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Mr. Ron Davies : You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be interested in my first point. The Minister of State has vigorously denied the comment in this morning's Western Mail prophesying his retirement. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) has penned a word for him, which the Minister of State, even if no one else on the Government Bench, will appreciate :
"Mae Wyn wedi mynd ond ddim wedi trigo ; dim ffws, dim ffwdan, heb ddagrau, heb ei gof."
It means, "For the very good of the Minister ; the Minister is going, no fuss, no fuss."
If the Minister is to retire, we shall miss him for his personal qualities and his decisive approach in Committee.
Column 848There were many occasions in Committee when he was having difficulty discussing the arguments that we made to him and he invariably started his remarks by saying, "Well, I should think", or "Well, I would imagine". He had a couple of variations. He sometimes used to say, "Well, off the top of my head", or, "I will consider that point and reply in a moment." He never did reply, of course. There was one marvellous moment when we were debating what has become known as the "Powys pudding". When he was referring to the Government scheme for area committees, he said, "Those are the areas that we want to pacify." He was referring to those five districts of mid-Wales.
I take the opportunity to thank my Front-Bench colleagues, my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) and for Tor hyphen faen, as it has now become known as a result of the passage of the Bill. I also thank my Back-Bench colleagues, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) who, at an early stage in the proceedings, managed to achieve a richly deserved prize as a result of the diligent campaign that he waged on behalf of his town of Merthyr Tydfil. We all appreciate that he was not exactly striving for his political life. He has something in the order of a 30,000 majority and, dare I say it, even if he had lost the battle he would still have won his seat, although with a perhaps slightly reduced majority, at the next general election.
We are on Third Reading. It is the end of the Commons stage of the Bill. There is only one conclusion that I can reach, however : it is an unacceptable Bill. It has been passed by what I consider to be a completely unsatisfactory Commons procedure and it has been piloted--if that does not give rise to a contradiction in terms--by Ministers of whom the best that I can say is that they were wise enough not to stray too far from their civil service briefs. The central criticism of the Bill is that it did not create a Welsh assembly and our own tier of government. That, I believe, must be the starting point of reform of Welsh government.
The Bill was not based on any principle. There was no meaningful consultation with the people of Wales or with Welsh local government. The Bill certainly did not build on natural communities, as the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) said. The local authority structures, the boundaries and numbers, were arbitrary, taken out of the air, changed from week to week, from year to year. Councils expressed the clearest outrage against the Bill, although the Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State managed to say, "I am right when I say that we have received few objections to our proposals for Rhondda-Cynon-Taff". All that I can say is that he could not have listened to what we were saying. There was absolute outrage in those communities, yet the Minister has ignored them. There has been, as late as last night, a complete rejection of our new clause 11, which would have restored some element of democracy to local government reform.
The Bill is a shambles. It took years in preparation, with all the consultation, yet amendments have fluttered down on it like confetti. There were dozens of amendments in the Lords and what seemed like hundreds of Government amendments in Committee. We have had dozens of amendments on Report ; whole clauses have been put into the Bill in the past 24 hours ; whole clauses have been taken out of the Bill, almost at random. We have had tonight a massive change in the Government's policy on area committees, reducing by 50 per cent. the threshold that was
Column 849necessary. Whatever else it does, it does not show that this is a thought-out piece of legislation, designed to improve government in Wales.
At the end, there are enormous areas of uncertainty. Area committees and staff transfer are unclear. There is an enormous centralisation of power in the Welsh Office--44 new powers are conveyed to the Secretary of State. We have a new super-quango in the residuary body. The Bill is not for local government ; it undermines local government and it has enormous implications for service delivery. It was opposed by 32 of 36 Welsh Members of Parliament. I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery for his words of thanks to myself and my colleagues. If it has done one thing--and the Government should take note of this--the Bill has ensured that Members of Parliament representing Wales have started to identify a common enemy. We, I think, have learnt that we have a common interest, and a common interest that is not shared by the Conservative party. I hope that that kernel of trust and common working will bear greater fruit in the years to come.
The Bill has been carried on the basis of English Members of Parliament, and of Standing Order No. 86. It was a packed Committee, but the only meaningful change it made has been reversed on the Floor of the House tonight. What price democracy ?
