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Mr. Donald Anderson rose
Mr. Davies : I shall give way after I have dealt with the point that the hon. Gentleman raises. Of course I understand that the Welsh for "fathers" mutates after the personal pronoun, but the mutation in south Wales pronunciation is not pronounced as it is in north Wales, where the "h" is sounded.
Mr. Anderson : Following that mass meeting which the Secretary of State addressed in a public telephone box in the Rhondda, if the Conservative party is so strapped for cash--poor dabs--could it not have a whip round among the quangos ?
I return to the opinion poll to be broadcast on BBC Wales tonight. More than 1,500 people in Wales were asked their view of the present Secretary of State and whether he was doing a good job or a very good job. The massed ranks of Conservative party supporters in Wales could not even muster a figure of 1 per cent. of that poll who believed that the Secretary of State was doing an excellent job. He had an excellency rating of zero.
Column 1106However, for every one person who felt that the Secretary of State was doing a good job or a very good job, there were three who thought that he was doing a bad or a very bad job. Most striking of all, 70 per cent. of people polled believed that elected councillors and not Government-appointed officials should be in charge of public affairs. Given Wales's special record of sterling service provided in local government, I am not surprised that 70 per cent. of the people think that
Mr. Davies : If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish my sentence, I will certainly give way. Of course, the hon. Gentleman has a great deal of experience of Welsh local government and I would be delighted to listen to him in a moment.
Mr. Davies : My right hon. Friend tempts me to comment on the extent to which the hon. Member for the Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) has mutated. However, it is a point that I would not wish to explore.
Seventy per cent. of people polled believed that elected councillors and not Government-appointed officials should be in charge of public affairs. That reflects the extent to which the Tory party in Wales is exclusively identified in the public mind with the quango system, which means corruption, fraud, nepotism and incompetence. That is the system that Tory greed has produced in Wales.
Mr. Sweeney : Is it symptomatic of the so-called excellence of the Labour councillors in Wales that the South Wales police force has been deprived of £5 million of its much-needed budget ? Is that a reflection of the thinking that the hon. Gentleman supports ?
Mr. Davies : My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West suggests that I refer the hon. Gentleman to Hansard of 27 January, when the Secretary of State directly contradicted his statement. A fortnight or so ago, with nine other hon. Friends representing constituencies in the South Wales police area, I led a deputation to the Home Office Minister responsible to press the case for additional funding. Due to the way in which the Home Office and the Welsh Office cannot get their acts together, about £2.5 million of funds are being withheld by the Home Office. The police authority is underfunded because of the 1.75 per cent. cut imposed on the county authorities and as a result the South Wales police authority faces the prospect of closing about 60 police stations in the area. That means, for example, that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West, who has Ely in his constituency--I trust that the hon. Gentleman knows the difficulties of that area--will be one of the few Members of Parliament in the whole country without one police station in his constituency. In the heart of Cardiff, that trouble-torn area is to be deprived of a police station as a result of Government policy. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about the level of policing, I wonder why he does not make representations to the Home Office as we have.
Column 1107Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney)--I draw to his attention the fact that the Gwent police force, despite one of the best records of crime detection and prevention, is significantly under strength. On the testimony of the police themselves, that is not a consequence of the inadequacies of the local authority, but the result of the limitations imposed on police numbers by the Tory Home Secretary.
Mr. Davies : My right hon. Friend is correct. It is a further reflection on the present-day Conservative party that the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan, who demanded the courtesy of being allowed to intervene in my speech, does not have the courtesy to remain in his seat to listen to the continuation of the debate.
I was dealing with quangos. With that uncanny sixth sense and prescience that has come to characterise the Secretary of State, his response was not to clean up the quango system but to attack the democratic sector--local government. It is now clear how tenuous is his attachment to democracy. This year a Bill that will reorganise Welsh local government was presented to the House of Lords first and not to the Commons--another defeat in the Cabinet for the Welsh Secretary.
Shortly, that Bill will come before this House. Despite the virtually unanimous opposition of all 32 Opposition Members representing Wales and the overwhelming weight of local government opinion, the Secretary of State will try to force it through on a whipped vote of English Tory Members. That is bad enough, but this time the exercise will be especially cynical because the Whips will force English Members, representing counties such as Somerset and Hertfordshire, to vote for a reorganisation of Welsh local government when they have made it clear to their Whips that, such is their opposition to the principles of the reform, they will not be prepared to support similar measures for the areas for which they were elected and which they represent here. That is a travesty of our democratic system.
