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The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Sir Wyn Roberts) : I beg to move,

That, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 86 (Nomination of standing committees), any Standing Committee appointed for consideration of the Local Government (Wales) Bill [ Lords ] shall consist of twenty-eight Members, including not fewer than nineteen Members sitting for constituencies in Wales.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : I have to inform the House that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

Sir Wyn Roberts : This is a procedural motion. It is not about the merits of the Local Government (Wales) Bill, which the House debated fully yesterday and which will be debated further in Committee and, later, on the Floor of the House. The motion relates to the constitution of the Standing Committee to consider the Bill. Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery) rose

Sir Wyn Roberts : Let me get on a little, if I may.

As Standing Order No. 86 is referred to in the motion, it may be helpful to hon. Members if I remind them of its main requirements. With certain exceptions, it requires :

"the Committee of Selection shall nominate not fewer than sixteen nor more than fifty Members to serve on each standing committee for the consideration of each bill".

It also requires the Committee of Selection to have regard to "the qualifications of those Members nominated and to the composition of the House".

There is then a third provision which states :

"for the consideration of any public bill relating exclusively to Wales, the committee shall be so constituted as to include all Members sitting for constituencies in Wales."

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Mr. Alex Carlile : I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman will tell the House what he thinks was the reason for the introduction of Standing Order No. 86(2)(ii). In particular, does he recognise that he made a wholly inaccurate statement to the House when he said that there was a "third" provision ? Is it not right that the proviso is an overriding proviso that governs Standing Order No. 86 ?

Sir Wyn Roberts : It is for the House to decide how the proposed Committee is set up. The House can certainly override the measure if it follows this motion.

It is not possible to constitute a Committee that satisfies all three requirements of the Standing Order--one with no more than 50 members that reflects the composition of the House and includes all hon. Members representing Welsh constituencies. Whichever way one tries to form such a Committee, at least one of those requirements will not be met.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central) rose

Sir Wyn Roberts : I shall give way in a moment. We must provide a practical and precedented solution to a procedural difficulty.

Mr. Alex Carlile : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. So that the Minister of State--as always, he is doing his best to explain the position fairly to the House--can do so, will you confirm from the Chair that the requirement of 50 members does not apply under the Standing Order to Standing Committees relating to legislation that applies exclusively to Wales, because of the way in which the proviso is expressed ? The right hon. Gentleman is speaking as though there were a requirement for a maximum of 50 members on such a Standing Committee. I submit to you that it is simply not so.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : That is all a matter for debate in the context of this motion.

Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If it is a matter for debate, would it not be appropriate and a courtesy to the House if the Secretary of State were here to listen to the excuses that are given ? He is the moving hand behind this measure and the individual Cabinet member who is now going to take away from Welsh Members the right to sit on a Committee that influences their own local authorities.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : That is a matter for the Secretary of State to decide.

Sir Wyn Roberts : All that I have said so far is based on the contents of Standing Order No. 86, and it is a matter for the House to decide.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones : The Minister has just explained that it is somehow impossible for all these parts to be made a part of the whole, for the Committee to reflect the balance on the Floor of the House yet also include all the hon. Members elected from Welsh constituencies. Why, then, was the Standing Order put down ? At the time that it was put down, there was not a single unionist Member in Wales, and presumably, if it had been impossible to set the system up and keep all those things part of the whole, it would not have been set up in the first place.

Sir Wyn Roberts : It is not for me to fathom what was in the minds of our forebears who put down this Standing

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Order. We seek to provide a practical and precedented solution to a procedural difficulty, and the Government's motion achieves precisely that.

Hon. Members will be interested to know that the Labour party's Welsh Language Act 1967, its Welsh Development Agency Act 1975 and the Development of Rural Wales Act 1976 all had Standing Committee membership other than that specified in Standing Order No. 86.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West) : Does the Minister of State agree that in those three examples the setting aside of the Standing Order was done for the convenience of the House, and not for the convenience of the Government ? It was done in the interests of both the Government and the Opposition because of Ministers and Front-Bench spokesmen, all of whom wanted not to be on a Committee on those Bills. It was, therefore, perfectly in order at the time, for the convenience of the House and of both sides, not on an opposed basis, to do that. What the right hon. Gentleman proposes, purely for the convenience of the Government and not for the convenience of the House, is entirely different.

