HC Deb 21 January 1998 vol 304 cc1020-58 3.51 pm
Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire)

I beg to move amendment No. 19A, in page 70, line 11, leave out 'four' and insert 'six'.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 188, in page 72, line 12, leave out '(where appropriate)'.

No. 187, in line 13, after 'geographic', insert 'demographic, social or cultural'.

No. 71, in line 16, leave out 'one half' and insert 'three quarters'.

No. 72, in line 17, leave out from 'by' to end of line 18 and insert 'four) either three quarters of the highest number which is less than that total number and exactly divisible by four or the number produced by adding one to three quarters of that highest number'.

Mr. Livsey

It is my privilege to speak to the amendments. The Liberal Democrats have tabled amendment Nos. 19A, 71 and 72. Amendment No. 19A, which is also supported by members of Plaid Cymru, increases the number of seats in each electoral region from four to six. That increases the number of Members sitting in the Welsh assembly from 60 to 70. Amendment No. 71 adjusts the figures in the schedule so that the number of electoral region Members is three quarters of the number of constituency Members, and that, in effect, increases from 60 to 70 the number of Members in the assembly. Amendment No. 72 provides for an increase in the number of constituencies to a number that is not exactly divisible by four, so the highest number of constituencies that is divisible by four is used in this case.

The amendments are obviously linked to the additional member system proposed by the Government—they propose to use a version of the additional member system. AMS is a hybrid based on two elements; here I acknowledge the Electoral Reform Society brief. Each constituency would elect one representative by the first-past-the-post system. In Wales, there will be 40 single-Member constituencies, matching the 40 Welsh Westminster constituencies. Additional Members will be elected from a closed party list and used to correct the disproportionate effects of the first-past-the-post element. There will be 20 additional Members, four from each of the five old European constituencies that make up the new electoral regions. In the European elections of 1999, Wales will be a single Euro-constituency.

In the traditional model, as used in Germany and New Zealand, about the same number of Members are elected from the list as from the constituency element. Unlike most additional member systems, the Welsh assembly system will not have a national tabulation, but will aim to be proportional in the electoral regions. Integral to that system is the fact that each voter will have two votes, one for the constituency Member, and the other for the closed party list. One of the main arguments used against that form of AMS is the closed nature of the party list, but that is the subject of a later amendment.

The amendments have the effect of increasing the number of top-up Members from 20 to 30, and the total number of assembly Members from 60 to 70. When working up its policy on a Welsh assembly, the Labour party originally proposed 80 seats for the assembly, but eventually had to reduce that to 60—we suspect to appease old Labour Members who do not support PR.

An increased number of Members would, first, result in a more proportional assembly in terms of the percentages of votes cast for the Members elected. Secondly, the regions will feel that they have more representation in Cardiff, Swansea or wherever than they would under a 40:20 split. What is more, there need to be more Members to service all the committees adequately. I draw the Minister's attention to the comment by the Institute of Welsh Affairs to the effect that an 80-Member assembly would be needed to serve all the committees adequately.

The Electoral Reform Society briefing includes figures to show that, with more Members per region, the system would be nearer true proportionality.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)

Why do we need more politicians in the Welsh assembly, when the hon. Gentleman appears—judging by the empty Benches around him—to be doing his job completely on his own?

Mr. Livsey

The right hon. Gentleman is slightly over-simplifying. I am just trying to improve what is basically a good Bill, and to make it more democratic. That should be the right hon. Gentleman's aim as well. It would certainly benefit his party if there were 10 more Members. Our concern, however, is to have slightly more representatives for north and mid-Wales. The referendum no vote was quite strong in some of those areas, and Welsh people feel that they would like to be more involved in the running of the assembly, to make it more inclusive and to allow it to take account of the higher no vote in some areas.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting some deviation from the general principle of relating the number of elected representatives to the number of people whom they represent? Does he perhaps think that Members should be elected on the basis of how many acres, or trees, or cows, or sheep they represent? I know that the Liberal Democrat party has adopted its recent position since losing power many years ago, when it did nothing about the electoral system, and now wants to reform it—but I am not sure whom the hon. Gentleman wants these Members to represent.

Mr. Livsey

I cannot take that entirely seriously. The hon. Gentleman will know that the original leader of the Labour party, Keir Hardie, also espoused proportional representation when he represented Merthyr Tydfil. Something has happened to his party's policy during the century. If representation were based on acres, there would be many more people than me standing here, as I represent the third largest constituency in Britain in terms of acres.

Our argument is that there must be enough Members to service the assembly properly and to bring greater democracy. The Institute of Welsh Affairs called for an 80-Member assembly. We do not go that far, but the IWA's arguments for a larger assembly still apply to our amendment, which calls for a 70-seat assembly.

The IWA argues that the number of committees created by the Bill requires a larger number of Members. The Bill creates at least six sets of statutory committees and bodies, all of which will require assembly Members. It is likely that the assembly itself will also have four regional committees. That is food for thought, when we consider how to use effectively the Members of the assembly to get good, decisive results from those important committees.

There are to be subject committees, audit committees and the executive committee, which is likely to consist of the chairs or leaders of those committees—possibly, if we accept other amendments, in some kind of Cabinet arrangement. We need proper scrutiny of subjects relevant to the regions of Wales, and of subsidiary legislation, for example, and a local government partnership council as well. There is much constructive work to be done by the Welsh assembly.

The arguments for increasing the number of Members are strong, as 1 hope that I have demonstrated. Important issues are involved. The amendment will achieve greater democracy in the Welsh assembly, and make it more efficient and more effective, in the interests of the people of Wales.

4 pm

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

I listened assiduously to yesterday's debate on clause 2. Despite the fact that the Liberals and the nationalists moved amendments, I detected an underlying triangular consensus between the Government, the Liberals and the nationalists on the electoral system and its purpose, which was to create a sense of inclusiveness and a means of expressing a plurality of views and opinions in the assembly.

I hope that that spirit of plurality of views can be extended to our present debate, that I can participate in the expression of a plurality of thought on the schedule, and that the tolerance sought for the new assembly will be extended to us.

I find the schedule and the electoral arrangements proposed in it one of the least satisfactory features of the Bill. That is not because, as the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) suggested, we are old-fashioned people with an aversion to proportional representation. I believe that there may be a case for PR, but I have a different fear, which strangely was not expressed in any of the interesting and detailed contributions to the debate yesterday.

I fear that the electoral system proposed in the schedule, and the consequential assembly that will be created, will at best be a recipe for confusion, and at worst build in serious conflict between elected assembly Members and Westminster Members.

There should be consensus in the Committee that we desperately need an assembly that will co-operate with Westminster. We do not want to build in, through legislation or our electoral system, potential conflict. Rather, we would like the highest co-operation between the assembly and Westminster. However, I fear that the arrangements in the schedule for the method of election will build in a system of potential conflict between Westminster and assembly Members.

Whenever I have listened to or taken part in debates on electoral reform, it has been interesting to see that, somehow, politicians suspend their natural political instincts or sense. We get very involved in the loving detail about whether it is a single transferable vote or the additional member system. With the exception of my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies), one question was not asked very often yesterday: how will it work? What will be the political chemistry of the system that we are devising in the schedule? How will the proposed electoral arrangements work in terms of the relationships between assembly Members elected under this system and Westminster Members? If we are brewing a possible conflict between the two, we should think twice and think hard about what we are doing.

We did not ask those questions yesterday because we became wrapped up in whether STV was better than the additional member system. We did not exercise a bit of old-fashioned political sense about our own political experience, and about how the system may or may not work on the ground if we agree the schedule. By modelling two thirds of the assembly—as the schedule suggests—on the Westminster single-Member seat, one is starting to build in the first element of conflict between, for example, the Members of Parliament for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, for Caerphilly, for Rhondda, for Llanelli and elsewhere at Westminster, and the assembly Member elected for an identical geographical constituency area.

Mr. Rogers

My hon. Friend has introduced a powerful point. I speak from experience. Some years ago, I was elected as the member of the European Parliament for south-east Wales, and covered 10 Westminster constituencies, across the area from the Rhondda down to Chepstow. The relative roles of the Member of the European Parliament and the Westminster Member are quite amazing. In two constituencies, which will remain nameless, when I was invited to attend a meeting, the local Member of Parliament said that he would not attend because he did not recognise the European Parliament. That was a constitutional issue, but there was an element of conflict. The second element of conflict was his assertion that a particular subject had more to do with Westminster than Europe. My hon. Friend is right to draw that potential conflict to the attention of the Committee.

Mr. Rowlands

What will happen when two Members sit for the same area and claim to speak with exactly the same voice, and have the same authority from the same electorate? What will happen if those Members have strikingly different opinions on a particular issue?

Sir Raymond Powell (Ogmore)

My hon. Friend will be aware that I proposed that there should be seats for 40 women and 40 men. That would represent 40 parliamentary constituencies in Wales, which would alleviate any possibility of introducing proportional representation. My hon. Friend made a point about representation. If a man and a woman were elected for one parliamentary seat and had conflicting interests, who should speak on behalf of the constituents whom they represent? I am glad that he thought of it.

Mr. Rowlands

My hon. Friend tempts me, but at this stage in the presentation of my case I do not want to be drawn into the gender debate. I want to confine myself to the fact that the schedule may lead to the sort of conflict that I have described between the assembly Member and the Westminster Member, both elected to the same geographical constituency.

The situation is then given a bit of a twist by the interesting and curious situation of the four Members of no fixed constituency abode in each of the five European constituencies, wandering around within the European dimension, each of whom may speak for Merthyr and Rhymney, Caerphilly, Rhondda or wherever, claiming equal validity for their opinions and beliefs.

It is a curious mix. Instead of going into the minutiae of one representational system or another, let us run the system in the schedule through a couple of scenarios. It would be a good idea, and a very with-it idea, to play a devolution war game, running some of the worst scenarios through the electoral system in the schedule to see what our political instincts tell us will happen in certain circumstances.

For example, there may be a closure of a popular local school or hospital, or the reorganisation of a trust, something of which the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), had vivid first-hand experience only last weekend, or a contentious opencast proposal. Whatever else, the system in the schedule will create a wonderful democratic bidding for opposition to such schemes. However much one is on the same side, in the same party or the best of friends, the system is guaranteed to lead to some kind of democratic bidding on contentious local issues of one kind or another.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)

But surely there is nothing unusual about that. I bow to the experience of my hon. Friend who has been in politics for much longer than I have, but that happens at every level of politics and surely that diversity has been one of the great strengths of Britain's constitution for many years.

