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Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd) : Like my constituents and my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), I, too, can see no logic in the Secretary of State's unwillingness to grant unitary status to Taff Ely. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), I would point out that when we see a snow plough it is usually because it is lost.
The Secretary of State's decision smacks of inconsistency in terms of the comparison of the size of the districts that are proposed, their populations, the nature and quality of the services offered by district authorities and the history of existing local government structures. I have been among the least enthusiastic of right hon. and hon. Members to see the demise of our county authorities. I do not relish seeing the wider duties which their excellent staff and work forces now fulfil in many areas of public life, from the provision of special needs education to strategic communications, farmed out to much smaller, less powerful authorities and all kinds of dubious proposed joint committees and assorted quangos. Last Saturday, I attended a fete at the estimable Pentyrch primary and junior school. I spoke to parents of disabled children who have been integrated at no little cost into the mainstream of pupils at that school. Those parents are extremely worried about the implications for their children's education of the proposals for local government reorganisation. Indeed, many people in that village and its neighbour, Gwaelod y Garth, are worried about being delivered lock, stock and barrel from Taff Ely and from Mid Glamorgan into Cardiff. Taff Ely is worried about
Column 661losing Pentyrch and Gwaelod y Garth. We need high-quality, high-value housing located in those communities if we are to attract the managers and executives who are now required by an advanced economy. We need the beautiful rural countryside and the drama of the limestone gorge of the lower Taff valley. They are key assets to our borough. The people of those communities have always been part of the valleys, industrially and culturally ; they have never been part of the flat lands of Greater Cardiff.
At least the name Taff has been retained in the proposed title of the new authority, Rhondda, Cynon, Taff. RCT--it sounds like a breakaway from the railwaymen's union. But the Ely component of Taff Ely has disappeared completely--as though the communities of Tonyrefail, Coedely, Llantrisant and Pontyclun have been beamed up at the request of some Vulcan warlord. It has taken 20 years to integrate the old districts of the Taff valley, such as the town of Pontypridd, with those of the Ely valley. Now that Taff Ely thinks of itself as a viable administrative entity, it is about to be subsumed into this proposed triple alliance.
The citizens in my constituency view the Secretary of State's proposals with mistrust. They want much greater assurances about the future integrity and security of their health, education and welfare services before they accept the proposals as a blueprint for the sort of future to which they aspire.
Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli) : I shall be brief. I merely endorse what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) said when he argued the case for Port Talbot and what my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) will say when he argues the case for Neath. I was able to put the case for Llanelli. As Lord Howe pointed out in another place, Llanelli, Port Talbot and Neath are the same kind of communities. All of them still have an industrial base. About 30 per cent. of the people of Llanelli work in what is described as productive industry ; I imagine that the figures for Port Talbot and Neath are about the same.
My right hon. and learned Friend argued the case for Port Talbot in the House ; he was not able to argue the case in Committee because he was not a member. When I argued the case for Llanelli, I believe that, together with those on the Labour Front Bench, I won the argument, but we lost the vote by one. The arguments that have been made in the House today are the same as those that were made in Committee. Neath and Port Talbot are put together as two industrialised communities. The concern in Llanelli is that, because it is an industrialised community, it will be subsumed in a greater Carmarthenshire, which is a large agricultural and rural area. That is not to say that there is anything wrong with rural areas, but their problems are quite different, as we discussed in Committee. As the Minister knows well, there is real concern that projects such as the regeneration of south Llanelli and the redevelopment of the Llanelli town centre will be hindered and put back as a result of the reorganisation. I ask the Secretary of State again at this late stage to reconsider the case for Llanelli--just as my hon. Friend the Member for Neath will argue for Neath and just as my right hon. and
Column 662learned Friend the Member for Aberavon argued for his constituency--because of the industrial character of the Llanelli constituency.
Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) : My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) put with great eloquence the case for keeping Port Talbot as a separate institution. The amendments that he has tabled, and which I support, would achieve that objective and leave Neath standing free, together with upper Lliw. That is a much more logical alternative to the spatchcock proposal put forward by the Secretary of State.
I shall make several brief points. First, there is real anger in Neath at the Government's failure to listen to local wishes--they have been expressed unanimously, even by local Conservatives--as regards the retention of Neath as a separate borough. That unanimous opinion, which has been measured in opinion polls and surveys--and, indeed, in the submissions made to the Secretary of State on this matter--has been completely ignored and trampled on.
There is real anger, too, about the hypocrisy of English Tories who will vote tonight completely to ignore the wishes of communities in Wales while they are objecting to the Government's proposals for similar local government reform in England. Four members of the Committee--the hon. Members for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson), for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick), for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter) and for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Hawksley)--are on record as criticising or flatly opposing the Government's proposals for their own communities in England, but they are completely ignoring the wishes of local people in Wales.
Another individual whose action has been greeted with anger in Neath is the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans), who asked for and received the support of the Labour Members on the Committee. He supports the retention of autonomy in the communities within Powys in a separately identifiable sense but refuses to support that same principle with regard to Neath, Port Talbot, Rhondda, Taff and the other communities that have been identified. The logic of the principle applies equally to those communities.
The Secretary of State completely failed to mention the fact that Neath is second only to Cardiff as the longest-standing and most historic borough in Wales. That has been ignored. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) for the way in which he, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith), achieved separate authorities for those areas. There is no logical reason why, if those areas have been granted separate status as unitary authorities, Neath could not have been as well.
There is a serious point underlying all these boundary questions. Local authorities are vital mechanisms for acquiring and reproducing democratic legitimacy for local people in their structures of government. Last week, the miserable turnout in the European Union elections showed how little legitimacy those institutions have among the people of this country and, indeed, the whole of western Europe. If we have artificial communities which have no serious common interests--in the case of Neath and Port Talbot, there is a lot of traditional and historic rivalry--and which are forced together, we cease to have the legitimacy
Column 663on which democracy is built. These communities are proud ; that is why their democracies thrive locally. The Secretary of State has completely failed to recognise that in his proposals.
Mr. Llew Smith : I shall be brief because the question of Llanelli dominated the debate in Committee. Indeed, some hon. Members have suggested that the title of the Bill should be changed from the Local Government (Wales) Bill to the Local Government (Llanelli Community) Bill.
The original proposal was that the Llanelli community should be part of Powys. That was crazy because, as I emphasised in Committee, that would mean that local councillors attending meetings during the week would be away from home for six days. Even the Government recognised that that was not on. As a result of the campaign conducted by the borough council, the community council and the local people, the Government backed down.
The local people are now asking for a say in determining their destiny in response to the Government's decision that Llanelli community should be part of the borough of Monmouth. What I am doing is expressing the feelings of the local community. If I were speaking in terms of party political advantage, I would be supporting the Government's proposals, because, if the Llanelli community went into the borough of Monmouth, both the borough of Monmouth and the Monmouth constituency would be Labour controlled after the next local and general elections. While we obviously welcome that, we are still willing to put aside party advantage and express the wishes of the people.
The people of Llanelli wish to be part of Blaenau Gwent because of the history and traditions of the community. They are mainly employed in the coal and steel industries, as are the people in the borough of Blaenau Gwent. The people of Llanelli wish to be part of the borough of Blaenau Gwent because housing, environmental health and financial services are only three miles away from their little community. They wish to be part of the borough of Blaenau Gwent because Blaenau Gwent has objective 2 status and previously had development area status. Obviously, they want to be part of that. Indeed, not long ago the Government recognised that they should have been part of it. We are saying that we have to create local government boundaries in such a way that local people can relate to the decision makers and feel they have some control over them. If the Llanelli community becomes part of Blaenau Gwent, people will feel that they have some say in their destiny. If the Government insist that it should go to Monmouth, they will no longer get that feeling : they will become divorced from local government decision making and will be dejected as a result.
Mr. Roger Evans : I am driven to rise to my feet as a result of the speech made by the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith). It may have escaped the notice of some hon. Members that I represent Llanelly Hill in Parliament. I presented a petition signed by 1,900 out of nearly 3,000 electors expressing a preference for being in Monmouthshire. The hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten the fact that Blaenau Gwent lost the referendum in Llanelly Hill and that Monmouthshire won it. I know that there can be all sorts of explanations when opinion polls or referendums do not meet the purposes for which they were devised--
Column 664Mr. Llew Smith rose
Mr. Redwood : After three years of consulting, weeks in Committee and full debates in the House and the other place, Labour has come back with a half-baked proposal that would throw Welsh local government back into chaos and uncertainty. The House would not know how things might end up. Staff of local authorities would have to suffer further delays before knowing the final shape of Welsh local government. They would be far from happy should Labour succeed in winning the vote on the new clause and we oppose it strongly on that and other grounds.
The hon. Members for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) and for Neath (Mr. Hain), the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) and those representing Taff Ely and Port Talbot talked of their wishes for their communities to have separate councils. I understand their passion and their advocacy, but they must understand that a balance has to be struck between community identity, which is very strong in many of the communities of Wales--communities far smaller than those represented tonight in this debate--and cost and service delivery issues, which are also important.
Had we come before the House with proposals for many more councils, Opposition Members would, I am sure, have made great play of the extra costs and staff involved and the problems of delivering certain services. As it was, they made enough play of some of those.
Mr. Redwood : In each case, where one should draw the line is a difficult judgment. I decided that the separate history and former status of Merthyr, which is different from that of the other boroughs that the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) mentioned, were sufficient reason, given its size and the other considerations brought to my attention. That was the judgment that I put before the House and that Ministers put in Committee.
A judgment has to be made in each case. Wherever we draw the line, people will say that we have drawn it in the wrong place. They will say, "Why can't I have my local community, with a separate unitary council ?" or "Why have you so many local councils ? Won't it be too expensive ? Wouldn't it be better to have bigger ones to deliver the services ?" We have to find that balance, which is what we are recommending to the House.
Clause 6 of the Bill and section 55 of the Local Government Act 1972 contain provisions for the Local Government Boundary Commission for Wales to undertake an initial review of the electoral arrangements of all the new unitary authorities as soon as possible after the first elections and of those boundaries where anomalies are thought to remain.
I hope that Opposition Members will recognise that the boundary commission is an objective body, which can take a dispassionate view of any outstanding issues. We believe that we have the structure right and we are recommending it to the House.
Mr. Redwood : The boundary commission can come to its own conclusions within its terms of reference. Those terms enable it to review boundaries where it thinks that it needs to suggest an alternative proposal.
I want to clear up some of the arguments of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile). He was right to say that there had been representations to the Welsh Office for an independent Montgomery. He omitted to mention the fact that similar representations had been made in favour of a maintained Powys. He made no mention of the shire committee proposals which I introduced to balance community identity with service delivery.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery is wrong in his general allegations. He knows that they are wrong and he should withdraw them. If he is interested in my views at the time that I was Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities, he should look at the public record. I have managed to procure a copy of my main speech on the subject in October 1992- -just before the time when he purports to represent my views--at a party conference. It was a clear statement of my views. I said that the purpose of the review in England was not to carve the country up into a certain number of administrative units of a given size, whatever peoples' feelings and wishes. I went on to say :
"In 1973 they decided the county of Rutland should be abolished because it was too small, but then they invented the county of the Isle of Wight, which was smaller than their model."
I specifically said :
"Somerset, Herefordshire, Rutland, Huntingdonshire, the Ridings of Yorkshire, if you want your past to become your future say so and your wish can be granted."
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) would confirm that I was always very sympathetic to the case that he was making.
Mr. Alex Carlile : First, does the Secretary of State recognise that his shire committee proposals, as they appear in the amendments tonight, contain no financial guarantees for shire committees ? Why is that so ?
On his second point, if the right hon. Gentleman claims that he was, and remains, in favour of small unitary authorities such as Rutland and Huntingdonshire, why is he not in favour of small unitary authorities such as Montgomeryshire or Meirionnyddshire ? Where is the logic in what he is saying ? Let him tell the House how the Government changed their mind between early January 1993 and 1 March 1993. What were the reasons for that change of mind and who influenced it ?
Mr. Redwood : The reasons for the new approach were set out by the former Secretary of State for Wales, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West (Mr. Hunt). The hon. and learned Gentleman has been here long enough to know that no Government--Labour, Liberal or Conservative--ever make available internal minutes or correspondence between colleagues when they are reaching judgments that they then come to the House to defend.
I am not going to tell the hon. and learned Gentleman who intervened on what occasion in the debate. I can give him a strong promise and guarantee that I had my views,
Column 666which I expressed at the time in public, on English local government reform. His allegations are untrue and he should withdraw them. I hope that, on reflection, he will do so. He did not produce a shred of evidence to support the contention that I intervened and caused a change of heart. Will he think again about the allegation ? Does he seriously suggest that a Minister of State in an English Department can instruct a Secretary of State for Wales without recourse to the Cabinet and collective discussion ? He is living in cloud cuckoo land in suggesting that.
Mr. Alex Carlile : I told the Secretary of State that I would be perfectly prepared to withdraw my allegation if we were told who was responsible for the change of mind. Does he deny that pressure was put on the Welsh Office by Ministers who were not Welsh Office Ministers to change its mind ?
Mr. Redwood : I do not intend to reproduce debates in the Government at that time. The decision was made by the Government. The then Secretary of State for Wales was happy with it. The proposals were his, he presented and defended them, and I have carried them on, with some modifications of which the hon. and learned Gentleman is well aware. He knows that those modifications included certain boundary changes, to reflect the wishes of communities and the consultation evidence that we received and the introduction of more local identity through shire committees and--the biggest change of all--of an independent Merthyr.
Mr. Win Griffiths rose
I am glad to see the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) in his place because he talked a great deal about the importance of democracy, and I entirely agree. I was interested, therefore, to receive a letter from Russell Goodway, the leader of South Glamorgan county council, urging me to support the hon. Gentleman's proposal. I find Mr. Goodway's view of democracy, as reported in the South Wales Echo , quite astonishing. The South Glamorgan leader is reported to have said :
"The Tories promised cuts in public spending, so it seems to me that people who voted for those cuts should get them. That's democratic in my view."
I phoned Mr. Goodway to tell him that I was going to mention this, and he claimed that he was misreported. I hope that the hon. Member for Caerphilly will make it clear in the next debate that when he stands for democracy, he stands strongly behind the idea that anyone who is elected has to be fair in the interests of all constituents, and that includes being fair to Conservative wards in
Labour-controlled councils. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will dissociate himself from Mr. Goodway's view.
Mr. Ron Davies : I assure the Secretary of State that I would deplore any proposition that any local authority, or Government for that matter, seeks to use the financial resources at its disposal to reward people of its own persuasion.
I shall put the record straight, however. The precise words used by Russell Goodway were :
Column 667"It is very difficult to understand those people who vote for a Government that is committed to reducing the resources necessary to deliver services then expecting councils to have money, in other words when they vote they have been expecting cuts in services." The quotes attributed to him were quite inaccurate.
Mr. Redwood : I am glad to hear that particular interpretation of Mr. Goodway's remarks. None the less, the remarks are a little less than edifying from one who tries to represent a large and important area of Wales. It is small step from what the hon. Gentleman reports to the remarks which the newspaper claims were made. [Interruption.] I accept the point made by the hon. Gentleman. I told the House that Mr. Goodway claimed that he was misreported, and there I shall leave the matter. [Hon. Members :-- "Withdraw."] I am sure that my hon. Friends will be interested in that statement, and in the reformulation of it which has clarified the record.
Mr. Rogers : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Secretary of State to criticise a person in such an appalling way and, when corrected, not even to have the grace to withdraw ?
Mr. Redwood : I contacted Mr. Goodway, who knew I was making the remarks. I did say that he thought that he had been misreported. My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) dealt effectively with the points of the hon. Member for Bridgend on the communities. He made out a very good case for the three communities being part of the Vale, and he clearly disproved the idea that he was motivated by parliamentary electoral considerations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) also made a good point about the community of Llanelly Hill. Some Opposition Members have not quite grasped the importance of the measure which we have tabled tonight.
The proposal shows that we have listened in a large number of places to community representations. We have come to a good judgment on how Wales can go forward to a strong system of unitary authorities. I hope that, once the debates are over, Opposition Members will encourage their party colleagues to make a great success of this new system of local government for Wales. It is full of opportunity, and I want it to succeed.
Dr. Marek : We have had a thorough, and thoroughly unsatisfactory, debate. It is all very well for the Secretary of State to say that, once all the arguments are behind us, we should try to make a success of it. He is right in that. We must try to make a success of whatever system of local government we have.
It is right to remind the House that the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the people of Montgomery and Meirionnydd have been disregarded and thrown away. The balance is right according to the Secretary of State, but it is completely wrong according to the people of Montgomery and Meirionnydd.
The balance is wrong. It might be right for the Conservative party, but it is not right for the people of Wales. We must wait for the Local Government Boundary
Column 668Commission to deal with the communities. No doubt it will put the matters right, because it is not motivated by political survival. We must also wait for another Government, and a change of Government, before the serious matters are put right. It is my hope and conviction that we will not have to wait long. The Conservative party is now in third place in Wales and it is likely to stay there. [Hon. Members :-- "Fourth place."] My hon. Friends say that it is in fourth place and, after what we have had to put up with and listen to this afternoon, it will stay there.
At the next election, we will have a Labour Government and all the Opposition parties will be united on the matter. We shall put the map of Wales right and listen to the people, whereas the Tory Government are concerned only with colonial administration from London. Question put and negatived.
(1) If, by resolution, the council of any district existing at the time this Act receives Royal Assent so requests, the Secretary of State shall, before appointing a day for the coming into force of Section 1 of and Schedule 1 to this Act, prepare a scheme for the conduct of a referendum to be held within the area of any such district council.
(2) A referendum under subsection (1) above shall be for the purpose of determining whether the local government electors of the district are satisfied with the provisions of Schedule 1 to this Act so far as they affect the boundaries of any local government area for which they are electors.
(3) Where it appears to the Secretary of State from the result of any referendum held under subsection (1) above that a majority of the electors of any district do not approve of any change in boundaries affecting that district which would result from the provisions of Schedule 1 to this Act, he may by order made by statutory instrument make any modification to that Schedule which he considers will reflect the result of the referendum ; and any such order shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament and be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House.'.-- [Mr. Ron Davies.] Brought up, and read the First time.
Motion made, and Question put, That the clause be read a Second time :
The House divided : Ayes 246, Noes 277.
Division No. 260] [6.05 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Mrs Irene
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cook, Robin (Livingston)