Sir Wyn Roberts : The Committee stage of the Welsh Language Act 1967 was taken on the Floor of the House. The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that the Welsh Development Agency Bill and the Development of Rural Wales Bill were considered in Standing Committee. But there was a Labour Government at that time, and Labour Members were in the majority on the Committees. I cannot vouch for the circumstances at the time, but I guess that what was done was for the convenience of the Government of the day as well.

Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) : Does the Minister recognise another major difference between the three Acts to which reference has been made and the Bill that we are considering ? The former applied to Wales generally or to large tranches of Wales, whereas this Bill applies specifically to every local authority area and every constituency. There is nobody else who can speak for our constituencies--in my case, Penarth and part of Cardiff. That is why it is so outrageous that the right hon. Gentleman is pressing ahead with this departure from the Standing Orders.

Sir Wyn Roberts : The hon. Gentleman, like me, knows only too well that hon. Members have opportunities in addition to those provided in Standing Committee to declare their views. There will be a Report stage and a Third Reading on the Floor of the House, and we have already had the Second Reading.

Mr. Michael : The Minister knows full well that it is in Committee that details relating to individual constituencies are considered. That is why his answer is entirely irrelevant to the point that I made.

Sir Wyn Roberts : I have never known hon. Members, particularly on Report, to be held back when discussing details further to those that were dealt with in Standing Committee. The same applies to Third Reading.

Mr. Wigley : Has the right hon. Gentleman established with the Clerks of the House that it will be in order for every matter dealt with in Committee to be dealt with on

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Report ? Will the Government ensure that there is enough time for every such issue to be considered again on the Floor of the House so that we may all be involved ?

Sir Wyn Roberts : The hon. Gentleman knows full well that that is a matter not for me but for the Chair.

None of the motions to set up the membership of the Standing Committees to which I have referred, which were similar to the one that we are now considering, was opposed.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) : In the case of the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975, my recollection is that the rules were changed at the request of, and for the convenience of, the Opposition of the day.

Sir Wyn Roberts : I am sure that it was for the convenience of the then Government, as well. It may have been for the convenience of the then Opposition, as the current Opposition are only too happy to say time and again, but I cannot imagine that it would have been done had it not been for the convenience of the Labour Government. The Opposition amendment proposes a Standing Committee of 63 members. That would be the largest Committee ever to deal with a Welsh Bill, and I guess that it would be somewhat unwieldy. It would certainly exceed the maximum of 50 specified in Standing Order No. 86.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore) : The Minister is talking about the Opposition amendment. I should like to take him back to the Government's proposal that the Committee consist of 28 members. Do the Government want a majority ? If so, a membership of 28 would mean their having 15 places, leaving a mere 13 for 32 people. Would that be right ? It would be far better and far more democratic if every Welsh Member were enabled to serve on the Committee. The Government's trumped-up scheme would deny at least 19 Opposition Members the right to membership of the Committee.

Sir Wyn Roberts : I am coming to that point. By my calculation, the Opposition would have a majority on the Committee of 63 that they propose if they intend that it should include all Welsh Members. In that case, it would not reflect the composition of the House. It ought to be obvious that no Government would agree that their legislation should be dealt with by a Committee on which the Opposition had a majority. That is the answer to the point raised by the hon. Gentleman. This is a Government Bill, and the Government ought to have a majority on the Standing Committee. I am genuinely surprised that the Opposition should seek to establish, for the purposes of a Government Bill, a Committee on which they have a majority.

Mr. Morgan : The right hon. Gentleman is responsible for education, including mathematics, in Wales. He appears to have forgotten that one of the Committee members would be the Chairman and that, therefore, there would be only 31 Opposition members. Two times 31 is 62, so the Government would have a majority on a Committee of 63. Will the right hon. Gentleman withdraw the garbage that he has been talking for the past two minutes ?

