Mr. Jimmy Hood (Lanark and Hamilton, East) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, particularly his proposals on the regional list system. Has he spoken to the Secretary of State for Scotland about these matters? I certainly hope that, where he leads, the Scottish Secretary will follow.
Mr. Hain: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland enthusiastically supports this White Paper, as do all other members of the Cabinet. I have enjoyed very constructive discussions with him.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): When will we have a Secretary of State for Wales with enough backbone to stand up for Wales and its people, so that we can be a fully fledged nation within the UK? When will the right hon. Gentleman stop hiding behind woolly compromises and referendums as protection against his Back Benchers? Should he not be bold and support in full the recommendations of the Richard commission, like so many people in Wales?
From his question, I assume that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) is of the same mind as the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), the leader of the Welsh opposition, and that he opposes a referendum on primary powers for the Welsh Assembly.
Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman is nodding, which means that another Liberal Democrat Member opposes the principle behind a referendum. He just wants to railroad Wales into assuming primary powers, even when he knows that no consensus exists and that it goes against the policies of the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Welsh Assembly.
Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will agree that an electoral system that allows a candidate to lose yet nevertheless win is morally wrong and politically bankrupt. Does he also agree that changing the system will enhance no end the status of the Welsh Assembly in the eyes of the people of Wales?
Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con):
I spent long enough in the Welsh Assembly to feel entitled to express an opinion on this matter. The Secretary of State's catalogue of success does not include the fact that patients in my part of Wales have to wait five times as long for orthopaedic surgery as patients in England, even though they pay exactly same rates of tax and national insurance contributions.
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Why will the Secretary of State not give the people of Wales a referendum on what he admits is a major constitutional change? He is proposing to give enhanced legislative status to the Welsh Assembly, so why will he not put that to the Welsh people in a further referendum?
The enhanced order-making powers proposed in the White Paper are within the existing devolution settlement. They require primary legislation that we will introduce later this year or early next, with a view to gaining Royal Assent in 2006 in time for the 2007 elections. The new powers would therefore come into effect at the start of a new Assembly term. They do not require a referendum, but a move to primary powers for the Assembly would. That is a radical departure from the policy endorsed in the 1997 referendum.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I broadly welcome the plans announced today, although I am nervous about one element, which exposes a flaw in the legislative system here. Going through the Order-in-Council process means that we will have no way to amend proposals. That is important, because that means that the proposals will go through the House in a unicameral way.
The proposals emanating from the Welsh Assembly will be debated for one and a half hours in this House, and again in the House of Lords for the same amount of time, but there will be no opportunity for us to amend them. Will the Secretary of State talk to his successor as Leader of the House to determine whether there is any way to allow time for a longer debate, with some capacity to amend? I realise that the House's Standing Orders would have to be changed, but the improvement that I propose would be significant.
I can reassure my hon. Friend that there will be a period for pre-scrutiny before the Order in Council is laid. It is not for me, as Secretary of State for Wales, to decide the appropriate form of scrutiny. I envisage that as a matter for the House to decide, when hon. Members will have the opportunity that he seeks. They will be able to test the arguments, determine whether there is any case for amendment and then discuss the matter with the Welsh Assembly. In any case, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales will confirm that the present practice is that Welsh Assembly bids in respect of legislation or of clauses in an existing Bill are discussed by the Secretary of State, his ministerial team and the Assembly. There is no question that we accept everything that is asked of us. All
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requests are tested, and both Houses will have the opportunity to do that. I think that that meets the point raised by my hon. Friend.
Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford) (LD): Will the Secretary of State put on record today his understanding that communities on the English side of the Welsh border can be profoundly affected by decisions of the Welsh Assembly on the provision of services, including in respect of rail, flooding and health? Given that, understandably, those communities do not have a direct voice on the Welsh Assembly, will he listen to the concerns of English Members of Parliament wishing to represent our constituencies on decisions taken by the Welsh Government that have profound effects in our constituencies?
Mr. Hain: Of course I will, as will my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. I share with the hon. Gentleman the fact that I am a Member of this Parliament, the sovereign body of the United Kingdom. We will take up any issues that he seeks to present to us.
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) (Lab): I welcome the step back from primary legislation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, had we gone in that direction, it would have led to an inevitable demandas it did in Scotlandfor a reduction in the number of Welsh MPs? Whatever increase in power may be given to the Assembly, it could not compensate for the loss of power here in Whitehall.
Mr. Hain: I agree with my right hon. Friend, who makes his point well. I am grateful for his support for the White Paper. It is important that the people of Wales continue to have strong representation in the House of Commons, because it is vital for their interests. If this proposal is carried througheven if a referendum triggers primary powers at some future pointthere would be no case for reducing the number of Members of Parliament for precisely the reasons that I have explained.
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that the changes that he proposes to the electoral systema system that he fully understood when he suggested it in the first placeamount to nothing less than a flagrant attempt at gerrymandering to make it harder for Opposition parties to get elected? It is the Mugabe-isation of Welsh politics and, given his background, he should know better. Given the fact that the Welsh Assembly has been a monumental failure that has led to higher health waiting lists, school closures and council taxes going through the roof as the result of the misuse of money by local authorities, it has never been more important for us to have a strong opposition to what Labour is doing in the Assembly.
I was going to welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Commons, but after that little rant I am not sure that I should. However, I am pleased to do so. I just do not agree with him. It is interesting to see Conservative Members wriggling on this issue when their candidates are defeated by the electorate but are
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then parachuted into the Assembly. I do welcome the official name that the hon. Gentleman has adoptedT.C. is Top Cat. As the ditty goes: