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Lembit Öpik : The problem here is not the concept of Deputy Ministers or the number of them that a First Minister might want to appoint. The problem is that the Assembly is not big enough to cope with the job that it has been given. The Liberal Democrats have proposed to increase the number of Assembly Members in order to get round the difficulties that we are discussing.

David T.C. Davies: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way so soon. Surely he can see that the job of running Wales, which was previously being done by three Ministers in the Wales Office, is now being done by 60 politicians. How many extra Assembly Members does the hon. Gentleman want?

Lembit Öpik: The hon. Gentleman forgets that, aside from doing the work of three Ministers in the Wales Office, the Assembly has also taken on the various responsibilities that used to be undertaken by the 40 Members of Parliament who now quite rightly observe the delegation of those responsibilities to the Welsh Assembly.

David T.C. Davies: I hesitate to say this to the hon. Gentleman in public, but he is simply not correct. The role that the Assembly plays now is exactly the same as the role that was previously played by the Wales Office. The Wales Office was previously responsible for health, education, transport and so on, and those powers have now transferred to the Welsh Assembly. We went from having three Members of Parliament performing all those functions to having 60 Welsh Assembly Members doing so. I repeat my original question: how many more does the hon. Gentleman want—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Perhaps this is the appropriate moment to remind the House that we are talking about Ministers rather than Members of the Assembly.

Lembit Öpik: I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I set that hare running myself. If I may, I shall just give the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) one sentence in response before getting back to the subject of the amendments. I want to remind him that Welsh Assembly Members have responsibilities that were not formerly held by Ministers in the Wales Office. I shall be happy to discuss this with him outside the Chamber; perhaps he overestimates the amount that Ministers did before the Welsh Assembly was set up.

There are insufficient Assembly Members, so we are now having artificially to protect the Committee structure. In some ways, that is an unavoidable consequence of the size of the Assembly. Furthermore, if the Deputy Ministers operate sometimes as stand-in Ministers and sometimes as Back Benchers, it will achieve exactly what we have tried to avoid, which is to blur the distinction between the Welsh Assembly
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Government and the Welsh Assembly as an institution in itself. Will the Minister explain what firewalls will exist, both psychologically and morally, for someone who can run with the fox and run with the hounds—someone who is occasionally part of the Welsh Assembly Government and who at other times freelances as a Back Bencher?

Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): Is there not more to it than that? Deputy Ministers will be remunerated. Does the hon. Gentleman not share my concern about the fact that what the Welsh Affairs Committee dubbed the payroll vote will account for 20 per cent. of the Assembly? Does he not find that unacceptable?

4.15 pm

Lembit Öpik: In proportional terms it is not very different from what happens here in Westminster, so I am not as concerned as the hon. Gentleman on that score. However, it is rather ridiculous for Deputy Ministers to be paid to be part of the payroll vote, while at the same being allowed to act as Back Benchers. If all those positions are taken up, we shall have an enormous, overbearing, burgeoning administrative, and rather centralist, Welsh Assembly. How can the Minister justify an arrangement that seems to muddy the waters between Back Benchers and payroll, which, as other Members have said, we would simply not tolerate in the House of Commons?

Nick Ainger: I am conscious of your suggestion that we concentrate on the amendments, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I will do so, but I want to say a little about Members' comments on whether there will be enough Assembly Members to scrutinise and hold the Assembly Government to account. I also want to say something about the point made by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) about the role of Deputy Minister.

Welsh Members will know what the Presiding Officer, in particular, has said about what will happen after the enactment of part 3 and, possibly, part 4, and about the need for Assembly Members' roles to take account of the additional work that they will be required to do. The Presiding Officer has said that the Assembly should sit for four days a week rather than two. I think that that will cover the extra work load, and will go a long way towards meeting the understandable concerns of many Members about whether 60 Assembly Members will be able to perform the scrutiny role.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): Will the Minister give way?

Nick Ainger: May I first answer the question raised by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire about the role of Deputy Ministers? I understand his point, especially in the context of the clear split between Executive and legislature. I would expect the definition in Standing Orders to apply to Deputy Ministers, and given that Deputy Ministers will clearly be part of the Executive, I would not expect them to have the same role as an ordinary Back-Bench Assembly Member; but that is a matter for the Standing Orders.

Lembit Öpik: I apologise to the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), who is still waiting to intervene.
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I fear that if what the Minister says is correct, we shall not have enough Assembly Members to fill the Committees. I assumed that the schizophrenic role of Back Bencher-cum-Deputy Minister had been created because that seemed to be the only way of ensuring that the Committee structure was fully stocked with Assembly Members. Is that not the case?

Nick Ainger: Not necessarily. As I have said, if the Assembly sat for four days a week rather than two, that would probably take account of the fact that four additional Members would no longer be available to sit on Committees.

Mrs. Gillan: As the Minister says, discussions have turned on the proposal for the Assembly to sit for four days a week rather than two. What discussions has he had about remuneration for Assembly Members and Ministers? Does he expect their salaries to increase in line with their increased work loads, or to remain the same?

Nick Ainger: Fortunately, that issue is way above my pay grade; it is clearly one for the Senior Salaries Review Body, as is our own remuneration.

David T.C. Davies: The Minister is talking a lot of sense in proposing to increase the time that the Assembly sits from seven hours a week to four full days, but as Assembly Members have repeatedly said, they already work very hard when they are not there. So there is surely no need to increase their remuneration, because they will not be doing extra work; they will simply be spending more time in the Assembly.

Nick Ainger: As I said, this issue is way above my pay grade and I am not going to get involved in any discussion about Assembly Members' salaries.

Let us move on the amendments before us. It is important to the Assembly's effective functioning that there be a limit on the size of the "payroll vote", so clause 51 sets a statutory limit on the size of the    Government within the Assembly. The limit prescribed—a combined total of no more than 12 Welsh Ministers and Deputy Welsh Ministers—is consistent with the current arrangement. It seems to work now and I see no reason why it should not work post-May 2007.

Mr. David Jones: Does the Minister really think it right that, on that basis, 40 per cent. of the Labour party should be on the payroll?

Nick Ainger: The issue is not what percentage of the governing party is in government, but what percentage of the whole Assembly is in government. A considerable percentage of the Labour party is in government in this place, but the issue is the proportion of Parliament that is in government. I shall return to this point in due course.

Currently, there are eight Cabinet Ministers in the Assembly, in addition to the First Minister, and four Deputy Ministers. On comparing that figure with the UK Parliament, it is clear that it is not disproportionate. There are 90 Ministers, including Whips, and
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51 Parliamentary Private Secretaries in the House of Commons—21.8 per cent. of its total membership. Our proposed limit for the Assembly, taken with the First Minister and the Counsel General, represents 23.3 per cent. of total Assembly membership if the Counsel General is also an Assembly Member, or 21.7 per cent. if he or she is not. So the proportion is very similar to that in this place.

In the light of that and of the Presiding Officer's suggestion—it is supported by the First Minister—that the Assembly sit post-May 2007 for considerably longer, there should be no problem with scrutiny. However, it is not necessary to limit the First Minister's discretion concerning the balance of Ministers and Deputy Ministers, as the amendment proposes. Should the Assembly have any concerns about the size of the pay bill, it will have powers over Welsh Ministers' and Deputy Welsh Ministers' salaries by virtue of clause 53. I therefore invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

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