Select Committee on Procedure Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280 - 299)



  280.  But the temptation would be there?
  (Mr Jones)  Given, Sir Paul, that the agenda is set by Government and that Government have to answer to their own agenda, if you like, then there might be temptation from the Government's point of view, if they wanted to air something, but generally I find that Governments tend not to want to put themselves up to be knocked down, so I suspect that probably it would not be used.

Mr Darvill

  281.  I agree that if the Main Committee proposals are advanced and they come into effect, at the same time as the devolution in Wales, with a modernised role for the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, would not that be a model that would be appropriate, and, therefore, effectively, do away with the need for the Grand Committee?
  (Mr Jones)  I tend to agree with you, Mr Darvill, but I am not so draconian that necessarily it would have to be wound up. My personal view, having experienced both the Welsh Grand Committee and the Welsh Select Committee, not in the chair of both, is that I feel that the Welsh Grand Committee does tend to duplicate what an Assembly ought to be doing with increased powers, and that is discussing matters pertaining to the whole of Wales. However, as I said, there are a lot of committees in this House which never meet but occasionally do get resurrected when things are ...

  282.  Yes, but if we are modernising Parliament and the role of Parliament and producing a devolved Assembly, we have got a clear set of areas of responsibility, if you like, and by keeping the Grand Committee you are just really maintaining a part of the old system, and if it really became necessary to bring back the Grand Committee, because there were obvious areas which were not being covered because the Grand Committee went, then it would always be possible for the House to revert to it. It seems to me that, at this stage, it would be a good idea to have this package there which you will be working to, rather than leaving this on the back shelf, just to be brought out at some time that is convenient.
  (Mr Jones)  I personally would not disagree with you, Mr Darvill, but some of my colleagues might.
  (Mr Livsey)  This is a very subjective argument, if you do not mind my saying so, but I do not think we ought to buy it, because, at the end of the day, I think there could be a measure of some frustration in the Welsh Assembly that they do not have primary legislative powers, and it may be that the Welsh Grand, although it may not be active for some time, may have to be resorted to, to discuss some of these matters with the whole of the membership of the Welsh Westminster MPs here, in order perhaps to resolve one or two problems that might arise.


  283.  Could I just help our witnesses, and Mr Stunell might care to add to this. Members that are before us this afternoon may well be aware that the Modernisation Select Committee has agreed on a proposal that there should be sittings of the House in Westminster Hall, i.e. a parallel chamber, and it is possible that matters that are of interest to devolved parts of the United Kingdom could well be debated in sittings in Westminster Hall. Now it is not for me, as Chairman of Procedure, to indicate when or how the Government may find time to debate the findings of the Modernisation Select Committee, or, in due course, and probably sooner than later, the interim report from this Committee dealing with these sorts of issues; but what I do say is, there could well be alternative facilities for the sort of debate which Mr Livsey is talking about. Do you want to add; sorry, I intervened there, Richard?
  (Mr Livsey)  No. I think that is quite a helpful comment, which no doubt we would want to think about and mull over in our own minds, and perhaps respond to later on. But where I would like to draw a distinction, if I were a Scottish MP, sitting here, I think I would be very clear about the role of the Scottish Grand Committee, I could not see any function for it, because it has got primary legislative powers in the Scottish Parliament, but we are in a different situation and I do not think we want to jump off the deep end immediately.
  (Mr Llwyd)  Two very brief points. Firstly, if I could remind myself about the purpose of the Grand Committee. Very often, it is a valued opportunity for backbenchers to be able to make their comments and to speak on various Welsh issues; and, secondly, of course, referring to what I said earlier, the Grand Committee, and the Standing Orders, is able to sit as a Second Reading forum, and I think it is rather important that that should be kept, pro tem, at least. I hear what you say, Mr Darvill, about modernisation and I am not against modernisation, I think there is a great need for it, but I think that it would be preferable to keep this particular institution in being, for the time being, just to see how things do evolve. I may be wrong, but I think, rather than bring it to a head now and then possibly have to reinstate, it might be better to see what use will be made of it, two, three years hence, and then decide. It sounds like sitting on the fence, but it is not meant to sound like that.

