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4.15 pm

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset): This is the first Wales-only Bill since devolution, so the motion is, constitutionally, important. That will become clear as we proceed with the Bill because one of the questions that Conservative Members will ask is why similar provision has not been made for England.

My position on the Bill is clear. I was a member of the Select Committee on Health that recommended such a commissioner for England and Wales. Furthermore, the Opposition made it clear during the passage of the Care Standards Act 2000 that they envisaged a role for this form of official.

Under the Government of Wales Act 2000, the National Assembly has powers to make and amend secondary legislation, but can only request primary legislation of this House. We believe that it is appropriate that legislation that affects England and Wales should be considered by a Committee of Members from England and Wales. For the avoidance of doubt, I refer to clause 8(4), which states:

There is, however, a certain irony in these proceedings. On 9 June 1992, during the passage of the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill, the Secretary of State for Wales, when he was Opposition spokesman on Welsh affairs, said:

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The Secretary of State--as he now is--went on, at column 252, to say that the circumstances then were different. They were also completely different when the House--under a Labour Government--discussed the Welsh Development Agency Bill in June 1975 and the Development of Rural Wales Bill in July 1976. Those Bills were supported by Members on both sides of the House. There is clearly a parallel with that today.

There is an inconsistency in the Standing Order, which we might consider at a later stage, because we are now in a post-devolution situation. Standing Order No. 86(2)(i)--the provision that precedes the one that we are debating and which applies to Scotland--is clearly redundant. I suggest that paragraph (2)(ii) might also be redundant. I seek an assurance of the Minister that members of the Committee should be drawn from England and Wales, and not from Scotland and Northern Ireland. I am sure that the Minister will be able to give me such an assurance, and, on that basis, we are content with the motion.

4.18 pm

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): I thank the Secretary of State for having the courtesy to speak to the motion. Too many motions have been moved formally in the past, and I am pleased that he attempted to justify the provision. That is welcome.

The Secretary of State has missed the reason why we support the motion, which is set out in the debate to which the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) referred. The Secretary of State--as he now is--said in that debate:

The Secretary of State should explain what has changed with the passage of time between 1992 and today. I suggest that the change involves the establishment of the National Assembly for Wales. The Assembly has debated the Bill and the principles behind it, supports it and wants to see it passed as swiftly and effectively as possible. That extra legislative scrutiny has been introduced, and has worked on the Bill, so my colleagues and I will support the motion tonight, on this occasion only.

We do not agree with the hon. Member for North Dorset that Standing Order No. 86(2)(ii) is necessarily redundant. There may come a time when the House will debate Wales-only legislation that has not been debated by the National Assembly and has not had the democratic scrutiny that the Secretary of State wanted in 1992, and which I hope he still wants.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): The hon. Gentleman seemed to imply that if we passed the motion it would save a fair amount of time. Will he give us an idea of how much less time it would take to pass the legislation if we adopted the motion?

Mr. Thomas: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, but I do not want to trespass on what the Secretary of State said, because I accept the argument that he advanced when he opened the debate. The motion will speed up the Bill's passage, but, importantly, it will not do so to the detriment of democratic scrutiny by Welsh

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Members because, in the face of opposition from the Conservative party, the National Assembly for Wales has been established and has allowed that element of democratic scrutiny to take place.

I am content for the motion to be passed, because we shall do an additional job in scrutinising the Bill in Committee. I hope that members of the Committee will work in tandem with ideas emerging from the National Assembly. If they fail to do so, the whole House will have a chance to amend the Bill on Report.

I hope that the Secretary of State will echo those views and will say clearly that this is a one-off, because of the circumstances in which the Bill has been formulated--through the processes of the National Assembly for Wales. In that context, on this occasion, we shall support the motion.

4.21 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): What I suspect some hon. Members thought would be a quick, uncontroversial nod-through has turned into an important debate, because the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) has given the lie to the whole thing.

Before I get into the substance of my remarks, I echo what the hon. Gentleman said and pay tribute to the Secretary of State for doing us the courtesy of coming to the House and, briefly but succinctly, setting out on the Government's behalf what lies behind the motion. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, and I wish that some of his colleagues would follow his example. Perhaps he will have a word at the next Cabinet meeting and say that some measures might get through the House much more painlessly if some of his colleagues did us the courtesy of explaining what they were up to, instead of trying to smuggle things through in the shifty, surreptitious way that has become the practice of the Government.

On the face of it, the motion appears to be a pretty bland measure about which we should not be too worried. The hon. Member for Ceredigion said, "It will be all right, just this once", but as I was listening to the Secretary of State the word "precedent" was floating through my mind, and I began to ask myself three questions. First, why do we have the Standing Order? Secondly, if it is redundant, why have we not revisited it since devolution? Thirdly, what is so special about the motion that would require a rescinding of the Standing Order, and what are all the implications of that?

The Bill may well be one of the less political Bills that the House has had to consider, in which case it is ironic that the Secretary of State should have been so anxious to ensure a proper party political balance on the Standing Committee. It is the wrong way round. Here is a Bill that, on the face of it, may seem to be less party political than most, yet the Secretary of State wants to ask the House to lift the Standing Order so that it has proper party political representation. I am not sure that a Committee of, say, 50, which the Standing Order allows for, would necessarily be a bad thing in this case, because it would allow the unusually large number of Members--all, I suspect, from the same part of the United Kingdom--who, quite properly, are waiting to contribute to the debate, to take part in the Committee. The Secretary of State will be in a

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very difficult position if he proposes a Committee of a size that might preclude some of his right hon. and hon. Friends from taking part.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Would such a large Committee--that is a possibility, and we shall have to see what transpires--provide a justification for a lengthier timetable, or possibly for more careful consideration by the Programming Sub-Committee? I am sure that that will have occurred to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Forth: I was going to move on to the matter of timing. We are being asked to make a decision on the important matter of the Standing Order before we know the size of the Committee. The Secretary of State did not reveal that to us. Perhaps even more important, he did not reveal the time that the Government will impose for consideration in Committee and, as important, for Report and Third Reading. The right hon. Gentleman's argument rested on the proposition that all the Members precluded from the Committee--all that we know about its size is that 50 Members will not serve on it, and we do not know how much time he will allow the Committee--would be able to bob up on Report and Third Reading to say their piece. Before I give my approval to the motion, I would like to know how much time the Government will give for Report and Third Reading.

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