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Column 648Welsh Office was proposing, in its draft White Paper, a unitary Meirionnydd, a unitary Montgomery and, I believe, a unitary single Brecon and Radnor. If the Welsh Office had proposed a single Radnor, the range would have been smaller than 34,000 to 295,000. I am extremely grateful to whoever provided me with that information--I have no idea who it was--and for revealing to me what a dingy and vilely deceitful decision-making process, and I choose my words carefully, has been followed. I, and most of the people of Montgomeryshire, do not intend to pull any punches about what is happening to our county. We wish to contrast that process with what might have happened if we had had new clause 11 and a referendum procedure.
The White Paper was issued on 1 March 1993. At some point between 13 January--when the letter from which I quoted was written--and 1 March, Montgomeryshire and Meironnyddshire were chopped. What happened and who made it happen ? It is plain that Welsh Office Ministers were not responsible, because they were in favour of a unitary Montgomeryshire and a unitary Meirionnyddshire. It is also plain that the proposals went to the Department of the
Environment--and equally plain that they would have been considered by the right hon. Member for Wokingham, then Minister for Local Government and Planning.
What was the Minister worried about ? It follows as night follows day : if the matter were being considered by a jury, that jury would scream "Guilty" at the right hon. Gentleman. I can see it all. The message sent back to the then Secretary of State for Wales was, "We cannot have little authorities like this, or we shall end up with Rutlandshire, Huntingdonshire and such places as Clackmannanshire in Scotland." What have we now ? We have Rutlandshire in England--the Government had to give way on that ; we have Huntingdonshire in England, which was recommended because the Prime Minister represents the area ; we have Clackmannanshire in Scotland. For some reason, however, the Welsh Office remains intransigent. One wonders why--for, by the time that the White Paper was produced, Montgomeryshire and Meirionnyddshire had gone.
Analysis of the statement made in the House by the then Secretary of State on 1 March 1993--the day of the White Paper's
publication--makes it clear that the right hon. Gentleman was pretty embarrassed by what he had to present in the way of proposals for mid- Wales.
What happened next ? On 27 May 1993, the right hon. Member for Wokingham was promoted to the post of Secretary of State for Wales. I have chosen my words carefully, and I am sorry if the Secretary of State took offence when I spoilt a moment of his birthday, as he seemed to suggest this morning. It is clear that by the time that the Secretary of State arrived at the Welsh Office, Montgomeryshire's and Meirionnyddshire's prospects of becoming unitary authorities were nil, because the right hon. Gentleman was actuated by bias against small unitary authorities.
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Redwood) : I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will withdraw all those scandalous allegations, for which he has not a shred of evidence. If he wants to know what my views were when I was Minister for Local Government and Planning, he need only turn up my speech to the Conservative party conference in the autumn of 1992,
Column 649which is a matter of public record. It made my position very clear--and it was very different from that which he described.
Mr. Carlile : Then why did the Secretary of State not answer my questions on 10 May and 16 May, reported in Hansard at columns 107 and 351 respectively ? What does he say about the letter from which I quoted, which has been leaked from some Department or other ? What does he say about when the decision was changed ? Will he tell us who changed it ? If he is not the guilty party, he should let the people of mid-Wales--the people of Montgomeryshire and
Meirionnyddshire--know who the guilty party is. It is disgraceful that the Government should hide behind such shabby subterfuges, especially as we now have Rutlandshire, Huntingdonshire and, I believe, six other English authorities that are smaller than Montgomeryshire, as well as Clackmannanshire.
It is noteworthy that, in his speech about the Bill in another place on 17 January--reported in column 364--Lord Rodger carefully avoided giving the Government's opinion. Every time he referred to Meirionnydd, in particular, he used the words "the Secretary of State" rather than "the Government"-- "the Secretary of State" had justified the change in the decision. That was a very interesting and careful use of words by a distinguished and cautious lawyer, and I think that those words bear close examination.
