Previous Section Home Page

Column 899

developments. I also feel that we need further time in which to debate whether the £150 million which is to be spent on the construction of the barrage will deliver value for money in terms of jobs.

Following the events of the past 10 days or so, that time is more valuable than ever. The urgency of the position is clear to those of us who live in the hinterland of Cardiff--the coalfield area. A shadow lies across the question of whether we shall receive value for the money that the Welsh Office is allocating to quangos. I have searched the text of the motion in vain for some indication of the value for money that has been provided by the sums spent so far on creating jobs in Wales. Given the nature of the motion, I fear that we are unlikely to extract a figure from the Secretary of State or the Under-Secretary.

We need to know, for example, whether a figure is attached to the creation and protection of jobs in Wales over the past three or four years. The minutes of evidence provided by the Public Accounts Committee for a report entitled "Creating and safeguarding jobs in Wales" suggests that the cost of creating or safeguarding a job is about £1,700. That is a very small amount. According to a Welsh Office report entitled "The Government's expenditure plans 1992-93 to 1994-95", the figure is about £3,500. We should bear that sum in mind when considering whether to allocate £150 million to a single large civil construction project.

I am not opposed to the allocation of such sums to projects like this, and I do not for a moment denounce the efforts of hon. Members on both sides of the House to push for a scheme that could create many jobs. I am simply arguing that this may not be the best way of spending a shrinking public- expenditure resource. I shall be interested to learn whether the Secretary of State has any news for us yet about whether the £150 million will be taken from the overall cake of public expenditure on Wales.

Mr. David Hanson (Delyn) : The proposals affect the economy of north Wales as well as that of south Wales. In the past 10 days, a moratorium and potential closure have been announced for the Point of Ayr colliery in my constituency : 500 mining jobs may be lost, as well as many more jobs connected with mining. Does not the guillotine motion deprive many of us of an opportunity to explore the possibility of unemployment in north Wales ? The colliery closure will hit my constituents especially badly.

Dr. Howells : I thank my hon. Friend for that invaluable intervention. We have been given the excuse many times that the barrage will bring jobs to our constituents--for example, to my constituents in Taff-Ely and Pontypridd, from which many people travel to work in Cardiff. We have been told that we should be grateful for this development. The Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary, however, would be hard pressed to argue that it will benefit my hon. Friend's constituents by creating jobs. If we are serious--as I believe the Secretary of State has been on many occasions--in saying that we in Wales should be allowed more independence in deciding how sums allocated to us are spent, we must address ourselves to my hon. Friend's question.

Perhaps even more important is the involvement of a constitutional issue. In such a short debate, we may not be able to discuss how it can be decided whether a quango--in this instance, the Cardiff Bay development corporation, which the Welsh Office has appointed


Column 900

without consulting those likely to be affected, in the valley constituencies as well as in and around Cardiff--is doing a good job, and will spend its money well. How can we come back at the corporation and question its decisions ? That is an important question, and the construction of the barrage lies at the heart of it.

Some of us are keen for the development to take place in our constituencies, but we do not want decisions to be made as they are in Cardiff. Often, it seems to be a case of "You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" in the old boy network and what in Welsh we call the crachach. Such people appear to be members of almost every quango in Wales, and almost all of them live in castles around Usk and have double-barrelled names--although Lieutenant Colonel Inkin, a dynamic individual in many ways, is an exception to that last rule. Many of us feel strongly that an issue of constitutional importance cannot be dealt with properly in the short time allocated to a guillotine motion. I hope that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary can tell us whether we are to see the institutional changes that so many of us have demanded. Such changes would allow the people of Cardiff, and the people of Wales in general, to debate these matters much more coherently and comprehensively.

The quango that we are discussing has access to £33 million of public money this year alone. That is an enormous sum. I have talked to my constituents about what could be done with £33 million. We could, for example, revive the town centre of Pontypridd, which now contains 15 or 16 empty shops. Pontypridd is a market town, which has traditionally drawn people from the Rhondda, Cynon and Merthyr valleys to its famous market. Now it is dying on its feet for lack of vital investment.

