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Column 672Wood, Timothy
Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Bowen Wells and
Mr. Sydney Chapman.
Question accordingly negatived.
.--(1) There shall be established on 1st April 1996 a council for the principality of Wales, to be known as the Welsh Assembly ("The Assembly").
(2) The Assembly shall perform strategic functions for the principality in so far as they are relevant to the local government of Wales.
(3) The Assembly may do anything it considers necessary to (a) facilitate the co-ordination of administration of local government in Wales, and
(b) promote greater co-operation between the Welsh local authorities and public agencies and voluntary organisations in Wales.
(4) The Assembly shall represent the interests and views of Welsh local authorities collectively in the relevant institutions of the European Union.
(5) The Secretary of State shall consult the Assembly on all matters affecting local government and local and regional interests in Wales.
(6) The Assembly shall have power to appoint such officers as it thinks necessary for the proper discharge of its functions, on such reasonable terms and conditions, including terms as to remuneration, as it thinks fit.'.-- [Mr. Morgan.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Mr. Morgan : It is a pleasure to move the new clause, with its tiny consequential amendment. I hope that the debate will be fairly brief but extremely vigorous on this important topic of how a Welsh assembly fits into the Bill.
The new clause seeks to develop British democracy. Britain is a unitary state but with interesting ragged edges such as Wales, Scotland and, since the 1920s, Northern Ireland. The new clause recognises the special needs of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Mr. Morgan : I am grateful for your protection of my still, small voice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that we shall have the necessary co- operation from all those who are genuinely interested in this interesting debate.
The problem is that, since the 1880s in the case of the Scottish Office and the 1960s in the case of the Welsh Office, there has been administrative devolution. The 1980s saw further administrative devolution, with powers frequently taken away from local government and transferred to unelected quangos. People who have been defeated in a democratic contest by the electorate of Wales are often able to re-enter politics in an anti- democratic way by being made chairmen and chairwomen of quangos that take over the functions of local government.Thus the continuously moving target of devolution and democratic
Column 673change in the past 16 years has, unfortunately, been largely undemocratic. Many previously democratically controlled functions have been quango-ised. In urban regeneration, housing and education, quangos have been set up to carry out functions that were previously carried out by democratic local government.
The people of Wales do not like that and regard it as creating a democratic deficit. They do not trust the Government or Secretaries of State who--with the exception of the then right hon. Member for Pembroke, now Lord Crickhowell--do not come from Wales. We have had four Secretaries of State since 1979, two of whom--including the present one--were closely connected with the Rothschild empire, and two of whom were closely connected with Lloyd's of London. Their experiences are millions of light years away from those of the average person who votes in Welsh elections. As a result, the Welsh electorate kicks back against the Government. It is fair to say that in last week's elections the Tories reaped the whirlwind for their contempt of the Welsh people. The Welsh people are looking for a bastion to protect them against the continual loss of democratic control over the functions of local government. The new clause attempts to solve that problem and to put right the democratic deficit that has built up in Wales since 1979.
Last week, the Tories reaped the whirlwind in the same way as the Canadian rugby team did by making various solicitous remarks about the Welsh and saying that in-breeding catches up with people in the end. The Welsh coach had merely to pin that remark on the Welsh changing-room wall for the team emerge on to the field like whirling dervishes and take Canada apart up front. We all saw the result of that. The last 15 years of Tory Government have been like pinning a notice on the changing room wall saying what the Tories thought of Wales and showing the contempt with which Wales is treated in a democratic sense. The result of the European elections last week was similar to the drubbing given to the Canadian rugby team. If Wales is treated with contempt, it will kick back.
The new clause attempts to interpret the views of the people of Wales, who want an assembly so that they cannot be mucked about by a Tory Government, as they have been over the past 15 years. An assembly would enable the functions of quangos, which have taken over so many local government functions, to be controlled democratically. A voice would be given to the people of Wales, enabling the functions of local government to be co- ordinated. In the context of the Bill, an assembly would alter how we decide all the issues that we discussed under new clauses 2 and 11.
