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Column 819would be a mistake to merge them".--[ Official Report, House of Lords , 10 February 1994 ; Vol. 551, c. 1740.]
Viscount Tonypandy, a former Speaker of the House, speaking of Neath and Port Talbot, said :
"I was going to say that they are like salt and sugar, but I do not wish to offend one side or the other. Those two have a fierce rivalry . . . I am afraid that the Government could not be making a bigger mistake."--[ Official Report, House of Lords , 14 December 1993 ; Vol. 550, c. 1287.]
Those are the views of two eminent and experienced former Members of the House whose views should be taken into account by the Government but clearly are not.
The Secretary of State has conceded the case for Neath's existence as a separate unitary authority without implementing the necessary changes to the Bill but by conceding the case for Merthyr and Blaenau Gwent to go their own way. I do not quarrel with that ; I congratulate those areas on their achievement and my hon. Friends on having secured it.
What criteria were used in the Secretary of State's decision that could not be applied to Neath or Port Talbot ? It cannot be size, because Merthyr and Blaenau Gwent are of similar size. It cannot be geographical convenience, because the journey between Glyncorrwg in Aberavon and Cwmllynfell at the top of my constituency takes perhaps an hour and a half through tortuous, winding, traffic-ridden roads. There is no common community interest between those villages and it is not a question of geographical convenience or civic pride ; there is tremendous civic pride in Neath and Port Talbot which will be extinguished as a result of the reform. It is not a matter of history, as that is being ignored. It is not a question of community, because that is being defied. It is not a question of functions, because no logical explanation is given for Merthyr and Blaenau Gwent being single local authorities that could not be applied to Neath or Port Talbot.
It is not a question of service delivery. No criterion has been given for the optimum level at which different services are to be delivered in Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr, which have been given their own opportunity, that could not equally be applied to Neath and Port Talbot. It is not a question of finance either, because, as the Touche Ross report showed, the Neath-going-alone option would be cheaper.
None of those principal criteria is the reason chosen for the Bill's final form ; it is a question of expediency, of what the Secretary of State feels that he has been able to get away with. The Bill will be bulldozed through with the votes of Conservative Members of Parliament sitting in English constituencies. I am delighted that the constituencies of my hon. Friends have achieved unitary status, but I believe that that decision has stripped the Secretary of State of all his defences.
There is no logic, conviction or honesty in the Bill. It does not have credibility. For those reasons, there will be widespread opposition to it throughout Wales, and certainly in my constituency. We will fight it every inch of the way in Committee, and will do so from a principled basis, opposing the Government's unprincipled expediency.
As I listened to the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), I was reminded of a recent opinion survey conducted by the
Column 820Labour party in Ystradgynlais, when the boundary between his constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) was in dispute, or under discussion. The Labour party conducted a survey asking the good people there whether they wished to be included in the constituency of Neath or stay in the constituency of Brecon and Radnor. It showed that 97 per cent. of the people surveyed wished to stay with my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor rather than go to the hon. Member for Neath. There is general agreement in the House that local government in Wales is in need of reform. The debate, however, is about how best to achieve that. The reasons for the divisions between Conservative Members and Labour Members are quite easy to understand. Conservative Members believe that the purpose of local government is to provide quality services at minimum cost to council taxpayers. One would have thought that that would be a common primary objective. Unfortunately, to the Labour party, local government is about creating employment first and delivering services second.
Since the Government announced their reform proposals, the two boroughs that cover my constituency have got on with the job of making reform work-- would that that were true everywhere in Wales. Colwyn borough got together at an early stage with neighbouring Aberconwy, with which it will form a new unitary authority, and has co-operated well since. When I recently asked Colwyn borough how it was progressing, it expressed pleasure at the latest Welsh Office consultation paper under which it will have equality of numbers with Aberconwy in the new unitary authority and at the fact that the rural wards in Colwyn will be preserved.
What has not yet been announced, but which I am sure will be widely debated, is the name of the new authority. I do not intend to get involved in that debate. The other borough authority, Rhuddlan borough council, is reasonably content with my right hon. Friend's proposals but will make representations on a few matters. Given that boundaries are intended to reflect and strengthen existing community loyalties, Rhuddlan borough council argues that it is illogical to exclude certain communities from the new Denbighshire. In my constituency--the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) will have views on this--that would affect Kinmel bay and Towyn. The only other matter on which the authority feels strongly is its name ; it would prefer the new authority to be called Vale of Clwyd, or Dyffryn Clwyd. If all the local authorities in Wales were as well organised and progressive as the two with which I have to deal, the debate would have been over in next to no time. That is all I want to say about the Government's proposals.