I shall withdraw my earlier words, with one proviso : the Secretary of State must recognise that the decision-making process has been severely defective and that he has gone against the will of the people of central Wales and Meirionnyddshire, and must agree to unitary authorities for Montgomeryshire and Meirionnyddshire. I shall withdraw my words then, and not until then.
Until we have a better decision-making process, including statutory referendums, we shall be faced time and time again with similar disgraceful decisions by the elected dictatorship in the Welsh Office. Such decisions cause grave offence not only to Members of Parliament but to the very many members of the public whom we represent.
Mr. Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan) : The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) again made the accusation that gerrymandering was behind the Government's policy in the Bill. The matter was addressed at length in Committee and I was sorry to hear the hon. Gentleman raise it yet again--particularly as the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) acknowledged that gerrymandering had probably not been the Government's objective.
I am obliged to bring a number of factors to the hon. Gentleman's attention once more. First, as the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) acknowledged in Committee, there is no obvious likelihood that the three villages of Wick, Ewenny and St Bride's Major will be added to the Vale of Glamorgan parliamentary constituency. The Vale of Glamorgan already has some 67,000 electors and is the largest constituency in Wales. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that the average electorate of the 40 proposed new constituencies in Wales is about 55,500 ; adding a further 3,000-plus electors to the Vale of
Column 650Glamorgan would make it wildly oversized. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West clearly understood that in Committee and it is a shame that such a simple message has not got through to the hon. Member for Caerphilly.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, West realised the logical effect of the requirements under which the boundary commission works. If those villages had come into the Vale of Glamorgan unitary authority--in other words, if the Bill had been enacted by 1 June this year and the boundary commission had therefore based its recommendations on the revised county boundaries rather than the old ones--it is likely that, rather than those three communities being added to the Vale of Glamorgan constituency, the boundaries to both the west and the east of the Vale of Glamorgan unitary authority would have been taken into account. That would have resulted in an electorate of 88,000. Surely the hon. Member for Caerphilly did not seriously think that there would be the remotest possibility of a constituency of that size being established.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, West was probably right to observe, although I cannot see into the minds of the politically independent members of the boundary commission, that one way to deal with the matter would be to create two new parliamentary seats in the Vale of Glamorgan. Whether the Bill had been passed before 1 June or, as now seems likely, some time next month, the hon. Member for Caerphilly was wrong in his suggestion and I hope that he will have the generosity to withdraw his comments.
Today, I received a letter from Mr. Jones, a constituent of the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), containing a copy of a letter that he sent to Birds Garden Centre, a well-known firm in the Vale of Glamorgan. He stated that, because he was so annoyed about the prospect of becoming an elector in the new unitary authority of the Vale of Glamorgan, he would withdraw his custom from Birds. That is the level at which the debate has been conducted in those three communities, which fear that somehow they could be prevented from continuing their normal association with Bridgend. Those three villages will remain just as proximate to Bridgend and, with or without the Bill, their residents will be just as capable of going shopping in Bridgend. The very fact that Mr. Jones was able to threaten to withdraw his trade from Birds shows the connection between those three villages and the rural vale.
People in those three villages live adjacent to villages in the existing Vale of Glamorgan and share common interests with them. The likelihood is that they will benefit from being in the Vale of Glamorgan because of the community of interest with the neighbouring rural communities.
Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) : When the hon. Gentleman put those arguments to a public meeting at Brynteg comprehensive school in Bridgend, how many of the audience of between 175 and 200 voted with him ?
Mr. Sweeney : I can answer that only by placing my answer in the context of the meeting, which was chaired by Mr. David Unwin, a member of the public who has already been referred to in the debate and who is vehemently opposed to the Bill. He is a leading member of the Conservative organisation in the Bridgend constituency. I expected him to chair the meeting in an unbiased manner.
Column 651The hon. Gentleman and I were officially invited to the meeting to present our views. Mr. Unwin opened it by making a half-hour speech opposing the three villages coming into the Vale of Glamorgan. The hon. Member for Bridgend then spoke for a similar time before I could get a word in edgeways.
