Select Committee on Procedure Minutes of Evidence


Further evidence submitted by the Study of Parliament Group's Study Group on Westminster and the Welsh Assembly


  We welcome the opportunity to reiterate and to elaborate the main points of our oral and earlier written evidence to the Committee.


2.1 Our proposal

  Our primary proposal is that a new Territorial Committee for Wales should be established in the place of the existing Committees: Welsh Grand and Welsh Affairs.

  Its terms of reference would, in broad terms, cover:

    (a)  those matters currently within the terms of reference of these Committees and which will continue to be properly Westminster's concern, and

    (b)  those new matters which will arise as a consequence of devolution to Wales.

  We elaborate these points below.

  It should comprise 13 Members, to include English Members, and reflect the party-political balance of the House. It need not be chaired by a Member of the governing party at Westminster.

2.2 Reasons

  In proposing the creation of a Territorial Committee we have sought a middle way between wholesale structural change and simple reactive pragmatism. We entirely accept that it is not at this stage possible to be definitive about how best Westminster should respond to Welsh devolution and devolution elsewhere. While we understand the argument about "devolution by evolution",[6] we think that there are powerful reasons for the adoption of a more proactive stance. We touched on these in our written and oral evidence, but wish to restate them here.

(a) Modernisation and political symbolism

  Devolution is new territory for all of us. Speaking frankly, a modernisation programme for the House of Commons without a restructuring of committee arrangements in respect of devolution would be akin to Hamlet without the Prince. It would be unfortunate, if, at the same time as the Modernisation Committee is recommending change in key aspects of its business, the House were to miss the opportunity to establish an appropriate institutional response to devolution.[7] It would be ironic if the creation at Westminster of new institutional arrangements were to be confined to the House of Lords, in the sense of regional representation in a new, reformed upper House. The Commons should not be seen to be lagging behind.

  Furthermore it is politically right that devolution (arguably the most significant event for centuries in the development of the United Kingdom constitution) should be marked by the creation at Westminster of institutional arrangements which reflect this development. To do nothing and leave things as they are would suggest that nothing has really changed.

(b) A plurality of boundaries

  Devolution accentuates existing political boundaries within the United Kingdom. Whereas decisions affecting Wales which have been taken by the Welsh Office have hitherto been within Westminster's competence, that will no longer be the case. As the evidence to the Procedure Committee has noted and as we explore further below, Westminster will be expected to respect the executive boundary between Whitehall and the National Assembly. But defining the boundary of Westminster's proper concern is likely to be difficult. It will not be made any easier while Westminster also has to respect existing boundaries between the Welsh Committees (or as those redefined boundaries will be if the institutional status quo is maintained). It would be a more effective use of Westminster's resources to focus on the integrity of one, rather than a number of porous boundaries. Moreover, a plurality of Welsh Committees in Westminster together with the National Assembly in Cardiff muddies accountability.

  We are conscious that some select committees might not like the idea of a Welsh Territorial Committee intruding on matters which they regard as their own. We do not think that this will be a difficulty. There is more than enough to do. While the Territorial Committee will continue to consider reserved matters as they affect Wales, executive devolution creates a new, untested, and substantial agenda. In this context two principal considerations will be the constant refinement as between Whitehall and Cardiff of the extent to which the National Assembly is to be left to determine its own priorities and the likely pressure that will be exerted by the Assembly to extend its discretionary powers. Our concern is that a narrowly defined remit for the Welsh Territorial Committee could result in Welsh interests being overlooked. Furthermore, we are persuaded that the experience and goodwill of the Commons will facilitate good working relationships and co-operation between the Territorial Committee and the existing select committees.

(c) A holistic perspective: Wales and beyond

  One committee dealing with all subsisting and new issues is more likely to develop the skill and the expertise to analyse and evaluate the effects of devolution in Wales than if they are dispersed as at present. When new primary legislation for Wales is proposed at Westminster, or the National Assembly presses (as it inevitably will) for greater powers or more extensive devolution, a committee with a corporate memory will be better suited to give informed advice. Similarly, when other devolution agendas arise, a single committee with a comprehensive Welsh remit, will be better placed to advise on their implications.

(d) The credibility of a single voice

  If Westminster decides to devolve powers to the English regions, working relationships between Wales and those regions will be better facilitated by a single committee representing Wales than the existing structure. This argument is enhanced should Westminster also establish equivalent Territorial Committees for Northern Ireland and Scotland. We note that evidence has been given to the Committee recommending the discontinuance of the Scottish Grand Committee.[8]

2.3 Post Devolution Concerns

  It is accepted by all that Westminster "must respect the devolution of power and not encroach on the remit of the devolved legislature."[9] Clearly, therefore, the broad ranging debates of the Welsh Grand Committee will take place in the National Assembly. In addition, a number of the matters now dealt with by the Welsh Affairs Committee would cease properly to be the concern of Westminster. But executive devolution also means that some decisions taken by the National Assembly, for example, on health, education or planning, will inevitably have an impact, for good or ill, in England. Other evidence heard by the Procedure Committee has also addressed this difficult issue: to what extent may Members at Westminster properly comment or table Questions upon those decisions?

