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Blackstone, B.||Longford, E.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Mason of Barnsley, L.|
|Broadbridge, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Merlyn-Rees, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Monkswell, L.|
|David, B||Moran, L.|
|Desai, L.||Morris of Castle Moms, L.[Teller.]|
|Diamond, L.||Mulley, L.|
|Donoughue, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Palmer, L.|
|Elis-Thomas, L.||Peston, L.|
|Ennals, L.||Plant of Highfield, L.|
|Ezra, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Redesdale, L.|
|Foot, L.||Richard, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Gould of Pottemewton, B.[Teller.]||Seear, B.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Gregson, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Grey, E.||Stedman, B.|
|Halsbury, E.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Hertford, M.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Hilton of Eggardon, B.||Tordoff, L.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Holme of Cheltenham, L.||White, B.|
|Hooson, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Williams of Mostyn, L.|
|Judd, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Jenkin of Roding, L.|
|Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L.||Kenyon, L.|
|Arran, E.||Keyes, L.|
|Astor, V.||Knollys, V.|
|Bauer, L.||Lane of Horsell, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Blatch, B.||Long, V.|
|Blyth, L.||Lucas, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Lyell, L.|
|Borthwick, L.||McAlpine of West Green, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.|
|Brigstocke, B.||Mackay of Clashfem, L. [Lord Chancellor.]|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.|
|Butterworth, L.||Marlesford, L.|
|Cadman, L.||Melville, V.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Camegy of Lour, B.||Miller of Hendon, B.|
|Camock, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Cawley, L.||Monteagle of Brandon, L.|
|Chalker of Wallasey, B.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Charteris of Amisfield, L.||Morris, L.|
|Chelmsford, V.||Mountevans, L.|
|Chesham, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Clanwilliam, E.||Munster, E.|
|Constantine of Stanmore, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Courtown, E.||O'Cathain, B.|
|Cranborne, V.||Onslow, E.|
|Cumberlege, B.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||Oxfuird, V.|
|Davidson, V.||Park of Monmouth, B.|
|De Freyne, L.||Pender, L.|
|Denham, L.||Perry of Southwark, B.|
|Derwent, L.||Pym, L.|
|Dixon-Smith, L.||Renton, L.|
|Eden of Winton, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Elibank, L.||Rodger of Earlsferry, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Salisbury, M.|
|Elles, B.||Seccombe, B.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Selkirk, E.|
|Elton, L.||Shrewsbury, E.|
|Ferrers, E.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L.||Slim, V.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.|
|Gainford, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Geddes, L.||Strange, B.|
|Gilmour of Craigmillar, L.||Strathmore and Kinghome, E.[Teller.]|
|Gray, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Gridley, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Torrington, V.|
|Harding of Petherton, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Harmsworth, L.||Ullswater, V. [Teller.]|
|Hayhoe, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Henley, L.||Wakeham, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]|
|Hesketh, L.||Wedgwood, L.|
|HolmPatrick, L.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Hothfield, L.||Wise, L.|
|Howe, E.||Wynford, L.|
|Ironside, L.||Young, B.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ Clause 60 [Regulations, orders and directions]:
Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No.7:
Page 47, line 17, leave out ("or").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I speak also to Amendment No.8. We return to the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee report on what is now Clause 53(1) and what was Clause 52(1) when the report was compiled. Your Lordships will recall that both in Committee and on Report there was an exchange of views between myself 1261 and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate in which the noble arid learned Lord, Lord Simon, joined, about the words in what is now Clause 60.
At that time I did not report to your Lordships, but I will report now, that I had received a letter from the Clerk to that committee saying that the committee had considered an amendment that I had put forward on Report removing the word "supplemental". Your Lordships will remember that I did not move that amendment because the letter from the Clerk of the committee reported that the scrutiny committee had considered that word under the circumstances, and that, provided that an assurance was given by the Minister on the Floor of the House in a suitable form, that would meet its concerns, and that was done.
Nevertheless, the whole question of whether orders under Clause 53(1) should be under affirmative procedure or negative procedure, regardless of the words whether they are "transitional or supplemental" and so on still remains.
On Report the noble and learned Lord was kind enough to give the House a detailed exposition of why the Government felt that it was necessary to give this power to the Secretary of State. I accept that the power is necessary. I accept the noble and learned Lord's argument that there probably will be problems in the machinery of the Act, as it then will be, which are not foreseen. The noble and learned Lord quoted a speech made by Lord Dilhorne in the Judicial Committee of your Lordships' House, which defined the word "supplemental". He went on to state that the Government do not envisage using the powers which the Bill will give them, other than in the direction indicated in that speech.
So far, so good. However, the noble and learned Lord said in his exposition of the Government's case that much of the material that is incidental, consequential and supplemental to the main purpose of the Bill; in other words, the machinery to put the legislation into effect,
is found in the schedules to the Bill". — [Official Report. 28/2/94; col.892.]
That sentence is most important. The noble and learned Lord said that it would be found in the schedules to the Bill.
