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Column 637Clearly, if more than half a community's citizens attend a community council meeting and they express a wish, that should be listened to, even by this Government.
Mr. Roger Evans (Monmouth) : While I accept the force of the hon. Gentleman's argument, does he accept that in the case of Llanelly Hill, there has indeed been a referendum which was in favour of Monmouthshire ? It would appear from amendment No. 77 that the Government now recognise the full force of that referendum.
Dr. Marek : I welcome what the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) has said. If the Government have recognised it, that is excellent and I congratulate the Government on that. However, as many of my hon. Friends have said from a sedentary position, what about elsewhere ?
Mr. Llew Smith : Does my hon. Friend accept that an opinion survey was carried out and the vast majority of people expressed a wish to be part of the Blaenau Gwent community as opposed to Monmouth ? Does he also recognise that in the referendum referred to by the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) it was no surprise that people voted to be part of Monmouth because there was no suggestion or policy at that particular time for a borough of Blaenau Gwent ? We were still talking about the Heads of the Valleys authority.
Dr. Marek : My hon. Friend also makes the point that we now have firm proposals in front of us. The wisest course of events, when there was a dispute in those five or six areas in the Principality, would be for the issue to be decided after listening to the people. A referendum or a community meeting would be the most appropriate way of proceeding. On the Llangollen issue, there was also a referendum in which 58 per cent. voted in favour of joining Wrexham and only 42 per cent.--that is according to the Minister ; the figures are rounded down--voted to stay with Denbighshire. That is not a good advertisement for good government. A clear majority favour joining Wrexham. However, I want to make progress as we are to have two very short debates.
I have had many telephone calls and letters of support for my stance in Committee on Llangollen being part of the new Wrexham unitary authority. It clearly makes sense because of geography, ties, shopping, the location of the hospital and other services, as well as bus routes. Above all, it makes sense because the people want it. If the Government listened to that they would be able to accept new clause 2.
I must say that I have had two letters of complaint, one from the chief executive of Glyndwr district council, Mr. Julian Parry. Quite honestly, he wrote a rather stupid letter pointing out so-called inaccuracies in what I said in Committee. I was told, for example, that I got the year wrong--it was 1992 instead of 1993--and that it is not yet absolutely clear that the new Denbighshire authority will have Rhyl as its centre. If it is not clear to him, I wonder why he is being paid so much per annum by the council tax payers of Glyndwr. He is the only one who has written to
Column 638me objecting to Llangollen joining Wrexham.The only other person who complained was the clerk of Llantysilio council.
Such people are not elected. I suspect that most community councillors in Llantysilio have never faced an election in their lives. They are quite happy to make decisions and write letters to the Secretary of State for Wales saying, "We believe this and we believe that," but they do not have the backing of the people ; they are unrepresentative. Why do they not join me and organise a referendum now that we know all the facts ? They should allow the people to decide the issue.
This matter is not confined to a party political argument. Perhaps the Conservative party is trying to gerrymander boundaries for electoral advantage, but I do not think that it is. In most cases, it has just got it wrong.
I have a letter--I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) will comment on this matter--from Mr. David Unwin, the Conservative leader of Ogwr borough council. The Conservatives are up in arms over the fact that the Ewenny and St. Brides Major area is to be taken from Bridgend and given to the Vale of Glamorgan. Councillor David Unwin says :
"Before it is too late, I urge you all to redouble your efforts on our behalf in an attempt to get a last minute change of heart by the Welsh Office Ministers over this issue."
He makes a
"plea for some common sense and fair play for these communities who have no wish to be torn away from a council"
Bridgend or Ogwr
"based centrally in nearby Bridgend."
It is not a party political issue ; it cuts across parties. We would have worse government if we considered it to be a party political issue.
