Mr. Robert Ainsworth (Coventry, North-East) : I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require those who were responsible for polluting land to be responsible for its restoration and decontamination ; and for connected purposes.
The Bill is designed to ensure the remedying of contaminated land under the general principle of the polluter pays. The need for and the benefit of such legislation should be plain to all : the improvement of our environment in the immediate locality of the sites involved, the removal of obstacles to the redeveloping of derelict and contaminated land and thereby relieving pressure on green belt and virgin green field sites, and the insurance of not handing to future generations the responsibilities of our actions in a totally unreasonable and irresponsible manner.
My Bill would require a monitoring of current processes to ensure that contamination is avoided and minimised. It would require the treatment of contamination as it arises or, where appropriate, in a reasonable time scale of a site being vacant or a polluting process ceasing to operate. It would require the establishment and maintenance of a register of contaminated land to ensure that full information was available to potential purchasers, developers, local authorities and the public.
The necessity for such a Bill should be clear. The Government have repeatedly mouthed the slogan of "the polluter pays" and time and again they have run up to the fence and refused to jump it. In January 1990, the Environment Select Committee said :
"it is the responsibility of the polluters to restore land on surrender or to ensure that clean up will take place."
It called for a code of practice to be implemented by the industry within two years and, failing that, for legislative action to be taken. Almost four years later, the Lords Committee on remedying environmental damage said that when one considers Government policy,
"It is quickly apparent that the polluter pays principle is providing no more than general indications of what might be desirable policy."
The Government's recently released consultation paper "Paying For Our Past" shirks the issue entirely and effectively advocates the continuation of the status quo. It states :
"If unnecessarily early steps to treat land have to be taken, this may positively jeopardise wealth creation . . . Contamination on most sites can be safely left until an opportunity such as redevelopment arises."
That, plus the Government's deregulation initiative, should be understood as the clearest of signs that the Government will maintain the status quo. The green veil behind which they have sought to hide their policies has been exposed and has fallen, and we can now see clearly that the vested interests which caused many of the problems on the sites, and which in some cases continue to cause them, are to be protected.
The realities of the Government's protecting of the vested interests and of the status quo can be seen all over the country. I could give so many instances that I do not have time to mention them all. In Armley, in Leeds, the residents of 258 properties face average bills of £7,500 to clean up asbestos pollution. A former factory has been
Column 746clearly identified as the cause of the pollution, yet residents have been told by the local authority that if they do not clear the pollution the council will clear it at their expense.
The failure to enact section 37 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 caused a huge rush among waste disposal operators to return their landfill licences, thereby avoiding all responsibility for the damage done to the sites over the years when profits were derived from their operation. The liability has thus been transferred back to the public purse. The Government's failure there has imposed a direct and considerable burden on the taxpayer.
In my constituency we have Foleshill town gasworks site--57 acres of derelict land, some of which has been derelict for 20 or 30 years. That is 57 acres of disgrace, danger and mess for the people who have to live around it. The site cannot be properly protected, and children gain access to it and play dangerously there. Criminal elements, too, gain access and get up to all sorts of activities such as breaking up cars. The heavy metal deposits on the site are a grave danger to the health of nearby residents. Moreover, the potential opportunity to create 2,500 jobs in a constituency in which 6,000 people are unemployed continues to be missed because of an over-long negotiation between British Gas and the Government about who should accept the responsibility.
Some issues that arise from that example are outside the scope of my Bill, but I can mention some of them. For instance, who is responsible for the pollution on such a site ? British Gas was publicly owned until recently. Now that it is a private company, is it to accept responsibility for the pollution, or did the Government frame the privatisation legislation so as to transfer the asset into the private sector while leaving the liabilities with the taxpayer in the public sector ?
Another issue that is causing problems affecting the site in my constituency is an unholy row between the Department and British Gas on grant allocations in central Manchester, where it is alleged that British Gas has managed to claim £4.4 million for site redevelopment to which it was not entitled.
It seems that the old maxim, "Tell Sid," which we heard at the time of privatisation, will soon become, "Keep a close eye on Sid" if the lesson of central Manchester is learnt. Meanwhile, the people of Foleshill continue to suffer that appalling situation in my constituency, and the consequent lack of opportunities. That and the many other examples from all over the land should prove that legislation such as my Bill is required.