Let us suppose that there is some machinery to implement this Act, as it will become, but that the difficulty has not been foreseen. Let us assume that the Secretary of State uses the power given to him under Clause 53(1). He will then be empowered to create what is in effect a whole new schedule because, as the noble and learned Lord pointed out, much of what we would expect is found in the schedules to the Bill. Therefore, the question remains. If there is to be something which could under certain circumstances be a schedule to the Bill, or look like a schedule to the Bill, should that be the subject of negative or affirmative procedure? It will, in effect, have the same effect as primary legislation.
I am not clear about how far the memorandum of the Welsh Office, which was taken into consideration by the
Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, was inappro-priate or, as described by the noble and learned Lord,"unfortunate". The memorandum stated that the power could be used,
in potentially far-reaching ways".
I have yet to hear in what manner the form of words was unfortunate because it was open to misinterpretation. I believe that the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee studied the matter at length before reaching its conclusion.
I am not arguing a party political matter but the position as I see it as follows. A committee of your Lordships' House was set up to scrutinise the operation of delegated powers in legislation as it came before your Lordships. Two problems remain. The first is what I call the legal position. Having accepted that we need the word "supplemental" and that that is to be used in the way indicated by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate, there remains the question of whether that should be subject to affirmative or negative procedure. Secondly, there is the question of whether your Lordships support the operations of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. If the House did not have the opportunity to consider whether the affirmative procedure would be more appropriate, to use the committee's words, that would be an extremely unfortunate precedent. In the hope that the House will have an opportunity to consider that matter, I beg to move this amendment.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, the House seems reluctant to take advantage of the noble Lord's generous offer and so I shall leap into the gap as a member of the committee in question. It has not met to consider the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, but its members are individually aware of the issues now before your Lordships. The impression given by paragraph 71 of the memorandum issued by the Welsh Office led the committee to consider that the power could be used for far-reaching purposes and, naturally, it reacted to that. It has since received advice based on a judgment given by Lord Dilhorne that such is not the case. The word in question is "supplemental". The definition, which was repeated by my noble and learned friend in the Official Report, is that which is,added to what is in the Act to fill in details of machinery for which the Act itself does not provide— supplementary in the sense that it is required to implement what was m the Act". — [Official Report, 28/2/94; col.893.]Therefore, there is nothing which may be used to extend the powers in the Act. If your Lordships turn to Clause 53, which would be drawn into the affirmative procedure by the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, you will see that a torrent of statutory instruments could be put through the affirmative procedure, and most if not all of them to no purpose whatever. It would be a great waste of the time of this House and of another place if that were to be clone. Although the noble Lord has performed a service in enabling the Minister to clarify the matter, it would be a great pity if the measure were used for any other purpose.
§ Lord Rodger of Earlsferry
My Lords. the noble Lord, Lord Williams, explained why he has returned to 1263 the matter and tabled this amendment. On the previous occasion I apologised to the House for the fact that the Welsh Office memorandum on the matter was misleading. I take this opportunity to renew that apology to the House and to the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee.
I said on a previous occasion that it had been intended to convey the wide-ranging nature of the provisions which potentially could be affected by local government reorganisation, albeit that these widely scattered provisions could be affected only in minor ways by orders under the particular provisions of Clause 53.
I also said on a previous occasion that much of the machinery is to be found in the schedules. I repeat that statement. Indeed, a glance through the schedules will bear out what I said about the wide-ranging nature of provisions which are potentially affected by matters relating to local government. Three immediately adjoining are the Rag Flock and other Filling Materials Act 1951, the Nurses Agencies Act 1957, and the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964. There are many functions which are touched on by local government matters. However, as I said, they can be touched on by the use of powers under the clause only in minor ways and only in accordance with the kind of principle which I have put forward and explained to the House.
I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Elton for what he said in conveying the views of the individual members of the scrutiny committee. The Government and I both accept the importance of the work carried out by that committee. Indeed, we have paid great attention to its findings, not only on this particular point but also, as noble Lords are aware, on other points where we acted in accordance with the recommendations of the committee and made alterations to the Bill.
However, we have concluded that the present provision in the Bill is the correct form and that it really would be a misuse of the valuable power that your Lordships have by way of the affirmative resolution procedure to use it for a purpose for which it was not really intended. After all, it is intended to give a high degree of scrutiny. It is clear that many of the orders which would be brought forward under the powers of Clause 53 would not relate to the kind of matters which would justify the use of the affirmative resolution procedure. In fact, it would rather debase or devalue that important tool of your Lordships' House. In the light of that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate for responding to my remarks. If I may say so, he has not changed very much; indeed, he has certainly not changed my opinion. It is clear to me that the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee reported in a certain manner. As I understand it, the committee has not met since the report was published. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, I must say that I do not know what are the individual views of members of that committee. They may take a view as individuals, but 1264 that does not necessarily represent the view of the committee. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, wishes to respond. I give way.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I am much obliged. I entirely subscribe to what the noble Lord has just said. I was not seeking to represent the opinion of the committee, because its opinion can only be given if the committee has met. However, as an individual member of the committee, I feel quite strongly that the position I have put forward is the correct one. I should like to contribute that as my own mite.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, there are other members of that very small committee and, as one of them, I certainly agree with my noble friend.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords. All members of the committee are entitled to speak for themselves. Indeed, they speak for themselves in this House and will no doubt continue to do so. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, rightly pointed out, they do not speak for the committee. If and when the committee meets and takes a decision, the noble Lords may be in a minority or in a majority. The committee will then express a view and the Clerk will no doubt write to me in exactly the same way as he wrote to me on 10th February of this year. Nevertheless, until I have any expression of that nature, I am bound to say that I must stick with what I have. What I have is a recommendation from the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee.
