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The thrust of the argument from Opposition Members is that they wish to represent and speak for their constituencies in the Standing Committee. I find that interesting. I propose to develop their argument for a few moments. I have just come out of the Standing Committee that is considering the Coal Industry Bill. I noticed that the sole representative on the Opposition Benches from the south Wales coalfield was the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain). That surprised me because, coming from south Wales, I am fully aware that in a bygone era the coalfield fuelled an empire. Its socialism was championed by the likes of Aneurin Bevan and Jim Griffiths. So I wondered why the hon. Member for Neath was the sole representative from the south Wales coalfield.
When I asked the hon. Member for Neath why he was the only south Wales Member on that Committee--I am coming to the key point, Mr. Deputy Speaker- -the reason that I was given was that other hon. Members who represent the south Wales coalfield were Opposition spokesmen. They had other duties and could not be selected for that Standing Committee.
I should like to develop the argument by assessing how many Opposition Members would be eligible to serve on the Standing Committee. I shall start with the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) who is the Opposition spokesman on foreign affairs.
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely we must concentrate on the Standing Order and not have another repeat of a psychotic litany of hatred from the hon. Gentleman ?
Mr. Ron Davies : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As I understand it, the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) is suggesting that some of my hon. Friends would not be eligible to sit on a Standing Committee. Surely the only question that arises about eligibility is whether hon. Members are elected. As we are all elected, by definition we all must be eligible. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman is out of order in suggesting that we are ineligible.
Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) : The hon. Gentleman seeks to mislead the House in relation to the Coal Industry Bill. My reply is quite specific. Not only are other valley Members Front-Bench spokesmen for the Labour party but they are on Select Committees. That is why it was difficult, if not impossible, for them to be members of the Committee examining the Coal Industry Bill. The hon. Gentleman should at least repeat my remark in its full context and give the full explanation rather than mislead the House as he does on every occasion.
Mr. Richards : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for clarifying that. Now that he has drawn it to my attention I hope to add to the list of Opposition Members who are spokesmen for their party. As I have said, the hon. Member for Rhondda is the Labour party spokesman on foreign affairs. The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) is a spokesman on national heritage and the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) is a spokesman for education. The right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) is the Opposition's legal adviser, and the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) is a spokesman, as is the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells).
Mr. Michael : The hon. Gentleman points to the wealth of talent on the Labour Benches by mentioning those who speak on England and Wales issues. It is nice of him to advertise that fact to the House, but surely he accepts that that would not prevent any one of us whom he has just named --and he mentioned me--from being a member of the Committee within the rules of the House.
Mr. Richards : Perhaps I could continue, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) is the Opposition spokesman on office accommodation. I congratulate the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) on his recent appointment as Opposition spokesman on agriculture. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) for his intervention because it brings me to the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes), who is the Chairman of the Welsh Grand Committee. The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell) is Chairman of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, and the right hon.
Column 950Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) is a noted member of the Public Accounts Committee. We must not forget the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) who has now found his niche as a disc jockey.
I have listed some 12 Opposition Members who, according to the reason that I was given in the Committee examining the Coal Industry Bill, might not be eligible or might not wish to be eligible for the Standing Committee to champion the cause of their constituencies. I looked to see how much interest Opposition Members have shown in local government affairs since the last general election. There are interesting data. I obtained from the Library the aggregate number of questions on local government from the general election last year until 9 February this year.
Top of the list is the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth. In joint second place are the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) and, surprise, surprise, myself. Other hon. Members have asked five to eight questions, but the thrust of the Opposition's argument is that they wish to champion the cause of their constituencies in the Standing Committee. Let us look at a question asked by the hon. Member for Bridgend in order to champion his constituency. On 29 April last year, the hon. Gentleman asked the following question [Interruption.] This is pertinent, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Mr. Ron Davies : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman's remarks have nothing to do with the debate on Standing Order No.86. He is engaging in his favourite pastime of launching personal, vindictive attacks on Opposition Members. I contend that his remarks are quite out of order and have nothing to do with the amendment or the motion.
