Previous SectionIndexHome Page

David Mundell: I am disappointed by the Minister's response to a reasonable suggestion. Earlier in our consideration of the Bill we were told that it was designed to set the framework for a generation, so it would have been worth taking the opportunity to add a
28 Feb 2006 : Column 136
much clearer definition of the roles of our devolved institutions within the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) made a valid point. One of the great challenges of the devolved arrangements is the attempt, particularly under Labour stewardship, to tie in the institution with the Government, and to channel towards the institution any form of public dissatisfaction with the Government. With respect to public services, it is not necessarily the Scottish Executive or the Welsh Assembly that is not delivering, but the Administrations within those institutions, and we need to work further—

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman explain why the Labour Welsh Assembly Government introduced the distinction between the Welsh Assembly Government and the National Assembly for Wales?

David Mundell: The Labour Welsh Assembly Government had to take a degree of responsibility for their actions. Both the Scottish and Welsh institutions are governed by majority decisions, rather than by communal decisions of the entire body. The Welsh Affairs Committee has recognised that the addition of the word "Executive" would provide the new UK devolved settlement with a degree of coherence, so the Minister's argument is unsatisfactory. I will not divide the House on this issue.

Lembit Öpik: The hon. Gentleman was right to table the amendment. The point made by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), who has unfortunately left the Chamber—no doubt he was blown away by the force of the hon. Gentleman's argument—underlines how important it is that we never again get into a situation in which an entire institution carries the blame for the errors of the Government of the day.

David Mundell: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. If the Minister had been willing to accept the amendment, common sense would have prevailed. Sadly, that is not the case, but I am glad that we have had the opportunity to put the issue on the record.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 51

Limit on number of ministers

David Mundell: I beg to move amendment No. 10, in page 30, line 25, leave out clause 51.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 6—Limit on number of Ministers (No. 2)—

'(1)   Not more than eight persons are to hold the office of Welsh Minister appointed under section 48 at any time.

(2)   Not more than three person are to hold the office of Deputy Welsh Minister at any time.'.

David Mundell: The amendment and the new clause are designed to engender a debate about the appropriate number of Ministers in the Welsh Assembly Government and the difference between full Ministers
28 Feb 2006 : Column 137
and Deputy Ministers. We also need to consider how many Assembly Members are not members of the Welsh Assembly Government. If the Assembly contains 12 Ministers, the First Minister and Presiding Officers, then the number of Members available to carry out non-governmental functions in the Assembly is reduced. We must be confident that the number of Members who do not hold Government office is sufficient to scrutinise the work of the Assembly Government.

No such limit was stipulated in the Scotland Act 1998, and it is clear from experience in Scotland that following the arrival of an institution the number of Ministers can grow exponentially. Scotland had five Ministers under the Conservative Government, but it now has 22 Ministers performing the same functions—at a significantly greater cost.

4 pm

Irrespective of whether one argues in favour of devolution, it cannot be argued that more people doing the same thing is a successful form of it. We must instead focus on whether the proposed number of Ministers is appropriate in light of the value that they bring to the role and the ability of the Assembly's Committees to function satisfactorily. The ability of Committees to function with a number of non-governmental or Presiding Officer Members would leave in the mid-40s the number of Members who are available for Committee work. The provision does not differentiate the role of Minister from that of Deputy Minister, so we could end up with 12 fully paid Ministers.

Throughout the debate, there has been inconsistency about what should be in the Assembly's Standing Orders and what should be in the Bill. We must be clear about whether the Assembly should determine through its own procedures how many Ministers it has. If we are going to determine the number, we must ensure that the ministerial cohort is effective. There is no point in having 12 Ministers simply because the Bill says that there can be that number.

We also need to clarify whether the proposed arrangements are thought of purely in the context of part 3 arrangements. If part 4 arrangements were to come into being, would the number stay the same or need to be revised?

In Committee, there was considerable debate about an amendment that the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) tabled and how many Assembly Members were needed to make the Assembly function more effectively, especially in the context of the part 4 powers. Although the amendment was not successful, it is important to focus on the right number of Members for an effective Assembly Chamber.

The Government have already changed their minds about the Scottish Parliament. In the Scotland Act, the Government's initial policy was to link the number of Members of the Scottish Parliament directly with that of Westminster Members of Parliament representing Scotland. I fear that the Government's guiding principle in constitutional matters—expediency—prevailed and the link was broken. The Scottish Parliament will continue to have 129 Members, who no longer relate to the constituencies of Scottish Members of this House.
28 Feb 2006 : Column 138
At least that decision led to the Arbuthnott report, about which we have heard much, and has been useful for the debate on the Bill. Indeed, the Arbuthnott report has been discussed more here, in the context of the measure, than in the Scottish Parliament or by the Secretary of State for Scotland.

A difficult position has been created whereby there is no link between Members of Parliament and Members of the Scottish Parliament. That problem would clearly arise in the Welsh Assembly if there were to be more Assembly Members. It is therefore especially interesting, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) said, that Labour Members appear to be completely unwilling to discuss appropriate numbers, should the part 4 provisions come into force.

It is appropriate to encourage debate on the appropriate number of Assembly Members to allow the Assembly to function with a Government of the size that the Government propose or in accordance with our amendment. I hope that our amendments will facilitate the debate.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon): We welcome the definition for Deputy Ministers—it is a fair step forward. I agree with the hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell) about Committees. We must take care—I believe that the Government in Cardiff will take care—that there are enough Back Benchers to ensure sufficient numbers on Committees. The number of Assembly Members imposes its own limit, given that there are only 60.

We do not want to fetter the First Minister in the way in which he—or even she—might want to appoint Ministers.

The Record of Proceedings for the Assembly's Committee that considered the Bill shows that the Tories in Cardiff tabled an amendment, which would have provided:

Perhaps the hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale could explain the reason for that change.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): I should like to speak in support of the amendment. As a Member of the Welsh Assembly, I was quite perturbed when the Labour Administration announced that they were creating a new post of Deputy Minister. Such people would appear to want to have their cake and eat it, because in addition to standing in and answering questions for Ministers who are away, they will be able to put on their Back-Bench hat and start asking questions themselves. That would not happen in this Chamber. I have also noticed that, as well as claiming to be Ministers in their own right, they will be able to sit on Committees as Back-Bench Assembly Members.

There is a great deal of confusion about the constitutional role of a Deputy Minister, and it has even been suggested that the position is simply a means for the Labour party to shore up a bit of support on its Back Benches by handing out a bauble that some people might find enough to assure their loyalty. Of course, I
28 Feb 2006 : Column 139
would never suggest such a thing, but I support the call of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell) for clarity on the constitutional role of a Deputy Minister and for a firm upper limit on the numbers involved, so that the posts cannot simply be handed out as a way of shoring up Back-Bench support for the Administration.

Next Section IndexHome Page