Mr. Rowlands

I am not saying that it does not exist; I am saying that the schedule will intensify it, as a matter not simply of degree but of character. I do not think that my hon. Friend would claim to speak with the same conviction as I on, say, an opencast proposal in Merthyr and Rhymney. But if two of us claim to speak with equal validity on such an issue, the situation will be intensified in a way that we have not thought through. I am not saying that that does not exist now, but the structure in the schedule will produce a hyper-competitive system.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

As my hon. Friend has been the Member for a Cardiff constituency, although it was a long time ago, and, since then, the Member for a valleys constituency, does his experience fit in with mine? Until 1 May this year, during my 10 years as Labour Member of Parliament for Cardiff, West, surrounded in the Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiff, North by Conservative Members—except for the brief period when my hon. Friend the present Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) won the by-election—if I had had a pound for every phone call that I received from a Labour-supporting constituent in the Vale of Glamorgan or Cardiff, North, claiming that they wanted me to be their constituency Member for a particular purpose because they did not trust their Tory Member of Parliament, I would be a rich man. That is the difficulty.

In an area such as Cardiff or South Glamorgan, where there is party diversity, it would be convenient for Conservatives to be able to go to a Conservative Member of the Assembly and for Labour supporters to go to a Labour Member of the Assembly.

4.15 pm
Mr. Rowlands

That is an interesting scenario. Democracy requires competition and therefore choice, as described by my hon. Friend, but we are creating a system in which two people will claim equal right to express the opinions of the same constituency, drawing from the same well of democratic choice. [Interruption.] Shall I arbitrate over the discussion that has broken out behind me?

The issue did not emerge during yesterday's debates, but it seems to have needed an airing. We are hearing some interesting differences of opinion. Of course, there is competition in the current system, but the peculiar electoral structure devised for the assembly will intensify the issues and arguments. That is an inevitable consequence of a dual democratic system, which is what we are devising. We should think of institutional ways—particularly electoral systems—to minimise some of those consequences.

The consequences of what is proposed were not fully explained during the referendum campaign. The Bill substitutes a strong, accountable Executive—the Secretary of State for Wales—with a democratic assembly Executive. They are two different animals. After 30 or more years' experience of watching the Welsh Office and the Secretary of State, I appreciate that my right hon. Friend has one of the finest and most privileged jobs in the Government. Like other hon. Members representing Welsh seats, I would love to have been the Secretary of State for Wales. On many occasions, the Secretary of State has been a successful arbiter over the warring demands of those making representations to him—which includes all of us, in our different ways; we all try to put pressure on him and influence him. The last thing that we should do is change the system on the ground that the Secretary of State for Wales is not accountable. He is accountable in all sorts of ways.

We are replacing a system in which the Secretary of State is an arbiter, at arm's length from the passion in one part of the community, with a democratic alternative, which will behave more as we do when trying to persuade the Secretary of State, rather than acting as a rational Executive.

Mr. Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd)


Mr. Rowlands

I shall give way in a minute, when I have finished my point.

I am not saying that the change is wrong, but we should identify the interesting and serious problems that will arise from it.

I should like to take my scenario of a school closure, opencast scheme or trust reorganisation through to the decision-making process, but first I shall give way.

Mr. Ruane

Is my hon. Friend saying that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) was accountable to the people as Secretary of State for Wales when he refused to sleep a night in Wales? What kind of accountability is that? The man had no connection with Wales and no responsibility towards the Welsh people.

Mr. Rowlands


The First Deputy Chairman

Order. Perhaps this is an appropriate time to tell hon. Members that they must restrict their comments to the amendments, the scope of which is a little tighter than the comments being made.

Mr. Rowlands

I should have loved to be drawn into an answer to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Mr. Ruane), but, in the light of what you have said, Mr. Martin, I shall not be. I am trying to describe the system that will arise and be promoted by the electoral system proposed in the schedule. That is—I hope—the relevance of my remarks.

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. I do not know—it depends on who is in the Chair—but there could be a schedule stand part debate. We are debating amendments to the schedule, which are far more restrictive than the scope of hon. Members' comments. Hon. Members are a wee bit wide of the amendments.

Mr. Rowlands

The amendments, as I understand them, seek to change the proposed single-member constituency arrangements. I am addressing my remarks to the fact that I think that the arrangements need changing—although I do not necessarily agree with the way in which the amendments do it. The sort of scenario that I am describing arises from the electoral structure that the schedule will create. Even if it were changed by the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, it would still lead to some of the problems that I am describing.

I shall respond directly to the comments of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire. The schedule creates a total of 100 full-time politicians representing Wales—in the assembly and in Westminster. I noticed that the hon. Gentleman read with great interest the case put by the Institute of Welsh Affairs for an even larger assembly. I do not believe that there are jobs—given the electoral arrangements in the schedule and the 40 full-time Members in Westminster—for 100 full-time politicians in Wales. Therefore, something has to go.

Perhaps the assembly should be as large as is proposed. I considered the way in which functions will be transferred to the assembly. I suspect that about a third of my parliamentary work—the proportion may be different for other Members—would be transferred to the assembly if I adhered strictly to the demarcation line. If that is so, there will be huge, compelling pressure to reduce the size of the representation of Wales in Westminster. That is an inevitable consequence. Indeed, why should that not be so, given that we are asking everybody else in society to work harder and raise productivity, and that a third of one's parliamentary work is to be lost?

There will be pressure—sadly, even a case—for a reduction in the size of representation of Wales in Westminster, which is of considerable concern. I see everybody nodding—yet we never told the electorate at any time that it was a consequence of the proposals.

Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

I am glad that my hon. Friend spends a third of his time on work that is to be transferred. I seem to spend a third of my time dealing with the Child Support Agency, although I wish that I did not.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Does he agree that there might be pressure for a reduction in the number of Westminster Members if the proposals go ahead, but that it ought to be resisted because we do not have enough Members to exercise scrutiny? Scrutiny is an important consideration which will be important in the assembly. We need a sufficient number of elected Members of the Assembly to scrutinise matters, and more Members—or at least the same number—in Westminster. Perhaps the proportions could be changed so that England is represented by the right proportion of Members. Nevertheless, scrutiny ought to be one of the principal questions that we address.

Mr. Rowlands

I certainly would not and do not support a reduction in the representation of Welsh Members at Westminster. What I said was that I feared that the pressure would grow. There will be a powerful rationale behind that pressure, because the electoral system that we are creating in the schedule will lead to the competition that I have described.

We shall then have to decide which type of system we want. Would it not be better to change the structure of elections to the assembly in a different way from that in the schedule? Otherwise, I suspect that we shall have to change the nature of the way in which we elect Members to Westminster.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Assuming that the Boundary Commission operates as we think it will, the Scots' numbers will be reduced under the Scotland Bill. There would be the most dreadful stoochie if the number of Scots Members were reduced but the number of Welsh Members were not.

Mr. Rowlands

I can answer that simply—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. I point out again that we are very wide of the amendments at the moment. I ask the hon. Gentleman to try to come back to them.

Mr. Rowlands

I appreciate that, Mr. Martin, especially as you sit for a Scottish seat. I shall simply reply briefly to my hon. Friend that there is no such comparison, because the Bills are different and we can therefore make a different case. I can answer his question in simple fashion.

Mr. Dalyell

There would still be a stoochie.

Mr. Ancram

The point arises in the general context of devolution, as well as here in particular.

The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) said that he thought that his work load here would decrease by one third. I am surprised that he thinks that the decrease would be so large, in the case of Wales. Does he not foresee pressure growing, if some Members of Parliament here do only two thirds of what others do, not only for a reduction in numbers but for changing the status of the Member of Parliament at Westminster? Is that not another great concern for Wales? I am not saying that that is what I want to happen, but it is a problem which arises from the legislation, and we have to find a way of dealing with it.

Mr. Rowlands

The pressures will grow. That is the simple point I wanted to bring to the House. They will grow—

Mr. Livsey

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Rowlands

Let me answer the other point first.

The pressures will grow because of the curious structures that we have decided to include in the schedule, which introduces a dual democratic system in which two thirds of the new assembly will be elected on exactly the same constituency basis as is used for Westminster.

The point I was making is that the schedule will then have set up a competitive structure. It would be far preferable to devise an electoral structure that did not intensify the competitive element between the assembly and Westminster, but emphasised as best we can the complementary element. That has been the burden of my case, and I hope that I have kept in order, within the scope of the schedule, to argue it.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan

My hon. Friend should not be too deterministic about saying that one third of his work will probably transfer to the one or two Members of the Assembly who represent Merthyr. In my experience, by virtue of the Acts that the House has passed even during the 10 years that I have been a Member, there has been a huge increase in the volume of work, all of which would, as it happens, remain with Westminster.

The Child Support Agency, which my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) mentioned, is one example; the disability living allowance, dating from 1992, is another; the increasing complexity of immigration procedures is a third. All have meant a massive increase in my work load as a constituency Member of Parliament, and all that work will remain with Westminster. Furthermore, who knows what other Acts the House may pass to increase the burdens on constituency Members?

Mr. Rowlands

We all have a common experience of the increase in the work load as a result of the changes that my hon. Friend mentions. That is what we do now, and we get paid for it. It is a privilege to do that work; it is the greatest privilege of all to be the Member of Parliament for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney.

I am saying to my hon. Friend that, nevertheless, by the very nature of things, I spend a great deal of my time dealing with matters connected with the host of functions and responsibilities of the Secretary of State. Those will all be transferred to the assembly, which must mean that a distinct percentage of our existing parliamentary work load will go to the assembly. In fact, I suspect that we shall duplicate that work.

We shall not have a decrease in our work load because we shall probably all do it. Certainly, there will be at least two Members representing exactly the same patch, and I suspect that our constituents will come to both of us.

Our constituents may be doubly represented, and doubly blessed, but I think that that is potentially a huge area for competition and for Members to bid against each other in all sorts of ways on issues that arise both locally and nationally. It should make a significant difference to the role that one plays here if so many of the functions that I find myself speaking about and involved with here are transferred to the assembly.

Mr. Livsey

Surely there is no case for reducing the number of Welsh Members of Parliament here while the Welsh assembly cannot pass primary legislation or raise taxes, because it is here that those functions are carried out.

Mr. Rowlands

That is true. We are here to scrutinise taxation, to decide whether to assent to it and to produce annual legislation; but we do other work as well. I do not know whether any of my colleagues have attempted the same exercise, but I looked at what I had done over the past parliamentary year, and identified a strict demarcation line between the work that would continue to be done at Westminster and that which would be done by the Assembly. I related my constituency and parliamentary work to the functions that would be transferred. If I kept strictly to the demarcation line between Assembly and Westminster work, I suspect that a significant part of my work load would go to the assembly. I fear that people will start arguing that that will happen, and that representation here must therefore be reduced. I do not support such an outcome, but I think that we are building up pressure.

