HC Deb 09 June 1992 vol 209 cc250-75 10.21 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Gwilym Jones)

I beg to move, That, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 86 (Nomination of standing committees), any Standing Committee appointed for the consideration of the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill shall consist of twenty Members, including not fewer than twelve Members sitting for constituencies in Wales.

Inevitably, this is a narrow debate. It is not about the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill. It is about the consideration of the Bill, for the motion is purely procedural. As Standing Order No. 86 is referred to in the motion, it may be helpful to give a brief outline of its main requirements.

With certain exceptions, Standing Order No. 86 requires that the Committee of Selection shall nominate not fewer than sixteen nor more than fifty Members to serve on each standing committee for the consideration of each bill". It requires the Committee of Selection to have regard to the qualifications of those Members nominated and to the composition of the House". There is a further proviso which states: for the consideration of any public bill relating exclusively to Wales, the committee shall be so constituted as to include all Members sitting for constituencies in Wales.

There is clearly an inconsistency in the Standing Order. There cannot be a Standing Committee which reflects the composition of the House, is limited to 50 members and is made up of the Members for all constituencies in Wales. A Committee meeting all those requirements has not been constituted for some considerable time, irrespective of the party in power. Hon. Members will be interested to know that the Welsh Language Act 1967, the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975, the Development of Rural Wales Act 1976, the Conwy Tunnel (Supplementary Powers) Act 1983 and the Caldey Island Act 1990 all had Standing Committee membership other than as specified in Standing Order No. 86.

In turn, none of the motions to set up the membership of those Standing Committees, which were similar to the one that we are considering this evening, was opposed. I suspect that the only reason why the Standing Order has not been amended is the relative infrequency of legislation that relates exclusively to Wales.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

The Minister has quoted precedents to the House. When did a private Bill last become a public Bill?

Mr. Jones

We are dealing with the motion before the House. Proceedings on the Bill have gone on for a long time. I should be out of order if I strayed into considering the Bill itself. Many of us feel that the Bill has been more debated than anything else. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that we confine ourselves to the procedural motion.

The Government are doing what has often been done before by tabling the motion.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister is misleading the House.

Madam Speaker

Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will retract what he has just said and rephrase his comments.

Mr. Rogers

The Minister is inadvertently misleading the House.

Madam Speaker

Order. It is perfectly all right to use the word inadvertently.

Mr. Rogers

He is inadvertently misleading the House. The Bill has never been discussed, as it is a new Government Bill which has been introduced to replace a private Bill. The Minister is correct in saying that the issues have been discussed fairly well, but the Bill is new.

Madam Speaker

That does not seem to be a point of order for me. This is a technical motion relating to a Standing Order.

Mr. Jones

By tabling the motion, the Government are merely doing what has often been done before.

The motion will allow the Committee of Selection to nominate a Standing Committee on the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill which reflects the composition of the House and ensures substantial representation by Members with Welsh constituencies. Of course, it remains for the House to decide what it will do on future occasions.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

The Minister has quoted several precedents. Will he confirm that there is an important difference between them and the situation that we face tonight? In the precedents that he quoted, a Labour Government altered the order to facilitate the position for a Conservative Opposition. Tonight, a Conservative Government are disadvantaging the Labour Opposition.

Mr. Jones

No, I think that the right hon. Gentleman will find that that is not correct. If he refers back to all the examples from 1967 to the present, he will find that those in 1983 and 1990 were under a Conservative Government. I also remind the right hon. Gentleman that none of the motions involved in setting up the Committee stages in those examples was opposed.

I commend the motion to the House.

10.26 pm
Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen)

In April 1907, the then President of the Board of Education, and my direct predecessor as Member for Torfaen, Mr. Reginald McKenna, spoke in the House on behalf of the Government and in support of Standing Order No. 86, which the Government, in their arrogance, are proposing to abandon. The House believed 85 years ago—and made that belief resolute by a Division—that Welsh Members should have the same rights and privileges as their Scottish counterparts when dealing with exclusively Welsh legislation. All those years ago Members believed that that argument was right, and we do not believe that it has changed with the passage of time.

It is ironic that only last week the Scottish Grand Committee dealt with the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Bill, as a move for a greater say by Scottish Members of Parliament in dealing with Scottish legislation.

I believe that the rule has served the test of time. The Minister said that the Standing Order has been set aside on a number of occasions. It was set aside on two occasions under a Labour Government: in June 1975, for the Welsh Development Agency Bill; and in July 1976, for the Development of Rural Wales Bill.

However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) said, the circumstances then were different. They were completely separate. The move was not challenged. The Welsh Development Agency Bill and the Development of Rural Wales Bill were supported by both sides of the House and both the bodies involved are today regarded as successful agencies by the Government. There was never any question of the Government having to bring in extra troop reinforcements from England to get the legislation through. Wales then, as now, produced more Labour Members than Members of any other party, and there was a Labour Government. Also, the proportion of Welsh Members on the Committees was different from the proportion proposed today. Today, the Government are proposing that, out of 20 members of the Committee, only 12 should be from Welsh constituencies, but in the two cases that I have quoted, 14 out of 16 were Members of Parliament, at a time when many Welsh Members were Ministers in a Labour Government. The comparison is not a good one, and the House should be looking at these matters in a different way.

The Government accept the wider membership of Committees when it suits them. Only two weeks ago, the House dealt with all stages of the Non-Domestic Rating Bill on the Floor of the House. Two years ago, two days were set aside so that what was then the Development Board for Rural Wales Bill could be dealt with by all hon. Members.

I agree with the Minister about one thing. The debate is not whether we are for or against the plan for the Cardiff bay barrage. It is about the principle of changing the Standing Order. However, many of us believe that it is essential that membership of the Committee that scrutinises the details of the Bill is as wide as possible, and includes all Welsh Members of Parliament. That is for one reason, and the reason that makes this example different from those that the Minister gave. It is that the Bill has aroused great controversy among those on both sides of the argument. It is proper that those involved in the debates on the Bill should be able properly to scrutinise its details.

The Bill deals not with any old town but with the capital city of Wales, any inevitably that is of great interest to all Welsh Members. It has serious implications for the environment of the Cardiff bay area, as the Minister, who represents part of Cardiff, knows only too well himself. It is of great interest also to many Welsh Members who do not represent Cardiff, but who have a deep interest in environmental matters. It must be of interest to us all because of the tens of millions of pounds that will be spent out of the public purse on Cardiff bay. If that money is to be spent, the very nature of the spending needs to be scrutinised by all Welsh Members of Parliament.

The reality is that the Government want a small Committee because they are not sure of victory in that forum. The official record of the debate 85 years ago shows that the then Conservative Member of Parliament for Ashford put quite well the case for the Minister today. He said: The Members for Wales were generally of the opposite way of thinking to the Unionist Party"— that is, the Conservative party, and things have not changed too much— and it would be impossible for a Unionist Government to entrust legislation to Grand Committees … because no Government would consent to send legislation to Committees on which they were in a minority."—[Official Report, 15 April 1907; Vol. 172, c. 671-720.] That is why the Government wish to change the Standing Order—simply because they cannot guarantee success. Are the Government so unsure of the benefits to the bay? Are they so uncertain of the merits of the Bill that they cannot trust Welsh Members of Parliament to scrutinise the proposals? After all, that is what they are doing. The Second Reading debate, which judged the principles of the Bill, has long since gone. The Committee will deal. with safeguards, protections and details, so all Welsh Members should be allowed to take part in the proceedings.

I am glad to see the Secretary of State present because during and before the general election, when he attacked the principle of the Welsh Assembly and devolution, he always said that one of the reasons why it was unnecessary to have a Welsh Assembly in Cardiff was that the procedures and the institutions of the House of Commons were such that they safeguarded the interests of Welsh people. He said that there was nothing better than Welsh Question Time, the setting up of the Welsh Grand Committee and the Welsh day debate. Yet, tonight, the Government want to take away one of the most important parts of the procedure that deals with Welsh business, which has been established for nearly a century. At the same time, however, the Government have conceded that Members representing Scotland should be allowed to deal with local matters in their way. We should be allowed to do the same.

Many of us feel great dismay and unease about the erosion of the democratic process in Wales. By the time of the next election, Wales will have been subjected to two decades of unwanted Tory rule, but in election after election—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to say that he was quite clear about the meaning of the motion, but he now seems to be straying from it. Will he now address his remarks to the motion?

Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

On a point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that you will reflect carefully upon this debate, because it is no more than a gerrymander. The Tories cannot get their way with the current procedures, so they are changing them—gerrymandering them—to get their way. I think that the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) were right and in order.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his contribution, but he is challenging the Chair. If he wishes to catch my eye, I do not imagine that he will continue on that theme.

Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that, on reflection, you will understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) was not challenging your ruling in any way. I am also sure that my hon. Friend would not regard your latter comment as a threat. It is important to point out that the motion that we accepted at 10 pm allows for the debate to continue until the business is finished. There is no discretion resting in the Chair as to whether my hon. Friend speaks in the debate. I ask you to reflect carefully on your recent comments.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has been in the House for about as long as me. He knows full well that many hon. Members wish to speak tonight. They all have to catch my eye and I must use my judgment. I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his earlier comment and I take it in the spirit in which it was made.

Mr. Murphy

The Government want to change the Standing Order and the nature of the way in which Welsh business is dealt with in the Chamber. Many of us believe that that is part of a general process by which the Welsh people have been deprived of their democratic rights. It is important that the proposed change is seen in the wider context of Welsh democracy.

In the next few months the Secretary of State will make great changes to local government in Wales with the result that we shall have fewer elected representatives than we have ever had. We must couple those changes and the motive behind tonight's debate with the fact that many non-elected public bodies in Wales are stuffed with the Secretary of State's placemen. Is it any wonder that Wales is fast becoming the least democratic nation in western Europe?

The Government have the power to impose their will on the House and the Welsh people, but they certainly do not have the right.

10.38 pm
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

The motion is totally unacceptable to everyone in Wales who has any feeling for democracy in our country.

The Cardiff barrage is an eminently local issue. First and foremost, it deals with Cardiff, but it has implications for all of Wales because it has implications for the budget of the Welsh Office. Hon. Members representing all parts of Wales have the right to contribute to the arguments that must be pursued when the issue is dealt with in detail. The way in which we deal with Welsh legislation here, under Conservative Governments who have been in power for the last 13 years and who will run for at least another five, shows that it is not possible for us to achieve decisions in line with the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the people of Wales.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)

The hon. Gentleman refers to the Conservatives being in power for at least another five years. Is his arithmetic right?

Mr. Wigley

We do not know what the outcome will be at the next general election. Perhaps I should have said that the present Government have a maximum of five years, although one does not know how the rules will be changed— [Interruption.] We can only imagine the course that the Government will pursue, considering that they are willing to change the rules in the respect we are discussing tonight, by which they are taking away rights that Welsh hon. Members have had since the beginning of this century.

It is not possible for Wales to expect democracy from this institution by virtue of the procedures that are being followed by the Government in this instance. It is not possible, within the institutions of the House of Commons or, for that matter, of the House of Lords— [interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker


Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Hon. Members must resume their seats when I am standing. May we have a little more hush so that we can hear what the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) is saying?

Mr. Wigley

Clearly, we are all enjoying it, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Rogers

The hon. Gentleman says that he has no faith in this House. Does he have more faith in the House of Lords, now that it is occupied by, among others, Lord Trawsfynydd B?

Mr. Wigley

When I think of the long row of former Labour Members, ex-Labour candidates and ex-Labour local government leaders in Wales who are in another place, I begin to wonder. Decisions that must be taken at central Government level, especially when legislation is involved, should be taken in line with the wishes of the people of Wales. To the extent that we do not have an all-Wales elected body in which such decisions can be taken, they must be taken through hon. Members here.

There are 38 constituencies in Wales. The Government returned after the last election with six Welsh seats, compared with eight at the 1987 election. Six out of 38 apparently gives them a mandate to rule. What we are seeing with tonight's proposal is the same sort of direction as we see in the context of the Welsh Grand Committee when we debate other issues. That Committee, which handles legislation of this sort when it is passed to it, cannot take any meaningful decisions. We can only report back that we have considered, say, health, education or housing in Wales.

We are not allowed to take a decision because in that body there is, of necessity, a majority of hon. Members who represent parties other than the Government. For the past 120 years we have witnessed in the political body of Wales a situation in which there has never been a majority of Conservative MPs. In some elections, not one Conservative Member has been returned. The 1905 election was a case in point, when Wales was overwhelmingly Liberal. Keir Hardie was then the first Labour Member.

Although there has never been a majority of Conservatives, for two thirds of that time we have been governed by Conservative Governments who have had no mandate from Wales and who have been totally out of line with the social and economic aspirations of the people of Wales.

We may have to suffer that as the price of being part of the United Kingdom. But for local decisions that do not affect any other part of the nation, why is it not possible for us to have a modicum of democracy so that the Welsh people can take decisions in line with the views of their elected representatives in this House? If it is not possible for the House to live with that small degree of rights for the people of Wales, is that not a reflection of the bankruptcy of this system of government in affording any sort of democracy to the people of Wales?

Although the message may not come home in this Government's term of office because they insist on their majority in the United Kingdom, sooner or later the message will come home that the only way for the people of Wales to take decisions on this and other issues that go further, in line with their values and aspirations, will be when we have our own state answerable to the Welsh people and our own Parliament in Cardiff and are not ruled by Conservative Governments in London.

10.45 pm
Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing your eye to catch me seeking to contribute to the debate!