In Committee, I made the noble and learned Lord an offer. I do not know whether he remembers it, but I said, "Look, I understand all the business about there being orders right, left and centre coming out all over the place which require the affirmative resolution procedure. However, if we can distinguish between those orders which are important and material and those which are not, then we might arrive at a reasonable compromise which would satisfy the report of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee and the House". Moreover, it would not burden this place with the deluge of delegated legislation of which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is so terrified. I am not terrified of it at all, but there we are.
The noble and learned Lord did not respond to my offer. I made it in a genuine effort because I thought that, by splitting the clause, we might determine those areas which were properly material and those which were immaterial. I very much hoped that the noble and learned Lord would accept my amendment. I hoped that he would take it down to another place and that he would accept my offer in order to avoid the disadvantages indicated by his noble friend. However, he has not done so. Therefore, I say again that it is for the House to consider whether it wishes to support a committee that it has recently established or whether the House wishes to disagree with it. The House is perfectly entitled to do so.
I am not making a party political point or anything of the sort. I am simply saying that we have a report from a committee of this House which was recently set up and, if I may say so, set up against the opinion of the Government, who are not terribly happy about its 1265 installation. I am now giving the House the opportunity to take a view on the committee's report. I propose now to invite the House to do so.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No.7) shall be agreed to"
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents,61; Not-Contents,128.1266
|Ackner, L.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Annaly, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Astor, V.||Lawrence, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Leigh, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Liverpool, E.|
|Blatch, B.||Long, V.|
|Blyth, L.||Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Borthwick, L.||Mancroft, L. [Teller]|
|Brentford, V.||Marlesford, L.|
|Cadman, L.||Mountgarret, V.|
|Camoys, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Moyne, L.|
|Camegy of Lour, B.||Norrie, L.|
|Carnock, L.||Oxfuird, V.|
|Clanwilliam, E.||Palmer, L.|
|Courtown, E.||Peel, E.|
|Cranborne, V.||Perry of South wark, B.|
|Cross, V.||Pym, L.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||Rennell, L.|
|Denham, L.||Ridley, V.|
|Elton, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Salisbury, M.|
|Geddes, L.||Saltoun of Abemethy, Ly.|
|Goschen, V.||Shannon, E.|
|Grantchester, L.||Shrewsbury, E. [Teller.1|
|Haig, E.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Harlech, L.||Slim, V.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Henley, L.||Stockton, E.|
|Hertford, M.||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Hesketh, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|HolmPatrick, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Howe, E.||Wade of Chorlton, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Wakeham, L. [Lord Privy Seal.)|
|Jauncey of Tullichettle, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Kenyon, L.||Wise, L.|
|Addington, L.||McColl of Dulwich, L.|
|Balfour of Inchrye, L.||McNair, L.|
|Birdwood, L.||Miller of Hendon, B.|
|Brightman, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Chalker of Wallasey, B.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Rea, L.|
|Desai, L.||Reay, L.|
|Diamond, L. [Teller]||Seccombe, B.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Seear, B.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Simon of Glaisdale, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Strafford, E.|
|Uooson, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Jenkin of Roding, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Kilbracken. L.||Tugendhat, L.|
|Kitchener, E.||Wharton, B.|
|Lester of Herne Hill, L. [Teller.]||Williams of Mostyn, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ [Amendment No.8 not moved.]
§ Schedule 5 [Unitary Development Plans in Wales]:
Lord Rodger of Earlsferry moved Amendment No.9:
Page 59, line 39, leave out paragraph 2.
§ The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No.9 I speak also to Amendment No.10. These are technical amendments that remove what would be an unintended application of these provisions to England. It is of course the intention that the Bill should relate exclusively to Wales. It is our intention to formulate appropriate provision relating to Wales only. That will be brought forward by the Secretary of State when the Bill is considered in another place.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord Rodger of Earlsferry moved Amendment No.10:
Page 61, line 6, leave out paragraph 5.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Schedule 12 [Funds]:
Lord Rodger of Earlsferry moved Amendment No.11:
Page 101, line 17, leave out ("that Act") and insert ("the 1988 Act").
§ The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No.11 is a purely technical amendment. It relates to a drafting matter and is intended to ensure that the reader of the particular provision is clear about which of the Acts is being referred to and that the wording to be inserted into the Local Government Finance Act 1992 accords with the terminology used elsewhere in that Act.1267
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Schedule 13 [The Residuary Body for Wales: Corff Gweddilliol Cymru]:
Lord Rodger of Earlsferry moved Amendment No.12:
Page 105, line 32, after ("22") insert ("23").
