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Mr. Jones : We have listened carefully to the arguments for separate authorities for Breconshire, Montgomeryshire and Radnorshire. The Government remain strongly of the view that each of the three districts within Powys is too small to be a self-standing unitary authority with all that that entails in terms of taking responsibility for the full range of local government services.
Mr. Alex Carlile : The Under-Secretary of State said something interesting and important. If Montgomeryshire is too small to be a free- standing local authority, why are not Rutlandshire, Huntingdonshire and Clackmannanshire too small to be free-standing local authorities ?
The Government are alive to the concerns of people in Montgomeryshire, Brecknock and Radnorshire who want to preserve the identities of the old counties. We believe that that can be achieved within the context of the proposals in the Bill. The provisions in clause 27 and the new clauses that the House has already considered will provide the shire committees which will allow a real measure of decentralisation of responsibility and accountability for local services to local representatives.
On amendments Nos. 77, 81 and 82, we have given further careful consideration to this matter. On balance we feel that the community of Llanelly has closer affinities with areas in the proposed new authority of Monmouthshire. Lines of communication, social, economic and cultural links between the community and places such as Abergavenny, Govilon and Llanfoist appear to be much stronger than with places such as Crickhowell in Powys. Our conclusion also takes account of representations such as the petition of 1,900 signatures presented to the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) and the poll conducted by Blaenau Gwent borough council on 24 February, which showed that the Monmouthshire "option" was the most popular among electors in Llanelly. Accordingly, we propose that Llanelly hill should be within Monmouthshire.
Mr. Alex Carlile : What we have just heard is an insult to the House. If the Under-Secretary of State believed what he said, he would not have read it at such breakneck speed. There is an old horse racing expression to the effect that the jockey cannot come without the horse. What we heard was a horseless statement read by a tired jockey who did not believe in his capacity to finish the race, let alone to win it.
The Secretary of State reminded us yesterday of his speech at a Conservative party conference when he spoke of the identity that people felt with certain traditional communities. He helpfully reminded us of how he spoke in terms which meant that people could have their Rutlandshire and their Huntingdonshire--communities just like Montgomeryshire and Merionethshire, and just the sort of communities that we won back into the Bill in Committee.
Column 806I apprehend that if the Secretary of State, then the Minister responsible for local government, had been asked to include some Welsh communities in his speech at that time he would have added Montgomeryshire and Merionethshire and he would have done it without any compunction whatever.
We have been over this ground before and I do not want to tread over rocky old ground again or repeat what has been said many times, so I shall not do so ; it is all on the record. However, on behalf of my constituents I have to say that the paucity and threadbare nature of the Under-Secretary of State's answer to my intervention really gave the game away. For some hidden, obscure and politically motivated reason the Government have decided that Montgomeryshire and Merionethshire should no longer exist as local government areas. Having thus far represented Montgomeryshire for 11 years and a few days, it gives me great sadness to be here on the day when it has been decided that Montgomeryshire shall no longer have a council with a legal personality which can say, "We are the entity of Montgomeryshire." The last vestige of the old county of Montgomeryshire will be the continuation of the constituency of Montgomery in Parliament.The demise of Montgomeryshire as a council area was not wanted by the public and it will never be accepted by them. The Government must know that by forcing through this unwelcome change in local government boundaries and status they have failed to achieve the consensus that I am sure they hoped at the outset to achieve. It is inevitable that we shall return to local government reform in due course and give back to Montgomeryshire the council that it wants and deserves.
During the debates in Committee there was some welcome support from the hon. Members for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) and for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Hawksley). The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge, as we rehearsed in Committee, has a distinguished residential and business connection with Montgomeryshire. He fully understands that Montgomeryshire should be a county council in its own right. I suspect that he would recognise that there was an easy and straightforward option for the Government--to have a unitary Montgomeryshire and a unitary combined Brecon and Radnor. Although they may deny it now, I suspect that if the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor had told Ministers at a much earlier stage that he would settle for a combined Brecon and Radnor, that is what we would have got.