"what are the distances between (a) Wick, (b) St. Bride's Major, (c) Ewenny and (d) Coychurch and (e) Bridgend".--[ Official Report , 29 April 1993 ; Vol.223, c. 517 .]
As the hon. Gentleman is the Member for Bridgend, I should have thought that he would know how far local villages are from his constituency.
Mr. Win Griffiths : If the hon. Gentleman were able to read Hansard properly he would know that my question was about distances from those communities to Bridgend and was in the context of the distance from Barry. The purpose was to show how much closer they are to Bridgend than to Barry. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would give us the full story and not a twisted half story.
Bearing in mind that the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) wishes to champion the cause of his constituency in the Standing Committee, he asked the Secretary of State :
"what information he has received on the resolution passed at the European Assembly of the Regions bureau meeting in Hungary on 30 April regarding his White Paper, Local Government in Wales'"-- [ Official Report , 18 May 1993 ; Vol.225, c. 135 .]
Those are the sort of questions that Opposition Members have been asking. Sadly for them, most of them have not shown any interest whatever in local government in Wales
Column 951since April last year. Since then, six of them have asked only one question on local government in Wales. Five of my hon. Friends from England have also asked one question each, almost as many as the number asked by Opposition Members. Three Welsh Opposition Members have asked no questions at all about local government in Wales. Those are the people who tell us that they want to be on the Standing Committee to champion the cause of their constituencies. Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen) rose
Mr. Alan W. Williams How many questions in total on local government in Wales have the 10 Conservative Members who are to be brought in from England to sit on this Committee tabled since the last election ?
Mr. Richards : I am not familiar with who will be on the Standing Committee, but by the time I come to the end of my speech I shall have shown that my hon. Friends from England will be just as welcome on that Committee as Opposition Members because they have taken as much interest in local government in Wales as Opposition Members. I shall move on to see how many speeches Opposition Members have made on local government reform. I appreciate that Opposition Members will argue that they cannot all speak in the debates as they serve on the Welsh Grand Committee and so on. I shall aggregate them to see how many there are. The hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) is near the top of the list as is the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes). To try to demonstrate interest in Welsh local government I said to myself, "What would be reasonable for Welsh Members to ask to show an interest in local government since the general election ? Should it be one question or two, one debate or two ?" I decided that the criteria would be maybe one question, maybe two ; maybe one debate, maybe two. If they scored three--either two questions and one debate or vice versa--that would be reasonable.
I went through the list of 15 people that I had left after chucking out the first 12. I found that the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger) scored one question but no debates, so he is out. The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) scored one question and one debate, so he is out. The hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) scored one question and no debates, so he is out. The hon. Member for Neath scored one question and one debate ; goodbye to him. The hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) scored one question and one debate. The right hon. Member for Swansea, West scored no questions and no debates ; the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) scored no questions and no debates and the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) scored no questions and no debates.
By the time I had taken out those who failed to score on that simple table, the only ones left were the hon. Members for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), for Cardiff, West, for Caerphilly, for Alyn and Deeside, for Delyn and for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands). In my view,
Column 952only six Labour Members would be eligible to sit on the Standing Committee--they would be equal in number to the Conservative Members.
Mr. David Hanson (Delyn) : I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am interested in what he has said and I am pleased to be one of the six that he has mentioned. I sat through the Committee considering the Welsh Language Bill with the hon. Gentleman and I cannot recall a single word uttered by a single Conservative Member representing an English seat. Does that affect his list ? Do the same criteria apply to every other issue in which hon. Members take part ? What are needed are their votes ; not their contributions or ideas, but solely their votes.
Mr. Richards : My hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Cranbourne (Mr. Coe) spoke very well on that Bill. I recall the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) complimenting my hon. Friend on his speech in the House.
We should take the six hon. Members who passed the test and allow the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central to join them for organisational reasons, along with obviously the four members of Plaid Cymru and the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile).
