Directions of Secretary of State to the Board and Consultative Council

Orders of the Day — Development of Rural Wales Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st November 1976.

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Photo of Mr Nicholas Edwards Mr Nicholas Edwards , Pembroke 12:00 am, 1st November 1976

I beg to move Amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 31, leave out subsection (1).

Photo of Mr Oscar Murton Mr Oscar Murton , Poole

With this we may take the following amendments:

Government Amendment No. 4.

Amendment No. 19, in Clause 21, page 15, line 41, leave out 'Without prejudice to section 1() of this Act,'.

Government Amendments Nos. 20 and 21.

Amendment No. 22, in Schedule 1. page 25, line 3, leave out under section 1() of this Act'.

Government Amendment No. 23.

Amendment No. 24, page 25, line 11, leave out from beginning to first 'the' in line 12.

Government Amendment No. 25.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Edwards Mr Nicholas Edwards , Pembroke

When in Committee we carried our amendment about the establishment of Consultative Council we at the same time replaced the original subsection (7) of Clause 1, which gave the Board power to give directions, with the present subsection (1) of Clause 2, which gives the Secretary of State power only to give general directions.

The Secretary of State, by a later amendment, now seeks to remove the Consultative Council and, in this group of amendments, to revert to his tighter control of the Board, under which he can give specific directions on a wide range of matters.

Incidentally, I think it wholly deplorable that the Government should seek by Amendment No. 21 to delete the moderate provision that before giving any direction to the Board the Secretary of State should consult the Board.

It is this power of the Secretary of State to direct, and our anxieties about it, that led us to table Amendment No. 3 really as a basis for debate and as a probing amendment, and not as one that we wish to press at this stage. But subsequently we shall certainly seek to retain the Consultative Council that we brought into the Bill at the Committee stage.

I have considerable reservations about the powers of direction given to the Secretary of State by the Bill, and there are a number of specific points which I should like to raise and elaborate upon. But, for the convenience of the House, I propose to do so during our Third Reading debate, because I think it will be just as possible there for me to make those points and for the Under-Secretary to reply to them without losing the essence of the argument at this time.

The point we seek to make at this stage is that we think the Board, if it is to function successfully, should be a freestanding independent organisation, able to use its judgment with the minimum of Government interference, so that it can decide on the particular needs of its locality. Frankly, we are suspicious of the wide powers given to the Secretary of State to dictate its activities. The Government's economic record does not encourage us to the view that they will be taking the right decisions. As I shall say later to the House, some things which have occurred make us suspect that these powers could be misused.

We are also concerned about questions of parliamentary administration, in the sense that throughout our debates, on both the Welsh Development Agency and the Board, we have been told that one of the reasons why the Secretary of State should have these wide powers is that, after all, he is responsible, and responsible to Parliament. We anticipated, therefore, that we should be able to press the Secretary of State for information at Question Time.

We have, I regret to say, when dealing with the matters under the responsibility of the Welsh Development Agency, found very often that our straightforward Questions on such matters as advance factory building and derelict land clearance have been answered with the reply that this is now a matter which is the responsibility of the WDA. The Department and the Secretary of State are not wholly consistent in that, because on Friday they answered a series of Questions which I had put on this point, when previously they had refused to answer them.

I hope that when we are dealing with matters central to the economic management of Wales, the fact that we have a Development Agency and a rural Board will not prevent the Government from giving the facts to the House in the most convenient way—where possible by parliamentary reply to Questions. There are one or two other general matters which I wish to raise, but I will postpone these until a later occasion.

11.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Welsh Office)

I advise the House to resist the Opposition amendment. Our own amendments, particularly Amendment No. 4, will delete the limitation confining the power of the Secretary of State to give directions to the Board to directions of a general character only. Amendments Nos. 20, 23 and 25 are consequential.

Amendment No. 21 stands apart. Its effect is to remove an unnecessary provision in Schedule 1 relating to a provision in Clause 1 that was removed at Committee stage. This is not a deplorable amendment, as the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) claimed, and the economic record of the Government is good.

These are crucial requirements. The Secretary of State has a responsibility to Parliament, and to meet that responsibility he needs the powers of direction. With responsibility goes authority, and the Secretary of State would need his powers of specific as well as general direction. There are many precedents for powers of direction over other bodies, as in the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975, the Highlands and Islands Development Act (Scotland) 1965, and New Towns Act 1965 with regard to development corporations, and the Industry Act 1975 with regard to the National Enterprise Board.

In particular, we need the powers of specific direction. The Secretary' of State may require the Board to sell land to a local authority as he may wish to indicate that an advance factory will go to a certain town in the Principality. There is a difficulty in defining the dividing line between specific and general directions. General directions have been found to be specific in nature, and, therefore, ultra vires in the absence of provision for specific direction. In the light of what I have said, I hope that the Opposition will withdrawn their amendment.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Edwards Mr Nicholas Edwards , Pembroke

As I indicated earlier. Mr. Deputy Speaker, that is my intention. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 4, in page 2, line 32, leave out "of a general character".

Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Welsh Office)

I beg to move Amendment No. 5, in page 2, leave out lines 35 to 40.

Photo of Mr Oscar Murton Mr Oscar Murton , Poole

With this we may take Government Amendments Nos. 27 and 28.

Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Welsh Office)

In urging the House to support these amendments, obviously my memory goes back to the Committee stage. I remind right hon. and hon. Members opposite that if there were to be a Consultative Council we would have in the Principality yet another nominated body. It is very clear that public opinion in Wales does not wish to have another nominated body, and the Government's objective would be to reduce the number of bodies with interests in this area of rural Wales. For too long there have been too many bodies. The idea is to have fewer in order to make action more effective.

I urge the House to recollect that local interests are to be represented on the Board. Local authorities, we think, would want direct representation on the Board. Five members of the Board will represent local authorities and local authority associations.

The Board is large. It has 11 to 13 members, and we think that this will adequately represent the interests of the area.

Photo of Mr Geraint Howells Mr Geraint Howells , Cardigan

Is the Minister suggesting that the members of the Board will not consult other organisations in Wales that are not represented on the Board?

Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Welsh Office)

Certainly the Board will consult widely at all times. It intends to be responsive and sensitive to the needs of rural Wales. I hope that I can dispel any doubts the hon. Member has on that score. The Board will be required to consult very widely. In another place, proposals for the Consultative Council were, in the end, withdrawn.

It is expected that when the Welsh Assembly is operative the Board will be responsible to the Assembly. We say that this is yet another very strong reason why the Consultative Council should not come into being.

Photo of Sir Raymond Gower Sir Raymond Gower , Barry

The hon. Gentleman said that the proposals were withdrawn in another place, but does he not recall that when this was mooted in Committee the Government did not argue strongly against it and they let it go through. They certainly did not make any strong case against it.

Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Welsh Office)

I totally reject the recollections of the hon. Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) of that debate. He might cast his mind back to the response of my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman), and his very strong reaction when the Consultative Council was included.

Photo of Mr Wyn Roberts Mr Wyn Roberts , Conway

Government Amendments Nos. 5 and 27 are major amendments because they eliminate the proposal that there should be a Consultative Council to the Board including representatives of local authorities, agriculture, forestry and such other interests as the Secretary of State sees fit.

The local authority representatives were to have been selected after consultation with the county councils and district councils in the Board's area and with local authority organisations in Wales. Other representatives of particular interests were also to have been appointed after consultation with the appropriate bodies. So I contest the Minister's view that the council would simply be yet another nominated body in Wales. The purpose of the council is to extend the representation of the interests concerned with the Board. The elimination of the Consultative Council will be very much regretted by those interests which had a reasonable expectation of being represented on it.

Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Welsh Office)

Is the hon. Member not overlooking the fact that local authorities would be represented rather absurdly both on the Board and on the Consultative Council?

Photo of Mr Wyn Roberts Mr Wyn Roberts , Conway

I am coming to that point. Of course, the local authorities will have five members on the Development Board, and the Government have argued that this is sufficient. But the Government will recall that my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) argued in Committee in favour of a smaller board, similar to the Highlands and Islands Development Board, which also has a consultative council, and which we understand works very well.

Our amendment having been carried in Committee, and the council having been included in the Bill, we thought that the Government would have accepted it with good grace and possibly would have proposed consequential amendments at this stage to reduce the size of the Board. But they have done nothing of the kind. They have sought to abolish the council and to stick to their large Board of part-timers. But that Board might be dominated by its executive and may prove to be an unwieldy body. Even in those circumstances we still feel that we must defend the Consultative Council, because we are still concerned about the agricultural, forestry and other interests which are specifically mentioned as meriting inclusion in the Consultative Council.

If the council is removed from the Bill these interests will have no statutory voice since there will be no statutory requirement for them to be represented on the Board. The agricultural interests have very little protection in the Bill. We are deeply concerned about that. The same can be said of tourism. The Government may say that these interests will in all probability be represented on the Board. But we would like their representation to be written into the Bill and not left to the discretion of the Secretary of State and his successors.

The main arguments against the Consultative Council are that the Board itself has almost double the membership of the Highlands and Islands Development Board, that it is already obliged to consult widely, and, finally, that it is to be responsible to the Welsh Assembly if and when that body comes into being. That last argument is unsound. The Assembly is not yet in being and should not, therefore, be taken into account. The Board is obliged to consult before submitting proposals to the Secretary of State, but those consultations to be held under Clause 3(6), will be primarily with planning authorities and local authorities and other bodies as appear to the Board to have an interest in the proposals. In other words, the initiative lies with the Board, and its consultations can be limited by the very nature of the proposals it hopes to submit to the Secretary of State. I would have thought that such consultations would preclude consultations on other specific matters as well as on more general matters.

We are concerned that there should be a watchdog body representative of the major interests in Mid-Wales to advise the Board at what is bound to be a difficult time when rural development policies are in the melting-pot and when new town development policies are changing. Without the council we shall have a large and unwieldy Board of part-time members dominated by their executive.

