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Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for his opening remarks. On behalf of the Procedure Committee, I am glad to be able to support the Government's motion to implement the recommendations made in our third report. I should like to pick up on the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin). Perhaps there will be other occasions on which I, as Chairman of the Procedure Committee, will be able to press the Government to provide time on the Floor of the House to give their responses to our reports and to debate those reports in full. I should like to take this opportunity to say that we would very much like not only a response but a debate on Sessional Orders and resolutions, as well as on our reports on procedures for debate, the role of the Speaker, and private Members' Bills.
In fact, I have just seen a member of my Committee, the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith), indicating that we have received a reply on the issue of Sessional Orders, so I apologise to the Deputy Leader of the House. I hope that I understand the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine correctly, and I would simply say that we would have liked a more positive
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response than the rather bland one that we have received from the Government. However, this debate is not about that.
Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend is being a bit over-generous to the Government, if I may say so. Does he share my suspicion that the motion before us illustrates that the Government will bring before the House in a timely fashion those motions from his Committee that they find congenial, while failing or hesitating to bring forward anything that they find less congenial? Does that not give my hon. Friend a sense of unease?
Sir Nicholas Winterton: I am very tempted to respond to that question at some length, but I shall resist the temptation. My right hon. Friend's intervention leads me to the next comment that I was going to make, which is that the Leader of the House wrote to me less than three weeks after the report was published, to give the Government's response to it. I was gratified to receive such a prompt reply. My right hon. Friend was suggesting that the Government would respond speedily only to the reports that they liked and found it easy to respond to, but they have responded to this report pretty quickly, and I am grateful for that.
Perhaps, however, my right hon. Friend will think that I am following up on the gist of his intervention when I say that, in this case, this has happened mainly because the recommendations in our report are urgent because a draft Billthe draft Transport (Wales) Billwas published just before the recess. This is the Bill to which our experimental recommendation has been directed, so that pre-legislative scrutinyof which the House is very much in favourcan be carried out jointly by the Welsh Affairs Committee and the Economic Development and Transport Committee of the National Assembly for Wales.
Mr. Woolas: It might help the Chairman of the Procedure Committee if I were to repeat what I said earlier to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), which was that it is not true that the Government give time only to reports with which we agree. We gave time to the report on the estimates procedure, and we have committed ourselves to finding time to debate the reports on Sessional Orders and procedures for debates before the summer.
Sir Nicholas Winterton:
I am, as ever, extremely grateful to the Deputy Leader of the Houseand the Leader of the House, for that matterfor indicating so clearly that there will be a debate on the Floor of the House on those critical Procedure Committee reports on Sessional Orders and resolutions, which are strongly supported by the authorities of the House, the Speaker and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, as well as on the reports on the procedures for debate, the role of the Speaker and private Members' Bills. That is extremely important.
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The draft Transport (Wales) Bill is the third Wales-only Bill to be published in draft. The draft National Health Service (Wales) Bill was considered by the Welsh Affairs Committee and by the National Assembly's Health and Social Services Committee, but the two Committees had to take evidence separately. Members of each Committee attended the meetings of the other, but as observers rather than participants. There were similar parallel inquiries into the draft Public Audit (Wales) Bill.
The Welsh Affairs Committee has recommended that there should be procedures for joint formal meetings, and the Government's response to our Committee's report agreed that this would be very helpful. They suggested that the House authorities should examine whether any procedural obstacles could be overcome. As we explain in our report, a joint working party of staff of this House and of the National Assembly recommended the procedural solution of "reciprocal enlargement". Our Welsh Affairs Committee could be empowered to invite members of a National Assembly Committee to attend and take part in its meetings, and the National Assembly could give parallel powers to its Committees to invite members of our Welsh Affairs Committee to take part in its meetings. The object of these arrangements is to ensure that proceedings always count either as proceedings of these Houses of Parliament or of the National Assembly, rather than falling between two stools. The working party's report, which is appended to our report, also makes suggestions on the practical arrangements for such meetings.
We therefore had an outline of how such joint meetings could be made to work. It was up to the Committee to decide, as the Deputy Leader of the House has said, whether such meetings were necessary or desirable. The Welsh Affairs Committee had also recommended joint debates between the Welsh Grand Committee and Members of the National Assembly, but although the same procedural and practical arrangements could apply, the Procedure Committee did not feel it right to recommend such debates at this stage and, in our report, we say that this matter requires further consideration. I am delighted that the Government agree with that conclusion and recommendation.
We have therefore recommended an experiment, limited in durationI say this to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff)to the current Parliament. I agree that we do not know how long that will last, but we all agree that it could last a further two years. The proposal is for joint meetings of the Welsh Affairs Committee with any specified Committee of the National Assembly for Wales. That is what the motion before the House would authorise, and I hope that the House will support it.
We recommend, as the Deputy Leader of the House said, that a quorum of both Committees should be required to be present, and that the rules should be relaxed to allow use of the Welsh language in all circumstances. I am delighted that a Welsh Memberthe hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams)is here, who will no doubt seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker[Interruption.] He is the only
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Welsh Member from the Opposition Benches who is present. I see that the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson), the distinguished Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, is also in his placeit is a pleasure to see him there, and I am delighted that so many Members representing the Principality, primarily Labour Members, have found time to be here. Clearly, this is an important debate as far as they are concerned. As I was saying, use of the Welsh language should be allowed in all circumstances, rather than only if requested in advance by a witness, as the Deputy Leader of the House also said. The National Assembly will provide interpreters.
In paragraph 10 of our report, we mention the possibility that joint meetings could also involve Committees of the other place. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that the Procedure Committee of the House of Lords has made a report saying that in principle it favours involvement by the Lords, and that it will watch our experiment with interest before making recommendations in future if appropriate. That indicates that we seek to be meaningful in the recommendations, and that both Houses of Parliament are important in respect of legislation. It is important that Committees of both Houses should be involved with the National Assembly.
The experiment that we are considering today may lead to wider use of joint meetings in futureI say "may"but at the moment what we have in mind is the pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Transport (Wales) Bill, which is of obvious concern to the Welsh Affairs Committee and to the Economic Development and Transport Committee of the National Assembly for Wales. Both Committees wish to examine the draft Bill, and they may well want to hear from the same sets of witnesses, so it seems sensible that they should be able to do that together.
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