I fear that at the bottom of all this are political considerations concerning the constituency of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor. I do not want to be unduly unfair to him--indeed, I believe that I shall be very fair to him. He acted courageously in opposing his party's Government and we know that as a result he had to take his toe off the lower rung of the ministerial ladder, although that may be only temporary. I informed the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor that I intended to make these comments and I believe that they should be put on the record. I am convinced that at an early stage in the deliberations he made a serious error of judgment and he
Column 807has become one of the authors of the destruction of Montgomeryshire as a local authority. I believe that his judgment was wrong in refusing to agree to a joint Brecon and Radnor unitary authority : in terms of jobs and accountability, it would have been far better for his constituency than the Powys pudding with which we are left. As I have said, I believe that the Government would have agreed to the two-unit option for mid-Wales had the hon. Gentleman supported it. His actions in Committee, welcome as they were, may in the final analysis seem more like self-immolation than rebellion. I believe that his constituents in Radnor as well as in Breconshire would have understood a decision of the type that I require. I believe that in Radnorshire they would understand far better a situation in which they would have had a unitary authority combined with Breconshire than the situation that they are likely to face as a result, which is likely to be a Powys in which there will be shire committees for Montgomeryshire and Breconshire but not for Radnorshire. So we now face the situation that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor has brought on his own constituents of Radnorshire of having every decision made by committees with representatives from Breconshire and Montgomeryshire.
I believe that by Government amendment No. 54 the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor has been doublecrossed by the Government. He believed that it would take only 10 councillors from Radnorshire to have a shire committee, but now it will be 15 unless we achieve the unlikely result of defeating the Government a little later on. As a result, part of his own constituency will be seriously disadvantaged. I am sorry that I had to put that on the record, because I respect the hon. Gentleman for the course that he took in Committee, but when people look back on our debates that is one of the judgments that will be made.
As I have said, it is a very sad occasion to see the burial tonight of Montgomeryshire as a local authority. Montgomeryshire has existed for centuries and is well understood both within and outside Wales as being a distinguished old county. It has produced great citizens and contributors to the national life of the country and further afield, ranging across all walks of life, such as Robert Jones, perhaps one of the greatest of all social reformers, as well as great lawyers, great public figures, great statesmen, and great teachers who almost invaded London from Montgomeryshire by tradition. The dairies of London were known to be run by people from Meirionnyddshire and Montgomeryshire.
Mr. Carlile : And Caernarfonshire. Montgomeryshire has been part of the national heritage but tonight, apparently, we are to see it go. I regret that, and I believe that many hon. Members in the House--even on the Government side--privately share my regret.
Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor) : I will deal first with the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile). Sadly, during the entire debate, the one thing that he has not recognised is that the claims of Radnorshire to independent unitary authority status are
Column 808just as good as those of Montgomeryshire. I do not blame him for advancing the claim of Montgomeryshire above all else but, sadly, his remarks tonight have demonstrated that he has not appreciated that the cause of Radnorshire stands alongside the cause of
Montgomeryshire and that Montgomeryshire is not to be preferred. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies), in his sorry contribution to our debate yesterday, expressed his certainty that I would find myself defeated on the part of Bill before us. He then tried to claim some narrow, party political advantage for himself from such a defeat. I begin by reminding the hon. Gentleman, who may not have understood this, that we are now debating the Government's proposals to overturn the decision of the Standing Committee on amendment No. 44, tabled by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery and supported by the hon. Gentleman himself. He, on the Opposition Front Bench, signed that amendment. Accordingly, in his failure to mobilise the Labour party in support of the amendment, the hon. Gentleman is demonstrating a failure to support the very amendment that he proposed and the passing of which he managed to achieve in Committee.
It was not an insignificant event. The somewhat noisy hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy)--I am sorry that he is leaving the Chamber--described it as the first Committee on which he had sat in which he had witnessed significant Government defeats. Another so far unnamed Labour Member reported to television Lobby journalists later that it had been the most exciting moment in all his time as a Member of the House. Yet today we have the sorry spectacle of the hon. Member for Caerphilly on the Opposition Front Bench aspiring to be the leader of political life in Wales but unable or unwilling to achieve the support of his colleagues to defend the success in Committee of which he boasted so much.
It is all so very different, I am sad to say, from the easy promises made by the hon. Member for Caerphilly in earlier debates. On Second Reading, he promised the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery :
"I shall give the hon. Gentleman the opportunity to vote on whether Powys should continue as a unitary authority . . . I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that it is my firm intention to support him."--[ Official Report , 15 March 1994 ; Vol. 239, c. 759.] We know that it was his firm intention to turn up, but that he was incapable of persuading the people whom he aspires to lead to be here to support him.