Sir Wyn Roberts : My mathematics tells me that the Government would not have a majority. I am sure that it is absolutely right to say that they would be dependent on the

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Chair. [Interruption.] I leave it to the hon. Gentleman to think about what I have just said--what the Opposition propose would leave the Government without a majority and dependent on the Chair.

Mr. Morgan : Will the Minister please check his mathematics again ? If he sticks to the case that he has just made, he will be impugning the integrity of the Chairman, who, as a distinguished member of the Speaker's Panel, is prevented by the rules--as I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will confirm--from being counted as a Opposition member. I am sure that I am correct in respect of this matter, as in respect of the mathematics. The Minister ought to be honest enough to reconsider what he has just said.

Sir Wyn Roberts : On the basis of the figures that the hon. Gentleman has produced, I conclude that the two sides would be equal, the 63rd vote being held by the Chair. I much prefer the Government's proposed Committee of 28 members.

Mr. Michael : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It seems that the Minister is casting doubt on the normal proceedings of the House. Can you clarify the position

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. That is not a matter for the Chair.

Sir Wyn Roberts : I much prefer a membership of 28, and I am sure that the House will conclude that the Government are right. A Committee of that size would be small enough to work effectively and large enough to reflect the composition of the House, thereby ensuring representation for the minority parties. I therefore commend the motion to the House.

7.18 pm

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West) : I beg to move, leave out from the second "of" to end and add "sixty-three Members".

Having listened to the speech of the Minister of State, I think that it would have been much better if he had stayed in Catalonia, where he might have learnt a bit more about democracy. His mathematics is absolutely absurd. The position of the Chairman of a Committee removes him from the configuration of the Opposition, although he or she counts towards a quorum. Thus, under our proposal, the Opposition would have only 31 members, and the Government would have a majority for all normal purposes of voting. The Minister should, therefore, check the rules of the House and how Committees are constituted. In his opening remarks, he attempted to stir up apathy, as he usually does wherever he goes in Wales, but he should produce some sort of argument for setting aside, for the third time in just under two years, the rules of the House.

Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor) : I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will help me with his Aberpergau mathematics. He said that the Committee would contain 31 Opposition Members and the chairman, which leaves 31 Conservative Members. How would that give a Government majority ?

Mr. Morgan : The hon. Gentleman should remember that it would be possible for the Government--so I am instructed by the authorities of the House--not to count the Chairman as a member of the Committee, even though he would count towards a quorum. The hon. Gentleman is

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welcome to check that with the Clerks of the House, as I did yesterday. I think that he will find that my mathematics are correct and my understanding of the procedure is the same as that of the House authorities.

Mr. Wigley : Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Minister's argument has a serious bearing on the motion ? The Minister includes the Chair of the Committee in the number that he regards as appropriate. He must, therefore, include the Chair among the 28 members mentioned in the motion. If the Chair were taken out, only 27 members would be left--a totally different understanding of the composition of the Committee from that given by the usual channels.

Mr. Morgan : The hon. Gentleman is right. It is only for the purpose of a quorum that the Chairman of a Committee counts towards its membership. Therefore, the Minister's mathematics are wrong. The Minister of State's argument is fundamentally flawed now, as it was during discussions on 9 June 1992 on the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill and 7 June 1993 on the Welsh Language Bill. We face a sort of triple crown of the democratic deficit in Wales. It is the equivalent of England trying to get 15 extra players on the field on Saturday to ensure the right result. The people of Wales would object to that on Saturday, as they object to the undermining of the principle of democracy in Wales tonight. The Government cannot move the goalposts all the time in respect of Welsh legislation.

The Standing Orders of the House make special provision for Welsh legislation. The best thing for the Government to do--the sooner they do it, the better--would be to leave the Standing Orders alone in relation to Welsh legislation and accept that they have been put there for a specific purpose. The Government should not try to alter the Standing Orders every time such matters come before the House. The problem faced by the Opposition is to understand why the Government use the same explanation each time that the matter arises. Reference has already been made to it by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) and the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley). Each time, the Government try to say that the Standing Orders are defective. That is an absurd proposition. One cannot say that the Standing Orders, which have been in existence since 1907, are defective or inherently self-contradictory. That is an absurd proposition, which was the Minister's argument. He repeated what the Secretary of State said almost a year ago when he broke his duck in his current job, although that speech was even more abbreviated than that of the Minister of State's.