Members from each of the Opposition parties in Wales are signatories to the Labour party motion. I shall devote the bulk of my comments to the issue on which there is a clear and unmistakable distinction between Conservative Members and Opposition Members. Opposition Members want a Welsh assembly or parliament ; Conservative Members want neither. The Labour party wants this so-called "devolution" because it now realises that it is the natural party of opposition in the United Kingdom. It knows that the only chance it has of power is by dividing up the United Kingdom in a way that, in my view, would surely lead to its break-up.
In a television debate with me this morning for "Westminster Live", the hon. Member for Rhondda
Column 821(Mr. Rogers)--I notice that he is not in his place, although he was active earlier--said that he wanted to see an independent Wales. I took that to be the policy of the Labour party. It is significant that the hon. Gentleman is an Opposition spokesman on foreign affairs. The Labour party lives in fear of the nationalists. After years of the Labour party dominating local government in south Wales, the ordinary people who voted for socialist principles now realise that they were sold short by the Labour party. The Labour party knows that the electorate are gradually being won over by the compelling case for Conservatism. In the meantime, there is the real risk to the Labour party that those people will defect in droves to the nationalists.
Mr. Richards : As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a tradition in Wales that members stand as independents. Very often they are Conservatives, very often they are nationalists, very often they are Liberals, but in my experience, most of the independents whom I know--there are many in Wales--are Conservatives.
Labour Members who campaigned ardently against an assembly in 1979 now say cynically that they are in favour of devolution. They call it devolution-- the setting up of unitary authorities with an elected body to oversee them. Surely such a body would have powers of its own, thereby weakening the powers of the unitary authorities. That is not devolution of power, but centralising of power in Cardiff. Labour would do that, although the only real test of public opinion was a referendum in 1979, when the people of Wales voted against devolution by 4 :1. I do not believe that the people would vote differently now. The truth is, neither does Labour--which is why it has ruled out a referendum on this issue. Even if the Labour party formed a Government, it would have to implement its current policy, because it has ruled out a referendum.
One of the reasons why the people of Wales would reject, in a referendum, the assembly proposed by Labour is that--as Labour has made clear--such an assembly would have tax-raising powers. "No representation without taxation" : that is the slogan of the Welsh Labour party conference. Perhaps the party should stick to the word "parliament", as opposed to "assembly"--as, of course, some do. I understand that the hon. Member for Neath, who seems to have left the Chamber, is one such person.
Is it any wonder that Labour Members have rejected the idea of a referendum ? Imagine the question on the ballot paper : "Do you want to pay more tax-- yes or no ?" I suspect that the answer would be a resounding no. The other question is, what would the good people of Wales receive in recompense for that additional tax burden ? One thing is certain--they would get a parliament costing an additional £50 million a year. What else would they get ? No-redundancy guarantees, which would smother the free flow of workers, protection for lame-duck industries, and probably the opportunity to fund a few of them. A minimum wage, perhaps--now, there is the ultimate guarantee of greater unemployment. Legislation to give trade unions more power--why not ? Labour has done it before, and will do it again.
The unions would be given more power, so the flood of inward investment would dry up in Wales and emerge elsewhere. There would be more unemployment.
It is already possible to paint a picture of Wales under such a Labour Government and with such a parliament. The people would migrate to neighbouring England to escape the tax burden and find jobs ; there would be a migration of talent such as we have not seen since the 1930s. In those days, when young men and their families boarded the trains at Cardiff, Swansea or Carmarthen, the cry would go out as the train left the station, "Never forget your Welsh." Well, the next generation of migrants will be able to call back, "Never forget your Welsh tax."
As if what I have already said were not enough to make people reject the concept of a tax-levying Welsh parliament, my constituents have even more to fear. A parliament in Cardiff would care little or nothing for north Wales--just as Labour cares little or nothing for it now. Labour cares only for its stronghold in the valleys. Seldom, if ever, does it venture into the north.