Mr. Evans : I have been listening carefully to the logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument and I wonder whether he can help me with one part of the new clause. He will have gathered from the intervention of his hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) that sometimes, even when referendums are held, a decision is not acceptable if it does not happen to be the one with which one agrees. As we found during the debate on the Welsh devolution referendum, some people will never accept the result of a referendum. In the new clause, the hon. Gentleman is permitting every community in Wales to continue to vote on where they should be for local government purposes ad infinitum. There is no cut-off point. It would seem that local communities could therefore face endless referendums on the question of which local government area they should be in. Why has the hon. Gentleman not included a time limit in new clause 2 ? 4 pm
Secondly, let us talk about coterminous communities. Communities can only be coterminous communities. I freely admit that I did not have the assistance of
Column 639parliamentary data when I drafted the new clause. I could have included a limit of six months or something like that- -it sounds like a sensible idea--but I did not think of it at the time. I believe in the good sense of community councils and the people of Wales and I do not foresee the type of scenario that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) has drawn to the attention of the House. There are five or six areas where communities feel deeply disgruntled that the Government have got it wrong and they should be in a different authority from the one that they are in but coterminous to it. New clause 2 is an attempt to put the matter right ; new clause 11 is a better attempt to put it right. Certainly, as far as communities are concerned, it is sensible. The argument is not that if it goes against the way that I want it to go, I will not agree with it. My argument is that it is up to the people who live in these areas--Llanelly Hill, Llangollen and
Llansantffraid-ym-Mochnant--to make the decision ; it is not for me to say. In new clause 2, I am seeking to give them the chance, and I hope that the House will be able to agree to it.
Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly) : I shall seek to call a Division on new clause 11 at the appropriate time in our proceedings. I am sure that the House will join me in wishing the Secretary of State for Wales a happy birthday. In the proceedings of the Welsh Grand Committee this morning, we discovered that the Secretary of State is enjoying his birthday today. I assure him that he receives the warmest wishes from all of us on this side of the House. When I say, "All of us," I am not sure whether the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) would wish to join in our felicitations, given the exchange that took place between the hon. and learned Gentleman and the Secretary of State this morning.
We offer the Secretary of State sincere many happy returns for today. I am sure that our wishes are more sincere than those of the Prime Minister, who probably looks at the record of the Secretary of State and hopes that he can get rid of him fairly quickly. It is fair to say that the Labour party's fondness for the Secretary of State is much greater than that of his colleagues in the Tory party because he has done much more for the Labour party in Wales than he has for the Tory party.
The Tory party now enjoys a record low in the polls in Wales. In the local elections earlier this year, it managed what the Prime Minister would probably call a significant achievement in winning one out of the 54 district council seats that were up for election. Last week in the European elections, the Tory party's share of the popular vote fell to less than 15 per cent. It suffered the indignity of coming third behind the Welsh nationalist party and, of course, it did not win one European seat in Wales.
The people of Wales can thank the Secretary of State for at least doing his part to ensure that Wales is represented by five excellent Members of the European Parliament, all of whom have substantial majorities. One of them enjoys the distinction of being the youngest MEP and another, Glenys Kinnock, enjoys the distinction
Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I fail to see what the hon. Gentleman's contribution has to do with this debate. I appreciate the fact that this will be his last contribution in the House before the new leader of the Labour party
Column 640removes him and brings in the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), but I do not see what it has to do with new clause 11.
Madam Speaker : The hon. Gentleman has a point ; I was wondering what it had to do with the new clause. Now that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) has finished his preamble, perhaps he will move on to the new clause.
Mr. Davies : As usual, the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) pre-empted me. I was about to refer directly to the fact that the Government suffered such a defeat because of the contempt in which they held the democratic process in Wales.
If new clause 11 is accepted, it will put at the heart of the Bill the opportunity for the people of Wales and the elected authorities to take control of their future. New clause 11 allows an existing district council to require a referendum by a simple resolution. A council could require the Secretary of State to convene a referendum on whether people were happy with the proposals in the Bill. It is worth considering the fact that this reorganisation of local government was supposedly introduced by consent. When the Secretary of State's predecessor introduced his consultative document he talked about the need for consent ; when the White Paper was introduced he mentioned the need for consent ; and whenever the Secretary of State and his predecessors introduce any measure or statement in the House they talk about the need for consent. We can now see that consent is the very last thing that the Government have for this reorganisation of local government.