4.30 pm
The First Deputy Chairman

Order. What the hon. Gentleman is saying is very interesting, and I am enjoying listening to it, but I am obliged to ask him to stick to the amendment.

Mr. Rowlands

I apologise, Mr. Martin. I blame other hon. Members who keep intervening.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)


Mr. Rowlands

I fear that I am going to be tempted again, but I will give way to the hon. Gentleman. I hope that his question will be in order.

Mr. Evans

I will try my best.

When we look at the amendments—I hope that, by mentioning them, I will drag my question into order—we see that it is not just a case of confusion between the hon. Gentleman representing his constituency here at Westminster and the assembly Member representing the same constituency in Cardiff, Swansea or wherever the assembly will end up. There will be another four regional Members, who will say that they, too, have a right to represent the hon. Gentleman's constituents. Indeed, if amendment No. 19A is passed, there will be six additional Members. That will create enormous confusion.

The hon. Gentleman asks what he will do at Westminster. I think that he will be very busy writing to his fellow Members in Cardiff, Swansea or wherever, and dealing with their replies. There will be an enormous backlog of mail.

Mr. Rowlands

I think that I shall be in order if I reply to the hon. Gentleman.

From the outset, the burden of my case has been simple. The schedule, as it stands—I am not content with the proposed amendments—will create an electoral system that will heighten, or intensify, the competitive element between the assembly and Westminster, and I am therefore not sure that it will create a stable political relationship between them. The electoral system could bring about either greater stability or greater instability.

My difficulty is this. Either my right hon. and hon. Friends should have been bolder and gone for full-blooded proportional representation of one kind or another—the single transferable vote, perhaps—to elect the whole assembly, which would at least have been elected on a very different basis and would not have involved the present hybrid hotch-potch of constituency plus added Members; or they should have said, "We shall need to reform the nature of representation here, and the electoral system allowing Members of Parliament to be sent to Westminster from Wales." We could have had a constituency-based arrangement for the assembly and a PR system for Westminster. What we have done, however, falls between two stools. We have half adopted the combination of single and additional Members, but we have built into that system potentially competitive and conflicting electoral arrangements, which will cause conflict between the assembly and Westminster.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Ron Davies)

I have listened with care to my hon. Friend's argument, and I know how strongly he feels. Does he regret that he did not argue his persuasive case for an all-embracing system of proportional representation when he and I debated the matter in the Labour party before our policy was established? If he had argued the case then as forcefully as he is doing now—who knows?—he might have won.

Mr. Rowlands

I probably do regret it. My right hon. Friend is right to chide me, in the gentlest possible way. I think that it was a gentle form of chiding. It is true that it has taken me a while to accept that we need some form of PR. Only when I was confronted by this hybrid arrangement did it dawn on me that we might get the worst of both worlds.

We have not had a proper chance to debate the subject. In our examination of the schedule, the flaws have become manifest. I do not support the amendment; but I also do not like the combination of single-member seats and added Members, which will create a dual democratic bidding system that could not lead to good government in Wales.

Mr. Dalyell

Will my hon. Friend reflect on the fact that this might be one of the unsatisfactory aspects of having had a referendum before the parliamentary discussion? The whole purpose of the parliamentary mangle, or anvil, or whatever one calls it, is to discuss exactly such problems. If the referendum had taken place on a post-legislative basis, with the question, "Do you approve of the Government of Wales Act 1998?", it would have been easier to make satisfactory alterations.

Mr. Rowlands

That might have been so, in that before we got to the referendum we would have had more arguments in the media and much of the discussion would have gone out of society's political bloodstream. That is something which parliamentary debates can achieve.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State rightly chides me for not coming to these conclusions early enough to influence Labour party policy, but the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) would have been more sensible. My right hon. Friend's point is rather an historic one than one on which we can dwell now.

Mr. Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West)

My hon. Friend may recall that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that he would be prepared to review the electoral system in the light of experience. Will my hon. Friend make at that stage the representations that he is making now, to lift the debate on the issue in Wales? I agree with my right hon. Friend: my hon. Friend's points could have been made during the consultation process.

Mr. Rowlands

I would not presume to be lifting the debate, but I think that we can raise the issues now rather than waiting for a review. I am suggesting that the schedule creates a potentially unstable situation, with a competitive, conflicting bidding structure between Westminster and the assembly. That situation is a direct consequence of the electoral system that we are adopting.

We should think hard about this. I fear that it may be too late to try to recast the schedule to accommodate my views, but it is worth considering. We have not considered the impact of the changes in the Bill on the circumstances in Westminster. We have not really thought through the impact of the changes that will flow from creating a dual democratic structure. We have certainly not argued it through or presented the issues and arguments to the Welsh electorate.

Mr. Rogers

I hope that my hon. Friends will not imagine that we have arrived at the additional members system as a result of a great philosophical debate or a commitment to extending democracy. The Prime Minister, then the Leader of the Opposition, visited Cardiff and it was decided that there would be an element of proportionality. Constituency Labour parties and Members of Parliament were asked to submit views. Some, such as myself, did so, and went to the Labour party executive in Cardiff, where the matter was considered.

I am not suggesting that the system should be changed, but do not imagine that it arrived through any great philosophical decision; it arrived simply because somebody asked what was the least amount of proportionality that we could introduce, and we got lumbered with this. That is the real truth of the matter, and do not let anyone suggest otherwise.

Mr. Rowlands

I appreciate my hon. Friend's observations. Incidentally, if we did not have the consultations on the matter that we should, I hope that we will consult on the selection process for candidates. However, that issue is not covered in the amendment and I shall leave it there. You may not believe it, Mr. Martin, but I am trying hard to bring my remarks to a conclusion.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

Is not it clear from the intervention by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers)—

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

The hon. Gentleman has not heard the speech because he has only just come in.

Mr. Hawkins

I have heard the speech. Is it not clear that all that the Bill is about is a good—or rather, bad—old-fashioned Labour party fix?

Mr. Rowlands

I do not think that we need to listen to the remarks of an hon. Member who has only just come in. If I had realised that, I would not have given way to him. He has not had the courtesy to be here for the beginning of the debate or for most of my contribution. I shall try to come to a conclusion and this will be my third attempt to move to a peroration.

I rose to make a simple, but fundamental point. We do not want to create a competitive system between Westminster and the assembly. The schedule and the proposed electoral system will intensify the potential for competition, and that may not be in the best interests of the good governance of Wales. I hope that we will have a review of how the assembly is elected or how this House is elected, because those two issues impact on each other in a way that we have not been honest enough to acknowledge before.

Mr. Llwyd

I shall tread carefully and try to stay within the terms of the debate, but I shall also choose my words carefully because I do not wish to interfere in internal Labour party grief. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) introduced the West Lothian question. Yesterday, he intervened several times and introduced a new acid test—whether an hon. Member who spoke wished to stand for the assembly. That may be relevant to our debate today, because the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) spoke eloquently about the possibility of seats disappearing from the House for representatives from Wales. I unashamedly admit that I do not care if seats do disappear, because real devolution would inevitably mean that responsibilities would move from this place. As night follows day, that would make the case for a review and for fewer Welsh Members at Westminster. I do not know what there is to fear in that, unless I reverse the argument and suggest that some hon. Members might be concerned about their own jobs in this place, but I shall not get into that argument at this stage.

I wish to support amendment No. 19A tabled by the Liberal Democrats and my hon. Friends, but I shall not speak to it directly because it was moved eloquently by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey). I was interested by the intervention by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) when he said that the Government's proposals amounted to the least proportionality that they could get away with. That must surely make the case for the amendment. The point of the amendment is not to increase costs, to make jobs for the boys or to make more seats for any party, but to increase proportionality. Academics and people who know more about electoral systems than most hon. Members—including me—have said that the only way to increase proportionality is to increase representation.

Mr. Rogers

The hon. Gentleman should have listened a little more closely to my words because I was explaining why we had arrived at this position. It was a form of criticism of my right hon. and hon. Friends. The Labour party has been extremely generous to its political opponents. The beneficiaries will be Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, who were virtually wiped out in Wales. The Labour party has taken a dramatic step forward in the governance of this country by introducing an element of proportionality. The hon. Gentleman should not criticise the Labour party but should congratulate it on giving its opponents a lifeline.

4.45 pm
Mr. Llwyd

I was not criticising the Labour party for introducing the notion; I welcome the notion. I was speaking in support of the amendment, the case for which has been proved.

Amendment No. 188 seeks to delete the words "where appropriate". Clearly, there are always geographical considerations when we are dealing with constituencies, which are, by definition, always special. To include the words "where appropriate" makes evaluation of the geographical considerations merely a side issue, which can never be right. It should always be far more than that.

Amendment No. 188 also has a bearing on a later amendment. The schedule says: The regional electorate for an Assembly electoral region shall be as near the regional electorate for each other Assembly electoral region as is reasonably practicable, having regard (where appropriate) to special geographical considerations. The qualifying words "where appropriate" add nothing to that provision. Even if the amendment is accepted, the schedule remains deficient because other important considerations must be taken into account if we are effectively to carve out constituency boundaries.

Amendment No. 187 seeks to insert the words "demographic, social or cultural", which are important criteria. The criteria brought to bear on this issue should be no less comprehensive than those currently used in drawing parliamentary boundaries—those adopted by the boundary commission. It is a grave mistake only to play the numbers game because it produces unhappy, sometimes grotesque, results.

For example, the Wales Mid and West European parliamentary constituency referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) yesterday is an incredibly unwieldy boundary. To the north, it includes Eglwysbach, a charming little village perched on a hillside just five minutes' drive from the north Wales coast. To the south, it goes as far as Pembrokeshire and Llanelli on the south Wales coast. Thus one European constituency stretches the length of Wales, although it excludes the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones). Perhaps we could include that at some stage.

How anyone can suggest that that European constituency is cohesive is beyond my comprehension. It is impossible to manage, which may be why the Labour MEP is making such a mess of it. Unfortunately, the people of the Conwy valley have little in common with the good people of Llanelli. Both are Welsh speaking, but in terms of social outlook and cultural indices, they are quite different and there is little cohesion between the two communities. The boundary commission said that, by putting together the eight parliamentary constituencies, we would reach the magic figure of 500,000, which was all that was necessary. That was a short-sighted and unhelpful approach.

