§ '(1) Members of the House of Commons representing a constituency in Wales shall be entitled to attend and participate in any proceedings of the Assembly.
§ (2) Subsection (1) does not confer on any such Member of the House of Commons—
- (a) any right to vote, or
- (b) any right to attend or participate in the proceedings of a committee of the Assembly or any sub—committee of such a committee.
§ (3) The standing orders must include provision for any documents which—
- (a) contain material relating to any business which has been, or is to be, transacted by the Assembly itself, and
- (b) are made available to all Assembly members,
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
Under clause 75, the Secretary of State for Wales is entitled to attend and participate in any proceedings of the assembly, although that right would neither give the Secretary of State a vote nor would it extend to Committees. The Secretary of State would also receive any relevant documents at the same time as Members of the Assembly. The new clause would give Members representing Welsh constituencies similar privileges. We think that that is only right as they have responsibilities for representing the electors of Wales as much as Members of the Assembly.
§ Mr. Syms
I support my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin). One of the key points will be how the relationship between the House of Commons and the Welsh assembly develops. The new clause provides a mechanism whereby Members of this place may at least be able to attend, talk and participate but not vote in the assembly's deliberations. That would be useful for an understanding of the perspective from the point of view of us in the United Kingdom Parliament and of Members of Parliament, of what is happening and of the issues that are current within the assembly.
Almost of more importance is the last part of the new clause, which provides that documents shouldbe available to such Members of the House of Commons no later than the time when they are made available to Assembly members who are not members of the executive committee.It is important that if decisions are made in the assembly that have an impact on parliamentary constituencies, Members who represent those constituencies should at least have the full information available to them relatively quickly so that when they are dealing with correspondence or local problems they are aware of the 807 advice that was given to assembly Members by their officers and aware also of the information that has been available to those who have taken decisions.
Mr. Gareth Thomas
I oppose the new clause because it would confuse the roles of elected representatives of the assembly and elected representatives at Westminster. They should work in partnership, but to allow representatives from Westminster to attend the assembly, even if they do not have the right to vote in debates at the assembly, would create confusion and would undermine the principle of accountability. It would also eat into debating time within the assembly.
I shall be interested to hear what my hon. Friend the Minister has to say in reply. I am sure that I am not the only Member of this place who, while supportive of the principle of devolution and congratulatory of the Government on their valiant efforts to produce workable legislation, wants to hear what my hon. Friend has to say about how he and the Government generally intend to foster a workable relationship between Members of Parliament in Westminster and elected Members of the Assembly. Given the devolved nature of powers, that is particularly significant, and it will be interesting to see whether the Government start a debate about how that partnership should be engendered. That important point exercises the minds of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee.
There would have to be a partnership. It is not beyond the wit of man or woman to realise that assembly Members and Westminster Members of Parliament must respect each other's functions. Westminster will retain primary legislative power, and Welsh Members of Parliament will continue to play an important part in the legislative process.
I oppose the new clause because, although it raises an issue that should be addressed, it confuses the roles of the representatives at Westminster and in the assembly.
§ Mr. Livsey
Liberal Democrat Members believe that the new clause would subordinate the Welsh assembly to the views of Westminster Members of Parliament, which is not the correct way to proceed. Westminster Members should have the right to observe the assembly's proceedings and to receive documentation on its workings. Beyond that, a line should be drawn.
§ Mr. Grieve
The hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Thomas) made interesting points, but I shall explain why the anxieties that he expressed do not add up.
The assembly will regulate its own proceedings. I should be surprised if Westminster Members who wanted to attend were given priority over Members of the Assembly to participate in debates, but the new clause addresses the anxieties that the hon. Member for Clwyd, West rightly expressed. There must be a good working relationship between Members of Parliament representing Welsh constituencies and the assembly if the assembly is to do its work successfully.
The assembly will deal with secondary legislation—we shall consider statutory instruments later in the debate—and good channels of communication with those who represent Welsh interests when primary legislation is 808 considered at Westminster are essential. There will be the danger of a breakdown in communications if Westminster Members of Parliament are not invited to attend the assembly's debates. Members of Parliament will not want to attend as observers unless their views can be heard.
The new clause is designed to deal with precisely that point, and would not subordinate the assembly to the will of Members of Parliament. The reverse is true: the assembly will have the power to regulate its own proceedings under the Bill, and the new clause would allow Members of Parliament to be fully briefed on assembly issues. For that reason, I support the new clause.