Mr. Richards : Will Opposition Members be quiet for a moment ? When we debated Welsh affairs on 3 March, I challenged the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) to tell us who and what he had visited in north Wales in his capacity as an Opposition spokesman on Wales. I note that he is not present now ; I am sure, however, that my comments will be relayed to him. What was his response to my challenge ? He scuttled across the Floor to huddle with his hon. Friends at the Bar of the House, like a frightened lamb. They were all gathered there like sheep in a thunderstorm, lacking leadership and lacking direction--all because of the truth about Labour party lackeys. Since that day, the hon. Members who gathered at the Bar of the House have been known throughout Wales as "the Bar-Baas". It must be said that the nationalists are more honest about their demand for a Welsh parliament. They have at least been consistent. For them, the Welsh parliament is a stepping stone towards an independent Welsh republic. I understand from Plaid Cymru literature that that republic's head of state-- its president--will be invested, or inaugurated, by the arch-druid himself. I have no doubt that that ceremonial occasion will bring tears to the eyes.
What would such a republican utopia hold for the people of Wales ? Even more of the same, I fear. Inward investors and key workers might be required to learn Welsh by statute ; the housing market might collapse because of planning restrictions and residential qualifications. I note that the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) is present ; perhaps he would like to comment. I envisage an economy yearning for the good things of the 21st century, but not allowed to engage in any activity more robust or imaginative than the production of love spoons and trinkets. Would the hon. Gentleman care to comment on that ? I see an economy managed by people who believe in seeking out subsidy and support from others, now and for ever, without the vision to perceive the productive potential and talent that we have in Wales.
Column 823Fortunately for the people of Wales, the Government have woken them from Labour's pipe dreams. The Government will create a structure of local government that will promote local democracy, reduce costs and duplication and deliver cost-effective local services, while retaining Wales's voice at Westminster and the integrity of the United Kingdom.
Mr. Nick Ainger (Pembroke) : I believe that I am the only former councillor to have spoken so far. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) will speak later ; he, too, used to be a councillor. I bring a certain amount of experience to the debate--experience that was clearly lacking in the speech of the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards).
Although many people in Pembrokeshire will welcome the fact that unitary authorities are on the horizon, the Bill contains an enormous flaw, or gulf, in that it includes no proposals for either an assembly or a parliament in Wales. I am interested to observe that the Minister of State, Welsh Office is not present--the reason being, of course, that he is out meeting his opposite number in not the Spanish but the Catalonian government. That is a regional government, to which--along with Alpes- Rhone, Lombardy and Baden-Wurttemberg, the Minister of State referred on 25 February, in an interview with Vincent Kane on "Welsh Lobby".
Let me quote from that interview. I am not being selective ; the Minister made it very clear that he thought the four "motor regions" in Europe were operating wonderfully. He said that we should try to create a skilled work force in Wales and learn and benefit from the experience of those regional governments. The right hon. Gentleman said :
"We should rub shoulders with our betters, and we might get somewhere."
In the opinion of the Minister of State, regional government in Europe is an obvious success. I was interested in the comment of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans), who claimed that the quangos in Wales are accountable to the Welsh Office. The sad fact is that had it not been for my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), as well as the Audit Commission and the Public Accounts Committee--not the Welsh Office-- all the sleaze and corruption that has gone on in the quangos of Wales would not have been discovered. What faith can we have in the present regime in the Welsh Office when it cannot account for £200 million of public money ? The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor talks about how wonderful the Welsh Office is and about forcing quangos to be accountable, but we cannot accept what he says.
Recently we had the so-called St. David's day debate on St. Winwaloe's day, which is two days after St. David's day. A great deal of that debate--in particular, the speech of the Secretary of State--concerned roads in Wales. This House is not the proper forum for such a discussion. Regional functions, such as a transport system, should be the responsibility of a regional government. Conservative Members refer constantly to the 1979 referendum. They say that there has been no real change in the political feelings of the Welsh people on the question of a Welsh assembly or parliament. That is not my experience--
Column 824certainly not of Pembrokeshire, which is not known for particularly radical views and was fundamentally opposed in 1979 to the idea of a Welsh assembly.
Recently the Western Telegraph , which is the largest-selling weekly paper in Wales, carried an editorial referring to the Interreg funding, on which Dyfed is currently losing out. It said : "The parts of Europe which have benefited most from EEC funding are those that have a regional parliament to fight on their behalf. Without our own regional parliament, and with even the small Welsh presence now in Brussels under threat, Wales will become increasingly marginalised, receiving only token representation by the single-minded English lobby."