Strategic functions could be carried out by an all-Wales tier, which would determine how big a local authority must be to deliver viable local services and provide a local identification. In the last debate, the Secretary of State was keen to refer to the figure of 20 local authorities. An all-Wales tier would mean that a different number could be chosen. The system would not have to be undemocratic, as it is now. That could be done without worsening the problem of the democratic deficit.
The entire proceedings through which the Bill has passed so far have been anti-democratic. The Standing Committee was packed with non-Welsh Members, the transfer of powers incorporated and hon. Members such as
Column 674the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South- West (Mr. Legg), the great expert on gerrymandering from Westminster, put on the Committee to act as a silent voter without participating in the proceedings. The Government's attempt at gerrymandering failed because they could not get the Bill through in time.
All those measures have worsened the democratic deficit from which Wales suffers. The people of Wales are looking to this House today to express, on behalf of all hon. Members--not just those on the Committee--what Wales needs most : local government reform, but with a strategic overview of matters in Wales. That should be provided not solely by the Welsh Office or all-Wales quangos funded by the Welsh Office. The Bill will make that problem worse as a result of the way in which the Secretary of State has handled it. In many ways, what has happened in Wales in the past 15 years has been much worse than what has happened in Westminster. Westminster tried to export Labour voters to adjoining boroughs, but in Wales when the Government lose local authority elections to Opposition parties-- overwhelmingly Labour, but not always--they tend to say, "If people are going to keep voting Labour, we shall transfer functions out of local government, and thus out of the purview of the Bill, and put them under the control of appointed, patronage-based quangos directly funded by the Welsh Office." How do those quangos know what the people of Wales think ? If the Government were to accept the new clause, they would show that, despite the contempt that they have shown for Welsh people's views over the past 15 years, and the widening of the chasm between the political views of the Welsh people, shown in the European elections last week when the Conservatives dropped to third place--there is evidence that it will widen further at the next general election--they were willing to make a gesture to the Welsh people. Wales needs a defence mechanism against the depredations of successive Tory Governments. Given Tory Governments' lack of sympathy for the people of Wales and the countervailing lack of sympathy among the Welsh people for the Tory Governments who have ruled over them, the Government could say, "Let's establish a Welsh Assembly and make this country's constitution more workable."
A Welsh Assembly would act as a bit of oil in the wheels of the inevitable crunching that is now occurring between the Government and the people of Wales, who gave just 14.5 per cent. of their votes to the Tory party last week. One can see the dangers to this country's constitution when the Tories are faced with almost a wipe-out in Wales. That is why I am hoping against hope that we shall hear from the Secretary of State tonight that he is willing to listen to the views of the people of Wales. I hope that he will not regard himself as the equivalent, as Secretary of State, of all those Tory party candidates who are often sent to the valleys after doing a couple of years in Oxford and a couple of years as Guards officers and want to come to this place with a safe Tory seat but are told, "You have to try for a seat in the valleys first." We do not want the Secretary of State to regard the apprenticeship in Wales as something that he has to do for a couple of years before he is given a Cabinet job back in mainstream English politics.
Above all, the new clause would provide us with a guarantee. We do not want any more discrimination between, for example, the treatment of Rutland and Huntingdon in England and that of Montgomery, Port
Column 675Talbot, Llanelli, the Rhondda and all the other authorities in Wales. That is the problem--that contempt for the people of Wales--to which new clause 1 would provide the solution.
Mr. Roger Evans : I rise briefly because I was trying to intervene but missed my opportunity. From the passionate speech that we have just heard, one might have thought that the new clause was a proposal for a Welsh Parliament with real powers. It is typical
Mr. Evans : I hear a sedentary objection from the nationalist Bench, because what the new clause proposes is extraordinarily different from the type of proposition that I suspect that the occupants of the nationalist Bench would want. This body is a super Welsh local authority at its most. It has no legislative or law-making powers. It has no taxation-raising powers. It has the most limited powers of expenditure. It is an attempt to create a quango-control body, but, at most, it is a modest and irrelevant extra layer which would achieve nothing and would simply disappoint those people who want a Welsh Parliament, to which my electors in Monmouthshire are firmly opposed.
Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) : One of the numerous joys of serving on a Standing Committee is that during the debates or discussions one's mind either becomes clarified or more muddled or one at least starts to gain an impression of the way in which a piece of legislation will ultimately work. I will tell the Secretary of State, who did not share the joy of serving on the Standing Committee, of the impression that was left on me about certain aspects of the Bill and the way in which it relates to the new clause that we propose.
