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The Bill offers members of local authorities representing particular areas- -such as Montgomeryshire--a guarantee that a decentralised system of administration will be adopted and maintained.
The Secretary of State's involvement in the process is required to provide that guarantee. The Bill does not require me to have a detailed or continuing role. It is for the authorities concerned to submit a scheme to me for approval. In that way, the schemes that emerge should be tailored to the particular local circumstances. The schemes should, of course, have something to say about how the money is to be granted, in what blocks it can be granted and how it can be protected under the Bill.
Once a scheme has been established and the guarantee given, the Secretary of State's involvement would cease. In keeping with the thinking that runs throughout the Bill, to which I am strongly committed, any decision to amend the scheme or to abolish it altogether would be for local determination--not for mine--in this case requiring the agreement of not only the principal council but also the area committee. Does the hon. Gentleman still have a problem ?
Mr. Rogers : I still have a problem : it is the Secretary of State. Quite frankly, he has been duplicitous on a number of occasions. I have asked to see the Secretary of State and I have put forward arguments about the reorganisation in regard to the Rhondda. I have also seen the Under- Secretary of State.
Column 758The Bill went through the House of Lords ; there were never any proposals along those lines except that we have to have authorities of a certain size to do the job. We are not carping particularly about Merthyr or Blaenau Gwent, but if the Secretary of State says that two areas--one with a population of 73,000 and one even smaller-- are able to be unitary authorities, how is it that three authorities--Taff- Ely with a population of more than 90,000, Rhondda with more than 80,000 and Cynon Valley--are now not worthy of unitary status ?
The Secretary of State has certainly misled me all the way and on every representation we have made to him. He has seen me on a number of occasions, he said that he would take our representations on board and then, at the end of the day, between the Lords and here, he has now turned on his head. Quite frankly, it is a disgusting thing that he has done.
Mr. Redwood : I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reflect and will withdraw those remarks. I have never promised an independent Rhondda authority. The representations I received were particularly strong in wishing to have the important name of Rhondda reflected in the local authority. I met that in the change of name I recommended to the House which has been approved in the other place. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will remember that I listened carefully to what he said. I reached the judgment I am putting to the House today which reflects the facts on the ground in the different circumstances of different councils in Wales.
Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South) : May I move my right hon. Friend to another point ? The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children is concerned about the fact that the Bill places no statutory duty on local authorities to have a social services committee. Can he give me some reassurance about how social services will be structured in Wales after the changes have taken place and let me know whether the same child protection arrangements will be in place for each local authority ?
responsibilities of local government ; they will transfer to the new unitary authorities. Social services will be one of the most crucial areas for which they are responsible, but in accordance with the settlement in the Bill, we are leaving the maximum amount of freedom to those unitary authorities to decide how to organise their political and administrative arrangements. I reassure my hon. Friend that the real concerns that he has in mind will, I am sure, be properly taken care of by responsible local government in Wales. The statutory requirements will remain in place to ensure that they stay up to the mark in delivering these important services.
I disagree with those who say that we need larger councils to deliver effective services. There were several debates in another place on trading standards. I believe that trading standards services, such as environmental health, can be organised by councils smaller than the current counties. Powys, one of the smaller new unitary authorities in population terms, is already a county authority responsible for trading standards and provides that service without problems. If councils believe that they can provide a better service by subcontracting to a neighbouring or larger authority, or alternatively by sharing their service with their neighbours, powers are available. I have
Column 759confidence that local government will be able to sort out its own arrangements for those important services and will want to do a good job for their local communities.
Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower) : Is the Secretary of State satisfied that voluntary arrangements between the new unitary authorities will tackle planning issues, knowing what a mess the voluntary arrangements for waste disposal turned out to be ? If strategic plans will remain in position, do not the Welsh people deserve to have at least the same treatment as Scotland ?
Mr. Redwood : The Welsh Office will retain its interest in planning matters and has a responsibility for the general planning strategy and guidance affecting the whole of Wales. Many of the big investment decisions will be made by the House and financed out of central taxation, which will have a considerable influence on the development of Wales.
