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Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : We are approaching the end of the debate and we are about to see in the Chamber a spectacle that disgraces our democracy. From the four corners of the Palace, from rooms and dining rooms, streams of Members will enter the Chamber to vote and decide on an issue of which they have no knowledge and in which they have no interest. We do not blame them because they are English Members--they are Members who represent English
Mine is not mock, but real indignation. The policy for Bills that affect Wales and only Wales is decided by people who are alien to Wales and have no knowledge about or interest in the subject. Mr. Richards rose
A number of years ago, in the 1980s, I visited Estonia, which was then smaller than Wales. Estonians were saying that they were being run by a nomenklatura of people who could not win elections--by a particular party and its fellow travellers. Estonia is now free, but Wales is still run by an unelected nomenklatura of Conservatives and their fellow travellers. That is no way to run a democracy. There was a debate in the Chamber on 31 January 1881 that continued for 41 hours. My speech will be briefer than that. That debate was significant for a number of reasons. It introduced part of the constitution of the Chamber. Mr. Speaker Brand closed that debate in a way which he had no power to do, but he did so with the collaboration of both Front Benches. The debate went on for those hours because of the collaboration of a group of people from another corner of the British Isles, led by Charles Stewart Parnell. We saw something yesterday in the Chamber which I think was ignored by the press, although it had some historic value. Every non-Tory Member signed a single motion, and we must learn from that. We must stay together in the Chamber. In the first vote in 1979, the anti-Tory vote in Wales was divided and the Tories ruled. They continue to rule because of that vote, and we must not let it happen again. We must realise the value of a union that comes together and sticks together.
Another union of nations is being discussed at the moment. The Government are demanding that if 27 per cent. of the European Union decides to block a motion, it cannot go through. Here we have a nation where 85 per cent. of the representatives are against the Bill, and we are being denied. Where is the democracy in that ? Is not it outrageous that that is the Government's view in the European Union, and that they deny us it here ?
Column 973at the best level--the level at which people have the most knowledge and where representation is most sensitive to the decision-making processes. To the Government, subsidiarity means taking decisions at the level at which they have political control. That is not the case in Europe, because they have only one set of allies in Europe. They have broken away from the European Union and their only allies on the issue of the social chapter are Mr. Le Pen's fascists. Those people are the inheritors of
Mr. Flynn : Because this is a matter of democracy, Madam Deputy Speaker. You interrupted me before I did in fact warm up. The whole process is about democracy. The point of Standing Order No. 86 is to allow every hon. Member elected by the people of Wales to determine Bills that affect Wales, and Wales only. We make no claims to sit on Bills that affect Scotland, Northern Ireland or England. [Interruption.] Most Welsh Members take no part in Bills that specifically affect England, and those are very rare. However, we demand that right for Wales in the name of democracy, justice and common sense.
The hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) is a great advocate of the name Monmouth itself, and he appeals to history in this matter. Yet the hon. Gentleman would like to see the name Gwent disappear from the map. Let us have some historical pedigree. The name of Gwent has existed for 2,000 years. One of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues on the Front Bench, who was born in my constituency and is a former Home Secretary, has described when Christianity came to this country. When St Augustine brought it here, the ancestors of the speakers of anglo-saxon English were howling, pagan barbarians. At the same time in Wales and Ireland, there was a sophisticated Christian religion. I must sit down, Madam Deputy Speaker. We are being asked to accept that a wholly undemocratic system can be imposed upon us. What has happened in Wales is the reverse of what has happened in every country in eastern Europe. Those countries now have their own democracies, and they have people running them who were elected. The Government cannot be elected in Wales and, in imposing Bills that apply to Wales, they deny us the right to sit on Committees relating to them. We do not object to hon. Members representing English constituencies contributing to the debates--of course they can. However, I question whether the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant), who regularly contributes to Welsh questions, is worth denying Welsh Opposition Members the chance to speak. I find myself limited to a few sentences tonight and I must sit down in a moment. The problem is the fatuous ramblings from Conservative Members. We have the psychotic, elephantine venom of the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) and speeches that are intended to waste time. That means that we, the elected representatives of Wales, are denied the opportunity of making the full speeches that we would like to make to the House.
Column 9749.30 pm
Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central) : It is a great honour to be able to speak at the Dispatch Box and represent the Welsh cause. After I have made my speech, I may never get the opportunity again, so I am grateful. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) for giving me such a wonderful warm-up speech.
