Orders of the Day — Local Government Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th November 1971.

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Photo of Mr Donald Coleman Mr Donald Coleman , Neath 12:00 am, 16th November 1971

In a Bill constructed as this one is hon. Members from Wales can hardly be expected to follow the contributions of English colleagues. There is general agreement on both sides of the House that there should be a reorganisation of local government in England and Wales. There is also a considerable recognition of this outside the House, both among those serving in local government and among those representing other interests in the community.

This, then, should have been the position of strength from which the Government approached this agreed task. But this Government, true to form, have once again, by their insensitive attitude in this matter, as they have done on every occasion, invoked the hostility of almost every group of people except their own back benchers. Frankly, I see those back benchers as being led over the diminishing ground towards the cliff edge of disaster.

My use of the time available to me in this debate will concern itself with Wales, and the reform proposed for us in our country. At once, the insensitivity of the Government is seen when one considers that the Bill is one for England and Wales. Wales is treated with contempt by the Government when it is seen that detailed consideration of the consequences of the Bill for Welsh local government will not be given by all 36 Members elected to this House by the people of Wales but by a tiny minority of their number whose views and opinions on how local government reorganisation should be effected in Wales will be diluted by the opinions justifiably put forward by English Members, including the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Wales and the hon. Gentleman the Minister of State for Wales—men who, we have seen, do not seem to understand the needs or aspirations of local government in Wales.

The next act of insensitivity of which this Government are guilty in regard to Wales concerns the position of the county of Glamorgan, which has, over the years, been administered in a manner which cannot be bettered in any part of the United Kingdom. When the right hon. Gentleman produced his White Paper, which surely was the indication to everyone in Wales that Wales should be treated as Scotland in respect of local government reorganisation—that is, in a separate Bill from England—he was accused of gerrymandering. Some used this accusation in all seriousness, because they saw his proposals as being dictated to him by the Conservative Party in Wales. Others were prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt when he protested his innocence of this charge. Now we have seen the Bill, and we know that the charge is sustained. The proposal to set up a county council of South Glamorgan is seen to vindicate those who made the charge, and to mock the protestations of innocence made by the right hon. Gentleman.

The right hon. Gentleman now tries to suggest to the people of Wales that it is right and proper that there should be one Bill covering England and Wales, but with our experience of him on the question of political gerrymandering, he will not be surprised to find that that will not meet with general approbation among the Welsh.

We know that the real reason why we cannot have a separate Bill for Wales is the defeat that the right hon. Gentleman and his party sustained in the Welsh Grand Committee when that Committee debated the White Paper towards the end of last Session and when Labour, Liberal and Independent Members of this House voted solidly against the proposals in the White Paper. The right hon. Gentleman and his Government know that if they allow the elected representatives of the people of Wales to deal with the Welsh Bill it will be passed only with considerable alterations.

The voices raised in protest at the mutilation of the great administrative county of Glamorgan are many, for though it might be said that the original proposal of the Secretary of State for two county councils in Glamorgan was largely acceptable, the proposition in the Bill that there should be three such councils received only tiny support, that being expressed out of the mouths of members of the Conservative Party in Cardiff. Conservatives elsewhere, although they do not exist in significant numbers in these places, join in the condemnation of what is being done by their Government. They know, as we do, that the Government's proposals condemn those who live in the proposed mid-Glamorgan county area to living in an area whose financial resources do not match up to the resources of the administration under which they at present reside.

It will mean that the social problems which press down upon them as a result of their history will not be resolved, because the financial resources will simply not be available to meet them. It is no use the Government saying that financial aid will be brought to them to meet these problems. We all know that as soon as a financial crisis hits the country in the shape of a payments crisis—and under this Government it will not be long before we get into that position—the first victims of the "stop" measures are the local authorities. There is, therefore, not much confidence in promises on that score.

In his haste to appease the taste for political blood among his Conservative friends in Cardiff the Secretary of State has been prepared to put aside the needs of a vast population in Glamorgan, needs concerning planning, education and highway requirements, for which county councils are responsible. The right hon. Gentleman has only himself to blame for the fact that his Measure will be resisted by every possible means in Committee and on Report when matters affecting Wales are in issue.

I return now to a constituency point to which I referred in the Welsh Grand Committee and about which the Minister of State kindly wrote to me. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that neither my constituents who are affected by this proposal nor myself can accept his point of view. We regard it as a matter of importance, and for that reason I am obliged to state it again in the House and to give notice that I shall seek to table an Amendment in Committee when it meets to give detailed consideration to the Bill.

Just as in other instances it can be held that what is proposed in the Bill is untidy and disregards the social life and habits of our people, so too can this be said of the proposal to transfer the whole of the present parish of Rhigos from the Neath rural district area which will comprise parts of No. 3 district of West Glamorgan into the No. 3 district of Mid-Glamorgan.

I recognise, as does the Neath Rural District Council, that for many years the position over this parish has not been satisfactory. Consideration has been given on a number of occasions to finding a solution, but none has been found. It seems to be extremely foolish if at this time when Parliament is making a change in local government which it is hoped will stand after our time, we should make the mistake of perpetuating a situation which has caused difficulty for so long in the past.

While it is recognised that the place for that part of Hirwaun which at present is with the parish of Rhigos should be with Aberdare, with which it enjoys a cultural, social and administrative affinity, this cannot be said of the villages of Rhigos and of Pont Walby, which adhere to Glynneath and which comprise the remainder of the parish of Rhigos, since both Rhigos and Pont Walby have their cultural, social and administrative affinity with Neath. The people here go to Neath to shop, they go there when in need of support from the social services and when they need hospital treatment. These people are Neath people, not Aberdare people, and they are saying this in a petition which they are raising against their inclusion in Mid-Glamorgan.

I think I know the real reason why my representations on this point were previously rejected. I believe it rests with the decision to establish South Glamorgan. As I have said, Mid-Glamorgan will be an impoverished county council as a result of the substantial part of the rateable value which would have been available to the formerly-proposed East Glamorgan County Council being given to South Glamorgan. It therefore becomes necessary to give some compensation to Mid-Glamorgan and it is here that the parish of Rhigos provides that compensation. [Interruption.] Included within the parish is the Hirwaun Industrial Estate. Perhaps the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Michael Roberts) does not know that. This is an important source of rateable value.

If the right hon. Gentleman would look again and draw his boundary between West Glamorgan and Mid-Glamorgan at a point west of the industrial estate but east of the village of Rhigos he would be able to satisfy my constituents, whom he now displeases greatly. At the same time he would be able to give his sop of compensation to Mid-Glamorgan, which he must give following his butchery of the administrative county of Glamorgan.

Like most hon. Members, I believe in the necessity of reorganising local government in the United Kingdom and in Wales in particular. This must be done to provide a more adequate vehicle for local expression. I do not believe that this Bill, especially as it applies to Wales, will achieve this. It has been drawn up not on the grounds of what is publicly beneficial but on the grounds of what is politically advantageous to the party opposite. Because of this it will not work, and I hope that when we come into office we shall scrap this proposal for reorganisation before its ill-effects have had an opportunity to damage the good working of local government, especially in Wales.