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Mr. Hain: I can encourage the hon. Gentleman in this at leastthat my Back-Bench colleagues are absolutely delighted to see him vaulting over the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) to become the leader of the opposition in Wales. I am rather puzzled by his question on the referendum, however, because the leader of the Liberal Democrat group in the Assembly believes that there should be a referendum immediately, whereas the hon. Gentleman told the Welsh Grand Committee that he did not believe in a referendum at all. So what is the Liberal Democrat policy on holding a referendum on primary powers? I think that we should be told.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the timetable. I have made it clear that I see no case at all even for visiting the question of whether a consensus exists on the referendum before 2011 because the new arrangements will take time to bed down. The whole structure of the Assembly will be reformed and I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman welcomed the abolition of its present corporate status, which is confusing and denies accountability. The Assembly will acquire enhanced powers and a new method of streamlined bidding for legislation from the House, so it will have to assume greater responsibilities. As I said, all that will take time to bed down. I see no case whatever for any movement ahead of the Richard commission timetable of 2011 and we shall have to see what happens after that.
I would say to the hon. Gentleman that it is very dangerous in the current mood and context, in which Governmentsall Governmentsfind it difficult to win referendums on whatever issue, to overplay commitments to holding referendums. We could do worse than reflect on the referendum in the north-east of England. We were told, and many of us faithfully believed, that there was support for such a referendum. I also remind the hon. Gentleman of the all too painful experience of many of us, including himself, in 1997. Before the 1997 referendumonly a couple of days beforeI recall that the opinion polls showed, as they had consistently throughout the campaign, that the yes vote was about 2:1 ahead. What happened on the day? It was a narrow, hair's-breadth victory for the yes side. In 1979, there had been a 4:1 defeat for the idea of having an assembly. We must therefore be very careful on this matter of referendums.
It is not a question of me imposing obstacles in the way of further referendums. It is right that we in Westminster are aware of a clear two-thirds majority in the Assembly in favour of having primary powersif or whenever that might be in the next decadebut we should also recognise that Parliament has the final say. After all, Parliament is the sovereign body of the United Kingdom. It is not a question of imposing barriers, but of finding a sensible way forward.
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As to stopping candidates from standing in both electoral categories, I realise that the hon. Gentleman has a problem because many Assembly Members were elected on a list basis. I do not mind electing people on that basis. However, the Electoral Reform Societyan independent body, though stuffed full of Liberal Democrats, I might addargued that it was unfair and questioned the integrity of that system.
Paragraph 3.16 deals with order-making powers, but it is not a question of allowing Parliament a veto. Presently, the Assembly makes a bid to the Secretary of State for certain legislation and Parliament has the deciding voice in establishing what goes into the legislative programme. It is clear in the paragraph that Parliament will retain the deciding voice in establishing whether a bid should proceed. A clear and convincing case will be well received in Parliament, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support the White Paper.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): I welcome the White Paper and believe that anyone in favour of further powers for the Welsh Assembly should support it. I want more primary legislative powers for the Assembly, but I also believe that the Secretary of State is right to be cautious about a referendum, which can so easily be hijacked by other issues.
I also support the changes to the candidate arrangements. In both Assembly elections in Cardiff, North, the Conservative candidate was defeated by the Labour candidate, but subsequently got in through the list system. There has been considerable confusion among members of the public in Cardiff, North, who cannot understand why someone who was defeated should be allowed to enter the Assembly. It will be interesting to see
Mr. Speaker: Order. I always dislike interrupting the hon. Lady, but she is telling us what she likes rather than asking a question. Strictly speaking, she is allowed only one supplementary question, so the Secretary of State should now reply to what she has said.
Mr. Hain: I thank my hon. Friend for her support. I shall deal specifically with the important point that she made about the list system. Particularly in the light of the beneficiaries of this hybrid system, it has been a matter of controversy. In Cardiff, Central, a candidate was elected on the basis of just 8.7 per cent. of the vote. In Caerphilly, a Conservative candidate was elected on just 10.1 per cent. of the vote; and in Clwyd, West, a Liberal Democrat was elected on a mere 7.9 per cent. That is simply indefensible. Candidates should stand in one category or the other, not both.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC):
I thank the Secretary of State for his courtesy in sending me an early copy of the White Paper. It states in paragraph 1.26 that there is no consensus in respect of full legislative powers. Is he aware that a recent BBC poll showed that 64 per cent. of the people of Wales were in favour of full legislative powers for the Welsh Assembly? How will he determine when consensus has been reached and on what criteria will he base his judgment? Will he confirm that all requests for legislation from the Welsh Assembly will be subject to veto by this House and the other place?
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As a democrat, is the right hon. Gentleman comfortable with the notion that the referendum trigger could be negatived by the unelected other place? Has he considered what will happen if an Administration takes over in Cardiff that is of a different colour from the one here?
Mr. Hain: That is very unlikely, given the Labour party's massive popularity in Wales and in Britain as a whole. The hon. Gentleman asked about my statement that no consensus exists in respect of full legislative powers. Like him, I am a practising politician in Wales. Many of his Plaid Cymru colleagues are demanding a referendum this year, but he cannot argue seriously that that can be won without the support of Labour. As I said earlier, the Labour party in Wales, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats all supported a yes vote in 1997, when only the Conservative party really opposed that. Even so, there was only a hair's breadth margin of victory. It is for all parties to determine, on a cross-party basis, whether a consensus on this matter exists and we must make that judgment as the process unfolds.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the BBC poll showing that 64 per cent. of people in Wales favoured primary powers for the Welsh Assembly. I remember what the polls said only days before the vote of September 1997. They reported a majority of almost exactly two to one in favour of the proposal. I advise him not to believe polls: he should trust the people when it comes to how they are likely to vote and make a serious judgment on that basis. We trust the people, and that is why we are putting these proposals forward and setting up a post-legislative referendum. If a consensus existed, that referendum would trigger primary powers for the Welsh Assembly.
On the House having a veto on requests made by the Assembly, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the House already has that power. Parliament can refuse to take forward or pass a Bill requested by the Assembly under the present arrangements.
Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman says that that is the problem, but he wants to take Wales out of the UK. That is Plaid Cymru's problem. He does not like the fact that we are proud to belong to a united United Kingdom. That is where Wales belongs. The experience of devolution over the past eight years has lanced the boil of nationalism and independence and consigned it to the dustbin of history. That is why Plaid Cymru lost votes at the general election.
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) asked whether the House of Lords could negative a decision. From time to time, it has negatived all sorts of decisions arrived at by this Labour Government. That is one reason why it needs to be reformed. However, it would be very unwise of the House of Lords to override the House of Commons in respect of the legislation that will follow this White Paper, and to seek to deny what the people of Wales have asked for. I do not think that the problem is likely to arise but, if it did, the Parliament Acts could come into effect.
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