Standing Order No. 86 has existed for 87 years. For 85 of those years, it has not been the subject of any controversy or debate. Yet this Government in this period of office have, in less than two years, whipped their English Members through the Lobby to overturn the constitutional safeguards for Wales in Standing Order No. 86, not just once or twice ; they are about to do it for the third time in less than two years. They did so on the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill, on the Welsh Language Bill and now on local government reform. What greater testimony can there be to the centralising tendency of the Tory party ?
As other hon. Members have mentioned, the Foreign Secretary is today in Europe. He is portrayed by his party as a champion of devolution. He is ranting against centralising Brussels, but here in London the least devolved of all Europe's democracies wishes to overturn the constitutional safeguards given to the people of Wales in the 1900s, would you please. What audacious hypocrisy that is.
Mr. Roger Evans : While I understand the hon. Gentleman warming to his theme, the comparison with France suggests that we are a very decentralised, locally democratic country compared with the Jacobin republic, which believes in centralised administration. Does not he recognise that a prefect in every commune might be the ultimate Tory threat ?
Why do the Government, alone in Europe, feel so insecure that they deny the right of their constituent peoples to make any independent decision, even on when and where they can use their own language, while simultaneously jealously guarding their veto on collective action taken in Brussels ? Even the Secretary of State must acknowledge that there is a certain degree of schizophrenia in that action.
Standing Order No.86 would give all 38 Welsh Members the right to scrutinise and debate the Local Government (Wales) Bill in Committee. The Bill will change historic boundaries and institutions of long standing. In yesterday's debate, the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason)--who made a useful speech--made much of the need to find the right balance between efficient delivery of service and the strength of local community and tradition. Hon. Members on both sides of the House agree about the importance of achieving and establishing that balance.
The assessment of how to deliver efficient services is a contentious matter on which the Secretary of State will have no shortage of professional advice. Local knowledge is useful, but not, I contend, essential. But how are we to assess the second part of the equation--the strength of local community and tradition to which the hon. Member for Bromsgrove referred-- if not by debate with local representatives ?
Column 975The Government will allow no more than 19 Welsh Members to serve on the Committee. Only 13 of the 32 Welsh Opposition Members who signed yesterday's amendment will have the opportunity to debate the Bill in detail in Committee. Only Tory Welsh Members will have an automatic right to represent their constituents. We are all affected : there should be no first and second-class constituencies in Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), who was supported by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) and by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), suggested that the Government could get out of their difficulties by agreeing to debate important parts of the Bill--clause 1 and schedule 1--on the Floor of the House. My hon. Friend offered the Government a way out of their problems.
The hon. Members for Clwyd North-West (Mr. Richards) and for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) tried to explain that Opposition Members were somehow ineligible for the Standing Committee because of their Front-Bench responsibilities. I am grateful to the hon. Members for their concern. They clearly propose that the Government's decision to abandon Standing Order No. 86 is an attempt to aid the Opposition, to avoid causing us embarrassment. I can tell the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West that I have been inundated by pleas from my Front-Bench colleagues to serve on the Committee, and there is no rule to prevent them from doing so.
They are my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) who is our spokesman on education ; our law and order spokesman, if I can call him that, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) ; certainly my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) and many others. I shall not mention them all. They are united in demanding their right to sit on the Committee, but I cannot provide all of them with the right to do that so I am afraid most of them will be disappointed.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) and the hon. Member for Caernarfon said, those who will sit on the Committee will be English Members whom we believe have no interest in local government in Wales. Time will tell, but we have had recent experience of the Welsh Language Bill. Nine English Members were parachuted into that Bill and an examination of the proceedings shows that between them they managed to contribute no more and no fewer than 41 words in the entire debate.
No fewer than 19 Opposition Members managed with considerable difficulty to take part in yesterday's debate, but many of them will not be allowed to represent the strength of their communities when the Bill is examined in detail. Of course the hon. Members for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney), for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) and for Brecon and Radnor will be able to represent their communities, as will the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West in his own inimitable style. They will represent their communities
Column 976whether they want to or not, but most Opposition Members will be excluded and, as a result, their communities will be denied the advocacy of their elected Members.