Another matter reflects poorly on the Secretary of State's commitment to democracy. When his predecessor set out to buy the votes of Plaid Cymru last year--I want to treat the three Plaid Cymru Members as delicately as I can because I know that they are feeling especially sensitive today--so as to ensure the Government's survival during the debates on the Maastricht treaty, a deal emerged which treated local government with contempt and attempted to subvert the democratic rights of 28 of the 38 Members of Parliament for Wales. The deal envisaged a forum, involving Members of this Parliament and Members of the European Parliament representing Wales and Welsh local government. It was conceived--perhaps I should not talk about conceptions when dealing with such matters--behind the backs and, as it subsequently emerged, against the wishes of an overwhelming majority across all the political parties in Wales. The deal was clearly constitutionally unworkable, unprincipled and inherently undemocratic, as we pointed out at the time.
Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Wales wrote to local government leaders in Wales asking them to get him off the hook. In that letter he acknowledges to the Council of Welsh Districts : "I am therefore writing to you to ask you to consider whether you would wish to establish jointly with the Assembly of Welsh Counties such a mechanism."
He was referring to the reporting-back mechanism for the Committee of the Regions.
Column 1108I shall ask the Secretary of State a direct question and I should be grateful for a direct answer. If the AWC and the CWD jointly propose an all-Wales council of local government to him as a report-back mechanism for the Committee of the Regions, will he accept the proposal ? I will happily give way if the Secretary of State wants to answer.
Mr. Redwood : I set out my proposals, following consultations, and I should like an answer to those proposals. I cannot give an answer to questions about other proposals that I have not read. The offer that I made in my letter stands and I look forward to a positive reply.
Mr. Davies : The Secretary of State is getting into a habit of making excuses because he has not read his correspondence. Last time he had not read the CV of a top Tory living in tax exile. This time, he has not read the correspondence from the Council of Welsh Districts, which wrote to him on 16 February 1994 setting out its proposals. Has he received and read those proposals ? Will he give us a direct answer ? All my hon. Friends want to know, all the representatives of Welsh local government want to know, and I am sure that the leader and members of Plaid Cymru will want to know because their deal is at risk.
The proposals have been put to the Secretary of State, who has had a long time to reflect on them. They are jointly agreed by the Council of Welsh Districts and the Assembly of Welsh Counties. The basis for the support is not partisan or party political and they are overwhelmingly supported by Labour Members and by large sections of the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru. Considerable sections of the Conservative party also support the proposals.
I ask the Secretary of State once more : will he accept proposals if they are put to him jointly by local government in Wales ? I want a direct answer. [Hon. Members :-- "Answer."] This is an example of the contempt and arrogance the man shows for Welsh public affairs. Elected leaders of all the district councils and counties in Wales have seriously debated the matter for the past three months and have made carefully thought out
Mr. Davies : Of course it was at my instigation, but my meetings with Welsh local government were open. They did not take place in the Whips Office behind the backs of the majority of Welsh Members. When I have a statement to make, I do so before the leaders of all tiers of local government in Wales--Labour leaders, independent leaders and the leaders of Plaid Cymru in Wales. There is only one
Conservative-controlled district. They were all made fully aware of the discussions and the proposals have been circulated to every local authority in Wales.
The Secretary of State is treating Welsh local government with contempt by refusing to give a straight answer and by the way in which he is trying to subvert its democratic processes to deliver a shoddy deal done with members of Plaid Cymru.
Mr. Wigley : I think that we would all accept the need for an effective report-back mechanism because we all hope that the regional dimension of the European Community will benefit Wales. Does the hon. Gentleman therefore accept that the Committee of the Regions goes beyond being a committee of municipalities or of local government ?
Column 1109The regional dimension in Wales includes the Welsh Office and, regrettably, at this point also the quangos. Therefore, to establish a proper report-back mechanism we must bear in mind functions such as agriculture, docks and railways. Those are the responsibility of the Welsh Office, which is answerable to this Parliament and not merely to local government. That is why the forum will have to include elected representatives of all the levels in Wales : Members of Parliament, Members of the European Parliament and representatives of the districts and counties. Then we shall have a representational body which can give the views of Wales on all those functions to our representatives on the Committee of the Regions.
Mr. Davies : I hope, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you will accept that I mean no disrespect by turning my back to you when I deal with the matter that the leader of Plaid Cymru has mentioned. His arguments would be a little more convincing if he had been prepared to engage in open debate before he did a deal with the Conservative party. If there is merit in that case, it surely needs to be discussed by all 38 Members for Wales and not merely by four Plaid Cymru and six Conservative Members who expected to bounce the rest of us into an undemocratic deal which sells out the interests of Welsh local government. The hon. Gentleman has signally failed to deal with that.