§ The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No.12 inserts a reference to Section 23 (which deals with regulations as to accounts) as one of the sections of the Local Government Finance Act 1982 that is not to apply to the residuary body or its account. Section 23 had been omitted in error in drafting the provisions. The regulations that have been made under Section 23 are not appropriate to the residuary body. On the other hand, your Lordships will have noticed that there is express provision with regard to the residuary body's accounts in paragraph 15 of Schedule 13 to the Bill. The non-application of Section 23 is consistent with the provisions made in relation to the residuary bodies established for the 1985 reoganisation which had similar kinds of express provisions.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ On Question, Bill read a third time; an amendment (privilege) made.
§ Lord Rodger of Earlsferry
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. Your Lordships have subjected the Bill to intense scrutiny, spread over four full days in Committee and at Report. I believe that it was a mark of your Lordships' interest that almost as many amendments were tabled at Report stage as in Committee. In the light of that scrutiny, the Bill has perhaps emerged comparatively unchanged in form but improved in substance. Your Lordships have made changes which in some cases have been of considerable significance. I believe that the changes have improved the Bill.
Inevitably, a good deal of your Lordships' attention has been focused upon the boundaries of the proposed new authorities. Here, your Lordships have reflected — and indeed enhanced— a debate which has proceeded continuously since the publication of the first of the Welsh Office consultation papers in the summer of 1991. Your Lordships' debates have reflected the tension between the need to have authorities that are large enough to secure the efficient and effective provision of services and yet local enough adequately to represent community identity and loyalty. Those are matters upon which your Lordships have placed much stress. As I explained to your Lordships previously and on Second Reading, the Government's proposals in the Bill were largely shaped by those two considerations, modified to take account of other factors such as history, demography and so on. In some places this has meant that in striking a balance between the two objectives we have sometimes been driven nearer to one side of the equation than the other.
Several of your Lordships have spoken in favour of the creation of more, smaller authorities better able to represent those local identities of which we have heard. No one has spoken more powerfully on this subject than the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, who has been an eloquent 1268 — I would say tireless— advocate of the claims of Montgomeryshire for unitary authority status. Some of my noble friends on these Benches— my noble friends Lord Howe of Aberavon and Lord Aberdare— have argued for particular causes; Port Talbot on the one hand and the Cynon Valley on the other. Other noble Lords have spoken in favour of Meirionnydd (the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas), Breconshire and Radnorshire (my noble friend Lord Kenyon), Llanelli (the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont), and Merthyr (the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies).
But we have also heard from time to time arguments the other way, in favour of larger authorities. While only two amendments, including that tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Brooks of Tremorfa, in favour of a Greater Cardiff, called for geographically larger authorities, several of your Lordships expressed concern that in the context of particular services such as trading standards our proposed authorities were too small. It was these conflicting considerations that led the Government to strike the balance on the number and size of authorities that is represented by the proposals in the Bill before us. As your Lordships will have noted— from time to time with regret— I have not been persuaded that we have got this balance wrong. But as I have told your Lordships on a number of occasions, I have thought it right to bring your concerns to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and he will undoubtedly reflect further on the points made by your Lordships, and on the points made in another place.
This leads me to arrangements for service delivery. The Government's objective is twofold. First, that the functions of the present counties and districts should transfer to the new authorities; and secondly, that they should then be able to determine their own arrangements for service delivery without having statutory arrangements imposed on them. Some of your Lordships were perhaps a little sceptical of the Government's intentions in respect of the first of these objectives, pointing to important functions that received no mention in the Bill. I hope I have been able to provide a measure of reassurance to your Lordships by the inclusion of the new Clause 21 and Schedules 10 and 11.
On the arrangements for service delivery, your Lordships have shown particular concern about three services. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, argued passionately that special arrangements are necessary to protect services for children and young people. I hope he may feel that the general arrangements in the Bill, designed to protect services during the transition, offer that protection to services for children as much as to any other service.
As I have already had occasion to remark today, the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, has been a persuasive advocate of the need to protect existing archive collections. I hope I have been able to satisfy him with what I said earlier today. However, I fear that my noble friend Lord Elton has been less successful in his championing of the trading standards service though no less adroit at arguing his case. The Government regard trading standards as an important service but while we are reluctant to single it out, as I have already indicated 1269 there is no doubt that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will be monitoring developments in that area with particular care.
On decentralisation schemes, perhaps I might summarise the debate by saying that we have agreed to differ. We recognise that in some places the need to provide for effective service delivery has had to take priority over considerations of community identity. In Clauses 27 and 28 we have sought to make provision so that local identities need not be lost but may be reflected in a special kind of area committee, responsible for the management of local services in specified areas, where that is the wish of local people. A decentralisation scheme as envisaged in the Bill could only be established if sufficient local members requested it. But authorities would, of course, be free to establish other forms of such arrangements under existing legislation. The advantage of acting under Clauses 27 and 28 is that local people would know that their scheme was guaranteed to remain in place until such time as their elected representatives chose to do away with it. I believe that the amendments made in your Lordships' House in connection with the particular scheme have served to stress the local nature of any proposals.