My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney has reason to congratulate the Government on some of the decisions that they took yesterday, but what about my hon. Friends the Members for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) and for Rhondda and for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) ? They have important issues that they want to raise in detail in Committee, but they will be excluded. I tell Conservative Members what my hon. Friends know : the strength of community feeling in Merthyr is no less than that in the Rhondda or in Cynon Valley or Taff Ely. As a Rhondda boy, I speak with some feeling about the strength of community feeling there. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend wishes to represent the strength of community feeling that remains in Bridgend. He has done so today and he did so briefly yesterday, but he should have the opportunity to debate the matter when the Committee meets before the Easter recess.
Reading the debate on 15 April 1907, following which Standing Order No. 86 was instituted, I was struck by the similar arguments being used then, as now, and, by and large, by the same political parties, although my own political party was a rather minor part of that Parliament. Then, as now, the Conservatives--calling themselves the Unionist party--were not too well represented in Wales. Indeed, in the 1906 election they did not succeed in electing a single Welsh Tory. If today's Tories continue to treat Welsh sentiments with such disregard, they could soon find themselves repeating that 1906 result.
During that debate, the Conservative Member for Gravesend, Sir Gilbert Parker, remarked :
"Behind the proposals of the Prime Minister"
then Sir Campbell-Bannerman
"was a process of devolution . . . intended to lead up to the larger policy".
Some 87 years later, the people of Wales are still waiting for that. It has been a long time coming but we will get there, and quite soon now.
Sir Gilbert Parker went on to make another statement which has loud echoes today :
"Presently they would have from the Nationalist Benches" meaning the Irish
"a proposal to establish an Irish Standing Committee."--[ Official Report , 15 April 1907 ; Vol. 172, c. 674.]
What an irony.
Only last week, the Government set up an Irish Select Committee. Perhaps if devolution had been extended 87 years ago to the people of Ireland, the history of these British islands in the 20th century would have been somewhat different and less bloody.
While talking of Ireland, may I take the opportunity of thanking the Irish Unionist Members who walked through the Lobby with us last night ? I certainly shall not forget their support.
The Government maintain that the Standing Committee must reflect the composition of the House, yet they are perfectly happy to set up Select Committees--such as the one dealing with Northern Ireland--which are clearly anything but representative of the House of Commons. If the Government argue that Select Committees are an entirely different matter and that only Standing Committees need reflect that balance, why do we have the prospect of eight or nine English Tories being parachuted into the Committee but no Ulster Unionists ? Given the way that they voted last night, most Opposition Members
Column 977would have more confidence in the interest and sympathy of Unionist Members than some bored, disinterested whipped Staffordshire Member who is reading his mail.
Labour is prepared, though reluctantly, to concede to the Government a majority on the Committee if the Government will allow all Welsh Members the right to take part. Our amendment would allow the Government to place 25 whipped and loyal foot soldiers on the Committee. That guarantees a Government majority, when the Minister has done his mathematics properly, yet enables the arguments to be made for all of Wales. How could we possibly be more accommodating than that ?
Mr. Jones : I am surprised at the Minister's difficulty in learning from what has occurred already. One of those Welsh Opposition Members will, of course, be the Chairman. I was a Whip on the Welsh Language Bill Committee when a poor job was done by my opposite number and two Conservative Members went AWOL. Nevertheless, the Chairman voted with the Government, as all Chairmen have to do, and so succeeded in stopping an Opposition amendment.
Rejecting our offer is a calculated insult to the people of Wales ; calculated because the Government have no realistic ambition of gaining seats in Wales and, with so few at present, they are not unduly concerned at sacrificing what remains. Local government reform in England, especially in the south-east of England, will be treated in an altogether different fashion, with far more concern about the strength of feeling, about the views of elected Members and, above all, about the number of seats that they may lose.
The six Welsh Tories today are in a difficult position. Let us have some sympathy for them. They know that they have their seats on a short lease. Their electors expect them to speak for Wales, but their party expects them to ignore Wales. What should they do ? Welsh interests, they recite, are safeguarded here in a London Parliament. Yet they would tear up or set aside the rules of the House in order to secure advantage for their own party.