One of the most important strategic planning statements that I have made since taking up office was the statement on road priorities, which will in turn have a considerable impact on development patterns. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that, at strategic level, the House and the Welsh Office will have strong
responsibilities. I have every confidence that 22 local authorities--not many more, as 22 is the maximum that we could allow--will be able to plan for their local areas within that general strategic guidance and advice from the Welsh Office.
Mr. Ainger : The Secretary of State mentioned roads as an important strategic issue. Will he give an assurance during the debate that, on the problems that will undoubtedly be faced by the new unitary authority in Pembrokeshire for the funding of the Cleddau bridge--both the outstanding debt burden that exists and the strengthening that will have to take place to comply with European Union legislation from 1 January 1999, which, with the outstanding debt, could total more than £30 million--he will investigate the possibility of tabling an amendment to the new legislation so that grant aid can be given to the new Pembrokeshire unitary authority to offset that massive burden, which will undoubtedly strangle any unitary authority at birth ?
Mr. Redwood : I do not agree with the apocalyptic vision of the hon. Gentleman, but the spending requirements and needs of each area are, and will be, taken into account when we come to settle both capital programmes and revenue support grant. I am sure that nearer the time the hon. Gentleman will remind me of the need to take that into account. I cannot hold out the assurance that he would really like--that I would transfer the whole thing to my Department's responsibility. That would not be the right course. But that local authority needs to have a reasonable settlement and to bear in mind its obligations.
It may be helpful if I repeat the undertaking given by my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate.
Mr. Redwood : May I make this point, as I have been trying to make it for some time ? I will come back to the hon. Gentleman. In response to cross-party concerns expressed about the future of existing archive collections, an amendment will
Column 760be tabled in Committee providing for the new authorities to consult me and my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor before arrangements are made for the archive service. That is a concession to the cross-party team in the other place. I assume that it is also satisfactory from the point of view of hon. Members who might serve on the Committee.
Mr. Ray Powell : I am still rather confused about the financial structure that the Secretary of State has outlined. Some of my hon. Friends have already suggested that he should be more explicit, and I think that Welsh local authorities would like more information than he has offered. I know that the right hon. Gentleman was a great supporter of the poll tax ; perhaps he will suggest a similar scheme in Committee. We do not know what is in his mind at this stage. It is essential for him to be more explicit about the financial structure before we go into the Lobbies to vote for or against the proposals.
Mr. Redwood : I have been extremely explicit, as have the Government as a whole. It fell to me to help to see the council tax through, but we have nothing further to add on that side of the local government ledger. The new tax was enough for me ; I wish to live on with it, rather than with some replacement.
As for the other side of the accounts--the question of grant and revenue funding for the services for which the area committees will be responsible- -I have been crystal clear in explaining that that is a matter for the local authorities to recommend under the decentralisation scheme. The Bill must give a guarantee that the approved scheme will work, and cannot be reversed by the principal councils ; it is now up to local government to decide how far it wishes to go within the law of the land and the general rules in regard to those decentralisation arrangements.
It is not for me to be over-prescriptive in the world in which I wish to create--a world in which local authorities take more responsibility. I thought that Opposition Members were trying to encourage that, but now, at every turn, they are trying to make me answer all the questions rather than just those that should properly be answered by the holder of my office.
In another place, concern was expressed that local authorities would be unable to make representations to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary about the membership and structure of combined fire authorities, and any new amalgamation schemes for police authorities. The Government are considering the matter. We believe that one way forward could be to impose a duty on the Home Secretary to give notice of any new proposals to the existing fire and police authorities, as well as to the relevant shadow unitary authorities. The giving of notice would carry with it a duty on my right hon. and learned Friend to consider representations. I am sure that the Committee will return to that issue.