The Government's argument is that, as the Committee should not have more than 50 members and must reflect the composition of the House in terms of Government and Opposition--with a built-in Government majority--the third provision cannot be met. That final provision is that all Welsh Members must be members of the Committee. That is not what Standing Order No. 86 says.

Standing Order No. 86 contains a third provision that plainly overrides the first two--it makes an exception for Welsh legislation. It provides that, for Welsh legislation, all Welsh Members shall sit on the Standing Committee. It does not say that three co-equal propositions--the

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Government majority, the maximum of 50 members and the fact that all Welsh Members should serve on the Standing Committee--should be juggled around. It does not state, "Something's got to give, so try to fit them in as best you can. Perm any two out of three and see if you can come up with Littlewoods' home banker." It is not like that. The final provision of Standing Order No. 86 is plainly meant to override its other provisions in terms of Welsh legislation. The Government will not accept that, and we all know why. They want to steamroller all Welsh legislation through unwilling Welsh Members in the House of Commons, who reflect the views of a Welsh people who are extremely unwilling to accept Tory Government proposals for Wales. That is the problem which the Government must face. They cannot win the votes normally and democratically on Welsh matters, so they have to use the undemocratic steamroller to try to push their legislation through the House.

In 1907, democratic support for the Tory Government was even worse, if that is possible to imagine, than it is now. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) said that the Conservatives experienced a total wipe-out in the 1906 general election. Not one Tory Member of Parliament was returned. They were lucky to get the nil, as it is sometimes said after football matches after one side has had a thrashing. The Tories are slightly better off now--they have six Welsh Members out of 38--but they still have a problem. The Standing Orders are not meant to serve the convenience of the Government. They are meant to protect democracy. The nature of the United Kingdom is at stake tonight. The UK is not one homogeneous nation state comprising 651 Members of Parliament who all represent the same sort of constituency. As its name shows, the United Kingdom is an amalgam of four different home countries. That is why Standing Order No. 86 contains specific provision for Scottish legislation and Welsh legislation in the constitution of the Grand Committees and the Standing Committees. The Government say, "Yes, we know that's there, but we are going to ignore it. Every time it comes up, we are going to set it aside." I know that there are set-aside schemes in agriculture, but we do not want such schemes for dealing with the fundamental democratic rights of the smaller countries that make up the UK. The UK works only because there is protection for the smaller parts of the United Kingdom--Scotland and Wales--to prevent them from being abused and pushed around by the much larger majority, England, when legislation goes through the House.

Mr. Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan) : Will the hon. Gentleman clarify this point ? When Labour formed the minority Government in the 1970s, it presumably had an overall minority in England. In matters affecting England, did it have a minority on the various Committees of the House ?

Mr. Morgan : Provision for England, which comprises 82 per cent. of the total of the UK, is much less specific because it does not need the same measure of protection. But there is special provision for England. Earlier today, there was a debate on the redundant churches legislation that applies to England, but not to Wales--as far as I know, it does not apply in Scotland either. Hon. Members may have taken part--I certainly did not--in the debate on

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women priests in England. There is an established Church in England, so we in Parliament will, from time to time, discuss specifically English matters, such as the established Church. As far as I know, no Welsh Members take part in such debates, vote on them or bother to come in because they are on English matters. England does not need the same degree of protection from abuse by the majority of the minority.

The Government make so much fuss about the same argument in terms of Europe. The Foreign Secretary returns from Europe and makes ringing declarations about subsidiarity and wanting to build in special protection for Britain. He says that we do not want other countries to tell us what to do. We do not want qualified majority voting extended so that we in Britain can be told what to do when we might want to defend our little patch from the abuse by the majority of the minority. That is what Standing Order No. 86 is about. The two special provisions on Scotland and Wales are saying to the Government and the House that subsidiarity begins at home. It is written into the rules of the House that Wales and Scotland, because they form only 5.5 per cent. and 9.5 per cent. respectively of the UK population, need special protection from abuse by the majority. They cannot be the majority themselves--Wales could never push England around in the House because it is far too small, and that is built into the demography of the United Kingdom.