Welsh Conservative Members say that there is no need for devolution, no need for a parliament or assembly in Wales. Any other conclusion, as the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor was saying to me the other day, would set us on a slippery slope with full independence and the end of the Union at the bottom. Those so-called Unionists have so little faith in the Union and so little faith in the historic and economic ties that bind the United Kingdom for better or for worse. This fragile flower, they believe, cannot allow the independence of action in Wales to determine whether we dam our own rivers, would you please, or whether we can draw up local government boundaries, or when and whether we can speak our own tongue.
There comes a time when decisions like those and others will be taken not here in London but in Wales where they should be taken. If the Government succeed tonight in overturning the Standing Order, it will only bring forward
Column 978the day when such decisions will no longer be taken here. I urge the House to accept the Opposition's amendment and to reject the Government's motion.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Gwilym Jones) : Last night, we had a symbolic wind-up of the Local Government (Wales) Bill when two former councillors concluded the debate. Tonight, two former members of Cardiff city council have concluded the debate on how we should handle the Bill's Committee stage. I should congratulate the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) on his appearance at the Dispatch Box this evening, although my congratulations must be full of sympathy for him. I feel sure that he will make a better fist of trying to handle the Welsh portfolio than the exhausted dinosaurs sitting alongside him who are now burnt out.
I must take the hon. Gentleman to task. He sought to accuse my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary of ranting today about Europe. What a monstrous charge. Clearly, it was the hon. Gentleman who was trying to rant, but he was completely out-ranted by that representative of the Welsh republican movement, the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn).
I fear that there is one other hon. Member whom I must take to task this evening for his contribution--my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans). I have to reject what he said in that he was unkind about Opposition Members when he accused them of mock outrage, mock protest and mock indignation. He should know that what we heard from the Opposition Benches this evening was a traditional debate on Welsh affairs. We had the full depth of intellect and sincerity that they always bring to these matters. I want to make up for that with my hon. Friend, because I am grateful. We heard a scholarly legal discourse matching, even surpassing, that of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile), in considering exactly the Standing Order that we are supposed to be debating this evening but which many hon. Members did not choose to debate. That is what we must be concerned about.
My hon. Friend returned to the high point of debate that had been established by my right hon. Friend the Minister when he opened the debate. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his ringing endorsement of the motion.
The debate for the Opposition was opened by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan). In his typically gentle and thoughtful way, he suggested that we should not alter the rules. He sought to concede that, naturally, the Government would want to maintain their majority on any Committee examining a Bill. He then trotted out the most dubious of figures, which even he had to admit he could not understand, and said that there would be 63 members on the Committee, or, if he had got it wrong, 64. We were almost into a bingo caller's evening--"Any advance on 64 ?"
Mr. Morgan : The Under-Secretary has changed his speaking style in this debate. He is trying to sound as though he is Wynford Vaughan Thomas describing the battle of Britain from the back seat of a Spitfire. We much preferred his old masonic lodge, retirement do, avuncular manner. What I actually said was that, in the almost inconceivable circumstance that I was wrong, the Government had a solution. I am not wrong. The Minister
Column 979of State is not claiming that I am wrong, so why is the Under-Secretary taking so much trouble to accept that the figure of 63 gives the Minister the Government majority that he so urgently seeks ? Am I wrong, or am I not wrong ?
Mr. Jones : That question was answered most succinctly by my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans), who nailed the hon. Gentleman's point and said that he had come out once again with "Aberpergau" mathematics--his own peculiar breed of mathematics that only he could come out with. The hon. Gentleman tried to give us his personal interpretation of Standing Order No. 86(2)(ii).
Mr. Morgan : The Under-Secretary says that it is my personal interpretation. I assure him that it comes from the authorities of the House. Has he checked with the authorities of the House--as I did before I spoke--the mathematics that would mean that 63 would give the Government a majority if the Chairman were an Opposition Member ?
Mr. Evans : Quite simply, if one takes 32 from 63--the number of non -Conservative Members of the House--that leaves 31. If one of those 31 is the Chairman of the Committee, that leaves 30 for the Government, does it not ? That is quite simple mathematics that anyone can do. If the hon. Gentleman had stopped to think, he could have checked the mathematics before he had anything to do with the amendment.
I refer now to the personal interpretation that the hon. Gentleman offered about Standing Order No. 86(2)(ii). I suppose that I had better reassure the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery that I have read the Standing Order again this evening, and clearly my right hon. Friend the Minister of State has read it. Indeed, I am reading from his copy of it.