We heard so much yesterday about the hon. Gentleman's disappointment with my votes in Committee. His first response to me in Committee appeared as early as column 8, when he said : "The only thing that I want the hear from the hon. Gentleman is an Aye' when we vote on the creation of the county of Brecon."--[ Official Report, Standing Committee A , 12 April 1994 ; c. 8.] I might want to hear that sort of support from those
who--supposedly--are behind the hon. Gentleman, but sadly he has been unable to bring them along today.
Furthermore, just before the vote was taken in Committee the hon. Gentleman bravely stated :
"I urge my hon. Friends to support the amendment"
and as an admonition to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) he said :
"and I urge the Under-Secretary to understand that if the amendment is accepted,"
as it was accepted,
Column 809"it will not just be",
to use an expression which no doubt trips off the hon. Gentleman's tongue,
"to pull a fast one on the Government or to cause inconvenience, but to reflect the fact that the Government have got it wrong."--[ Official Report, Standing Committee A , 19 April 1994 ; c. 103.] If the Government have indeed got it wrong, it is a sad event that the hon. Gentleman cannot produce his supporters to demonstrate that by defending the change that was made in Committee.
Even after the vote had been taken, the hon. Gentleman again was quite outspoken in Committee. He said :
"I assure the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor that . . . he will find Labour Members staunch allies in his cause"--[ Official Report, Standing Committee A , 21 April 1994 ; c. 112.]
That is all very different from the remarks that we heard subsequently in the House yesterday from the hon. Member for Caerphilly.
Some have said that the hon. Gentleman has abandoned me. For my own part, I believe that the hon. Gentleman, who aspires to be a future Secretary of State for Wales, has abandoned the people of Montgomeryshire, Radnorshire and Breconshire. I asked the hon. Gentleman yesterday what he had said to the leaders of
Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly) rose
Mr. Evans : I will give way in a moment. I asked the hon. Gentleman yesterday what he had said to the leaders of Montgomeryshire, Radnorshire and Breconshire when they met him yesterday to plead their cause. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to respond, I will give way.
Mr. Ron Davies : I shall certainly respond in a moment to the case that the hon. Gentleman is trying to construct. First, I should put it on the record that the votes of his party's Government and his colleagues on the Conservative Benches will bring about the defeat of the proposal for which he argued in Committee.
All that I and my hon. Friends have said stands. We are in favour of the creation of three unitary authorities in Montgomeryshire, Breconshire and Radnorshire. When the appropriate time comes, I shall recommend to my hon. Friends that that is the course of action that we should take and that is course of action that I shall take, consistent with all my previous statements.
Mr. Evans : If I may say so, the hon. Gentleman gave a rather different response to the leaders of Montgomeryshire, Radnorshire and Breconshire yesterday. He told them that he had achieved a major concession from the Secretary of State for Wales. They asked what was that prize and what was the price extracted by this tough negotiator, the hon. Member for Caerphilly. Rumours abounded yesterday that it may be an independent Cynon valley authority, or was it to be an independent Neath or Rhondda ? No. The hon. Gentleman proudly gloated to those leaders over his achievement. He said that the Secretary of State had agreed to allow him a vote at 6 o'clock on his half-baked referendum amendment. That was it. The greatest achievement of the man who aspires to be the Secretary of State for Wales, negotiating and fighting for Wales in Europe and beyond, is to have a say in the timetabling of his own failures. Having landed on the beaches of Normandy, the leadership skills of the hon. Gentleman would have allowed him to crawl back into the sea with the kind agreement of the enemy.
Mr. Evans : I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Clearly, my remarks are causing difficulties for Opposition Members. To round off my remarks about the conduct of the hon. Member for Caerphilly, I point out that he yesterday twice congratulated the Secretary of State on his birthday ; with an opponent with the talents of the hon. Gentleman, the Secretary of State must believe that every day is his birthday.
Paragraph 1.6 of the Government's consultation paper issued in 1991 declared that
"local authority boundaries should as far as possible reflect and strengthen existing community loyalties".
On the eve of the general election, in March 1992, the then Secretary of State for Wales said that he would
"consult further on whether to extend that approach"
of local government based on the traditional counties
"to separate authorities for Radnorshire and Brecknock."--[ Official Report , 3 March 1992 ; Vol. 205, c. 171.]
My consistent response to that consultation has been to press the case for unitary authorities in my constituency based on the traditional shire counties.
By 1993 the Government had decided to propose a single Powys-wide unitary authority. However, even they recognised the immense practical difficulties of establishing such an authority without effective decentralisation measures. The Secretary of State has suggested that the powers short of full unitary status could be exercised by area committees which, it was proposed in earlier debates, could even be called county committees. However, the flaw in the Government's argument is that, without real financial accountability, area committees cannot deal with the need for local autonomy in the shire counties in mid-Wales.
