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Local Government (Wales)

3.31 pm

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hunt) : With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about local government in Wales.

I am today publishing a comprehensive and detailed White Paper setting out the Government's conclusions on the reform of Welsh local government. This follows a consultative process lasting more than two years, and I take this opportunity once again to express my gratitude to the Welsh local authority associations for their wholehearted and constructive participation in that process. I am also publishing a concise public information leaflet for widespread distribution in Wales, explaining the Government's plans, and a separate question and answer booklet for all local government staff. I am placing copies of all these documents in the Vote Office.

The Government's conclusions are these. First, a single tier of unitary authorities will be established throughout Wales. As a result of the citizens charter, the Government are of course committed to making public services more responsive to the people who use them. We believe that, under unitary authority arrangements, local people will have a better understanding of who is providing their local services, and this will result in greater accountability. Removing duplication in this instance will improve quality of service and, by achieving better co-ordination and efficiency in the management and delivery of services, achieve better value for money for the taxpayer. I believe that there will be widespread support for the unitary authority solution in this House and throughout Wales.

Secondly, the Government propose that 21 unitary authorities should be established in Wales. The areas of these are set out in detail in the White Paper. The large towns of Cardiff, Swansea, Newport and Wrexham will all be served by unitary authorities, as will traditional counties such as Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Cardiganshire and Anglesey. In making these proposals I have sought to balance the demands of local community loyalty with the requirements of effective and efficient service delivery, taking account of demographic factors, population distribution, geography and other relevant considerations.

Thirdly, subject to what I shall say in a moment, the new authorities will be statutorily responsible for the full range of local authority services. They will, therefore, be responsible for education, social services, housing, highways, planning and, for example, trading standards. This reflects my commitment to strong local government in Wales. The continuing development of the enabling role of local government and individual authorities' willingness to work together in the provision of specialist services have confirmed my view that services can be delivered efficiently and economically by the authorities proposed in the White Paper. The only functional changes envisaged under these plans are that, henceforth, responsibility for the fire service in Wales will lie with three combined authorities rather than with the new unitary authorities. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary's proposals for this are set out in my White Paper. My right hon. and learned Friend also intends to make a statement soon about the future of the police service in both England and Wales.

I have already drawn to the attention of the House the many benefits that unitary authorities will bring. Some

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cannot be measured in financial terms, but must nevertheless be borne in mind. The new structure will generate savings in the running costs of local government. Independent consultants estimate that these could range up to £17 million a year for a structure of 20 unitary authorities. But there will be one-off costs from the transition which the consultants estimate could range from about £65 million to about £150 million over 15 years. I am confident that reorganisation will pay for itself well within this period. In addition to our proposals for unitary authorities, the Government also plan to enhance the role of community councils. I propose to take powers in the Bill to specify matters on which the new unitary authorities will have to consult community councils before decisions are taken. I should obviously prefer to see a voluntary development of close working relationships between unitary authorities and community councils, but should that not occur, the Bill will provide for statutory powers to be exercised in that event. I shall not hesitate to exercise those powers if Parliament decides to give them to me.

I have also carefully considered the provisions, unique to Wales, under which local people can vote to dissolve their community councils. It would be wrong to withdraw such democratic rights, but I am satisfied that the provisions do not afford community councils proper and adequate protection. The Government propose to remedy that, and the details are set out in the White Paper, together with a proposal for amending the provisions relating to the establishment of community councils.

The proposals will have significant implications for local government staff. The Government expect that the vast majority of local authority staff will be transferred by order to one or other of the new authorities. I propose to establish a staff commission, whose principal function will be to have oversight of the transfer process and to advise me accordingly. It will be for the new authorities to assess their staff requirements and to make any necessary adjustments. Compensation will be payable in the event of early retirements or redundancies, should the latter prove necessary. Final decisions have not yet been taken on whether changes should be made to the existing scheme for early retirements.

A Bill will be introduced in due course to implement these proposals. My intention is that there should be elections to shadow authorities in 1994, and the new authorities will assume their responsibilities from 1 April 1995. The Bill will provide for a residuary body to be established to wind up the affairs of existing authorities.

Today's White Paper is a document of the greatest significance for the governance of Wales. The Welsh Grand Committee will soon have an opportunity to discuss it in detail, as part of our consideration of the structure of government in Wales. The Government believe, and I believe strongly, that the White Paper maps out a path for the creation of a distinctive, innovative and efficient local government structure which will serve Wales well for many years to come. The opportunity is here : now we must seize it. I commend the White Paper to the House.

Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly) : I am sure that all of us in Wales will be glad that at last the Secretary of State has concluded his deliberations and published the White Paper so that local authorities at least know what he has in store for them.

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I received a copy of a detailed document shortly after 3 o'clock, in the middle of Welsh questions. I hope that the Secretary of State understands the difficult circumstances in which my hon. Friends and I find ourselves in responding to a document which is detailed and complex and which will recast the face of Welsh local government. In turn, I recognise that we will have every opportunity to debate the matter in the Welsh Grand Committee in Cardiff next Monday. The Secretary of State and his party are alone in Wales in believing that unitary authorities of the sort that he is proposing are acceptable except in the context of a Welsh assembly. Does he accept that county and district authorities are united in their belief that a proper mechanism needs to be put in place to secure strategic planning of public services and that the unaccountable Welsh Office, operating through unelected quangos, is not even a poor substitute for a democratically elected assembly of the Welsh people? The most pressing need for reform is not local government but the quango system itself in which 1,200 appointees of the Secretary of State spend about £1.5 billion of public money while the wishes of 70 per cent. of the electors who voted for an assembly at the last general election are ignored.

Does the Secretary of State accept that he has not achieved the consensus to which he referred in his statement of 3 March 1992? In addition to the objections from local authorities, his plans are now opposed by the Trades Union Congress, the Confederation of British Industry and other public bodies in Wales such as the health authorities. The right hon. Gentleman will know that there is broad support for the proposal effectively to recreate borough status for Cardiff, Newport, Swansea and Wrexham. Does he have any plans to examine in more depth the future of our capital city?

In addition, would it not be appropriate to recognise Cardiff's capital status by using this reorganisation to integrate Cardiff with its hinterland in the Vale of Glamorgan and to abolish the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation and hand its functions over to democratic control?

There will be considerable concern at some of the right hon. Gentleman's proposals for the valleys authorities. I ask him to recognise that he will receive further vigorous representations. Given that he has neither a mandate from Wales nor consensus, is not he ill-advised to press ahead in the face of opposition with an unrealistic timetable?

Will the Secretary of State confirm that his judgments on costs are not shared by the members of his consultative committee? No potential savings have been identified for future running costs and little income would be generated from the disposal of property. Therefore, how does he propose to recoup the transitional costs, which are likely to be more than £100 million?

What estimate has the right hon. Gentleman made of job losses? I am advised that, contrary to the Secretary of State's statement, some 20 per cent. of local authority jobs could go. The loss of some 30,000 jobs--if that figure is correct--would be devastating in personal terms, obviously, for the people involved and would cost the Welsh economy some £270 million per annum.

When the right hon. Gentleman establishes the staff commission, will he ensure that there is proper representation from the staff who will be affected by the reorganisation, their trade union representatives and local authority interests directly? He will be aware of the fine

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record of Welsh local authorities as being effective and efficient providers of services. Any suggestion that that role be diminished or that they become merely enabling authorities will be fiercely resisted.

On the timetable of the Bill, when does the Secretary of State propose that it will come before the House? When does he expect it to receive Royal Assent? Will he assure us that all Welsh Members will be able to participate in the Committee which considers the Bill? When does he expect the elections to the shadow authorities to take place? Will next year's district council elections proceed? On behalf of the Opposition, may I welcome the strengthening of community councils and the decision to put the consultative ability on a statutory basis. However, the Secretary of State hinted that the procedure for a referendum was undemocratic. If there is a democratic deficit in Wales, it is the lack of a Welsh assembly, for which all Opposition Members argue. English authorities do not have a procedure for abolishing their community councils by referendum. Would it not make sense to bring Wales into line with England in that regard? The proposals are not quite so bad as we might have feared.

Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery) : Oh yes they are.

Mr. Davies : I am speaking in general terms. I understand that the hon. and learned Gentleman has strong views against the proposals, which he will undoubtedly want to put. The proposals are not as bad as we could have feared, but the Secretary of State would do well to recognise that the Bill will receive the closest attention. He will face united pressure from Opposition Members to ensure that we have an all-Wales elected assembly and that the new system of local government is meaningful to the communities which it has to represent, democratic, and sufficiently viable to provide and deliver the full range of services to the people of Wales.