Sitting on the Government Benches is the Under-Secretary of State, who scraped by in the last general election with a majority of a few thousand; next to him is the Minister of State, who got 30 per cent. of the vote—two people voted against him for every person who voted for him; and, on his left-hand side is the Secretary of State for Wales, who does not even represent a seat in the Principality. That sums up the state of the Conservative party today.

Mr. David Hanson (Delyn)

Does my hon. Friend agree that 23 Opposition Members elected in Wales, but only two Conservative Members from Wales, are in the Chamber? The Conservative party cannot even muster its four Back Benchers from Wales into the Chamber, yet the 23 Welsh Opposition Members who are interested in this matter are here. Where are the Conservatives?

Dr. Marek

My hon. Friend is right. It is amazing that Conservative Members with seats in Wales are not here, yet we see clearly that there is intense interest in this measure from Opposition Members and that there is a full house of Welsh Opposition Members.

The measure is nothing more than a gross gerrymander. It is worse than that, because the Government could have chosen a Committee with an odd number of members and they would then have had a majority of only one. But they have chosen a Committee with an even number of members, thus giving them a majority of two over all other parties. Naturally, the Committee's membership should reflect the membership of the House, so on a Committee of 20 they should not even have a majority of one. Therefore, they have not only been insulting to the people of Wales but have tried to achieve as large a majority in the House as they dare.

During the general election, 50 per cent. of people voted Labour and only 28 per cent. of the Welsh electorate voted Conservative. So the Government have no mandate whatever. They cannot get their Back Benchers from Wales to attend this debate and the Minister makes a perfunctory speech, trying to kid us that the motion is technical and that we should consider nothing but the technicalities. The motion is important because it shows the naked truth of Tory colonial government in the Principality. The' Government know well that Welsh Members are intensely interested in what happens in our capital city. This was a private Bill about which the Government took no view either way. But behind the scenes, they wanted the Bill and they have now brought it forward as a Conservative party measure.

The measure may have had the support of hon. Members in Committee—I make no judgment about that. Some of us were against it and others were for it. Some hon. Members had qualms or reservations about parts of it and were prepared to see what we could do to get those parts changed, but were in favour of other parts of it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is not discussing the Bill, is he?

Dr. Marek


Mr. Deputy Speaker

I wanted to be clear that the hon. Gentleman is discussing the motion on the Order Paper.

Dr. Marek

I am certainly doing so, and if I was not in order, I hope to be in order now.

There were Welsh Members who had different views on the Bill, about which they were knowledgeable and to which they wanted to contribute. The Bill might well have been passed; I think that it would have been. But the Government have tabled today's motion, thus denying most of us the opportunity to contribute towards the government of Wales, and Cardiff, its capital city.

I very much regret that fact. I cannot do anything more about it, as we are governed by the rules of the House, but I hope that we will divide on the motion and that as many of my hon. Friends—whether they support or oppose the Bill—will vote with me. We must show clearly that the motion is a manifestation of the jackboot tactics of the Conservative Government who have no roots or representation within the Principality and are foisting their will on Wales and its representatives, who are Opposition Members, as its representatives have been for the past 60, 70 and 80 years.

If the Government have a shred of integrity, they should rethink, withdraw the motion and consult through the usual channels to see whether agreement can be obtained so that we have a meaningful Committee. Its members should not be English Members of Parliament—probably sitting in south-east constituencies—with one qualification: no interest in Cardiff hay, the barrage or the Bill. Hon. Members who are interested in the Cardiff bay barrage should be able to participate in the debate in Committee. I think that that is the earnest wish of Opposition Members, and I hope that the Government will consider the position carefully before we vote on the motion.

10.52 pm
Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

Since 1282 Wales has had—[Interruption.] I thought that that might raise a cheer from immediately behind me. I shall start again: since 1282 Wales has had few distinctive constitutional rights. Tonight the Government have challenged one of those few remaining rights.

Of course, the Government have the perfect right to table the motion, and to seek to have a Committee that includes Members from outside Wales and does not reflect the political balance in Wales. But my understanding is that this is the first time, at least in modern times, that the Government have sought to force through such a motion. As the Minister said, in the past such motions have been passed, but I believe that they have been passed as a result of agreement through the usual channels. Therefore, tonight there has been an important constitutional departure for Wales, and with it a diminution of the constitutional rights of the Welsh people.

It is not important if uncontroversial Bills are discussed in Standing Committees that do not reflect the political balance of Wales. But when considering a controversial measure such as the Bill before us, surely it must be a fundamental presumption that the Bill should follow the well laid down constitutional procedure. The presumption should be that controversial Bills go to the Welsh Grand Committee and the Government should take the risk of losing controversial Bills if that is the will of the Welsh people.

There is only one way in which the will of the Welsh people is represented in the House: through Members who represent Welsh constituencies. There is only one forum that gathers together Members who represent Welsh constituencies: the Welsh Grand Committee, which is the sum total of the Welsh constitution in the House of Commons.

Mr. Roy Hughes

The hon. and learned Gentleman speaks about the Welsh Grand Committee. I was the Chairman of that Committee when it conducted the Second Reading of the Conwy Tunnel (Supplementary Powers) Bill which became an Act in 1983. Why can the same procedure not apply now?

Mr. Carlile

We are dealing with a motion which is slightly different in procedural terms. However, I take the hon. Gentleman's point.

If, as I have suggested, there is a presumption that controversial Welsh legislation in constitutional, legal terms should be dealt with by the Welsh Grand Committee, surely we are entitled to hear some evidence from the Minister to rebut that presumption. The Minister's speech was an extraordinarily small tunnel dug between the cell in which he is trapped and the outside world to enable him to try to escape from giving such evidence. The Minister is a nice man, but his speech was an insult to the House because he did not try to present a case for taking this controversial Welsh Bill before a Committee which would be dominated by the Government Whips. [Interruption.] Some hon. Members find Welsh business uninteresting. It would be polite for them to go to the Smoking Room, which is where they belong at this time of night. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) smiles. I am willing to give way to him if he wishes to share the joke. Conservatives seem to have an extraordinary, cavalier attitude to this important piece of Welsh legislation. That attitude is depicted by the loutish element below the Gangway.

The Government's attitude is extremely disreputable. This week they are paying lip service to world environmental problems. The proposal for the Cardiff barrage has raised tremendous environmental debate in Wales. The procedural motion seeks to brush aside the democratically expressed environmental concerns of Welsh Members. Those concerns can be expressed democratically only in the Welsh Grand Committee, and in tabling the motion the Government are treating the people of Wales with contempt.

The Secretary of State for Wales occasionally shows quite a degree of sensitivity—perhaps because he is not a Welsh Member—to the wishes of the people of Wales. He has often tried to keep Wales sweet, perhaps by going a little too far in the other direction and by consulting and obtaining opinion from as wide a spectrum as possible. Therefore, it is surprising that he should think it right to ride roughshod over the wishes of the people of Wales. The Secretary of State is, or was once if he will forgive me putting it that way, a distinguished lawyer in private practice. He should reflect for a moment on the dangerous constitutional principle that he is setting. That principle will enable the Government at will to push aside a long-standing major protection for the people of Wales. I hope that the Government will see that they have made a serious error and will say at the end of the debate that they have decided to think again.