I hope that the Secretary of State and his colleagues do not describe this demeaningly as the politics of envy. The people in my constituency will be very glad to see the developments. I hope that we shall benefit from them. However, when they cannot obtain £5 million to complete a road system that would get rid of the congestion that is such a black spot in Pontypridd, they then see that £150 million is granted for the building of a dam across a filthy river--filthy because no investment can be obtained to clean up the sewage works that lie upstream from Pontypridd. These are constitutional as well as financial issues which I hope will be discussed within the terms of the guillotine motion.

Many infrastructure jobs are desperately required in Cardiff, Newport and Swansea, as well as in the valleys of south Wales. We--

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but it seems to me that he is now dealing with other matters. We should be considering the merits or otherwise of the guillotine motion that is before us.

Dr. Howells : Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for that guidance. I am trying to point out that in terms of the guillotine motion there will not be sufficient time to discuss its important ramifications for all those interested in the scheme who live outside the barrage area. If the guillotine motion has any relevance, it is relevant to my constituency. It is a neighbouring constituency to Cardiff, through which the two rivers run that are to be, both literally and metaphorically, dammed.


Column 901

Very many jobs need to be done in the capital city of Wales, as well as in our various constituencies. They include the repair and renewal of some of the worst housing stock throughout Europe. Many of my hon. Friends will want to draw attention to that fact. Many of us believe that if we are to benefit from the Cardiff bay barrage, if and when it is built, we must have a proper road and rail infrastructure to enable our constituents to travel to Cardiff to work. The A470 is an extremely dangerous road because of traffic congestion.

The rail network is in extreme danger because of the closure notices that have been served on the collieries. The rail network serves Cardiff bay directly. My constituents would think it remiss of me if I did not raise that issue and if I did not say that the guillotine means that there will not be sufficient time for my colleagues and me to express our great concern about whether we shall be able to enjoy whatever advantages may arise from the Cardiff bay barrage.

Mr. Michael : I support my hon. Friend's point. There is also the question of communications within the city of Cardiff and communications between the centre of Cardiff and the Cardiff bay barrage area. My hon. Friend made a telling point, not least because the present state of the railways, such as the Penarth to Cardiff railway link, is appalling. None of us can depend upon it when we wish to travel around the area.

Dr. Howells : I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. That is precisely what I am talking about in terms of the guillotine motion. Without discussion of that issue, we shall discuss this great civil engineering project in the abstract. We are not placing it in context. Furthermore, we are not explaining to people why hon. Members are so angry about the fact that a quango that is answerable to nobody is allowed to allocate such huge sums of money to this project while the rest of us have to settle for the crumbs that fall off the edge of the resource table.

The question of what we do about cleaning up the two rivers that flow into the lake which is to be created by the barrage is of great importance in terms of the guillotine motion. It is impossible to discuss it in the short period of time available. We need answers from the Secretary of State for Wales and the Under-Secretary of State to the question of what they intend to do about forcing Welsh Water to get on with the job of cleaning up the sewage sites further upstream. I live right on the edge of one river. I am sick of seeing the filth that flows down it. The Secretary of State for Wales and the Under-Secretary of State have not provided a good answer in any of our debates to the question of how they intend to clean up those rivers, which would enable us to turn our town centres round again to face the rivers.

If we were given a fraction of the £150 million that has been allocated to the barrage scheme, the valleys could begin to do that. I know that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State feel strongly about the issue, but I should like them to say what action they intend to take that would allow us to start doing that in the valleys.

Another question that is at the heart of the guillotine motion is, what is to happen when, and if, work on the project begins? That question must be discussed now ; we shall be able to discuss it at no other time. My hon. Friend


Column 902

the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth drew attention to amendment No. 13. He knows as well as I do that we have not had a straight answer to the question of where the materials for this great project are to come from. Will they come from the limestone rim at the southern end of the coalfield that occupies such a large part of my constituency? That would lead to the expansion of quarrying in the area, coupled with dangerous lorry movements. It is not simply a question, as the amendment says, of discussing and negotiating with South Glamorgan county council. There must be negotiations with Mid Glamorgan county council.