Mr. Jon Owen Jones : I thank the hon. Gentleman for paying me the compliment of allowing me to sit on the Committee and for acknowledging me for my organisational skills, if nothing else. The hon. Gentleman is making the point that those who table insufficient questions to satisfy his idea of what is eligible should not be able to sit on Committee because they have not shown sufficient interest in local government in Wales. Does not my service for six years as a councillor in Cardiff entitle me to some acceptance for my knowledge of local government in Wales ? Does not the fact that I was chairman of economic development in Cardiff four years entitle me to recognition of some knowledge of local government in Wales ? How does that stand with the English Members to be parachuted in who know nothing about local government in Wales ?
Mr. Richards : The hon. Gentleman misses the point completely. Opposition Members are burning to get into the Standing Committee to represent their constituents, but they have been burning so much that they have not shown it since the general election.
Mr. Sweeney : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Does he agree that the fact that 15 Opposition Members representing Wales are missing from the Chamber at this very moment demonstrates the fierce enthusiasm of Opposition Members to participate in the Committee ?
Mr. Richards : I have now aggregated 12 Opposition Members who by certain criteria would be eligible, but even by the criteria that hon. Member for Cardiff, Central has set before me, at least seven of my hon. Friends have asked as many questions about Welsh local government as have Opposition Members. If we were to include those seven Conservative Members, we would have 13 on the Committee and the Opposition would have 12, but I reflect on what my right hon. Friend said in that we must have a minimum of 16.
Column 953Jones) that six years service in local government in Wales is a demonstrable criterion for being a member of the Committee, in those circumstances, would not my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) qualify as a member of the Committee as he was a distinguished member of West Glamorgan county council ?
Mr. Richards : The truth about the Opposition, the reason why Opposition Members are dying to get on to the Committee to champion the cause of their constituencies is that they do not have confidence in the hon. Member for Caerphilly to represent their interests on that Standing Committee. He could not even secure half their votes in the election for the shadow Cabinet. That is the truth, that is the sham, that is the agenda of the Opposition. They are exposed for the sham that they are.
Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen) : I support the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) calling for the Committee to have 63 members. Despite the arithmetic of the Minister, that number would still give the Government a majority. I listened with some interest to the comments of the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards).
Mr. Flynn : I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend, but he will recall that many hon. Members were criticised for not asking enough questions. It is a rare treat for me or for my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) to be criticised for not asking enough parliamentary questions, when we have asked more parliamentary questions in several Sessions than not only any Welsh Member but any hon. Member. Does he not realise that we ask questions to seek information and the fact that some of us have asked very few questions demonstrates that we already have a wealth of information and knowledge ?
Mr. Williams : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that comment. There is an enormous amount of experience of local government among Opposition Members. I am quite embarrassed at just how many of my colleagues have been in local government.
As regards the membership of the Committee, earlier this evening I had a word with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) to press my claim to be on the Committee. He pointed out his embarrassment about my part of the world. I defer to my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger), who feels that, in view of his county council experience, he should have first claim to represent Dyfed. My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) is also keen to be on the Committee, and so am I.
We all have legitimate territorial claims. Carmarthen has its own interest as capital of Dyfed and it is likely to lose many jobs in the reorganisation. Llanelli has a different industrial character and my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli wants to reflect that in the Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke, with his recent
Column 954and detailed experience and responsibilities on Dyfed county council, also has a claim. The embarrassment of riches is among those on the Opposition Benches, and I may lose my place on the Committee when I really want to be there. I shall not go into detail, but there is a real problem in that we have dozens of people who are very keen to be on the Committee.
Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South-West) : I am one of those who would like to be on the Committee. I have a specific problem in my constituency in that the town of Llangollen should be included in the unitary authority of Wrexham and I shall not be able to make that point in Committee. I should also like to make another point which my hon. Friend might like to convey to the Government statisticians. The Committee considering the Welsh Language Bill, which was set up in a similar way to this, had nine English Members who were eligible to speak. Only one of them spoke and his contribution consisted of only 41 words, which shows just how ridiculous it is to have English Members drafted in on Welsh legislation.