10.59 pm
Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

I shall speak briefly because my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), in an eloquent and powerful speech from the Opposition Front Bench, advanced the general case against the motion.

The great tradition of this place, even in the unreformed House, was that when it came to considering Bills that affected interests, the names of hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber were called out. That procedure was followed by an important and significant addition, which was that those who also had interests, whether they be Members representing constituencies in Wales, Gloucestershire or Herefordshire, should be added to the Committee. They, too, had voices. The unreformed House of Commons observed the principle that Members who had a particular interest could become members or the relevant Committee.

In my intervention I asked the Minister when a private Bill was last turned into a public Bill. The Bill that is the subject of the motion began life as a private Bill, and over the centuries Bills have been brought before the House that reflected private interests. As I have said, in the past any Member who represented an interest was entitled to serve in Committee. As a private Bill has become a public Bill, we should observe that fundamental principle. It should be considered in addition to the powerful arguments that my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen has advanced on the general issues.

When last did we convert a private Bill into a public Bill? The Minister failed to answer the question earlier. The Bill is different from the examples that he quoted, for he referred to Bills that were public from the start. They were agreed to by both sides of the House and, therefore, the procedure was agreed. In this instance the Government have decided to introduce a controversial motion which affects consideration of a controversial Bill. As I have said, it started its passage as a private Bill, not a public Bill.

It becomes clear on flicking through the journals of even the unreformed House of Commons that any Member who felt that he had an interest in legislation was entitled to join the relevant Committee and make his case. As the Bill that is the subject of the motion was originally private legislation, it should surely be considered by a Committee that reflects the widest spread of interests in the House. That means that every Welsh voice should be heard in Committee.

I understand the inconvenience that the Government face. Imagine what they would be presented with in Committee. There would be 38 Welsh Members, of whom only six would be firm Government supporters. I understand, of course, that in this instance there are cross-party views. That means that every Government supporter would have to suffer the indignity, as it were, of attending the sittings of the Committee.

The Government should be taught an important lesson. For 13 years they have driven legislation through the House for which they have not had to sweat. The Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill is a piece of proposed legislation for which they should sweat, irrespective of where individual Members stand on the issue. If the Government want the Bill to pass through the House, they should accept a Committee of 38 Members. They could add however many Members they might wish to create a theoretical majority. It would be a large Committee, and during the proceedings there could well be changes of view that would be contrary to the wishes of the Government Front Bench. The Bill would then be considered on Report, when the whole House would have to examine the arguments. The Government Whips would then have a role, and no doubt they would try to reverse any changes that had been made in Committee.

At least the Government would have to go through the hoop of attrition during the consideration of proposed legislation. For a long time the Government have not had to face the attrition that is involved in enacting legislation with a comparatively small majority. They must learn a lesson or two, and there is no harm in starting now. Over the past 13 years—

Mr. Alan Williams

The Government have the power to do exactly what my hon. Friend wants. Instead of diminishing the Welsh role they could change the maximum Committee membership of 50. They could increase the maximum to 60, 70 or 80. If they want a majority, why do they not change the maximum Committee membership and allow every Welsh Member to examine the Bill in Committee?

Mr. Rowlands

My right hon. Friend makes a valid point. We await the Minister's reply with interest. It will be terribly inconvenient to drag in many Conservative Back Benchers to overrule the wishes of the Committee and of Welsh Members.

Labour Members want the Committee to be established, because we want to expose the significance and character of such behaviour. The Government are entitled to reintroduce the Bill and to use Whips to carry the legislation, but I do not see why we should accept the gerrymandering of the Committee stage of a Bill that should be subject to genuine debate and cross-party and internal party debate in Committee.

11.5 pm

Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

The motion seeks to determine the membership of the Committee that will consider the detail of a Bill which is of major importance to my constituents.

I have supported the Bill and have sought to improve it at every stage of its passage in its present incarnation as a hybrid Bill and in its previous form as a private Bill. Because I want no misunderstanding in the House or, more important, among my constituents, I wish briefly to explain my view.

Tonight's debate is not about the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill, as the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) said. Hon. Friends who supported the Bill with me are among those who are most concerned about what the Government are seeking to do and will therefore vote against the motion. A vote against the motion and against the exception to the Standing Order is, therefore, in no sense a vote against the Bill.

Perhaps it should not be necessary to spell out such an obvious point, but the House should be aware that attempts have been made in the past, sometimes by opponents of the Bill and sometimes by adherents of the Conservative party, to misrepresent votes cast on previous occasions. Let us have no nonsense on that account in regard to tonight's vote.

Tonight's debate is about the way in which Wales is governed. The Standing Order, the importance of which was stressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen, enunciates an important principle: that issues wholly to the interest of the people of Wales should be decided by those elected by the people of Wales. Although there are precedents for the motion, most were set by a Labour Government who enjoyed majority support by the electors of Wales.

I am keen to see proper scrutiny of the Bill and proper consideration of the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen on behalf of the Opposition. I therefore see some value in a smaller Committee than is dictated by the Standing Order, but the implications of the issues before us are much wider.

Until now, the one view on which we have all been united is that the procedures under which the Bill and its predecessors have been considered are complicated, obscure and unhelpful. Tonight's debate addresses the constitutional point of a democratic deficit resulting from the wide powers available to the Government to ignore the views of the people of Wales, who did not vote for a Conservative Government. They certainly did not vote for a Liberal or nationalist Government either; they voted for a Labour Government.

I have faith that an elected assembly, such as that proposed by the Labour party, would, given full consideration of all the issues, have supported the measure that the Committee will consider, just as the Labour-controlled county of South Glamorgan has supported and promoted the barrage throughout.

That is my personal view. Others may differ, but that is not the issue before us. What is before us is not support or opposition to the barrage Bill but the simple question whether the principle established when the Standing Order was first implemented should be cast aside or diminished. Even more important—this is my final and most crucial point—it should be upheld when the House considers the Welsh language Bill, which the Government will, at long last, introduce shortly, and the reform of local government, which has such important implications for every part of Wales.

I hope that the Minister will consider that last point very seriously and address it in his response to the debate. I am surprised, indeed, that he did not do so in his introduction to the debate. It is crucial to consideration of the motion that he should give us a cast-iron promise on behalf of the Government that the principle in the Standing Order will be respected without interference in respect of those two Bills and similar Bills of wide interest to Wales that are brought before the House in the future.

11.9 pm

Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) is deluding himself if he believes that he will get that assurance from the Minister. I listened very carefully to the Minister when he dealt with that issue and I drew two conclusions.