The Government also said that they wanted to use district councils as building blocks. Following our deliberations in Committee, it is now clear that that concept was put out of the window at a fairly early stage. New clause 11 would allow district councils to reassert themselves, to give a view and, we hope, require the Secretary of State to take a much more considered and meaningful view of the wishes of local government in Wales.
Any objective reading of our proceedings in Committee would persuade one to recognise that Opposition Members exposed widespread opposition to the proposals by not only local authorities and Members of Parliament but the public and many of our Welsh institutions, both private and public. In addition, we exposed the very deep resentment in some Welsh communities at the Government's deliberate and flagrant attempt at gerrymandering political boundaries for the sole purpose of influencing the results at the next general election to the advantage of the Conservative party.
We are also clear about the fact that communities such as Neath, Port Talbot, Rhondda, Cynon and Taff Ely were dissatisfied with the proposals. Many of my hon. Friends will want to refer to their local authorities. I shall not speak at length on that subject, but I must briefly mention the attempt at gerrymandering.
In Committee, there was much debate about Llanelly Hill. My hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) speculated that the Bill was not a local government reorganisation, but a Llanelly Hill reorganisation because we debated it so much. The Government were clearly exposed as using the people of Llanelly Hill as political pawns. New clause 11 would give the district
Column 641council within which they reside--the borough represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith), who is especially anxious to represent the views of those residents --the opportunity to require a proper referendum.
I accept the point raised by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) in an intervention. Of course, the referendum was unsatisfactory, because there was no prior consultation and the Secretary of State did not attempt to tell the people of Llanelly Hill that he had any intention of removing them from Blaenau Gwent and putting them in Powys or Monmouthshire. Now we have a compromise. In the face of the onslaught by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent when he made his case, the Government clearly could not sustain the argument for putting them in Powys, so the Government have conceded and put them in Monmouthshire. The important principle running through all the Opposition speeches is that there ought to be consistency in dealings with communities, which should have the opportunity to decide their future.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) moved the motion, he referred to Ogwr borough council, which was another subject that detained us in Committee. I, too, received a copy of the letter from Councillor David Unwin. I shall read one or two paragraphs from it, as it demonstrates the utter contempt with which the Government's attempt at gerrymandering has been viewed. He writes :
"You will already be fully aware of the intense feelings of bitterness and anger that continue to exist within the three communities of St. Bride's Major, Ewenny and Wick in Mid Glamorgan against the current Government proposals to move them away from the new Bridgend Unitary Authority and into the Vale of Glamorgan Unitary Authority.
The local people resent this very much indeed! . . . I am currently Chairman of one of those councils, apart from my other role as Conservative Opposition Leader on Ogwr Borough Council . . . I have lived in my community for the past 25 years and I know only too well what the local people are thinking on this issue . . . My colleagues, Councillor Audrey Preston (Conservative) who represents St. Bride's Major and Wick . . . and also Councillor John Lewis, (Conservative) who represents Ewenny . . . both join with me in this plea".
We have the clearest possible demonstration of the welter of public opinion, expressed by elected representatives, the referendum held in Bridgend, Members of Parliament, letters and public consultation. All those organisations have roundly condemned the Government, yet the Government have a forlorn belief that somehow they will save the political skin of the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) by shifting a couple of hundred votes across. It is a most contemptible attempt at a political fix and has been resented even by the people whose political interest is supposed to be represented by the attempt. It is disgraceful, and our attempt to introduce new clause 11 will give the people in that community an opportunity to ensure that they have fair play.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) has fought vigorously not only for the independence of Taff Ely but to ensure that there is no gerrymandering there. We can see what has happened at Pentyrch. I refer the Secretary of State and hon. Members to a report in the Pontypridd and Llantrisant Observer on 2 June. The report said :
"A leading Taff Ely councillor has resigned from the Conservative party in protest at Government policy. Former mayor Jean Henderson, who has represented Pentyrch since 1979,
Column 642said her decision was prompted by plans to merge Taff Ely . . . I really think that the Government has behaved very insensitively,' she said . . . She also attacked plans to place Pentyrch under Cardiff's control. I really do think it's because the Government wants to add a few more Conservative voters to Cardiff,' she said."