We have had important debates on the subject of the Secretary of State's reserve powers. Your Lordships will recall that I have explained on a number of occasions that the Secretary of State is seeking this package of powers in order to safeguard the delivery of services during the transition to the new authorities. His strong preference is that local authorities should be free to establish their own arrangements for service delivery but he does accept that in the early days of the new authorities it may be necessary for him to intervene to ensure that standards of service delivery are being maintained. The powers are, therefore, strictly time limited, coming to an end at the time of the second elections to the new authorities. In response to your Lordships' concerns the Government have amended these proposals in order to increase the role of the local authorities, so that if any joint authorities were established under Clause 31 they could consist of local authority members, appointed by the local authorities to which the order relates.
Your Lordships have been understandably concerned that the interests of local authority staff should be properly safeguarded during the transition. The noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, has drawn our attention most effectively to these matters in moving a number of amendments. Your Lordships will be grateful to the noble Baroness for ensuring that these topics were aired fully in your Lordships' House. I said at Report that the Government would make a statement about these matters. I cannot add to what I said then except to say that discussions are continuing among the departments concerned and the Secretary of State will report on progress at Second Reading in another place.
I am sure that your Lordships will have valued, as I have, the contributions of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. Several of your Lordships, including the noble Lords, Lord Hooson and Lord Williams of Elvel, have contributed to a number of debates on the various order-making powers contained 1270 in the Bill. We had the final debate on that this afternoon. But I am sure that they would be prepared to yield the palm to the noble and learned Lord on this matter. The Government have responded positively to the recommendations of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, accepting two of the three amendments tabled as a result of those recommendations. I hope I have been able to give to the House a careful explanation of why we felt unable to accept the other one and to explain the circumstances in which the memorandum to the committee unfortunately was erroneous.
Before I resume my seat I hope that your Lordships will bear with me while I express my thanks to noble Lords on the Opposition Benches— the noble Lords, Lord Prys-Davies, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, and Lord Williams of Elvel on the Labour Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Hooson of the Liberal Democrats, and the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, from the Cross-Benches. They have all extended great courtesy to me throughout these debates, and I am grateful to them.
I wish also to express my appreciation of the contributions to our debates of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, and of former Secretaries of State for Wales and Welsh Office Ministers— notably the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, the noble Baroness, Lady White, and my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt. On a personal note, I should also like to thank my noble friend Lord St. Davids, for all his help to me, not only in speaking in the debates and helping in the Chamber but also for assisting in many ways behind the scenes.
It has been a steep but enjoyable learning curve for one who came to the Bill with all the experience of the subject which one would expect of a Scottish Law Officer. I thank noble Lords from all sides of the House for their constructive contributions to what have been important debates, for their patience and for contributing generally to discussion of this important subject, which will affect the lives of all those who live and work in the Principality. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass. — (Lord Rodger of Earlsferry.)
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friends on the Opposition Front Bench— Lord Morris of Castle Morris, Lord Williams of Elvel and Lady Turner of Camden— for the leading role they have played in deliberations on the Bill. It was a great help and pleasure to have their substantial support.
The whole House is grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate for the patient, courteous and helpful way in which he handled the Bill and for the helpful clarification which he provided from time to time. There can be nothing but praise for the manner in which he piloted the Bill, and I am gratified that he found the experience enjoyable. I also wish to thank the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, for his help. He has been accessible, as usual.
There is a great deal of expertise in the House upon every subject except Welsh local government. However, we have been very well served by the officers of the 1271 Assembly of Welsh Counties and the Council of Welsh Districts. I should like to place on record my appreciation of the help they have given me at every stage of our discussion of the Bill and also for the invaluable briefing material they have supplied to Members of your Lordships' House. I thank too the many voluntary and professional bodies in Wales— particularly Children in Wales— for their guidance.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and my noble friend Lady David for their contributions to the debates initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, on children's services. That is a subject on which the noble Lords have expert knowledge. Sadly, the Government were deaf to their pleas.
The authoritative report of the Select Committee on the scrutiny of delegated legislation, which was published two days after the Second Reading, drew the attention of the House to the Henry VIII clauses in the Bill and in particular to Clause 59(4), as it then was. We savoured, once again, the powerful speeches of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, whose knowledge of Henry VIII clauses is probably unrivalled. We were gratified that the Government agreed that Clause 59(4) should be removed from the Bill. At the same time we regret that they were unable to go all the way with the noble and learned Lord and my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate acknowledged that the Bill has been improved in a number of respects, some of them important. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Cledwyn achieved a success earlier this afternoon. It is my understanding that the Government are giving further consideration to a number of issues. It will be helpful to Members in another place if I place them on the record. They are the merger of Merthyr Tydfil and Blaenau Gwent; the inclusion of Ewenny, St. Brides Major and Wick in the area of the Vale of Glamorgan Council; the need for wider consultation on police amalgamation schemes and fire combination schemes; the change of names of new authorities; the suspension of elections to fill casual vacancies; and the compensation proposals envisaged for staff who may not be transferred to the new councils. That is information for which my noble friend Lady Turner has pressed, with the support of my noble friend Lord Stoddart of Swindon. I note from what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate said that a statement will be made at Second Reading in another place. I believe that we await clarification of the application of Clause 25, to which I shall come. I venture to hope that we shall be told in another place that the Government have found the resources and summoned the will to produce a Welsh text of this important Bill, which applies to Wales exclusively.