That is what is happening at the moment. The Minister of State is talking to his counterpart in Catalonia, rather than lobbying in Brussels on behalf of Dyfed.
The whole thrust of this proposed legislation causes great concern throughout Wales, particularly when one reads views such as those expressed in another local paper in Pembrokeshire under the heading "The Conservative Column". Referring to Labour's plans for Health 2000, whose intention is to democratise the health service--again the Conservative view of more democracy--this paper said :
"Labour wants to reintroduce politics into the NHS by having local councillors play a prominent part in the running of the health service. Many of these councils do enough damage already within their own town halls, and they must not be allowed to get their hands on our health service."
The Minister of State, looking slightly tanned, is now in his place. It is good to see him back. I am sure that he had a very enlightening discussion with the regional government in Catalonia. The views put forward in the column to which I have just referred are Conservative Members' true views, which dare not be spoken openly, as those Members know very well that they will never have an opportunity to take control of local government in Wales and will certainly have no opportunity to take control of a Welsh assembly or parliament.
There are two problems, particularly in relation to this legislation, and other hon. Members have referred to them. I highlight clause 22, which refers to the creation of joint boards for fire brigades. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor mentioned this matter. In fact, he referred to the wrong clause--23 instead of 22--but perhaps Hansard will fix that for him. The present arrangement, under which there are eight fire brigades in Wales, is an excellent one. Dyfed's fire brigade has a worldwide reputation following some of the fires that it fought in the refineries of Milford Haven. The proposal is that the Secretary of State, and not local
representatives, may bring forward an order. If that is done before 1 April 1996 there will be no public inquiry.
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor spoke for 34 minutes, but did not give us his view of the plans for Brecon and Radnor. It is unacceptable that he should now interrupt a person who is speaking as quickly as possible so that other hon. Members may participate in the debate.
Were the Government truly concerned about democracy and local accountability, they would create a fire brigade with an area stretching from Swansea to the north of
Column 825Powys, and from Aberystwyth right across to the English border, but only if the local people believed that that was the best policy for delivery of the service. There is no question but that local representatives totally oppose such a proposal. Not only that, but I am certain that it would be linked with the creation of only three police authorities in Wales. Hon. Members on both sides have mentioned the excellent performance of Dyfed-Powys police and of the Gwent police force, proving that small is efficient as well as beautiful.
It concerned me when Lord Hooson proposed an amendment in the other place that would give the Secretary of State power to introduce decentralisation proposals. At present in Tower Hamlets, if things go from bad to worse and two more fascist, British National party councillors are elected in the Isle of Dogs, £23 million of public money per annum will be under the control of three fascist councillors. I am not suggesting that fascists would ever be elected in Wales--I am certain that they would not--but trying to solve a problem in Powys by coming up with this concept of decentralisation may open up a can of worms that we may live to regret. It gives a great deal of power to a small number of people. They are not properly accountable and the system is not democratic. I urge the Secretary of State to reconsider that matter very seriously. 8.59 pm
Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd) : I begin by mourning the passing of county councils. We have not heard a great deal about that tonight, but county councils have done a superb job in many respects, and they have had some great officers serving in them. This is especially true of Mid Glamorgan where the officers have had to operate in extremely difficult economic circumstances, with a gross domestic product per capita of 64 in a British index of 100. It would have been an enormous task in any circumstances. Given also that they have had to operate under a flawed model for the past 20 years of overlapping responsibilities, of vague demarcation lines and so on, they have done sterling work, as have the rest of the county authorities in Wales.
The councils have carried out, in many respects, the strategic planning functions ; functions which presumably will now be assumed by the so-called joint arrangements. As far as I can see, these are vague and nebulous bodies and have about as much credibility at the moment as the three-ring circus that met in Brussels last week--the Committee of the Regions. My constituents will ask who is to take the responsibility for strategic decision-making formerly taken by the county councils. They will ask a number of questions about this vagueness. They will want to know on what basis the Secretary of State for Wales decided that it was quite proper for Merthyr and Blaenau Gwent to become unitary authorities and did not allow Cynon valley, Rhondda and Taff-Ely the same right when they have bigger populations.