First, if there is logic in what the Government are doing on this occasion and if they are empowered to set aside the Standing Orders, logic will allow them to do exactly the same in future when it suits them. I hardly think that the Minister will give a guarantee. Secondly, if one reads the Minister's comments in Hansard one will see that he said that it is for the House on a future occasion to decide what its view will be. I have been here long enough to know what that means—it means that the Government want to restrict tonight's debate to the particular motion, but it is as clear as can be that if there is a recurrence of the situation in which the Government do not have a mandate or majority for legislation referring specifically to Wales, they will reintroduce the order.

I have no doubt that when we come to debate local government reorganisation or the Welsh language Bill—precisely the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth—we shall again be in the same position. I am not being derogatory, but we shall face an English Minister and English Tory Members of Parliament driving through the House legislation which will deny the right of Welsh Members of Parliament to sit in on a Committee stage that will shape the future of local government in their communities.

That is a travesty of democracy and it is precisely because I believe that the Minister understands that it is a travesty that he was so casual and cursory in opening the debate. He made no attempt at justification or to explain the rationale. He tried to skip over the debate by saying that it was not about the Bill. Of course the debate is not about the Bill, but the Bill is at the heart of the dilemma now facing the Government.

If the Bill was non-controversial, we would not be in this position. If it were non-controversial like the legislation on Caldey island and the Conwy crossing, it would have gone through. The fact that the Bill is controversial means that it should be subject to democratic scrutiny. As my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) said, that opportunity will exist on Report but the Government are denying us the right to have a considered and informed debate in Committee. It is a shame that the Government should be in such a position.

The motion will undoubtedly be passed. We are told that it is a matter for the House and that every hon. Member will be free to vote as he or she wishes, but we know that that is not true. The Secretary of State failed when he tried to impose a whip when the legislation was a private Bill. This time, the Government Whips are out in force and they will ensure that there is a majority for the motion. That will mean that the voice of the people of Wales as expressed in the ballot box at the election will be set aside.

The people of Wales elected 27 Labour members of Parliament. For the record, they elected six Tory Members of Parliament. With the exception of the two conscripts on the Front Bench, we have not seen those six. There can be no justification for that. The Minister and his colleagues can preach the sanctity of the United Kingdom, but they must recognise that Wales is a nation with its own institutions and political structures. For 80 years the very Standing Order that the Government are setting aside has been part of the bedrock of our Welsh nationhood.

The Government must think carefully about the consequences of what they are doing, especially when it is being done in the teeth of united opposition. I am grateful that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth spoke as he did. Let Ministers have no doubt that it is not a question of those who oppose the Cardiff bay barrage opposing the motion. Every Welsh Opposition Member of Parliament is involved, including those from the Labour party and from Plaid Cymru. The solitary Liberal Democrat has also added his voice.

We are united in telling the Government that what they are about to do is a folly because they are setting aside the verdict of the people of Wales. What the Government sow tonight they will reap in the not-too-distant future.

11.14 pm
Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

The words of my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) have prompted me to speak in the debate, although I had not intended to do so.

There has been considerable discussion in my party about a Welsh assembly and about the proper government of Wales. Unlike most of my colleagues, I have never believed that there should be a Welsh assembly because the Welsh assembly is envisaged by my party and by other people as being an assembly that would take powers from local government. I cannot imagine this House giving up its powers to an assembly in Wales. That is why I have always been committed to the concept of a Welsh parliament with legislative and revenue powers. I am not likely to join Plaid Cymru in pursuing my case. If I ever spoke in a Welsh parliament, I know that I would never have to call on a Liberal Democrat because no Liberal Democrat would be elected to a Welsh parliament.

My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly has put his finger on the issue. The Government are planting a seed in Wales and they will rue the day they take this action. They are feeding the nationalist movement in Wales as represented by the hon. Members sitting behind me, who were elected by 8 per cent. of the electorate.

For the slight advantage of getting the Bill on the statute book sooner rather than later, which is all that the motion will achieve, the Government are acting in a way that will constitutionally destroy politics in Wales as we know them today. The Government do not realise what they are doing.

11.17 pm
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

May I prevail on the Secretary of State to take a more reasonable view of how he deals with the situation? One well understands that the Government feel that they must get their legislation through, although many of us do not regard the measure as an appropriate Government Bill. There is an alternative which I have already tried to intimate. If there were no alternative, one could understand the Secretary of State coming here and riding roughshod over Welsh Members and over the Standing Orders.

The Minister has quoted precedents which do not bear examination. When the Labour Government were in power and they took the action proposed today, they reduced their representation on the Standing Committee to give the Opposition a better opportunity to present a balanced view. On the other hand, we should examine the later precedents quoted which occurred in the 1980s under this Government. The Conservatives introduced similar measures without opposition by Labour because the Opposition agreed that, for the Bills involved, not all Members representing Welsh seats would wish to be members of the Committee. This is the first time since 1907 that the Opposition have said that they will not support such a change because they think that every Welsh Member should have the freedom to participate in debates.

There is a way by which the objectives of both sides could be reconciled. It may not meet with the wishes of my hon. Friends; I have not had a chance to consult them. The Opposition's right to sustain the freedom of every Welsh Member to take part in discussions on the Bill could be sustained, and the Government's majority maintained, if instead of altering this Standing Order the Government chose to alter the earlier Standing Order that sets a ceiling on the number of members of the Committee. If that ceiling were raised from 50 to 65, every Welsh Member could take part and the Government could have their majority. Honour would be satisfied on both sides of the House.

This is a test of the reasonableness of the Secretary of State. He can go away and consider our proposition this evening, discuss it through certain channels, and establish whether we can reach some agreed arrangement; or he can do something that would be grossly offensive not just to Opposition Members, but to the people of Wales. Given the depletion in the number of Conservative Back Benchers, the right hon. Gentleman can force a vote on a motion that he need not push—for reasons that I have explained. He can call on the English Back Benchers in the Tea Room and other rooms in the House and use them to bulldoze his wishes through against the wishes of Welsh Members.

Let me appeal to the Secretary of State, even at this late stage. We need not waste much time; if the usual channels agreed the matter, it could go through on the nod. I cannot give a commitment to that effect, but it is an option. I realise that neither of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues is in a position to make such a policy change without his consideration. I therefore ask him to use his power to protect the rights of Welsh Members, and the Welsh electorate, by giving just a week's consideration to my proposal.

11.22 pm
Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

All my hon. Friends have spoken briefly, and I want to speak briefly as well. I simply want to ensure that our views have been put on record, in a way that appeals to what used to be thought of as the better nature of Ministers. I ask them not to use the Whip, and a procedural device in Standing Committee, to ram through the legislation, and then to repeat the exercise when other Welsh legislation is dealt with later in the Session. I hope that the Secretary of State, his ministerial team and Government business managers will respond to that appeal. It is rare for three exclusively Welsh Bills to arise in a single, if long, Session of Parliament.