Having said all that, we have many regrets about the Bill. We shall not be sorry if it fails to become law. We are concerned that the Government are reserving the right to dispense with the social services committee, albeit subject to affirmative resolution. We on these Benches fear that without that committee many vulnerable people will suffer great harm.
1272 We regret that we were unable to persuade the Government to accept the decentralisation clause put forward in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, and at Report stage by this Front Bench. Wales and Scotland have much in common and the Labour Opposition and the Liberal Democrats believe that the right approach to decentralisation would have been to follow the Scottish model rather than the completely untried scheme embodied in Clauses 27 and 28 of the Bill. We regret very much the Government's intransigence on the issue. Moreover, the Secretary of State, who is reported to be the author of Clauses 27 and 28, has refused hitherto to recognise that there is a need for a means of resolving an impasse if the scheme proves to be unworkable. His refusal does not add to the credibility of Clauses 27 and 28.
Just as important are the anxieties about Clause 25, which was originally presented by Ministers as one of the central clauses of the Bill. It is now clear, in the light of discussions in Committee and on Report, that the clause is full of potential problems, if not mischiefs, which will engage the ingenuity of counsel to stretch the meaning of words. I believe that the Government are aware of the worries within the two associations about the operation of that clause.
In response to an amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate invited the associations to submit proposals which would meet their anxieties, and those could be discussed with officials. However, I was advised at the weekend by senior local government officers in Wales that much more thought needs to be given to that important clause if an acceptable solution is to be found to the problem. I therefore believe that the examination of Clause 25 will no doubt be further pursued in another place.
I personally regret that we were unable to devote more time to the role of the town and community councils, as they could make a contribution to encouraging local initiatives and harness local loyalties.
The Bill is being rushed through. If it is enacted the timetable for managing the transition is very short indeed. A number of amendments sought assurances that the transitional committees would pay particular attention to certain issues, one of which we discussed this afternoon. Our amendments were rejected. However, we still invite the Welsh Office to make sure that those issues are properly covered by its guidance.
It is a local authority Bill. No one on these Benches claims that all is perfect in Welsh local government. But if reform is now necessary, we believe that it would be far better to build on the strengths of the existing structure rather than to wipe it off the map. We deeply regret that the Government lost the opportunity of reforming the whole system of government in Wales. The narrowness of the Long Title effectively prevents us from attacking the quangos. In the result, they and their unaccountable members are left unchanged and untouched.
The Bill will lead to fewer and weaker local authorities and to fewer elected councillors to represent us. On the other hand, it will lead to a greater concentration of power in the Welsh Office. It is fair to 1273 say that since the 18th century there have been centralising and decentralising cycles at work in the governance both of Wales and of England. However, the Bill marks an unparalleled movement in peacetime towards the centralisation of power in central government.
The Prime Minister has claimed that there is considerable support in Wales for the reorganisation. That is inaccurate. The reverse is true. That was brought out in the evidence of the opinion poll conducted for BBC Wales and published last Thursday. It indicated that only 20 per cent. of the electorate supported the reorganisation. In fact, it is widely felt that the Bill represents another stage in the assault by this Government on the Welsh local authorities, where Labour, as one would expect, is heavily represented.
The Conservative Party has been a minority party in Wales for 125 years since the passing of the Reform Act of 1868. According to the opinion poll to which I have referred, the Conservative Party is supported by only 16 per cent. of the Welsh electorate. Yet it is able to govern Wales through a dispensation based on the Welsh Office and exercised through a range of quangos which provide pasture for members or supporters of the Conservative Party or friends of Conservative Ministers. For the past 15 years we have been curiously helpless before that dispensation.
Fortunately, we have been able to make sure that the Government cannot use the Clause 31 power to set up another generation of quangos. However, it is my deepest regret that the Welsh Assembly amendment, moved with conviction by my noble friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, was narrowly defeated in Committee. The unified support in this House of the Labour Opposition, the Liberal Democrats and many Cross-Benchers almost won the day. We believe that the assembly amendment points the way ahead. The time will soon come when the next incoming Labour Government will set up a democratic Welsh Assembly which will be responsible for constructing our future and also our local government.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, perhaps I may reverse the order of the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, and start with my regrets. In so doing, I am following an old Welsh tradition.
As the Bill goes to another place, I have to express my regret that it goes there in a very unsatisfactory state. The Bill has been handled in this House by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate with sensitivity. Perhaps I should amend that to say that the House has been handled by the noble and learned Lord with sensitivity and the Bill has been handled by him with circumspection. He has been extremely courteous, correct and assiduous in dealing with all the points that we have put forward. Nevertheless, save largely for the concessions made on the constitutional and procedural points raised by the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee of your Lordships' House and in particular inspired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, few concessions have been made on the Bill save for the concession that was made to the noble Lord, 1274 Lord Cledwyn, on the amendment that he moved today — that is despite the obvious disquiet expressed from all parts of your Lordships' House on certain of the Bill's provisions.