Mr. Williams : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments. We have very much in mind his distinguished background on Clwyd county council before he became a Member of Parliament. What he says about the participation of Conservative Members during the Committee stage of every Bill is true. They sit there simply for the votes, contributing nothing to the debate, and I fear that that will be the case again on this Bill.
I was present for the opening and closing speeches of yesterday's six-hour debate on the Bill and I was astounded that the first Back-Bench Member to be called was the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason). I could not put a name to the hon. Gentleman. I have never heard him speak in the House before and certainly not on Welsh affairs.
Later in the evening we had a contribution from the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan). What is his experience of local authorities ? His main credential is that he knows well the right-to-buy policy--the right for someone else to buy so that he can buy back at a knock-down price. That is no recommendation to be on the Committee.
The hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) excluded Welsh Members one by one, but the converse of what he said is true. Of the 15 Conservative Members that the Government intend to place on the Committee, 10 come from outside Wales and know nothing about local government in Wales and our problems.
Mr. Hain : While my hon. Friend is drawing attention to those facts, will he also remind the House that on Second Reading last night, of the Conservative Members who voted against the united position of the opposing parties in Wales 30 are Conservative Members who wish to defy the Government on English local government reform ? They will try to overturn the Government because they want to protect the old counties. I should like to know whether any of those hon. Members are likely to find themselves on the Committee considering Welsh reorganisation. They are happy to go through the Lobby for the Government on the Floor of the House, but I bet that the Government will not dare to put them on the Committee. They will put on that Committee other toadies who will toe their line.
Mr. Jonathan Evans : I want to return to the hon. Gentleman's uncharacteristically churlish remarks about my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) whom he suggested knows little about local government in Wales. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is not aware that in fact my hon. Friend is a former leader of the Association of District Councils. He has wide experience and is widely respected. He made a thoughtful, analytical speech which was well received, even by Opposition Members.
Mr. Williams : His experience could have been in the United States or in any part of any country. His speech was that of an academic. It was of interest, obviously, but only in the sense that a speech made by any professor of local government or any chair of any local authority association in Europe would be. In contrast, each of the 38 Members who represents Wales has, by definition, a direct territorial interest in being on the Committee.
In preparing my speech for this debate I was reminded of some of the comments made by the former Secretary of State for Wales, the right hon. Member for Wirral, West (Mr. Hunt), in the Welsh Grand Committee in Cardiff a year ago. In his introductory remarks he talked about the role of that Welsh Grand Committee and envisaged a larger role for it in Welsh affairs. Implicit in his remarks was the fact that that Committee was the proper forum for legislation concerning only Wales, such as last year's Welsh Language Bill and now the Local Government (Wales) Bill.
Our main criticism of the Bill is that no assembly is proposed. There is to be no accountable, elected, democratic regional tier of government. Support for that assembly is growing all the time. It reached a ratio of 2 :1 in an opinion poll a week ago. Had the Labour party won the last election we might already have introduced legislation for that assembly. In our programme we had in mind setting up the assembly first and giving it the job of reorganising Welsh local government so that only Welsh people would be in charge of our reorganisation. That makes the point that only people with experience of, and who live in, Wales should be involved in such legislation because they know what is best for Wales.
Under the Government's proposal, the Committee will have 15 Conservative Members and 13 from Opposition parties. I understand, unofficially, that the Committee will have 11 Labour Members. I have already referred to the fact that I want to be on the Committee, as do my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli and, very properly, my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke, but there is not room for all of us.