The Conservative Benches are empty. Conservative Members are throbbing with indifference. Since they are always proclaiming their love for Wales, I should have loved to see some of our nationalist colleagues present, but not one of them is here. Apart from the occupants of the Treasury Bench, no Conservative Members and no nationalist Members are here. We never see our nationalist colleagues in these debates. They usually stay away from controversial issues. I have not even heard them talk lately about the nuclear power stations issue.

I oppose the motion. I know that many of my colleagues agree with me. I only wish that some of those who sit on the Conservative Benches would do the same.

5.47 pm

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West) : I support what was said by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett).

Many of those who have spoken have already made the point that those who arrange the business of the House seem to have developed the expectation that during any 12-month period at least one day will be devoted to the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill. It has almost become a fixed part of the parliamentary calendar. There is Budget day ; there is the autumn statement ; there is the Loyal Address and the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill at one of its stages--Second Reading, Report, or Third Reading--either as a private Bill or as a public Bill. Whatever else happens, there must be the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill in any parliamentary Session.

People may think that it is all going to come to an end tonight and that this is the last that we shall see of the Bill, but, despite the timetable motion which guillotines proceedings on the Bill, I hope that the Minister replying the debate will not be prevented from making clear whether that is so or whether the Bill will be back again next year. I understand from some of the local authorities concerned that there is a strong possibility that the Bill will be in a different form when it is introduced in another place as the Government accept that the Bill is already defective due to the effluxion of time.

Another reason why timetable motions should be opposed is when the Government accept, as I understand is the case in this instance, that the Bill in question is defective. They will therefore have to alter it in another place and we shall have to consider Lords amendments some time next year. The Government owe us an explanation as to why they are timetabling a Bill which they know will have to be altered for various technical reasons. I may be wrong, but that is what I understand


Column 903

from one of the two local authorities involved. Timetabling a Bill that the Government know to be defective is a dubious procedure. Are there any precedents for timetabling or, to use the common parlance, guillotining a hybrid Bill? I understand that this is the first time that it has been done, although there is nothing to prevent it : if the Government want to ram through legislation willy-nilly, they can do so. It behoves us, however, to stop and think about whether a hybrid Bill should be guillotined. The rights to petition Parliament on a hybrid Bill are protected, but nobody to whom I have spoken is aware of any previous hybrid Bill having been guillotined.

I freely inform the Government, in case they do not know, that a hybridised Bill--the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries (Amendment) Bill --was indeed guillotined, but that Bill was declared hybrid by Examiners three quarters of the way through its parliamentary consideration, whereas the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill has been hybrid from the outset. I understand that today's motion sets a precedent ; we should consider whether it is a healthy precedent.

I hope that Ministers will say whether they are aware of other hybrid bills being guillotined. We believe that the motion is a thoroughly unhealthy development because individual citizens will lose their rights. Earlier, I asked the Minister to say whether the Bill will be changed when it is presented in another place, because if it is, it will create a new class of petitioners against it. "Petitioners" sounds a rather cold term, but they are ordinary individuals who do not have the resources to pay accountants, lawyers and parliamentary agents to advise them. They can be small business people, householders or anyone whose way of life is directly affected by a Bill. Will their rights be curtailed if we accept the precedent of guillotining a hybrid Bill? We must think carefully about that before agreeing to it, and I hope that Ministers are taking careful notes to enable them to respond properly.

