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Well, somebody has to provide common sense, and it is a good basis for judgment. It if transpires, following Members' contributions in a debate, that
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there are objections, the House will decide. The right hon. Gentleman is no stranger to the practice of objecting to motions moved from the Dispatch Box or elsewhere. However, to coin a Euro 2004 phrase, somebody has to decide what common sense is. If the right hon. Gentleman disagrees, it is his right to do so.
This Procedure Committee report is one from the House, to the Government. The Government are facilitating debate in the House; they did not need to do so, but they have provided time for debate. I would have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would welcome that opportunity. The Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Macclesfield, is in his place. The Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee also supports the motion and has recommended it to the House. If the House wants to disagree, that is its choice. I fail to see what else I could do if I am not to be accused of bludgeoning the report through the House. If the right hon. Gentleman were a reasonable man who accepted that the House is being asked to consider proposals regarding the procedures of the House and its Committees, I think that he would nod his consent. The fact that he fails to do so is a matter for him.
The Procedure Committee has come to the view that the underlying question of principle of whether joint meetings are necessary or desirable requires further consideration. The right hon. Gentleman is not listening, so I reiterate: the Procedure Committee has come to the view that whether joint meetings are necessary or desirable requires further consideration. I should have thought that he would support that point at least.
Mr. Woolas: The right hon. Gentleman nods, so I find it difficult to understand how he can oppose the motion before the Housebut that is a matter for him. I am sure that he will take the opportunity to explain, should he catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The Committee also believes that pre-legislative scrutiny of an expected draft Bill that applies only to Wales would provide a suitable experiment in joint working before it decides whether to recommend its wider use. The Committee therefore recommends that, until the end of the current Parliament, the Welsh Affairs Committee be authorised to invite members of any specified Committee of the National Assembly for Wales to attend and participate in its proceedings, but not to vote on those mattersthat is most importantand subject to a quorum of both Committees being present. The Procedure Committee further recommends that during such proceedings use of the Welsh language be allowed in all circumstances, with the National Assembly providing interpreters and transcription of Welsh language contributions. The current rules allow the use of Welsh in Select Committees only if a witness has given advance notice of a desire to give evidence in Welsh, but the National Assembly is obliged by statute to treat the English and Welsh languages equally. I hope that the House will think that that is a sensible and pragmatic modification to our rules.
The Government have responded to the Committee in positive terms. We agree that the forthcoming pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Transport (Wales) Bill,
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which was laid before both Houses on 27 May, provides a suitable experiment for joint working before considering whether it should be permitted more widely in respect of legislation relating to Wales. With the agreement of the Chairman of the Committee, our response has been placed in the Library and attached to the explanatory memorandum provided in the Vote Office. The Government are grateful to the Procedure Committee for carrying out a difficult technical task on a difficult policy area and for its measured and timely report. We are also grateful to the Welsh Affairs Committee for its consideration and its commitment to pre-legislative scrutiny and to joint working with the National Assembly.
Perhaps the Chairman of the Procedure Committee will explain his Committee's thinking in more detail. I hope that the House will agree that the experiment suggested by his Committee should go ahead. I urge the House to support the motion.
Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): The debate so far on this relatively straightforward motion shows the benefit of having the opportunity to debate such matters rather than let them go through on the nod, as the Government too often seek to achieve. Courtesy of the powerful point made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), important questions have been asked about the extent to which the Executive set the agenda for the House of Commons in relation to the selection of Select Committee reports for debate.
In a sense, we are having this debate because the present situation is the product of the very different models of devolution used for Scotland and for Wales, and the proposals represent an attempt to tidy up some of the loose ends left by the devolution process. I am glad that the Minister did not describe them as part of the modernisation agenda. He would have been wrong to do so because, as the Procedure Committee's helpful report points out, there is a precedent for the proposals. In 1933, it was decided that people who were not Members of either House of Parliament should be able to take part in proceedings in the Joint Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform.
Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out, but does he not think that the fact that the procedure has not been used for all this time suggests that it might not be very useful, after all?
Mr. Luff: I suspect that my right hon. Friend will explore that matter during his remarks, should he have the good fortune to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In my view, devolution has created a new and untidy situation, and the proposalwhich I, rather reluctantly and on the basis that it is a trial, will supportmay well be a necessary development to enable us to cope with that.
Anticipating that the word "modernisation" would be used against the proposal, I conducted some research, which tells me that in July 1933 the Joint Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform set up several sub-Committees to hear various
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witnesses on specific topics and nominated five Indian delegates to take part in those proceedings. The proposed procedure is not new and cannot be diminished by accusations of modernisation.
Mr. Luff: I do not know what the Minister intended by that intervention, but I had intended to make precisely that pointthere is a 71-year-old precedent for the proposals. Perhaps, in the spirit of openness, I should declare at this point my chairmanship of the Conservative Friends of India group. It is important that we attest to the relevance of that precedent and the need for the procedure to be revived.
I was a little shocked by the radical nature of the proposal at first glance, but then I thought that if my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), a great and distinguished parliamentarian, recommends it, who am I to demur? However, I have three serious points to put to the Minister, because although it is not the official Opposition's intention to oppose the motion, it raises questions of some importance that must be answered.
My first question is: how will the trial be assessed? No doubt, if it is deemed to have succeeded, a motion to continue the trial will be laid before the House at the start of the next Parliament. I would therefore like to know precisely what procedures the Government intend to use to assess success or otherwise. We know from bitter present experience that trials are not always successfulone thinks of the fiasco regarding postal voting in the European elections. Trials can fail, and the Government must recognise that we regard what is proposed as very much a trial; they must not take our not opposing the motion as carte blanche to continue, willy-nilly, in the next Parliament.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Seeking to remove responsibility from the Minister, may I tell my hon. Friend that I believe that, after a trial period, the Procedure Committee will examine the matter again as part of its ongoing duties to monitor the procedures of this place? Clearly, we shall take evidence on how effective the new procedure has been, not least from the Welsh Affairs Committee and the National Assembly for Wales.
Mr. Luff: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend, although that raises a slight difficulty of timing. I do not know when the Procedure Committee intends to examine whether the trial has been a success or at what stage the Government will seek to revive the motion in the next Parliament. None the less, I am grateful to him and I am sure that his Committee, which I hope he will continue to chair in the next Parliament, will make an important contribution to the assessment of the trial.
Before I put my second point to the Minister, I should declare that I am a former member of the Welsh Affairs Committee. I see among those who may not speak others who were on that Committee with me. As such, I think instinctively that the proposal makes sense.
My second point is that the very fine memorandum, written by the Clerk of the House, in the Procedure Committee's report shows the extraordinary complexity of such a simple concept. Of course, the report addresses a range of other options beyond the straightforward co-
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operation involving the Welsh Affairs Committee, and considers other methods of "reciprocal enlargement"a rather ugly turn of phrase. I want to ensure that the Minister is happy that the Government have properly addressed the concerns expressed in the Clerk's memorandum and that he foresees no difficulties in that regard.
Thirdly, do the Government plan to consider any other manifestations of "reciprocal enlargement"? There are four different models suggested in the Clerk's memorandum that go well beyond the relatively modest measure before us this evening. It would be helpful to know whether the Government are sympathetic to any of those other models, or whether they regard this measure as the end of the question.
To pursue the thin end of the wedge argument a little further, it strikes me that the Government already have other devolutionary schemes in place, and that others are planned. Might they therefore come before the House at some point to suggest a similar arrangement for the London Assembly, for example, or for the elected regional assembliesshould there ever be such things, which I personally find unlikely? Such proposals could have quite serious consequences for the sovereignty of this House, and I would like to know whether the Government have given any thought to that possibility.
The official Opposition have no objections to this trial, as long as it is precisely that, as long as it is properly judged before being made a permanent feature of the way in which our Welsh Affairs Committee conducts its business, and as long as it is not used as a wider precedent. It has been 71 years since something like this was last attempted, and it could well be another 71 years before we need to do it again, but we think that it is worth a trial.
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