§ Mr. Letwin
I see the new clause as a cry for help. We have frequently examined the tissue of the conflicts to which the Bill gives rise, and the Secretary of State and his colleagues on the Treasury Bench have assured us on numerous occasions that our fears will be resolved by a new spirit of amity and co-operation. Those Ministers have often told us that our fears are based on a reactionary view of the likelihood of constitutional conflict. They have said—the Secretary of State is nodding helpfully—that, if only we understood the new spirit in which the House of Commons, the other place and the Welsh assembly would proceed, we would realise that our fears were groundless.
If that is true, it falls to the Secretary of State and his Ministers to tell us how, mechanically, such an entirely new constitutional spirit will arise. Close to me sit the highly articulate and noble representatives of a political party represented—at the moment—by the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley). Unlike the Government, they have an entirely clear view of what the assembly is, where it is headed and what is to be made of it. They have taken great heart from the Secretary of State's observation on repeated occasions—I think I quote him exactly—that this is a process rather than a resting point. As they see it, the process is not one to which new clause 36 would give rise, nor is it in a spirit of amity and co-operation. On the contrary, like many parts of the Bill—to which, admirably, the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) and others have drawn our attention—it allows, in great measure, for a spirit of litigation.
§ Mr. Wigley
The hon. Gentleman has tempted me to intervene. I know that my reaction is delayed; it is the shock.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the process—although it is a process—can go no faster or further than the people of Wales want, or even than the House permits? The long stop, in terms of legislation, rests with the House.
§ Mr. Letwin
That is an interesting point, which the Committee ought to ponder.
I entirely accept that it will not be possible to go further or faster than the Welsh assembly desires, and, to the extent that the assembly reflects opinion in Wales, I suppose that it must be true that it will not be possible to go further or faster than the majority opinion in Wales wishes. However, once a constitutional muddle is established as the Bill establishes it, in the absence of a 809 measure such as new clause 36, the natural means by which that muddle will be resolved is one for which the Bill provides: litigation before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and, in some cases, lower courts leading to that.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman would agree that there is no knowing where that process will lead. It will be taken out of the hands of elected representatives, Welsh or otherwise, and placed in the hands of judges—on the whole, English judges—who will decide most of the important issues. New clause 36—I refer to it before the Secretary of State tries to get the Chair to call me to order—tries to deal with that.
The new clause may well be described as insufficient, inadequate and inelegant. On behalf of Front Benchers, I think that I can accept all those accolades. The important point that it raises, however, is undeniable. It seeks to establish some mechanism to make a reality of the rhetoric that the Secretary of State and his Ministers have repeatedly given the Committee, in the absence of the slightest substance in the Bill.
Nowhere, other than in new clause 36, do we see even an attempt to create the mechanics for co-operation. That is extraordinary. We have been told repeatedly that well-documented causes of litigation and strife will be avoided simply through a new spirit, without being vouchsafed a single set of mechanics for that new spirit save a mysterious entity called "the concordat". That is not provided for in any way in the Bill.
There is every reason for the Committee to look at new clause 36 as a probing measure, which is how our friends in Plaid Cymru once described another new clause. It seeks to elicit from the Government the slightest concrete example of how they will engender this supposed spirit of amity and avoid what, despite the evident smiles of Government Front-Bench spokesmen, I confidently predict will lead to the Government's misery in the years ahead. That will happen as the predictions of litigation are seen to be true rather than merely hypothetical, and as the Government find themselves unable to deal with that because the courts have taken over from elected representatives.
§ Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)
I oppose the new clause. The hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) is quite wrong. The functions of the National Assembly for Wales will be entirely different from the functions of this place. The assembly will operate on a committee system and everybody will have an important role in executing the functions that the assembly decides. In this place there is much hot air and very little else.
How many amendments have been accepted by the Government? There might have been one or two but, generally, decisions are made not in the Chamber but in the ministerial corridors or across the road in Whitehall. This is the place for talk and the hon. Member for West Dorset seeks to transfer talking to the assembly. I do not think that we want too much of that in Wales. We can certainly talk, but we want decisions as well.
§ Mr. Letwin
Was the hon. Gentleman here when we conclusively showed, and I think that the Secretary of 810 State admitted, that it was within the scope of the powers of each of the Committees to which the hon. Gentleman so lovingly refers, to delegate its entire power to a Secretary who would be a de facto member of the Cabinet? If that is the case, does the hon. Gentleman think that there will be the slightest difference between this place and the assembly to the extent to which this Chamber is a talking shop? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Secretaries would be able to wage war on this place and on the Government through the courts?