I sincerely hope that the Government will look carefully at the amendment, which is not partisan in any way. It is designed solely to ensure that we have better boundaries and, ultimately, more lasting and better representation.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

A moment ago, my hon. Friend referred to the words "where appropriate". I invite him and, through him, invite the Government to explain where it would be inappropriate to take such matters into account. If there are circumstances in which it would be inappropriate to do so, the House should know about them.

Mr. Llwyd

That is a good point and I hope that the Minister will deal specifically with it. I submit that the geography of any boundary must always be a special consideration, because we cannot start to look at any boundary without the geography. The wording is deficient and I believe, in a non-partisan way, that the amendment would improve the Bill. I hope that the Minister will respond specifically to my remarks, given that I am specifically addressing the amendment; and, in due course, we might be able to a have a worthwhile debate on the subject.

One of the strengths of Wales is the fact that the whole country is culturally diverse. We must cater as much for those whose cultural life is transacted through the medium of English as for those who live, breathe, work and transact their culture through the medium of Welsh. We are a bilingual nation, so it is important that we consider both languages equally. I am pleased that the Bill makes reference to the equality and parity of both languages. I know that that reference has been included in all sincerity and I welcome it, but such factors must be considered carefully and fully when drawing up boundaries if such boundaries are to last.

I mentioned the importance of demography and geography. We have a diverse country and some areas naturally look to others in terms of market towns, and so forth. In the northern part of my constituency, people in the Conwy valley look toward Llanrwst and Llandudno for shopping and social functions, whereas in the southern part, the people of Meirionnydd feel strongly that they are part of mid-Wales and tend to look in that direction. The Secretary of State goaded me twice during the debates in the Welsh Grand Committee—

Mr. Ron Davies

indicated dissent.

Mr. Llwyd

I do not mean that in a pejorative sense, but the Secretary of State did try to entice me to express a view on where Meirionnydd should be in the new powerhouse set-up; I understand that no decision has been reached yet. Being a careful person, I answered, "Yes and no". The reason is plain: we in Meirionnydd want to remain in both the mid-Wales set-up and the North Wales training and enterprise council area. I hope that that helps the right hon. Gentleman—it is probably more helpful than my response in the Welsh Grand Committee.

Mr. Davies

That will, of course, be of partial help in my deliberations.

Mr. Llwyd

On a serious note, I have written to the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, which will make submissions on the subject, and to the Secretary of State to express the overwhelming view that Meirionnydd should stay in the mid-Wales partnership where the powerhouse is concerned, but that it should be allowed to remain within the area of the North Wales TEC. That arrangement has worked perfectly well hitherto and it is the status quo, although it may be in breach of one or two current lines of thought. I urge the Secretary of State to consider that submission, because it is the best arrangement in all circumstances.

In looking at questions of demography and geography, we cannot ignore the important matter of transport links. Often, we look at a map and see that one area apparently lies well with another, but the hills and valleys of Wales mean that the view from the ground may be different. It is important that we bring into the process and take into account local feelings and preferences.

After all, the purpose of the exercise will be to draw boundaries that are acceptable to the people we are proud to serve. We must ensure that we carry their support and we can do that only by guaranteeing that they play a full part in the relevant discussions. When drawing up boundaries, it is, therefore, important that demographic, cultural and social aspects are considered as well as geographical ones.

If our efforts are to succeed, we need boundaries that will be in place for years to come, and which are acceptable to everyone in Wales. If those boundaries are imposed without proper discussions, there is a danger that people in some parts of Wales will feel—wrongly, I believe—that instead of Westminster diktat, they should read Cardiff or Swansea diktat. That is the last thing that any of us would want. That is why it is important that all possible sensibilities are noted and catered for.

In my respectful submission, the amendments are neither revolutionary nor partisan, and they would improve schedule 1. I urge hon. Members to consider them carefully and I hope that the Government will offer me some assurance that the matters I have raised will be considered.

Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North)

I support the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey). It is designed to improve the proportionality element of the additional member system by increasing the number of seats as well as creating more Members to handle the expected amount of work.

In Wales, the ratio will be 40:20, or 2:1, whereas Scotland obviously has a larger element of proportionality. I support AMS not only because it is fair and will probably allow all the major political parties to be represented in the assembly, but because it should also make it easier for women and black people to be elected to it. The political parties have made a commitment to that. If it were possible to have longer lists, it would make the process easier. All countries with some element of proportionality have more women participating in the political system than we have achieved.

We have already discussed how we reached the 40:20 ratio and the fact that we will have 20 additional Members as a result. We must acknowledge that there is some resistance to proportional representation. The proposed arrangements will offer Wales the experience of PR for the first time. Perhaps there is some element of truth in what the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) said about AMS being the system that we can get away with. It is the first step, and politics is about compromise. We put the AMS proposal to the electorate and campaigned for it in the referendum, so we must keep with it. I accept that AMS makes it more difficult to elect the number of women that want to see in the assembly. That means that responsibility for trying to achieve equal representation will fall heavily on the political parties.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Môn)

In terms of gender balance and ensuring that we have representatives from the ethnic minorities, does the hon. Lady accept that the point made by her hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) is fact? If the results of the general election, for example, were replicated, the parties represented on the Opposition Benches would probably be allocated a substantial proportion of the additional Members on the list. If those parties want to achieve a gender balance, they can use the regional lists. For the Labour party, however, that exercise would not produce that result. How would the Labour party achieve such gender balance?

Ms Morgan

With regional lists, it will be much easier to get more women elected to the assembly because one could have a list that went one man, one woman, and so on. That would be an easy and acceptable method to use. In the 40 seats in which the first-past-the-post system will operate, the political parties will obviously have to take action within their organisations to ensure the gender balance. The Labour party has already taken steps to do that. I hope that the other political parties will do the same for both first-past-the-post and additional Member seats. I know that Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats are committed to that.

I was surprised yesterday when the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire, who is not here today, said that the Labour party was old-fashioned and unreconstructed. The Liberal Democrat party should perhaps look at its record on gender representation in the House of Commons, which is not of the best—nor is the nationalists'. We rely on them to put it right in the assembly.

The Conservative party also seems to be having second thoughts about gender balance. It now accepts that it is a good thing to have the population as a whole represented in the House of Commons. We look forward to seeing what it will do when the assembly is set up.

5 pm

Mr. Rowlands

I am following my hon. Friend's remarks with interest. If we cannot achieve gender balance through schedule 1 and the electoral system and will, therefore, have to rely on party devices, will my hon. Friend support maximum consultation with the parties?

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. Perhaps we can get back to the amendments. A brief comment on gender balance is in order, but it is not relevant to go into it in depth on this group of amendments.

Ms Morgan

I think that I have made the point that I wanted to make on numbers. It was particularly in relation to gender balance that I wanted to take up the point made by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

The Committee should be aware that the effect of amendment No. 19A is to make a frightful situation worse, albeit not half as bad as the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) would make it with his recent conversion. The amendment would increase the number of representatives who effectively represented no one but the party hacks who had placed them on the list.

Yesterday, a great deal of attention was given to examples from Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. I ask members of the Committee to consider the effects of the voting systems in those places on representatives and the quality of their representation. I have visited those places and it is instructive to witness the level of anxiety about, for example, economic and monetary union, and open hostility to it. If, however, one speaks to the elected representatives, one finds that they do not represent that deeply held anxiety and hostility. The fact is that they owe their election not to the voters, but to the hacks who put them on the list.

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. I have appealed to almost every hon. Member who has spoken. Hon. Members must speak to the amendment. What the hon. Gentleman is saying has nothing to do with the amendments. We are talking not about accountability to a party, but about representation and how many seats there should be. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could examine the amendment.

Mr. Swayne

Thank you, Mr. Martin. The amendment would increase the quantity of inadequate representation and would, therefore, give the assembly, from its inception, a democratic deficit.

Mr. Rogers

In opposing the amendments, I congratulate my party on introducing its proposals. My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) said that there would be conflict if two Members represented one constituency.

Mr. Llwyd

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Rogers

May I speak first? That is the trouble with these gogs.

I have thought seriously about what my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney said. At the beginning, I went along with him, but, on reflection, I believe that his fears may be unjustified and that the two representatives will find a method of working together.

When I was a Member of the European Parliament—the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), will remember this example—the Davignon plan on steel production was introduced. The European apparatchiks decided to reduce the amount of steel production in this country and the Tory Government decided to cut it over and above what the European Commission had suggested. That introduced both a Westminster and a European dimension to the discussion. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will graphically remember, there were differences between the Members of the European Parliament and hon. Members, but progress was made.

We must remember that, with these amendments, we are talking about constitutional development. This country's constitutional development has been dynamic. If there are points of conflict, they are often the areas where there is more dynamism and where there can be change. On reflection, therefore, the fears of my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney may not be justified, although I imagine that there will be people with small minds who do not particularly want to act in the interests of the people they represent and who will look for that democratic extra in all situations, which does their electors a disservice.

I have criticised some of the Labour party's proposals on the government of Wales for sincere and specific reasons, but it ill behoves Opposition Members to criticise the Labour party. Whether they agree with its proposals or not, what is proposed is a dramatic step forward in the government and constitutional development of this country.

We have had discussions in the Labour party. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) talked of old Labour. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), I like to consider myself classic Labour rather than old Labour. As a democratic party, we have differences of opinion. There was an extensive debate in the Labour party on proportional representation and the number of seats that should be in the assembly, which the amendments address—I mention them before you bring me back to order, Mr. Martin—and we came up with proposals.

The Tories never did. In fact, if the Tories had not mismanaged Wales for 18 years, we would never have had this Bill. As for the Liberals, they were never in favour of such a proposal when they were in power. It was only after they lost power that they wanted proportional representation. Plaid Cymru would catch at any old straw. It is a rag-bag of political ideas—a little bit of this and a little bit of that—and contains the odd journeymen of Welsh politics who box and cox for any position.

The Labour party has made specific and clear suggestions. I do not particularly believe in the extension of proportionality, but it is an honest position. I am going to support it because it is the only game in town. It also has some distinct advantages.

My reservations about the conflicts that my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney said might arise were wiped out as he developed his argument and I considered the situations that he spoke of.

Under the system proposed in the Bill, there will be points of conflict in matters such as education, housing and transport and in the division of the budget—the dispersal of moneys to local authorities. We have not introduced to the equation how local councillors will fit in with their assembly man or woman, Member of Parliament and Member of the European Parliament.

Opposition Members are always bleating about democratic accountability. They will have it coming out of their ears in three or four years' time—it will be pouring out of Wales—so I do not understand why they want to amend decent proposals from Labour Members.