Mr. Wigley rose
I understand that there will be occasions when Members of Parliament, and certainly Members of the European Parliament, and Ministers at the Welsh Office, will want to discuss matters through the report-back mechanism. That is what I and my hon. Friends do regularly. We meet representatives of local government--for example, the Heads of the Valleys Standing Conference. We have that relationship and there is no reason why it should not exist on a voluntary basis.
However, the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) is seeking to turn Westminster Members of Parliament into exclusively Welsh Members. I and my hon. Friends are firmly committed to the fact that a directly elected Welsh assembly is required to meet the democratic deficit in Wales. For the life of me I do not understand why Plaid Cymru--the party which supposedly wants an independent Wales, a referendum on the monarchy and all the rest of it-- is prepared to accept the second-best organisation nominated, which will exist with the patronage and at the whim of the Secretary of State for Wales. That has nothing to do with democracy and I want nothing to do with it.
Mr. Wigley : Of course we want to see an elected Welsh parliament. When we have an elected Welsh parliament, representatives elected by that parliament will go to the Committee of the Regions. I am glad to see some hon. Members nodding their heads, though some are shaking their heads. I should have thought that that stands to reason. In the interim while we have a Tory Government, what will be the reporting back mechanism ? Is the hon. Gentleman not putting forward something short of an
Column 1110elected assembly ? In other words, he is proposing a council for Wales. Is not his criticism of Plaid Cymru not on the substance of the forum but on the way in which it was brought about ? If that is the basis of the criticism, it would be better for him to forget about the reason why the body was brought about and see how we can make it work for the well-being of Wales, rather than sulking and refusing to go on it.
Mr. Davies : I am certainly not sulking. I am trying to play a constructive role with all tiers of Welsh local government, representing all parties, to reach agreement. The hon. Gentleman must understand that, my objection is about the way the deal was done because it was dishonourable ; it is not only about the way the deal was done, about the substance of the deal.
I will explain why the proposal is unacceptable. The House decided that it wished to defeat the Government on the matter. It decided that local government should decide the representatives who would go to the Committee of the Regions. I do not have the responsibility or the right--neither does the hon. Member for Caernarfon, nor the Secretary of State--somehow to set that to one side or subvert it by the practices into which they entered. The hon. Gentleman must understand that, because local government in Wales is charged with the responsibility of providing representatives to the Committee of the Regions, surely it is common sense that, first, they should be consulted and, secondly, they should be instrumental in constructing the reporting back mechanism--they should be the reporting back mechanism.
Mr. Davies : The hon. Gentleman is getting a little impatient. He must let me reply to this point. If we talk about democracy, the independence of local government and the respect that we have for local government--I know that the hon. Member for Caernarfon shares my respect for that independence--we cannot turn round and say that we will ignore local government. I have written to every local authority
Local government in Wales has its own independence. What I sought to do in my meetings with the Assembly of Welsh Counties and the Council of Welsh Districts was to construct a mechanism that was acceptable to them because I respect local government. Of course the Assembly of Welsh Counties has a Labour majority. Of course the Council of Welsh Districts has a Labour majority. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) should not smirk because he has influence in only one local authority in south Wales-- Taff Ely--and it failed to support his proposals. That is a measure of the concern that exists in south Wales.
Out of this comes one clear message for Plaid Cymru Members : they should not do deals with an untrustworthy Government, especially when such deals breach their principles and are based on nothing but party advantage. Having first been bought out, they have now been sold out.
Mr. Davies : If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the Government would introduce legislation to establish a Welsh assembly or a Welsh parliament-- [Interruption.] Standards in the Conservative party are falling daily. The hon. Gentleman asked me a question. I should be grateful if he would do me the courtesy of listening to my reply.
If I thought that the Conservative party was going to introduce legislation in the current Session to establish an assembly, a parliament or a senate in Wales, I would be happy to engage the hon. Gentleman in that debate. I do not think that it is a realistic proposition. However, I am confident that the issue of establishing an all-Wales tier of government will be central to the outcome of the next general election. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) has not exactly covered himself in glory in matters relating to local government. I suggest that he goes back either to his flat in Westminster or to Rutland. I can give the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) a guarantee that at the next election I shall be happy to advance the Labour party's proposals for an all-Wales tier of government. We shall then address all of the questions that he wishes to raise.