  Such questions raise an issue central to the devolution agenda: making devolution work means not only that Westminster (or Whitehall) respects the autonomy of the National Assembly, and the devolved governments, but also that it respects the limits of its powers. In this context we envisage a pivotal role for our proposed Territorial Committee.

  A principal concern post devolution will be to ensure that Welsh interests continue to receive proper consideration both in Whitehall, Westminster and Brussels. We anticipate that the operation of the concordats will be subject to ongoing review and reformulation between officials in which Westminster, through its Welsh Territorial Committee, has a role to play. Similarly the implementation of the Barnett formula and the manner in which the Secretary of State ensures that a Welsh voice is heard in the reserved areas will also be of concern to the Territorial Committee, particularly when there are party differences between the United Kingdom government and the National Assembly.

2.4 The Functions of the Territorial Committee

  These may be broadly categorised as scrutiny, legislative, and liaison functions. They include:

    —  the negotiation for, and the adequacy of, the Welsh block grant;

    —  the role of the Secretary of State in advancing Welsh interests in Whitehall;

    —  the role of the Secretary of State in advancing Welsh interests in Europe (for example, the impact of decisions concerning BSE on Welsh farming);

    —  the impact of Whitehall policy on Welsh interests (for example, the impact of changes in broadcasting arrangements on Welsh language broadcasting, or of changes in Ministry of Defence policies on employment in Wales);

    —  the impact of cross-cutting strategies (economic sustainability, equal opportunities) on the Welsh economy;

    —  political issues generally within the United Kingdom (macro economic policy, foreign policy);

    —  holding the Secretary of State accountable;

    —  taking evidence on those issues that are not devolved but have an impact on the Welsh economy;

    —  assuming the role of a standing committee at the committee stage where the National Assembly requires new Wales-only primary legislation;

    —  reviewing those parts of proposed primary legislation that will apply to Wales;

    —  liaising with the Chairs of the Policy Committees of the National Assembly to ensure, for example, that the drafting of primary and secondary legislation coincides with the Assembly's agreed policies;

    —  reviewing the workings of the concordats;

    —  reviewing the scheme of devolution;

    —  reviewing the role of MPs in the post devolution world; and

    —  liaising with other select committees.


3.1 Rationale

  Our earlier written evidence envisaged the creation of parallel territorial committees at Westminster for Scotland and Northern Ireland. While their devolution settlements differ from those in Wales, a similar division in terms of reference for each Committee can be readily envisaged. Some of those matters currently within the terms of reference of existing Committees will survive devolution; others will be generated. We also envisaged that in time, each Territorial Committee will be considering questions which are common, or closely connected to those raised by Members of other Territorial or English Regional Committees. We gave examples of such questions in our oral evidence. We think that there is value in a Committee whose terms of reference extend to the workings of the new system of territorial government throughout the United Kingdom and to constitutional affairs generally, to parallel the Joint Ministerial Committee.[10]

3.2 Composition

  The Devolution Committee would comprise Members drawn from the Territorial and English Regional Committees, together with others nominated by the House. It will be a House of Commons Committee.

3.3 Functions

  These include:

    —  ensuring that the devolved areas' voices are heard in connection with EU matters;

    —  discussing matters of common interest to the devolved areas, especially the Barnett formula and needs assessment;

    —  comparing experience with a view to benefiting from past practice;

    —  reviewing the overall scheme of devolution; and

    —  reviewing the role of MPs in a post devolution world.

Vernon Bogdanor

Barry Jones

David Miers

Richard Rawlings

For the Study of Parliament Group

8 March 1999

6   Procedure Committee, The Procedural Consequences of Devolution, Minutes of Evidence, Q. 2, 26 January 1999. Back

7   Procedure Committee, The Procedural Consequences of Devolution, Minutes of Evidence, Q. 148, 16 February 1999. Back

8   Procedure Committee, The Procedural Consequences of Devolution, Minutes of Evidence, Q. 90, 10 February 1990. Back

9   First Report from the Procedure Committee, Procedural Consequences of Devolution: Interim Report; HC 148, 1998-990, para. 12. Back

10   "To consider policy and other issues arising from the Government's policies for devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the regions of England and to promote and oversee progress of the relevant legislation through Parliament and its subsequent implementation." (Committee DP). Back

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