That is the background to the vote, which was taken at the end of the meeting. The chairman first asked who was from the Vale of Glamorgan and they were not allowed to cast any vote. The fact that people voted against coming into the Vale of Glamorgan should be seen in that context.
Mr. Win Griffiths : How many ?
Mr. Sweeney : I do not know how many people voted, but I accept that the people at the meeting were opposed to coming into the Vale. That is hardly surprising, given the context in which the discussion took place and the dismissiveness of one member of the audience when I said that people were likely to experience lower levels of council tax in the Vale of Glamorgan than if they remained in Bridgend and that they would have a shared community of interest with the neighbouring villages. Those arguments were ignored.
I strongly object to the allegations made by the hon. Member for Caerphilly and I hope that I have nailed his points once and for all.
Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda) : I shall make some general remarks and then I shall be specific as I know that many of my hon. Friends want to speak.
We regretted the decision of the Secretary of State for Wales to break with tradition by insisting that the Committee did not consist solely of Welsh Members. For various reasons, many of us were unable to serve on the Committee that discussed the Bill and put our communities' case. On behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) and others who could not sit on the Committee, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) for the able way in which he put our case.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly that it was appalling that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) advanced principled arguments in support of the position in Powys but voted against that proposition and the logical argument on the south Wales valleys. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly was right to expose him today for his unprincipled stand.
We may talk about principles, but there is one thing that I fail to understand about the Bill. It is patchwork quilt and it is inconsistent. During discussions, the previous Secretary of State asked us to present our opinions and then said that the Glamorgan valleys would be divided on a reasonable basis. Within a year, that was completely overturned. Even at this late stage, no good reasons have been presented for the structure that the Secretary of State proposes in the Bill. It is an inconsistent sham and a patchwork without any underlying principle.
The one principle that the Minister put forward was that the Bill would set up unitary authorities. I have served on district and county councils. Having seen how they operate and the way in which they provide services, I believe that there should be two-tier local government.
Since the publication of the Bill, my views have been justified. Its basic proposition relates to unitary authorities, but the Secretary of State says that unitary authorities are too small to carry out certain functions and that they have
Column 652to form joint boards. Perhaps the only consistent argument that the Secretary of State advanced was that the Glamorgan valleys have a mini county council with a population of about 250,000 people. It will probably be the only authority in south Wales that will be able to deliver all services itself. Every other unitary authority will have a second, unelected tier. It would have been far better if the Secretary of State had retuned local government in Wales instead of setting up a false structure that has no relationship to an overall authority in Wales.
One problem for the Glamorgan valleys is that the Secretary of State has a "flat earth" mentality. He looks at the map and decides that Aberdare is only a couple of miles away from Maerdy, but fails to realise that there is a mountainous area between them. It is unbelievable that what we are debating will affect the delivery of intimate services. We shall be landed not with two-tier local government but with three-tier local government, and the area committees will mean even further divisions.
When I made my case to the Secretary of State, he said that Rhondda could be an area committee within the Glamorgan valleys system. That is completely inconsistent, especially from a person renowned for his logic and clear thinking. If that is an example of clear thinking in relation to the business of Wales, we are being very badly served. Rhondda communities are aggrieved, and rightly so. For almost as long as local government has existed in its present form, Rhondda has been a single authority. Even under the previous reorganisation, it was not linked with another authority. Its boundaries remained inviolate because it is a particular and peculiar unit in itself.
I am not arguing against my hon. Friends the Members for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) and for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith)--I congratulate them on having succeeded in making their case. However, if the arguments are good enough for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney and for Blaenau Gwent, they are good enough for Taff-Ely, Rhondda and Cynon Valley. The illogicality of the proposals has been exposed for all to see.
We are not engaged in a semantic or statistical game ; we are setting a pattern for local government for the next century. Those of us who have served at all levels of local government know that we are discussing the delivery of vital services on which people depend in order to live a decent life. Local government looks after people and has always done so, almost from their birth until the day that they die. That is what we are discussing ; the Bill is not a statistical exercise and it is certainly not a semantic one. The Secretary of State has let down the people of Wales and he has especially let down the people of Rhondda and of the valley communities.