Mr. Hunt : By the standards of this place, that was a warm welcome. [Interruption.] I am sorry to indict the hon. Gentleman, but I had expected stronger criticism. I am delighted with the way in which he has received the proposals. He said that they were not as bad as he expected. As I do not know what he expected, I can only comfort myself with the thought that they are better than he expected. I apologise if the statement was delivered late to the hon. Gentleman. I recognise that that is a problem of long standing. However, he accepted that we would have an opportunity in the Welsh Grand Committee, when we debate the structure of government in Wales, to deal with many of the points that he raised.

I believe that within its existing boundaries Cardiff is an entity with which local people can identify. It is of adequate size for service delivery. However, I share the vision of those who have argued that the status and importance of our capital city of Cardiff should be enhanced. The way to proceed is not to extend its boundaries artificially but to consider ways of improving the quality of its facilities and its urban environment. Therefore, I propose to invite South Glamorgan county council, Cardiff city council and Cardiff Bay Development Corporation to discuss with me how best that vision can be fulfilled. One possibility which I should be happy to

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consider is for the Welsh Office to contribute to a major study of how Cardiff's position as the capital city of Wales could be developed in the next 25 years.

The hon. Gentleman said that the timetable was unrealistic, but I would point out that I gave the operational date of 1 April 1995 some two years ago. Today I have demonstrated how I believe that the timetable can be achieved.

On running costs, I make no criticism of the hon. Gentleman because he saw the statement only at the last moment, but I referred in my statement to studies of the running costs that can be saved. For 20 authorities--we propose 21--the saving could be up to £17 million a year.

The hon. Gentleman referred to staff. I am anxious to send the question and answer brief to everyone who works in local authorities in Wales. It answers directly the point that the hon. Gentleman made. I want all staff in the local authorities in Wales to recognise that the vast majority of them will transfer from one authority to the new ones. I believe that there have been references to large-scale redundancies, and I hope that my reassurance will demonstrate that those fears are groundless.

I shall, of course, establish a staff commission which will be broad based and wide ranging. I should like to move reasonably swiftly on its establishment. That will be a matter for the House, but if local authorities agree, I would like the commission to be established in shadow form immediately after Second Reading of the Bill.

On enabling powers, the hon. Gentleman will know that I am committed to local authorities developing their functions even more as enablers rather than just as providers. I believe that that will provide national and local taxpayers with better value for money, and better services as well.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that his question about the timing of the introduction of the Bill and of its Royal Assent is not a matter for me and that I must refer it to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

I believe that, when the proposals are analysed, they will be seen as a challenge to everyone in Wales not only to pioneer a new form of local authority, which can be set as an example to the rest of the United Kingdom, but to make a considerable success of it.

Mr. Roger Evans (Monmouth) : I assure my right hon. Friend that in Monmouthshire his proposals will be greeted by near universal enthusiasm and gratitude.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East) : What does the hon. Gentleman know about it?

Mr. Evans : I happen to know my constituency rather better than the hon. Gentleman, who intervened from a sedentary position. I wish to refer my right hon. Friend to one important point in paragraph 3.7 of the White Paper, which states :

"The Government is not proposing to increase the number of Lord Lieutenants immediately".

Now that we have got rid of the ghost of Gwent, we hope that it will be interred for ever. May we have some reassurance from my right hon. Friend that Monmouthshire will have its own lord lieutenant and high sheriff at an early date?

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Mr. Hunt : Throughout the two-year consultation, I have been well aware of the strong feelings of my hon. Friend and of his constituents about their wish for the return of the county of Monmouthshire. That is incorporated, of course, in the proposals which I am presenting in the White Paper. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his vigorous fight to bring about what has been announced today.

As set out in the White Paper, there are no immediate plans concerning lord lieutenants, but I will listen closely to what my hon. Friend has to say on this and other issues as they affect the new Monmouthshire, which will take effect from 1 April 1995.

Mr. Alex Carlile : Does the Secretary of State want to be remembered as the man who abolished the ancient county of Montgomeryshire, as he proposes to do in the White Paper? Can he explain to the House why he has apparently changed his mind and, particularly, why he considers that the traditional county of Montgomeryshire does not deserve the same consideration as that afforded to the traditional counties of Cardiganshire, Pembrokeshire and Monmouthshire? Will he explain why he has ignored the clear will of the people throughout the existing county of Powys? Does he understand that, to people in rural mid Wales, finding the logic of the proposals will be a game of political hunt the thimble, where there is no logic to be found?

Above all, will the right hon. Gentleman explain himself to the people of the existing county of Powys, who will be severely disappointed at his disgraceful and unpredicted change of mind without, latterly, giving proper opportunity for consultation to the districts that he now wishes to destroy?