The Leader of the House--who, sadly, is no longer in his place--in making a raw arithmetical calculation said that the justification for the motion was simply that, in its different forms, the Bill had been debated for many hours. The 1988 Bill was first presented in another place, considered here and then dropped and converted into a Government Bill. That simple, raw arithmetical calculation implies that the Bill is exactly the same now as when it was introduced in another place in November 1988, but we know that, as people have come to learn more about it and its consequences, it has altered enormously. The design of the barrage and our knowledge of its side effects have altered, and legal judgments in the European Court of Justice directly affecting the status of the site of special scientific interest have been made since the original debates. The mathematical justification for the guillotine advanced by the Leader of the House is irrelevant. It means nothing because new material is continually emerging, and hon. Members whose constituencies are directly affected by the barrage must have time to do their jobs as parliamentary representatives properly. I will give just three examples of recent completely new information--some of it emerged as late as last Friday--which is material to our consideration of the Bill but which is in danger of being precluded by the motion. Last Friday, the Treasury minute in Cmnd. 2074 was published and made available in the Vote Office as a


Column 904

preparatory step towards the Public Accounts Committee's debate tomorrow. It refers to the parliamentary accountability of bodies such as the Cardiff Bay development corporation. The corporation, as has been hinted at already by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), is almost unique as a non-departmental public body or quango. It is the only quango with a large budget but almost no parliamentary accountability.

In the Treasury minute to the Public Accounts Committee, the Government said that they intended to do something about that. I hope that, before we agree to a motion to confer enormous enhanced spending powers on the Cardiff Bay development corporation, we shall have a clear sign from the Government as to how they intend to strengthen parliamentary control over the way in which the corporation spends its money. It would be wrong for us to pass the motion without the Government coming clean about what they intend to do to fill the corporation's black hole of parliamentary non- accountability.

Conclusion (xii) of the Treasury minute said :

"the Comptroller and Auditor General is able to identify control weaknesses of this type and bring them directly to the attention of Parliament as he did in"

the case of the Development Board for Rural Wales. In response, the Government said that the Comptroller and Auditor General

"should have rights of access to the body's"--

in other words, the quango's--

"papers and records so that he may bring to Parliament's attention, whenever he considers it appropriate, any material departures from the requirements of regularity and propriety."

He cannot do that with the Cardiff Bay development corporation. It is the only big-spending quango where the Comptroller and Auditor General cannot bring to the attention of the House any departure from the rules of regularity and propriety. The Government further said : "These rights are frequently provided by statute".

Yet for some strange reason the Cardiff Bay development corporation was exempted from the rule. "Sponsor departments"--the Welsh Office-- "will seek to secure such rights in cases where they do not exist at present."

We want to know how the Secretary of State for Wales intends to provide, by statute or in an undertaking from the Dispatch Box today, the normal degree of parliamentary accountability for the Cardiff Bay development corporation before the corporation is given the enormously increased powers to spend money and to commit itself to a massive increase in expenditure and powers over the development area with all the side effects which spread into adjoining constituencies such as Cardiff, West. We must know exactly how Parliament will maintain the normal standards of parliamentary accountability over the increased spend. I hope that we can do something about that tonight, as we found out about it only last Friday. That is why the timetable motion is so dangerous.

In the late stages of the summer recess, we heard that the development corporation had proposed a new method by which to help to keep the groundwater levels down. The water will be pumped out, so if it is 15 ft below the surface now, it can be maintained at that level. That is known as de-watering wells. We know only that, by the time the Bill is in Committee in the other place, the corporation will have carried out field tests in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr.


Column 905

Michael). The tests will be carried out using a couple of wells and the corporation will present the results to the Committee in another place next February.

Is this procedure good enough for the House? We are being asked to pass a timetable motion on a Bill for which a key item of evidence will not be available until next February. As the Member of Parliament for Cardiff, West I do not feel that that is satisfactory and I am extremely unhappy about the timetable motion on that account. There is no hon. Member for Cardiff, West in another place. If the job is not done in this House, it will not be done at all. There are estimable people in the other place and I do not criticise them, but there is no local constituency representation. It therefore falls to us to ensure that we have the right amount of information before we pass the Bill. That information must be explored across the House, which cannot be done if the timetable motion is passed. Should the Government try to timetable a hybrid Bill which has specific effects on, for example, 6,000 houses and which has side effects on small business premises? Timetable motions are dangerous. They are unprecedented and doubly dangerous for hybrid Bills and should be opposed. I am glad that we are opposing the motion today. New material has just been presented and we have simply not had the opportunity to discuss it properly. The timetable motion will curtail, if not remove altogether, our ability to discuss that evidence, depending on how much time we have left for amendment and debate. What will the impact of waterlogged soils be on health and domestic heating, with the cooling effect of an impounded lake? That question has come up only recently. It was first touched on in evidence to the Committee, but it was not in a validated form. The paper given by Dr. Max Wallis and Mr. Munro at last month's European environment conference in Nottingham raised all manner of questions which we have not yet had a chance to discuss. We may or may not be able to come back to those questions, depending on how draconian are the pressures on later debate. That, too, makes me unhappy.