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole)

I oppose amendment No. 19A. The law of diminishing returns would apply to the assembly. The greater the number of politicians representing Wales, the worse representation people will get: constituents will not get the representation that they deserve.

The creation of another two Members in each multi-Member area would multiply the problems caused by the Bill. As the Bill stands, a constituent with a problem will have a choice: to write to their Member of Parliament—who already represents fewer electors than an hon. Member from elsewhere in the United Kingdom, perhaps 56,000 electors—to write to their Member of the European Parliament, to write to the assembly Member for their constituency or to write to four other assembly Members with some interest in their constituency. Amendment No. 19A would increase the number in the latter group from four to six. The law of diminishing returns would apply. The biggest problem that most assembly Members will have when a constituent comes to see them with a problem will be working out whether the constituent has come to see them only or whether he or she has written to other assembly Members and who else has taken up the case.

We all know from experience that some people come to a Member of Parliament when they have tried everyone else or when they have tried neighbouring Members of Parliament. Sometimes their problem is insoluble. Some individuals in Wales may be given a wonderful opportunity. If the Bill is passed as it stands, such people could visit seven individuals with their problems; if amendment No. 19A is passed, they could visit nine individuals. That is a gross over-representation.

Mr. Ron Davies

While the hon. Gentleman is reflecting on democratic accountability, will he explain how he feels about the present system, in which about one third of a budget of £7 billion is accounted for by the unelected quango state, in which about 100 unelected public bodies, known as quangos, are entirely immune from accountability and scrutiny and in which nearly 1,000 people are appointed to quangos by the Secretary of State without accountability or scrutiny? While the hon. Gentleman is reflecting on how disgruntled constituents should seek redress in a democratic system, will he explain how they can get redress in the present undemocratic system?

Mr. Syms

The argument that I was making had more to do with the structure of the system—the number of representatives. If we had a first-past-the-post system—an issue which the House disposed of yesterday—we would have fewer problems with accountability and fewer Members running round tackling problems. Of course the Secretary of State is accountable to the House and to the many Welsh Members in the Chamber and Members of the United Kingdom Parliament, many of whom do an excellent job. Wales has not been especially badly represented in the Chamber over the years; it has had many outstanding Members of Parliament.

The key point is that one must look at any constitutional proposal as much from the point of view of ordinary constituents as from that of political parties and Westminster institutions.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

I am astounded by the Secretary of State's extraordinarily denigratory regard for his fellow hon. Members from Wales. They are directly accountable to the constituencies. If he felt that it was appropriate, all those powers could be exercised by Welsh Members of Parliament and there would be direct accountability to the electorate for the disposal and dispersal of those powers. I do not understand the point of the right hon. Gentleman's intervention.

Mr. Syms

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention and return to opposing amendment No. 19A. If I did not, the Committee would not make progress.

Mr. Davies

For the sake of accuracy, let me make it clear that I was making no criticism whatever of hon. Members who represent Welsh constituencies. My criticism was of the system and of previous Secretaries of State, who have wielded an enormous power of patronage in a way that was unacceptable, bordering on the corrupt. Our parliamentary system has proved inadequate in hauling those to account.

Mr. Syms

I thank the Secretary of State for his further contribution.

An increase from seven to nine in the number of representatives from multi-Member areas would diminish the quality of representation because Members who represent constituents will fall over one another's feet trying to tackle similar problems and to take up problems with civil servants and local government. I do not believe that the quality of representation will improve if the number of Members increases. If I had a choice—which I do not—I would have reduced the representation in terms of additional Members, but the Committee disposed of that matter yesterday.

The key point is that accountability will be confused in some areas. Although hon. Members have said that it is up to the good will of the Members who represent an area to work together where possible—I am sure that there is a good local interest in representatives from particular areas having conventions to work together—there will be a great deal of confusion, which will diminish representation.

In the nature of the system that will be produced, different political parties will represent different areas. Although that will give diversity—and perhaps competition, which would be a good thing in one or two parts of the Principality—it will cause problems in terms of Members dealing with constituents.

The amendment is not useful. I prefer to stick with what the Government have proposed and if there is a Division I shall vote against amendment No. 19A.

5.15 pm
Dr. Marek

The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) has completely forgotten a large chunk of our purpose in this place: scrutiny. Three thousand statutory instruments pass through the House each Session. I wonder how many he has read in his time in the House.

I shall try to speak to the amendments. You have been very generous, Mr. Martin, in allowing the debate to range slightly wide. I do not intend to seek to catch your eye in the stand part debate and I hope that I shall not cause you to call me to order.

Yesterday's discussion was important because the Secretary of State has a job to do and he must get right the interaction between primary and secondary legislation. We are looking for him to do something about that. I fear that in this discussion—we are up against the guillotine at 7 o'clock—we can do nothing about that.

I have sympathy with the amendments. I would have preferred a national assembly with more than 40 or 60 Members—a single transferable vote assembly or whatever. That would have made it easier to take into account gender balance, and scrutiny would have been easier. However, I fear, for the reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), that we have 40:20 and must put up with it.

I am afraid that it was partly necessary to drag some sections of the Labour party kicking and screaming and make them accept that a simple first-past-the-post system was not good enough and that an element of proportional representation was needed. I do not know whether it was the minimum that we could get away with.

There was a further problem. The enemies of the Bill were saying that the assembly would cost a lot of money; we have all read it in the newspapers in Wales. As a result, there was pressure on the Secretary of State to make the assembly as small as possible. There was pressure not to have 50 Members or STV, which caused us to end up with 40:20. This is not my ideal, but I shall support the Secretary of State this time. I can assure him that if he argues, "We have this now; we cannot start taking it all to pieces and looking at it again and because of practicality we must stick with it," he will have my support in the Lobby if the House divides on the amendment.

I shall be brief because we have many amendments and clauses to debate. There is a measure of agreement. My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) said that although he did not originally believe in the proposed system he had come round to saying and thinking that a measure of proportionality was right. There may be opponents of proportionality in the Committee, but they are not standing up and speaking in the debates. I believe that we are going in the right direction. In any case, I suggest that the national assembly itself can consider the matter once it comes into being. I regret that there is nothing we can do about the amendments at this point. They have my sympathy, but we should now move on to the other parts of the Bill.

Mr. Hawkins

I support what my hon. Friends the Members for Poole (Mr. Syms) and for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) said. By means of the amendment, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru are trying to make a bad situation worse. Last night, the Committee decided, contrary to our wishes, to pursue this lunatic experiment with proportional representation. I predict that the Labour party will rue the day it did this, because one day, in Wales and in Scotland, Labour's opponents in the nationalist parties will come to dominate the assemblies and will press for full independence for Wales and Scotland. That, however, is a debate for another day.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise—there is an early-day motion about the democratic deficit in Wales—the glaring unfairness in Welsh politics which led to a party that won a considerable number of votes at the election sending no representatives to Parliament? Does he realise that PR will give the fringe parties in Wales, such as the Greens and the Conservatives, some chance of representation?

Mr. Hawkins

The hon. Gentleman has not been here for most of the debate, but I can tell him that my opposition to proportional representation is absolute. It is a disastrous system which has been abandoned by many countries in Europe where it has been tried and found wanting.

My hon. Friend the Member for Poole was right: the people we are here to represent will be confused by the new system. More bureaucratic obstacles will be put in their way and they will not know who to approach. Scrutiny will suffer, too. The way Parliament has always scrutinised primary and secondary legislation will be diluted. I whole-heartedly oppose this attempt by the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru to increase confusion.

Sir Raymond Powell

I oppose amendment No. 19A. I take it that the Liberal Democrats have ulterior motives for supporting it. They are supposed to be in bed with the Government on this and many other matters, but it looks today as if they will find no support for the idea of 10 extra seats in the assembly. I for one will oppose them.

I sympathise with the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) on most of these issues. He referred to the opposition that there had been in the Labour party to the proposed number of seats in the assembly; he referred especially to proportional representation. The latter was discussed over a long period by my party—for many years, in fact. I suspect that your Scottish colleagues, Mr. Martin, have also discussed PR and the correct representation for a Scottish Parliament at great length and in great detail.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney mentioned, there was at one time agreement on the first-past-the-post system for the Welsh assembly. Some years ago, some of us formed the all-party first past the post system group; we believed in first past the post for all manner of elections in this country. That view was held by quite a number of colleagues who are now Ministers.

Some time later, I was notified that a new agreement had been reached at a conference held in Llandudno: an agreement to go for proportional representation. Possibly some of us should have given up our other duties to participate in that discussion—but we did not. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney was among those who failed to do so. In any case, the whole idea was changed by a democratic decision. That is not to say that Members of this House who objected to PR were entirely convinced. I do not know of any form of election in this country, in local government or anywhere else, in which PR is used. I believe that the Committee may come to regret the fact that the system is to be introduced for a Welsh assembly.

Still, I am a democrat and a decision has been reached. That decision has been referred to time and again in these debates and in the White Paper. I am therefore considering opposing the amendment and supporting the Government's moves to introduce a system which was, after all, voted for in the referendum and promised in the White Paper—although I harbour some reservations about the manner of its introduction.

Another good point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney was that so many responsibilities are to be taken away from Members of this House and given to the Welsh assembly that our work load here may well be reduced—possibly by 25 per cent. or more. I do not know whether that will mean a reduction in the number of seats in Parliament, but all the documents on the subject that I have read suggest that it will. Indeed, the Bill itself hints at a reduction in the number of parliamentary seats and even in the number of assembly seats. A reduction in the number of seats for Members of Parliament in Wales would mean a reduction in the number of seats in the assembly. People who have studied the work of the committees proposed for the assembly conclude that the numerical strength that is currently suggested would be insufficient to cover the work load already designated to the committees.

The committees would experience difficulty, but we, too, would find it difficult to agree to the number of parliamentary seats being reduced. If that happens—it could also happen in Scotland—there will be numerous objections from hon. Members.

Mr. Dalyell

With reference to Scotland, dare I use the word "stoochie" again? There has been great trouble about the proposal that after the assembly has been in operation for some years, the membership should be reduced from 129 to about 112 because of the alteration of seats here in Westminster. No one would wish it on an assembly that it should be set up and, after a decade, have the number of seats reduced. That would create awful stoochies.

5.30 pm
Sir Raymond Powell

My hon. Friend is right.