Mr. John Morris (Aberavon) : The amendments standing in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) aim to delete Port Talbot from the proposed Neath/Port Talbot part of Lliw unitary area. I also support new clause 11, which would provide self-determination for the many communities in Wales that are incensed by the present proposals. If that principle were accepted, it would go a long way to meet our needs.
I am grateful that our amendments have been selected because, despite the eloquence of my hon. Friend the Member for Neath, he failed to persuade a majority of the Committee to support other amendments to the same effect
Column 653--we lost by 14 votes to 11. The reason was that the Government not only moved the goalposts but changed the venue. Although the Bill deals solely with Welsh matters, the Government packed the Committee with English Conservative Members who had no interest in the issues but merely carried out their obligation to support the Government, come what may. Like Pavlov's dogs, when the bell rang they voted no. Welsh Labour Members, who comprise the overwhelming majority of Welsh representatives, were denied places on that Committee, and that is the democratic deficit in decision-making on the structure of local government in Wales.
The result is clearly linked to the absence of a Welsh assembly, which is to be the subject of our next debate. Local government would have been the responsibility of that assembly, and those who would have known about such things--because they would have been democratically elected--would have been able properly to determine the needs of local government in Wales. Alas, there is no Welsh assembly, and decisions are therefore taken by a succession of English Secretaries of State. I sometimes wonder how much better the decision-making process is since the coming of the Welsh Office. Given that we have had a series of English Secretaries of State, I should like to know who is really behind the proposals. It cannot be the Secretary of State because he would not know anything about the issues and had not heard of our problems before he got his little Cabinet place to represent Wales. Are junior Ministers responsible ? I suspect that they would not have the interest, energy or zeal to cut across clearly defined local views, as has happened to my constituents. Is the political adviser to the Secretary of State responsible ? He was my Conservative opponent at the previous election. He should certainly know better, although, when a delegation came to see him and the Secretary of State's predecessor, he excelled himself by sitting on the fence. If it is not the democratically elected people who are responsible, who is the grey figure in the Welsh Office who has made this determination ? I compare what is happening in Wales with what is happening in England. It is fascinating to learn that each household is to be consulted. There is certainly a divergence in the recommendations of the commission under Sir John Banham. We never had a commission, but I was one of those who advocated it. I was especially interested to read Sir John Banham's letter to The Times on 22 March. He wrote : "It will be most unwise to press ahead with changes to create unitary authorities unless there is clear local support for change and there are local champions for particular local situations." The reasons adduced for the resurrection of Rutland are fascinating--it is argued that there is a strong sense of community felt by local residents. We want to know how Port Talbot and Neath differ ; so far, the Secretary of State has failed the test. I have not time today to tell the House, as I did on Second Reading, about the results of polls, inquiries and tests that were conducted locally in Port Talbot and Neath in order to ascertain local opinion. Sir John Banham makes it clear that it would be "most unwise" to proceed unless there were clear local champions for change. If the Secretary of State could tell me who the local champions for change in Port Talbot and Neath are, I should be delighted to hear him--in the face of the unanimity of
Column 654views of members of the public, the leaders of local government and the councils, of whatever hue or political persuasion. Do not we, like Rutland, have the strong sense of community that lies behind the Banham commission's determination ?
The Secretary of State put the cat among the pigeons with his death-bed--or pre-shuffle--repentance to allow Merthyr to survive. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) and for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) on their efforts, but I suppose that the Secretary of State wanted to show that he was a responsive and sensitive man and decided to give something away, just like old-fashioned colonial Governments did to pacify the natives.
How do we differ ? In his letter to me on 28 April, the Secretary of State, with reference to our population, economic regeneration and efforts to attract new industry, could say only :
"I am not convinced by the claim, in the document you sent me, that there is any justification for a population growth prediction for Port Talbot. Although the population figures for Merthyr and Port Talbot tell a fairly similar story during the 1980s, Merthyr's population had by the beginning of the 1990s recovered to the level of the early 1980s. This cannot be said of Port Talbot."