As the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery said, Government amendment No. 54 will effectively ensure that Radnorshire will be unable to apply for any decentralisation scheme. By setting the trigger number of councillors at 15, the Secretary of State has virtually ensured that decisions in Radnorshire will be made by councillors drawn from Montgomeryshire, Breconshire and Radnorshire itself.
I do not charge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State with the duplicity or the grubby pursuit of party political advantage shown by the hon. Member for Caerphilly. The Secretary of State has always supported a centralised Powys authority and he has maintained the view that smaller authorities--those with under 50,000 people--cannot be permitted in Wales. The chief executives of the two district councils in my constituency, others in Caerphilly and people in Wales of all parties have made sterling efforts. I give credit to the Labour groups in my constituency which have strongly supported my arguments for the establishment of authorities based on Breconshire and Radnorshire. We have even cited Touche Ross, the Government's own advisers, who have shown that the proposals would be cost neutral. The Secretary of State is well aware that authorities established under the Scottish arrangements will be smaller
Column 811than those proposed in the Bill. He is also aware that last Friday the independent Local Government Commission for England proposed a unitary authority for Rutland. That decision has undoubtedly been of great comfort to some of my English colleagues. I note, however, that on the very day that Rutland was proposed, the Secretary of State tabled amendments to ensure that the equivalent case for Montgomeryshire, Breconshire and Radnorshire was rejected. Twenty years ago, Nicholas Edwards and Sir Raymond Gower carried their objections to the structural reform of Welsh local government into the Division Lobbies. Their views were rejected by the Conservative Government of the day, and they were defeated. With this Bill, the Government are recognising that they were right after all and they have re-established unitary council status for Pembrokeshire. It is ironic that in correcting that perceived injustice the Government have, with the connivance of the hon. Member for Caerphilly, committed as great an injustice in these amendments against the people of mid-Wales.
Mr. Llwyd : I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile). I do not intend to get involved in a party political slanging match because, at the end of the day, we are talking about the delivery of services to the people of mid-Wales. If the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) were serious about the shire counties of mid- Wales being reinstated, why did he turn his back on the people of Meirionnydd ?
Labour Members, the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery and I were fully supportive of the hon. Gentleman's case on the basis that separate shire authorities for the whole of mid-Wales could work together happily on developmental, structural and economic grounds. In addition, we knew that a review of the workings of the Development Board for Rural Wales was imminent. That was one of the mainsprings of the argument made by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor but, alas, he then turned his back on the people of Meirionnydd. Even worse, he tried to persuade me not to push the matter to a Division because he said that he was confident that we would win tonight. I do not accept Tory advice at any time, but I am especially pleased that I did not accept it in this instance.
The hon. Gentleman is single-handedly responsible for the loss of Meirionnydd. Meirionnydd has existed since the immediate post-Roman times. His Conservative friend who will stand against me at the next election will have a torrid time of it when he embarks on his pathetic campaign trail.
Mr. Jonathan Evans : The hon. Gentleman will confirm that, when we had our material discussion, he maintained that he would be able to organise a vote on Report. We are not able to debate the position of Meirionnydd at this point because he forced the matter to a Division. Furthermore, how I might have voted would not have affected the outcome.
Mr. Llwyd : I am not in a position to guarantee Opposition votes and I did not claim that I was. The hon. Gentleman should know better than to make such palpably ridiculous charges. I could not guarantee that Opposition
Column 812Members would vote for the amendments because I am in no way involved with the official Opposition. His statement is palpably untrue, but I shall leave it there.
Despite having existed for centuries, the historic counties of Montgomeryshire and Meirionnydd are to disappear because of the Government. My position is similar to that of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery. We were both assured by the previous Secretary of State, who respected Welsh history and culture, that there would not be a problem. He said that our counties would be reinstated. In the light of that assurance, the hon. and learned Gentleman and I were happy. I shall not dwell on the skulduggery that has taken place since January-- [Interruption.] I hear some Conservative Members making sedentary comments. They have not participated in the debate so far but, if they wish to do so, I shall give way to them. However, if they merely want to make a noise, there is plenty of room for them to do so outside the Chamber. This is a serious matter.