The Bill proposes to re-establish Carmarthenshire as a unitary authority. I am happy with that. It is the right unit in terms of size and history. It is an identifiable unit. It is viable and it is the fourth largest in Wales. Even though there are differences between Carmarthen and Llanelli-- Llanelli has an industrial tradition while Carmarthen is
Column 956more rural--there is a gradation across the Gwendraeth and Amman valleys between them. Llanelli borough council and the town in particular have grave reservations, misgivings--opposition even--to Carmarthenshire. There is a strong body of feeling in Llanelli that it should have its own unitary authority. I should like to be a member of the Committee with my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli so that he can present some of those points and I can respond to them, and perhaps reassure my right hon. Friend and his constituents that their doubts can be ameliorated.
Another point that I would wish to make as a member of the Committee concerns the number of councillors who will be serving on the unitary authorities throughout Wales. There is to be a cut from 2,000 councillors on the district and county councils to 1,250. We see a growth in quangos, but a cut in a number of elected councils. Specifically, in Carmarthenshire, we will have 82 where there are now 140. I am concerned because a recent Welsh Office document showed that, of those 82, 33 are allocated to Llanelli, 29 to Carmarthen and 20 to Dinefwr. They have not been allocated in accordance with the electorates. I cannot understand why the average electorate per councillor in Carmarthen will be 1,525, in Dinefwr will be 1,550 and in Llanelli will be 1,820. Members of Llanelli borough council have already made their feelings known about being denied three councillors. They have a legitimate grievance there. I should like to like to elaborate and develop that point in the Committee. The Secretary of State said yesterday that he had an open mind about area committees for some parts of Wales, but that the unitary authority would devolve part of its powers in the Powys pudding model to local area committees. It is clear from questions to the Secretary of State from my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) and my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) that he does not have a clear mind about what he means by the area committees. It struck me from his phraseology and from the way that he presented his argument yesterday that there was a do-it- yourself devolution within each unitary authority, and that could lead to chaos.
This afternoon, I was reading some of the comments made last night by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli. He put it very well when he talked about the powers of community councils, town councils and now the odd idea of area committees. In a sense, in town councils such as Llanelli borough council, Carmarthen community council and all the other town councils throughout Wales, one has a ready-made structure of area committees. I should like to be on the Committee to hear some of the detailed arguments and what the Secretary of State has in mind or what he is hoping will turn up in the arguments on area committees.
My understanding is that there is a danger that the Bill could result in great erosion of the functions of local government. We know that the Government do not believe in local government and want to reduce it to enabling bodies. We in the Opposition parties believe passionately--I know that Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats do, as well as the Labour party- -in local government. We believe that as many powers that can be devolved to local government should be. Finally, I mention the constituency element in my disappointment that all Welsh Members cannot serve on the Standing Committee. Carmarthen is an old, historical
Column 957town. Because it is on the estuary of the largest river in Wales, it has its own unique geographical importance. It is no surprise then that it is the capital of Dyfed. Dyfed is too large. I support the idea of going back to Cardiganshire, Pembrokeshire and
Carmarthenshire, but it is a fact of life that many of the jobs associated with Dyfed county council--for example, the headquarters for all its main services--are in Carmarthen and there will be quite a substantial job loss for Carmarthen and neighbouring areas as a result of the Bill.
I am disappointed that, because all Welsh Members cannot be on the Standing Committee, I shall not be able properly to represent my constituents. It is sad for democracy, for the people of Wales and for our constituents that the Government have chosen, through the motion, to abandon Standing Order No. 86. It would have been much more proper if we had had a Committee of those 63 Members so that all my colleagues representing Welsh constituencies would have had a platform to put their views.
Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor) : It seems to me that the debate turns substantially on our interpretation of Standing Order No. 86. I heard the intervention made by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister. He said that Standing Order No. 86 sets out the number of people who can serve on Standing Committees. But we also have the proviso in relation to Welsh Members. Thereafter, it is an argument of semantics. Clearly, we are involved in an issue of balance ; the balance being that the Opposition think it appropriate and right that we should aim to take the Bill into a Standing Committee that will be composed of 63 or 64 members.