What is the position ? The drop in population has been arrested and is now being reversed, but the House should know what caused the drop in population in the 1980s. It was a Tory Government, under such luminaries as Keith Joseph--now Lord Joseph--Lord Walker, and Lord Howe, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, who decimated our steel industry and we lost 7,500 jobs in a matter of years. In response, they provided only a totally inadequate amount of alternative jobs. That is where the responsibility lies. The young people walked with their feet or, as Lord Tebbit would have it, they got on their bikes to find work. Today, there is a change. With first-class communications and despite the fact that the Government have taken away our development status, there is an increase in population and 655 more dwellings have been constructed in Port Talbot in the past six years, compared with 22 in the previous six years. The Registrar-General has been proved wrong in his forecast, because he estimated that the population in 1990 would be 48,800 whereas, in fact, at the last census in 1991, it was 51,000. The Secretary of State has failed to take into account what is happening. With all due regard to Merthyr and Blaenau Gwent--I have done a little in my time to help and support regeneration in those areas--I do not think that it is understood that, given our situation and our communications, the potential is much greater in any area contiguous to the sea than in an area which does not have those communications and advantages.
In the years ahead, when the economy recovers--it has not recovered yet for us--we shall see a dramatic upturn in the population. The period of severe difficulties in the early 1980s is history. The availability of good industrial sites, the improved attractiveness of the borough as a place in which to live and, especially, the provision of quality housing, is changing the whole situation. It is for the Secretary of State to justify the case for change. The onus is on him. Sir John Banham makes it clear in that letter from The Times , from which I quoted, that the responsibility is on those who propose a change. I fear that the blinkered response of the Government, their failure to take account of strongly held local views and the way in
Column 655which they have ignored completely the change that is taking place in our population and our hopes and prospects for the future will result in grave disappointment tonight in Neath and in Port Talbot over what the Government are doing to those two great boroughs.
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon) : I rise to support the two new clauses as one who served for a couple of years on what was one of the old county boroughs in Wales--Merthyr. I am delighted to see that back as a unit in its own right. The lessons that are relevant to Merthyr are relevant elsewhere as well. Community matters very much in Wales and we want to see units of government that respond as closely as possible to natural communities.
As the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) mentioned, had we had an elected Welsh parliament or an assembly which drew up a scheme for local government, I have no doubt that there would have been a much greater sensitivity towards the need to identify with communities, because the people in such an assembly would have grown from those communities themselves.
That brings us to the basic question--new clause 11, in referring to a referendum, touches on it--of the legitimacy of the proposals before us. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) referred to the elected dictatorship in the Welsh Office. Of course, the Secretary of State is not even elected from within the community of Wales, the future of which we are discussing.
If hon. Members agree that, as I would certainly claim, our authority to speak in this place or, indeed, to speak in any forum, be it a local authority or a Parliament, comes from the people, the legitimacy of these changes and the rights of the people who are so much affected by the changes to the local government structure of a community within which those services will be delivered must grow from the people whom the changes serve.
The new structures of local government must identify with the communities that they serve and must have the support of the people who live in them. That is the basic difference between Conservative Members and some Opposition Members. Across the Opposition parties, we believe that our sovereignty and legitimacy grow from the people upwards and not from institutions down. Therefore, especially in drawing up structures of government, there must be an identification with the wishes of people.
Clearly, on that basis, and especially if the attempt to do away with the change agreed in Committee, which rescued Montgomeryshire, is successful and the unit of Powys comes back into existence, the proposals before us are a model of local government which falls between two stools. We shall have unitary local government authorities that are too large to be truly local and too small, in some ways, to be strategic authorities.
The whole point of the exercise was to try to get a more efficient system of government. I listened to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) saying that he believed in a two-tier system of local government. I understand his reasons and I understand the lack of the legitimacy of joint authorities taking decisions, which is one stage removed from democracy, but there is a strong argument for having unitary authorities, provided that they are the right size and are drawn up with the right borders. As I saw when I served in Merthyr, there was an ability to bring together housing
Column 656and social services, for example, where so many of the problems have a commonality. However, for that system to work, the units must be regarded as local by the population.