The Government have signed up to such documents as, "Agenda 21" and "Sustainable Development--the UK Strategy". Those documents stem from the Rio summit and, as has been shown, the Government are effectively sustaining the status quo and their policy is totally at odds with those stated aims. My Bill will be at odds with their policy ; it will be at odds with the thrust towards deregulation in this sector. It will seek to take effective action, to prevent, cure and monitor contaminated land and to relieve the green belt by, wherever possible, bringing it back into economic use at the expense of the polluter. Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Robert Ainsworth, Mr. Geoffrey Robinson, Mr. Jim Cunningham, Ms Estelle Morris, Mr. Jon Owen Jones, Mr. Cynog Dafis, Ms Ann Coffey, Mr. Robert Litherland, Mr. George Howarth and Mr. Harry Barnes.
Mr. Robert Ainsworth accordingly presented a Bill to require those who were responsible for polluting land to be responsible for its restoration and decontamination ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 20 May 1994, and to be printed. [Bill 74.]
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your guidance on a matter that has been brought to my attention. In Thursday's debate, the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), without informing me that she would name me, accused me of dishonourable conduct. She made the entirely untrue accusation that I bought, sold and profited from council housing. Through you, Madam Speaker, I request the hon. Lady to withdraw her accusation because I have never owned, bought, sold, lived in or rented a council house in my life. The accusation that she made about me is entirely wrong.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I noticed that the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) was named. I had intended to name another hon. Member. I went to the Hansard office and corrected the matter immediately.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sure that you read the Order Paper every morning and that you will have noticed that I have tabled an early-day motion concerning more than 100 people in the Campsfield detention centre who are seeking asylum in this country and, to get their cases heard, have gone on hunger strike. I am sure that you will agree that that is an important and urgent matter because their lives are at risk in the long term. Have you had any intimation from the Home Secretary that he takes the matter seriously and plans to make a statement to the House about the plight of those poor people, who have come to this country to seek safety from oppression abroad ?
Madam Speaker : It is a little early in the week to draw attention to early-day motions. No Minister has informed me that he or she wants to make a statement on the subject that the hon. Gentleman has raised.
Order for Second Reading read.
Local government reorganisation has been debated extensively. The Government have consulted widely, issuing three documents and subsequently publishing the White Paper on Wales on St. David's day last year. Each of those papers generated many hundreds of responses, which have been placed in the Library.
We established the Welsh Consultative Council on Local Government so that representatives of both counties and districts could advise us. Groups of local authority workers worked with the Welsh Office to consider the practical implications of our proposals. More recently, working groups have been considering how to manage the transition to the new structure. I and my ministerial colleagues have had many meetings with Members of Parliament, councillors, professional organisations and members of the public. I am grateful for the positive co-operation of so many local councillors and their officers and much of the good advice from Members of Parliament.
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon) : Does the Secretary of State accept that, after having all that consultation with local government organisations and Members of Parliament, he still proposes a Bill that is actively opposed by 32 out of the 38 Members of Parliament who represent Wales, as is shown by the amendment on the Order Paper ? Can he confirm that in the Cabinet in the autumn he offered to withdraw the Bill but that that offer was swept to one side on the basis that a consensus existed in Wales ? Is not it clear now that there is no consensus in Wales for the Bill, and will the Secretary of State now withdraw it ?
Mr. Redwood : I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's premise. As the reasoned amendment makes clear, there is strong support for the idea of unitary authorities in Wales. Labour Members have different arguments. They wish to see an additional assembly on top of the unitary authorities that we are proposing. I know from my discussions with hon. Members on both sides of the House that there is a lot of support for the thrust of having unitary authorities, and quite a lot of support on the ground for many of the boundaries that we have proposed. Later, I shall make some additional amendments which I think will be welcomed by Labour Members.
As the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) knows, the Cabinet discussions are private. However, I can assure him that I vigorously defend the interests of Wales. I have no difficulty in recommending the Bill to the House this afternoon.