Mr. Dafis rose
During the 12 months since our last St. David's day debate, Wales has been badly served by the Secretary of State. Our economy has not recovered the jobs that we lost. We now have 150,000 fewer men in work than when the Government came to office. We are further down the regional pay scale. We are now at the bottom of the scale--we were near the top when the Government came to office. Investment in infrastructure has been cut, and is being cut as a result of the current programmes. From April this year, everyone in Wales will pay an extra £14 a year in tax, thanks to the Government's tax increases and their mismanagement of the economy.
Mr. Dafis rose
Mr. Davies : I indicated that the intervention from the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West would be my last. However, I am sure that the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) is desperate to put some further points on the record, so I will give way.
Mr. Dafis : This is a debate on Welsh affairs. So far, we have had an extended attack on the Secretary of State for Wales, with which I have a great deal of sympathy, and an attack on Plaid Cymru. I was wondering whether the hon. Gentleman would comment on the state of Wales and his proposals for the development of Welsh political and economic life.
Column 1112Presiding over all of the cuts, all the unemployment, all the difficulties, all the crime and all the social break- up is a Secretary of State who is so out of touch that he is prepared to play fast and loose with our democratic processes. Undoubtedly, the Conservative party will pay a very heavy price when the electorate has an opportunity to comment on that record. The sooner that opportunity comes, the better.
Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West) : I have never been so glad to hear a speech come to an end as I was when the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) finished. Someone such as myself, who was born and raised in south Wales, knows that corruption, nepotism, inefficiency, waste and sleaze have been the stock and trade of Labour-controlled local authorities. Indeed, they have become so commonplace that many people have become insensitive to it, accepting that being totally secure in power for most of the century has led to that sort of corrupted complacency.
It is therefore outrageous that Labour Members, especially the hon. Member for Caerphilly, should raise the subject of corruption anywhere, at any time and by anyone. The fact that they do so has encouraged some of us to take a fresh look at the fat cats of socialism.
A few days ago, the hon. Member for Caerphilly--as we have seen, a gentle and refined soul--told Labour councillors in Wales to improve their image, and to be more friendly and approachable. Indeed, he almost went as far as to say that they should model themselves on him. Imagine it. Somewhere in the shadows of Caerphilly castle, up in lights--"Ron's finishing school," with a slogan underneath saying, "Smile like a crocodile, sting like a bee."
I suspect that that was the hon. Gentleman's attempt to justify spending commitments which were made on 28 January by South Glamorgan county council. I have some details of those spending commitments by the council, which is, needless to say, Labour-controlled. The council has committed £368,000 to public relations, including £50,000 for a new public relations director for the council. Gwent county council pulled off a similar stunt after the general election, and it gave the job to one John P. Smith, the defeated Labour candidate for Vale of Glamorgan. I am pleased to see that he is not here today, but that my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) is. We shall certainly watch the appointment of the South Glamorgan public relations director with some interest. In addition, South Glamorgan county council has committed £313,000 for members' services--the mind boggles at what that money might be used for--and £180,000 for the chairman's entertainment budget. One gets more than tea and sticky buns for £180,000. Of course, today's Bolsheviks entertain their comrades rather more lavishly than before. They are champagne socialists using taxpayers' money, with the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) leading from the front. I can see how the chairman of that county council could spend thousands at Christmas on advertisements in the Western Mail and the South Wales Echo , consisting mainly of large photographs of himself, wishing readers a merry Christmas and a happy new year. In addition, the county
Column 1113council has made a further commitment already to spend £772,000 on leisure, even though that is the responsibility of the district authority.
In aggregate, that is £1,633,000 down the pan. The council is spending as though there were no tomorrow. Of course, there will be no tomorrow for that authority, as it will thankfully be done away with in the proposed reform of local government.
Mr. Donald Anderson : Is there not a subtle difference between what the council is doing and what the quangos are doing ? If the electorate in their wisdom decide that they disapprove, they can get rid of the council. The people of Wales can do nothing about the great quangocracy which is home for so many members and supporters of the hon. Member's party.
Mr. Richards : The hon. Gentleman, of all people, should know that quangos are accountable to Parliament. The point that I was making earlier, which the hon. Gentleman clearly missed, is that there is a tradition of corruption and sleaze in south Wales, because the Labour party has been in control of councils there for such a long time. As an hon. Member representing Swansea, the hon. Gentleman ought to know more about corruption and sleaze in local government than any other Opposition Member.