The Prime Minister has spoken of his wish to "take stock"—I use his phrase—of the need to examine the constitutional relationship between an overwhelmingly Tory England and an overwhelmingly Labour Scotland, but he has not expressed a similar wish to deal with the relationship between a largely Tory England and an overwhelmingly Labour Wales.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)

During the Committee stage of the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Bill, Scottish Members called for a ruling. The Chairman ruled that Standing Order No. 86 should apply in consideration of the Bill, which is very controversial and will affect hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland. Perhaps his decision to adhere to Standing Orders was a move in the right direction. Why have not the Government taken the same view in this instance?

Mr. Morgan

I very much welcome that display of Celtic solidarity from my Scottish colleague. It is no more than I would have expected from a new Scottish colleague, because we are equally interested in seeing how we can keep the United Kingdom united. To do that, the largely English majority of the Tory Government should not abuse the power to treat sensitively the issue of how to handle the fact that Scotland and Wales are nowhere as big as England. England has 82 per cent. of the population and 82 per cent. of the membership of the House.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Wôn)

Can the hon. Gentleman point to an example of the Government being sensitive to the needs of Wales?

Mr. Morgan

Not so far—absolutely not. I have said that they have made some intimation that they intend to be sensitive to the needs of Scotland. They appear tonight to be going in the opposite direction in regard to Wales. That is what is so disappointing. At the same time as they are at least trying to make the first moves towards redefining the relationship with Scotland to confer greater powers of control—although that has not yet happened, but there have been early intimations of it—we in Wales are getting the mucky end of the stick. There is no doubt about that.

Mr. Win Griffiths

Has my hon. Friend given any thought to the addition of another member of the Government on the Front Bench, who may want to intervene to talk about a family matter known as the elective dictatorship, which we are experiencing tonight?

Mr. Morgan

The elective dictatorship is the problem, but the problem is also the shape of the United Kingdom. Scotland has 10 per cent. of the population, Wales has 5 per cent., and Northern Ireland has 3 per cent. Altogether that is about 18 per cent., but 82 per cent. remains to England. That relationship must be dealt with sensitively. So far, we are moving in the wrong direction. We want the Government to undertake to take back the matter and consider it and the suggestions made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) and my hon. Friends.

The Government should redefine the way in which they are approaching exclusively Welsh legislation, given that they now have three measures coming up. Whereas it used to be one Welsh Bill every two years, we have three in a year and a half of this long Session. The Government should try to start in the way they mean to continue. So far, the Minister has said absolutely nothing about what will happen with the Welsh language Bill. Will he say that he will not use the Standing Orders to curtail Welsh Members' rights to participate in proceedings on the Welsh language Bill or the Welsh local government reform Bill, which was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech, but we have since been promised it? Will he say, "Well, we won't do that with the Welsh local government reform Bill," or is this the thin end of the wedge? We do not know.

I hope that the Minister will say something. If he is not willing to say something, we shall fear the worst. The people of Wales, as has been said by three Opposition parties, will be very angry and will perceive that the Tory party is using the jackboot and importing Tory Back Benchers for the sole purpose of ramming through the legislation.

Sheep-like English Back Benchers will not even think about the issues. They will not even know the names of the places that are referred to. They will simply follow in the time-honoured manner and be compared unfavourably with Sainsbury's shopping trolleys in respect of having minds of their own. They will vote how Government Whips tell them without even being aware of what they are voting on, simply to create an artificial majority by the importation of carpetbagging English Back-Bench Members to make up the majority that the Government cannot win of their own accord by democratic vote in Wales.

Let us remember that this is not the first time that this procedure has been applied to the Bill. It was applied just before the general election. On 9 March, one of the worst examples of Government business in shambles in the past 10 years was displayed in the House by Nicholas Bennett, the Minister's predecessor. We all remember it. Nicholas Bennett was an hon. Member, never to be a right hon. Member, and probably will never be an hon. Member again. He was in charge of that supreme shambles. The Bill was bounced straight into Standing Committee less than a week before Parliament was due to rise. At the last minute, at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, the day before the Bill was to be considered in Standing Committee, the Clerks discovered that the exemption for Welsh legislation from the normal rules of the House states that the Government's majority must be reflected in Committee and that hon. Members who played a prominent role on Second Reading should be on the Committee.

Upstairs the Government discovered all of a sudden, "Ah, this is Welsh legislation. What are we going to do?" The postcards were sent round in a hurry saying to hon. Members, "Can you be there tomorrow?" Of course, we all turned up in large numbers because we do our work. We expect to have to turn up when Welsh business is discussed, in order to earn our salaries at the end of the month.

But Conservative Back-Bench Members—there are only half a dozen of them—have not even bothered to turn up tonight. I do not know what they are doing. How can they ask the people of Wales to elect them when they do not show any interest in Welsh business when they have the chance? It is an absolute disgrace. They are not even as good as Sainsbury's shopping trolleys which they have been for five years. I am disgusted by the lack of interest among the four new Welsh Conservative Back-Bench Members—the hon. Members for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney), for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans), for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) and for Monmouth (Mr. Evans).

When the Standing Order was applied to keep the Committee to 20, the people of Wales were given the opportunity to express their democratic verdict on what they thought about Tory Governments and their measures. What did they say? Before the election Labour had 26 Members and the Conservatives had six. After the election we have finished up with 27 Members and the Government still have six. They are now in an even smaller minority than before. The people of Wales had their chance to express a view on a raft of Government measures and gave their verdict.

Who should determine who should sit on Standing Committees to deal with exclusively Welsh legislation? The Opposition say that, through their votes at general elections, the people of Wales should decide. They had the chance to do it. A plebiscite was held on 9 April. In Wales the Labour party did three or four times as well as the Conservative party. The Government say, "We do not care about that. We have to get our business through. We do not care if we are in a tiny minority." They simply ram the legislation through by bringing in English Tory Members of Parliament.

Is that the sort of message that we want to send to the people of eastern Europe and the trouble-torn peoples of the Balkans? Do we want to say, "Well, this is the way we do it in the Mother of Parliaments. We do not give a damn about small nations on the periphery of the United Kingdom"? Is that what we wish to say to the people of Yugoslavia as we attempt to send in peace missions and tell them how to organise themselves and keep themselves apart? Are we so insensitive to the demands and rights of peripheral parts of the United Kingdom which have had rights laid down in the Standing Orders of the House for 85 years?

The Government are going in the wrong direction and had better rethink. This is the second time that they have taken such a measure in respect of this Bill at exactly the same stage. We have had a general election in between times and I do not want them to be so foolish as to create further anger in Wales on the issue.

We had the Danish referendum last week. It is the same issue again. Peripheral countries do not want to be pushed around by the big countries. It is exactly the same issue. the Government must now take note of the Danish referendum result. They will also have to take note of the verdict of the Welsh people on 9 April. It is all part of the treatment of minorities within a wider democracy. I hope that the Government arc getting the message clearly.