We in Wales have special protections which, in 1907, were very sensibly built in, and the Government are once again trying to set them aside. That is regardless of the hypocrisy that they manifest when they go to Europe and try to restrict the spread of qualified majority voting because they do not think that this country ought to be pushed around.

Other points have been made in a couple of interventions from hon. Members. The Bill is perhaps even more of a crunch point for our attempt to defend the rights that were built in under Standing Order No.86 than the two previous examples which were quoted. The Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill applied directly only to the Cardiff area and it must be said that not everybody in Wales was directly affected by the Welsh Language Bill.

However, the Local Government (Wales) Bill [ Lords ]--to give it its proper title--applies in every hole and corner in Wales. There is no part of Wales that will not be directly affected by its provisions. We are all affected by it, but English Members--by and large--are not affected by it.

Therefore, it is absurd that the Government should consider setting aside Standing Order No.86 so that they can throw Welsh Members off the Standing Committee and import English Members who are not affected. That is cheating under the rules of the House, and the Government are moving the goalposts. They are trying to get around the provisions of Standing Order No. 86, which have been there for 87 years.

Mr. Jonathan Evans : The hon. Gentleman says that moving the suspension of Standing Order No. 86 is cheating the House. Has there ever been an occasion when a Labour Government moved the suspension of that Standing Order ?

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Mr. Morgan : It has not been done on an opposed basis, as the Minister is aware. It is not clear what would have happened if the Opposition at that time had objected, but it has never been done on an opposed basis.

Sir Wyn Roberts : Is the hon. Gentleman denying the right of the House to suspend the Standing Order ?

Mr. Morgan : Absolutely not. However, the systematic removal of the Standing Order three times in 22 months implies that the Government do not accept its existence, or that they believe that it is only there for their own convenience. That is not the nature of Standing Orders of the House, which exist to protect minorities, the rights of Back Benchers and the ability of Welsh Members to represent Welsh constituents. Those rights have been built in. The Government want to build them back out again, and that is undermining democracy. The Government are trying to turn the Standing Committee into another quango and pack it with Tory placemen in exactly the same way as they have done with all quangos. It is fair to say that Wales is fed up with quangos and with the three times that the Standing Order has been set aside. The Minister will be aware that quangos--although he is trying to get more people from all over to serve on them--are known as the great little gravy trains of Wales. The right hon. Gentleman wants more people to try to ride on them.

The Government are trying to change the Standing Committees so that they have the same political character as quangos. That simply means that they cannot accept the democratic verdict of the people of Wales in elections. They will be importing people who are not interested in the proceedings.

The top qualification for the English Tories who will be imported is that they will not be able to point out Wales on a map. They will not know the difference between Carmarthen and Caernarfon, and they will not be able to speak as they will be frightened stiff--as the Secretary of State mentioned last night--of Welsh pronunciations. Worst of all, they will think that the name of our national game is "rugger" rather than rugby, and we find that deeply offensive. The Secretary of State last night kept referring to the "Rhonda valley". He has been Secretary of State for quite a while now, and we would have thought that he would mastered the fact that it is the Rhondda valley and not the "Rhonda valley". There may be some parts of Wokingham where people think that "Rhonda valley" is a product of some 30s slushy Hollywood romance where Rhonda Fleming married Rudy Vallee and had a daughter called "Rhonda valley".

We are talking about Welsh communities and the places that we represent, as distinct from the mythical Wales that the Secretary of State would like to present where, occasionally, the Tories win a seat. Tory Members will serve on the Committee even though they do not agree with unitary local government being introduced in England. They will be imported through the exemption from Standing Order No. 86 and will support hypocritically unitary local government in Wales which they would not support in England. That is another absurdity which will occur if we allow the motion to be passed.

The underlying purpose of the exemption from Standing Order No. 86 and the ability to import carpetbaggers from outside Wales is to defend the ability

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of the Government to get through Parliament a measure that, as of this morning, will be subject to follow-up action by the parliamentary boundary commissioner.