To allow for an orderly handover, the existing counties and districts will be under a duty to come together in transition committees--one for each of the new authority areas. The committees will need to identify the property, assets and staff that should transfer, and the existing service delivery arrangements. Clauses 29 to 31 provide a package of reserve powers enabling me to intervene if there is any risk of a breakdown in service delivery. I have already stated my clear preference for local arrangements.
Column 761I see the reserve powers as very much a last resort, for use in the transitional period only. If hon. Members wish to modify them, I shall be happy to consider their requests.
Part V of the Bill provides for the establishment of the residuary body for Wales and the Staff Commission for Wales. It sets up mechanisms for transferring staff to the new authorities, and for the payment of compensation in appropriate circumstances. The residuary body's prime function would be advise me on the transfer of assets, and to manage and dispose of redundant assets. The body could also end up in temporary ownership of an asset if two or more authorities disputed its future. That would allow time to sort out the matter. The residuary body is not a means for the Secretary of State to deprive Welsh councils of various assets that are unaffected by the reorganisation. Transfers would be made under the order-making power in clause 53. Clause 53 could not be used, for example, to transfer the St. David's shopping centre in Cardiff to the residuary body ; such a transfer would not fall within the purposes of the Act, nor would it be a consequence of its provisions.
Assets that might be transferred to the residuary body are those such as administrative buildings which are, or are likely to become, redundant because of the organisation. I propose to use a mixture of asset proceeds and credit approvals to fund any new administrative buildings that might be required by the reorganisation. The precise arrangements in each case will need to be judged on their merits nearer the time.
As far as possible, I want to achieve two objectives in the transfer of staff. First, staff in district and county councils should be treated equally ; secondly, the large majority of staff should pass to a new employer with a minimum of disruption.
Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) : I should like to pursue with the right hon. Gentleman a very important matter that has been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) from a sedentary position. There has been huge county council investment in Cardiff Wales airport. Will responsibility for the airport stay within local government after reorganisation ?
Mr. Redwood : Recently I had a useful meeting with representatives of interests at the airport. We discussed the future investment and shareholding. There may be moves afoot to secure a local answer. I should like to see one that is good news for the future of the airport and that brings in the right kind of investment and management partnership. I should like to see how far we can get in discussion following our useful first meeting. I am not making any distinct proposals for the airport under this provision.
The Government's present proposal, which has been set out fully in another place, is that the vast majority of staff should be transferred by statutory transfer order. Other staff would be able to compete for jobs with the new authorities or receive a severance package. Some commentators have pressed the Government to transfer all staff to the new councils. That is an option which the Government are considering and which the Standing Committee will undoubtedly wish to debate further.
Whichever option is finally adopted, I do not expect the reorganisation to lead to a dramatic cut in the number of local authority staff in Wales. Inevitably there will be
Column 762reductions in some areas as a result of the removal of the duplication that exists in the present two-tier system. As I mentioned earlier, I anticipate that all teachers, care workers and other local service operators are likely to transfer. My present estimate is that at least 95 per cent. of all staff will transfer. I hope that most people in local government will find these comments reassuring, which is what they are intended to be.
In the light of the debates in another place on staffing, the Government will be looking again at the drafting of clause 44. We wish to reassure staff that they will have their full rights under employment protection legislation--including consultation with staff and trade unions about prospective redundancies and notice of redundancy. Any amendments that are necessary to achieve this will be brought forward in Committee.
My right hon. Friends and I are still considering carefully the compensation arrangements that should apply to the reorganisations in Wales, Scotland and England. We shall consult on our proposals when they are finalised.
Finally, I plan to set up the Staff Commission for Wales in shadow form immediately after Easter. That is in accordance with the undertaking given in the White Paper. I hope that the House will agree that it is important for the commission to begin its work as soon as possible, building on the valuable work already done by the advisory committee on staffing matters. I shall make an announcement about appointments to the staff commission in due course. The Bill will create strong new local authorities--local authorities based on communities, able to represent them well and serve them better. The Bill will strengthen local government. It should lead to better local government. It will lead to a renaissance of local government in Wales. I commend it to the House.
Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly) : I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof : "this House, while recognising a broad measure of support for the principle of unitary authorities in Wales, declines to give a Second Reading to the Local Government (Wales) Bill [ Lords ] since it fails to establish a directly elected all Wales tier of government, concentrates further power over local government in the hands of the Secretary of State for Wales, abolishes a democratic tier of local government in favour of joint boards and other joint arrangements, threatens to undermine the viability of local services, provides opportunities for further privatisation and the possible creation of even more Welsh quangos, does nothing to improve the system of Welsh local government finance, ignores important traditional and historic Welsh local government boundaries and will cost the Welsh people at least £100 million which could be better used in improving basic local government services."
I should like to draw attention to the fact that, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), this is the first occasion on which such an amendment has united all Opposition Members representing Welsh constituencies against the Second Reading of a Bill that relates exclusively to Wales.
Following the Secretary of State's uncertain and hesitant introduction, I am not convinced that the right hon. Gentleman has major areas of discretion that he wishes to see clarified in Committee if the Bill is given a Second Reading. I believe that, rather, he is full of confusion, reflecting the fact that he has not thought the proposals through as carefully as he ought to have done.
Column 763Before moving to the detail of the Bill, I want to reflect on three matters. The first is the strength of feeling in Wales against these proposals. Of the 38 Welsh Members of Parliament, 32 have signalled their opposition. The three major political parties are united in opposition. I exclude the Conservative party, of course, as, given the level of its electoral support and its current showing in the opinion polls, it can hardly be described as a major political party--least of all in Wales.
It is worth noting that the reason for reorganisation of Welsh local government being carried through by the Secretary of State, without the benefit of a commission as is the case in England, was made clear in the original consultation paper of June 1991. The then Secretary of State, in paragraph 1.5 of the paper, trusted "that, in light of responses to the ideas set out in this consultation paper, it will prove possible to reach a broadly based agreement on the way forward in Wales."
As we all acknowledge and as the Secretary of State mentioned in his speech, there has been extensive debate in Wales, especially in local government, on the most appropriate course for reform. The proposals before us have managed to unite all parts of Welsh local government, but to unite it in opposition to the Bill. The county councils that have the relevant responsibility believe that too many councils have been proposed and that the smaller unitary authorities will not be sufficiently viable to undertake the necessary planning and co-ordination of services for which they will become responsible, notably strategic planning, education and social services. The districts contend that there are too few councils and that the historic boundaries of areas such as Radnorshire and Meirionnydd, in rural Wales, and Merthyr and Blaenau Gwent, in the valleys--which were in the right hon. Gentleman's initial proposals--are not reflected in these proposals.
Mr. Jonathan Evans : During his address the hon. Gentleman has told us of the views of the county councils in Wales. Looking at the hon. Members on the Opposition Benches behind him who have made contributions so far, it seems to me that every single one was asking the Secretary of State to go still further in setting up even more unitary authorities. In those circumstances, will the hon. Gentleman clarify for the benefit of hon. Members and of Wales where he stands on the proposals of the county councils in Wales ?
Mr. Davies : I will certainly give the hon. Gentleman the satisfaction of clarification on one important matter. As I understand it, he is concerned about the future of the unitary authority of Powys. I shall give the hon. Gentleman the opportunity in Committee to vote on whether Powys should continue as a unitary authority.
I am sure that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) will see to it that an amendment is tabled allowing the Committee to vote for the creation of unitary authorities for Montgomery and for Brecon and Radnor. I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that it is my firm intention to support him.
If the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) wishes to table an amendment to create a unitary authority for Brecon and Radnor, I give him the firm assurance that I am prepared to support it. If, on the other hand, he wishes to submit an amendment to create a unitary authority for Radnorshire alone, I shall give the matter careful consideration and I should be delighted to receive any representations that he cares to make.
representations made by the county councils in Wales ?
Mr. Davies : Given the confusion that exists in Powys, I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would want to resolve that problem rather than involve himself in debates elsewhere. However, I can give him an assurance that in the latter part of my speech I intend to refer to the proposals that the Secretary of State announced today with reference to Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr, and I will certainly give him a clear indication as to the map of local government in Wales that would be preferable.
Mr. Davies : I have given the hon. Gentleman a clear answer to his question-- [Interruption.] --even if he does not like it. I have twice given way. I am amazed that, every time we have a debate on Welsh affairs, the conduct of Conservative Members seems to sink to the level of the gutter. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor has intervened twice and I have given way to him twice. He has asked questions and I have responded to them. If he wishes to pursue that issue, he will doubtless attempt to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. If he wishes to pursue it in Committee, I shall be happy to do so, too, but I should now like to make progress.
I have said that the county councils believe that too many councils have been proposed and that the smaller unitary authorities will not be viable. Of course, the districts take a counter-view ; incidentally, that is despite the 1991 consultation paper which boldly declared guiding reform as one of its five fundamental principles. Paragraph 1.6 of that paper stated :
"local authority boundaries should as far as possible, reflect and strengthen existing community loyalties."
Setting aside the vexed question of boundaries, on which the counties and districts understandably have different perspectives, both tiers are united in opposing the reforms precisely because they reflect a deliberate attack on the ability of local government to plan and deliver local services. How can anyone welcome the proposals, especially those in clause 25 that will weaken direct democratic control in favour of centralised Welsh Office control, in light of the inefficiency, waste, corruption and incompetence that characterise the Welsh Office and its attendant quangos ?
Democratic local government clearly has a direct interest, but its objections to the proposals are echoed by, among others, the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress in Wales, the Churches, the training and enterprise councils and a swathe of community opinion. According to the latest opinion poll undertaken for BBC Wales, 47 per cent. of the Welsh public were against these proposals and only 20 per cent. were in favour. Paragraph 1.6 contains a fundamental principle :
"local authorities should be democratically accountable to their electorates".
What clearer expression could there be of public opinion--of the democratic wish of the electorate--than all those varied views ? Only one local authority out of 45 has declared support for the proposals--Conservative- controlled Monmouth. As we know, its agenda is to protect its own party political
Column 765interests. The last elections in Wales were held in May last year. Of the 502 county councillors elected, 31 were Conservative. As I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) will point out, last week Labour had a resounding victory in the Bassaleg ward of Gwent county council, for the first time taking a Conservative-held county council seat. The 31 Conservative county councillors are represented by the independent group on the Assembly of Welsh Counties. In representing their views, the Assembly of Welsh Counties has made it clear that the leaders of Conservative opinion--Conservative local government in Wales--are vigorous in their condemnation of the proposals.
The second matter on which I wish to reflect is how the Government have managed to squander the genuine consensus in Wales in favour of reform. As our amendment makes clear, there is a broad measure of support in Wales for the principle of unitary authorities. Indeed, unlike the Secretary of State, most of us who stood as candidates and were elected for Wales in the last general election had such a manifesto commitment. Those of us who represent Wales understand that a sensible reform of local government could allow more unitary authorities, recognising the important traditional and historic boundaries to which our amendment refers.
We also recognise that any sensible reform of government in Wales has to include reform of all tiers of government. As well as democratising the existing devolved tier of government in the Welsh Office, a Welsh assembly or parliament would provide precisely the right mechanism for the strategic planning and co-ordination of the services that are delivered by the unitary authorities but that would require such an overview.
Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West) rose
Mr. Davies : You were present, Madam Deputy Speaker, at the previous debate on Welsh affairs and you had to draw the hon. Gentleman's attention three times to the codes of courtesy and good conduct that we apply in the House. He took it on himself to launch a sustained, vicious and unsubstantiated attack on people outside the House of Commons who were not in a position to defend themselves. Until he understands that there are codes of good conduct and courtesy with which we should all comply, I have no intention whatever of giving way to him in the debate.