It angers me that we are faced with the effective extinction of historic counties for narrow party political ends. As the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery said, I have no doubt that we shall soon again debate local government in Wales as the Bill is flawed. It will need to be reviewed shortly, and I have no doubt that the saying "Tra mo r, tra Meirion" will come through once again.
I am appalled at the way in which the Government have seen fit to ignore the views of 13,000 petitioners from Meirionnydd and the hundreds of letters that have been written by various people from all political persuasions, and taken this step. It makes me even more angry that the Prime Minister, in congratulating the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan)--the hon. Gentleman is in the Chamber and I wish him good luck --should give his seal of approval to a county that has a similar history to Meirionnydd and Montgomery, yet we as Welsh people in this Parliament are denied our rights. I have no doubt that our constituents will look to the Conservative party at the next election and rue the day that this happened.
Mr. Warren Hawksley (Halesowen and Stourbridge) : I declare an interest which is in the Register of Members' Interests : my wife and I own a hotel in Montgomeryshire. I therefore have the pleasure of living in Montgomeryshire, seeing how Montgomeryshire district council operates and seeing how popular it is with local people, especially compared with the remote Powys county council. I shall be brief. I felt that it was an insult that the Minister's introduction to the amendments took only two minutes. I had hoped that we would have a longer explanation of exactly what has happened since the Committee stage. I had hoped that the Minister would discuss why the second-best alternative of financial autonomy for the three area committees, which was dealt with last night, was not a starter. I understand that the proposal was put to the Department of the Environment on Monday this week. Why was it not dealt with earlier so that the various Departments could study the proposal more fully to see whether it was a runner ?
On Friday, the proposal that Rutland should have its own authority was announced. That was an important decision, which was welcomed at Prime Minister's Question Time today. It is extraordinary that, within hours of the Prime Minister's welcoming the decision, a proposal
Column 813which was accepted in Committee, and which would have resulted in a similar situation, was overturned by the Government. The Rutland case is by far the most important thing that has happened since the Committee stage.
Undoubtedly, the proposals as agreed in Committee, with the support of two of my hon. Friends, have the support of the public. Public opinion polls have shown that. The comments that I heard when I was back at my hotel show that there is terrific support for the proposals that were agreed in Committee. We heard in Committee about the support from the community councils. The lower tier of local government wanted to retain the three authorities, and that is important.
I have lived most of my life in the border counties ; I was born just over the border in Shropshire. As I moved into a county in 1992, I was interested to see that the Government proposed that the county of Montgomeryshire should be saved and should be the unitary authority. I welcomed the proposal at the time. In Committee, I quoted the words of the then chairman of the Conservative Association when an election meeting was addressed by the then Secretary of State for Wales. The chairman of the Conservative Association said that he was pleased to be back in Montgomeryshire and looked forward to its becoming a unitary authority. I can understand why not only the Liberal Democrat, Plaid Cymru and Labour supporters but the Conservative supporters in Montgomeryshire felt let down by the Secretary of State when he came forward with the proposals at this late stage after the election.
I regret that we need to fight again the fight that we fought and won in Committee. I am disappointed at Labour's attitude. Labour Members tried to explain that they would support this vote. I hope that we will see more than 70 Labour Members paraded in a few moments when we vote on the amendment. If that is all they can get to support the three authorities, it is a fairly poor show and the decision will rest with them. Some of my hon. Friends will support the Opposition parties in opposing the amendment. It will be interesting to see how many socialists go into the Lobby to support those of us who fought hard for the three counties.
It is a sad night. As the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) said, it is probably the end of the county of Montgomeryshire. I shall vote with a heavy heart against the Government's amendment. The Government should honour their election pledge to bring back a unitary authority for Montgomeryshire. I hope that Labour will produce enough votes tonight to join those of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans), and other Opposition Members to defeat the Government's proposal. It lets down the electors of Montgomeryshire.
Mr. Jonathan Evans : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Hawksley) has every right to be heard in the House. Should not the statement of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) be challenged ?
Mr. Davies : Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was saying that, as far as I am concerned, the hon. Gentleman does not have a mandate on this matter. He does not have a constituency in Wales and he does not have the vote of one person living in Wales. The only interest that he has is the financial interest that he happens to have in his constituency.
Mr. Davies : The hon. Gentleman knows all about financial interests ; he was disgraced as a result of his financial dealings with the city of Westminster. If the hon. Gentleman wants to discuss the question of financial probity, I am more than happy to give way to him.