Even before today's announcement, there was mystification at the proposition that two authorities which were twins in so many ways, Torfaen and Taff-Ely, should have such different fates. I hate to say, and generosity of spirit prevents me from doing so seriously, that the Secretary of State is keeping Torfaen a separate entity from Monmouth or Monmouthshire because he wants to retain
Column 826some chance of the Conservatives hanging on to that seat or of winning it in the future, whereas he seems to be consigning Taff-Ely, Rhondda valley and Cynon valley to a ghetto where people do not vote Tory anyway and are unlikely to do so in the future. These questions must be asked seriously.
Let me assume that the Secretary of State believes that Taff-Ely has as much right to remain a unitary authority as any of the others to which he has given independence today. I assume that he understands the logic of that. There can be no reason for it or, if there is, I have no idea what it is. I want to hear what he is going to come up with. I hope that he does not assume that by bolting on a relatively rich authority, Taff-Ely, to two authorities that face great economic and social problems, Rhondda and Cynon Valley, he will somehow ratchet up the GDP of those two local authorities so that their problems do not look as severe as they are at present. Does he think that if he links them with Taff-Ely, with the new industry along the M4 corridor, with the terrific, new, high-tech industries that are coming into Nantgarw and Llantrisant--only this week we learnt of 600 new jobs that may be coming in the Gooding/Grundig electronics venture--this will somehow solve the problems of Cynon valley and Rhondda valley ?
That will not solve the problems any more than it will solve the problems faced at the northern end of Taff-Ely. They are severe structural problems which are being dealt with by district authorities which have a tradition of taking on such tasks and combining with private enterprise, the Welsh Development Agency and the Welsh Office to transform the local economies. In many ways, they have done a wonderful job and they do not need the kind of artificial arrangement being proposed.
For the Secretary of State's proposals to gain credibility and acceptance in Wales, people have to believe in the motives behind them. People who, like me, live in a borough such as Taff-Ely will have listened to what has been said today and said that what is good enough for Merthyr, Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen is good enough for Taff-Ely.
Mr. Rogers : I do not entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is important for Cynon valley and the Rhondda to have access to areas which, as he said, are likely to offer development opportunities. He talks about bolting on the Rhondda valley and the Cynon valley to Taff-Ely, but I remind him that it was only about 20 years ago that a number of district councils were bolted together to make Taff-Ely. If it has worked for Taff- Ely, there is the possibility that the new authority will work. At any rate, that is what the Secretary of State is gambling on, although I disagree with that gamble.
Dr. Howells : I am sure that my hon. Friend makes a good point although I am not sure exactly what it is. I know that he believes that Rhondda wants unitary status as much as Taff-Ely, but what he said is true. Twenty years ago Taff-Ely was artificially created. It was the creation of a very rich authority--Llantrisant rural district council--and a traditional valley authority--Pontypridd urban district council. There is no question but that it took a long time for the two authorities to be brought together but they have pulled together very well. All of the indices show that we are making a success of it. I should hate that success to be stymied by a decision that will have long-term effects.
Column 827Taff-Ely is lucky in many ways : we have beautiful countryside and ready access to the M4 and we are on the A470. I am sorry that the Secretary of State is going to give the Pentyrch wards to Cardiff because, in order to attract more industry, we need executive housing and areas into which executives want to move. It is very important that our districts retain such assets but it appears that they are to be filched for whatever reason and given to Cardiff, North, Greater Cardiff or whatever one wants to call it. Incidentally, the House should remember that Labour has just won those wards, so one should not assume that it will be a soft touch for anyone else to win, especially not the present hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones), the Under-Secretary of State.
In the past 20 years, the borough has forged itself into an entity that deserves respect
Many mistakes were made in 1974 when the present model of local government was created. One of its strengths was the ability of local councils to provide a degree of strategic planning and service. Presumably, we are now creating a new structure that is supposed to last for at least 20 years, although I should think that the Secretary of State hopes that it will last even longer.
We cannot afford to make those kinds of mistakes again. They will be very expensive mistakes. I am sure that we shall lose the services of a great many professionals and executives and people who have served the county very well. Let us ensure that, when we create the unitary authorities, they are the right size, they have the right identity and they see themselves as viable entities for creating a new future for Wales.
Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) : I shall underline and support the sentiments of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) about the work of county councils in Wales and especially that of Mid Glamorgan county council, which has done a sterling job under the most difficult of circumstances.
