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Mr. Jonathan Evans : I was becoming a little concerned because, in one of our first debates on the subject, the hon. Gentleman promised three times to give way to me but never did. He will recall that in Committee I was prepared to consider area committees, provided that financial autonomy was included. I had a consistent and regular position, but sadly the Secretary of State said yesterday that he was not able to concede that.

Mr. Davies : Every time the hon. Gentleman intervenes in this debate he demonstrates two things : his failure to convince the Government of the merit of his case--if I had been such a failure, I should have been a little more reticent--and the fact that he has no support tonight on the Conservative Benches.

When we debated these matters in Committee, we supported first Montgomeryshire, then Brecon and Radnor. Then, as the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) said, we supported him. We did so because it was a matter of principle and because we believed that those small rural unitary authorities could be viable, especially in the context of a mid-Wales forum.

First, the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor denied his reciprocal support to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, thereby denying the very principle that he asked us to endorse. Secondly, and even more destructively of his case, he knowingly denied the opportunity for the creation of a mid-Wales forum. By removing the opportunity of a Meirionnydd that could have joined those unitary authorities, he destroyed that concept of a mid-Wales forum, but that concept provided the alternative that would have allowed the Government to make a concession on the Floor of the House. I do not know why, but I confess that I share with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery admiration for the forthright position that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor took by voting for a separate Brecon, Radnor and Montgomery. I fail to see why, however, having resigned his position and voted against the Government on those issues, the hon. Gentleman failed to follow the logic of his position and the principle that all Opposition Members had united in defending in Committee. I do not understand why he failed to do so. What has happened since Committee stage has been significant. First, the Government have accepted the principle of two-tier government--not in Wales, unfortunately, but in England. I share the hope expressed by the

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hon. and learned Member for Montgomery that, even at this late stage, the Government will recognise that they have got the thing totally wrong and are in a minority in Wales. I share that hope, but it is a forlorn one. It is worth putting it on record that the Government consider Clackmannan in Scotland, with a population of 47, 000, to be worthy of unitary authority status and that Rutland, with a population of 37,000 is also worthy of such status.

I was surprised to hear the Prime Minister say this afternoon that questionnaires are to be sent to every household in Huntingdonshire so that local people can have their say. He said :

"That is the right way to proceed."

That is from the Prime Minister of a Government who insisted yesterday that new clause 11, which would have given precisely the same right to every authority in Wales, must be defeated. Where does the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor stand now ? Where do the Secretary of State for Wales and his Front-Bench colleagues stand ? Why is it that small authorities can exist in England and Scotland ? Why can those in England and Scotland--with the seal of approval from the Prime Minister--have a referendum ?

Mr. Alex Carlile : We are a colony.

Mr. Davies : The hon. and learned Gentleman shouts that we are a colony. We are not ; we are a proud nation. At the moment, we are suffering from maladministration. The Prime Minister today stated clearly the contempt with which the Conservative party views those of us who live in Wales and who represent Welsh constituencies. I believe that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor shares that contempt. Having failed to persuade the Government, and having also manifestly failed to organise any support on the Conservative Benches for his case, he is now trying to divert attention from his failures by blaming the Labour party. I do not understand that.

The hon. Gentleman knows that the parliamentary arithmetic is quite simple, but I shall spell it out for the record so that the electors of Brecon and Radnor have a clear understanding of what has happened. The Government have a substantial overall majority. It would require a significant move by Conservative Members, either to join us in the Lobby or to abstain. We need at least 25 Conservative Members and we need to mobilise all Opposition Members to defeat the Government tonight. The hon. Gentleman has made no attempt to mobilise that opinion.

If there was an opportunity, it arose during the debate on new clause 11 last night. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor seeks to persuade the House and the people of Brecon and Radnor that it is conceivable that all Opposition Members--including more than 260 Labour Members--will come along tonight to endorse a proposition in which the Conservative party has a direct interest. Opposition Members know that the proposition will not restore to our councils--Labour, Liberal Democrat and independent councils- -the same rights as the hon. Gentleman demands for Brecon and Radnor. That is all we are asking for. We are not asking to rewrite the statute now ; we are just asking for the same rights for our constituencies and districts.