We shall put aside the "Aberpergau" arithmetic of the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) for these purposes, but he did at least concede that perhaps he would have to move the numbers up from 63 to 64 to ensure a Government majority. Be that as it may, he is talking about having a Committee of that size. That is the fundamental aspect of the matter, because it surely must be recognised, even as the Standing Order itself recognises, that the Standing Committee must reflect the balance of the House. Therefore, there must clearly be a majority for the governing party. Let me deal with some of the things that we have heard during the debate. Sadly, we have heard yet again the hostility towards hon. Members representing English constituencies that seems to pervade so many hon. Members on the Opposition Benches. As one who recognises the great worth to Wales of being an integral part of the United Kingdom, I am greatly saddened to hear that misplaced hostility so often from Welsh Members and, may I say remarkably, less often from the nationalist Members than from Labour Members. We have heard it not only in relation to the debate on local government reorganisation but, sadly, on many occasions. For example when any hon. Member representing an English constituency rises in his place in Welsh Question Time, we hear complaints to the Speaker about such Members making any contribution at all.
Column 958I make it clear that, as a Member representing a part of Wales, which is within the United Kingdom, I very much value the interest in Welsh issues that is shown by English Members. I recognise the fact that the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) welcomed such interest. I remember his remarks to my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe), who spoke in the debate on the Welsh Language Bill. He spoke with an independence of spirit about the situation in Cornwall and how he equated that situation with Wales, and gave us some caveats about the situation in Cornwall reflected on the situation in Wales. Therefore, the thrust of what I say is that contributions can be made by English Members on issues that apply to Wales.
Mr. Wigley : What the hon. Gentleman has just said encapsulates the difficulty that we have with the Standing Committee, bearing in mind what happened with the Welsh Language Bill. The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe) made a valuable contribution to the Second Reading debate. But the reality in Committee was that, with the exception of one hon. Member who opened his mouth once, none of the Members from English constituencies made any contribution whatever. That is why we feel that whereas there are Members from Wales who can make a contribution and are being denied the opportunity to do so, hon. Members representing English constituencies are put on just for party political reasons and do not have any contribution to make.
Mr. Evans : That may well be a reflection on the quality of the amendments that were being proposed by the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. Certainly, an interest in those issues and a perception of them was clearly shown in the example that I gave and in the contributions made only yesterday by my hon. Friends the Members for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) and for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan).
Mr. Evans : If I may finish this point, I will happily give way to the hon. Gentleman. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton made an important point, which those of us who represent rural constituencies in Wales recognised had a reflection in his constituency. The deliberate attempts that were made by the hon. Member for Newport, East
Mr. Evans : Newport, West. I apologise unreservedly to the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes). The hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) endeavoured to prevent my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton from making that important contribution, which we in rural Wales very much valued. That was a travesty of democracy. If the hon. Member for Newport, West wishes to intervene, I am happy to give way to him.
Mr. Flynn : The alleged attempt to stop that hon. Member from speaking was a brief, one-sentence intervention, which he allowed me, and in which I invited him to tell us about his personal experience of buying council houses.
Column 959Accusations have been made about the conduct of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), which he has failed to answer before the House in spite of invitations to do so. I think that the matter concerns all hon. Members : when such accusations are made, hon. Members should be prepared to answer them in the House.
Mr. Evans : The hon. Gentleman's disadvantage lies in the fact that I was present for yesterday's debate, and heard both his intervention and his subsequent sedentary remarks. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) had to plead for a hearing for my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton, which is a reflection on the conduct of the hon. Member for Newport, West.
All those examples show that English Members can make worthwhile and important contributions, drawn from their experience, which are relevant to us in Wales. It is nonsense to pretend that those contributions are in some way less valuable because they come from English Members.
Sir Wyn Roberts : Are not Opposition Members being disingenuous ? I remember serving on Standing Committees when Labour was in office ; I assure my hon. Friend that Labour Members were silent then. Silence is golden as far as Government Whips are concerned.
