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"MPs taking part in NAW proceedings would need to be aware that they would not be protected if (for example) anything they said was held to have infringed someone's human rights. Attached is a note from the Counsel to Assembly Committees."
Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my hon. FriendI thinkbut things are now taking a turn for the worse because the ghastly human rights have intruded into our proceedings. What is worse, it now looks as if the ghastly human rights are going to inhibit the right of Members of this place to speak their mind if they are participating in one of these, I now think, increasingly dubious joint proceedings with the Welsh Assembly. I thought for a moment that we were about to achieve clarity but a fog has descended yet again over this matter, which is regrettable becauseas my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) has saidit is of the greatest possible importance. We have had attempts to clarify the matter by the Deputy Leader of the House, another brave attempt by my hon. Friend, and the Chairman has done his best, but I am not sure that we are much further forward as a result.
Mr. Forth: The Deputy Leader of the House says with great confidence that he is, but he will not have to participate in these increasingly dubious proceedings. Therefore, he will not be vulnerable in the way it now appears other Members of this House might be.
Let us have a go at something that is perhaps a bit clearer and on which we seem to have clarity. I hope the Deputy Leader of the House will verify the matter of translation. Many years ago, I had the burden of being a Member of the European Parliament and I had to participate in proceedings in which many weird and wonderful languages were used. In this instance, fortunately, we will have to struggle with only two; for the time being, anyway. I know from my experience what a burden interpretation and translation can be. I was worried for a moment when I saw that we were to have two languages of participation, and I was reassured that paragraph 17 of the Procedure Committee report states that the National Assembly
"would be prepared to provide the required interpreters and transcribers."
I seek an undertaking that the Assembly will pay for all the costs of translation if we are to have a full Hansard in English of the proceedings. I do not want taxpayers to be expected to pick up the tab for exercises in languages other than English. If the Welsh want to use two languages, with all the attendant costs, that is fine as long as the budget of the Assembly picks that up. I do not want the House of Commons to pay an additional cost for having a strange language interpolated into our proceedings.
I am glad that this proposal will be only a pilot. I am not at all satisfied that it will be as productive as has been claimed and I think it will give rise to a number of problems. I am reassured that the Procedure Committee will return to this mater. I hope that it will cast a genuinely critical eye and will not simply accept, as is so often the case, that something that has been tried will automatically be deemed a success, or that somehow it would be difficult at the end to say, "Sadly, this has not worked as we expected and we should just lay it quietly to rest."
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It may be that the end of this Parliament will provide a kind of natural end to this experiment, which might not be a bad thing because the next Parliament may want to look at it again. I have the greatest possible reservations and the constitutional implications have not been fully examined or considered. The very different roles played by this Parliament and the Assembly have not been taken into account, but at least we can look at the matters again. I remain to be convinced.
Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead) (Lab/Co-op): I thought that I would add a word as a Back-Bench member of the Procedure Committee to endorse what the Chairman spelled out at some length. I want to make two points. The House should be grateful to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who sometimes points out that things that might be taken as simple are in fact more complex than they might appear on the surface. I think that Hansard will show that this is a complicated matter. We certainly found that to be the case in our debates in the Procedure Committee, which is one reason why we wanted a relatively limited experiment to try to see how the complications would work through in a particular case. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that some of the points that he has raised formed part of our Committee debates.
In such arguments, it is important that we have a balance and look not only at the complications, difficulties and obstructions but at the positive side. One aspect strikes me strongly from our consideration of specifically Welsh legislation. This may not be the greatest example, but it was dealt with in this House. When we debated the Children's Commissioner for Wales, many of us wanted to understand the arguments for that move so that we could see whether they were compelling in dealing with children's matters in England. Speaking as secretary of the all-party group on children and young people in care, for much of that time I felt as if we in the rest of the United Kingdom were unaware of some of the matters being raised in the Welsh debate. One aspect of the suggestion before us, therefore, is simply that we all have the capacity to learn from one another. I believe that that can benefit the way in which these islands are governed.
My second point concerns finance and money. It must strike people as crazy that the same arguments are repeated in many different places when those who can profit from the powerful arguments being adduced and who have the responsibility to act on them could hear the arguments themselves rather than repeats of them, or repeats of repeats of the arguments. They would then have the opportunity to share whatever wisdom other people who have heard those arguments have. That is particularly important on complex and technical issuesI speak as a member of the Science and Technology Committeethat sometimes require much argument. Some of those arguments stretch the understanding beyond, or to the limits of, what some of us can cope with. If we want a Parliament better able to take informed decisions, it is important that it tries to adjust some of its structures so as to be better informed and able to think matters through more carefully, in line
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with the emphasis on pre-legislative scrutiny, which is a remarkable improvement in the way in which government is conducted.
I not only commend the report to the House, but hope that its consequences will be that we see the benefits of such an arrangement andagreeing with the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurstits complications. We can then make whatever changes are necessary to achieve the report's laudable aims without running aground on rocks in waters that we have not previously charted.
Mr. Woolas: With the leave of the House, I thank right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in this debate, which on the whole has been consensual, although I accept that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) made some pointsparticularly on parliamentary privilege, which I shall addressthat need consideration.
I re-emphasise my thanks to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) and his Committee, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter), who is a member of it. These are House matters, but they are important as we work out the proceedings for the consideration of matters relating to devolution. It says in my brief that I should thank the Chairman of the Committee, which is right and proper, but it is also well meant, because the Committee takes time to consider these matters. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones) for explaining why the Welsh Affairs Committee has requested the power to hold joint meetings with the National Assembly for Wales, and how it is planning to make use of its powers. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) for his support. He recognises that this is a House matter.
I should like to clarify the point about privilege, because it is important. However much other Membersnot least myselfmay jib at the contributions of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst in such debates that go on into the evening, it is important to put this point on the record. Both Members of the House of Commons and Welsh Assembly Members would be covered by full parliamentary privilege when taking part in an extended meeting of the Welsh Affairs Committee, wherever that Committee metin Cardiff, here or elsewhere. We are not tonight debating whether the National Assembly for Wales should extend reciprocal arrangements but whether, as the Chairman of the Procedure Committee explained, should our Members be invited to participate in meetings of a National Assembly for Wales Committee, they would be covered by the slightly more limited privilege enjoyed by the National Assembly. Assembly Members would be covered by full privilege when participating in our proceedings, and our Members would be covered only by the more limited privilege of the National Assembly for Wales. It is important to put that on the record.
The debate has been consensual, for which I am grateful. This is an experiment, for the lifetime of this Parliament, and there is no compulsion on the House to carry it forward.
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