HC Deb 17 May 1993 vol 225 cc3-5
3. Mr. Jon Owen Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how Wales's representatives on the European Committee of the Regions will be selected or elected.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hunt)

Final decisions will be taken once the Maastricht treaty has been ratified.

Mr. Jones

I find that answer rather puzzling as I was under the impression that at least four Members on the Opposition side of the House knew how these people are to be selected or elected. When will the Secretary of State lift the veil of secrecy over this issue and allow the House and the 3 million inhabitants of Wales to know what that little cabal apparently already knows?

Mr. Hunt

Whatever the official Opposition may seek to imply, Wales is a pluralist democracy and I am determined to ensure that our representation on the Committee of the Regions will reflect that. I hope that at some stage the official Opposition will make it clear whether they still broadly support the treaty signed at Maastricht. Since I entered politics, I have seen six major U-turns by the Labour party on Europe, and I believe that that party is going to adopt six different positions on the Maastricht treaty this week. That is incredible. It is about time the Opposition were serious about Europe.

Mr. Kinnock

In the name of a pluralist and open democracy, will the Secretary of State tell us whether he has any form of written agreement with the Welsh nationalist party? Does he realise that if he continues to deny the existence of such an agreement he calls into question the integrity of the Leader of Plaid Cymru?

Mr. Hunt

I have always made it clear that I do have an agreement in writing with the Leader of Plaid Cymru. In return, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us whether he intends to support the treaty of Maastricht this week—

Madam Speaker

Order. That is going wide of the question.

Mr. Hunt

When considering the Committee of the Regions we need to know whether the right hon. Gentleman still agrees with his original words—that the Labour party was broadly in support of the treaty signed at Maastricht.

Mr. Wigley

Is it not the case that under the secret deal cobbled up by the Labour party with the local government associations in London, Wales would have only two seats out of the 24, compared with the three or four that are now likely to come to Wales? Labour's amendment to the European Communities (Amendment) Bill contained no guarantee whatever that those seats would be distributed to any but one party, or that they would be distributed geographically in Wales; nor was there a guarantee of any reporting-back mechanism. Is it not time that the Labour party gave up fighting yesterday's battle, which it lost so badly, and started arguing positively for the good of Wales in Europe?

Mr. Hunt

I agree with the Leader of the Plaid Cymru [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. The House must come to order.

Mr. Hunt

I hope that Labour's Front-Bench spokesmen will cease such behaviour. I completely agree with you, Madam Speaker, that it does not enhance respect for the House to have Labour Front-Bench spokesmen behaving in such a manner. I am extremely pleased to inform the House that the regional development section of the European Community Economic and Social Committee will visit south Wales next month to hold one of its regular formal meetings. That meeting in Cardiff, will be hosted by the Welsh Office and it will be the first time in many years that the Committee has left Brussels. I shall be delighted to welcome it to Wales.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Does my right hon. Friend agree that by supporting the Committee of the Regions the Opposition are showing a degree of double standards because they support the Maastricht treaty in its entirety instead of—

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat. I have had enough of Members going wide of the question.

Mr. Alex Carlile

I wish to put a simple question to the Secretary of State. Bearing in mind that the Committee of the Regions is not a parliamentary committee, does he regard it as relevant that at the last general election the Liberal Democrats won 60,000 more votes in Wales than Plaid Cymru?

Mr. Hunt

That is, of course, a factor to be taken into account, as is the factor that the Liberal Democrats' representation in the House came down from three to one. The only reason why the hon. and learned Gentleman is leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats in the House is that he is the only one left.

Mr. Ron Davies

We are all wondering why the Secretary of State is so determined to avoid giving straight answers to straight questions on this. It is clear that his personal preference is for the posts to be filled by unfettered patronage, but that preference has been overridden by a decision of the House. Will he therefore confirm that he will comply fully with the spirit of that decision? Since our Welsh representatives will now be drawn from local government and will represent Welsh local government interests, does he agree that local government itself should decide on its own representatives? Does he understand that any veto, trickery or gerrymandering by him will be completely unacceptable?

Mr. Hunt

I have already given a straight answer to the question posed by the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock). I said that I have a written agreement with the Leader of Plaid Cymru, which I shall honour. I understand that this week there is to be a great unveiling of new proposals for a Welsh assembly with fund-raising and legislative powers. It is disgraceful that the hon. Gentleman did not mention that in the House although he had an opportunity to do so. The sooner he comes clean in the House rather than retiring to Llandudno for some party political occasion, the more I shall respect him. He has to decide how he will vote on Thursday. Will he support his right hon. Friend? Does he still support the Maastricht treaty? If not, there can never be a Committee of the Regions and that would be a great shame for Wales.