Mr. Evans : I do not know whether this is the right occasion for me to make a confession to my right hon. Friend, but my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) and I have just finished serving on the Standing Committee considering the Criminal Justice Bill, where we broke substantially with precedent by speaking for more than half the allotted time. No doubt a penance awaits us at the hands of the Whips.
The protestations that we have heard from Opposition Members sit ill with their own conduct during the debate. I note that at least 10 Labour Members have not been present ; yet the thrust of the Opposition's case is that it is a constitutional outrage that they are not to be given seats on the Standing Committee.
That point also relates to the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Minister. It cannot be said that the suspension of the relevant aspect of Standing Order No 86 has only ever been suggested by Conservative Governments ; it has previously been suggested by Labour.
Mr. Evans : I heard that excuse from a sedentary position. As far as I recall from my reading of the events involved, the Standing Order was revoked on that occasion because a number of Labour Members had Front-Bench responsibilities elsewhere. My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) drew strongly on that point, and the protestations that we heard from Labour Members during his speech need to be seen in the context of the submission of the Labour party, when in government, that the Standing Order should be set aside. Let me say to my right hon. Friend the Minister that, for the reasons that I have given, this is always a question of balance. It would clearly be difficult, in the circumstances, to proceed with a Committee composed of more than 60 members. I urge my right hon. Friend to proceed with the course on which he is embarked : many of the protestations that we have heard from Opposition Members are plainly ill founded.
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Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery) : I do not wish to speak of outrage or gerrymandering ; I want to talk about the Standing Order, and to raise a number of what I hope will be seen as serious issues. I do not even want to criticise English Members who may contribute to our deliberations on the Bill. I agree with the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) that two of them--the hon. Members for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) and for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason)--made valuable contributions last night, with which I agreed wholeheartedly. Both showed ample qualifications--I use the word advisedly--for service on the Standing Committee. I hope that the Government will recognise that both those qualifications and their interest in the matter should lead to their selection--subject, of course, to the views of the Committee of Selection--rather than the introduction of Members who would sit there silently, acting as lobby fodder. I am sure that it would be valuable for the Committee to hear more contributions from the hon. Members for Bromsgrove and for Rutland and Melton, especially on the subject of the potential for success of small rural local authorities.
Why do we have Standing Order No 86 ? Let me say, with great respect, that in opening the debate the Minister of State displayed a lack of understanding of the Standing Order. To be fair, and to issue a short plea in mitigation for the right hon. Gentleman, I suspect that he has not read the entire Standing Order for about 25 years--I think I see him nodding gently in assent--and certainly not in the past 25 hours, since his return from his pleasant trip to Catalonia. In an intervention, I asked the Minister why he thought Standing Order No 86 had been introduced. I think that, in the context of this debate, the House is entitled to a head-on, direct answer to that question in the winding-up speech. Why was the Standing Order introduced, and why did it make special provision for Wales- -special provision with which I shall deal in a moment ?
It is my view, at least, that the Standing Order was introduced because it was thought desirable, in debates on Bills relating exclusively to Wales, for all Welsh Members to express their views in detailed consideration of such Bills--perhaps because of the fervour with which, for centuries, they have expressed such views. Let me draw attention specifically to paragraph (2)(ii) of the Standing Order. May I ask whichever Minister winds up the debate to reconsider a statement made by the Minister of State in his opening speech ? He seemed to be saying that he understood it to be a basic requirement that there should be not more than 50 and not fewer than 16 Members on a Standing Committee. Perhaps he should take advice. If he rereads the Standing Order, he will realise that the words "Provided that", just before paragraph (2)(i), are extremely important, and have an overriding effect.
Surely the basic requirement of the Standing Order, in regard to Wales, is that all Welsh Members should serve on a Standing Committee considering a public Bill--and this is a public Bill--relating exclusively to Wales. It is interesting to note that a specific distinction is drawn between Wales and Scotland. In relation to Wales, the requirement is for "all Members" to serve ; in relation to Scotland, it is for
"not fewer than sixteen Members representing Scottish constituencies."