The most important thing for the Government in terms of the management of their business is that, once the Bill has had its Second Reading, they will immediately instruct the parliamentary boundary commissioner to review their interim recommendations. We heard last night the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) trying to deny that the intention of bringing the communities of Ewenny, Wick and St. Bride's Major into the Vale of Glamorgan local authority was to assist him in shoring up his majority of 19--which, we understand from the electoral returning officer, was itself artificially imported from Johannesburg.

I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) was unfair to the hon. Gentleman last night. Normally, it is fair to say that the forensic skills of the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan would not extend to his being able to give away ice cream in the middle of the Sahara. My hon. Friend asked the hon. Gentleman to defend the indefensible, which is the bringing in of Ewenny, St. Bride's Major and Wick for any sensible local government purpose. The clear underlying purpose is to try to shore up the hon. Gentleman's majority, and that is so open and obvious and so contrary to what the local community wants.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) rose

Mr. Morgan : I will give way to my hon. Friend, who I hope will be as unfair to the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan as he was last night.

Mr. Griffiths : I will try my best not to be unfair at this stage. I wish to point out that when the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan made that assertion to the gathered 200 at a meeting, there was a loud burst of laughter.

Mr. Morgan : Following my hon. Friend's inquisition of the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan last night, I was thinking that we ought to call in the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. However, there is not a special branch of the NSPCC to defend Government Members when they are in difficulty, as the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan clearly was last night. The Bill will introduce a new word to Welsh political vocabulary--Ewenny-mandering. It is a blatant attempt to shore up the hon. Gentleman and to take votes away from my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend.

What are the alternatives ? The Opposition tabled the amendment to give the Government some sort of way out. On the previous two occasions, we simply voted against the Standing Order No. 86 set-aside motion.

Mr. Sweeney : I went to some lengths yesterday to repudiate the allegations of gerrymandering which were made by the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths). I have listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) has just said and, with respect, he cannot have it both ways. He says that the Government are trying to give votes to the Vale of Glamorgan parliamentary constituency, and then says that the Government are trying to take away votes from the hon. Member for Bridgend. Which is it ?

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Mr. Morgan rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The House should not be arguing too much about the Bill. Hon. Members should stick to the subject for tonight's debate, and not last night's debate.

Mr. Morgan : I entirely agree with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We must stick tightly to the remit of the Standing Order No. 86 set-aside motion. I will say that the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan is quoting me accurately. Of course my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend is happy to represent the constituents of Ewenny, Wick and St. Bride's Major. That is the simple fact of it. They do not want to leave and he does not want them to leave.

We are discussing the alternatives to setting aside Standing Order No. 86. We have offered the Government a way out. That way out is the subject of a simply solvable mathematical dispute. In the inconceivable circumstances that the Government were right and 63 members would not give them a majority, they could make it 64. We would not mind. That is one way out. Rather than taking Welsh Members of Parliament off the Standing Committee, on which they have a right, established over 87 years, to serve, the Government could add English Members. That would give the Government a majority. That is not provided for in the last proviso of Standing Order No. 86, but if that is what the Government want, it would be one way of doing it. If the Government are absolutely insistent on keeping a majority on the Committee, it is still important that we are able to be present when the clause that refers to changes to the local government units in a Member's constituency is discussed. Each Opposition Member will fight like a tigress for her cubs for the right to be there when the matter is dealt with in Committee. We should like to have the right to serve on the Committee--even a large, unwieldy one--simply because each of us wants to be there when our local authority area is discussed.

Mr. Sweeney : If Opposition Members are so keen to fight like tigers, where are they this evening ?

Mr. Morgan : I am not sure what sort of count the hon. Gentleman has made of the attendance during the debate last night and tonight. I am grateful for his solicitude for hon. Members. He will have noticed that the Secretary of State was not here for the beginning of the debate, but no doubt he exempts him because, in any case, he represents an English constituency.