I gained the clear impression, as we went through the debate--there was not especially a party divide about it--that there genuinely were areas of local government administration and policy making which would not fit easily into a unitary authority structure. One thinks of strategic issues, especially in regard to mental health, child abuse, certain aspects of social services, strategic roads and planning aspects, which had been primarily a county function and which--I do not complain because I am pleased with some aspects of the pattern of unitary authorities that has emerged in relation to my area--unitary authorities of considerably varying sizes will have to try to deliver.
As the debates progressed through the various clauses, I do not know whether other hon. Members--or the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans), who was the most assiduous attender of the Committee and listened patiently in many cases to hours and hours of debate--were left with the impression that the sectors of trading standards, fire, services, roads, strategic planning and some social services functions, especially in relation to mental health and child abuse and so on, which had been county responsibilities, would not necessarily fit properly and easily into the pattern of unitary authority structure that we had proposed. As a result, it emerged that we would have a patchwork of possible alternative solutions to what was a county function--lead authorities, joint boards of one type or another--to deliver some of those services which do not fit into the pattern of unitary authorities of varying size ; a sort of limbo-land democracy.
Column 676I do not like--I know that the Opposition have tended to recommend it frequently--the form of delegated democracy that occurs when it is decided that county or district councils will serve on this organisation or that body, to try to give an impression of a democratic body. I find that that type of delegated
democracy--limbo-land democracy--does not work because in a sense people do not recognise the delegated member to be directly responsible to the community, as he or she would be if serving on the local authority or, as I would suggest, sitting in a Welsh assembly. If one believes in democracy, democracy does not come cheap. No one is saying that it does. Democracy is more expensive. It is more expensive in administration. Consider the sheer amount of time that Whitehall spends trying to manage this place. I know that from my ministerial experience. This morning, I was watching the Foreign Secretary in the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. He had a large pile of files with him. He had spent, rightly and understandably, an enormous amount of time trying to anticipate every conceivable question that we might ask. So democracy does not come cheap, even in the present system.
We should not argue about the cost, therefore, but about whether an organisation is a valid instrument of democracy. I suggest that, as a result of all the changes that are occurring, some aspects of policy will not fit easily into the unitary authority pattern. Eventually, policy making and major decisions about resources will gradually drift back into the Welsh Office. The Welsh Office will need to shape those policies and will gradually take over and assume the strategic policy thinking in many of those sectors that lay with the county, but will now lie with either joint boards or lead authorities. I know that it will not necessarily be deliberately intended, but I think that the process will gradually return to the Welsh Office. As a result, I think that the Welsh Office and the Secretary of State will become more powerful as a result of the Bill even than hitherto. When one considers the way in which, I am sorry to say, this place handles vital, fantastic issues of Welsh concern to us, we ought honestly to be appalled with ourselves and with the system. There were many quality contributions to this morning's debate, but what a truncated debate it was on an issue of profound concern to so many members of our community.
I was reading the preface to the Secretary of State's preface to the public expenditure White Paper produced by his Department--it was better presented than ever before and more interesting than ever before--stating powerfully just what a huge sum of money he has in his gift and responsibility. How much does this place analyse and scrutinise expenditure of that type ? In spite of the invaluable work by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) and the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, how much time do we spend on what is now one of the biggest collective spending Departments, with a fantastic range of functions, right across the board--quite rightly so ? We all support it. We set it up and it has been built on and developed since. How much time and energy do we put into it ?
I shall give an illustration to make the point. How much time and energy will the House spend on something that will shape the education of all our children in the years to come ? How many debates will we have about the national curriculum proposals that are being published ? Let us take as an example the document that I hold in my hand, the
Column 677proposals for the national syllabus for history. They will eventually be put before us in a series of orders. We may possibly have a prayer, at some unearthly hour in the day or night, to discuss one or more of those.