That is the motivation behind the construction of these boundaries. It was exposed in Committee, has been resented by the public and has been attacked by the Government's political allies. New clause 11 would expose that attempt at gerrymandering and give the people of those communities the opportunity to right that wrong.
We had some debate in Committee on Powys and there was a lot of controversy about the wishes of the people of Powys and the three district councils of Montgomeryshire, Radnorshire and Breconshire. The Government were defeated, of course. Much of the consideration in the early part of the debate was about Powys, but the Government were defeated on the proposal to have Powys as a unitary authority. It is now clear from the amendment paper that the Government are determined to ignore the wishes of the Committee and of the three district councils and to reinsert that proposal for Powys in the Bill. I want to make it clear that I support the proposals that came from the Committee, and if the measure comes to a vote I shall vote in favour of it. My colleagues and I have consistently said that we will support the case of Montgomery. We did that in Committee and we also said that we would consistently support the case for Brecon and Radnor as independent authorities. We also applied that principle to the borough councils of Rhondda, Taff Ely, Llanelli, Port Talbot and Neath.
On every occasion, we challenged the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor to show the same consistency we had shown. If there was a disgraceful event in that Committee, it was when the hon. Gentleman, having seduced--I use the word advisedly--the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) and the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) into supporting him, and knowing that he had the support of Labour Members, quite deliberately, at the very next sitting of the Committee, betrayed the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and refused to vote for that authority. That reflects poorly on the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor.
We stated clearly that the Labour party was in favour of the principle of consent. We wanted reorganisation. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) did not take part in our proceedings in Committee. I shall not remind him of what happened to his predecessor, the Whip on that Committee, but I should be happy to discuss with him why that Whip left the Committee. I suggest that he have a word with his Minister, who I am sure will advise him to restrain himself. The Labour party wanted reorganisation to take place with the consent, and according to the wishes, of the people. That is what new clause 11 will achieve.
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor failed to persuade the Government of the merits of his own case for an independent Brecon and Radnor. He failed to convince the majority of his colleagues to join him in defeating the Government. He failed to follow the principles that he had argued that we should follow in carving up Powys, because he did not follow those same principles when we voted on Rhondda and Port Talbot. He also failed to reciprocate the
Column 643vote of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy--not that there was any binding agreement between them. He failed to vote with those of us in the Committee who wanted to defeat the proposals for area committees, although he knew that, if we had defeated that proposal, the Government would have had to accept our proposal to dismember Powys unitary authority.
If the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor finds that he is defeated tonight, as I am sure that he will be, he has no one to blame but himself. He is the architect of his own defeat. Had he shown any consistency or principle, he would have found that he and colleagues could force the Government to accept the logic of the case not only for Brecon and Radnor but for Montgomery and Meirionnydd. I hope that the electors of Brecon and Radnor will repay the hon. Member, come the next general election.
Mr. Jonathan Evans : I am flattered that the hon. Gentleman has chosen to devote so much of his speech to my personal position. He aspires to be Secretary of State for Wales. Earlier today, he had a meeting with the leaders of Montgomeryshire council, Breconshire council and Radnorshire council. He heard their pleas in relation to the position he has taken--a shabby position, if I may say so--in this debate. If he truly aspires to be a proper Secretary of State for Wales, will he say what his response was to those leaders ?
Mr. Davies : The hon. Gentleman asked why I have spent so much time on him. The simple reason is that he has spent most of today briefing the press and has tried to pretend that his failure to defend his own interests in Brecon and Radnor has been caused by the Labour party. Somehow, 265 of us are supposed to gallop to the defence of the single vote from the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor. That is a most odd proposition.