The other alternative is simply to let the Committee be constituted as a form of Welsh Grand Committee ; in other words, the Government would agree to give up their majority. The Minister of State says that the Government do not want to do that and that such action is almost unprecedented. But it is not unprecedented. The Government have said that they want to tune up the functions of the Scottish Grand Committee and allow it to take the Committee stages of relatively uncontroversial Bills. I accept that the Local Government (Wales) Bill is not uncontroversial, but, given the difficulties posed to the Government by the way in which Standing Order No. 86 is written, the Minister of State should at least have had the courtesy to the House of raising the hypothesis of constituting the Committee as a Welsh Grand Committee

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and then knocking it down. He should have given the Government's reasons for not being willing to accept the loss of majority. All that the Minister said was that such a move was unprecedented. We know that that is not true because in their "taking stock" exercise the Government want to apply the principle to the Scottish Grand Committee. It is clear that the Government would lose a few votes in the Committee stage on the Bill. They would lose perhaps three or four votes. They would certainly lose the votes on a Welsh assembly. One or two of the boundary votes, such as the vote on Montgomery, would be lost in Committee. The Government could reverse them on Report. If they are interested in democracy, that is always a possibility. It is not a problem. The problem is that they are not interested in democracy. They are interested only in steamrollering. The Government must face that problem in the higher court of the views of the Welsh people, as expressed in past elections and undoubtedly in the next elections.

The Government have to face the fact that ever since the secret ballot was introduced they have not won a majority of votes in Wales. Yet we do not want them to come up with ideas to set aside the secret ballot in Welsh elections because they do not like the results. We cannot accept any diminution of the democratic rights of people in Wales.

Sir Wyn Roberts : How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile his proposals in the amendment for a Committee of 63 or 64 with the requirement of Standing Order No. 86 that the Committee of Selection shall nominate no fewer than 16 and no more than 50 Members to serve on each Standing Committee ?

Mr. Morgan : That is clearly overridden by the third proviso with reference to Scottish and Welsh legislation. Scottish and Welsh legislation is exempt from that part of Standing Order No. 86. One can read it 20 times or once. It is plain as a pikestaff. Scottish and Welsh legislation is exempt from that provision. What else can the provision that all Welsh Members of Parliament shall be on the Committee mean ? It is clearly an instruction to the authorities of the House which is superior to the instructions on the composition of Committees and the maximum of 50 and minimum of 16. That is the only possible construction that the English language can permit anyone with common sense to put on the words of Standing Order No. 86. The problem with the Minister of State is not his understanding of Standing Order No. 86 and what the English language plainly means. The problem is that he does not like what it means and is therefore trying to wriggle out of the consequences for the Government. If they accepted the consequences, they would have to show a little give and take, a little chwarae teg and a little flexibility in coming to meet us half way, representing as we do more than five out of six of the constituencies of Wales.

Those are the three alternatives that the Government could have adopted instead of the one that they have adopted on three successive occasions and which has caused them to stand condemned before the bar of Welsh public opinion. The Government's action is application of the steamroller, the packing of the Standing Committee and the acid test of whether they are interested in democracy.

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Mr. Rowlands : My hon. Friend has listed all the reasonable options. If the Government are not willing to budge on this issue, does he think that they would go for even the most modest option and take clause 1 and schedule 1 in a Committee of the whole House ? That would at least allow every Welsh Member to take part in the debate. That is a practical proposition. I wonder whether my hon. Friend could tempt the Secretary of State to comment on that option ?

Mr. Morgan : That is yet another example of the flexibility with which, I think that it is fair to say, Opposition Members are willing to approach the matter. We are trying to tempt the Government into using some legislative method other than the steamroller across Welsh public opinion. The only language that we have heard from the Government so far is packing the Standing Committee with Tory placemen who are ignorant of Wales and proud of that ignorance. The way we are going, Wales will soon be renamed as Quangostan. The Government are attempting to take Wales back to the evil days before secret ballots and before elected local government was introduced in 1884. Before that, everything was arranged cosily between the squire, the justices of the peace, the poor law guardians and the school boards, all of whom were relatives of the squire in any case. We reject that vision of disappearing democracy and circumscribed accountability. We want to develop democracy in Wales and take government institutions closer to the people. That is why we shall ask all our colleagues to support us in the Lobby tonight in the vote on the amendment and, if the amendment is defeated, the vote on the main motion.

7.46 pm

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