Mr Davey

  284.  I am intrigued to see that there is this dispute amongst the members of your Committee, because I would have thought that most of you were very keen on the devolution processes that have been set in train and would not really want to leave something that could be gone back to, and really would want to put pressure on future Governments to give more power to the Welsh Assembly, and, therefore, to create a dynamic for further evolutionary change and further powers for this Welsh Assembly, to create a force, an incentive, to give more power to the Welsh Assembly. Has not that been an issue amongst your members?
  (Mr Jones)  If I can respond first; it has not, Mr Davey, at all, and it is not the case that we are all very pro-devolution. I certainly am, and I think that two of my colleagues here are, but I think there is a distinct split, but I do not think that is the motivation for wanting to keep the Grand Committee on the back burner, if you like. I think it is simply a question of, because our situation is different from Scotland, that we want to maintain everything that might possibly be useful. That is, I think, the feeling, if I am right; my colleagues may disagree with me.

Mr Burgon

  285.  What do you see as being the role of Welsh MPs at Westminster after devolution, and do you see it as differing from that of English, Scottish or Northern Ireland MPs, and, if so, how?
  (Mr Jones)  That is an interesting question. I do not think it will differ significantly. All MPs, after devolution, will still have social security, defence, foreign affairs, and all the other non-devolved matters to deal with, and it is the case at the moment that most Welsh MPs, I am not saying are primarily concerned with matters Welsh, but we all tend to attend Welsh debates, and so on; so, to that extent, it might be a little easier. But I think we will still have the overall role, we are still a UK Parliament, and most of us are happy with the level of devolution that we have got. To distinguish between the role between Welsh, because I have no remit for Scottish MPs, but Welsh and English Members, I suspect that the English Members may want to have their own regional assemblies in the future, and I think, my personal view is, that that is not a bad thing, and that may be something which we will shine a beacon for, for English Members to have their own regional assemblies.


  286.  Are you equating, Mr Jones, the devolved Assembly in Wales with regional government?
  (Mr Jones)  Indeed, yes. I think it is a form of regional government, it is a form of devolution; devolution, in my definition, is taking government down as close to the people as possible, and I think we are starting that process in Wales, and I cannot see any reason why it should not happen in England as well.

Sir Paul Beresford

  287.  Regardless of whether regionalism actually does strike in England, so to speak, there will be a period of time when there will not be, so what about the difference in relationship between the English and Welsh MPs in the interim?
  (Mr Jones)  I think the nature of this place is that there is constant change, even in the 11 years I have been here, that we all have our roles to play; for instance, I am Chairman of the All-Party Group on Population and Development, which is an international role, those roles will continue. In a sense, as I said, really, our role will probably be more similar to the English Members' role now, in that probably we will not have the Welsh Grand Committee to attend, we will not have so many Welsh debates to attend, and so on, or maybe any, it is up to your Committee here, but we may not have Welsh Questions, for example, or a reduced version of Welsh Questions. So, in a sense, our role will be getting much more like the role of English Members is at present.
  (Dr Lewis)  I just wonder if people with longer experience than I have anything to tell us about what happened in the 1970s, with what I recall were called the Redcliffe Maude reforms, which inserted quite a powerful tier of intermediate government between local government and Westminster but without any power for primary legislation, and, I suspect, at the time, it was never thought that this should lead to any change or diminution in the role of MPs at Westminster with that arrangement. And, although I do not want to press the parallel too far, I suggest that the same arguments that applied against any change in the role of MPs then might well do so now, because of the very limited degree of devolution that applies in the case of Wales, rather than Scotland.
  (Mr Llwyd)  I think, Mr Chairman, it is unarguable that the constituency caseloads of Welsh MPs will decrease, that is pretty obvious, I do not think anybody could argue sensibly against that; however, I think that the actual role in Westminster will not necessarily decrease, that is my view.


  288.  Thank you. Can I put another question from the Chair. I gauge, from what has been said, and I hope I am correct, that you are concerned about the future remit of your Committee, the Welsh Affairs Select Committee. Given that the Secretary of State will be responsible for representing Wales's interests in the Cabinet, why would it not be sensible to make the Committee's remit the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Wales, and, if the remit is the responsibility of the Secretary of State, will it change automatically with changes in the powers of the Assembly; if so, is not that a good thing?
  (Mr Jones)  I think there is a problem with that, and the problem is that the Secretary of State, as I think I intimated in my preamble, he, or she, will be in a very weak position in the Cabinet. If the widest possible interpretation was made of the Secretary of State's ongoing role then I think there would be a role for the Committee which is not too different from that which I described in the beginning; on the other hand, there is a danger that the narrow role of the Secretary of State might be considered to be our role, as a Committee, in terms of scrutiny, and that would be, I think, a very big mistake, in that we would have such a narrow role that probably it would not be worth us continuing.