As I said, we have had plenty of opportunity to debate the proposals in the Welsh Grand Committee and during debate on the Queen's Speech. The Bill has been fully considered in another place and we have another all-day
Column 750debate today. The Government have listened carefully to representations. In response to the consultation, I have made a number of changes to the boundaries proposed in the White Paper. I have included all of Delyn in the new Flintshire, which has been welcomed by many Labour Members ; restored the communities of Ystradgynlais and Tawe Uchaf to Powys ; returned Coychurch Lower to Bridgend ; reunited the community of Llanelly Hill with the rest of Breconshire in Powys ; and moved the communities of Cynwyd and Llandrillo to Denbighshire. I have always chosen to move territories that test Welsh pronounciation to the extreme. I have accepted a number of amendments in another place--most importantly, agreeing that any joint authorities etablished under clause 31 should be composed of local councillors.
The aims of local government reorganisation in Wales are to create good local government close to and accountable to local people based on a strong sense of community identity, and to establish authorities that can operate efficiently, buying in services where that is better.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : The Secretary of State gives way to a Scot who apologises that he must flee to the fiasco of the Committee dealing with the reform of Scottish local government, which meets every Tuesday and Thursday from 10.30 am to 1.00 pm, 4.30 pm until 7.30 pm and then 9.00 pm to 1.00 in the morning. If he looks at the report of our proceedings, he will see that it is a fiasco. What is the cost of Welsh local government reform ?
Mr. Redwood : A range of costs have been estimated by a consultant. I believe that the cost will be modest. I do not believe that there will be a large number of redundancies, so the result is that there will not be large capital costs for the transition. I will be working closely with local government to ensure that we do not need a lot of additional administrative office blocks, for example, which are some of the other costs that some people have proposed.
Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside) : The right hon. Gentleman mentioned redundancies. May I tell him that my constituents who work in Alyn and Deeside district council and Clwyd county council are anxious about the future and about whether they will have a job once the Bill is enacted and the measures are in place. What reassurance can the Secretary of State give to my constituents who work in local government that they have a future ?
Mr. Redwood : Most local government workers will have a good future in the new unitary authorities. If they are delivering services--if they are teachers or care workers providing a front-line service--I envisage them being transferred in their entirety in practically every case. I hope that that is the sort of reassurance for which the hon. Gentleman wishes. When it comes to senior management and administration, there will need to be some competition for the posts that are required in those local authorities.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) : If one of the main aims of this reorganisation is to bring local government nearer to the people, can the Secretary of State explain how that is possible in south Meirionnydd when it is proposed that there should be a centre at Caernarfon, which is 110 miles and a good two-hour drive away ? Is that bringing local government nearer to the people ?
Mr. Redwood : The hon. Gentleman's area may well be one which would want to take advantage of the decentralisation proposals. That would mean that some of the functions could be carried out closer to his own constituents in Meirionnydd, and I will give more information on that if I can make progress with my speech.
The aim is to have just one council in each area which is close enough to people to represent them, strong enough to command respect and able to decide for itself and get on with the job. No one will be left in doubt who is responsible. Each constituent will be able to turn to one council through his own local councillor for help, redress and service. The present system divides responsibility for planning and economic development between county and district. Closely related areas, such as social services and housing, and trading standards and environmental health are given in part to the county and in part to the district council. A local developer may take a planning application to his district, only to be told that the highway issues are for the county, which in turn must advise the district. An elderly person who is seeking help may be shunted from county social services head office to area social services to district housing. I believe that we can do better than that, and the proposals will provide a clearer service for all.
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham) : I recognise that, as an English hon. Member, I am looking forward and beyond local government reorganisation in Wales. There are to be 21 highway authorities, and I accept that there will be co-ordination in some planning matters. Is my right hon. Friend confident that 21 highway authorities will have the competence to be able to carry forward co-ordinated routes ? Will we find that, on the boundaries, there will be a change from salting to non-salting, or roads not meeting ? How will those be co-ordinated ?
Mr. Redwood : The principal routes are trunk roads, for which I and the Welsh Office are responsible directly to the House. In other areas, there will be agreement between local authorities on the ground and, of course, the Welsh Office will offer guidance and some strategic information which may help in the development of a proper highways strategy.
Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery) : The Secretary of State talked about people being shunted from county social services to area social services in a critical way. Does not the right hon. Gentleman understand that area social services offices are out-stations of county social services ? Is he proposing now to abolish area social services offices ?
