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Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East) : I am glad to acknowledge the support of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) regarding the financial difficulties of Newport borough--directly, of course, as a result of the decisions of this Administration. It was most magnanimous of the hon. Gentleman.
We all recognise that local government is highly complex and no one can deny that fact. For a Government intent on curbing local government activity at every turn, that complexity is a godsend. Tonight was no exception, of course. We had the usual juggling act from the Secretary of State, when he gave us the "now you see it, now you don't" act.
My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) said that we live in an age of quangos ; there are 111 of them. They are a blot on the landscape and many people feel that the sooner they are got rid of, the better. Those bodies are accountable only to the Secretary of State and they are invariably filled with Tory placemen. I am sad to say that there have been increasing examples of corruption in high places. By comparison, local government in Wales has been of a high order. In England, there have been minor difficulties in Lambeth, but they have been dwarfed into insignificance by what has happened in Tory-controlled Westminster. Our local government in Wales has been first class by comparison.
The democratic nature of local government needs encouraging, not throttling. The simple fact of the Welsh rate support grant settlement is that the council tax payer will pay at least an extra 10 per cent. That is several times the level of inflation. What is more, the 10 per cent. increase imposed on the council tax payer is in addition to all the other increases announced in the pre; vehicle excise duty is up ; national insurance contributions are up. Many more examples could be cited. Where are families to get the money to pay the additional council tax and other taxes?
I have been informed that in Newport borough, standard spending, instead of increasing by 2.3 per cent. as it should, has fallen by 0.5 per cent. The Government are shifting more of the burden on to taxpayers. In Newport, male unemployment is between 13 and 14 per cent. There is a need for economic regeneration. Yet our local authority is denied resources. Newport could provide jobs not only for the town itself but for so many of the areas in the valleys. On housing, so much more could be done to house the homeless, let alone put construction workers back to do the work that they have been trained to do. Instead, many of them are languishing in the dole queue. Local government
Column 899should be allowed to spend receipts from the sale of council houses. That could do a great deal to regenerate the economy of Wales and elsewhere. Local authorities have had to cope with much new legislation, including the Children Act 1989 and legislation on community care, the national curriculum and mental health services. In respect of those items, the settlement is harsh.
In conclusion, local government in Wales needs a better deal, but it is not likely to get one from the Conservative Government. They are a millstone round the neck of local government and of Wales in general. The sooner they are ousted the better. We need a Labour Administration who will create a democratically elected assembly for Wales.
Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West) : I shall be brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker. A few weeks ago, the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) stopped me and asked me whether I could please tell him the Welsh word for "idea". So I told him. The Welsh word for "idea" is "syniad". I said, "But surely what you want to know is the Welsh for no idea-- dim syniad'." What we heard from the hon. Gentleman this evening was absolutely no idea about the financing of local government. He said time and again that local government in Wales was underfunded. He said that the police were underfunded. He said that education was underfunded. Yet when he was challenged to be precise about by how much the police were underfunded, he could not say. When he was challenged to say by how much education was underfunded, he could not say.
I challenge the hon. Gentleman, through his spokesman who will reply to the debate for the Opposition, the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy). The hon. Member for Caerphilly said that he was unhappy with the settlement for teachers' pay. Will the hon. Member for Torfaen tell the House what he believes would be a fair settlement for teachers' pay in 1994-95? He must think that the people of Wales are naive if he thinks that his party would not spend more on local government, because his party proposes a Welsh assembly to oversee local government in Wales costing £1 million a day. Will he commit himself to £1 million a day?
The hon. Member for Torfaen said that education has been underfunded. It has been underfunded by Clwyd education authority in my constituency. I refer him to Llandrillo college of further education, on which Clwyd education authority has not spent a bean in 15 years. thanks to the Conservative Government, the college is about to receive its first tranche- -£1.6 million--of a £6 million investment this year.
Mr. Wyn Griffiths (Bridgend) : Does the hon. Gentleman recall what it cost Wales when the Conservative Government of the day last reformed local government? Will he tell us how much extra money the proposed reform will cost?
Mr. Richards : I am more than happy to answer that question. It will cost less than the proposals of the Labour party, which wishes to add an assembly to the cost of the reform of local Government in Wales.
Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery) : I must apologise to the House for my absence during the early part of the debate, particularly to the Secretary of State. I have been following the Government's advice and getting "back to basics". I spent much of this evening with my own wife, but unfortunately underestimated the time at which the debate would start.
I will not detain the House long, but I want to tell the House something of what is happening in Powys in so far as it affects my constituency in Montgomeryshire. I hope that we shall hear a good deal more of the name Montgomeryshire in the years to come, despite the current ill intentions of the Secretary of State.
There are certain things with which we can possibly live. If highways are not repaired--the Government insists on failing to provide the money to repair them--I suppose that we can live with a few broken roads. We in Montgomeryshire are becoming used to broken roads. I have often raised problems relating to country roads with the county surveyor. I have letter after letter saying that Powys county council, which is not profligate--I do not think that it has ever been so accused--does not have the money to repair them. Let us turn to other issues, such as social services and care in the community. We cannot afford to live with broken people. In some cases in Montgomeryshire, people are being forced to go "into the community". But they are sent not into their own community or to where their nearest and dearest are--if they have any surviving relations--but to the most convenient pigeonhole which falls within the Government's policy. That leads to broken people. I do not consider that an acceptable way of dealing with local government requirements.
I do not know whether the Secretary of State has asked the chairmen of social services committees or directors of social services about funding for care in the community, but if he does they will tell him and his hon. Friends on the Front Bench that it simply is not enough to meet the task. I take no issue with the task, as resettling patients in the community is entirely desirable, but I take issue with the failure to provide the wherewithal for that task. Nor can we afford broken futures.
Education provision in the county of Powys will be frozen in real terms for the forthcoming financial year. Powys will only achieve that freeze by cutting other services, such as the opportunity for adults, especially the elderly, to enjoy their share of knowledge. The mobile library service in Montgomeryshire, which is something of a lifeline to many pensioners who live in remote villages, is being cut to save the miserable sum of £25,000. Powys county council does not want to cut it, but feels that it has no choice. It is a disgrace that we should have reached the stage where, because of the Government's local government finance policy, the mobile library service has to be cut. Pensioners will not be able to obtain books because there is no public transport for them to get to libraries in Welshpool, Newtown or the other towns in my constituency. What about education? The hon. Member for Ynys Mo n (Mr. Jones) mentioned some of the effects of what are, in
Column 901real terms, cuts in education. He mentioned music teaching. I am not so concerned about the cases he cited of international musicians of great stature who have come from rural Wales. Such people are likely to appear in any event, as great natural talent shows itself. I am more concerned about the majority who are amateur musicians--there are probably many in the House--who sing in choirs, play the piano for their own enjoyment or play in small amateur orchestras. There are thousands of them and they form the basis for musical enjoyment in this country. They will not be able to become musicians because many schools are not able to buy music tuition for young people, which is so essential as a base on which to build their future enjoyment of music.
The other day, I received a letter from parents at one school in my constituency, which revealed that they are being forced to buy music tuition at a very high price--if they can buy it at all--from a commercial organisation, whereas only a few years ago such tuition was free [Interruption.] I wish that the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) who is sitting behind the Secretary of State and is not a Welsh Member of Parliament, would show a little less exasperation and amusement. Local government finance cuts matter in Wales. They may not matter to him, but they matter to us. Another aspect of education-- [Interruption.] I wish that the hon. Gentleman would keep quiet.
Wales has produced its share of good artists, who learned art at school. Art teaching is not a luxury, but should be a part of every child's education. That provision, too, has been cut in Powys as a result of the Government's local government finance policies. Teaching through the medium of Welsh is a core area of education that is facing privatisation in Montgomeryshire.
Montgomeryshire--indeed, Powys--is the only county in Wales that does not have a Welsh-medium secondary school. Welsh teaching is provided in some schools in my constituency and it is done very well, but some parents reasonably wish to send their children to a Welsh-medium school. Plans for such a school have been prepared time and again. An entire school--or at least part of one--has been proposed, but the possibility has probably been put back for yet another year because of the Government's policies. Why is it that, in respect of all subjects and at all levels, children should suffer and possibly face broken futures as a result of the Government's policies?
The issue that causes most concern in education is class size. There is no doubt that the increase in teachers' pay will not be met in Powys this year without a significant increase in the size of classes. Powys county council, acting on what it believed, on the basis of Government policy, to be the likely outcome, made an allowance of 1 per cent. to cover the increase in teachers' salaries for the forthcoming year. The council got it wrong, and the result is that class sizes will increase.