It is a relatively unusual step for a Bill of this nature to be introduced into your Lordships' House. One can only hope that the Government have been taking note of the grave doubts and outright hostility expressed on some matters and will be prepared to make concessions at the Committee stage in another place.
One of the comments that I wish to make in my regrets relates to the complete lack of creativity and of appreciation of Wales's unique position as manifested in the Bill by the Welsh Office. After all, today Wales has its own Department of State, with its own Secretary of State, Minister and Under-Secretary of State and virtually its own Civil Service. As Emyr Humphreys said in his first novel, it is a little kingdom. It has those functions because of its proper status as a nation, but because of its unique position and the fact that the department caters for a population of about 3 million it is in a position to afford the ideal site and place for much productive innovation and experiment in government. It could be a model for other regions in the UK in the future.
As I pointed out in a debate in 1971 in another place — and indeed the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, has frequently reinforced the point in his writings, as he did in the debate on an amendment at Committee stage on devolution— there is the undoubted failure of government to appreciate that some of the large counties created in 1972 were not in fact large enough to provide regional government but far too large to provide local government. Perhaps I may quote one sentence of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, at Committee stage. He said: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". — [Official Report, 17/1/94; col.332.]The same situation will arise as a result of the Bill.
A more open minded approach could avoid that danger. I refer to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, and supported from all sides of your Lordships' House. It dealt with provisions for safeguarding the welfare of children and in particular to provide an ombudsman or a child commissioner for Wales. That step has been advocated for England and Scotland but it seemed to me that there was a golden opportunity to try it out in Wales — the smallest area in the United Kingdom with the facilities for doing so. A proper structure based on the amendments put forward in the Bill could have resulted, as the noble Baroness, Lady Faithful, pointed out at Report stage, in not only an effective protection for children but also a cost-effective system which would save a great deal of duplication at certain levels.
When I first heard of the intention of the Secretary of State in 1991 to reform local government in Wales, I was all for him proceeding along the lines which he then set out in his consultation paper. I think most people in Wales were. However, on reflection now, and in the light of the proposals that have been so changed without 1275 any proper explanation ever being given for those changes, I am driven to the conclusion that Wales would have fared better if we had had a dispassionate local government commission. The English commission appears to me so far, certainly after the decision of the divisional court on the judicial review, to be adopting a less stereotyped and intransigent approach to local government than that expressed by the Welsh Office or the Government's Front Bench in this House.
In 1971 in another place I fully backed the idea of unitary authorities and believed in them. It seemed to be a sensible way of reorganising local government— I emphasise local as opposed to regional government— provided those authorities were small enough to be local. However, at that time neither I nor anyone else ever envisaged unitary authorities that covered such a vast area as Powys. Noble Lords will remember that there was considerable objection, not only to Powys but to Dyfed and Gwynedd as county councils because of their size and their remoteness. It was thought that the very size of those authorities would tend to kill off the idea of local government, even at county council level. How much more remote will local government be, for example, in Powys when even the present functions of each of the district councils are all also to be centralised in Powys? It just does not make sense.
As I have indicated, there is available in the Welsh Office an organisation that could cater for any service deliveries that are required on a regional basis. All that is needed is a more open-minded and more innovative approach. It is quite interesting how Powys, Dyfed and Gwynedd for 20 years sought to capture the affections of their inhabitants and never succeeded. Gwynedd has been broken up, but not sufficiently. Dyfed has been broken up completely, and that is a good thing. But Powys, the largest of them all, is being left intact. It simply does not make sense.
It is right that I should set out, in the hope of extracting an explanation sometime, the fact that the 1991 consultation paper stated that there should be a return to the older counties; Montgomery and Meirionydd were specifically mentioned. After the consultation period in 1992, Mr. David Hunt, the then Secretary of State for Wales, affirmed his intention of following that proposal, but with some uncertainty as to whether Brecon and Radnor should be separate unitary authorities. But no one has ever explained what changes took place in the thinking between 1992 and 1993 or what consultations there were.
I have seen the financial reports that have been published and in none of them were there grounds for refusing a unitary authority for Montgomeryshire. The Montgomeryshire District Council had been lulled into a sense of false security by the announcements of the Secretary of State in 1991 and 1992. It is now known that the Powys County Council was beavering away in an attempt to retain power, contrary to the wishes of the people of Brecon, Radnor and Montgomeryshire, in the period 1992 to 1993. However, what they said to the Welsh Office and the responses of the Welsh Office have never been published. They should be. Surely the 1276 Government owe it to the people to set out in detail what brought about the change and on what figures and criteria they operated.
Assuming that this semi-regional Powys authority is to be imposed upon Mid Wales, the proposals for area committees clearly become all-important. We have already expressed our concerns and reservations on whether Clauses 26 and 27 can provide a possible base for effective and realistic devolution. As a bare minimum, the area committees would have to have a degree of financial independence. Their creation would have to be guaranteed, preferably in the Bill, and not left to the whims of future Secretaries of State or, indeed, of the new unitary authority, which will, like all authorities, have an in-built tendency to want to retain power in its own hands.