Mr. Davies : The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge said that he would be interested to know how many socialists will be in the Lobby tonight. I venture to suggest that he is asking the wrong question. The question that he should ask is how many Tory Members will be in the Lobby to defend the interests of Montgomery, Brecon and Radnor. Having asked that question, he should then ask how many of them will be in the Lobby to ensure the destruction of unitary authority status for Montgomeryshire, Breconshire and Radnorshire, because they will decide the outcome of the vote.
I shall briefly restate the position that the Labour party has consistently held on this matter. During the statement made in the House when the White Paper was produced, I announced my support and that of my party. I referred specifically to the case made for Montgomery and Montgomeryshire. By implication, my statement of support for Montgomeryshire implied support for the case made for unitary authorities for Brecon and Radnor. The case has been made by those councils for the people of those areas. They made their own case, and it was supported admirably by the Council of Welsh Districts.
In Committee, the case was argued compellingly by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) and the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans). I acknowledge the role that they played. The motion was carried because of the votes of Labour Members. We supported the case made for Montgomeryshire and Brecon and Radnor because we believed in the principle of
self-determination. We also accepted the viability of those three authorities. The case for them will also be strengthened enormously when we have a Welsh assembly, which will be able to ensure that the necessary support and co-ordination for strategic services are given.
It was clear at an early stage that the Government were not prepared to accept those amendments, which were carried against the Minister's wishes.
Mr. Alex Carlile : Was the hon. Gentleman aware that, during the past few minutes, it has been revealed that the Government intend to abandon Government amendment No. 54 and that it will require only 10 members from an area to ask for an area committee ?
Column 815Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if the Government can make that concession at this late stage--I express my appreciation of it--it would be appropriate for the Secretary of State to have a rethink on unitary authorities, too, and that the House would appreciate that ?
Mr. Davies : That was a dramatic intervention. If I replied to the hon. and learned Gentleman in full, I would have to divulge some of the inner workings of this place. I see that the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip is in position and that the Secretary of State is becoming embarrassed. I am a former Whip, so I am not prepared to divulge all the secrets, but I shall reply directly to the hon. and learned Gentleman's question. Yes, I was aware of that and asked my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones), who does not normally figure in these debates as he is an Opposition Whip, to consult the hon. and learned Gentleman.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery will know that when we debated the matter yesterday I expressed my scepticism because the concession that he was seeking would have made the creation of area committees that much easier, which would have had a destructive effect on many of the communities in Wales that we have discussed. I believe that it will be a force for instability. I recognise, however, that the Government are trying to make some concession, presumably to appease the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor, because that will allow the re-creation of an area committee for Radnor which, as the hon. Gentleman demonstrated concisely in Committee, would be denied by Government amendment No. 54.
I suggested to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central that he consult the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery. I am persuadable on the matter. If he feels that the Opposition should comply with the withdrawal of Government. amendment No. 54, we will consider doing so.
I must place on record, however, the fact that my colleagues and I want to give the strongest possible support to unitary status for Montgomery, Brecon and Radnor. The proposals contained in the decentralisation measure do not provide a recipe for dealing with the inherent contradictions that exist within a Powys unitary authority. They will also be destructive of local government. That is why I believe that the way to deal with those matters is to strike out clauses 27 and 28, which is what we advocated in Committee and last night.
I was referring to decentralisation when the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery intervened. I recall the attitude of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor in Committee. He said that he supported decentralisation. He did so only because he realised that his attempt to break up--if I can use that expression--the Powys unitary authority into its constituent parts was doomed to failure. He supported the decentralisation measure to prepare for that eventuality. He made that quite clear.
In fairness, the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery gave precise expression to those views when we debated the matter in Committee. I understand that, as it was a practical and realistic expression, but it does not fit with the sense of synthetic outrage that we get from the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor, who pretends that all
Column 816along he has been a vigorous defender of the interests of Brecon, Radnorshire and Montgomeryshire and that he will brook no compromise.
Clauses 27 and 28 stand testament to the attempts of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor to reach a compromise deal with the Government. The whole purpose of the compromise was so that he could sell out on unitary authority status. That is the reason for the latest Government attempt to backtrack on their position, for which they were prepared to go to the wall yesterday, on amendment No. 54. They understand that, by doing so, they will deny the hon. Gentleman even that fig leaf of a decentralised area committee for his proposed unitary authority of Radnorshire. Since the hon. Gentleman seems to be in some discomfort--at least, he is pulling faces and getting very agitated--I shall happily give way to him. We have plenty of time. 7.45 pm