Select Committee on Procedure Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 272 - 279)

TUESDAY 30 MARCH 1999

MR MARTYN JONES, MP, DR JULIAN LEWIS, MP, MR RICHARD LIVSEY, CBE, MP and MR ELFYN LLWYD, MP

Chairman

  272.  Can I welcome Mr Jones, the Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee, and his colleagues, representing, as they do, the complete political spectrum in Wales. Elfyn Llwyd, you have sat under my chairmanship in a——
  (Mr Llwyd)  I have had that privilege.

  273.  Thank you very much. Richard Livsey, of course, for the Liberal Democrats.
  (Mr Livsey)  I am pleased to be here.

  274.  And, of course, my colleague, Julian Lewis, for the Conservative and Unionist Party. Can I apologise to you, Mr Jones, for cancelling two previous occasions when you were due to come before us; that was due to matters beyond our immediate control and we regret the inconvenience caused to you. Anyway, I hope you can help us in our inquiry into the consequences of devolution upon the United Kingdom Parliament, and I want to put, from the Chair, the first question. Many of those, Mr Jones, who have come and given evidence to this Committee, as part of our inquiry, have favoured what I would describe, and they would describe, as an evolutionary approach to changes in procedure as a result of devolution. Do you and members of your Committee agree with that approach, or do you think there are some matters which need to be addressed by this Committee as a matter of urgency, because of the impact of devolution and changing circumstances resulting from devolution? And any member please come in as they wish.
  (Mr Jones)  Thank you, Chairman. It is a pleasure to be sitting on the opposite side of the table for once, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to give our views, as a Committee. As you remarked, we have a full range of the spectrum of our Committee, and I think that shows the unanimity which we have about our views of how the Committee should develop. But, to answer your question, inevitably, there is going to be some evolution, whatever we do, things will evolve, because it is such a new and untried system. But we see that there will be a necessity for, I think, this Procedure Committee to make some changes, if only changing the Standing Orders of our Committee, Standing Order No.152 refers to our remit being that of the Welsh Office and that will cease to exist, so, inevitably, there is something that has to be done. So we need to address those matters urgently. If I might continue a little, just to put our basic view of how we see the situation developing. As the Assembly does not have any primary legislative powers in Wales, it is a different situation from that in Scotland, and we think that that needs to be addressed. And one of the ways it may be addressed is that the need for primary legislation, should it become necessary, the Welsh Assembly Members themselves will want legislation at some time in the future, so they will want a process to obtain that primary legislation; at present, that would only be via the Secretary of State for Wales, in his, or her, new role. That could be a limiting factor; the Secretary of State, under the new arrangements, would be quite a junior member of the Cabinet and would be making bids for time which may not be accepted by other members of the Cabinet. So we see that as one side of the legislative coin, so to speak. On the other side, there is the situation where other Departments of State will be making legislation for the whole of the UK, including Wales, and there will be no formal process whereby Assembly Members will be able to give their views on that legislation. So we see that there would be a role, given that the Modernisation Committee, and indeed the new Government, wish to have a pre-legislative role for Select Committees in any case, that there would be a very obvious role for the Select Committee of Welsh Affairs to be looking at both legislation in terms of what the Assembly Members want, and in terms of what effect other Departments will have on Wales.

  275.  Thank you very much. Would any of your other colleagues like to intervene here?
  (Mr Llwyd)  I agree with what the Chairman says, and bearing in mind that there is already a procedure whereby the Welsh Grand could sit for the purposes of a Second Reading of a Welsh Bill, I think that that was there for a purpose and I believe that this could be another vehicle for ensuring that that is there, should it be necessary. I do not think that necessarily the Committee should be wound up, for several reasons. I believe that there will be several pieces of legislation which will impinge upon Welsh matters, and if we are not careful there will not be a voice to be heard in response to that; in other words, to be able to argue, amend, or to add to——