We know how consistent the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor is. We do not have to look in the looking-glass, because we can read the record. When the hon. Gentleman had an opportunity to show consistency of principle, he ratted on it in Committee. He failed to support the case for

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Meirionnydd, and the cases which we were making for Rhondda, Cynon, Taff, Port Talbot, Neath, and so on. That is a fact.

If there was an opportunity to defeat the Government and to carry the cases for Brecon and Radnor, Montgomery and Meirionnydd, it came last night in the debate on new clause 11. The hon. Gentleman failed not only to mobilise support for it, but failed even to put himself in the Lobby. He is now trying to suggest that we should bail him out. He failed to win the argument, he manifestly failed to win the vote last night and he failed even to persuade the Government of the logic of his case.

I wrote to the Secretary of State last night, saying :

"I recognise that opinion on this matter is divided on both sides of the House and I will be taking the unusual step of proposing that Labour MPs have a free vote on this question. I hope you will be able to adopt a similar position to decide this matter free of any party dogma."

There is a strong case for that, given that we know that there are manifest divisions on both sides of the House.

Local government in all the countries of the United Kingdom is now in turmoil. Why do the Government seek not only to impose different standards on England, Scotland and Wales but to have their ideological writ run wherever they can ? I do not understand that, and that is why I wrote to the Secretary of State suggesting that, in the case of Powys where opinion is divided, we should have a free vote. Unfortunately, he has not responded. Presumably, therefore, the Conservative party will be whipped tonight. If the proposal is carried, it will not be because of the absence of Labour Members ; it will be because of the Whip which the Government are imposing. I shall vote tonight against the Government and I shall recommend that my hon. Friends join me in the Lobby. I know that the statements, speeches, actions and attitudes of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor represent nothing more than a gesture. He has been the architect of his own failure.

Mr. Gwilym Jones : I totally reject the contemptible approach of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) towards my hon. Friends the Members for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Hawksley) and for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan). Their contributions to our debates on the subject of local government reorganisation in Wales are just as welcome and constructive as the hon. Gentleman's, and usually more so.

Mr. Alex Carlile : Will the hon. Gentleman give way ?

Mr. Jones : No, I do not want to give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I shall reply to the debate and I am using the same maxim as the hon. and learned Gentleman of not going over the old ground time and time again. We have certainly aired all the arguments very well, and it is now time to come to a conclusion.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) has acted throughout with principle and consistency in continually seeking to advocate what he believed to be the best for his constituents. At the same time, he will accept that the Government have equally acted with principle and consistency in putting forward what we believe is the best arrangement for Brecon and Radnor, and for the rest of Wales.

I believe that it is better because, by proposing a Powys council, we are bringing forward suitable arrangements with a principal authority which is appropriate for mid-Wales. Our proposals for shire committees will make

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considerable progress in bringing control of local matters to locally elected representatives in the historic counties. That will be a far better arrangement for Breconshire, Radnorshire, Montgomeryshire, Merionethshire and any other part of Wales which seeks to take up the opportunities for shire committees.

Mr. Alex Carlile rose

Mr. Jones : I do not want to be overlong tonight. Members of the Standing Committee know that I dealt at some length with the possibilities of the shire committees. They are possibilities, and we are not laying down formulas. It is up to local people to decide what they want to make of the decentralisation schemes. I believe that they are better arrangements than what has been advocated. What we are coming forward

Mr. Alex Carlile : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister said that he would not give way to deal with points that have been already discussed, and of course he is right. Is it in order and appropriate for him to give way on a new point, and is it in order

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman is a long -time campaigner in the House and he is very experienced. He knows the answer to that question. The Minister is responsible for his own speech.

Mr. Jones : I am concluding, and I think that the House wants me to make progress and not to waste any more time this evening. I must say that we will not pursue amendments Nos. 54 and 55. We have listened to what was said yesterday and we have reflected on the matter. We are conscious of the situation of Radnorshire and we believe that there should be an appropriate threshold for numbers of councillors to trigger a decentralisation scheme. We do not look upon the matter as a party political one. It was suggested yesterday that it would need something like 90 per cent. of members elected for one party ticket.