Chairman:  Again to interrupt, Mr Jones, but it would be the responsibilities that lie in this place for Wales, would it not? Are you saying that, as a Welsh Select Committee, you will need to go beyond what remains of the very heavy responsibility in this House for the people and the interests of Wales, as a country?

Mr Stunell

  289.  I wonder if I can add a supplementary. It does seem to me that, by seeking a wider remit, what you are actually saying is you want the opportunity to second-guess what the Assembly is doing, and I wonder if you could just comment on that?
  (Mr Jones)  I am glad you raised that, Mr Stunell, because that is absolutely what we do not want, I think the majority of us, in any case, on the Committee; we cannot see a role for second-guessing what an elected tier of government are doing, it will be entirely up to them, they will have been elected by the people of Wales to have that role of scrutiny, that is what they are there for. That is not the point at all. The point I am trying to make, and maybe not very well, in terms of a wider role, is that, precisely because the Assembly will have its own scrutiny role but it will not have the opportunity to legislate, there is necessity, I believe, for an all-party group, such as ourselves, or something very similar, to continue in this place, to be able to take evidence from Assembly people, which a Standing Committee of the legislature would not be able to do, they will be able to take evidence from bodies throughout Wales about legislation that the Assembly would require, and, equally, they would be able to take evidence from other groups outside Wales where there is any legislation planned which is going to affect Wales. So I want to keep focusing on that, because I think that is very important.


  290.  Yes, but you seem to be getting away from the point that I put, I know it was added to by Andrew Stunell, that if there is going to be any legislation in this House relating to Wales it is going to be initiated by the Secretary of State for Wales. So where am I wrong in suggesting that the remit of your Select Committee should be that of the Secretary of State for Wales?
  (Mr Livsey)  Can I challenge you, I do not like challenging you, Mr Chairman, but I think I must, on that issue; it need not necessarily be that it is the Secretary of State for Wales who is actually initiating the legislation. For example, we could have environmental legislation emanating from this place which might affect us in Wales, in all sorts of ways, which, as a Committee, perhaps, we need to examine; on the other hand, on the other side of the coin, we could have a situation, for example, where perhaps the Barnett Formula was being renegotiated, and we would take, obviously, a very keen interest in that sort of issue, and that is coming straight from the Treasury. So I think there are a lot of different issues that perhaps we have to consider here.

Chairman:  I am very grateful for that correction, I stand corrected, but I actually asked the question to be provocative and I succeeded. Sir Paul.

Sir Paul Beresford

  291.  Can I just quickly follow the point. Any legislation that involves England and Wales, for example, at the Standing Committee stage, has a Welsh Minister there; so part of your argument falls?
  (Mr Livsey)  Mr Chairman, and Sir Paul, that is an argument which I think can perhaps be challenged; yes, putatively, that might be the case, that there is a Minister there. But, for example, we have at the moment legislation going through the House on the modernisation of local government, which actually affects Wales; are we saying that perhaps this Committee should not take an interest in that sort of topic, as well as the Minister?

  292.  No, I am looking at it the other way round. The Chairman's suggestion, I felt, covered the point, because the Secretary of State for Wales would have a representative, in the form of the Minister, at the legislative stage?
  (Mr Livsey)  That might be the case, from the point of view of the Government, but I think the role of Select Committees is somewhat different from that, where we need the freedom, in fact, to examine what is going on, objectively.
  (Dr Lewis)  My initial response was going to be the same as Mr Livsey's. If it is recognised that Wales, as an entity, has a degree of special consideration, then when national government is taking steps, in many fields, that the Welsh Assembly, as it were, will not get its hands on, before it has already gone a long way down the chain, then it is a reduction in the input of representativeness for the people of Wales to have this Committee not functioning. To that I would add one other little thing, as a relatively new member of the Committee; one of the things that has struck me as one of its major strengths is an ability to take a slightly detached view of individual cases where something has gone wrong. In recent times, for example, we have examined the closure of a museum, the Welsh Industrial and Maritime Museum, under the aegis of the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation, which had in its terms of reference the propagation of Cardiff as a city with a strong maritime history. Now I do not want to be too provocative in what I am going to say, but I think the fact that we could look at that problem in an isolated way from a distance was helpful, in terms of cutting through perhaps some of the interlocking relationships that would come across, time and time again, if everything were to be focused in Cardiff. I do not think I ought to go further than that.
  (Mr Llwyd)  May I just come back on one thing that Sir Paul said, I might have got the argument wrong, but, surely, if there is a Minister present in the Standing Committee of a Bill which affects Wales, should we, as a Committee, therefore, not be there to be able to scrutiny what that Minister did or did not, in the interests of Wales?