As we may have a chance to discuss the matter later, I will touch only briefly on it today. The broad thesis of the two academics is that domestic heating costs will rise in the area adjoining the lake because the lake will cause a drop in temperature of 2 deg C for long periods of the year. They suggest that infant mortality rates will rise and that general morbidity, in terms of people with chest problems, will be exacerbated. Through creating additional fogs and mists, the lake may create additional traffic accident risks. The question of whether that thesis is true is material to the Bill. The Minister may shake his head ; that is fair enough. He may have a point of view and he may be well briefed. Then again he may not be--I do not know. We may find out, but with a timetable motion it is far more difficult to find out.

I can only briefly give the House the view of the National Rivers Authority, which was first told of the thesis following the publication of the original document this February. Lord Crickhowell, who will have some responsibility in the other place as chairman of the National Rivers Authority, wrote to Mr. Munro this July saying the NRA had taken the responsible attitude of asking for independent validation of the Wallis- Munro


Column 906

report given in evidence to the Committee in February and then published as an occasional paper of the University of Wales in the same month.

The NRA needed to know whether the two academics were a pair of cranks talking through the top of their heads or whether they were good scientists who had simply come up with a different approach to the side effects of the barrage. I shall read briefly from the letter from Lord Crickhowell to Mr. Monro of 2 July--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris) : Order. Does the letter refer to the timetable motion? If it does not, it is not in order. The hon. Gentleman has raised a point which he wants answered on Report. I hope that he will not pursue it further now and that he will move on to some other points.

Mr. Morgan : You may, Mr. Deputy Speaker, be willing to accept that I have today discussed the timetable motion with Dr. Wallis, one of the scientists. That is how I got a copy of the letter : he supplied me with it through the wonder of the modern fax machine. The NRA said in its letter of 2 July :

"We employed a well-respected independent consultant, Middlesex University (formerly Polytechnic) Flood Hazard Research Centre earlier this year to consider your results. They concluded that the statistical analysis was sound and the relationship between the factors"--

that is, the waterlogged soil, and the rises in infant mortality, in morbidity and in traffic accidents--

"appears to be confirmed."

That is the basis on which we should not curtail debate by a timetable motion.

We should be saying that the thesis opens up an area which Parliament must consider without the restriction of a guillotine. It would be wrong for us to say, "Guillotine the discussion because we know everything there is to know about the Bill." Perhaps the Leader of the House, who has just returned to his place, will remind us of the arithmetic. It has been said that there have been plenty of hours of discussion and that nothing new has been discovered, so the guillotine is a fully justified method by which to bring what has become a repetitive debate to a close. That simply is not true in light of the letter which you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were good enough to allow me to read out as it was so obviously in order.

The letter showed that, at least for the NRA, a first look at the results by its independent validation group at Middlesex university seemed to show that there was something in them. We as

parliamentarians should say, "The evidence was not fully considered on Second Reading because nobody knew about it ; should we now consider it ?" The answer is obviously yes.

The Government now have something to prove. They could say that they accept the broad thrust of the evidence, as the NRA seems to be doing following the validation of the thesis--in which case Parliament needs to consider at length the possibility of extending the right of compensation. We have tabled amendments on that, although they are last-minute amendments because of the lateness with which the information has come to light.

Should there be a right to compensation for people living in the affected area whose houses will be colder? Should their additional domestic heating costs be paid by the development corporation? We do not want to tell people, "Do this through your solicitor : go to the courts and sue." The whole principle on which we have discussed the Bill for the past four years has been that people should


Column 907

not need to go to court for compensation for the damaging side effects on their peaceful occupation of their houses or business properties.