Clearly, in the case of Montgomeryshire and Meirionnydd, there is a great groundswell of feeling that the proposed unit is not a unit of local government in the sense in which the people of those two areas regard local government. I suspect that the same thing may well be true in Brecon and Radnor and I recognise that it is true in historic communities such as the Rhondda and, indeed, in areas such as Taff Ely. If people in those areas of Montgomery, Meirionnydd and the Rhondda feel so strongly about their identity and if the proposed unit is the unit of government, the provisions of the new clause should be made available so that those people may have the final word on the structure of local government, or at least on the boundaries of the local government authorities within which they will operate. Indeed, if the people of Dwyfor or Arfon or any other part of Wales feel that way, such mechanisms should be made available. To achieve any authenticity to the changes that the Secretary of State is putting forward, given the widespread and deeply held feelings that have been expressed, he would be well advised to take up the new clause. If he is not happy with the wording, there is an opportunity to change it in another place, but if we do not put the new clause into the Bill at this stage, that opportunity will be lost. May I move from the generality of the size of units to the implications of new clause 2, which raises the question of the identification of communities in the new unitary authorities in which they have been placed ? There is no doubt that, in many parts of Gwynedd, people in the communities there feel that they should be in an adjacent area.
I have received representations from people in places such as Llanfairfechan and Penmaenmawr who identify with the old Caernarfonshire and the Arfon area. I know that parts of the Conwy valley have expressed similar sentiments. At different times, people in parts of Edeyrnion have expressed similar feelings. Those feelings may or may not be reflected by the relevant community councils. That point was made by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek). He said that the matter should be one for a community meeting rather than simply for a community council so that the grassroots feeling about the proposal could be ascertained.
I hope that the Secretary of State will accept that there are communities, particularly at the southern end of the Aberconwy and Colwyn area, which are very rural. They are Welsh-speaking communities and they identify more closely with the old Caernarfonshire and the type of authority that is likely to come about there than with the seaside towns of Colwyn Bay and Llandudno. I am not making a value judgment about the two areas, but the people I am talking about identify with a different community. They would like to find a mechanism whereby that identity could be recognised. The Government's response will be that those points may be considered afterwards by boundary commissioners. Once the Bill receives Royal Assent, the proposals will become tablets of stone. Only in very remote circumstances would drastic changes be made. Flexibility should be built into the Bill now.
New clauses 2 and 11 provide the Government with the opportunity to be flexible. If the Government refuse to
Column 657[Mr. Dafydd Wigley]
accept the new clauses, it will be impossible to have a structure that is more finely tuned in terms of the new units of unitary government and the borders that allow communities to identify with a particular unitary authority.
For those reasons, my colleagues and I will support the new clauses. Even at this late stage, I urge the Government to find the sensitivity to the wishes of the people of Wales, locally in their communities, that the people certainly deserve.
Mr. Win Griffiths : Just a week ago, I undertook a successful foray into north Wales on a beautiful summer's day. I felt certain that we were going to win that particular seat. At the time, I was travelling through the Mid and West Wales constituency which, I knew from earlier election activity, we were going to win.
As I travelled along, my mood changed from delight to elation as I heard the Secretary of State for Wales speaking on the radio. With regard to the European elections, he said :
"I am happy to accept the verdict of the electorate. I take them seriously."
I was so amazed by that that I stopped the car to take his words down before I forgot them. I wanted to ensure that I could quote them to him exactly this afternoon.
On that basis, I speak with some confidence today that the Secretary of State, even at this 11th hour and 59th minute, will be prepared to change his mind about the communities of Ewenny, St. Bride's Major and Wick in respect of which I have tabled amendments. What is the will of those three communities ? They have expressed their will in five ways. Ogwr borough council conducted a postal ballot in which 80 per cent. of the people said that they wanted to stay with Bridgend in a turnout of nearly 60 per cent. Some 84 per cent. of the businesses that responded stated that they wanted to stay with Bridgend.