Those are the goings-on in the Labour party. It yells about underfunding whenever education, health or any other policy is discussed. How much more should we spend, the Government ask ? The Opposition cannot say, or they will not say. They are the same people who waste public money on themselves instead of spending it on schools, roads and social services for the benefit of the people. Labour councils always plead poverty. I will believe them only when the chairman exchanges his Jaguar for a Metro, and when he melts down his mayoral chain.
Mr. Hanson : The hon. Gentleman represents a seat in Clwyd, as I do. Will he come to the county with me tomorrow to meet the chief officers and chairmen of committees in Clwyd and explain to them why he has voted for cuts which have meant that children in my constituency do not have the books, resources and teachers they need ? That is not poverty--that is fact.
Mr. Richards : I will talk to the chief officers of Clwyd county council when it starts to co-operate with the borough council in the transfer of information for local government reform, when the Clwyd education authority stops trying to undermine schools in Clwyd from going for grant-maintained status, and when the Opposition stop being childish in this place and co-operate with the Government so that we can all get away earlier to drive to north Wales in the morning. I shall speak now about West Glamorgan county council. Anything that that council does not know about nepotism or fixing jobs in the teaching profession for Labour supporters is not worth knowing.
Column 1114currently holding a position as a teacher or college lecturer in West Glamorgan as a result of any corrupt practice ? If not, will he withdraw that statement ?
Mr. Richards : The hon. Gentleman is being astonishingly naive for someone who was in the education service and who worked in south Wales for many years. As the hon. Member representing Gower, he will know West Glamorgan well, and the whole history of West Glamorgan education authority is one of jobs for the boys.
Mr. Ron Davies : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is a serious matter, because many people outside the House have been subjected to a quite deliberate slur by the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards). My hon. Friend has given the hon. Gentleman the opportunity to withdraw that comment. People who are not able to protect themselves in the debate should at least have their names brought forward, or be given the courtesy of an apology. As a dialogue has started between the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend, would you tell the hon. Gentleman that it would be a courtesy to the House if he were to take a further intervention so that the matter can be clarified ?
Madam Deputy Speaker : As I understand it, no names have been mentioned. I would, of course, expect hon. Members of all parties to show restraint when making comments. That is a general observation, which is intended for all.
The council's Labour leader--one Tom Jones--has attempted to secure political advantage by instructing officers to identify potential gipsy sites in the wards of political opponents. That is in contravention of the council's written criteria for suitable locations. A total of nine potential sites were identified recently in a single ward. Eight of them are on privately owned farmland, and the other is on the football ground of Mawr community council. The sites have been identified without even a county-wide survey.
Mr. Donald Anderson : When the hon. Gentleman rose to speak, I thought that we would descend from the sublime to the ridiculous. The leader of the county to which he referred, County Councillor Tom Jones, is one of the most respected leaders of any county council in Wales. He has received several honours and plaudits from Conservative Secretaries of State. That shows the hon. Gentleman's lack of feeling and knowledge.
If he is so worried, he will be pleased to know that some of the proposed gipsy sites have been identified and some have been established in my constituency, which happens to be the constituency of that very distinguished leader of the county council, who is not here to answer for himself. It is disreputable and disgraceful that such a personalised attack should be made.
Column 1115It will come as no surprise that the other five wards in the southern half of the Lliw valley are held by Labour councillors. Nor will it come as a surprise to Opposition Members that the planning officer responsible for deciding on the sites is a Labour party activist, one Eddie Jones.
Mr. Gareth Wardell : As the hon. Gentleman is continuing to display his ignorance of the area of which he is speaking, which is part of my constituency, will he accept that a public inquiry had to be held some 18 months ago into the establishment of a possible gipsy site in the ward of a Labour county councillor next to the Felindre tin plate works ? Will he accept that as a fact ?
Mr. Richards : If the hon. Gentleman will also accept as a fact that one county councillor has the prospect of some nine gipsy sites in that one ward. That is yet another example of Labour putting Labour first and the people last, and Labour working for Labour, not for Britain.
Mr. Ron Davies : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As I understood your ruling on my previous point of order, the hon. Gentleman was in order before because he had not referred to anyone by name. As the hon. Gentleman has now named two individuals, does he not have a responsibility to present some evidence to the House of Commons so that we can determine whether there is any substance to what he is saying ?
It is disgraceful that individuals who have no opportunity to defend themselves are being insulted in this most cavalier way without any evidence being presented to us. Will you rule on that, Madam Deputy Speaker ?
Mr. Ainger : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As you know, the hon. Gentleman is a relatively new Member. In your experience, is it not normal in such circumstances that an hon. Member provides some evidence rather than simply making accusations ?