Compensation must be built into the Bill. We must debate the matter thoroughly on the Floor of the House to ensure than any rights that people should have because they will be adversely affected are covered in the Bill and properly considered so that no one feels that he has had a bad shake from Parliament. People should be able to feel that they had a reasonable opportunity to petition against the Bill and that, if they could not petition, we have done our job as constituency Members in bringing matters to the attention of the House and screwing some reply from the Ministers responsible, however reluctant they may have been to give a reply. We should ensure that any right to compensation which may occur in later years is clearly defined by Parliament so that people know what the price of the barrage will be in terms of side effects and in terms of the compensation for which we must legislate.

That point is even more important in light of the problems about the Barnett formula. If the Secretary of State for Wales has less access to funds, it is all the more important that we should tie him down, before the Bill leaves the House, to a clear understanding in negotiations with the Treasury. He must understand the true price of the barrage. He must know how much it will cost in terms of civil engineering and construction, and he must understand how much the compensation bill is likely to be.

Will that need to be extended to cover domestic heating costs and claims from people who say that they have been made more ill by the increased cold and damp or have had a car crash in a November mist caused by evaporation from the impounded lake? These matters must be put on record. We need to know whether the Minister will say, "No, the right will not be extended," or whether he will be willing to find the extra money to extend compensation rights in respect of matters which have come to our attention so late in our consideration of the Bill.

Will the Minister be covering another difficulty which arises now that the Bill is a public Bill? Certain matters are not covered in debate unless we specifically raise them, and I do not know whether we shall have the opportunity today to cover fully the agreements which were explicit in the private Bill but are implicit in the public Bill. If we allow the timetable motion through, our debate on consideration will be curtailed. I therefore ask what has happened to the explicit agreements in the private Bill which have become side agreements in the public Bill.

If we accept the guillotine motion, discussion of what has happened to the side agreement between the development corporation and Wiggins Teape, the paper-making company in my constituency at which 220 jobs are to be lost on 27 November, may be squeezed out. That company is in an area which was directly covered by a specific set of clauses in the private Bill but is now covered by side agreements. It is now proposed to remove the last paper -making machine in that plant. I want to be sure that, if the guillotine motion is accepted, we shall have the opportunity to raise that matter later or that the Minister will write to me to cover the point.

I now have no way of getting access to the information that I require. Under the original agreement, the development corporation would have paid for the company's additional water treatment costs, but as the present agreement is private, I no longer have access to the information. Is it true that the company is being paid


Column 908

compensation by the development corporation in respect of the extensive water treatment required if one is to manufacture paper at a paper mill? I find that extremely worrying, because I am to lose the mill, which is the guts of the plant.

The lake will convert certain industrial plants, including that paper mill- -hitherto a coastal plant able to discharge treatment water into a tidal reach--into inland plants and unless the development corporation has a duty to pay additional water treatment costs, that will render its position less sensible than at present. Negotiations under the 90-day requirement laid down in the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1975, about which we have heard so much in the past seven days, are currently under way. The period expires on 27 November. I hope that we shall have adequate time to consider this matter, or that the Minister will agree to write to me about it. The Government have made some almighty mistakes in trying to rush the Bill through, and we are worried that they are rushing it again today without our having adequate time to discuss all the new material. The Government foolishly sought to ignore the rights of Welsh Members to serve on the Standing Committee. I fear that they are going down the same alley today, saying that the swifter our consideration of the Bill, the better it will be. We know the Government's record of incompetence--and the swifter our consideration of the Bill, the greater will be the Government's mistakes. 6.13 pm

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) : I oppose the guillotine motion-- indeed, I was amazed that the Government bothered to think of using such a device during a period in which they are not under any pressure to push major Bills through the House.

The Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill will go down in history as a Bill whose passage through Parliament has been consistently mismanaged. The Government's only chance of getting the Bill enacted now is to introduce a guillotine motion. On two crucial occasions during the lifetime of the two Bills, the Government have not even been able to count on their own supporters to be in the Lobbies. The present motion represents a last- minute attempt to try to get the Bill out of the way at a time when such action is least easy to justify. Let us go back to the fateful night in March when the private Bill had to be withdrawn. The present Bill was then introduced. Since then, the Government have been so worried about the amount of time available to deal with parliamentary business that they gave us a summer recess at least two weeks longer than any recess in the last decade. Let us be generous : we need at least a week to consider the Bill more fully. Could not the Government have seen that in July? Why could not the House have continued to sit for another week then, or returned a week earlier? We should have been quite prepared to come back to debate these fundamental issues.

In explaining his reasons for reluctantly taking the guillotine to the Bill, the Leader of the House said that it had been fully debated over a long period. In fact, the circumstances in which the Bill has been debated have been shifting like the sands of the Sahara when the Harmattan is blowing. We shall have barely two hours to consider more than 90 amendments. What sort of discussion will we


Column 909

be able to have? We shall hardly have time to touch on some important issues that have changed the circumstances surrounding the Bill's introduction.

Let me give an example : we were presented with the updated report on the number of jobs that would be created by the barrage on the very day of our original debate. Yet now that we have had a chance to look into that new report in a little more detail, the Government have introduced the guillotine to preclude the possibility of a proper debate. To my mind, the authors of that report could do with at least an afternoon's grilling in Committee concerning the circumstances surrounding the updated assessment they have made of the jobs benefit of the barrage.

The report refers to a mid-October assessment. However, it is not entirely clear whether, on the day before the report was published, the authors made a final conclusion about the jobs benefits or whether that matter had been under consideration over the summer. It is not clear whether any account was taken of black Wednesday--23 September--when Britain ignominiously had to pull out of the ERM. Have all the changing circumstances since mid- September been considered in the updated jobs report? The jobs report refers to property values in the bay area and I believe that those references are highly contentious.

We will consider 90 amendments in seven groups in this debate. I cannot see how we can examine the detail and question the assumptions in the new report. The assumptions deserve to be examined very carefully as they comprise new material which has been made available to us only on the day of the debate. The Government have let themselves down badly and have not given the House a fair chance to debate the issues.

I wish that we could rely on the Government to accept that they have presented us with so much new material and that there have been so many changes that the Bill is worthy of at least another two or three days' debate at a time when we are not overwhelmed by parliamentary business. Bearing in mind the Government's difficulties with other legislation, they could quite easily provide time to consider the issues and not whip the Bill through tonight with Conservative Members who, on at least two other occasions, proved that they did not care what happened to the Bill because the Government had to pull up stumps as Conservative Members were not in the Chamber to support them.

I make a last plea to the Minister to give us a few more days to discuss the issues seriously, because we will not be able to do that in two hours this evening.

6.22 pm

Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly) : We are living in truly remarkable times. The Government are sitting like a group of rabbits paralysed by a car's headlamps. The Government machine and the economy of the country are collapsing around them. The Government are divided as they have never been divided before, yet they have to come to the House in prime time tonight with a guillotine motion. What is even more astounding than the divisions in the Conservative party is the fact that the Government have managed to unite the Labour party today. All Opposition Members realise how deep the divisions have


Column 910

been, but the Minister and his colleagues are so inept that they have contrived a situation today in which all the Welsh Labour Members will vote in the Lobby against the motion. That is a clear sign of the Government's ineptitude.

Erskine May describes guillotine motions as

"the most drastic method of curtailing debate known to procedure it cannot be denied that they are capable of being used in such a way as to upset the balance between the claims of business and the rights of debate."

We heard nothing about the flood of business that is pressing the House when the Leader of the House opened the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) referred very eloquently to the long recess. The only whipped business before the House this week is the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill, and there was virtually no business before the House last week. I understand that the business managers are in such a state that they barely have any business to put before the House this side of Christmas. However, the Government are asserting today that the guillotine must apply and the rights of debate must be set to one side because of the demands of Government business.