Mr. Redwood indicated dissent.
Mr. Carlile : The Secretary of State shakes his head. I do not know what magic the right hon. Gentleman can conjure up to ensure that class sizes will not increase if there is not enough money to meet the teachers' pay increase.
Column 902extensively in some lively exchanges between Opposition Members and myself. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will read the record of the debate so that he may understand the position that his constituents will face next year.
Mr. Carlile : I shall read the record with great interest. The fact is that the right hon. Gentleman did not begin to attempt to answer my question. If he can show Powys county council how to avoid cuts in the numbers of teachers and increased class sizes I shall certainly write to him in proper apology, as I hope he would expect me to do.
Mr. Jonathan Evans : As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, I represent the other half of Powys--the major proportion of Powys ; a bigger proportion than is represented by the hon. and learned Gentleman. He will know that the former director of education, Mr. Robert Bevan--now a member of the Powys authority--has come up with the very proposition that the hon. and learned Gentleman is putting forward : that there will be teacher redundancies.
The hon. and learned Gentleman will be reassured to hear that I spoke to the chairman of the education committee about this on Saturday and was informed that he hopes that it will be possible to make an arrangement whereby the matter can be dealt with without teacher redundancies. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will welcome that statement from the chairman of the education committee.
Mr. Carlile : We have all this hoping that arrangements can be made ; but the fact is that Councillor Robert Bevan, the immediate past director of education for Powys, made it quite clear, from his great fund of experience and his knowledge of the education system in the county, what will happen. I put it to the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans), who represents what he describes as the other half of Powys--a description which may give rise to some interest in debates on another piece of legislation--that what Mr. Bevan said is what will happen.
The basic point that I wish to make is that, once again, we are witnessing cuts in local government services in rural Wales. Powys county council is not to blame--neither its members nor its officers. The public do not understand what the Government are up to when they see, in particular, every aspect of their children's education being hammered by the policies of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). Month after month, people feel that Wales is being ruled more and more from London, and that is not acceptable.
Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South-West) : I should like to raise the question of the specific effect on Clwyd of the inadequate revenue support grant provision. Before doing so, however, I remind the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) that the Welsh for "promise" is "addewyd". The Government promised that they would not raise taxes or increase VAT, but they did just that. We face real cuts in services in Clwyd--indeed, throughout Wales--as a result of the Government's policies over the past 15 years. Significantly, the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West mentioned that fact that for 15 years--precisely the Conservatives' period in office-- Llandrillo college in Clwyd had not received any money for repairs.
Column 903We learnt from my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) that there is a real-terms cut in revenue support grant provision throughout Wales. Despite the flannel from the Government, that applies to Clwyd. Excluding community care provision, Clwyd will receive only 1.66 per cent. more than last year. Admittedly, inflation is low, but the figure is below inflation and hides the necessity for extra provision to meet the needs of new legislation such as the Children Act 1989, and measures relating to the national curriculum and mental health.
Central Government have agreed to wage rises but have not funded them, having said previously that they would not agree to any pay increases for teachers. Those increases now have to be funded out of already inadequate budgets. Even the additional community care money for 1994-95 is estimated by the Association of Welsh Councils to be £40 million below requirements.
Total standard spending is up by 4 per cent., but the aggregate external finance, including revenue support grant, non-domestic rates and specific grants, has increased by only 3.2 per cent. The gearing means that council tax payers in Clwyd face an increase of 11.8 per cent., or £20, on band D. The specific grants for the police and the courts have increased by 5.1 per cent. but that reduces the amount available for other services such as education. To add insult to injury, the Secretary of State assesses council tax at £233 for counties and £53 for districts, based on 100 per cent. collection, which is clearly unrealistic. A 5 per cent. loss on collection means another £15 on band D. Those factors affect all counties, but Clwyd has particular problems.
The standard spending formula for Clwyd is based on composite social indicators, including some features which do not exist in Clwyd, but mask its real needs. Although the sparsity of population provision which applies to large areas of Clwyd is some compensation, it is not sufficient, so Clwyd suffers lack of provision for sparsity population and for social deprivation indicators.