  293.  Yes, that was actually what I was trying to say, that I felt that the remit of the Secretary of State is broad, and broad enough to give a label for the Select Committee to use.
  (Mr Llwyd)  I agree.

Mr Efford

  294.  I wonder if you have had an opportunity to give any thought to the future co-operation between members of the Welsh Affairs Committee and the Assembly? One of the examples that we have been given is that of the federal government in Australia, that has joint committees with the state parliaments. What future co-operation do you envisage, formal or otherwise, between members of the two bodies?
  (Mr Jones)  I would see, Chairman, that we would have a liaison role, in any case, almost by definition, because of the need to, not to second-guess what they are doing, as an Assembly, but to help in the process of evolution of the Assembly. I think our feeling at the moment is that it is very likely that we would start off with informal meetings, except in the case where, if we do have a pre-legislative role then we would want to invite formally Members of the Assembly, in terms of the First Secretary of whichever committee was responsible, or, whichever committee wanted a particular form of legislation, they would have to come and, if you like, give evidence to the committee, but I am sure that they would be more than happy to come and give evidence, in that formal sense. But I think it would be very important for us, as a Committee, or for a territorial committee, if that was the route that it was decided to go down, if they actually had liaison committees, or informal meetings on a regular basis. The problem then comes, who decides to call those meetings; it is easy when it is formal, it is more difficult when it is informal. But I would suspect that they would occur, almost naturally, as a necessity.


  295.  Why did you throw in just now the phrase "territorial committee"?
  (Mr Jones)  Because, as I understand it, the Study of Parliament Group have given you evidence, Chairman, suggesting that there might be something called, I think they call it, a territorial committee, and I threw that in really because, in a sense, our role, as a Welsh Affairs Select Committee, would change so much that we would not be examining the Welsh Office, because the Welsh Office would not exist, we think that we ought to be examining other Departments, Ministers, if they are affecting Wales, for example. We think that, even if the Secretary of State is our only recourse, as you suggested, I think, provocatively, earlier, Mr Chairman, even if that is our only recourse, it will be a wide interpretation anyway, as I think Sir Paul just mentioned, that we would have to take a wider interpretation to get any useful benefit for the Assembly and for Westminster.

  296.  You are not suggesting, and maybe I missed something a few moments ago, that there should be a Welsh Affairs Select Committee and a territorial committee?
  (Mr Jones)  No, Chairman.

  297.  You would be prepared yourselves to assume the mantle of the territorial committee?
  (Mr Jones)  I think, Chairman, that that would be the de facto case, because if we had followed the line of the Study of Parliament Group, and the Welsh Grand Committee was amalgamated with the Select Committee, effectively, what you would be creating would be a Select Committee, because, the Welsh Grand Committee, you could not have a committee of 52 people, some of whom were the same individuals, in any case. So it would have to be smaller, it would have to have a secretariat, well, we are smaller and we have a secretariat, so I think that, essentially, whatever we decide to call it, that is what we are discussing.

  298.  But would you respond to my remarks earlier to Mr Richard Livsey, that, should a sittings chamber in Westminster Hall come into being, certain territorial matters relating to Wales, in the broadest sense, could be debated there, not scrutinised there but could be debated there; are you in agreement with that, do you think that is a good idea?
  (Mr Jones)  Certainly, I do; we have not discussed this as a Committee, Chairman, but, as an individual who is concerned about this issue, I would think that would be an excellent idea, in terms of debate, in terms of a Second Reading style debate for legislation pertaining to Wales, for example, that would make sense. But I think you made the distinction yourself, in terms of scrutiny and in terms of debate, and I think that we need the Welsh Select Committee, whatever it is called, to continue to have that scrutiny.
  (Mr Llwyd)  Mr Chairman, can I come back, very briefly, on this point. Does not what you have just said, Mr Chairman, about the initiation of a second chamber, make the case for retention of the Welsh Grand?

  299.  I am not sure that the questioning should come from you.
  (Mr Llwyd)  I am afraid, in my day job, I am paid for asking questions.

Chairman:  The answer to that is, no, I do not. Could it be a justification, yes; do I think that it is a justification, the answer is no. But that is my brief answer. Andrew Stunell.

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