The Institute of Welsh Affairs has produced a pamphlet on an effective national assembly, in which it refers to the key amendments to the Government's proposals in the Bill. On the size of the assembly, the pamphlet states in the third paragraph of the section on determining the total number of Members: The consequences for the size of the Assembly (and indeed for the membership of the Scottish Parliament) are serious if those numbers are reduced. For automatically the number of constituency members has to be reduced since that is tied to the number of parliamentary constituencies for the time being. Further, the number of additional members must also be recalculated to maintain the ratio of 2:1 (Schedule I, para. 8) in the case of the Assembly. So a reduction of 4 Welsh MPs results in a loss of 6 members from the Assembly, without any legislative action. The constitution working party of the IWA was set up to examine all aspects of the Bill. I respectfully suggest that the pronouncements in such a paper should be studied carefully by the Secretary of State and the Welsh Office.

During the election campaign, I expressed my views on the introduction of proportional representation.

Mr. Ron Davies

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I have read carefully the report of the Institute of Welsh Affairs. I must make it clear to my hon. Friend that there is no provision in the Bill that would reduce the number of Members in the Welsh assembly. He is quite wrong to draw that conclusion.

Sir Raymond Powell

With all due respect to my right hon. Friend, I read out a paragraph of the document produced by the Institute of Welsh Affairs.

Mr. Gareth Thomas

I have some difficulty understanding my hon. Friend's point. The Bill contains no provision to reduce the number of Westminster representatives. Perhaps he could expand on that point.

Sir Raymond Powell

I can only repeat what I quoted from the IWA document. If my hon. Friend reads it, he will reach the same conclusion. I am merely arguing against the Liberal Democrat amendment and expressing the views that I expressed during the referendum campaign. I voted no because of the proposal to introduce a PR system. We will regret that in the future. I repeat that that was the only reason I voted no.

I am a devolutionist at heart. I voted for devolution in 1978 and I campaigned for devolution at that time. We should look back at what was suggested in the Wales Act 1978, not only on the question of representation, but on the powers. We were not prepared to extend the powers that are now proposed. My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney was a member of the Government at the time. He will recall what it was proposed that we extend to Wales. The main issue at the time was the extension of local government and the formation of unitary authorities.

Unitary authorities have been introduced in Wales. That is not the issue. Now, a Welsh assembly is proposed with a membership of 60. I proposed that there should be 40 men and 40 women representing 40 parliamentary seats—a man and a woman for each seat—but that was thrown out. My suggestion was not even supported by the women in Wales, who at one time advocated equal rights for women. They did not support my proposal to give the assembly 80 seats. If my proposal had been supported, we would have encountered the difficulty outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney—whether the man or the woman would represent the constituency.

The question now is who will represent the Ogmore constituency, say, in an assembly. We will elect the Member of the Assembly for Ogmore, who will participate in selecting the four Members to serve the region—each of the five regions will be represented by four Members—but who will represent the views of the constituents? Will it be the Member of Parliament, one of the Members representing the European seats, or the Member of the elected assembly? How will constituents' views be expressed? Where in the Bill is there any such demarcation?

Mr. Evans

I begin by taking the Secretary of State to task for something that he said earlier to the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), when the hon. Gentleman suggested an alteration to the electoral system that would mean that proportional representation applied to all constituency seats, rather than some of them. The hon. Gentleman was told that if only he had made such representations earlier, matters might have been different because of his persuasive argument.

Surely, however, that is what the Committee stage is all about. By the logic and strength of my argument, and my magnetic personal charm, I hope to persuade the Secretary of State to accept some of my views. Surely it is not all done and dusted, and we will not be told that any suggestions that we make now should have been brought to the Secretary of State before the Committee stage. I hope that he meant something different by what he said to his hon. Friend, and that he will consider all the ideas presented in Committee with the aim of improving the Bill, as we all want to do.

Mr. Ron Davies

The hon. Gentleman knows that I am a very firm advocate of inclusive politics and am always prepared to listen to views that have been expressed. I merely invited my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), as he has reflected long and hard and is advocating proportional representation, to reflect on whether he had followed the right course of action in not making representations at the time, some 18 months ago, when invited to do so.

I find the hon. Gentleman's arguments very persuasive, but not enough to change my mind. In the league of persuasiveness, I am afraid that my hon. Friend is at the top, and the hon. Gentleman is right at the bottom.

Mr. Evans

I am delighted to hear that I am at the bottom. If there were a basement, no doubt I would be in that as well.

Dr. Marek

We must have a bit of sanity here. When has legislation ever been changed as a result of debates in this place? It does happen, but it is almost as rare as seeing the proverbial pig flying in the sky.

Mr. Evans

It is an early bath for all of us if that is the case. I would rather hope that debates in the House give Ministers opportunities to amend their own legislation, as do debates in Committee, as we have seen from the amendments. I shall make my contribution brief so that we discuss as many amendments as possible.

Mr. Rowlands

One of the additional problems is that, having had a referendum, it is harder for those of us who then change our minds to argue the case, because, quite rightly, the Government can say that these matters were put very clearly to the people before the referendum. We also have to work out the curious chemistry between referendum politics and parliamentary representative politics of the kind that we are debating.

Mr. Evans

I agree. In many ways it is almost as though the referendum is being used as an instrument of coercion. We have to get the right balance, or we could not accept the amendments that are before us. The White Paper clearly stated that we would present to the Welsh public an additional member system, 40 constituencies, and the top-up of 20. That was clearly explained in the White Paper.

We must also take into account the fact that only one in four Welsh people supported the proposals. Therefore, as the Prime Minister himself said on the steps of No. 10 Downing street, we have to listen to what the Welsh people have said and bend over backwards to meet their concerns. I hope that that is what this process will be about.

As far as I am concerned, the amendments that we are considering could be termed the welfare-to-work amendments, or the job creation scheme. Not content with having just 60 politicians, the amendments tabled by the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru say that we should have 70—an extra 10. One of the arguments that we used during the referendum campaign was whether the people of Wales want their money spent on 60 more politicians or on services, and we heard the message.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Win Griffiths)

The hon. Gentleman mentioned welfare to work. If he wanted to be flippant about it, this is the best designed scheme to get it working for all the Tories without seats in Wales. We know that some of them want to get back on the bandwagon.

Mr. Evans

The Government's generosity knows no bounds. What they are doing is superb: to include all these special measures and to take all the extra effort to ensure that my former colleagues will be given some worthwhile work in Wales. When the elections to the assembly take place, not only my former colleagues but many other Conservatives will be standing and no doubt will not only win on the additional member system but, after what the Government have done in the past several months, will represent the constituencies themselves. No doubt some of them will sit alongside Conservative Members of the Assembly.

That brings me back to what the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney was talking about—constituency Members sitting at Westminster, a constituency representative sitting in Cardiff, Swansea or wherever, and regional representation on top of that. That will lead to massive confusion for the elector. It will also lead to massive confusion and conflict, as the hon. Gentleman said, between Westminster Members of Parliament and Members of the assembly, and the additional Members—whether there are four or six—if we go down the route suggested by the amendments.

5.45 pm

Because of all the various tiers, who will know which body does what? Within those bodies will be the pick and mix of politicians, so who will do what? It will be extremely confusing for electors, as they will have to write to their Westminster Member of Parliament, their Member of the Assembly and their regional Members. I suspect that that will be great news for PC World, which will sell many more computers so that electors can write to everybody, but it will not be such good news for the quality and clarity of representation that people get. I believe that people in Wales are currently well represented by their Members of Parliament— [Interruption.]—as they were under previous Administrations as well. The only thing that would, perhaps, clear up the problem of the conflict would be a dual mandate, whereby the Member of Parliament sat in Westminster and in the assembly, but that would be extremely difficult if one were to take his or her position at Westminster and in the assembly seriously.

The Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru argue that this will lead to fairer representation. The word "fair" is being tortured in the Chamber to defend various devices that are of benefit to the Liberal Democrats. Yesterday, it was the single transferable vote. The Liberal Democrats say that it is a fair system, but it would really benefit them more than anybody else. Who will benefit most from the system suggested by the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru—the minority parties?

Mr. Flynn

The Conservatives.

Mr. Evans

No. The Conservatives would benefit under the system proposed by the Government, but if we were to go further and stretch the additional representation, the system would, of course, benefit the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru, but it is all done under the guise of fairness. We have to scratch the surface of fairness, Sir Alan, to find out exactly what the minority parties are doing. They are looking not simply for fairer representation but better representation, so we have to take it all with a pinch of salt.

As far as the other amendments tabled by Plaid Cymru are concerned, we have to be very suspicious about going down the route that they suggest. Perhaps we will have to use different criteria for the regions that will be represented by additional members.

Mr. Llwyd

What the hon. Gentleman just said is absolute nonsense. The matters contained in the amendment are considerations that are normally applied by the Boundary Commissioner in any event.

Mr. Evans

It would not be the first time that I have spoken nonsense, Sir Alan, and I suspect that it will not be the last.

Plaid Cymru is trying to use the system to get better representation for themselves. At the moment, each of the European constituencies has just one representative in Brussels. Under the system that we are considering, there will be four. The arguments that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) is using to suggest that there should be changes in the system falls down completely. After all, certain constituencies are more difficult than others in terms of terrain and for social and cultural reasons.

The same applies to the boundaries. We have to take the good with the bad. The White Paper and Library papers mention population. At least there is some equality of representation, which we should consider very carefully so that the differences between the areas are not as massive as they are in some parliamentary constituencies. For example, in 1992, the Isle of Wight had a population of 90,000 and some places in Scotland had 46,000. The disparities are hardly as bad as they are in parts of Wales. We have to be careful about that.

The European boundaries may not be ideal, but at least they give some equality of representation to the people who live in those areas, and with the additional representation of four extra Members the system will be fine.

With regard to the whole gamut of the additional member system, why are we putting the cart before the horse? Lord Jenkins of Hillhead currently heads a committee considering proportional representation. It seems a little hurried to put forward this system before hearing what that committee has to say. Had we waited, some form of consensus might have been reached, although perhaps not from the Conservatives, who although they will benefit from the system suggested by the Government, cannot support it.

Mr. Gareth Thomas

I speak in opposition to the amendments. It is an interesting fact that, when the assembly elections are conducted on 1 May 1999, it will be the first occasion in the British isles when a system of proportional representation is used. That is an interesting and challenging departure.

I cannot pretend that the system devised by the Government, to give legitimacy to the Welsh assembly and to ensure that all political parties have a stake in it, is entirely logical or coherent. At times, politics is neither logical nor coherent. However, the Government have devised the best in the circumstances, given the political asymmetry of Wales and the real danger that, had the Government decided on a first-past-the-post system, legitimacy would have been taken away from the assembly in its early years.