We are not discussing the merits or demerits of the barrage. That is not the point at issue tonight. The point at issue is the way in which the Government treat minorities in the House and how we can express the rights that we have had for 85 years. The Minister did not give an accurate picture of the clash at the heart of the motion between the Government's desire to have a majority on the Bill, which is expressed in hidden terms, and the rights of minorities. He skipped through the introduction to the Bill. He referred to the fact the Government have to have majorities on Standing Committees. Standing Order No. 86 does not say that, but merely hints at it.

It is custom and practice in the House for the Government to have a majority. Standing Order No. 86 states: shall have regard … to the composition of the House". It does not state that there must be a majority. That is simply hinted at. It is also a custom and practice of the House that hon. Members who played a major part in the Second Reading debate should be on the Standing Committee. That is not actually stated in the Standing Order, but it is hinted at. One has to read between the lines. That is what we normally assume is the meaning of shall have regard to the qualifications of those Members nominated". That does not actually state that those hon. Members should be the people who played a major part in the Second Reading debate.

However, the exemption about Welsh business is not a matter of hints or reading between the lines. The point is made in black and white. If the legislation is Welsh legislation—and the Clerks have ruled that this is—one exempts from it the provisions about reflecting the Government's majority. That is clear in mathematical print and there can be no doubt about it. All Welsh legislation is exempt from the rule that states that one shall preserve in the Standing Committee the balance of the majority of the House.

In a skimpy dish-rag of an opening speech, the Minister tried to imply that those two great issues clashed and therefore the Government had to decide how to resolve the clash. There is no clash. Welsh legislation is exempt from the first principle. That is absolutely plain in Standing Order No. 86. If it is exempt from the principle, less than two months after the general election, the Government should have regard for the views of the Welsh people. The people of Wales should decide who goes on Standing Committees that deal with exclusively Welsh legislation and not the Tory majority elected outside Wales.

11.35 pm
Mr. Gwilym Jones

We have had a very good, short and generally good-natured debate. Even some of the stronger comments fall within the good nature in which we generally manage to conduct all Welsh affairs. Happily, we managed to stay almost entirely within the remit of the motion and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, had very seldom to call us to order. I will try to deal with any unanswered questions that have arisen in the debate.

The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), in a brief contribution, presented a fascinating history of past ways of considering such measures. I am afraid I do not have the information readily available to answer his question about when a private Bill was last turned into a public Bill. I will try to find out for the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that he will accept that I will write to him with that information.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) made several references to the Welsh Grand Committee. However, that is not included in Standing Order No. 86. While there are references to the Scottish Grand Committee, there is no suggestion that Welsh legislation should be directed towards the Welsh Grand Committee.

The hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), from the Opposition Front Bench, cited the examples—

Mr. Morgan

The beginning of Standing Order No. 86 states: Save in the case of—

  1. (a) the Scottish Grand Committee,
  2. (b) the Welsh Grand Committee, and
  3. (c) a standing committee for the consideration of a bill on report".
I am sure that the Minister did not mean to say that there was no mention of the Welsh Grand Committee in Standing Order No. 86. Unless he has a different version of the Standing Order from mine, he is not correct.

Mr. Jones

I will reflect on that point if necessary. However, I have a copy of the Standing Order and the most important point, which I quoted earlier, states: for the consideration of any public bill relating exclusively to Wales, the committee shall be so constituted as to include all Members sitting for constituencies in Wales. I think that that is the point that we must address this evening, and that is the point that we have been addressing. We should have made progress on it.

Mr. Morgan

My point is that I believe that the Minister said in error that there was no reference to the Welsh Grand Committee in Standing Order No. 86. I was anxious to correct him because we Whitchurch grammar school boys have got to stick together.

Mr. Jones

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. When he waves the old school tie at me, I have to concede. Yes, there is reference at the beginning of the Standing Order to Save in the case of—… (b) the Welsh Grand Committee". However, we must direct our attention to the latter part of Standing Order No. 86 and the proviso to which I have already referred and which is the basis of our discussion this evening.

The hon. Member for Torfaen cited the examples from 1975 and 1976, when there was a Labour Government. I cited those examples, and others from 1983 and 1990 when there was a Conservative Government. In 1983, when we dealt with the Conwy Tunnel (Supplementary Powers) Bill, there was an unopposed motion to limit the Standing Committee to 17 members, including not fewer than 12 Members sitting for constituencies in Wales. That is exactly what we seek to do through this motion. The 1990 example of the Caldey Island Bill, which was referred to a Standing Committee for Second Reading, was dealt with by a Committee consisting of only 10 Members representing Welsh constituencies.

Mr. Murphy

I was fortunate enough to be one of those 10 Members who dealt with the Caldey Island Bill, but that measure did not arouse controversy in Wales. Will the Minister answer our point that we are disputing the motion because this is the only time that such a controversial Bill hs been considered in this way?

Mr. Jones

The hon. Gentleman is right. By my recollection, more controversy has surrounded the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill than was felt about the Caldey Island Bill, or even with the Bill dealing with the Conwy tunnel. Nevertheless, we are dealing with a procedural motion, and we must confine ourselves to that.

Mr. Alex Carlile

The House would be grateful if the Minister could cite any opposed motion of this sort. Is it not true that, whenever a motion such as this has been passed, it has dealt with unopposed Bills? Therefore, does he accept that the Government are taking an exceptional course?

Mr. Jones

The hon. and learned Gentleman is being somewhat premature. We have not yet got to the vote on the motion, and I sincerely hope that my poor eloquence at the Dispatch Box will persuade and convince him not to oppose the motion.

The right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) suggested that the ceiling on membership of a Standing Committee should be raised to 65. I doubt whether there is any precedence for such a suggestion. It would move us towards an unwieldy Committee, which must be contrary to the spirit of Standing Order No. 86 under which a Committee shall have not more than 50 members.

Mr. Alan Williams

I consulted the Clerk of the House before making that proposal, and he agreed that there is nothing to stop the House making such a rule if it so wished. The advantage of the system is that it retains the requirement to which the Minister referred—that, where possible, every Welsh Member should be able to take part.

Mr. Jones

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is correct, but I doubt whether there is any precedent for doing it. The House can do what it wants. I feel that it would be at variance with the way in which things have been done before to have such a large Committee. However, I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for one thing. He was the first speaker, apart from me, to acknowledge that there is a serious inconsistency in Standing Order No. 86 that has to be dealt with. That is what the motion will achieve.

Mr. Morgan

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Minister to assert that the Standing Orders of the House have an inherent contradiction within them that makes them inoperable?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That seems to me to be a double negative. I ask the hon. Gentleman to rethink his point.

Mr. Jones

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) was concerned about the precedents that the debate was establishing. I do not regard what we are doing as setting a precedent. I cannot do anything that will bind the House in the future. Whatever we choose to do is entirely a matter for the House of Commons. I can say no more or less.