The documents containing the national curriculum proposals will shape the education that is provided in our schools for a decade and more. In that document--the one that I was especially interested in--it is proposed, as I understand it, that no young person or child will learn about Welsh history after 1918. Are we to nod such proposals through ? That is what is in the document. History stops in 1918. One thinks of the events of the 1930s, the 1940s and the 1950s, which shaped the critical social economic consciousness of our society, and shaped politics and social attitudes. Yet as I read that document, history after 1918 will not be taught in our schools. How much time and energy will be spent in the House debating matters of such profound concern as that ? I have picked up only one of those syllabuses ; there are others.
I know that the proposals will be subject to consultation and that we can make written representations. I have already done so in this case to the Secretary of State. Nevertheless, those issues should be debated openly. That is the very meat and drink of democratic political decision making.
I support unitary authorities, but I fear that some aspects of policy making which are dealt with at county level now will drift up to the Welsh Office, thereby enhancing its powers and those of the Secretary of State. I know that the Government will deny that, but, having heard the debate in Committee, I know that it is what will happen. And when it happens, hon. Members will find that we will not give it the necessary scrutiny. We will not find time in this place to discuss all the changes. This House is becoming more and more impatient, given all the European stuff that it has to consider. I have two final points for the Secretary of State. Whatever happened to the grand debate, promised at Cardiff in a speech on 8 March 1993, to be initiated by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor ? What has become of the revamping of the Government's
counter-proposals to a Welsh democratic assembly ? What happened to their promise to revamp the handling of Welsh affairs in this place ? There has not been a single proposal since March 1993--although I do not know whether the usual channels have been working behind the scenes. I note that some of those involved--in Plaid Cymru--shake their heads. What has happened to the famous Hunt revamping proposal, which the current incumbent may now wish to deny knowledge of ? Anyone who knows his British history will recall that the Conservative party has been a great national party. It is, after all, the party of Peel and Disraeli, of Baldwin and Macmillan and occasionally-- he was in and out--of Churchill. After the results of the past weekend, that great national party has become a regional and peculiarly English party. I never thought in my lifetime to see the Conservative party--even in my constituency it had hitherto always managed to get out its core vote of 25 or 30 per cent.--reduced to 14 per cent. of the vote.
That being so, the Secretary of State should ask himself what moral legitimacy he exercises when he rejects our demands for democratic accountability for the decisions
Column 678that he, among others, will make, and for the powers he exercises that will be enhanced by this Bill. I do not expect the right hon. Gentleman to reply favourably this evening, but I hope that he will begin to think again about his legitimacy when saying no to the demands from Wales.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) : Apart from the sniping aimed by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) at my colleagues just now, I agreed entirely with everything he said. I spent six weeks in the Standing Committee, where we discussed scrutiny, and I am adamant that the hon. Gentleman is correct. There is not enough time to deal with Welsh legislation in the set-up that we have here.
We have notes on clauses comprising three sentences although they deal with highly complex strings of clauses. We should not be expected to nod such clauses through, but I am afraid that that is precisely what happened on some days in the Committee.
The fact that we have to compress a debate about the democratic process in Wales and the need for an accountable all-Wales forum into the few minutes that we have today serves to underline the need for a strengthened and better democratic procedure for the government of Wales. Plaid Cymru does not shy away from the fact that we need a full Welsh Parliament with legislative and tax-raising powers. Some Conservatives believe that we try to conceal that, but it is the very reason for our being. We do not deny it, and it is why we are here. The new clause, however, represents a great step forward in the democratisation of the unfortunate process of government in Wales. A similar amendment was debated at length in another place and was defeated by only eight votes. Their lordships are not known for their radicalism, but even they realise the need for urgent and real change. Here we have the vehicle for such change.
Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones : My hon. Friend referred to the debate in another place. Did he find it as remarkable as I did that many of the participants in that debate originally opposed any moves towards devolution and decentralisation in Wales, but that they have been convinced by 15 years of Conservative Government ?
Mr. Llwyd : Not surprisingly, I agree entirely with my hon. Friend-- I was coming to that very point. Earlier, the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) said that there had been a referendum in 1979 so the matter had been decided once and for all. But many things have changed in the past 15 years. We have been subjected to a Government whom 85 per cent. of the electorate of Wales rejected at the last election and whom a far higher percentage rejected a few days ago.
