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Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 204A:

Page 40, line 25, leave out from ("in") to (""statement"") in line 29 and insert (", for the purposes of or for purposes incidental to proceedings of the Assembly (including proceedings of a committee of the Assembly or of a sub-committee of such a committee), and
(b) the publication by or under the authority of the Assembly of a report of such proceedings,
is absolutely privileged.

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(2) Subsection (1)(a) applies, in particular, to any statement made in--
(a) evidence given before the Assembly, a committee of the Assembly or a sub-committee of such a committee,
(b) a document laid before the Assembly or such a committee or sub-committee,
(c) a document prepared for the purposes of, or for purposes incidental to, the transaction of business by the Assembly or such a committee or sub-committee,
(d) a document (other than a report to which subsection (1)(b) applies) formulated, made or published by or under the authority of the Assembly or such a committee or sub-committee, or
(e) any communication with any person having functions in connection with the registration of interests of Assembly members.
(2A) In subsections (1) and (2)").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move formally.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 78, as amended, shall be agreed to?

Lord Monson: Parliamentary privilege and quasi-parliamentary privilege is exactly that--privilege. Albeit with the best of intentions, it gives certain powers to one small group of people at the possible--and I stress the word "possible"--expense of one or more of a very much larger group of people. For that reason alone it should be doled out very sparingly.

The question arises of why a non-legislative body should be given such privileges at all. As I said earlier, the GLC was responsible for three times as many people as the Welsh assembly will be, and it did not enjoy them as far as I am aware. Neither the Birmingham Unitary Authority, nor Essex County Council, nor Kent County Council, all with populations of well over 1 million, have them either. Nor, as far as I am aware--and the noble Lord will undoubtedly correct me if I am wrong--will the new Greater London authority.

Moreover, the privileged statements that assembly persons will be entitled to make need not be confined to assertions about people in Wales or matters affecting Wales. It is perfectly true that privileged comments in either House of Parliament in Westminster need not be restricted to matters concerning British subjects or UK matters. However, should somebody in either House of Parliament in this country unfairly attack an individual in France, Switzerland, the United States or Japan, it is highly unlikely that the attack will be reported in the victim's own country unless the accusation was extremely serious, for example if the individual concerned had been a war criminal and responsible for many hundreds of deaths.

How very different the situation will be in Wales. I am sure no one would do so deliberately, but an assembly man or assembly woman could accidently defame individuals--not only in Swansea but in Southampton, Sudbury, Stockton-on-Tees or Stirling. Unlike France, Germany and Italy, where people read different newspapers according to the region of the

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particular country they happen to live in, here in our small, overcrowded, centralised country we all tend to read a few high-circulation newspapers and watch the same few TV channels. So any inadvertent libel or slander gets massive, nigh universal, coverage throughout the United Kingdom. Exactly the same argument will apply to the Scottish parliament of course, but at least the Scottish parliament will be a legislative body.

In the vain hope that this time round there may be some contribution from one or both of the Opposition Benches, I beg to oppose the Question that Clause 79 stand part of the Bill.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: We agreed earlier that Clause 78 should be amended and the amendments were very significantly a response to concerns expressed by the leading spokesman for the Conservative Party in another place. We believe that protection from actions in defamation is a necessary protection for members of the assembly. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, referred to it as privilege. Yes, it is a privilege for members to be able to speak fearlessly in defence of the interests of their constituents, whether or not they have primary legislative powers.

The privilege is there not to protect members alone but to protect the public interest in its wider, fuller sense. One wants to have free, fearless discussion, debates and exchanges of opinion in an assembly of this sort. The assembly will be important. If members are constantly looking over their shoulders waiting for the writ, they will not be able to discharge their functions properly. That is why we took on board the concerns expressed in another place and brought forward the amendments. I respectfully and fundamentally disagree with everything the noble Lord, Lord Monson, said.

Lord Monson: First, I apologise for referring to Clause 79. I should have said Clause 78. Before I decide what to do, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord two questions. Is it the case that when the Bill was originally drafted it did not include the possibility of privilege? I infer that that is the case from what the noble Lord has just said. Secondly, can he say why other important bodies which have no legislative functions--I refer to the late GLC and the future Greater London authority--do not have similar privileges?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: They did not have those privileges because Parliament decided differently. It is not right to say that the Welsh assembly has no legislative functions. It will have some legislative powers. But apart from that, it is to be the assembly for the whole nation. It is a very important body. If members are not able to speak freely, protected by the privilege which we have in this House, unelected as we are, they will not be able to do their work consonant with the wider public interest. As to whether Clause 78 was in precisely this form when

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the Bill was first drafted all those many months ago, I presently cannot remember. But whether it was or it was not, the question is what its form should be when it leaves your Lordships' House. I urge your Lordships to the conclusion I have put forward. This is a necessary protection. It is useful for the public that frank debate should go on without the fear of defamation proceedings.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: We support this clause as it is drafted and as amended in the course of our discussions. Parliament exists not simply to legislate but also to redress grievances. It would be an anomaly, which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Monson, if he reflects upon the matter, will appreciate, that matters which are to be devolved to Wales, such as issues of housing, education and so on, could be spoken of freely in this place and in another place but not so freely in the assembly. Surely the same standard has to apply--the same ability to speak fearlessly on these topics, to expose grievances on issues that are being devolved to Wales, as on those which will remain with the Parliament at Westminster.

Lord Monson: The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, said that Parliament exists to redress grievances. I agree. But of course the Welsh assembly is not a parliament. It is not described as such. It does not have the functions of a parliament with full legislative powers. He also talked about protecting the people of Wales. That is an admirable objective. But as I hope I explained, the assembly persons will not have to restrict their comments purely to Welsh matters. They ought to perhaps, but they need not. That is one of the aspects of this which worries me and I dare say would worry other people if they knew about it. I am not sure that many people are aware that this privilege is going to be granted to the assembly. However, it is late at night. For the time being, therefore, I withdraw my objection to this clause.

Clause 78, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 79 [Contempt of court]:

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 204B:

Page 41, line 3, leave out from first ("in") to first (""the") in line 6 and insert (", for the purposes of or for purposes incidental to proceedings of the Assembly (including proceedings of a committee of the Assembly or of a sub-committee of such a committee), or
(b) to the extent that it consists of a report of such proceedings made by or under the authority of the Assembly.
(2) Paragraph (a) of subsection (1) applies, in particular, to any publication made in any evidence, document or communication such as is specified in section 78(2)(a) to (e); and in that subsection").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 79, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 80 agreed to.

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On Question, Whether Clause 81 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I did indicate earlier that when I moved the amendment to Clause 54 it would be necessary, if the Committee so agreed, to omit Clause 81 from the Bill.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Perhaps I may briefly intervene. This is the second time that the noble Lord has taken one of his own clauses out of the Bill. Would that it actually shortened the Bill, but it has not. The one line and a little bit has been replaced by three lines and a little bit. At this time

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of night it is worth noting that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, has carried the load of the Government Front Bench on this Bill in Committee throughout today. I congratulate him and I am happy to agree to the Question on this clause.

Clause 81 negatived.

Lord Carter: I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

        House adjourned at one minute past eleven o'clock.

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