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Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Not for much longer.

Dr. Marek: Where are the Conservative party's other five Welsh Members, even if, as my hon. Friend says, it will probably not have them for much longer? Are even they against the Government's proposed changes? Are they treating the debate with disdain by being absent? What is the explanation for their absence? At the moment, the matter is completely beyond me. Of course Conservative Members know that there is a desire in the Principality for more decisions to be taken there instead of foreign politics and foreign decisions being inflicted on us by people who have no interest whatever in the Principality.

I met the Secretary of State and he knew nothing much about Wales. He has at least taken an interest in it, but only of course during the past six or nine months. That is no substitute for living in the place and knowing it. If one knows a place, one is likely to make better decisions as a result.

Will the changes allow any decisions to be made by the Welsh Grand Committee that it would not have been able to make before? The answer is, of course, no. We know that the Welsh Grand Committee cannot make any decisions.

Mr. Wigley: It is a talking shop.

Dr. Marek: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The Committee is a talking shop, and if the Secretary of State's proposals go through, it will still be a talking shop. The changes will not make any difference.

Although I would like to catch your eye in the main debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to make it clear that I am profoundly disappointed in this short debate on the business motion. I am not surprised by it, however, because the Tory party does not represent the people of Wales and does not have much regard for them. The motion is merely some cosmetic tissue through which the Government hope they will hoodwink people.

I am sure that not only the Labour party but the Liberal Democrats and the Welsh nationalists will ensure that any such deception is uncovered quickly and that the people of Wales will vote for the party that will return decision making--certainly on local matters, if not on others--to where it rightfully belongs at the next election. There should be subsidiarity down as far as possible--in this case, to the people of Wales, the Principality, the regions and local authorities.

11 Mar 1996 : Column 691

6.32 pm

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney): The Leader of the House should explain, especially to the Opposition, what happened after the Welsh parliamentary party meeting. The Welsh parliamentary party is a very curious animal. It is defunct for years at a time. It very rarely meets, but is suddenly activated--we activate it.I have been tracing the history of its meetings.

The Welsh parliamentary party met in the mid-1930s when there was an economic crisis, to try to gain some degree of consensus and present a united voice on the economic plight in south Wales to Whitehall and Westminster. It came up with some very interesting and unanimous suggestions. It again met during the war, in 1944, to recommend to the War Cabinet the appointment of a Secretary of State for Wales to promote the reconstruction of post-war Wales. It also met once or twice in the 1950s and 1960s to bring to the attention of Ministers the consensual approach to various political activities. [Hon. Members: "Ah!"] The right hon. Member for Conwy (Sir W. Roberts), who has just walked into the Chamber, is a living embodiment of consensual politics.

Sir Wyn Roberts (Conwy) rose--

Mr. Rowlands: I should like to continue making my point.

The Welsh parliamentary party has therefore just occasionally played a functional role in presenting a case to Ministers. At its recent meeting, a virtually unanimous opinion emerged that we should debate matters first in the Welsh Grand Committee. Given that consensus and the curious function that the parliamentary party plays every once in a while in Welsh-Westminster politics, it is extraordinary that its view should have been not just disregarded but, given the Secretary of State's statement to the media, disregarded within half an hour.

Although we will soon have a chance to debate the orders, I should tell the Secretary of State that we all remember his original statement. I certainly got the impression from it that he was generally open-minded about the shape, character and nature of the revamped Welsh Grand Committee. He invited consultation, and that was the whole tenor of the statement. When some of us wrote to him suggesting variations--I will not raise my suggestion because I have tabled an amendment on it--we received appalling answers. It was quite clear from the two-line replies that the Government had no intention of taking on board interesting variations on the original theme. Indeed, the motions on the Order Paper are exactly the ones that the Government first thought of.

It makes matters worse when one considers that Whitehall and the Government agreed to do something about the Scottish and Welsh Grand Committees.There has not been any real consultation on the proposals. There is not a shred of evidence that any meaningful point made by any Back Bencher--in an individual, not a partisan, fashion--has been incorporated in the measures.

The Leader of the House must realise the extent of the resentment felt and why the business timetable motion must be opposed. He should tell us what happened after the Welsh parliamentary party meeting and why no meaningful alterations have been made to the orders as a result of hon. Members' representations.

11 Mar 1996 : Column 692

6.37 pm

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): I was also at the Welsh parliamentary party meeting, and at its conclusion I thought that the Secretary of State had taken on board some of the points that were made. He left the room saying that the meeting had been helpful, useful and businesslike. That was the kind of language that he used. Within half an hour he had obviously gone back on everything that he had said, including, "I shall consider further the points that you have made to me."

For all his faults--and they are legion--the Secretary of State's predecessor, the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), would have at least said straight away whether he was with or against us.The Secretary of State handled the meeting with rather unclever deceit. We are not children; we know what is going on in politics, and we are rather taken aback at his attitude. The people of Wales will not be treated like children.

All of a sudden there is an indecent haste to try to do something about the Welsh Grand Committee, which has taken the same form for a long time. Many of us have argued about its form over the years. Apparently, nothing was to happen to it. Then, suddenly, experiments in Scotland were put in train.

There has been a mobile press conference in Scotland, attended by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Prime Minister and others. I hope that the Secretary of State does not think that by rushing the motion through with almost indecent haste and not even allowing a modicum of proper, reasoned discussion--such discussion was evident at the Welsh parliamentary party meeting--he can steamroller us into a similar format to Scotland. That will not do. I understand why the Government want it.They are not very welcome in Wales at present and there is no other way of getting the Prime Minister and other Ministers into various parts of Wales without this particular platform.

I must make it clear to the Secretary of State that we are serious about the purposes of the Welsh Grand Committee. We are here to represent the people of Wales; he is not. He made plain his disdain for the people of Wales in the manner that he insulted those representing them.

There are two fundamental points that should be included in the Standing Orders, but I shall confine myself to one of them--the question of dealing with specifically Welsh legislation. Over the past couple of years, on at least two occasions I have had the bitter experience of being in Standing Committee with hon. Members from the other side of the border who have voted down our amendments. I have respect for each and every one of them, but they knew nothing about the argument; they simply signed their correspondence and voted against every amendment. I had the bitter experience of losing one amendment on the casting vote of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). I found it rather galling that the people of Wales should be deprived of the right to Welsh jury trials by the vote of a Member representing a Cheshire constituency. It is not good enough.

Today, we have an appropriate vehicle to amend the Standing Orders and bring them up to current standards. The Government's proposals will do nothing other than exacerbate an already bad position.

11 Mar 1996 : Column 693

6.41 pm

Mr. David Hanson (Delyn): I worry greatly about the motion. I genuinely want to know from the Leader of the House why there is such undue haste to discuss the matter. I have several reasons for wanting to know that. First--and this is not meant to be a party political point--the Conservative party in Wales starts from a position of fundamental weakness; it has just six Members of Parliament. The last time my local authority went to the polls, only three Conservatives were elected. The Conservative party does not have the support of the people of Wales for the policies that it is carrying out in Wales.

We can argue until the cows come home about the benefits of the United Kingdom Parliament and the position of English Members of Parliament voting on Welsh issues and vice versa. The point is that the Conservative party in Wales does not have the moral authority to impose its policies on the people of Wales. Whenever it has gone to the polls, it has been beaten--in general elections, Euro-elections and local elections. Therefore, it is incumbent on the Government, when they consider the development of the Welsh Grand Committee, to take with them those who represent Welsh constituencies. I say that not because of some ethereal, far-distant notion, but because we represent the people of Wales. We have been sent to this House to argue the case for the people of Wales and we have a majority in doing so. Whatever the Government think, at the end of the day they do not have a majority of Welsh votes or seats at local, national or European level. Therefore, our majority and moral authority are important and appropriate consultation is important.

It would have been appropriate for the Welsh Grand Committee to discuss these issues prior to their coming before the House. Any amendments tabled by my hon. Friends and others will be voted on and defeated, possibly by the votes of Members of Parliament representing seats in England and Scotland. It is important that there is consultation if we are to have a Welsh Grand Committee that is meaningful, that challenges the Executive, that can discuss and reflect Welsh opinion and that actually has an important role, irrespective of our wish in the long term for an Assembly or, in some cases, a Parliament.

I am worried because the Government do not seem able even to let the Welsh Grand Committee discuss its own future and establishment--so what use will it be in discussing the big issues that affect our constituents, such as value added tax, local government spending, democracy, quangos, trusts and housing, education and national health service policies? If the Government will not even let it decide how it is set up and how it arranges its discussions, what is the point of hon. Members going to the Committee to argue matters? We shall know that ultimately the Government are not interested in what the Committee says and does.

It is important that the Leader of the House and the Secretary of State reconsider the motion and whether to proceed with it. The Government should take Opposition Members with them on the motion. That is important for democracy and for moral authority. It is also important for ensuring that the Welsh Grand Committee works and is effective. The trust will be broken if the Government force through the motion tonight without further discussion.

11 Mar 1996 : Column 694


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