Mr. Redwood : Of course not. I was drawing attention to the difficulty that constituents have when they first go to headquarters, are then told quite properly to go to an area department and are then told that it is a housing matter and that they must go to the district. We are producing a rather simpler procedure which will help the hon. and learned Gentleman's constituents and others.
Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda) : The Secretary of State is showing an abysmal ignorance of how local government works. When people go for help from social services, they immediately go to the local offices. They do not go to county hall for a walking aid. They go through their local offices. The Secretary of State's argument surely defeats the object of the exercise of creating unitary authorities. He is arguing that the proper relationship between what people
Column 752can have and the best way of delivering the services can be achieved by two-tier local government, which we will get at the end of the day anyhow.
Mr. Redwood : That is not what I said. We are moving from three points of contact either to two or to one, and that to me is an improvement and simplification in the services. It will make it better for individuals, and it is common sense. Many who now go direct to their area office still have the tension of wondering whether they will be dealt with by the area office or by the housing office. That will go under the proposals which I am putting forward.
Mr. Roger Evans (Monmouth) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that a particularly compelling example of the point that he is making is the responsibility for land drainage and for flooding ? At the moment, the county authority has the responsibility if the water comes from a highway while the borough or district authority has powers but limited duties. Is not the confusion in the mind of the person whose house is flooded quite impossible ?
In building a new structure of local government, the Government wanted each council to represent a community, to enjoy the loyalties of local people and to be sufficiently strong to manage services well. The pursuit of the objectives has resulted in a varied pattern of authorities proposed for Wales--varied in geographical extent and in populations.
It has also led in some cases to vigorous argument about the need for smaller or even occasionally for bigger councils. I cannot respond positively to every demand of community identity. If we did, we might well return to the days before 1974 when there were 181 local authorities in Wales, few of which were big enough to do a good job. Nor do I intend to seek larger units on the ground that they may produce more economies if that means an unacceptable erosion of loyalties.
Following the debates in Parliament and in Wales generally, I have decided that there is a good case for a unitary Merthyr and a unitary Blaenau Gwent. Although I am reluctant to increase the number of authorities in the Bill, I understand the differences between Merthyr and its proposed partner in Blaenau Gwent. I understand Merthyr's long, proud history and its former status as a county borough. Its size, which is comparable to that of Cardiganshire and Anglesey, also works in its favour.
Mr. Rogers : I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) will also want to intervene. I find the Secretary of State's statement amazing. I congratulate Merthyr on becoming a unitary authority, but the same arguments that he put for a unitary authority in Merthyr could be put for Rhondda. Rhondda is the only authority that has not changed since the local government structure was set up last century. What is the difference ?
Mr. Redwood : The arguments on size, history and former status do not all apply in the same way to Rhondda. As I have just explained, I cannot continue indefinitely creating many more authorities because they would not be
Column 753sufficiently strong, firm or large to do the job. Merthyr is a special case. I am granting it unitary authority status because I can see the force of the argument.
Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) : I thank the right hon. Gentleman for, on this occasion, being a listening Secretary of State. He has listened to the universal representations that he has received. The proposed Heads of the Valleys authority had no supporters whereas there was an alternative consensus such as he described. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) and others who joined in making the representations. Twenty two years ago I returned to the House in a by- election in the very year that the then Government abolished the county borough of Merthyr Tydfil. It is a great pleasure to be here when we are about to restore it.
Mr. Redwood : I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. I think that it is the right decision and I look forward to his support when the amendments are tabled. We intend to move amendments to add the northern Rhymney valley to Caerphilly and to create the two new unitaries that I have described, bringing the total number of authorities up to 22.
Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent) : While I welcome the Minister's statement that unitary status will be given to Blaenau Gwent, may I ask him to comment on the decision to take the Llanelli community into Powys, especially in view of the recent referendum ? Although the result of the referendum was not in favour of Blaenau Gwent, only approximately 15 per cent. voted for the Llanelli community to go into Powys.
Mr. Redwood : As the hon. Gentleman said, the result certainly was not in favour of Blaenau Gwent. There was a stronger feeling that the community should not be in Blaenau Gwent than for anything else. I have responded to that feeling.