I think that it was Harold Wilson who said that a week is a long time in politics. Certainly, 16 years of Tory misrule is a hellish long time. Were there to be a referendum today on this subject, there would be no doubt at all of the answer, as I am sure all Opposition Members will agree.
It is also preposterous to suggest that because there was a referendum in 1979 there should never be one again. That is an abomination. If it is true, why do we have votes on capital punishment so regularly ? The issue has been
Column 679decided time and again, yet I have no doubt that there will be future votes on it. Why should not the same apply to the subject of the government of Wales ?
We in Wales need an all-Wales forum, for several reasons. We are a proud people. We want to play our true part in the development of the new European scene. Other historical regions, such as Catalonia, are enjoying a great measure of success. It is lucky that the Minister of State has just re-entered the Chamber ; he has been to Catalonia on trade visits and knows that it is doing very well. The Catalans have a large measure of autonomy within the Spanish system. They can deal with their affairs on a European level : we cannot. We have to have our thoughts filtered through the enervating process which is Westminster. The corollary is that funding intended for Wales which comes through this enervating channel used to be stopped at source, until that was put right some time ago. The additionality argument has shown the great disincentives for Wales under the present system.
I think that Opposition Members to a man will agree that the current set-up is over-centralised to a ridiculous degree. In this Parliament, we have witnessed a tendency that runs contrary to everything happening in mainland Europe. I have referred to it before and I shall do so briefly again. The Governor of Hong Kong recently said :
"We have to re-examine our understanding of the division of political power in the UK. I think we have become absurdly over-centralised. It was a great mistake of the 1980s, and I speak as one of those who made the mistake."
So even the Governor of Hong Kong, who is not averse to the political thinking of the Government, has come to the conclusion that some real democratic constitutional change is called for.
The Secretary of State for Wales exercises his functions in Wales as a governor-general. I do not expect him to agree with that, but he is responsible for housing, education, health, transport, the economy, agriculture and so on
Mr. Llwyd : Yes, not that that worries me unduly. I believe that it is because of the concentration of powers and functions without true accountability that the people of Wales view the Welsh Office with such odium. All political parties in Wales agree on the principle of unitary authorities, and there is no argument about that on the Opposition Benches. I believe that the Government also agree. But I have to say that the lack of accountability of the 90 or so quangos currently operating in Wales worries many people. That might have been a factor in the Government's poor showing in 1992 and last week. Above all, local government reform must carry with it the consent of the people of Wales. The so-called reforms in the Bill do not have that consent.
Quite apart from the boundary arguments, which will probably be restated later this evening, and which are very important, there are many flaws in the legislation and we have not had adequate opportunity to scrutinise them properly. During the passage of the Bill, questions were asked and assurances were given, but the arguments have advanced very little. We are still, incredibly, very much in the dark as to the kind of animal that the Bill is and what will eventually come of it. Surely that is not the way to deal with legislation in a so-called democratic forum such as the House of Commons. We should know exactly where we
Column 680are going and that what we are doing carries with it the will and consent of the people. That clearly is not the case in this instance.
If we do not have an all-Wales body accountable for strategic planning and also to scrutinise the quangos, I believe that we are making a grave mistake. We have a good opportunity now to deal with a major reform, which would democratise matters, and here is the vehicle to do it. But we hear consistently the tired argument that, "In 1979, the people of Wales said no, so you are not having it." Meanwhile, we see quangos spending billions of Welsh taxpayers' money without any true accountability. That really is a worrying feature of any democracy.
In Wales at the moment there is the scandalous situation that a quango seems to be a safe haven for every failed Conservative, or any Conservative who thinks that he or she is on the way up. By all accounts, those safe havens are free from any real scrutiny and that makes them untenable and unacceptable. The democratic deficit in Wales is a wide abyss which is ever -widening, and that concerns all Opposition Members. We must bring some form of scrutiny into force quickly. I know that there has been some tinkering at the edges in mid-Wales. I am not sure whether the Government's view on that is correct, but there is--I hope--some scrutiny of the current quangos. It is a sad fact that £1.8 billion of taxpayers' money is distributed by 1,400 people who serve on those bodies--200 more people than there will be councillors under the proposed set-up in the Bill. The Government have an opportunity of addressing that democratic deficit. It is real, not perceived. I referred earlier to the way in which polls in Wales have gone against the Conservative party. I believe that it is because those quangos are looked upon with such disdain that the Conservative party is so unpopular. If it were not for the fact that every person in Wales has to spend money to keep them going it would be a laughable matter, but it is not. Some 85 per cent. of the people of Wales voted in favour of parties that have in their manifestos some form of devolution, be it a full Parliament, which Plaid Cymru wants, an assembly, which the Labour party wants, or the assembly that is proposed by the Liberal Democrats. Consensus is a vital component of the Bill. It will affect each and every person in Wales, and therefore we need that consensus.