When delegations from Montgomeryshire have met the present Secretary of State, Mr. John Redwood, to discuss the position of Montgomery, he has always given the impression that he is extremely sympathetic to our case. He announced to a delegation powers for the committees which he has subsequently had to retract after correction and reminders from his officials. We accept that the proposals were not his originally and he is in the invidious position in which various Ministers have found themselves from time to time of trying to justify what he might himself never originally have authorised. Nevertheless, one expects a new Secretary of State to bring an independent mind to bear and to re-think seriously the advice given by his officials to the previous Secretary of State and to himself. Unless he is to go down in history as one who imposed a totally unacceptable form of local government, certainly for my part of Wales, he needs to do something drastic about it.
Clearly, in the other place there will be much more detailed scrutiny of some of the provisions than has been possible within the normally accepted but somewhat extended timetables for your Lordships' House.
I come to what the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, started with. I have already done so but I wish to express my appreciation of the way in which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate has handled the Bill and also the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, and his team on his Front Bench, as well as the Back Benches opposite. From these Benches I also wish to say to Members on the Cross-Benches and the Government Benches how greatly I have appreciated the independence of such people as the noble Lords, Lord Kenyon and Lord Swansea, ignoring their party Whips and speaking their minds. It is because of that independence of mind that this House has an important role to play continuously in the country. I am grateful to them for their support.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
My Lords, I follow my noble friend Lord Hooson in thanking not only the Back Benches for the support we have received on various aspects but also the Labour Front Bench on the way it has led the opposition on the issue. I particularly thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate. In the absence of a Minister of State at the Welsh Office in this House, I can think of no better candidate for the post 1277 than the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate, except perhaps for his noble friend Lord Ferrers, who has also starred recently in our Welsh debates.
This has been a wide-ranging debate on local government structures and services. I can only end my contribution to the debate in this House by saying that basically there is a philosophical difference between the Government and most of us outwith the Government on the whole basis of local government. I believe that subsidiarity is a far-reaching principle which should apply to structures at all levels of government. Unfortunately, we have seen yet again in the course of our debate here that local government is very much a creature of central government. Welsh local government is much dependent on the Welsh Office and the powers of the Secretary of State. The whole basis of the discussion has from the beginning been that the Welsh Office initiated, the Welsh Office proposed, the Welsh Office has consulted and has disposed. Although many of us have sought to make changes both in the provision of services and in the specific structures of local government areas of principal councils, we have not been successful.
I recognise that we have had from the Government statements of intent, statements of principle and, in a number of cases. actual concessions on the Bill. However, it leaves the House substantially as it came — an imposition on the communities of Wales, an imposition in terms of boundaries and services. I welcome the principle of unitary authorities, but I believe that they should have subsidiary powers themselves: they should be partners with central government and not dependent upon it. Also, when in particular local communities express their own preference for their identity and for maintaining certain historical and geographical regions, districts and areas, those should be recognised by central government.
I deeply regret the failure of the Government to respond to the specific cases of Montgomeryshire and Meirionnydd, which I believe to be very special cases. I know that there is a tendency for everyone to plead his or her own special case. But there is an historical case backed by the current affiliation of the local population in those two places. As I indicated at previous points in our debate, substantial numbers from Montgomeryshire and also from Meirionnydd expressed a preference for maintaining a principal council for their area. It is a view that the Government should have respected. It would have been possible— and still is possible in my view — between this stage in this House and the next stage in the other place, for the Welsh Office to look again at its plans, boundaries and structure. If it is possible to produce a decentralisation scheme in terms that are acceptable to the Secretary of State for both those historic areas, it should equally be possible to produce principal councils that would be acceptable in terms of the structure of the whole as proposed by the Welsh Office.
I come now to my final point. There seems to be an ever-decreasing cycle in terms of changes in public policy. I cannot bit reflect that it was one of my first unpleasant duties in 1974, as the then newly elected Plaid Cymru Member of Parliament for the old, historic 1278 county and parliamentary constituency of Meirionnydd, to visit the then centre of county government in Dolgellau, Penarlag, and to commiserate with those who were being reorganised to Caernarfon. Happily or unhappily, I have been reorganised to Caernarfon myself 20 years later. That has coincided with yet another cycle of local government. It seems to me that such changes in local government structure are coming round more quickly. Therefore, ironically, it may well be that the next change will be even sooner than this House anticipates. That will be enacted on the advice of an elected Welsh assembly. There will be a different structure again, one that is better related to the needs of Welsh communities. It is to that issue that we must turn next.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Rodger of Earlsferry
My Lords. I thank all noble Lords for their speeches, which have encapsulated the issues that have arisen in the course of this debate at all its stages. I simply say that we hope that the proposals will put in place a form of local government that will indeed give authority to the new local authorities to carry out locally the kind of programmes that their electors wish.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, mentioned in particular Clause 25. The offer of consultation remains open; it may be that we can take that particular matter further. I am very grateful to the noble Lord for having assembled a list of commitments. I am sure that it will help my right honourable friend the Secretary of State when he comes to consider these matters. Lastly, I thank all noble Lords for the kind remarks that they made, which I much appreciated. I simply ask the House to pass the Bill.
§ On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.