Most amazingly, the hon. Member for Cardiff, West sought to accuse the rationale behind what we propose as gerrymandering, dragging out the same old arguments again. I was almost expecting to hear him claim that we changed our minds and are now going in for separate unitary authorities for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney and for Blaenau Gwent because we believe that that is the simple step towards winning those constituencies at a general election.
It was with a sense of nostalgia that I listened to the hon. Member for Cardiff, West--not that he made his usual speech. I looked back to Hansard of 9 June, which reports that I moved the suspension of Standing Orders to deal with the Bill that is now the Cardiff Bay Barrage Act 1993. I found, amazingly, that the hon. Gentleman had engaged in an old ploy, and waved the old school tie at me. "We boys from Whitchurch grammar must stick together!" That was his cause for intervening on my speech--a tactic which he has used more than once. I do not know whether I have ever thanked the hon. Gentleman for using the old school tie in that way. In fact, he is not the only hon. Member with whom I share an old school tie ; I also share one with the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field).
Once, when I was speaking from this Dispatch Box, I found that I was running out of material and that my speech was likely to finish early. My Whip told me that, whatever I did, I must carry on speaking until 7 pm. Suddenly, I saw a lifebelt in the Chamber--the hon.
Column 980Member for Cardiff, West was trying to intervene. When the hon. Gentleman gets going, a Minister has minutes, even hours, to fill out his speech.
But I must not confine my remarks to the hon. Member for Cardiff, West. I want to sum up, properly, all the important questions that have been raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) referred to the basic criteria on which Opposition Members might serve on the Committee, or might not think it appropriate to do so. He listed 12 Opposition Members who--because of Front-Bench responsibilities, or for other reasons--might be considered ineligible, or consider themselves ineligible. He went on to discourse very knowledgeably on hon. Members' contributions in regard to local government, and local government reorganisation.
Mr. Michael : Does the Minister accept that his hon. Friend was entirely wrong ? Opposition Members represent their constituencies first. That is why we want to sit on the Committee--even those of us with Front- Bench responsibilities.
Mr. Jones : No, I do not accept that my hon. Friend was entirely wrong. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I mean to adduce from tonight's debate confirmation from his hon. Friends that my hon. Friend made an appropriate contribution!
The hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) acknowledged the criteria advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West--I think because he recognised that he had been identified as being to the fore on the Opposition Benches in taking an interest in local government matters. The concept was expanded by the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central, who suggested in an intervention that membership of a local authority would be an appropriate criterion--another form of selection to contribute to a debate begun by my hon. Friend. The question of eligibility was further enhanced by the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams). His view was that English Members would not say enough in Committee. I find it difficult to reply to anything else that the hon. Gentleman said, as the rest of his speech rehearsed arguments about the Bill. That is not the context of tonight's debate. I am afraid, however, that his suggestion that English Members should not sit on the Committee because they would not say enough suggested to me the truism about empty vessels. My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor explored further the apparent hostility to English Members, citing last night's speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) and for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan). His view--which has been echoed by others--was that they had made valuable, worthwhile contributions ; another instance is the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe) to our debate on the Welsh Language Bill. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor made a meaningful point when he pondered the philosophical question whether the balance of contributions might not have much more to do with the absence of depth of the amendments tabled by Opposition Members in Committee.
The House would do well to reflect on the hostility frequently displayed by Opposition Members towards Members representing English constituencies. Such hostility can sink as low as calling "Taff" in order to heckle
Column 981non-Welsh Members who wish to speak during Welsh Question Time. It certainly betrays an arrogance that is completely unentitled and most inappropriate to our debate.
I can at least contrast such hostility with the contribution of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, who sought to debate the Standing Order. He asked whether we would be introducing new proposals to change it and in the same way that my hon. Friend It being Ten o'clock, Madam Speaker-- put the Question, pursuant to Order [11 March], That the amendment be made :
The House divided : Ayes 271, Noes 318.
Division No. 168] [10 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Mrs Irene
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret
Beith, Rt Hon A. J.
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, Andrew F.
Berry, Dr. Roger
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Corston, Ms Jean
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Donohoe, Brian H.
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Ms Angela
Evans, John (St Helens N)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Don (Bath)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Godman, Dr Norman A.
Golding, Mrs Llin
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Harman, Ms Harriet
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy