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Lembit Öpik: This string of amendments is about political balance and how the Assembly Commission will be set up. I look forward to hearing what other Members with amendments in this string have to say in defence of their ideas, but I believe that we have a lot in common in what we are trying to achieve.
As far as I can see, nothing in the Bill as drafted guarantees such cross-party representation, so I hope that the Government will accept the amendment, which is fairly uncontroversial. It would simply add to clause 27 the phrase
In other words, we are trying to ensure cross-party representation on the commission, and I hope that the Minister can assure us that the Government will accept the amendment. I really cannot see for the life of me how they could find it controversial.
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"The members of any committee established by the Assembly under section 28(1) shall be elected by the Assembly from among the Assembly members, and . . . shall, unless that committee exists solely to provide advice, be elected so as to secure that, as far as is practicable, the balance of the parties in the Assembly is reflected in the membership of the committee."
"The committees established by the Assembly under section 28(1) shall be, as far as is practicable, chaired by members of political parties in proportion to the number of members of the Assembly belonging to each party."
As I said earlier, other amendments allude to similar issues, but here we are seeking to ensure a fair balance of representation in the Assembly. When the Assembly was set up some years ago, we were assured that it would constitute a new kind of politics. Well, in order to ensure that, it is also necessary to ensure a cross-party kind of politics. We have spent a lot of time discussing the various proportions within the Assembly and Members' concerns about how Assembly Members are elected. Here is a chance for the Government to be consistent and to show that they really do embrace the concept of democracy that was so lauded in an earlier debate.
If the Government intend to refuse to accept Amendment No. 31, they need to assure us that proper cross-party representation will none the less be genuinely enshrined within the Assembly's structures. I do not want to pre-empt the Minister's comments, but I hope that he will allow me to intervene if he tries to argue that the import of amendment No. 31 is already covered elsewhere in the Bill. I do not believe that it is, and I shall be rather concerned if he neither accepts the amendment nor can actually point to a specific part of the Bill in which its import already exists.
David Mundell: I wish to state our broad support for amendment No. 30, which is in the name of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) and his colleagues. We believe that it makes sense for the membership of the Assembly Commission to reflect the range of parties represented in the Assembly. In speaking to amendments Nos. 14 and 3 and new clause 8, I want also to express sympathy with amendment No. 31, tabled by the Liberal Democrats, which aims to achieve a similar outcome.
Our purpose in proposing to replace clause 29 with new clause 8 is straightforward. Unlike the Government, we want to ensure the greatest possible degree of inclusiveness and sharing of responsibility in the Assembly Committee system. As the Bill makes clear, the Committee system will continue to play a very important role in the Assembly's work by holding the Assembly Government and individual Ministers properly to account. However, under the Bill as drafted, the first place on each Committee will go to members of the largest political grouping in the Assembly, which is currently the Labour party. So as matters stand, in addition to having a Labour Assembly Government, the first place on each Committee will go to a Labour Assembly Member. Likewise, if the Conservative party became the largest party in the Assembly and formed
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the Government, it would have first place on the Committees. We are not making a partisan pointwe believe that that arrangement gives an inbuilt and unfair advantage to one party.
The Committees should be representative of the Assembly as a whole. Instead of the complicated system set out in clause 29, we propose a simple formula that would ensure that, in appointing members to Committees and Sub-Committees, regard be had to the balance of political parties in the Assembly. It is worth noting that part 2 of the Bill contains a series of clauses relating to the Welsh Assembly Government under the heading
We believe that the Committees should operate on the same principle and should be properly inclusive. Indeed, we feel so strongly about this issue that we will press the amendment to a vote, should the Minister not respond to our satisfaction.
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