May I appeal again to the Secretary of State to consider his White Paper-- it was not his to start with, but he has taken it over--in the context of the changes proposed for the boundary between Bridgend and the Vale of Glamorgan. Paragraph 1.4 of the White Paper "Local Government and Local People" said :
"The Government is committed to the creation of good Local Government which is close to the communities it serves. Its aims are to establish Authorities which, so far as possible, are based on that strong sense of community identity that is such an important feature of Welsh life ; which are clearly accountable to local people ; . . . The proposal set out in this White Paper will achieve those aims ; they will establish new and innovative local Authorities, firmly-rooted in their communities and enjoying strong local support."
In paragraph 2.1, the Secretary of State said :
"Local Government is government for local people by local people. One of the objectives of re-organisation is to establish Authorities which, so far as possible, are based on a strong sense of community, evident in Welsh life."
Column 828In paragraph 3.1, which the Secretary of State repeated in a written answer to my question on 29 April 1993, the White Paper said :
"Local Authority boundaries should, as far as possible, reflect and strengthen existing community loyalties ; and
local public services should be of high quality, and delivered efficiently, economically and effectively."
In that context, I want to remind the Secretary of State that there have been several tests of opinion in those three communities. First, there was a postal ballot, organised by Ogwr borough council. The result showed that 80 per cent. of people were in favour of staying with the Bridgend authority, from a turnout of almost 60 per cent. There was also a business referendum for which half of the businesses returned their papers and it showed that 84.5 per cent. wanted to stay with Bridgend. There were public meetings in each community, where 93.3 per cent. wanted to stay with Bridgend and only 2.5 per cent. expressed the vale as a preference.
A ballot was also organised by the Electoral Reform Society, in which almost 80 per cent. of Ewenny residents voted and 89.7 per cent. of them wanted to stay in Bridgend. Almost 75 per cent. of the residents of St. Bride's Major voted and 87.8 per cent. wanted to stay with Bridgend. In Wick, 74.6 per cent. of residents voted and 81.2 per cent. wanted to stay with Bridgend. That is a clear picture of the loyalties of those three communities.
On top of that, the Vale of Glamorgan borough council, in its own representations to the Secretary of State, said :
"The council would only support the inclusion of those additional communities if the proposal was supported by the majority of the people concerned."
They clearly do not support the proposal.
In letters to constituents and in letters to me, the Secretary of State's civil servants have said that the reason for the change is that the Vale of Glamorgan authority is more used to dealing with small, rural communities.
When I tabled a question asking the Secretary of State for Wales about the size of the communities in the Vale of Glamorgan, in Ogwr and in other parts of Wales, I was told that the information was not held centrally. So I could not understand how the Government had come to know that there were more small communities in the Vale of Glamorgan than in Ogwr.
I asked both borough councils to send me the information about their communities, and I found that in the Vale of Glamorgan there were seven communities of fewer than 4,000 people, but that in Ogwr there were 10. There were six small communities of a similar size to St. Bride's Major in Ogwr, but only one in the Vale of Glamorgan. So Ogwr borough council is more used to dealing with small communities than is the Vale of Glamorgan council.
Next I concentrated on the rural or agrarian nature of each borough. I contacted the planning departments of both the borough councils, and was told that 15.4 per cent. of the borough of Ogwr is designated for planning purposes as "built up", whereas 20 per cent. of the borough of the Vale of Glamorgan is so designated, so there is a greater percentage of rural areas in Ogwr than in the Vale of Glamorgan.
I accept that there can be different ways of defining rural as opposed to urban communities, but between 20 and 28 per cent. of councillors on the Vale of Glamorgan council and between 20 and 24 per cent. of those on the Ogwr council represent communities which are defined as rural, so there is virtually no difference between the two.
Column 829Employment in farming could also be a measure, and that is just under 1 per cent. in Ogwr and just over 1 per cent. in the Vale of Glamorgan. On all those criteria, there is little to choose between Ogwr and the Vale of Glamorgan. If anything, on the basis of the number of small communities, Ogwr has the stronger case.
I cannot understand why on earth the Secretary of State is not prepared to listen to what the local people say. I hope that even at this late stage he will be prepared to accept that the overwhelming majority of people in the three communities concerned, including their two borough councillors--both Conservative party members--are totally committed to keeping those communities in Ogwr.
In my remaining two minutes I shall deal with some of the general issues and the type of service that the Secretary of State's plans will provide. Some have been mentioned already, so I need not say much about them. First, it is clear that joint arrangements will lead to a second tier of local government that will be neither as clear nor as accountable as the present two-tier system. On that ground alone the proposals should be rejected.