In another place, the opportunity was grasped by many in the debate and in the Lobbies. I believe that if the purpose of the Bill is to ensure good local government in Wales, the new clause and the consequential amendment should be carried. I therefore fully support the new clause and the amendment.
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) : Part of the malaise affecting the governance of Wales is shown in tonight's rather rushed debate, as we are examining the new clause in just one hour. I adopt wholly what has been said, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) in respect of limbo-land, the movement of powers to the Welsh Office and the increasing alienation of the people of Wales. That is a real problem, which the Conservative party ignores at its peril, as we have seen in the results of not only the local elections but the recent European elections.
The Government are indeed isolated. I believe that their views are wholly undemocratic. I concede that many of the arguments that are now raised were rehearsed extensively
Column 681in the 1970s and that I took a different view at the time. But on balance I have come to a different view for a number of reasons : partly because of the centralisation that has come over local government since that time ; partly because of the nature of the local government changes ; and partly because of the current modest proposal for a body to deal with the strategic issues in Wales, the co- ordination and so on. That body will develop, or not, according to the views of the people of Wales. It will go as far and as fast as the debate in Wales takes it. I believe that that is the proper democratic way in which it should be seen.
A further major factor has been the European dimension. The Secretary of State has a view within the Cabinet against the developments in Europe which I believe does the Principality great harm, but that is another debate. But it is clear that the diversity in the European Community, which is reflected in all countries save our own--the most centralised of the European countries--must have implications for us. The quangocracy was mentioned earlier, and the increasing self-consciousness of the people of Wales, which is to be applauded.
I have but one minute, so I shall finish on this point. The Secretary of State is noted for his intellectual rigour and the independence with which he approaches problems of this nature. I urge him to cast aside the old shibboleths of the past. One can make the political arguments about the Conservatives now being--perhaps they always have been--the English nationalists and that they are being forced into their own strongholds as a result of the past few elections, but I urge him to look at the issue afresh, because it is serious. In my judgment, the people of Wales are becoming increasingly alienated. The Conservative party is being increasingly isolated. It ignores the issue at its peril.
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : In the debate on democracy in the European elections in my constituency nearly a week ago, the only candidate who did not turn up or send a representative was the Conservative candidate. We understand her impossible position in trying to justify the battered and abused democracy in Wales. A candidate who did turn up made a case saying that he did not believe in democracy, but in natural law. He thought that the world should be run by 7,000 yogic flyers. I reminded him that that is the sort of situation that we have in Wales. We have 7,000 people running the quangos, who are far more powerful than Welsh Members of Parliament, and far more powerful than all the members of local councils in Wales. What has happened in Wales is the mirror image of what has happened in eastern Europe. Even in countries such as Mongolia, Lithuania, Romania and Estonia, there was always a body of opinion--about 14 per cent. of people-- who were genuine, ideological communists who believed in that system. There were shams of democratic institutions in all those countries in 1979 with no power. To achieve power, one had to be a card-carrying member of the communist party.
We have seen a transformation there, but we have seen the exact opposite in Wales over the past few years. There has been a decline in the power of all the democratically elected bodies ; resources have been taken away from all the local authorities, and they have been replaced by quangos. I understand the enthusiasm for quangos expressed by the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr.
Column 682Evans) : he probably has more members of quangos as constituents than any other hon. Member, because of the "magic circle" in his area.
