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I thank my right hon. Friend for that generous intervention, not least because I know that, in normal circumstances and on most matters, his face is set firmly against referendums. However, if a
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referendum has been offered initially, it is dishonest to take the process forward without going back to consult the people. I concede that point.
Mrs. Gillan: I do not believe that that is a constitutional issue. Progress on the separation of powers is based on a consensus across the board. It is something to which the Secretary of State and all parties represented in the House acceded, particularly on Second Reading. But by all means, if the hon. Gentleman would like a referendum on that, perhaps he will persuade those on the Government Front Bench to offer it. I confine myself to changes in the legislative process whereby primary legislative powers are no longer to be reserved to the House, but will be passed down to the Assembly. The people of Wales ought to be given a voice. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman supported me, as I am supporting the people of Wales.
Ian Lucas: I will take no lectures from the hon. Lady concerning the people of Wales, some of whom I represent. I should have thought that the hon. Lady, who has been in the House far longer than I, understood that the abolition of the corporate status of the Assembly is indeed a constitutional amendment. I am not calling for a referendum on the proposal relating to Assembly Measures; she is. The logic of her position is that she should call for a referendum on the abolition of corporate status.
Mrs. Gillan: The hon. Gentleman is trying to take us down a road that I do not wish to follow. I agree that the Assembly has not been functioning correctly. That is partly due to the confusion over the difference between the Welsh Assembly Government and the Welsh Assembly itself. If there is a consensus across the board, I see no reason to call a referendum. However, on legislative matters, there is a reason to call a referendum. I hope the hon. Gentleman will follow the argument as I present it, as he may wish to give his constituents the voice that I seek to offer them.
Mr. David Jones: Is not the essential point that the Government propose the transfer of primary powers from this place to another legislative body? Is it not the case that a convention has emerged over the years that where power is ceded by Parliament to another body, be it the European Union, the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly, the people are consulted in a referendum? That is being denied them on this occasion by the Government.
This is not a trivia quiz; it is a serious proposition. If this is the first referendum that we give
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the people in Wales, the hon. Gentleman ought to welcome it. His Government believed in offering referendums when it suited them, but when it does not suit them, they do not permit the people to have a voice.
Let us deal with the principle of a referendum. The Government are clearly not averse to referendums. The Bill allows for a referendum prior to full legislative powers being devolved to the Assembly. I hope Labour Members agree that there is no objection in principle to a referendum. I assume they have no objection and will support the referendum offered in part 4.
On Second Reading the Secretary of State gave the impression that he thought the question as to whether to grant interim powers by Orders in Council was too complex to be put to the people in Wales. If that is the case, it is appalling that the Government do not consider the electorate sufficiently intelligent to understand what they are proposing for Wales, and that they should not be consulted. A referendum at this point would ensure that resources were used to promulgate the work of the Assembly. It is the Secretary of State who is afraid that any referendum at this stage would be lost. I hate to remind the Minister that the Secretary of State said:
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Is that not the nub of the argument? The Government have learned from their experience with referendums of the regions that they can lose them. Is that why they do not trust the people of Wales?
Mrs. Gillan: Ah, yes; once bitten, twice shy. I thank my hon. Friend for reminding the House of the north-east referendum. When the Labour Government think they will win, they hold a referendum. If they think they may not win, or there is a chance that another view will be expressed, they have no intention of allowing that device to be used by the people.
The next point that we need to consider is whether the proposal is for a fundamental change. Throughout the debate, the Secretary of State and the Minister have tried to talk up the Assembly Measures as a more radical devolution, or to talk down the Measures as merely a device of convenience to overcome legislative roadblocks. The proposal is a handling plan to appease the opposing factions in the Labour party. They should not try to pull the wool over our eyes in order to sort out their internal differences.
On Second Reading the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), who sadly is not in his place, raised concerns. He said that he
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believed it was technically possible under these provisions for the full legislative objective to be achieved without a referendum. He raised further concerns about what he described as a "Trojan horse". He said that
"if just one non-controversial, innocuous order is passed, a policy area is opened. Once that happens, the Assembly is free to introduce new measures with different policy objectives, without having to go for a further order. It is a form of creeping devolution."[Official Report, 9 January 2006; Vol. 441, c. 53.]
Last week in the debate in the Assembly the First Minister, who has been alerted to the possibility of having primary legislative powers in all but name and without the inconvenience of a referendum, said that every party in Wales would be able to start the process of preparing their manifestos on the basis of the extension of the Assembly's law-making powers. He went on to boast that the third Assembly would have far greater law-making powers than the first and second, which meant more meat on the bones, more choice for the people and more power for the people of Wales.
Let us be clear. There will not be more power for the people of Wales. There will be more power for the Labour Executive in Wales, whether the people want them to have it or not. The First Minister has no plans to ask them, either.
The provisions extend significantly the powers of the Assembly and the people should be consulted first, not least as this is not what they voted for in the last referendum which, as everybody recalls, was won by a whisker. What did the people of Wales vote for? We are all more than aware of their lukewarm endorsement of the original Assembly provisions. However, I am more concerned with what the people of Wales think they have voted for, rather than reliving the referendum.
I have examined the policy papers produced in August 1997. They make extremely interesting reading. In policy paper 3 the Government told the people that the Assembly would consider how new laws from the Westminster Parliament would be implemented in Wales, and that the Assembly would fill in the details of those laws by secondary legislation to reflect the needs in Wales. The policy paper answers those questions by saying that primary legislation will be made in Westminster, and that it effectively will be interpreted in Wales by the Assembly. So the people of Wales were led to believe that they were voting only for secondary legislation.
More importantly, in answer to a question in policy paper 6, the Government answered the question as to why the referendum would not offer a wide range of options such as full independence by saying that Ministers believed that those options had been rejected by the voters in the general election. They said that the purpose of the referendum was to seek endorsement of the Government's "detailed plans" that voters had accepted in principle. In other words, the last referendum was specifically on the detailed plans that were enacted in the Government of Wales Act 1998, and not on the general outline. The people were certainly neither consulted on, nor led to believe that they would get, the system that is before us today.
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