It is true that I met representatives of those three district councils. I explained clearly that if there were any prospect of their securing the objective of separate unitary authorities for their councils, it lay in new clause 11. The Labour party is united on that new clause. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor knows that we have asked all our colleagues to join us in the Lobby to vote in favour of it. The new clause represents a matter of principle for the Labour party, although the hon. Gentleman may not recognise that. I understand that representatives of the Liberal party and of Plaid Cymru, the nationalist party, will also join us in the Lobby. The Opposition parties will be united tonight. That unity demonstrates the way in which we have all been, if I may speak for all the Opposition parties, absolutely consistent in our treatment of local authorities, be they Labour authorities in south Wales, Liberal or Tory authorities in mid-Wales or Plaid Cymru or independent party authorities in north Wales. We have applied the same principle to all of them.
There is a realistic chance of new clause 11 being carried tonight. It will require the courage of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor in voting with us and his diligence in persuading some of his colleagues to join him. If he does that and new clause 11 is carried, it will be a decisive boost for better local government in Wales. It will give a democratic choice to people who live in Montgomery and Meirionnydd and to communities such as Port Talbot and Caerphilly. It will also be an object lesson
Column 644to the Government of the dangers that arise from their arrogant abuse of power. I hope that new clause 11 is carried.
Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery) : I suspect that a more direct answer to the remarks of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) would have been that it is not for Opposition parties to produce legislation that represents an acceptable consensus for the people of Wales. It is for the Government to produce legislation that is correct and represents a consensus acceptable to the population. The Government have failed to do that because the decision-making process that has led to the Bill in its present form, as it will probably be glossed by the amendments that are carried tonight, has been severely deficient.
Had the referendum proposals been in place, the Government would have known exactly what the public felt in areas where Ministers know that there is passionate feeling about the future of local government and the community of which that local government has been a symbol for many centuries, as in areas such as Montgomeryshire.
An advantage of a statutory referendum procedure as set out in new clause 11 is that it would be not the type of referendum that has been criticised in the "foreplay" to the Bill but a referendum conducted under objective rules made by the Government. The Government would have an opportunity to present their case to the people of the districts concerned and opposition to their proposals could also be voiced. A referendum would provide the Government with an informed decision by the population of districts such as Montgomeryshire and they could then decide, on the basis of that informed decision, whether it was right to proceed with their initial proposals.
It would be a much better form of decision making than we have had. May I compare the influence on decisions which a referendum can have with the decision-making process in relation to the Bill ?
Mr. Jonathan Evans : The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that the Bill as it emerged from Committee contains a proposal for a Montgomeryshire authority, which he and I supported. That much is certain. The measure that he now says he intends to support proposes merely a consultative referendum. Is that to be preferred to what is currently in the Bill ?
Mr. Carlile : Of course not. Had such a referendum been available, we would probably never have reached the proposals in the White Paper because the Government would have understood that they were wholly unacceptable. I do not want to repeat what has been said on many occasions, except for a few sentences. Within my constituency of Montgomeryshire, there is an overwhelming and passionate objection to the way in which the Government have ridden crudely roughshod over the views of my constituents.
The anger felt in Montgomeryshire is reflected not just in the district council. Hundreds of people have written to me and a fair number have written to the Secretary of State. Representations made to Ministers have been courteously received, particularly by the Minister of State. Overwhelming expressions of opinion made through an opinion poll and a petition have shown beyond doubt that the decision-making process adopted by the Government simply did not produce a result that was representative of
Column 645the public's views. If we had at least consultative referendums under a statutory procedure, how much more reliable the Government's basis for legislation would be.
Let us compare a referendum with what has happened. I should like to run through the chronology for a few moments.
