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Mr. Hain: That was a spiffing performance, if I may say so. The hon. Gentleman asks about a referendum, but he wants to abolish the Assembly altogether. The Tory leader in the Assembly wants it to have more legislative powers, so he will presumably back the White Paper. Moreover, the Leader of the Opposition is apparently unable to make up his mindhe does not know what to say about this issue. I can tell the hon. Gentleman, since he asked, that we will call a referendum only if there is a consensus for one. There is no consensus for one now, and it would be lost. There is no case for holding a referendum until at least into the next decadeif a consensus exists then. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that a multi-option preferendum, which is the policy of the Tory party, may be the best way of sorting out the party leadership contest, but is not the best way of determining the future governance of Wales.
The hon. Gentleman asked what was the difference between an Order in Council and a Bill. I should have thought that, as an experienced parliamentarian who has served in at least one Parliament, he would understand that. The Order in Council will of course be able to be subject to scrutiny in advance. There is a period during which it can be laid before both Houses of Parliament. The Assembly will bid for a particular policy or modification of legislation, and will have to specify in great detail what its legislative modifying effect might be. The House will then have an opportunity to vote under the normal affirmative resolution procedure. I think that this is a much more streamlined procedure, which will be better for the House of Commons with its crowded legislative programme, and better for the Assembly as well.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether there were any proposals to change the number of Welsh Members of Parliament. The answer is no, and I will explain why. The settlement that I propose is very different from that which operates in Scotland, where tax-varying powers exist and there is control over policing and criminal
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justice, and a number of other matters. That does not apply to the policy in the White Paper, which is confined to the existing settlement[Interruption.]
Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman described the list proposals to prevent candidates from standing in both the list and the constituency categories as spiteful. Let me quote to him evidence submitted to the Richard commission by the Electoral Reform Society. The society said:
"There is also concern that list members can 'cherry pick' issues, deciding to focus their activities on those issues most likely to raise their profile or create problems for their constituency opponents . . . list members have concentrated their energies in constituencies in their regions where there are future prospects of winning constituency seats."
That is the reasonand I remind the hon. Gentleman that the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Assembly secured only 14 per cent. of the vote when he stood in Torfaen, but was elected through the list anyway. That is not a defensible system.
I do not favour more Assembly Members. Nor, indeed, does the First Minister. However, I will listen carefully to any proposals that may be presented. May I take the hon. Gentleman's question to mean that he wants more politicians in the Assembly?
Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen) (Lab): During the general election the people of Wales, I believe, indicated to us that they were more concerned about the delivery of good-quality public services than about endless talk of constitutional change. I think that the White Paper addresses that, and contains sound, balanced and sensible proposals that allow the people of Wales, through their elected representatives here in Westminster and in Cardiff, to work together to bring about those good-quality services.
Mr. Hain: I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's support for the White Paper. He played a distinguished role in Cabinet in helping me to shape it into something that is at the centre of gravity of public opinion in Wales.
I agree with my right hon. Friendindeed, I probably echo his experiencethat during the general election campaign not one voter raised the issue of the Assembly's powers with me. On the only occasion on which it was raised, it was raised by journalists. That indicates the priorities of the chattering classes in Wales. Nevertheless, the case has been made for the sensible staged reforms that we propose.
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Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): I thank the Secretary of State for giving me early sight of the White Paper. I am pleased that, following its publication, we can have a serious and informed debate about the extent of the Assembly's powers months in advance. May I also say that we greatly support the statutory division of responsibilities between Welsh Assembly Ministers and the National Assembly for Wales? Does the Secretary of State agree that that is both sensible and overdue because it makes it easier to hold the Welsh Assembly Government to account, instead of always blaming the Assembly as a whole for errors of government? We know, for example, that student fees are supported only by Labour and opposed by the rest of the Assembly. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is important for the public to see that sort of transparency?
Will the Secretary of State clarify the timetable? He said that no significant changes that would require a referendum were likely before 2011, but it was not clear whether he really meant 2011 or 2015 as the earliest time at which a referendum could be held. In either case, why is he so reluctant to accept the recommendation of the Richard commission that such a referendum could happen sooner?
The issue of the triggers for the referenduma two-thirds majority from the Welsh Assembly and, I assume, a majority from both Houses of Parliamentis also worrying. Why is the Secretary of State placing so many barriers between where we are now and where we should be in the future, particularly when the Scottish Parliament secured all the powers that it sought on the basis of a single referendum? Does he not see that by placing so many barriers between now and the future, it looks as though he is trying to make significant reform impossible? Given that he has not discussed the case for tax-varying powers anywhere in the White Paper, why does he believe that we require a referendum in any case?
On the issue of the splitting of constituency and list candidatures, can he not see that it looks to other parties as if he is seeking to arrange matters in a way that favours his own party and potentially disadvantages others? What business is it of the Secretary of State for Wales to impose restrictions that mean that other partiesand, indeed, his owncannot choose the people that they want to stand for both the list and the constituency candidatures? Given his transformation on the road to Damascus on the issue of democracy, does he agree with the rest of the country that securing 36 per cent. of the poll certainly does not give his party the authorisation to govern the country as a whole? Can he give me an assurance that he will look further into the wider issue of electoral reform across the country?
On the veto, the Secretary of State seems to have included, under paragraph 3.16, the power to block aspects of devolution that he does not like. Does that not amount to centralised control by the back door? If I have misunderstood the implications, will he clarify precisely what he means to achieve through paragraph 3.16? Will he also ensure that consultation will take place not only across Wales, but across the border, as neighbouring constituencies in England will also be significantly affected?
Finally, does the Secretary of State accept that those who are genuinely in favour of the Welsh Assembly having significantly greater powers regard the White Paper, far from giving a green light to devolution, as
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something of a white flag to the devolution sceptics? It seems to me that the Liberal Democrats, the official parliamentary opposition in Wales, will have to build new alliances with individuals from all parties and from none who want to give the Welsh Assembly the powers that it needs to provide Wales with the services that it deserves.
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