Mr. Hanson : One need only consult yesterday's Official Report to discover that business finished at 8.36 pm. Surely that is not a packed programme.

Mr. Davies : My hon. Friend has made the case directly. Over the past five or six years, we have had plenty of experience of an arrogant Government determined to press their legislation through who then had to repent at the leisure of the people of this country. Even the Government must accept that the poll tax was a very good example of that. We heard all the pleas that it was necessary to curtail debate because the poll tax was a vital piece of legislation. We were told that we could not have further discussion of it. It was driven on to the statute book. What happened? It was driven on to the statute book without proper debate and that resulted in a mess. That legislation brought down a Prime Minister and should have brought down the Government. However, the Government have learnt nothing from that experience because they are still demonstrating the same attitude. They believe that the needs of business must take precedence over debate. The Government are incapable of learning from their own mistakes.

Dr. Kim Howells : Just like the poll tax.

Mr. Davies : Indeed, the Secretary of State was responsible for that fiasco.

I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile), the Liberal party spokesman, is no longer in the Chamber. His comments were breathtaking in their ignorance and arrogance. In a throwaway comment, he said that it did not matter about the slugs, snails and newts in Cardiff bay. From your careful observation of our debates, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will know that the case for Cardiff bay is not about slugs, snails or newts. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) who is a great expert on the ecology of Cardiff bay knows, there are no slugs or newts in the bay. It was typical of the Liberal party that its spokesman should make a few throwaway comments in a patronising and condescending way and completely offend the interests in Wales which have been arguing the


Column 911

evironmental case. He set those to one side. We need more debate about the matter so that we can educate the Liberal party on environmental and ecological matters and put to them the fact that the case for Cardiff bay rests on the site of special scientific interest. That case depends on the bird life in the bay.

When the Leader of the House opened the debate, it was interesting that his Parliamentary Private Secretary was the only Tory Back Bencher in the Chamber. Where are all the Tory Members who regard the Bill as a matter of fundamental importance?

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : They are in Strangers Bar.

Mr. Davies : I can only suggest that my hon. Friend has just come from the Strangers Bar. He might be bringing some news hotfoot. The Government's troops are simply waiting for the green light from the Secretary of State ; they will then rush to the Chamber sufficiently lubricated to make passionate and powerful speeches in favour of the guillotine motion.

The truth is that the Government and the Tory party could not care less about the measure. If Conservative Members supported the barrage, they would have been in the Chamber tonight. They would have been here when the Secretary of State sent out his pathetic little letter last year. The Secretary of State had to write to Cabinet members asking them for support to get the private Member's Bill on the statute book, but the Government could not muster the 100 Members necessary to force the closure at 11.30 pm --so much for the commitment of the Secretary of State and Conservative Members. Their recognition of the vital nature of the debate is demonstrated again by their absence tonight.

I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), the shadow Leader of the House, and pointed out that the Government have no mandate for this measure. That makes the guillotining of the debate even more important. The traditional defence of a guillotine is, "We have a mandate for it ; it was in the manifesto ; the people have voted for it ; it is being deliberately obstructed on the Floor of the House ; if we wish to put the people's view into practice, we have to guillotine it."

There is no public mandate for this measure. The only mention of it in the Conservative party manifesto was a very brief sentence which states :

"Land made derelict by old industries has been reclaimed on a massive scale. The Cardiff Bay development and the Ebbw Vale garden festival are outstanding examples".

That is hardly a plea for public endorsement or an unequivocal plea to the people of Wales : "You must vote Conservative because, at the heart of our economic policy, we will press the regeneration of south Wales by building a barrage across the mouth of the Taff estuary." It is a bit like the claim that the centrepiece of the Government's economic strategy is the maintenance of the value of the pound within the exchange rate mechanism-- and it has about as much weight.

Mr. Hanson : I need not remind my hon. Friend that, even if that were an endorsement, after the general election on 9 April the Conservative party found itself with six seats in Wales, only one of which is represented in the Chamber this evening. Twenty-seven of us were elected, and we have friends in other parties--four in Plaid Cymru


Next Section

  Home Page