Mr. Roger Evans : I am aware of the force of the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument and I appreciate that that might apply to Llanelli Hill, Ewenny or Wick. As I understand the force of his argument, he wants a separate Montgomeryshire authority. Does he agree that the wording of new clause 11 is such that there can be a referendum on the provisions only
"so far as they affect the boundaries of any local government area",
so there is no consolation or aim for his purpose in new clause 11, whatever other arguments he may have ?
Mr. Carlile : I did not draft new clause 11, but my understanding of it is that it does cover the point that I seek to make, and it seems to me to have been carefully drafted to answer the hon. Gentleman's argument.
I shall turn to the chronology for a few moments. On 3 March 1992, the right hon. Member for Wirral, West (Mr. Hunt), the then Secretary of State for Wales, made a statement in the House and issued a consultation paper. There had not been a referendum ; had he held a referendum he would have found, unusually for his party, that he had virtually 100 per cent. support in my part of Wales at least. He said :
"in the rural areas I want to see local government based on the traditional counties, such as Pembrokeshire, Montgomeryshire, Cardiganshire and Anglesey and, of course, we recognise the position of Meirionnyddshire and Carmarthenshire. I shall consult further on whether to extend that approach to separate authorities for Radnorshire and Brecknock."--[ Official Report , 3 March 1992 ; Vol. 205, c. 171.]
At that stage, therefore, the then Secretary of State was going to have, among others, a separate Montgomeryshire and a separate Meirionnyddshire. That was clearly stated.
That was confirmed a short time later in a written answer to the then Member for Delyn, Mr. Raffan, who, I believe, has departed these shores to a more prosperous life across the Atlantic. The Secretary of State was asked to estimate how much money would be saved by moving to unitary local government in Wales. He replied :
"My proposal for a structure of 23 unitary authorities is estimated to be cost neutral ; I am placing in the Library of the House and in the Vote Office copies of the report submitted to me by financial consultants."-- [ Official Report , 16 March 1992 ; Vol. 205, c. 904 .]
At that stage therefore, in spite of everything that has been said since about its being more expensive to have smaller unitary authorities, the then Secretary of State was saying that he was going to have 23 unitary authorities, which included Meirionnyddshire and Montgomeryshire. It was even accepted at that time that it was value for money. There was no need for a referendum at that stage because he would have had 100 per cent. support.
Then we reached the 1992 general election. There was a frisson of anxiety among the Liberal Democrats in Montgomeryshire as David Hunt, at that time not a Member of Parliament but merely a candidate although still Secretary of State for Wales, came to Llanfechain and made a promise--a pledge--that Montgomeryshire would be a unitary authority. There was no need for a referendum
Column 646because we were having a general election. The Secretary of State at the time would not have said it if he did not think that it would win him votes. That was one of the purposes in saying it, although it is my view that the then Secretary of State meant every word he said, and has always meant every word he said on that subject, and I acquit him of any duplicity on the issue.
Let us turn for a moment to the answer that was given in Committee in relation to the Llanfechain promise by the current Under-Secretary of State. He sought to present, on behalf of the--by then--former Secretary of State what appears to have been a plea in mitigation. I suspect that plea was not written by the former Secretary of State. The Under-Secretary said :
"My right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State has confirmed that his statements, which were made in a pre-election meeting, have been taken out of context. He did not pledge the Government to a Montgomeryshire unitary authority."
At least if we had had a referendum, there would have been some record of the pledges and of their context. The context, of course, was a vote- winning meeting in a village called Llanfechain, and there was no possible contextual ambiguity about what the right hon. Member for Wirral, West said. The Under-Secretary continued :
"Rather, he was looking forward to considering that on the basis of the proposals which he had already published from the Welsh Office or stated in the House. That was the position in 1992. There has been further consideration of the issues since then, especially those in the context of the Welsh Consultative Council on Local Government Finance. The Government have been convinced that Montgomeryshire was too small and that a Powys authority was in the best interests of local government and service delivery."
I put it to the Minister that what he said in Standing Committee was simply inaccurate and that the Secretary of State in 1992 meant every word he said. It is time that we heard from a Minister the real reasons why the Government have ratted--why they have gone weasel on their words. It is time that we heard the truth.