Credit should be given where it is due. It would have been in the Labour party's interests to insist on a first-past-the-post system in order to replicate the sort of electoral results which meant that Wales became, in that much used cliche, a Tory-free zone. But that is not the purpose behind what on any view must be regarded as an altruistic attempt to grapple with the electoral and political geography of Wales.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)

The hon. Gentleman said that proportional representation had never been used before in the British Isles, but it is today used in Northern Ireland for the election of Members to the European Parliament. It was originally established as the electoral system for the Stormont Parliament, although the Stormont Parliament itself changed that, much to the consternation of the Government at the time.

Mr. Thomas

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for correcting what was undoubtedly an error on my part. I hope that the Committee will forgive me. None the less, it is a constitutional innovation for the United Kingdom to introduce a system of proportionality in domestic elections. One would have to concede that it is not the most elegant of solutions, but it is a workable solution which can be reviewed in the light of experience. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, he intends to review the electoral system in the light of experience, and that is an important concession.

Mr. Llwyd

I do not want to embarrass the hon. Gentleman unduly. He has apologised most profusely once to the Chair. Perhaps he would like to apologise again. Local elections in Northern Ireland have been conducted by proportional representation for the last eight, nine or 10 years.

Mr. Thomas

Yes, I took on board what the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) said in its entirety. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) for clarifying that point.

The Government produced a White Paper which set out the electoral system in detail and it would be wrong for the Government to depart from the regime that has been put to the people of Wales in a referendum. We should not forget that there is a real anxiety in Wales that the assembly will be expensive. We have to meet that anxiety, and to propose a further increase in the number of representatives would be counterproductive because it would be expensive. The assembly should conduct itself according to the number of Members available. I anticipate that the committee structure will not be too unwieldy. It should reflect the fact that the assembly will have to work in partnership with the House and that the assembly will be taking a strategic view of issues in Wales generally.

I congratulate the Government on their proposals for the electoral system. It is a genuine attempt to put flesh on the bones of the idea of inclusive politics; of a partnership between the people of Wales in order to give democratic legitimacy to an innovation for the British constitution.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Thomas) and the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), who made the extraordinary admission, which I have never heard before, that it was not the first time that he had spoken nonsense. That is not to say that other Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen have not spoken nonsense; it is just that this is the first time it has ever been admitted from the Front Bench, and very welcome that was.

The amendments are important because they all relate to the issue of how the legislation will ensure that the Welsh assembly has what one could call a healthy degree of opposition. No one wants one-party control. The majority party will probably be the Labour party for most of the time, although one can never predict something as unpredictable as democracy. But on the basis of the past 70 years, that is likely.

I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House will accept that the Government intend to try to ensure that there is healthy opposition. That was one of the points made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister during his visit to Wales as Leader of the Opposition which was referred to earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers). He would not have used the sort of Anglo-Welsh dialect that I am using, but he said that there must be a tidy degree of opposition in the Welsh assembly or people will fall into lazy ways.

I think that we would all accept that democracy needs challenge to work in a healthy way. The first person to make that point was my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the Brangwyn hall in Swansea about four years ago in a speech which was either famous or notorious, according to one's point of view, when he referred to the culture of arrogance which we have seen from time to time in certain local authorities where Labour has ruled virtually unchallenged for the past 70 years.

A frisson ran round the Brangwyn hall in the Swansea Guildhall—perhaps a name which I should not mention these days—because there were councillors present who knew all too well what my right hon. Friend was talking about. It is to ensure that that culture of arrogance does not occur that the Government have decided to go for 2:1 proportional representation, using the additional member system.

Yesterday, we accepted that AMS would be the principle on which proportional representation would be based, so we are not arguing about that tonight; only whether the split should be 4:3 or 2:1. In addition, there are certain other amendments, including amendment No. 187 from Plaid Cymru. The issue is whether 4:3 is better than 2:1. People have said that the Scots have gone for 4:3 so why should Wales go for 2:1? In a way, it is all based on what I understand to be the intention of amendment No. 187, which, on my reading, is perfectly sensible. I do not think that we are going to divide on it.

The 2:1 split was chosen in preference to a 4:3 split or some other ratio giving even less of a proportional element because of the geographical, social and economic considerations of Wales. The special circumstances of Wales are similar to those of Scotland in some ways. The Prime Minister was undoubtedly impressed by the definite commitment of Scotland to a 4:3 split and a 129-seat Parliament with a large number of people on the list. Some of the same dangers of Labour domination are also relevant in Wales.

6 pm

We need a stronger Conservative Opposition in Wales than we are ever likely to get by ordinary means. In my first 10 years in the House, people used to say that the situation in Wales and Scotland was rather like what would happen if Kent, Hampshire and Sussex were a separate country—there would be no Labour representation. I am not sure of the exact numbers, but the 1997 Labour landslide has produced a healthy Labour representation in those counties. Indeed, it is possible that Labour has a majority there. I do not know whether any Conservative Members can correct me on that. The situation must be pretty close to equality.

Unfortunately, although Labour landslides such as those in 1945, 1966 and 1997 give us—albeit only every 30 years—a healthy Labour representation in the wealthier parts of the home counties, that does not occur for the Conservatives in Wales. Even at their high point in 1983, they never came anything like as close to a majority or parity as Labour has in the wealthiest parts of the home counties.

We want to ensure healthy opposition. How far should we go to ensure that? Should we go beyond a 2:1 split of first past the post and additional member system? As a top-up system, the additional member system is the firmest guarantee of proportionality. The compensation is that we do not need to go beyond a 50 per cent. top-up—one third of the total membership. People can easily understand a 2:1 ratio. An election in a bad year for Labour could result in 30 Labour seats and 10 each for the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru—or perhaps some other division, such as 12, 10 and eight. In theory, it is therefore possible that Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives could join together—it is unlikely, but it could happen if Labour were doing something really stupid—and overthrow Labour control. That is what we want.

Mr. Syms

The mixture of first past the post and the additional member system could result in Labour, with a small majority, losing by-elections when its Members unfortunately died or moved, while the weaker parties appointed Members under the additional member system when the same happened to them. That is not entirely fair. An Administration could lose control, having been originally popular enough to win the first past the post seats.

Mr. Morgan

That confirms what I have said. We are trying to construct a fair political system for Wales, where the Conservatives have never won a majority. It is probably fair to say, given how things have gone since 1983, that they will never win a majority there. The pendulum in Welsh politics does not swing sufficiently far to bring the Conservatives into power, even in years such as 1983, just after the Falklands war.

The 2:1 split addresses that problem. We have been fair to the Conservatives and to ourselves, as the likely dominant party. We want a system under which, if the likely Labour majority does something stupid, the other three parties, which might just be coming close to a majority and perhaps need only one Labour rebel, could overturn the party in control. I do not know how that could be described as objectionable. It is a healthy democratic answer to the almost unique circumstances of Wales, where Labour is far more dominant than in Scotland, because the nationalist party is far weaker than that in Scotland in its overall proportion of the vote.

We want to construct a democratically healthy system under which, if Labour does something stupid, it could be turned out of office. That is why I strongly resist the amendments, which do not recognise the magnanimity or the democratic spirit in which the schedule has been constructed, to provide healthy opposition and healthy democracy in the Welsh assembly.

Mr. Dalyell

I was delighted by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands). This has been a fascinating and educational afternoon. I should like to ask one question, prompted by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Sir R. Powell).

I have known two hon. Members for Ogmore—the late Walter Padley, who played a prominent role as a Minister in the Foreign Office and in many other capacities, and my current hon. Friend. Will future hon. Members for Ogmore be seen as anything more in their Welsh capacity than supplicants for more money? I fear that the main task of future Welsh and Scottish Members of Parliament will be perceived as trying to get more budgetary advantage for Wales and Scotland. If they fail, they will get a rough time from the Members of the Assembly and will be accused of letting them down by not getting enough lolly. Therein lie all sorts of difficulties for the functioning of a subordinate Parliament in part of a unitary state.

Because of time constraints and a promise that I made to the Whips, I shall leave my contribution at that serious question.

Mr. Win Griffiths

As my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) pointed out, the debate has been educational and as wide ranging as possible, given the amendments, which we started considering earlier this afternoon. The amendments would increase the assembly from 60 to 70 Members. The Government believe that the appropriate size is 60, as we said in our White Paper. As some of my hon. Friends have pointed out, that has driven forward the debate. The proposal was endorsed in the referendum on 18 September. Fiddling about with the numbers at this stage would move too far from the referendum proposals.

Mr. Wigley

I note that the Minister says that he does not want to move from the proposal at this stage. If the assembly finds it difficult to get the right balance of membership on committees and comes back on that issue, will the Government be prepared to listen?

Mr. Griffiths

Of course we shall listen to what the House and the assembly say when it is in operation. That was going to be my closing remark. The fact that I am jumping to it immediately does not mean that I shall sit down now. There are other issues to take into account.

We have decided on a 60-Member assembly with a 2:1 split. There have been calls for more Members because of the committees that the assembly will need to establish. That was one of the strong points made by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey). However, we have looked at the issue closely. There will be a group to advise us on the standing orders for the assembly. We are sure that we can get a razor-sharp focus in Wales that will not require large, cumbersome committees. Sixty Members will have plenty to do. The figure strikes an appropriate balance. Obviously, it is a question of judgment, and at this time we judge that 60 Members is appropriate. Constituency representatives will have their focus, and voters will be able to relate to it. Electoral areas based on European constituencies will be familiar to voters. Therefore, there is an element of continuity in the proposals and, at the same time, significant change in the move to proportional representation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) raised a number of practical points about potential conflicts. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), a fellow former Member of the European Parliament and—coincidentally—a fellow former Vice-President of the European Parliament, described conflicts that might emerge in the early days. It is fair to say that one is likely to find that when a new institution is given responsibilities which, to a certain extent, overlap those of an existing institution. Indeed, there has been such conflict between councillors and Members of Parliament for a long time. That point was not raised in the debate. I feel confident that, with the passing of time, many such conflicts will be resolved as relationships develop within the parties and among the personalities.

I refer to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow. I do not think that Welsh or Scottish Members will be seen only as people who are in Westminster to argue about the Welsh or the Scottish bloc. There will be debates on issues relating to education, health, social security and defence to which Members from Wales particularly will want to contribute, because such issues will have an impact on Wales and the assembly. There will be plenty for Members from Wales to do.

I refer briefly to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). The Government feel that the amendments are not necessary or appropriate. Some guidance on special geographical considerations is appropriate. It will not always be appropriate to take geography into account, but sometimes, when there appears to be conflict over, for example, the size of a constituency or where a boundary should be, some geographical consideration might allow the boundary commission to move away from all the other things that it has to consider.

