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Sir Nicholas Winterton: I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said. Let me repeat what I said in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) and also in my speech. At the beginning of the next Parliament, the Procedure Committee will assess how the experiment has worked. The experiment will apply to the rest of the current Parliament, and to a specific piece of draft legislation. The House, no doubt, will also review the position.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I should point out to both the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) that one problem when Members arrive late is that they start dealing with matters that have already been dealt with some time earlier.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Macclesfield will produce a report and evaluate what has happened. I am confident that the arrangement will work well, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has done.
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Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): I am not at all sure that this is a good idea. I am always suspicious when Members wallow in mutual self-congratulation, saying how wonderful a report is, how wonderful the idea has turned out to be, and how everyone welcomes it. The only comforting thing I have heard so far came from the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams), who pointed out that there had been less Welsh legislation than Scottish. I have never heard a better argument for keeping the Assembly as it is and looking askance at our poor cousins north of the border, who must now suffer an endless flow of ludicrous legislation from their rather ridiculous Parliament. I would have expected the Welsh people to draw the obvious conclusion that they should keep the Assembly as it is, in the hope that that would reduce the flood of legislation.
Here is a proposal thatcontrary to what was said by the late-arriving Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones)has potentially profound constitutional implications, involving the relative roles of a non-legislative Assembly and its Members on the one hand and a sovereign Parliament on the other. It is dangerous to assert that intertwining those roles would be beneficial, and I am slightly surprised that the suggestion has received such a general welcome, even on a trial or pilot basis.
If we are to take seriously the much lauded, but overestimated, process of pre-legislative scrutiny and assume that it has the benefits that it is widely assumed to have, given that the phrase contains the word "legislative", we must consider the fact that it implies that we should introduce into the legislative process members of a non-legislative Assembly. That is a rather large step to take, so to dismiss it as a relatively trivial matter and something that can be easily welcomed, and to say, "It's only a trial, so we needn't worry too much", as has happened so far this evening, funnily diminishes the importance of the measure rather than having the opposite effect. I should have thought that the House would want to pause before rushing down that route, even though, as I am glad to note, the procedure would be on a trial basis and would last for only this Parliament. That makes me think, in passing, that if the Prime Minister were to succumb to the temptation that Tea Room chatter suggests that he might and call a snap election in October, none of this might happen at all, which would be a good thing. We might then have to return to the matter in a more leisurely way.
Mr. Luff: My right hon. Friend reminds me of a possible danger of the proposal. If the measure is passed as a device to facilitate pre-legislative scrutiny, surely it is possible that the Government would increasingly impose the Welsh Affairs Committee's agenda on it by giving it successive draft Bills for pre-legislative scrutiny. The Committee would thus have insufficient time to follow its own agenda and do its real job of scrutinising the Executive.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out one of the many dangers that exist. We should not assume that two different bodies with different rolesif devolution has any point, the bodies
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should be differentwill always be able to work as harmoniously as has been implied during the debate. That raises several questions about how the interrelationship would function.
Privilege has been touched on during the debate, but it has not been explored and should not be taken for granted. I am pleased that we are at least insisting that if the bicephalous body is to function, a proper quorum of both its component parts must be present. I find that slightly reassuring, given the recurring temptation for quorums to be interfered with and diminished as Members of the House are less prepared to attend meetings. The safeguard is vaguely reassuring, but it gives rise to interesting procedural questions. For example, would Members of the House have priority over Assembly Members when speaking and participating in a joint meeting?
Mr. Woolas: Before the right hon. Gentleman carries his argument too far, will he accept that the recommendations from both the Welsh Affairs Committee and the Procedure Committee suggest that during the process of pre-legislative scrutinyI assume that he supports that ideaonly Members of this House should be able to vote and that Members of the Welsh Assembly should not be able to do that?
Mr. Forth: The hon. Gentleman intervenes to respond to a point that I have not made. I did not say anything about voting; I talked only about speaking. The simple procedural point that I raised, which will be close to your heart, Mr. Deputy Speaker, was whether different categories of Committee members would have priority over others when being called to speak or in the way in which they may participate. I did not mention voting because I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that matter is fairly clear. Such detailed and important points must be considered.
Although the documents before us examine privilege in some depth, I am not sure whether they are entirely satisfactory or conclusive. Hon. Members are covered by the historical concept of privilege, which is as it should be. However, it appears from the analysis that we have been given that Members of the Welsh Assembly are not similarly covered, but have partial protection. That gives rise to several questions. Will Welsh Assembly Members who participate in a joint meeting be covered by only their protection or will they have full privilege? Conversely, will Members of this House participating in a joint meeting chaired by a Member of the Welsh Assembly only be covered by the partial protection, or would they have full privilege? The Procedure Committee report mentions
"the marginally less protective arena of the National Assembly"
The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point. The advice given by the Clerk of the House is that formal meetings of the Welsh Affairs Committee to which National Assembly for Wales Members were invited would be covered by parliamentary proceedings and therefore covered by absolute privilege. On the reciprocal point on the
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National Assembly, that is also the case as relates to Members of Parliament. The answer to the right hon. Gentleman's important question is yes.
Mr. Forth: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but that worries me. If what he has said is that an Assembly Membernot an elected Member of this Houseparticipating in these joint proceedings would be covered by privilege of this House, it is an important constitutional step.
Mr. Forth: In that case, I am reassured that Members of the Assembly would not be covered, as that is the implication of what he hon. Gentleman said. You see, Mr. Deputy Speaker, these debates have a use. So often, when we have these debates, cease wallowing in mutual congratulation and start getting down to cases, the odd interesting and important point emerges. It is a revelation to some, I suppose, that debates on the Floor of the House still have their uses.
Mr. Luff: This is probably the single-most important issue of the debate, and perhaps it is something to which I should have addressed more remarks in my own contribution. I think I am correct in saying that all those who participate in Select Committee hearingswitnesses, or anyone elseare always covered by privilege. There is no innovation in giving privilege to a member of the National Assembly for Wales, because anyone who participates in such a hearing is always covered by privilege, including any witness.
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