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Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman said in a rather pregnant way that this experiment might lead to other experiments in future. He will be well aware of the proposal for some European Grand Committee. In principle, might the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament, which have an important input in those matters, also be considered for that Committee if it comes into being?
Sir Nicholas Winterton: I will do my best to avoid answering that question. The report from the Procedure Committeeas its Chairman, I am permitted only to respond on behalf of the Committee as a wholeis very specific. It is possible that in future the Procedure Committee may consider this matter again, and that the House may consider similar matters to see whether, in co-operating with other bodies, there may be ways of meeting together for discussion. I will not be led down a tricky and steep path, however, as the right hon. Gentleman would seek to lead me. That is a matter for the future.
Let us see how this experiment works. As I said in an intervention earlier on my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire, the Procedure Committee, as part of its duties and responsibilities, will return to this matter. Clearly, that will not be in this Parliament, but I hope that it will do so at the beginning of the next
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Parliament, to see how the experiment has worked. I hope that the House as a whole, without division, will support this motion, which makes good sense.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD): I am glad to follow the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, as it will enable me to make an even briefer speech than I intended. In the past, I have managed to do that, and I hope that this is also an appropriate occasion to do so.
On joint pre-legislative scrutiny with Members of the other placeI, too, have seen the report to which the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) referredthere is a problem when so many participants are involved in the exercise that it is not clear who will be the core of that group. We must think carefully about that.
In general, this is a sensible move. It is experimental and temporary, and my colleagues and I think that we should move more often in an experimental and temporary way, to test the water and to see how it works. That is the evolutionary way in which this Parliament has managed to do its business in the past. Sometimes, that evolution has been far too slow.
I heard the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) refer to this as obviously not a radical reform, as it was supported by the hon. Member for Macclesfield, who chairs the Procedure Committee with such distinction. That is rather unfair, as, occasionally, he is radical, and sometimes he and I have been radicals together against the hegemony of the two Front Benches. I am glad that he is an independent soul in that respect.
I like the concept that has been developed by our Clerks of reciprocal enlargements. There is always something that our Clerks can tell us, even if it is only a new dictionary inclusion, and I am sure that it will end up in the dictionary. In the explanatory memorandum from the Leader of the House and his Deputy, a clear example is given of why this needs to happen. It refers to the pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft National Health Service (Wales) Bill, in which members of each Committee attended meetings of the other, but joint hearings were not possible, giving rise to a significant overlap of work. What a ridiculous situation. There is far too much overlapping of work in this building as it is, and that is why we should pass the motion this evening.
To show that I believe fundamentally in avoiding overlap, and that I intend to abide by my commitment to that, I will avoid duplication and tedious, time-wasting repetition, and I will not set out again the arguments that have already been put on the record so well by the Chairman of the Procedure Committee and the Deputy Leader of the House.
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Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): Musing on the 1933 precedent, I felt that were I a sanguine man I would say that, 71 years later, Wales was achieving the status achieved by India in that year. As it is, I rejoice in the possibility that we may have independence in 15 years. It also occurred to me that I might be the sole speaker from the Welsh Affairs Committee today, but I was overjoyed to observe the arrival of our able Chairman a little earlier.
I dare to speak for some other Committee members in saying that we welcome this move. For my part, I welcome to a limited extent what is a limited movethe recognition of the effects of devolution and the possible redundancy of extra meetings in Cardiff and here. The experiment seems to have a practical purpose, and I hope that it succeeds. My party and I look forward to primary legislative powers for the Assembly if Lord Richards's recommendations are implementedwhich, I suppose, would make the experiment redundant.
This may not be a subject for today's debate, but if we were discussing the possibility of a Welsh language Actfervently desired by some of my countrymen and countrywomenI would point out that the Assembly could have a pertinent and relevant input. I am sure that many Members would welcome a joint input from the Committee and the Assembly, without the need for separate discussions and separate presentations of evidence. Such streamlining would be much more economical and effective.
We would also welcome any influence that a joint Committee could have on Bills such as the forthcoming Public Audit (Wales) Billwhich, as far as I can see, replicates current legislation but with a "for Wales" tag. If I may say so, it does so rather unimaginatively, but that too is an issue for another day. Certainly, any development that could make legislation clearer and more adventurous would be welcome, as would be any hastening and increasing of the flow of Welsh legislation. The Assembly's record is pretty miserable in that respect, as is clear from a comparison of the number of Bills passed there with the number passed in the Scottish Parliament, where the hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) may confirm that 10 times as many have been passed.
I would be glad of the opportunity to work through the medium of Welsh in the Committee. I have a certain facility in English and speak it when I must, but I commend the liberating effect of normalising this place's use of languageenabling it to employ all the languages spoken in these islands. Certainly, the use of both Welsh and English in the Assembly and the Welsh Affairs Committee has facilitated productive discussion rather than hindering it.
Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South) (Lab):
I apologise for my late arrival, which was due to the usual London travel problems. I am sorry not to have been here for the Front-Bench speeches, but I understand from colleagues that there is support for this minor but, I think, important change in the way in which we deal with Welsh legislation. I consider it to be eminently
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sensible. I did manage to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), the Chairman of the Procedure Committee. As my Committee has pushed for it, it is gratifying that the Procedure Committee has proposed what is admittedly a one-off trial. After all, we ought to try out such arrangements to make sure that they work. Our relationship with the devolved institutions, particularly the Welsh Assembly where there is no primary legislative power, is evolving. This measure, although slight, would enable us to discover the views of our Back-Bench Assembly Members, and enable them to ask questions on behalf of those affected by proposed legislation during the process of pre-legislative scrutiny.
I do not want to take up too much time, because I understand that the speakers so far have supported the proposal. I will say, however, that it would be bizarre if those not in favour of devolution or notcrazily enoughin favour of pre-legislative scrutiny opposed a move that has nothing to do with either. In fact, it has to do with our ability to work with our colleagues in the Assembly to produce legislation that is workable and will do the business for both the Assembly and the House of Commons.
Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): I, too, welcome the proposal, and congratulate the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) on what his Committee has done. Given that it is a one-off proposal, however, may I ask whether any evaluation is planned? That would help us to learn the necessary lessons and build on them.
Mr. Jones: Our Committee will, as usual, submit to the House a report that will receive a Government response. In that report we will evaluate the implementation of the proposal, and the joint sessions will enable us to establish what Assembly Members think. I consider this a very good evolutionary measure.
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