The point of tonight's debate is the way in which democracy has been destroyed in Wales. Hon. Members should look at the election figures. Last week, the Conservatives achieved a vote of 14 per cent.--a wipe-out, much closer to the vote secured by the Natural Law party than that secured by Labour. In last year's local government elections, Tories won 32 of 500 county council seats, and six Tory Members of Parliament were elected out of 38 ; in the district council elections Wales had 54 seats, of which the Conservatives won only one.
This is an abuse of democracy. The Tories are as popular in Wales now as Ceaucescu was in Romania at Christmas 1989. To deny democracy is dangerous and an abuse.
Mr. Redwood : Time and again, Labour makes a general statement against centralisation and then, by actions, words and deeds, shows that its centralising heart is beating ever more strongly. It is always urging me to solve every problem in Wales, where many problems can and should be solved by local government and--I trust--will be solved by local government, under the new structure that we recommend.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) for pointing out that the assembly proposed in the new clause is a toothless tiger, not the sort that the nationalists are recommending. Let me reassure the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) that I do not want more powers and functions to gravitate to me ; I strongly recognise the importance of good local government in Wales and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Let me tell the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) that I would not swap Wales for Catalonia, as he wishes to do : Catalonia's unemployment is much higher and our prosperity machine is in much better gear. I hope that he welcomes those facts.
The hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) suggested that Wales's system of local and national government was based on 7,000 yogic flyers on quangos. That may be the position on Newport council--I believe that it has set up a good many quangos, and it may be placing some odd people on them-- but it is certainly not the Wales that I know and love. It is not the Wales represented by the Welsh Office and the House of Commons.
In Committee, Labour Members tabled amendment after amendment seeking more powers for the Secretary of State. They wanted me to call in planning applications more often to force local inquiries ; they wanted me to designate strategic plan areas, to make more use of powers to monitor cross -border trading, to issue specific guidance to authorities on how to draw up service delivery plans, to issue more prescriptive guidance on decentralisation, to intervene to settle disputes between area committees and councils and to offer more guidance on transition committees. They even wanted me to draw up schedules of local authority members prescribing when they should retire. The Liberals joined in : they wanted me to establish a single trading standards authority for Wales, rather than such authorities being answerable to elected local government.
Column 683I would find Labour's attacks on quangos much more convincing if they ever countenanced the removal of any of the quangos that have been set up. When I suggest the abolition of some of them, howls of anguish go up from the Opposition Benches. Opposition Members cry, "No, Secretary of State, not this one--not now. Keep the quangos--keep them going." Labour councils themselves, of course, are mad keen on quangos. They have set up, or participate in, hundreds of them in Wales.
The other day, I read a list of appointments and nominations to outside bodies of just one council. Well over 100 bodies have places to which the council appoints its friends or councillors. They include everything from community centres to the Museum Council for Wales, best-kept village competitions, alms houses, community industry advisory panels, consortia of local authorities in Wales, the Federation of Industrial Development Associations--I have a much better list, but the time constraint is pressing. Quango-crazy Labour, in local government, even appoints--at public expense--national quango monitoring units, as Cardiff city council has done.
Labour should come down from its high horse and recognise that it is up to its eyes in quangos, that many of its people sit on them and that Labour councils have created far more quangos than the Welsh Office has ever dreamt of doing under a Conservative Government. It is local government's job to maintain proper control of the myriad local quangos that it helps to fund. Labour's proposals in the new clause would take powers away from elected local government in Wales and give them to a new regional assembly. I do not see why a new regional assembly would be better able to carry out the scrutiny required than local councils, which are closer to the local bodies concerned.
I believe that the Opposition leader-in-waiting--the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair)--favours more government for Wales. We look forward to his reconciling that with his only famous phrase so far. How did it go ? "Tough on socialism", was it ? "Tough on the causes of socialism" ? We know his views, and his fashions come and go, like those of so many socialists nowadays. In 1983, he was against Europe ; in 1994, he was head over heels in love with it. In 1983, he was against nuclear weapons ; in 1994, no comment.
I suggest that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) checks carefully with the hon. Member for Sedgefield whether he has any chance of keeping his own job and whether the Welsh assembly is another policy that is here today and gone tomorrow. Certainly this policy is gone today--and here tonight I urge my colleagues to reject it.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time :
The House divided : Ayes 244, Noes 280.
Division No. 261] [7.05 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