Mr. Michael

I must make it clear that I was asking the hon. Gentleman, not to bind the House, but to bind the Government in relation to the important Bills on the Welsh language and the reorganisation of local government structure in Wales. The Minister comes to the Dispatch Box on behalf of the Government and I ask him to bind them, not the House.

Mr. Jones

The hon. Gentleman said that he did not catch my earlier remarks, but I know that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) did. It always remains for the House to decide what it will do on future occasions. I can say no more and no less than that. I acknowledge that the hon. Member for Caerphilly echoed the concern expressed by his hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth.

Mr. Michael

If the Minister had the authority to do so, he could say that neither he nor his ministerial colleagues would seek to exempt the application of the Standing Order to the Committee stage of the Bills on the Welsh language and Welsh local government. That would greatly assist the House. Surely the Government can give that assurance now. If the Government wish to show respect to the House and accept the important points of principle that we raised about those two Bills, it is open to the Minister to offer that assurance on their behalf.

Mr. Jones

I have been clear and concise. Whatever the legislation, I cannot commit the House. It will be for the House to consider the issue as and when specific legislation is discussed.

Mr. Alan Williams

The Minister should think again about my suggestion. He rejected it, but he accepted that, according to the advice of the Clerks, it is procedurally possible and appropriate. Can he quote any precedent for what the Government are now doing by forcing through a change against the wishes of the Welsh Members?

Mr. Jones

I have already dealt with the right hon. Gentleman's point. I hope that we can proceed on an unopposed basis; that is what I am seeking to persuade the right hon. Gentleman to do.

Finally, I must refer to my old school chum, the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan). I should congratulate him on making his shortest and most concise contribution to date on the Bill. I even detected a note of sympathy in his speech, as he conceded that we must find the best way forward. However, I do not accept his argument that the motion represents in the Standing Order that I cannot see. His sum case was for the preservation of an inconsistency—in itself an inconsistency that should not be allowed.

The motion represents the best way forward and the best response to the right hon. Member for Swansea, West it is a far better answer than that which he proposed. I commend the motion to the House.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 191, Noes 86.

Division No. 27] [11.48 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Clappison, James
Aitken, Jonathan Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Alexander, Richard Coe, Sebastian
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Colvin, Michael
Amess, David Congdon, David
Ancram, Michael Conway, Derek
Arbuthnot, James Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Aspinwall, Jack Cran, James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Davis, David (Boothferry)
Bates, Michael Day, Stephen
Beresford, Sir Paul Deva, Nirj Joseph
Blackburn, Dr John G. Devlin, Tim
Booth, Hartley Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Boswell, Tim Dover, Den
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Duncan, Alan
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Duncan-Smith, Iain
Bowden, Andrew Elletson, Harold
Bowis, John Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Brandreth, Gyles Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Brazier, Julian Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Bright, Graham Faber, David
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Fabricant, Michael
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Browning, Mrs. Angela Fenner, Dame Peggy
Burns, Simon Fishburn, John Dudley
Burt, Alistair Forth, Eric
Carrington, Matthew Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Cash, William Freeman, Roger
Chaplin, Mrs Judith Gallie, Phil
Chapman, Sydney Gardiner, Sir George
Garnier, Edward Neubert, Sir Michael
Gillan, Ms Cheryl Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Nicholls, Patrick
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Oppenheim, Phillip
Gorst, John Page, Richard
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Patnick, Irvine
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Grylls, Sir Michael Pickles, Eric
Hague, William Porter, Davie (Waveney)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Richards, Rod
Hampson, Dr Keith Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Hargreaves, Andrew Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Harris, David Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Hawkins, Nicholas Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Hawksley, Warren Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Hayes, Jerry Shaw, David (Dover)
Heald, Oliver Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Heathcoat-Amory, David Skeet, Sir Trevor
Hendry, Charles Speed, Keith
Hill, James (Southampton Test) Spencer, Sir Derek
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham) Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Spink, Dr Robert
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Sproat, Iain
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Hunter, Andrew Stephen, Michael
Jenkin, Bernard Stern, Michael
Jessel, Toby Stewart, Allan
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Streeter, Gary
Jones, Robert B. (W H'f'rdshire) Sweeney, Walter
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Sykes, John
Key, Robert Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Kilfedder, James Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Kirkhope, Timothy Thomason, Roy
Knapman, Roger Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Thurnham, Peter
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Tracey, Richard
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Tredinnick, David
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Trend, Michael
Lawrence, Ivan Twinn, Dr Ian
Legg, Barry Viggers, Peter
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Walden, George
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Lidington, David Waller, Gary
Lightbown, David Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Waterson, Nigel
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Watts, John
Lord, Michael Wells, Bowen
Luff, Peter Wheeler, Sir John
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Whittingdale, John
McLoughlin, Patrick Widdecombe, Ann
Maitland, Lady Olga Wilkinson, John
Malone, Gerald Willetts, David
Mans, Keith Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Marlow, Tony Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Wood, Timothy
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Yeo, Tim
Merchant, Piers Young, Sir George (Acton)
Milligan, Stephen
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Tellers for the Ayes:
Moate, Roger Mr. Andrew MacKay and
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Mr. Robert G. Hughes.
Moss, Malcolm
Ainger, Nicholas Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Barnes, Harry Cohen, Harry
Bayley, Hugh Connarty, Michael
Beggs, Roy Cox, Tom
Benton, Joe Cryer, Bob
Bermingham, Gerald Cunningham, Dr John (C'p'l'nd)
Betts, Clive Dafis, Cynog
Boyce, Jimmy Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Boyes, Roland Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Bradley, Keith Dixon, Don
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Dobson, Frank
Caborn, Richard Dowd, Jim
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Dunnachie, Jimmy
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) Evans, John (St Helens N)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Milburn, Alan
Fatchett, Derek Miller, Andrew
Flynn, Paul Morgan, Rhodri
Foster, Derek (B'p Auckland) Morley, Elliot
Fyfe, Maria Murphy, Paul
Golding, Mrs Llin Pickthall, Colin
Hain, Peter Pike, Peter L.
Hall, Mike Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Hanson, David Prescott, John
Heppell, John Primarolo, Dawn
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Redmond, Martin
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Rogers, Allan
Hutton, John Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Jackson, Ms Helen (Shef'ld, H) Skinner, Dennis
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side) Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn) Spearing, Nigel
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Steinberg, Gerry
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Strang, Gavin
Kilfoyle, Peter Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Lewis, Terry Wallace, James
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Loyden, Eddie Watson, Mike
McAvoy, Thomas Wigley, Dafydd
McCartney, Ian Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
McLeish, Henry Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
McNamara, Kevin Wise, Audrey
Mahon, Alice Wright, Tony
Marek, Dr John
Martlew, Eric Tellers for the Noes:
Michael, Alun Mr. Ted Rowlands and
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Mr. Win Griffiths.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 86 (Nomination of standing committees), any Standing Committee appointed for the consideration of the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill shall consist of twenty Members, including not fewer than twelve Members sitting for constituencies in Wales.