As for the delivery of services, there are serious doubts everywhere about smaller authorities' ability to provide a comprehensive range of services such as special education services, and trading standards services. The trading standards people have asked for statutory provision to be made for combinations of authorities to deliver services. Organisations such as Children in Wales are concerned about issues in the interface between social services and health, such as reporting schemes for child abuse. The reserve powers that the Bill will provide for the Secretary of State for Wales are enormous. That will mean centralisation into the Welsh Office. For all those reasons, it is clear that the Bill should be rejected, so I hope that our amendment will be accepted. 9.18 pm
Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) : The review of local government in Wales has been a shoddy and undemocratic process which reflects little credit on either the Secretary of State for Wales or his predecessor. It has left many communities perplexed and disillusioned. For a reorganisation to be successful, it must be based on sound principles of good and lasting government, on a cross-party consensus and on community support, not on plucking numbers out of the air, which is clearly what the Secretary of State has done. The Bill fulfils none of those criteria.
It is perhaps a sign of a dying and obsolete Government that they should choose to exercise their powers in a frantically dogmatic fashion and introduce legislation that puts decisions in the hands not of local people, democratically elected, but of a single Minister, whose governorship of Wales is neither respected nor wanted. The Secretary of State today mentioned the archives. I hope that he will be relegated to the archives of Wales as soon as is humanly possible.
Since the publication of the Bill, we have seen the Government's true agenda for local authorities in Wales. Far from creating progressive unitary authorities with powers to act, the Government are attempting to belittle the last vestige of democratic government in Wales. Ministers should take note that, despite all the odds, local authorities provide value-for-money services in Wales. We need no
Column 830instructions from those responsible for the waste and inefficiency of unaccountable quangos, and from a Welsh Office that could lose £300 million. The "Charter for the Future", as the Secretary of State's predecessor ineptly called it, is a charter for the private sector and nothing more.
That a Conservative Secretary of State should seek to limit the powers and tie the hands of local government is no surprise or mystery. Last July, I criticised the lack of an independent commission to determine the issue. Such an organisation might have listened to evidence, undertaken extensive and proper research on opinions, and reached sound and lasting conclusions. Instead, we are faced with a map of Wales which provides neither community identity nor effective units of local government.
Faced with a lack of any independent organisation, councillors in Cynon Valley commissioned a poll which showed that 66 per cent. of people questioned supported the retention of an authority that was based on current borders. Virtually no one wished there to be an amalgamation with the Rhondda and Taff-Ely authorities--and I mean no disrespect to my hon. Friends.
In addition to that poll, hundreds of people attended public meetings in Cynon Valley and supported the council's bid to become a unitary authority. I draw the Secretary of State's attention once again to a map produced by his predecessor entitled "Local Government--the way ahead." If he looks at it, he will note that Cynon Valley is clearly marked as a single unitary authority. Only 12 months later, a White Paper proposed the unlikely amalgamation to which I referred. What rationale was employed in making the radical change from a self-contained community of 60,000 people to an authority of 240,000 people ?
Independent academic research by the Centre for Advanced Urban Studies in Bristol emphasised the futility of arranged marriages between distinct valley com-munities. It stated :
"Unitary options based on the amalgamation of two or three Valley authorities fail, on the grounds that they lack local responsiveness and do not generate any scale or specialisation advantages in service planning and provision. Such authorities would be characterised by divided, rather than locally united, civic leadership".
In addition to the evidence of unanimous public meetings and opinion research, a 10,000-signature petition was raised and presented at the Welsh Office by a large delegation from Cynon Valley.
The Secretary of State is offering us the potential for a confusing two- tier set up and for Welsh Office manipulation and priority setting. The opportunity to give councils the ability to effect social and economic change is denied. Fewer councillors will deliver fewer services in authorities that are dictated to by a central Government bureaucracy that has little knowledge or understanding of local affairs or priorities. I hope that I do not need to remind the Secretary of State that the economy of the Cynon Valley is in a fragile, if not critical, state, thanks to him and his Government.
The only motor for substantial change--the local council--is to be disbanded and relocated elsewhere. I only hope that the Secretary of State will explain to the people of Cynon Valley his reasons for replacing popular, effective councils with the sort of weak, unwieldy and hamstrung authority that the Bill seeks to create.