There is now an overwhelming view in Wales and a genuine consensus that to have an assembly and unitary authorities is the appropriate way to proceed. Certainly, it is the considered and joint view of the Assembly of Welsh Counties, the Council of Welsh Districts and 70 per cent. of the Welsh electorate who voted for those policies at the general election and the overwhelming majority view of those of us who represent Wales in the House of Commons. It is a pity that those who now run Wales--Conservative Members --are so lacking in confidence, so hidebound by their own centralising tendencies and so determined to cling to power for their own party's sake that they cannot bring themselves to acknowledge our majority view. I have never been one to regard the House of Lords as some beacon of democracy, but overwhelming support was forthcoming there for an all-Wales tier of government,
Column 766even from the likes of Lord Hailsham in Committee, and it certainly managed to demonstrate how the Government are so out of date and reactionary.
By their failure to come to terms with the issue, the Government are proceeding with legislation that, inevitably, will be unsatisfactory. It will create a pattern of local government that will be inherently unstable and history will judge the Bill as the starting point for a fundamental and radical reform of Welsh government.
Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North) : May I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that, far from proposing to enhance democracy in Wales, which is what a directly elected assembly would do, the Government are undermining democracy, taking away democratic powers and placing them under the control of centralised authorities, especially in education ? Do the Secretary of State and the hon. Gentleman recognise the great anxiety in Wales, especially about education, because of the reduction in democratic accountability and the effect of the opting-out process on the delivery of services to schools ? Confusion will be created by having, in effect, two education systems--two school systems with two systems of funding--and that will have a terrible effect on services.
The explanation for the stubbornness and the state of affairs lies in the real motivation for the reforms. They are designed not to improve Welsh local government but to take forward the political agenda of the Conservative party. The proposals represent a massive assault on the independence of local government and provide a far greater concentration of powers in the Welsh Office.
Mr. Redwood rose
Mr. Davies : I shall give way, but allow me to complete the point. Democratic local government in Wales is overwhelmingly anti-Tory, with the Labour party the dominant force. The Welsh Office is currently, albeit temporarily, on a short lease under Conservative control, hence the need for a concentration of power in Tory hands in the Welsh Office--powers that will, no doubt, in the normal course of events, be exercised by quangos that will be staffed by Tory candidates who either have been defeated or are about to be defeated at the polls by the electorate.
Mr. Redwood : Given the way in which I have described the Bill as extending the choice, powers and responsibilities of local government, which is what the Bill says, will the hon. Gentleman point to anything in the Bill that will centralise or take powers away from local government in the way he described ? That simply is not on the face of the Bill. It is a charter for stronger, better local government, not for less local government.
Mr. Davies : The problem is that the right hon. Gentleman's rhetoric is far removed from reality. I have marked out parts II and III of the Bill. Every clause in part III refers to powers being given to the Secretary of State. In part II, clauses 19, 20, 23, 24 and 25 all refer to additional powers being given to the Secretary of State. In addition, there are the reserve powers of the Secretary of State and the special powers relating to the education
Column 767function, to which the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) referred. Such references are abundant in the Bill and I have suggested to the Secretary of State where he can find them in his legislation.
The Bill represents an assault on democratic local government. For example, the number of councillors will be dramatically reduced from 1,976 to about 1,250. For the first time in our history, the numbers of democratically elected local councillors will be exceeded by the 1,400 quango members--not elected but selected covertly by the Secretary of State.
The ability of the new authorities to undertake cross-border trading arrangements will be severely curtailed. Of course, that has nothing to do with the development of viable local authorities or good practice ; it has everything to do with the ideological view of the Conservative party. It is a view to be imposed by central control because it would never be adopted by democratic local control. Above all, the Bill provides an opportunity-- obviously too good to miss--to gerrymander the boundaries of the parliamentary constituencies in Wales. If the Bill is given a Second Reading tonight, under the terms of the Boundary Commissions Act 1992, the Boundary Commission will have to take into account those new boundaries and, in effect, redraw the electoral map of Wales on which the next general election will be fought. Part III of schedule I provides an interesting insight into the Government's or, should I say, the Conservative party's intentions. Of the eight "preserved" counties, Dyfed, Gwynedd and West Glamorgan have unchanged boundaries. The other five have small, but significant, shifts of population. Those changes and those changes alone will have an impact on parliamentary constituency boundaries and, in each case, the direct or indirect consequence will be to the detriment of the Labour party's interests at the next general election.
In mid and south Wales there are only four Tory-held seats at the moment. Of course, after the next general election, the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) will doubtless join the former Member for Cardiff, Central, Mr. Ian Grist, in semi-retirement. I can assure
Mr. Davies : My right hon. Friend beat me to my punch line. I was about to assure the hon. Member for Cardiff, North that, in his retirement, he will not find that the next Labour Government offer him a post as chairman of a quango.
In the mid and south Wales seats of Monmouth, Brecon and Radnor, Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiff, North, the interests of the sitting Tory Member are potentially advantaged by the changes. The clearest possible case is evidenced by the transfer of Wick, St. Bride's Major and Ewenny from Mid Glamorgan to South Glamorgan and, more accurately, from the political point of view, from the Bridgend constituency to that of Vale of Glamorgan. Despite overwhelming evidence that local opinion is opposed to those changes, those communities and their supposed Tory votes are used in the most corrupt of ways to attempt to shore up the 19-vote majority of the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney). Any reputation that the Secretary of State has, either for
Column 768intellectual honesty or for political probity, will be shredded if he fails to concede that those changes are indefensible.
Clauses 1 to 16 establish the new authorities. I am pleased to welcome the Secretary of State's announcement on Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr Tydfil. My noble Friend Lord Prys-Davies presented a powerful case in the House of Lords. My hon. Friends the Members for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) and for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) have argued powerfully and consistently, publicly and privately, on behalf of their respective communities. I am grateful for the fact that the Secretary of State acknowledged that and saw fit to announce today that he would table amendments to create the unitary authorities of Merthyr Tydfil and Blaenau Gwent.
The strength of my hon. Friends' case lay in the public support that they enjoyed. Having made that concession, the Secretary of State must understand that he will now receive further strong representations from authorities all over Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) was the first to his feet pressing the case for Rhondda. No doubt Taff-Ely will wish to make a similar representation, as will Cynon Valley, Neath, Port Talbot, Llanelli, Meirionnydd and Montgomery, which all feel a sense of injustice at the way in which they have been treated.
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, now that he has acknowledged that his original proposals are capable of amendment, we shall want to examine the revised boundaries in great detail in Committee. I did not understand his response to one intervention during his speech, when he said that 22 was the maximum number of authorities that he could allow. Why 22 ? There is no particular reason for that number. Indeed, when the consultative paper was produced in 1991, the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor suggested that 24 was an option. If 24 was an option then, why does the Secretary of State now assert without evidence or argument that 22 is the absolute maximum ?
Mr. Redwood : I explained that a balance had to be struck between the strength of feeling about community identity and the size and scale of local authorities for delivering services. The Labour party is split on the issue, because it argues that it wants both bigger authorities, for the delivery of certain services, and more smaller authorities, for community identity. I have struck a balance in the way that I described, and I commend it to the House.
Mr. Davies : The Secretary of State has not answered my question. The Labour party's position is clear. We want a Welsh assembly and more unitary authorities. We have argued that clear position, and it commands overwhelming majority support in Wales. The problem lies with the Secretary of State and his party. They cannot accept the fact that that is the consensus in Wales.
The Secretary of State is creating problems for himself. He cannot concede the larger number of unitary authorities, and he will not concede the county case for a smaller number of larger authorities. In the absence of a consensus he is merely splitting the difference, and has arrived at an arbitrary figure of 22, which he cannot and will not justify. He must understand that that is in direct contradiction to the position adopted by his predecessor. The right hon. Gentleman is frowning. If a total of 24 local
Column 769authorities was an option in 1991, when the consultation paper came out, why can he now not move from 22 ? Why is 24 not an option ?