Ogwr and Vale of Glamorgan borough councils organised meetings in each of the communities as a result of which, 93.3 per cent. of those who attended wanted to stay in Bridgend, with only 2.5 per cent. opting for the Vale. The Electoral Reform Society organised a ballot. In Ewenny, 89.7 per cent. voted to stay with Bridgend on a turnout of almost 80 per cent. In St. Bride's Major, 87.8 per cent. voted to stay with Bridgend on a 75 per cent. turnout and in Wick, 81.2 per cent. voted to stay with Bridgend on a 75 per cent. turnout. Between 175 and 200 people attended the famous--or infamous- -public meeting at which the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) put the case for moving into the Vale of Glamorgan. Although the hon. Gentleman spoke at length in reply to my intervention, he failed to mention the fact that only one person from those three communities at that meeting supported the hon. Gentleman's view. The rest clearly wanted to stay with Bridgend.
Mr. Sweeney : As I made clear in my speech to the House, some members of the public at the meeting were not allowed to vote because they came from the Vale of Glamorgan and not from the constituency of the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths).
Mr. Griffiths : The three communities should decide their own fate. Even if the people from the Vale of
Column 658Glamorgan had voted, I hazard a guess that the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan would have had difficulty achieving double figures in support of his case.
In the wake of public opinion, it is also interesting to contrast two elections that took place in those communities. The first took place in 1991 before the proposals came to light and the other took place in 1993 after they came to light.
In the borough council elections in 1991, the Labour candidate managed to poll 187 votes while the top Tory received 502 votes. That was before the proposals saw the light of day. In the county council elections in the same area, the Labour candidate received 1,082 votes while the Conservative candidate received 935 votes. That Conservative candidate also supported the case that those three communities should be part of the Bridgend unitary authority.
Mr. Sweeney : Is not it fair to say that there are many different reasons why people vote in elections ? If the hon. Gentleman wants to be strictly logical, based on the information that he has provided, it would appear that the Conservative candidate was defeated in the county council elections because that person supported Labour policy on the matter rather than the Government's policy.
Mr. Griffiths : The Labour candidate wanted the communities to remain part of Bridgend. For the first time ever, the seat was won by the Labour party despite the spirited efforts of the Conservative candidate to make it clear that she was totally opposed to her Government's policy and that she would like the areas to remain with Bridgend. In that context, one could argue that 100 per cent. of the voters were opposed to the Government's policy in that area. The two borough councillors representing the area and living in it are totally opposed to the Government's proposals. My hon. Friends the Members for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) and for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) mentioned the letter from Councillor David Unwin, the leader of the Conservative group on Ogwr borough council and chairman of one of the community councils involved in the fight. He made clear his total opposition to what the Government are trying to do.
Other people have been involved. Reference has been made to Mr. Trevor Jones, who, as part of his campaign, is not even prepared to spend money in the Vale of Glamorgan any more because he is so disgusted with what the Government are doing. In a letter to the Western Mail of 13 June, he says :
"As a result, my wife and I, and our five children of voting age, will not consider voting Conservative again until the policy is reversed and the people of Wick, St Brides Major and Ewenny are told they are to remain with Bridgend.
The persons who have influenced our decisions are . . . Secretary of State for Wales"
together with the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan
"and other Conservative members of the Standing Committee of the Local Government (Wales) Bill now before Parliament."
In addition, the three communities publicly made clear their opposition in the Western Mail . Very interestingly, a most distinguished former president and chairman of the Bridgend Conservative Association, Mr. Forbes Hayes, also wrote to the Western Mail , saying :
"I write as a life-time resident of the Bridgend area, where I and my family have developed many interests, including substantial industries, and as a strong Conservative, having been
Column 659constituency chairman."