I have revised my original proposals for 1,100 councillors, following consultation. The Standing Committee may wish to discuss my present proposal for 1,260 councillors for the new authorities. There will be an additional 15 for the extra council that I have announced today.
Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) : While I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) and for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith), may I ask the Secretary of State to explain why Cynon Valley is not to be a unitary authority ? In the original proposals of his predecessor, Cynon Valley was to be a unitary authority. What has changed in the meantime ? Why has he not changed his mind on that issue, as he has on the other two areas ?
Mr. Redwood : I have not amended the White Paper proposals of my predecessor in this respect. I think that they were right. I have described the special circumstances that apply to Merthyr which, as the hon. Lady will understand only too well, do not apply to her area. That is where the matter rests.
Column 754proposals were later amended when the Secretary of State made the amalgam of the Glamorgan valleys, which he has now altered simply by name. Will the Secretary of State explain why he is setting up one authority with a population of a quarter of a million, and saying that that is the right size for a unitary authority, when next to it --I do not carp about the fact that Merthyr has received selective treatment--he is setting up an authority with a population smaller than two of the authorities immediately adjacent ? Both Taff-Ely and Rhondda have larger populations than Merthyr.
Mr. Redwood : I think that it is Opposition Members who have selective memories. The White Paper was published by my predecessor and I have not changed the White Paper proposals in the areas in which Opposition Members are now asking me to change them. I think that my predecessor's judgment was right. It is a balance between the sense of community and the scale and size of the authorities in the way that I have described. I believe that we have now come to the right judgment in the light of the decisions that I am proposing today.
Mr. Carlile rose
Mr. Redwood : May I be allowed to finish with one set of interventions before coming to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile)--who, I seem to remember, did not want to allow me to speak at all to the House when we last debated the subject on the Floor of the House ? I will offer him a courtesy that he did not offer me when we last debated the matter.
I have already made the point about Merthyr. Its former status, its sense of community identity and the special unpopularity of simply putting the two communities together across the Heads of the Valleys swayed my judgment, which makes it different from some of the other cases that we are examining.
I will now give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman.
Mr. Carlile : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman because I wanted to ask him a question in the context of his current remarks. Bearing in mind the consideration that he has given to Merthyr and Blaenau Gwent, what special historical and community circumstances apply to Merthyr and Blaenau Gwent, the decisions on which are welcome, that do not apply to Montgomeryshire ?
Mr. Redwood : I have already dealt with that. The hon. and learned Gentleman obviously was not listening. If he were a better advocate of his case, perhaps we would be making more progress. He should be aware that Merthyr Tydfil was the only county borough whose former historic status was not recognised in the White Paper proposals--that is one of the points that is of importance--whereas several historic shire counties unfortunately have not had that recognised in the form of separate unitary status because of size and service delivery problems, of which the hon. and learned Gentleman should be well aware.
As to the issue of councillor numbers, the Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales will, following implementation, conduct further electoral reviews of each of the new authorities. Some areas will be reviewed before the second elections in 1999, and the whole of Wales will have been covered by the time of the third elections to the new authorities in 2003.
Mr. Nick Ainger (Pembroke) : Will the Secretary of State explain to me, and to the House, why he wants to delay the Boundary Commission's review ? I can give him examples in the proposed Pembrokeshire unitary authority of wards that, under his proposals, will have two members and 4,000 electors, yet there will be another ward with fewer than 800 electors with one member. Surely those anomalies should be tackled at the earliest opportunity and not delayed for six or more years.
Mr. Redwood : We are simply trying to come up with a practical programme for the local government Boundary Commission, but I am happy for my hon. Friends to consider that matter again on our behalf in Committee if that is the wish of the Committee. However, we need a realistic timetable that provides a sensible work pattern for Wales. I am currently considering responses to my announcement that elections to the new authorities could be held on 6 April 1995. That would allow a full year for recruitment of senior staff and for planning the provision of services. I think that that is long enough, but I will consider all responses carefully, including those of people who want May rather than April, and I will welcome the further views of Members in the debate and subsequently in Committee. In some cases, the new unitary authorities contain towns and historic shires that retain a strong sense of identity. To take account of that, the Bill proposes, in clauses 27 and 28, special arrangements for establishing area committees where those are requested by not fewer than 10 members from those areas. Where those arrangements are invoked, it would be for councils to come up with their own decentralisation schemes. That means that if Powys or Carmarthenshire proposed suitable schemes in respect of Montgomeryshire or Llanelli, local councillors could make their own decisions on matters such as housing allocation, planning applications, local social services, local roads and amenities and leisure facilities.
Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd) : Is the Secretary of State saying that those would also apply to the Cynon Valley, Rhondda and Taff-Ely administration that he wishes to create ? If it does, where does it make sense ? In Taff-Ely we have created, since 1974, a cohesion out of what were two very different boroughs. It has taken 20 years to create that. The borough has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Wales. It is a go-ahead borough which has been a success. Why does the right hon. Gentleman insist on coming up with that second-best method of running local government when a perfectly good unitary authority already exists ? Where is the sense in it ?
Mr. Redwood : The hon. Gentleman has forgotten that this is an enabling power. I am leaving the decision where I hope that he wants it-- with local councils. If elected councillors, on behalf of their electorates, believe that they need those special local responsibilities, they have them in an area committee. If they believe that they do not need them and that they would get in the way, they need not have them. That is true local democracy. I hope that the Opposition will reflect on that and see the advantage of my proposal.
Column 756that local councillors who seek to take advantage of the area committee idea would want to be in a position where they also controlled the finance for providing local services, as they do not have proper autonomy unless they also hold the purse strings ? What are my right hon. Friend's proposals for financial arrangements ?
Mr. Redwood : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pushing me further on that point. We may be able to come up with arrangements in terms of block grant or block money voted by the local authorities concerned. I wish to return to that matter and I hope that the Committee will return to it. I hope that we shall return to it in the form of guidance and in developing more details of the system. What is important for the statute is that it will provide a guarantee, if the scheme is approved by me, of the local decentralisation sought by local councillors. [Interruption.] I shall explain that in a little more detail for those hon. Members who seem unable to grasp the essential point.
Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly) : I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way on this important point. If I heard him correctly, he proposes to come up with something in Committee. If the decentralisation proposal is of such fundamental importance that it will deal with the particular problem of Powys and recognise the case of Montgomery for unitary authority status, he should have given more thought to it. He should be in a better position to put explicit proposals to the House this evening, rather than hoping that, in Committee, he or the Committee will come up with something.
There is then the separate issue of what local schemes councillors might like to design in order to seek my approval to them. They should include some discussion of how the money will be handled. I firmly recommend that we do not go all the way, as some hon. Members might like, and give separate tax-raising powers to area committees. That is not part of the proposal.
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn) : The Secretary of State has not responded to the acute question put by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) concerning the connection between responsibilities in practice and finance in practice, which is the essence of democracy. It simply is not good enough, after Green Papers, White Papers, consultation, sessions in the Welsh Grand Committee, consideration with his civil servants and contacts with local authorities, to say on Second Reading that he might be willing to allow certain things to occur and we must see what he can come up with in Committee. We are discussing the Second Reading of a Bill to which he is committed. We are discussing not an intimate detail or a tiny matter of consideration at the margins of public importance but a matter that is central to the operation of local government in Wales, as the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor pointed out. The Secretary of State must give a much more convincing answer to the questions raised by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor and my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) than he has given so far.
Column 757cover the constitutional issue of the area committees' power vis a vis the principal council. I recommend firmly to the House that they should not be given separate tax-raising powers.
The proposals for decentralisation schemes have been criticised both for not giving councillors enough power and for trying to recreate a two-tier system of government by the back door. Opposition Members cannot sensibly argue both those propositions at the same time. There is a third possibility : that the Government have struck the right balance. There will be savings in cost because there will not be two groups of councillors and two corporate structures and overheads to maintain. There will be strong local interest in being represented by local committees. Councillors could meet for that purpose in the principal town of the area and could have staff working in the same place.
Authorities do not need my approval to establish a decentralisation scheme. There would be nothing to prevent the new authorities from establishing, as now, a wide range of decentralisation measures, including an area committee system using existing powers. I see no need, in Wales, to impose a duty on all the new authorities to submit general schemes to me indicating how they propose to apply those existing powers.