Equally, rather than trying to specify in the Bill the sort of things that the hon. Gentleman wanted in respect of the boundary commission's work, it would be better to allow flexibility to remain. Demographic, social and cultural considerations, for example, are already in the background of the commission's work. To include such specifications in the Bill and make them drive the process forward would be far too strong a move.

Mr. Llwyd

Why should the Government bother to include geography and exclude all other aspects?

Mr. Griffiths

It is because tangible considerations such as mountain ranges, river valleys and estuaries must be taken into account. Other considerations tend to change over time.

If my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Sir R. Powell) reflected accurately the publication of the Institute of Welsh Affairs, it would appear that there has been a misunderstanding of how the boundary commission works. The boundary commission can never reduce the number of seats in a boundary review. Reductions in the number of seats can come about only as a result of primary legislation. As it was agreed to reduce the number of seats in Scotland, specific provision for that has been made in the Scotland Bill. That does not apply to Wales, so such considerations do not need to be brought forward.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy expressed his preference with regard to the powerhouse and the North Wales training and enterprise council. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is considering his submission carefully and will make a judgment on it later.

I hope that members of the Committee accept that the amendments do not add anything to the Bill. They are not needed, and in some cases, they conflict with the referendum result. If they were pressed to a vote, the Government would urge the Committee to reject them.

6.15 pm
Mr. Livsey

I congratulate members of the Committee on an interesting debate. We have just heard a defence of the status quo, which is nothing more than I would expect from the Government. The amendments were tabled to create a more proportional Welsh assembly, so that the regions of Wales would feel more included in the process, and so that the assembly's committee system would be better served, with 10 more Members.

The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) understandably wants a constructive and stable relationship between the assembly and the Westminster Parliament. He asked how that would work. We certainly believe that there is a clear delineation between domestic policy, which will be exercised by the assembly and, at the moment, is exercised by the Secretary of State and his Ministers in the Welsh Office, and macro-economic functions in the Westminster Parliament concerning such matters as defence. The hon. Gentleman referred to a dual democratic bidding. We obviously have doubts about that as well, which is why we proposed the single transferable vote system yesterday. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) mentioned the least proportional system that the Government could get away with, which let the cat out of the bag.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) discussed under amendments Nos. 188 and 187 the need for demographic, social and cultural factors to be considered more. We certainly support that, especially in relation to electoral boundaries. Incidentally, I welcome his statement that he wants Meirionnydd to remain the powerhouse. That is an important statement, which I hope the Secretary of State and the Minister will take into account.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) rightly said that proportional representation would help to bring women and black people into the assembly—

Mr. Rogers

Get on with it.

Mr. Livsey

I am trying to sum up.

The hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) talked about party lists and hacks. We addressed that question yesterday when we proposed an STV system.

The hon. Member for Rhondda said that Wales is taking a dramatic step forward, and I agree. All we are asking in the amendments is for democracy to be allowed to go a little further.

The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) said that there would be too many people and that they would be falling over each other, but Great Britain has the lowest number of elected persons in western Europe.

The hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) toed the party line in saying that the 40:20 split was probably correct, and minimalist in terms of Members—the smallest assembly that could possibly be envisaged. Judging by that statement, I presume that he would prefer that system to go forward.

Other points were made by other hon. Members, but time is running out. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) said that the proposal would mean 10 more politicians, and also that the Conservatives would win seats in the assembly. I am pleased that the Conservative party is on board for the assembly.

The hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Thomas) said that to introduce an electoral system involving proportional representation was epoch-making. It was rightly pointed out to him that Northern Ireland adopted such a system long ago.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, West magnanimously stated that he might be prepared to accept a situation in which opposing Labour would be allowed. He also said that the Labour party was stronger in Wales than in Scotland-yet the system in Wales is less proportional than that proposed for Scotland. I leave him with that question to ponder.

The amendments are about representation, democracy and fairness, but the questions that they raise have been aired and I do not wish to press them.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Llwyd

I beg to move amendment No. 186, in page 71, line 31, leave out 'local government', and insert 'parliamentary'.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 189, in page 73, line 7, leave out 'local government' and insert 'parliamentary'.

No. 31A, in clause 10, page 6, line 21, leave out from 'who' to end of line 26, and insert 'are entitled to vote as electors in a parliamentary election'. No. 74, in clause 10, page 6, line 21, leave out from 'who' to end of line 26 and insert 'are entitled to vote as electors in a parliamentary election or who would be so entitled if they were not peers'. No. 179, in clause 10, page 6, line 22, leave out 'local government' and insert 'parliamentary'.

No. 180, in clause 10, page 6, line 25, leave out 'local government' and insert 'parliamentary'.

No. 181, in clause 10, page 6, line 26, after 'constituency', insert 'which is the principal private residence of the elector.'. No. 175, in clause 10, page 6, line 26, at end insert 'save that the Secretary of State may by order provide for the registration as electors of persons who (a) have been permanently resident in Wales at any time in the 20 years preceding the election in question, (b) are not entitled to vote in Wales at a parliamentary election, and (c) are entitled to vote elsewhere at a parliamentary election.'. No. 182, in clause 10, page 6, line 26, at end insert 'and (c) are not registered at that address solely by virtue of being occupants of a second home.'.

Mr. Llwyd


The Chairman

Mr. Cynog Dafis.

Mr. Llwyd

Elfyn Llwyd, Sir Alan. I feel especially hurt because I ensured that the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) called you "Sir Alan", rather than "Mr. Alan". I shall probably never intervene again.

Now I shall try to be serious; I am afraid that the whole debate has been too exciting for me. I shall deal with the amendments as quickly as I can. Amendment No. 186, standing in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), and in those of my other hon. Friends and myself, is designed to insert the word "parliamentary" instead of the words "local government".

The purpose of the amendment is simple. It would mean that elections to the national assembly were based on the parliamentary list of electors instead of the local government list. There are several reasons for that. First, clearly the assembly will not be a creature of local government. I hasten to add that I have no antipathy to local government. I welcome clause 110, which gives the national assembly a duty to promote the interests and needs of local government; that is sensible.

There is also the important question of avoiding duplication of work. It would be simple to use the parliamentary electors list in connection with the national assembly.

Status is another question which arises. Personally, I have never been unduly conscious of status; I believe that it is often bogus, a question more of self-delusion than of anything else. However, I suppose that it will add a certain status to the new national assembly if the parliamentary list is used. The amendment should not cause the Government great difficulty, and I would welcome Ministers' views in due course.

Amendment No. 181, which refers to the principal private residence of the elector, can be coupled with amendment No. 175. Those two amendments have slightly more content. During the referendum campaign, there was much evidence to support the view that people with second or holiday homes in Wales travelled back specifically to vote no on 18 September.

That was an attempted denial of democracy, when we consider the fact that up to 20 or 25 per cent. of the housing stock in many areas of Wales is devoted to second or holiday homes. The idea is unacceptable, whoever those people are and wherever they come from. It almost brought about a denial of the democratic voice of the people of Wales on 18 September, so I hope that proper consideration can be given to our suggestion.

I shall truncate what I intended to say. I meant to say considerably more, but I shall not dwell on it all now. The other amendment, which is also important, would enable expatriate Welsh people to vote in the election. There is no reason why they should not. It happens in parliamentary elections, and I see no reason why they should not be allowed to vote in the forthcoming elections to the national assembly.

Many Welsh Members of Parliament spend time courting Welsh expatriates and trying to persuade them to come back and invest in Wales and to set up in business there. If the amendment were accepted, we could at least say to them that they would be given the basic civil right of a vote for the main national assembly of their home country.

With those few words, I commend our amendments to the Committee.

Mr. Jenkin

The amendments, tabled by the Welsh nationalists and ourselves, go to the heart of the confusion in the Bill. They ask whether the assembly is really a form of parliament or simply a branch of local government.

If we extrapolate from the Government's proposal to use the local government franchise, the assembly seems to be just a branch of local government. We question whether that is appropriate, especially in view of the unhappiness that we expressed about the franchise for the referendum, because Welsh people living outside Wales had no vote.

We have some sympathy with the nationalists' amendment, which would give people living outside Wales some say in the elections to their national assembly. Many people, although they may live outside Wales, remain Welsh nationals and to that extent their rights should be respected.

Perversely, by choosing the local government franchise, the Government have introduced the other quirk-the fact that people who happen to be living in Wales temporarily will be included in the franchise. That will extend to non-United Kingdom European Community nationals who may be in Wales for a limited period. They will be treated as equal citizens for the assembly elections, and we question whether that is appropriate.

I ask the Minister a simple question to which I should like a straight answer. Does he agree that we are obliged to have the provision under article 8b of the Maastricht treaty, which refers to the right of a European Union citizen to vote and to stand as a candidate in what are described as "municipal elections"? Would the national assembly elections be included in the definition of municipal elections under that article?

Mr. Win Griffiths

This has been a brief debate, but it enables us to draw out the necessary points. The Government do not want to accept any of the amendments because we believe that the question is one not of status but of allowing people who live in Wales, and who will be affected by the services provided by the National Assembly for Wales, the opportunity to vote.

That would include 38 peers and 5,010 citizens of the European Union who are currently on the appropriate register. It would also mean that the 658 overseas citizens would not be able to vote. As they would have no direct interest, because the basic primary powers of legislation would stay at Westminster, we think that using the local government register is more appropriate.

The Maastricht point was interesting, but we do not think that there is any problem in regard to a definition of what constitutes a municipal election. An election relating to the National Assembly for Wales is patently not a municipal election, whatever register is used. As for the question of the expatriate vote, and the exclusion of those who have second homes in Wales, we do not feel that we can put people who use Welsh services at a disadvantage, because the national assembly's decisions may have an impact on them. Nor do we consider that it would be useful to have any kind of expatriate vote, given the experience in the Vale of Glamorgan, where, in a parliamentary election, the expatriate vote was greater than the majority.

6.30 pm
Mr. Wigley

May I press the Minister a little further? He said that someone with a second home had an investment and an interest. Does that mean that the Government will eventually allow French citizens with second homes in England to vote in general elections, or does what the Minister said apply only to those with second homes in Wales? As for the question of expatriates, do the Government intend, in the next general election, not to allow United Kingdom expatriates to vote in United Kingdom elections? That is the logic of the Minister's position.

Mr. Griffiths

That has nothing to do with the Bill. We are considering what is appropriate for Wales in this context. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to address all his questions to the appropriate Ministers.

Mr. Llwyd

We have had another interesting debate. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

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