He went on to say that he totally opposes the proposals. On top of that, he rang me in the House of Commons yesterday and said, "Make sure that you tell the House that I will not maintain my membership of the Conservative party, that I will give no more money to the Conservative party, and that I will encourage as many people as I can to do exactly the same unless the proposals are reversed." It is quite clear that the Government are virtually friendless in those three communities. Of course, the Government have tried to argue why that should be. In the House of Lords, Lord Prys- Davies, speaking for the Opposition, clearly showed how the Government were disingenuous and even deceitful in the notes on clauses. In respect of the communities of Cynwyd and Llandrillo, the Government said : "These amendments reflect the weight of representations from the areas concerned".
On Delyn, the notes stated :
"The decision to amend the White Paper proposals to include in Flintshire the whole of Delyn reflects the overwhelming weight of local opinion".
On Ystradgynlais and Tawe Uchaf, the notes stated :
"The communities of Ystradgynlais and Tawe Uchaf have been added to Mid- Wales since the White Paper was published in accordance with the strongly expressed wishes of local residents".
In some of those changes, the Government did not even have the evidence of a referendum ; they had only letters from community councils. In the case of my three communities, they had other forms of evidence, yet in their notes on clauses they chose only to say : "largely rural and agricultural, have more in common with the Vale of Glamorgan authority than with the town of Bridgend and with the industrialised valleys to its north".
The Government should have added, "Even though the overwhelming weight of opinion is to remain with Bridgend, we nevertheless ignore it." That is what the Government are doing.
The Government have argued in letters to me and to my constituents and in the House of Lords that the Vale of Glamorgan is more used to dealing with small rural communities. The truth is that in Ogwr there are six community council areas with smaller populations than that of St. Bride's Major, the biggest of the three communities. In the Vale of Glamorgan, there is only one community with a smaller population than that of St. Bride's Major. The Government also told me in a written answer that they did not know the size of those communities, even though they were writing to tell people that it was because of the preponderance of small communities in the Vale of Glamorgan that they were making the change. The reverse was true.
On the issue of rurality, according to designations for planning, more of the Vale of Glamorgan--20 per cent.--is regarded as a built-up area, whereas the built-up area in Ogwr is just 15.4 per cent. People working in agriculture account for 1 per cent. in Ogwr and just over 1 per cent. in the Vale of Glamorgan. About 20 councillors in Ogwr represent rural areas as opposed to industrial areas, and about 20 councillors represent rural areas in the Vale of Glamorgan. On rurality, there is very little to choose between the two areas. The Government were forced into arguing about the snow plough from the Vale of Glamorgan going half a mile along the road to clear snow in the community of Wick in Mid Glamorgan. The truth is that that has never happened. Mid Glamorgan always clears snow from roads in Mid
Column 660Glamorgan in the borough of Ogwr. The only reason that the snow plough from the Vale of Glamorgan goes into Ogwr is in order to find a place to turn around to go back into the Vale of Glamorgan. Lord Rodger of Earlsferry also said in the other place that some people in those three communities
"sometimes advertise their houses as being in the Vale"-- [ Official Report, House of Lords , 10 February 1994 ; Vol. 551, c. 1737.] --not all, not many but just some--and that that was another good reason to make the change. He also said, rather amazingly, that the communities of St. Bride's Major and Wick were nearer to the community of Colwinston than they were to the community of Bridgend. He could just as easily have said that the community of Colwinston was nearer to Wick and St. Bride's Major than it was to Barry. We are seeing a mirror image of that debate, with the Government totally ignoring the will of the people.
Historically--since 1093--those three communities have been a part of the Bridgend area, and the Government are trying to wrest it from its historical place. As for the geography, those three communities are far closer to Bridgend than to Barry. For some people, it is only a 10-minute walk to the centre of Bridgend. If they tried to walk to Barry, it would take them a day and a half. There are many reasons why the change should be made.
On top of that, there are fears about schools and about the health service. Although to some extent the market could mitigate against some effects, there are problems in both areas.
I hope that the Secretary of State will be true to his words and will be happy to accept the verdict of the electorate and take it seriously by saying today that the three communities will remain with the Bridgend unitary authority.