Instead, we are looking for a high level of uniformity from locally elected representatives coming forward on the basis of what they want for their local county. After what we have heard, we are prepared to go back to the original threshold of 10 and therefore we will not be moving the amendments.

Question put, That the amendment be made:--

The House divided : Ayes 128, Noes 35.

Division No. 263] [7.58 pm


Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)

Amess, David

Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)

Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)

Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)

Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)

Baldry, Tony

Banks, Matthew (Southport)

Bates, Michael

Batiste, Spencer

Blackburn, Dr John G.

Booth, Hartley

Boswell, Tim

Bowis, John

Brandreth, Gyles

Brazier, Julian

Bright, Graham

Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)

Browning, Mrs. Angela

Burt, Alistair

Butler, Peter

Carlisle, John (Luton North)

Carrington, Matthew

Carttiss, Michael

Chapman, Sydney

Clappison, James

Coe, Sebastian

Congdon, David

Coombs, Simon (Swindon)

Cope, Rt Hon Sir John

Cran, James

Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)

Davies, Quentin (Stamford)

Deva, Nirj Joseph

Column 820

Devlin, Tim

Dorrell, Stephen

Dover, Den

Duncan, Alan

Duncan-Smith, Iain

Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)

Evennett, David

Faber, David

Fabricant, Michael

Fishburn, Dudley

Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)

Freeman, Rt Hon Roger

Gardiner, Sir George

Gillan, Cheryl

Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles

Gorman, Mrs Teresa

Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)

Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)

Hague, William

Harris, David

Haselhurst, Alan

Heald, Oliver

Hendry, Charles

Hill, James (Southampton Test)

Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter

Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)

Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)

Jenkin, Bernard

Jessel, Toby

Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey

Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)

Key, Robert

Kilfedder, Sir James

Kirkhope, Timothy

Knapman, Roger

Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)

Knight, Greg (Derby N)

Kynoch, George (Kincardine)

Lait, Mrs Jacqui

Lawrence, Sir Ivan

Legg, Barry

Lidington, David

Lightbown, David

Lilley, Rt Hon Peter

Luff, Peter

Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas

MacKay, Andrew

Maitland, Lady Olga

Malone, Gerald

Mans, Keith

Martin, David (Portsmouth S)

Merchant, Piers

Mills, Iain

Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)

Montgomery, Sir Fergus

Moss, Malcolm

Neubert, Sir Michael

Newton, Rt Hon Tony

Nicholson, David (Taunton)

Page, Richard

Patnick, Irvine

Porter, David (Waveney)

Redwood, Rt Hon John

Richards, Rod

Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn

Robinson, Mark (Somerton)

Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)

Ryder, Rt Hon Richard

Shaw, David (Dover)

Spencer, Sir Derek

Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)

Sproat, Iain

Stephen, Michael

Stern, Michael

Sumberg, David

Sweeney, Walter

Sykes, John

Taylor, Ian (Esher)

Temple-Morris, Peter

Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)

Thurnham, Peter

Trend, Michael

Twinn, Dr Ian

Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)

Waterson, Nigel

Watts, John

Wells, Bowen

Whittingdale, John

Widdecombe, Ann

Wilkinson, John

Willetts, David

Wolfson, Mark

Wood, Timothy

Yeo, Tim

Tellers for the Ayes :

Mr. James Arbuthnot and

Mr. Derek Conway.


Ainger, Nick

Banks, Tony (Newham NW)

Barnes, Harry

Bayley, Hugh

Bermingham, Gerald

Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)

Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)

Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)

Dafis, Cynog

Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)

Dixon, Don

Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)

Foster, Don (Bath)

Gunnell, John

Hanson, David

Harvey, Nick

Hawksley, Warren

Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Mo n)

Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)

Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)

Llwyd, Elfyn

Lynne, Ms Liz

Macdonald, Calum

Michael, Alun

Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)

Morgan, Rhodri

Powell, Ray (Ogmore)

Rendel, David

Rowlands, Ted

Skinner, Dennis

Spearing, Nigel

Spellar, John

Timms, Stephen

Wareing, Robert N

Wigley, Dafydd

Tellers for the Noes :

Mr. Archy Kirkwood and

Mr. Paul Flynn.

Question accordingly agreed to.

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