The Bill will be costly and it will cause great uncertainty. When it is enacted, all Opposition Members must ensure that it becomes the starting point of a process of reform of Welsh local government, not the end. We will need a new settlement for local government. We will also need a new contract between local government and central Government, which must be based on removing the shackles on local government, of restoring its independence, of recognising the plurality that exists in our public institutions and of understanding that local government exists both to represent the people of its areas and to improve the quality of life.
Above all, we must restore those things that are lacking in Welsh public life--openness and honesty. There must be confidence in the view that there can be democratic control of public affairs and that people can be trusted to run not only their own councils but their own country.
Mr. Redwood : I thank all those who have contributed to the making of the Bill--hon. Members, local councillors and their officers, organisations and individual members of the public. A great deal of attention has been paid to the Bill and it is the better for that. Special thanks go to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for piloting the Bill through long hours of debate in Committee.
Local government should be government for local people by local people. The crucial decisions will be taken by the new shadow authorities that will be elected next May. Many of the points that Opposition Members wanted clarified are matters that should be decided by local people and we are giving them those decision-making powers. I believe that they have every chance of doing a good job. The success of the venture rests on councillors and officers, old and new. I have concluded that the elections should be on 4 May 1995, the usual first Thursday in May for local elections and the day on which, in other circumstances, elections to the existing authorities would
Column 850have taken place. I believe that that will be welcomed by the political parties in Wales, which I have consulted on the issue. The new authorities will need to recruit their chief officers as soon as possible to plan for the future. They will also need to establish small planning teams to prepare the new authorities' budgets and draw up their service delivery plans. Those people can be seconded from existing local authorities, which will no longer have the same need to plan for the future. Their service plans will set out what the authorities will do.
In this evening's debate we have seen again just how short of ideas and confidence in its own views the Labour party in Wales has become. Today's decision of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) to nominate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and then to vote for the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) for the leadership of the Labour party
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse) : Order. I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman's latter remarks have to do with Third Reading of the Bill.
Mr. Redwood : Those remarks are extremely important because it was a foolish decision by the hon. Member for Caerphilly. It means that the policies that he has been advancing may be ditched by the new leader. It certainly means that the person whose job is on the line at the moment is the hon. Gentleman. He backed two horses in a three-horse race and hoped that the two horses would not notice that he had backed each of them. What will he say to the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) when he next meets her
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. When I last intervened, I meant what I said. Will the right hon. Gentleman now get back to Third Reading of the Bill ?
Mr. Redwood : I shall try to ensure that I meet your wishes, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The Labour party's proposals have centred round the creation of an unnecessary tier of government in Wales--the assembly.Throughout our debates Labour Members have failed to come clean on whether they support their friends in the counties who want fewer, larger strategic unitary authorities, or their friends in the districts who want more, smaller unitaries. The hon. Member for Caerphilly never managed to assert his discipline over his own party around a single clear proposal for local government in Wales. Labour Members have attacked the Government's proposals from a whole range of contradictory directions in an attempt to conceal the absence of any thought-through alternative. They have the audacity to say in the House that they dislike centralising powers and duties in the Welsh Office, when time and again in Committee and on the Floor of the House they have demanded that I take more centralising powers and give greater clarity over things which local government should decide for itself.
Tonight we have seen a Labour party that could not even deliver a vote on the main boundary issue that was fiercely debated in Committee ; a Labour party that could not keep its troops here for this Welsh business ; a Labour party that has clearly decided that Wales does not matter or can be taken for granted. The vote on Powys shows that not even all the Welsh Labour Members stayed for that critical debate and Labour's total vote fell below the number of Welsh Labour Members of Parliament. What a disgrace
Column 851when we are told that this is a critical piece of legislation and one that the Labour party should have modified or removed from the statute book. The Labour party has failed tonight in a big way. We shall carry our Bill. It is good legislation for Wales and it will produce much better local government for Wales. The Opposition are there in tatters behind the hon. Member for Caerphilly, but perhaps not for much longer because he has failed to deliver the vote and failed to deliver the goods and he has no idea how he would like local government in Wales to be conducted.
We have a vision, a view of better local government in Wales. I commend it to the House.
Question put , That the Bill be now read the Third time : The House divided : Ayes 117, Noes 20.
Division No. 264] [9.55 pm
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)
Banks, Matthew (Southport)
Blackburn, Dr John G.
Browning, Mrs. Angela
Carlisle, John (Luton North)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Deva, Nirj Joseph
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Kilfedder, Sir James
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Maitland, Lady Olga
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Neubert, Sir Michael