Mr. Hunt : I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) will raise the same issues with me as the hon. and learned Gentleman. They have both argued strongly for the re-establishment of the historic counties of Breconshire, Radnorshire and

Montgomeryshire. However, after the most intensive discussions with local authority associations, I have concluded that Montgomeryshire could not be effective as a single-tier authority. Like the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile), I share the views of local people that those historic identities should be preserved. I have received many representations from local people who want to continue to live in Montgomeryshire. As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, the Post Office has no objection to people still referring to themselves as living in the historic county of Montgomeryshire--

Mr. Carlile : How exciting.

Mr. Hunt : If the hon. and learned Gentleman will listen, I shall explain how I want to develop the policy. If he refers to the White Paper, he will see that it refers to the flexible approach to internal management arrangements, which I want to encourage and which may well provide an opportunity to move towards the position for which my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth and the hon. and learned Gentleman have been arguing. The hon. and learned Gentleman should read the White Paper before making his criticisms.

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Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West) : Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that those local authorities for which the writing is on the wall will be prevented from going on a spending spree before they are done away with?

Mr. Hunt : My hon. Friend is right to stress that it is important to ensure, not only that we have good, strong local government, but that it represents value for money. For the first time during reorganisation of local government, the same Government will be responsible for the original idea, the production of the White Paper, the introduction of the legislation and the new unitary authorities. We shall ensure that the sort of problem of which my hon. Friend warned will not occur.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside) : The Opposition do not believe that it was good enough to receive the document one minute before the right hon. Gentleman made his statement.

I welcome the return of the old name of Flintshire and the boost to community councils. However, what guarantees are being given for the job security of tens of thousands of worried council employees, not least in the district of Alyn and Deeside and Clwyd, and of Delyn and Wrexham Maelor? Will the huge cost of the reform come from the Treasury or the right hon. Gentleman's own budget--£150 million is a lot of money?

The deep flaw in the proposals is that they do not refer to the unaccountable quangos. The right hon. Gentleman is guaranteeing more of the same--which is the governor general's style--but he has not tackled the problem of unaccountable bodies in Wales.

Mr. Hunt : As I understand it, under the procedures of the House, when the Government publish a White Paper, they come to the House and make a statement about it, making the White Paper available when the statement is made. Therefore, I am merely following existing procedures. There will be an opportunity to debate the proposals next Monday in Cardiff at the historic first meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee.

I welcome what the hon. Gentleman said about Wrexham and Flintshire, and the establishment of the new county of Denbighshire. I have given a reassurance that the vast majority of staff will transfer from one authority to the new authority, and that the new authorities will be responsible for the full range of local authority services. I hope that that shows the job security that must exist, particularly when I have also announced today--notwithstanding the background--the establishment of the staff commission.

Mr. Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan) : I wish to place on record the grateful thanks of the people of the Vale of Glamorgan to my right hon. Friend. They will be relieved not to have to face the threat of being swallowed up by Cardiff. I feel sure that the proposal to extend the vale slightly to the west and to take in some villages that form a natural part of it will be welcomed. I thank my right hon. Friend for that.

Mr. Hunt : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He has campaigned vigorously for the Vale of Glamorgan unitary authority. I have listened carefully to his points, and I am pleased to be able to announce what we are publishing today in the White Paper.

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Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn) : The Secretary of State's estimate of cost savings will prove false. All we will get from this local government reorganisation is large and unnecessary additional expenditure, which will arise not because of irresponsibility in local government but because of the ineffectuality of the right hon. Gentleman's proposals, which he intends to put into effect. The maxim set down in the White Paper--that local government is government for local people by local people--is indeed to be strongly commended, but it is negated by everything the Government have done to local government by centralising power and reducing resources. In rehearsal for future arguments that we shall doubtless have, may I point out that, although I have great affection and respect for the community of Caerphilly, that name has little if anything in common with Markham, Blackwood, Abercarn, Newbridge, Ynysddu and Pontllanfraith? Whatever else is changed after the White Paper, that name will be.

Mr. Hunt : I am not sure what ineffectuality means in that context. The move from 37 district councils and eight county councils to 21 new unitary authorities, without the overlapping and duplication of the central management unit, combined with ensuring that the full range of services continues, will reassure those working in local government and will mean that the proposals will be highly effective. I strongly believe in the new unitary authorities.

