In the wake of the beginning of the trial in the Spanish Supreme Court against twelve Catalan independence leaders, Hywel Williams MP asked the Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow whether it would be in order to have a democratic debate in the House on a similar matter, namely Welsh independence, without the prospect of being prosecuted by justice. The Speaker replied that it is “entirely orderly for there to be a debate in this House on Welsh independence”. Mr Williams recalled the visit paid to the House of Commons by former Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Ms Carme Forcadell, who stands accused of allowing a debate on Catalan independence in the democratically elected Catalan Parliament.
This statement is very important not only in respect of what is happening in Spain, but also in light of the recent decision by the President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, to cancel a conference that was to be attended by former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, as well as the current president, Quim Torra, citing “security threats”.
Below you may read in full the point of order raised on the floor of the House on 13 February by Mr Williams and the reply by the Speaker, Mr John Bercow, a former Conservative Party member.
Hywel Williams (Arfon, PC): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This week, 12 Catalan leaders go on trial in Spain’s Supreme Court on charges of rebellion and sedition. If found guilty, they face sentences of up to 25 years in jail. Their supposed crime was organising a democratic referendum on Catalan independence in October 2017. One of their number was the President or Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Carme Forcadell, whom you graciously welcomed to our House when she visited us as a free woman. Her alleged crime was allowing a debate on Catalan independence in the democratically elected Catalan Parliament.
Mr Speaker, I know that you cannot comment directly on these matters and I wish in no way to put you in a difficult position, but will you confirm that it would be in order for you to allow a debate on Welsh independence in this democratically elected House and for me to take part, and that neither you nor I would be likely to face arrest or long-term imprisonment for so doing?
Mr Speaker (John Bercow): I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving me notice of his intention to raise his point of order. Moreover, I am grateful for its substance, both because he raises an important point, to which I shall respond, and because it gives me the opportunity to say that I well remember welcoming Carme Forcadell when she came to this place—it was a privilege to do so.
On the substance of the matter, it is of course entirely orderly for there to be a debate in this House on Welsh independence. Members enjoy immunity for the words they utter in this Chamber and can come to no grief as a result of their freedom of expression. Moreover, I note in passing that as Speaker, I too enjoy immunity for the manner in which I preside over debates. Other people will fashion, and in many cases have done so, for better or for worse, their own arrangements. While ours are by no means incapable of improvement, and there are many people in this House who believe that there is much by way of parliamentary reform that can be accomplished, I think that on the matter that the hon. Gentleman has raised and the importance of democratic principle, we are very content with our arrangements. They could perhaps, in important respects, be imitated by others who proclaim a commitment to democracy. I hope that that is helpful to the hon. Gentleman.