Our ideal recipe would be a smaller, more compact, efficient and effective Board capable of decisive action after consultation with a larger broadly-based and representative body with its ear close to the ground in Mid-Wales. But if the ideal is to be denied us we still believe that the consultative council is valuable and should be retained. I shall, therefore, ask my hon. Friends to vote against the amendment.

11.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas , Merioneth

I support what has been said by the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts). On this issue in Committee, the Opposition parties were united for once because we believe that the Board should be concerned with community development in

Mid-Wales and community participation in development.

In order to do this effectively, we need full-time expertise to be active in the day-to-day administration of the Board's work and, at the same time, wide consultative machinery to enable the whole community to participate in development.

The ideal structure would have been a small professional full-time Board, with a nucleus of three or four, and possibly one or two part-time members—comprising a board of, say, half a dozen—and, in addition, a Consultative Council with representatives not only of local authorities, trade unions and trades councils but of forestry, land use and recreational interests.

Instead, we have an ineffective, unwieldy compromise. We shall have a large, nominated Board of part-timers which will no doubt meet irregularly and, therefore, leave the day-to-day management in the hands of officers. We ought to have effective day-to-day management of the problems of Mid-Wales by a full-time Board backed up by a Consultative Council engaged in the whole area of the development process. We shall support the official Opposition in trying to restrain the Government from going back on the wishes of the Committee.

Photo of Sir Raymond Gower Sir Raymond Gower , Barry

We regard the Government's attempt to negate the Board as a most objectionable and reactionary move. They are removing one of the most valuable features of the Bill. It would have made the Bill much better. I deeply regret that the Government have felt it proper to withdraw this valuable addition.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 86, Noes 80.

Division No. 360.]AYES[11.18 p.m.
Allaun, FrankColeman, DonaldEvans, John (Newton)
Anderson, DonaldConlan, BernardFraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)
Archer, PeterCox, Thomas (Tooting)Golding, John
Armstrong, ErnestCryer, BobGraham, Ted
Ashton, JoeDalyell, TamHamilton, James (Bothwell)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)Davies, Ifor (Gower)Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Deakins, EricHooley, Frank
Bates, AlfDean, Joseph (Leeds West)Huckfield, Les
Bray, Dr JeremyDormand, J. D.Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Duffy, A. E. P.Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)Hunter, Adam
Campbell, IanEllis, Tom (Wrexham)Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)
Canavan, DennisEvans, Fred (Caerphilly)John, Brynmor
Cocks, Rt Hon MichaelEvans, Ioan (Aberdare)Jones, Alec (Rhondda)
Jones, Barry (East Flint)Ogden, EricThomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Judd, FrankOwen, Rt Hon Dr DavidUrwin, T. W.
Kerr, RussellPalmer, ArthurWalker, Terry (Kingswood)
Lamond, JamesParry, RobertWhite, Frank R. (Bury)
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Richardson, Miss JoWhite, James (Pollock)
Lomas, KennethRoderick, CaerwynWhitlock, William
Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)Rooker, J. W.Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
McCartney, HughRoper, JohnWilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
McDonald, Or OonaghRowlands, TedWilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
McElhone, FrankRyman, JohnWise, Mrs Audrey
Madden, MaxSkinner, DennisWoodall, Alec
Mallalieu, J. P. W.Small, WilliamWoof, Robert
Mendelson, JohnSmith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Mikardo, IanSpearing, NigelTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)Stoddart, DavidMr. Joseph Harper and
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)Mr. A. W. Stallard
Arnold, TomHayhoe, BarneyPenhaligon, David
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)Holland, PhilipRenton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Beith, A. J.Hooson, EmlynRoberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Benyon, W.Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Berry, Hon AnthonyHunt, John (Bromley)Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Boscawen, Hon RobertJames, DavidScott-Hopkins, James
Brittan, LeonJessel, TobyShaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Brocklebank-Fowler, C.Joseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithShelton, William (Streatham)
Budgen, NickKellett-Bowman, Mrs ElaineSkeet, T. H. H.
Butler, Adam (Bosworth)King, Evelyn (South Dorset)Speed, Keith
Carlisle, MarkKnight, Mrs JillSpicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Lester, Jim (Beeston)Stanbrook, Ivor
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Macfarlane, NeilSteel, David (Roxburgh)
Cockcroft, JohnMacGregor, JohnStradling Thomas, J.
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)Tebbit, Norman
Cope, JohnMather, CarolThomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Dodsworth, GeoffreyMawby, RayThomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Drayson, BurnabyMaxwell-Hyslop, RobinVaughan, Dr Gerard
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)Mayhew, PatrickViggers, Peter
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)Meyer, Sir AnthonyWalder, David (Clitheroe)
Fisher, Sir NigelMiller, Hal (Bromsgrove)Weatherill, Bernard
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)More, Jasper (Ludlow)Wells, John
Fry, PeterMorgan, GeraintWelsh, Andrew
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)Neave, AireyWigley, Dafydd
Grist, IanNelson, Anthony
Grylls, MichaelNeubert, MichaelTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hall, Sir JohnNewton, TonyMr. John Come and
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)Mr. Spencer Le Marchant.

Question accordingly agreed to.