Despite that, Clwyd is the lowest spender in Wales. Last year it received £30 per head below the average for Wales. The grant we are debating tonight will mean £24 per head below the average this year. By pure coincidence, £24 per head in Clwyd represents £10 million in funding for Clwyd--exactly the amount that will have to be cut from education and other services this year. It will mean huge class size increases and redundancies among teachers. The councils do not want to do that. They have already had to charge for mentally handicapped day centres.
I realise that we are reaching the end of the debate, so I shall make just one further point on capping. If the Secretary of State will not put right the underfunding of education and social services in Clwyd, why does he not allow council tax payers to take the decision?
Mr. Wardell : Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government have a simple solution to the problem--the market, of course? They are giving schools the opportunity to increase pupil numbers by poaching children from neighbouring schools. They are setting one school against another. That is the formula that the Government want to put in place to solve the problem.
Column 904If the council tax payers of Clwyd were told that they could avoid charges for day centres for the mentally handicapped and cuts in the number of teachers and that they would have adequate discretionary grants if they were prepared to pay only £14 a year per head more in grant, I am sure that the overwhelming majority of people in Clwyd would accept that. After all, that is only the equivalent of a Mars bar a week for every person in Clwyd, which is peanuts compared with the cuts and their effects on the pupils in our schools.
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) : I remind the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) that the councillor to whom he referred, Robert Bevan, was one of the many directors of education in Wales who resigned because they could no longer stomach the cuts introduced by the Government. Mr. Bevan did so in his early fifties. In response to what was said by the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards), let me issue the bold challenge presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) : will he tell us the precise amount by which provision should have been increased ? Do I recall his saying that he believed that Clwyd county council's local education authority had underfunded its own provision ? Of course, he will be unable to specify the precise amount.
Mr. Anderson : I wonder from what hat the hon. Gentleman pulled that figure. He said earlier that the Government had not resiled from any election promises about taxation ; let me remind him that, in an Orwellian manner, the Government no longer describe themselves as the party of low taxation, preferring to style themselves as the party of lowest possible taxation.
The Under-Secretary of State must recognise that this is another example of the Government's centralisation tendency. That tendency can be seen in every sector of local government--with, I concede, the exception of community care--at a time when the quangocracy is increasing enormously and the accompanying sleaze is increasing as well. Although the Secretary of State is trying to civilise at the edges, the beast that he and his colleagues have created is growing. The essence of the problem lies in the Conservative party's awareness that it can never achieve power in Wales through normal democratic means ; it must create quangos to form a sort of authority through which it can work, bypassing the local authorities, whose power is being increasingly eroded and diminishing the morale of local councillors.
We have already heard about the effect of the settlement on public sector pay increases and local authorities' difficulty in accommodating the teachers' 2.9 per cent. pay increase--and other expected increases--in their budgets. Something will have to give, and what will give is other necessary services.
The Government assume that local authorities will be able to collect 100 per cent. of the council tax. That contrasts with the collection rate of taxes in direct Government control. The income tax collection rate, for
Column 905example, is about 98 per cent. ; the VAT collection rate is about 97 per cent. ; and the BBC estimates that the television licence collection rate is 10 per cent. lower than it should be, while the Home Office accepts that it is 7.5 per cent. to 8 per cent. lower than the desired figure. Yet the Government boldly assume that local authorities can do what they cannot.
There have also been effects on council tax bills. The Government's contribution to spending in my city of Swansea, for example, is limited to an increase of only £60,000, or 0.2 per cent., on the previous year. When compared with the provision for the standard spending assessment and the gearing effect, it means an increase in the council tax of 15.3 per cent. in the city of Swansea. In that sector, the Government are trying to throw the blame for their own policy failure on to local authorities and, as a result, forcing them to put up the council tax.
My hon. Friends have already made forceful points about the effects of the elimination of discretionary grants on music, the arts and so on. It is clear that the position now is worse than ever. What earlier generations of school children were able to take for granted is no longer available because there is a clear deterioration in the provision in the education sector. In addition to music and the arts, we should consider the lack of discretionary grants for those who wish to become lawyers. The withdrawal of those grants will certainly mean that, in future, our solicitors and barristers will come only from those families who are able to pay for the training. I believe that is socially wrong, and it derives directly from the policies of the Government.
Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen) : As always, the debate on the rate support grant settlement for Wales has been interesting, informed and, on occasions, quite exciting. The hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) talked about the lack of knowledge or experience of Opposition Members in local government finance. I calculated that among all the Labour Members who have spoken in the debate, there were over 50 years of experience of local authorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) and I were chairmen of the finance committees of our local authorities. So I must tell the hon. Gentleman that we have some knowledge and experience of what has occurred under both Governments over the past two decades. My hon. Friends the Members for Caerphilly and for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) referred to the backcloth of the reform of Welsh local government. The House will consider that in a few weeks ; it is currently being dealt with in another place. When we see cuts in county and district council budgets that are a direct result of the 4 per cent. reduction in the settlement, we must contrast them with the £100 to £200 million that the people of Wales will have to pay to reform local government. There is no enthusiasm for that among people in the Principality.
The Secretary of State said in his press release that the settlement
"gives local authorities adequate resources to maintain services." The vast majority of local authorities of all political persuasions in Wales do not agree with him. No more did they agree in July 1979 when the former Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), said :
Column 906"We will sweep away tiresome and excessive control over local government. They do not need, they do not want, the fussy supervision of detail that now exists."
Over the past 15 years, almost 150 Acts have taken away the powers and responsibilities of local authorities, and Wales is now the most centralised and the least democratic part of the European Union. My hon. Friends the Members for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) and for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) and the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) all said that, in their respective areas, the system of standard spending assessments had broken down. The formula on which the SSAs are based has also broken down. The Audit Commission said exactly the same thing when it stated that SSAs were used for capping, not for grant distribution. The Select Committee on the Environment recently said that the SSA formula was oversimplified and based on outdated information and did not take into account long-term unemployment and chronic ill health, both of which are extremely important factors in Wales.
What happened last year? We had the spectacle of the Secretary of State for Wales standing at the Dispatch Box wanting to cap Aberconwy council, of all councils. It is a small authority which has hardly been regarded as profligate and has nothing to hide. Capping is not only unfair but undermines democracy and does not work. Experts from the London School of Economics tell us that capping has led to higher spending because councils spend to their capping limit.
In June 1993, when he was quite new to his present responsibilities, the Secretary of State for Wales said :
"I believe that we have a good system".
He said that he was
"proud to inherit the Welsh model."--[ Official Report , 23 June 1993 ; Vol. 227, c. 418.]
I have to tell him that the Welsh model existed until about a year ago. Successive Secretaries of State for Wales--the former right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) and the right hon. Member for Wirral, West (Mr. Hunt)--said that they would not publish the criteria for capping. Since the right hon. Member for Wokingham has been Secretary of State for Wales, we have had slavishly to follow the English example on capping.
Some hon. Members have asked whether the Council of Welsh Districts is good at providing briefing information. I am sure that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor will join the council in congratulating the Secretary of State on overcoming the wild variations in SSAs about which it complained for a number of years. I suppose that the council is right in some aspects of its briefing.
Eighty per cent. of districts will still have problems in setting their budgets and gearing is still a great problem : a 2.1 per cent. increase in spending will mean an increase of 11.3 per cent. in the council tax in Wales. Some of my hon. Friends have mentioned the impact on district councils. Homelessness in Wales has increased in the past 12 months by 10 per cent., but, despite what the Secretary of State said, the capital available to local authorities to spend on housing has been cut by £10 million. That is why the district councils say that the settlement is inadequate for the provision of public sector housing.
Reference has also been made to taxes. Conservative Members said that it was important that taxes were increased in order to help the economy. Taxes are certainly going up in Wales, even though the Government are supposed to be anti-tax. For example, the cost of rent rebates will now have to be borne wholly by the local
Column 907authorities, which will mean a significant increase in council house rents in the next financial year. At the same time, the Secretary of State has told Welsh housing associations that they face a cut of 9 per cent. in their grant. They now have the lowest grant since their inception in Wales.
The chairman of Tai Cymru has written to tell housing associations that he does not want rents to be increased, but how can it be avoided when the grant has been cut by 9 per cent? Ultimately, the cuts mean that the Government and the Secretary of State are unaware of how important it is to have a viable public rented sector in the Principality in order to do something about the 80,000 people who are on council house waiting lists in north and south Wales.