As for the name or title, as far as we are concerned these are suggested names and titles. It will be up to the House when the legislation proceeds to suggest others. I think that the right hon. Gentleman suggested about 12 names for the new authorities. If he would concentrate on one and slip it to me in public or private, I guarantee that I will carefully consider it.

Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor) : My right hon. Friend's announcement may be greeted in Powys county hall, where I know morale has been badly hit by the process of consultation over local government reorganisation, but it will be greeted with dismay in the counties of Breconshire and Radnorshire. I endorse the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) in this regard. My right hon. Friend is well aware that representations have been made to him by the district council of Brecknock, by Radnorshire district council and by representatives of the community of Ystradgynlais, where more than 5,000 people signed the petition which I had the privilege of presenting--

Madam Speaker : Order. I must have questions from hon. Members, or I shall have to ask them to resume their seats.

Mr. Evans : I ask my right hon. Friend to consider these points and urge him to reconsider his proposals for Powys.

Mr. Hunt : I recognise the deep and strongly held feelings that my hon. Friend and the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery have expressed. This has been one of the most difficult areas of the consultation which, as my hon. Friend will know, ranged widely, through the Welsh consultative council on local government and the various sub-groups established to look at services. We are proposing authorities with the full range of services. I am

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certainly aware of my hon. Friend's point, and I should like now to go a little further than I did in answer to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery.

The flexible approach to internal management which I outlined in the document will permit the establishment of sub-groups--area committees for administration--which could be concerned with local authority matters in defined geographical units. I shall certainly press the new Powys authority to establish a committee for each of the historic counties of Montgomeryshire, Breconshire and Radnorshire so as to maintain the political identity of the traditional counties within Powys. For the people of Powys it is important to ensure that local authority services are of the highest possible quality. I certainly intend that they should be.

Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower) : First, how will the Secretary of State exercise great care to ensure that the powers that he gives community councils will not be so vast that they will be greater than the powers of the new unitary authorities put together? Secondly, how will he ensure that the development plans that he mentions in his report will be in place so that the many Welsh local authorities that still do not have local plans ready will respond in the appropriate way? Thirdly, how will he improve his Department's planning procedures so that when his Department calls in applications such as that for the Oystermouth bus station in Swansea it will have the courtesy to inform the Member of Parliament for that constituency, me, and an objector that a public inquiry will take place? Unless he gets his act together, God help us.

Mr. Hunt : The hon. Gentleman will understand if I do not comment on the planning matters mentioned in the final part of his question. He raised the important matter of the role of community councils. Chapter 7 shows that the Government propose a system in which community councils will act increasingly in partnership with the unitary authorities, although through an enhanced representational role. I shall bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman said. I was a little sad that he did not welcome the establishment of the new city and county of Swansea. I hope that I can carry him with me in establishing that new authority.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) : My right hon. Friend will be aware-- [Interruption.] The House will be aware that I represent a United Kingdom seat and that-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is a Member of the House and has every right to put a question.

Mr. Duncan : My right hon. Friend will be aware of the historic parallels that can be drawn between Radnorshire, Montgomeryshire and the county of Rutland. Will he not admit that a truly Conservative reform should allow almost inexplicable diversity in the size and structure of administrative units? Will he not admit that his announcement imposes a rather arbitrary uniformity on the structure of local government? Would he admit that he might have got his answer about sub-groups the wrong way round and that it is better to have small units combining where they need to rather than larger units forming these rather peculiar sub-groups? Can he confirm

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that his announcement about the size of unitary authorities in no way creates a precedent for the size of any unitary authority that may be created in England?

Mr. Hunt : I certainly agree with my hon. Friend's final point. Wales will lead the way in demonstrating how to establish the new unitary authorities, but I recognise that there is no read-across into the reform of local government in England.

I say to my hon. Friend, and also to my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney), that it is important to ensure that the new unitary authorities can deliver the full range of local authority services. Such services include dealing with children at risk and some aspects of community care, which require a high degree of specialisation. I want to create a structure in which all the new unitary authorities can deliver those services.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) : I welcome the fact that a statement of some kind has been made at long last, recognising, as I think we all do, that the morale of many tens of thousands of people in local government in Wales has been dealt a severe blow during the past two years of waiting.

I am somewhat bemused at the variation between £65 million and £150 million as the proposed cost of instituting this so-called reform. Given that variation, I fail to understand how the Secretary of State can be confident that any money will be saved. I shall now refer briefly to two other matters--

Madam Speaker : Order. Hon. Members are being unfair ; they have now entered into a debate, rather than asking direct questions. Unless questions and answers are brisker, I shall not be able to call many more hon. Members.