§ Dr. Marek
They may wish to wage war, and rightly so, but I do not think that that is the issue. It would be wrong for all the functions of a Committee to be delegated to a Secretary. I have reasonable confidence that that will not happen because of the committee system that is envisaged for the assembly.
§ Mr. Letwin
I do not know why the hon. Gentleman has that confidence. If he reads Hansard he will see that the Secretary of State admitted that the Bill contains powers for each Committee to do precisely what I have described.
§ Dr. Marek
I have lived in Wales for a long time and I understand what will happen. The hon. Gentleman can take it from me that there will be far more co-operation and committee work in the assembly than there is here because there is none in this place. That is the problem. I accept that what the hon. Gentleman outlines may happen to some degree, although I hope that it will not. If it does, the new clause would simply add to the problem. The last thing that anybody in Wales and many hon. Members with a different rigour about them and a different purpose in life want to see is time wasting, talking for hours on end in an assembly that ought to be deciding important matters for the Welsh people. I hope that the Minister, although perhaps not for the reasons that I have enunciated, does not give way on the new clause.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths
This has been an interesting debate and I thank the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) for moving the new clause. Under clause 32 of the Bill, the Secretary of State has to consult the assembly on the Government's legislative programme. Clause 75 entitles the Secretary of State to attend and participate in the assembly's debates. The new clause goes much wider than that because it seeks to create a sort of Welsh assembly grand committee in which anyone who has been elected to the assembly or to this place can join in the fun. It takes only two or three seconds to realise that such a proposal is totally impractical. We would have to ensure, first, that we virtually doubled the size of the assembly's chamber, because it would be disastrous—we would never hear the end of it—if 40 Members of the Assembly turned up and there were no places for them.
We must realise also that hon. Members and Members of the Assembly will have completely different responsibilities. As an hon. Member who does not intend to be a Member of the Assembly, I foresee no good purpose being served by my trying to rush between London and south Wales to participate in assembly debates on matters in which Welsh hon. Members will have a full role in this place.
811 The assembly could perhaps pass on to hon. Members its papers and proceedings. If hon. Members want to spend time dealing with those, it will be up to them. However, I do not think that the new clause would assist in helping the assembly to perform its job effectively.
The directly elected Members of the Assembly and hon. Members will also return to the same constituency parties. I am quite sure that that is the place where co-operative relations might develop. I therefore hope that the hon. Member for North Essex will withdraw the motion.
§ Mr. Evans
I am rather disappointed by that reply. Although new clause 36 is only a probing measure, we tabled it not only because it mirrors clause 75 but because it would include our desire to provide Welsh hon. Members with the same opportunities as the Secretary of State for Wales to attend the assembly's main proceedings and functions—although not to attend its Committees or sub-committees. The new clause certainly does not propose that Welsh hon. Members should be allowed a vote in the assembly's proceedings.
We thought that the new clause would be an ideal opportunity to provide an assembly that will shortly be born with the wealth of experience of Members of Parliament representing Welsh constituencies, some of whom have served well the House for many years.
§ Mr. Evans
I am too embarrassed to name them, because of those I would exclude rather than those I might include.
Some very experienced hon. Members represent Welsh constituencies. The Minister said—it was almost a criticism—that hon. Members, unless they represent regions, would serve exactly the same constituencies as Members of the Assembly. That is absolutely correct. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) said, the new clause would allow a dialogue between hon. Members—with their knowledge and insight of what is happening in this place—and Members of the Assembly, and would allow Welsh hon. Members to participate fully in the assembly's major debates, thereby enriching and enlightening those debates.
§ Mr. Evans
It would be a fine thing if, as we look forward to our St. David's day debate, we could debate Welsh issues the day after St. David's day. However, I think that we will all have to travel to Cardiff or to Swansea or to wherever the Welsh assembly will be sited to participate in Welsh affairs.
812 Hon. Members would not attend the assembly's debates on a daily basis. They have work and functions at Westminster, for which they will have to prepare. They will also have their constituency work, and want to participate in our debates in the Chamber and in Committees at Westminster. However, on some occasions they may want to participate, particularly in debates involving their constituencies. They would not have the opportunity to vote or to participate in the Committee or Sub-Committee stage. I was rather hoping that the Minister might have been as generous as he was in respect of a previous new clause, but I understand that that is not to be, so I leave it to my hon. Friend formally to withdraw the motion.
§ Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.