  276.  Could I intervene, just for a moment, and just say to you, if there were to be a change, and there were to be a reduction in Committees, how would you react if I said "Well, we should abolish the Welsh Grand Committee", how would you respond to that?
  (Mr Llwyd)  I would respond to that question in this way. There is a distinction between the Select Committee and the Grand Committee, of course; we have a secretariat, and a very good one, I might add, with this particular Committee. Putting it crudely, it is not going to cost anything to leave the Welsh Grand on the shelf for the time being, in case there might be a function for it in the next two or three years, I know not; some suggestions that my Party has, we could have used it as a sounding-board for legislation, although that does not carry with it the whole Committee.

  277.  But could not that work be done, Mr Llwyd, by the Welsh Affairs Select Committee?
  (Mr Llwyd)  I think it probably could, and that was where the Chairman was making the point now that the Welsh Select could be an avenue for liaison, if you like, between the Assembly and Parliament. But I stop short of saying wind up the Welsh Grand, for one simple reason, we referred to an evolutionary process, I do not know whether, in the future, there might be a purpose for it; conversely, if it is left where it is for the time being I do not think it is going to cost anything, and, two or three years down the road, we might all conclude it is pointless, it has had its day, but I think at this point it is a bit early.
  (Dr Lewis)  On the question of the continuation of the Welsh Affairs Committee, I believe that the Committee is entirely united that our remit should not be reduced to the area covered by the Secretary of State for Wales, at, at least, the Welsh Office, such as it will remain; and the reason for this can be summed up by some evidence we took from the outgoing Permanent Secretary at the Welsh Office, a few weeks ago. She was asked whether she would like to put a bet on it that there would still be a Welsh Office or a Secretary of State for Wales in the Cabinet in ten years' time, and she manifestly declined to do so. We feel that there is a major difference between separatism and devolution, and, in particular, given that Parliament has got a continuing role for legislation for Wales and that it will be passing all sorts of legislation from other Departments than that of the Secretary of State for Wales, we think that the effect of abolishing the Welsh Affairs Committee would be to reduce the overall amount of scrutiny that is available, and that would diminish the accountability and the democratic process.

  278.  Thank you. Richard Livsey?
  (Mr Livsey)  Can I endorse what my colleagues have said, Mr Chairman, that I think it is very important that the Welsh Select Committee continues. I think there is a very clear case that can be made for that, not least because we do not have primary legislative powers in the Welsh Assembly, and there is an indication, for example, in Scotland, because they have got primary legislative powers, there will be fewer Members of this House as a result of that. There are no proposals, as far as Wales is concerned, to reduce the number of Members of this House coming here from Wales, primarily because of the primary legislative issue. The Welsh Grand is a totally different issue, and I agree with what has been said, it could lie on the shelf and might need to be reactivated; but there is a very clear role, I think, for this Committee.

Chairman:  Thank you.

Sir Paul Beresford

  279.  Is this not an opportunity to look at it another way round; this is an opportunity, we have already got an extra Assembly, but there has been no real streamlining behind it or above it, is not this an opportunity for streamlining, revolutionary if you like, and then evolution from that? The best you have come up with at the moment is put it on the shelf. What can be done to cut down on the bureaucracy, the numbers of committees, the procedures, and so forth, rather than add to them, and we seem to be adding to them at the moment?
  (Mr Jones)  As I understand it, the Study of Parliament Group suggested that there could be one committee, and if I can sort of change that around a little, if we were to have one committee it would be smaller than the Welsh Grand Committee and it would have a secretariat; well, the Welsh Affairs Committee is smaller than the Welsh Grand Committee and has a secretariat. So my personal view is that there probably is not a role for the Welsh Grand Committee but that, along with my colleagues, I see nothing wrong in terms of keeping it on the Statute Book, on the Orders of the House, in that it would then be available, if it were needed; and, in that sense, it would be actually cutting out one committee because it would not be active. There are plenty of inactive committees in this House which ...


 
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