The biggest blow has been to the county councils. We heard about the impact of cuts on county councils from my hon. Friends the Members for Newport, East, for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), for Clwyd, South-West and for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies). Mid Glamorgan will have to make cuts of £15 million which, by any standard or measurement of deprivation, will mean cuts in public services. Gwynedd has to cut between £2 million and £3 million ; South Glamorgan is cutting nearly £1 million off social services and £500, 000 off highways ; and in Gwent, the 1.6 per cent. increase must cover pay, inflation and capital development.
The worst effect on counties, as many of my hon. Friends have said, is the impact on the police service and on education. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend spoke about the importance of considering the formulae for the police. The Home Office has already said that, for every police authority in England and Wales, it expects a 5.5 per cent. increase in expenditure to maintain the forces of law and order in England and Wales. How can police authorities increase their expenditure to that extent when the Secretary of State for Wales is saying that county councils can increase spending by only 1.75 per cent? It is impossible for those figures to match and as a result there will be a reduction in the services provided by our police authorities throughout the Principality. In education, we shall find that there is insufficient money to pay for the 2.9 per cent teachers' pay award. It will mean that award will be paid for with other teachers' jobs, with larger classes and a reduced education service.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South-West rightly spoke about Clwyd. A cut of £6 million to £7 million has to be made in the education service for north-east Wales. Cuts are taking place in South Glamorgan, Gwent and Dyfed. As the chairman of the local education authorities' employing body recently said :
"The real problem for local education authorities is the crippling financial limits imposed by this Government",
and nowhere is that truer than in Wales.
The Welsh Office claims that the average council tax will be about £280. All its claims that we have heard in the Chamber in rate support grant debates over the years have proved to be wrong. We believe that the council tax is much more likely to reach about £350. Part of the reason for that is that local government has had to grapple with a system of finance that has changed more dramatically in seven years than it has done in seven centuries. Another part of the reason is that councillors in Wales are still genuinely attempting to preserve our schools, to safeguard
Column 908our communities, to maintain law and order, to house the homeless and to improve the quality of life of the people whom we represent. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly said that our councils have experienced constant underfunding of vital services for 15 years. The cumulative effect of all that is affecting and endangering the fabric of Welsh society.
Mr. Richards : The hon. Gentleman keeps speaking about underfunding, and he mentioned South Glamorgan county council. Will he therefore explain to the House how the chairman of South Glamorgan county council can put advertisements, with large photographs of himself, costing £500 a time, in the Western Mail and the South Wales Echo, wishing the readers a happy new year and a happy Christmas?
Mr. Murphy : The good people of South Glamorgan need to have some good will in their lives around Christmas time and I think that is the only good news they have. Last year, for example, they had to cut their music departments, they had to cut their outdoor pursuits departments and they had to witness the spectacle of their discretionary grant system being cut altogether. I could describe a litany of problems that South Glamorgan and other councils have had. Mr. Sweeney rose --
If the hon. Gentleman can find only that example of what he would regard as reckless council spending, I am sorry for him. My hon. Friends the Members for Swansea, East, for Caerphilly, for Newport, East and others have pointed to the real problems of government in Wales, not what the hon. Gentleman has just been talking about. They mentioned the shame of the fact that we have to witness democratically elected Welsh councils being starved of funds year after year, while unaccountable and appointed quangos are responsible for nearly £2.5 billion in the Principality.
Worse, some of those organisations fritter away thousands of pounds--much more than the cost of the so-called photograph that the hon. Gentleman spoke about. Let him read the report of the Public Accounts Committee to see what it has revealed of the squandering of public funds--Welsh money-- by those quangos in the past few months alone. They get little more than a mild rebuke from the Secretary of State.
What happens to our local authorities? They have to face the most savage capping restrictions and the inevitable suspicion that goes with them. Is it any wonder that the people of Wales now regard our system of government as potentially rotten and distinctly unwholesome? For that reason alone, I urge the House to vote down these measures.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Gwilym Jones) : It would be desirable if I could come to the Dispatch Box now and say that we have had a good, constructive and worthwhile debate this evening. I noticed that the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) began his lengthy summing-up by referring to what I think he would want to describe as the wealth of
Column 909local government experience on the Opposition Benches. But did that contribute to ordered, constructive debate? [ Hon. Members :-- "Yes."] No.
All we have had from the Opposition Benches tonight is a bunch of uncosted wish lists. Possibly one of the lengthiest came from the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile). The one point on which I would find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) is in his description of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery as a Johnny- come-lately. Perhaps he has just rushed in from the robing room, as described in the Western Mail yesterday. He had a list that managed to cover practically every service of local government.
The hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) referred to education services, and the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) to forensic services. We have had a parade of hon. Members wanting to give the impression that they supported the police, that they wanted to support more money for the South Wales police authority : the hon. Members for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), for Caerphilly, for Ynys Mo n (Mr. Jones), for Torfaen and for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths).
I welcomed the contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) and for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney), who referred to the reality of the budget of the South Wales police authority. I understand that the authority is studying a report by the district auditor on its financial arrangements. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already made clear, police funding is a matter for the police authority and its constituent local authorities, and I see that the South Wales police are already taking the steps that they see fit to resolve the budget problem. The wish lists carried on. The hon. Member for Bridgend brought in the need to spend on roads in Porthcawl. He seemed especially stunned by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pursuing him into Porthcawl today, but he felt the need to mention it in Hansard tonight. An equally lengthy list came from the hon. Member for Caerphilly. He was concerned about pay increases. That was matched by a number of hon. Gentlemen who alluded to the teachers' pay settlement. They referred to the cost of the settlement, but at no time have I heard any of them say that the teachers' pay increase was justified. I wonder why some of them are here as representatives of teachers' unions.
Surprisingly, the hon. Member for Caerphilly volunteered one figure among the almost total lack of costings that we have been given tonight. He quoted the county councils as saying that they wanted to spend another £40 million on care in the community. Generally, the hon. Gentleman in his lament about insufficient money for local government was also concerned about the alleged loss of independence for local government.
Interestingly, in that the hon. Gentleman was echoed by the hon. Member for Ynys Mo n, who made a plea for more power for Welsh councils. That is odd coming from the party that we would all identify as the devolutionary party, Plaid Cymru. He would effectively take powers away from the people and give them back to councils instead. He would take the power away from parents to have more influence and control over what happens in their schools.
Column 910Presumably, he would take power away from council tenants so that they would have less control over housing, and the control would be given back to local authorities.
I can at least acknowledge the contribution of the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) who echoed the fact that community care was yet another example of the practical devolution that we have introduced, giving opportunities to local government to take that forward.
Perhaps the nutshell of today's debate was supplied by the contribution by the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes). He wanted more spending here and more spending there, with more spending on housing, but he preceded these comments by voicing his regret at extra taxation. The hon. Member for Caerphilly presented us with the same dichotomy. He wanted more spending but was not, so he said, in favour of more taxation.
I think that all hon. Members will have noticed that, when my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Caerphilly, he received no answer from him about costings and how the extra expenditure would be met by the Labour party. On local government spending, as with every other sort of spending, the Labour party will not come clean, just as it did not come clean at the last general election. The Labour party is already showing that it will not come clean at the next general election. Perhaps most worrying to many of us were the wild, sweeping statements of the hon. Member for Caerphilly. It was incredible that he appeared to equate the South Wales police authority with Westminster city council. Members of the Labour party rushed to judge Westminster city council, and the hon. Member gave the clearest impression that he applies the same judgment to members of the South Wales police authority. What confidence can any Labour member of that authority have in the man who is supposed to be Labour's shadow Secretary of State for Wales?
The hon. Member for Caerphilly made allegations about the endemic corruption in public life in Wales, and once more alluded to sleaze. It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder--sleaze must be in the eye of the sleazy. People such as the hon. Gentleman should realise the damage that they do and the way that they demoralise all those working in public service in Wales. It is true that there have been some failings in public service in Wales, none of which should be ignored. Such failings should be pursued as firmly as possible. The firmest line has been taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Above all, when maintaining a proper balance, one cannot ignore the wilful damage that such people do to Wales. There are many fine people in public service in Wales who do fine work, but the Labour party smears them all with the same brush.
In his opening speech my right hon. Friend emphasised the Government's commitment to local government, and the facts speak for themselves. Even at a time of necessary restraint in public expenditure, the settlement proposals before the House increase the resources available to local government by more than £100 million or 4.2 per cent.--well ahead of inflation. Since 1990-91, the level of revenue resources has increased by 27 per cent.--if the functional changes are taken into account, the increase is well over 30 per cent. The amount of money that we are making available for care in the community will more than double.
Local authorities must budget within their means and those of the taxpayers they serve. Local government is not