In revealing the real truth--I shall reveal it to the House in the next few moments--we shall see the difference between that truth and the way in which this matter would have been decided had there been a local referendum.
On 14 April 1992, a significant event took place which I am sure that the Secretary of State will recall. That was the day the current Secretary of State for Wales was appointed Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities at the Department of the Environment. He became the Minister who most closely influenced discussions and decision making in relation to local government reform in England. Of course, we all know that our elective dictatorship, in the form of the Secretary of State for Wales, is somewhat diluted by the fact that many of the shots are called not in Cardiff or in Gwydyr house but in lead Departments in England. This is where we begin to see the insidious effect of the lead Department in England, which, to the relevant extent, was thenceforth led by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood).
Then, in September 1992, the Welsh Consultative Council on Local Government Finance met. It was referred to by the Under-Secretary in Standing Committee on 19 April this year, when he said :
"There has been further consideration of the issues since then, especially in the context of the Welsh Consultative Council on Local Government Finance."--[ Official Report , Standing Committee A ; 19 April 1994, c.105.]
Column 647In September 1992, the Welsh Consultative Council on Local Government Finance met and discussed the structures group work on service delivery. Following that meeting, Meirionnydd and Montgomery remained unitary authorities in the plans of Welsh Office Ministers. It is worth contrasting this shabby decision-making process with some questions that I tabled which were "answered" by the Secretary of State earlier this year. On 10 May, I asked him :
"on what date his predecessor sent the draft White Paper, Local Government in Wales--a Charter for the Future', to other members of the Cabinet seeking their agreement to its publication".
The right hon. Gentleman answered :
"It is not the practice to give details of internal discussions on policy formulation."--[ Official Report , 10 May 1994 ; Vol. 243, c. 107 .]
On 16 May, I asked on what date the Government decided that the White Paper on local government in Wales should not contain proposals for unitary authorities for Meirionnydd and Montgomeryshire. The right hon. Gentleman answered--on behalf of this open Government : "It is not the practice to give details of internal discussions on policy matters.--[ Official Report , 16 May 1994 ; Vol. 243, c. 351 .]
One had to ask oneself, why, oh why, did this open Government, who believe in revealing the decision-making processes, decide not to tell when they changed their mind about whether there should be unitary Meirionnyddshire and Montgomeryshire ?
I turn now to some interesting information which, hitherto, was not in the public domain. It has been revealed to me by a source who plainly is very strongly against the outrageous decision-making process which we have suffered and which I continue to contrast with a process that would have included a referendum.
My source has revealed matters which I challenge the Secretary of State to confirm or deny. It is true--but it would be nice to hear it confirmed honestly from the Government Front Bench--that, on 18 December 1992, the then Secretary of State sent a minute to the Prime Minister and to other Ministers about his proposals for the White Paper. In effect, it was the draft White Paper. What did it contain ? Reference to a unitary Montgomeryshire and Meirionnyddshire. December 1992 was close to the wire so far as the White Paper was concerned. On 13 January 1993, a private secretary in the Prime Minister's office, Mary Francis, wrote a letter to a private secretary at the Welsh Office, Judith Simpson. Hitherto, that letter has not been in the public domain. I shall quote from it, as a part of its contents has been revealed to me. Perhaps the Secretary of State would like to check the authenticity of the letter. It reads :
that part being in manuscript
"Local Government Re-organisation in Wales"
"The Prime Minister was grateful for your Secretary of State's minute of 18 December. He welcomes the broad outline of his proposals. He has, however, expressed concern about the following points and I would be grateful if you would clarify the position on them :
(i) the new authorities will cover populations ranging from 34,000 to 295,000."
Then the perfectly proper question is asked :
"Is it feasible to expect such disparate areas to provide the same quality of service ?"
The point about that extract is that the reference to populations ranging from 34,000 to 295,000 makes it absolutely clear that, on that date--13 January 1993--the