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Mr. Forth: We have until 10 o'clock.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I would be delighted if the House wanted to sit until 10 pm to discuss these issues. I want to try to give hon. Members detailed responses to the points that they made and it is not always possible to do that on the Floor of the House. That is why we have a Committee stage for Bills. We can go through the detail in Committee and, if we cannot reach agreement, there are further opportunities for discussion when we return to the Floor for Third Reading. However, given the co-operation between this House and the other place, I am sure that we will be able to reach agreement.

The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare mentioned patents for curious, obscure or, indeed, alarming inventions. As was pointed out, the job of the Patent Office is not to decide on the quality of applications but only to make sure that the process has been properly undergone. He also asked why the Patent Office grants patents for inventions that seem to have little practical value. The Patent Office was set up to provide a service to the public and its role is not to decide who should or
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should not apply for a patent, but merely whether an application meets the requirements that Parliament decided were necessary for the granting of a patent.

This has been an important debate on an important Bill. I look forward to the Standing Committee, where I think we will have a worthwhile discussion of many issues that affect UK science and innovation. I look forward, too, to working with the Members who have contributed to the debate today. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Orders [28 June 2001 and 6 November 2003],

Question agreed to.
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Joint Activities with the National Assembly for Wales

6.41 pm

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Phil Woolas): I beg to move,

The motion provides that the House should approve the Procedure Committee's third report of this Session, on joint activities with the National Assembly for Wales. I shall attempt to explain the Committee's proposals. I should say, first, that I am grateful to the Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton). I understand that he had an important meeting this afternoon, and I am very grateful for his letter and for the fact that we are able to begin the debate with him in his place. It is obviously beneficial to the House that that is the case.

The Procedure Committee's report follows the 2003 report of the Welsh Affairs Committee on the primary legislative process as it affects Wales. The Welsh Affairs Committee found that in pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft National Health Service (Wales) Bill—and, more recently, the draft Public Audit (Wales) Bill—there was considerable overlap between its work and that of the relevant National Assembly Committee. Joint hearings would remove that overlap and be of benefit both to Committees and to witnesses. The Welsh Affairs Committee therefore recommended the granting of powers for joint formal meetings between it and Committees of the National Assembly for Wales.

In its response to the Welsh Affairs Committee's report, the Government expressed the view that joint pre-legislative scrutiny by the Committee and the appropriate Committee of the National Assembly for Wales would be helpful. We hoped that the House authorities would examine whether the procedural obstacles could be overcome. The Clerk of the House and his counterpart in the National Assembly set up a joint working group of officials to consider how that could be done.

The report of the working group is published as an appendix to the Procedure Committee's report. In short, the working group found that joint meetings, if desired, could be conducted on the principle of "reciprocal enlargement": either Assembly Members would be invited to attend and take part in House of Commons proceedings or Members of the House would be invited to attend and take part in Assembly proceedings, the activities concerned counting as proceedings of the host body, chaired by one of its Members and governed by its rules.

The Procedure Committee has come to the view that the underlying question of principle, as to whether joint meetings are necessary or desirable, requires further consideration.
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Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): You bet.

Mr. Woolas: The right hon. Gentleman says "You bet," and I imagine that such consideration will form the substance of this debate. However, the proposals are common sense.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): The Minister said that, according to the report, the proposal requires further consideration. How many of the Procedure Committee's published reports, with recommendations, have the Government failed to find time to debate on the Floor of the House?

Mr. Woolas: I am afraid that I do not have those details at my fingertips, but I can say that the thrust of the recommendations has been accepted, as is the case with this report, which the Government believe is very sensible. I hope that the House will agree. Indeed, it was the Government who tabled the motion to accept the report.

Mr. McLoughlin: There is one particular Procedure Committee report, which formed the basis of a complaint that I made in the last Parliament, which the Government have never found time to allow the House to debate or decide on. I wonder on what grounds the Minister or the Government decide which Procedure Committee reports they will find time to debate on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Woolas: The Government decide on the Procedure Committee reports with which the House agrees, and we use common sense to decide whether we agree with the reports. Those are House of Commons reports, not Government reports, and the Government's response is based, in large part, on the consensus of the House, as in this case.

Mr. Forth: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Woolas: I will finish this point first. I hope and believe that this report carries the consensus of the House. It is not a Government report, but there is a Government motion that endorses and accepts the report. I believe that the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) understands that.

Mr. Forth: I am curious to know how the Minister knows what the consensus of the House is if he will not bring a measure before it to be debated and if he has not heard the views of Members. That is typical of Ministers' attitudes: they assume that they know what the House thinks and they make their decisions on that basis. Can the Minister enlighten us as to how he divines the consensus of the House before he decides whether to bring something before it?

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