Mr. Llwyd : I shall be simple and succinct, Madam Speaker. I have two points but I shall be brief.

Aberconwy borough council is to join with the Colwyn borough council. The Secretary of State has said, and it is also set out in the body of the paper, that due consideration has been given to links--local, community and geographical. That is surely not so in this case. The true intrinsic Welsh people of the valley will be ground out of sight in the borough of Colwyn.

Secondly, will the Secretary of State be pleased with himself, having effectively done away with a county that has existed since the 13th century --Meirionnydd?

Mr. Hunt : Since the original announcement that we were looking at ways to introduce unitary authorities, I have spent the time wisely in the Wales consultative council on local government with the representatives of local government, who kindly agreed to setting up a whole range of sub- groups to consider all the different services. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will think that, while we await the proper deliberation of those sub-groups, we have a White Paper that sets out the way in which those services can be provided. It was wise to spend that amount of time doing that.

On the hon. Gentleman's second point, we are following on from the reorganisation of 1974 and I hope and believe that we are setting up authorities that will last for many years to come. On the other point, I shall be asking the boundary commission for local government to go into a number of areas the length and breadth of Wales to look at the situation on the ground.

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Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent) : After reading the crazy proposals for a unitary authority based on Blaenau Gwent, Merthyr Tydfil and the community areas of Rhymney, Daren valley and New Tredegar, will the Secretary of State confirm that today is St. David's day and not April fool's day?

Will the right hon. Gentleman elaborate on the community interest between Blaenau Gwent and Merthyr? Given the reference to good communication, will he accept my challenge and come with me on Monday morning to Swffryd and then from Swffryd to Merthyr on public transport? He can then explain to me how the White Paper will meet the need for good communications.

Mr. Hunt : Others put a different view from that which the hon. Gentleman has expressed. I believe that the Heads of the Valleys unitary authority will not only bring together the areas he has mentioned, but will be a satisfactory body, delivering local services at a high level of quality and value for money for the council tax payer.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East) : How can we welcome the proposals for a reorganisation of local government when the Minister has been so busy taking away the powers of local authorities? For example, Newport borough council unanimously rejected the proposal of Browning Ferris for a waste disposal plant in Newport and it was fully backed by the people of Newport who are concerned about the hazards involved and the criminal record of that American company. Far from reorganising local government, he should take heed of the words of Max Boyce and put the tools on the bar.

Mr. Hunt : While everybody tries to work out the significance of the hon. Gentleman's final comment--I shall award a small prize to the person who can explain it

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to me in detail--let me make it clear that I wish that the hon. Gentleman would think again and welcome the new unitary authority of Newport. Newport is one of the most important towns in Wales and will readily justify the new unitary authority of Newport.

Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen) : It is clear from the Government proposals that the number of local authority elected representatives in Wales will be reduced drastically at a time when the number of unelected representatives running quangos is increasing day by day. Will the Secretary of State give us an assurance--we shall, of course, be scrutinising the proposals set out in the White Paper in the weeks ahead-- that the number of councillors per unitary authority will represent an efficient and democratic method of running local government?

Mr. Hunt : I should like to nail the point about redundancies straight away. There has been a range of suggestions from the counties and districts about the number of people working in local government. I envisage--the White Paper makes it clear that what I am about to say will be the case--that the majority of people working in local government will transfer from the former authority to the new authority.

The number of councillors and matters of internal management are dealt with in the White Paper, which maps out the way ahead. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand that I am giving power to certain authorities--I take up his point about internal management--to pioneer new forms of management methods. The legislation will deal with the numbers of councillors and the size of wards, and give power to local authorities to continue to pioneer new methods of delivering local services.

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Points of Order

4.16 pm

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. As I understand it, one of the purposes of the House is to try to raise the plight of those in need such as pensioners on small incomes who are suffering greatly during the present cold spell because cold weather payments have not yet been triggered. I ask you, Madam Speaker, to give careful consideration to the making of applications under Standing Order No. 20. I understand that it is necessary for you to give permission, irrespective of the outcome of any such application, before an application can be made on the Floor of the House.

On 6 February 1991, as you will see from the Official Report, I received permission from your predecessor to make an application under Standing Order No. 20 on cold weather payments. I have already stated that, in my opinion, one of our jobs as Members is to raise the plight of those in need ; it is unfortunate if we are denied the opportunity to do so. The rights of Back-Bench Members, Parliament by Parliament--

Madam Speaker : Order. What is the point of order?

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