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David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer: I will in a moment, although the hon. Gentleman has not been present much today.

That is how the Labour party won the referendum, and it strikes me as an instance of constitutional impropriety for the party, having won it on that basis, to slide through significant changes without asking again.

David Taylor: The right hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting that the arrangements put to the UK population, and indeed the Welsh population, in the original referendum are now being expanded with no further consultation or soundings. As recently as nine months ago, precisely what is in the Bill was contained in the UK-wide Labour manifesto and in the Welsh manifesto, and was put to the people accordingly.

Mr. Gummer: The hon. Gentleman was not present to hear his Minister explain to us that the issue was so complicated that it was not possible to put it in a referendum. For him to claim that it was not so complicated when it came to a general election is fatuous. He knows perfectly well that in a general election people vote on a range of matters. I do not accept that that grants any kind of mandate for change in a referendum matter.

The hon. Gentleman ought to have been present to note the care with which I said—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman should stop blowing his top in that amazing manner and listen.
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I have said from the outset that I oppose referendums. I believe that Parliament ought to make the decisions. I believe that general elections are about giving mandates to parliamentarians to make decisions. The Government, however, do not believe that. The Government decided that there would be a referendum on this issue, and then said "We make changes that are so complicated that we cannot put them to the electorate in a referendum, but the electorate understood them enough to vote in a general election." It is impossible to uphold that argument.

The issue seems simple to us. We say "There was a referendum. Some of us did not want it, and do not like referendums. But when a referendum has taken place, it is dishonourable to turn to the people of Wales and say 'We are going to change the deal on which you vote without giving you an opportunity to understand clearly what we are doing, and to say whether you want it or not'." If the Secretary of State is not prepared to do that, I suggest that it is because he thinks he would lose—and if that is the reason, it is even more dishonourable than the first.

David T.C. Davies: I am grateful for the opportunity to pick up some of what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). I remind the Committee that the last referendum was indeed very narrowly won, and that only one in four people voted in favour of the Assembly. The referendum was narrowly won, despite the fact that the Government spent vast amounts of money putting out one document after another purporting to show what a utopia Wales would be if and when the referendum were won. To some extent, they also encouraged people to vote in favour of the Assembly by deliberately holding the referendum one week after the referendum in Scotland. They were not prepared to risk Wales voting on the same day. Most important, they made it clear all along that the people of Wales would be voting on a Welsh Assembly, not a Parliament. Despite all that, they could only get a very narrow result in favour of a Welsh Assembly—the difference was about 2,000 votes. To change the ground rules just seven years or so after that referendum would be unfair and cheat the people of Wales.

The reality is that we are embarking on a huge constitutional change that has not been thought through properly. No one has sat down in government and thought where they want the British constitution to be and how they will reach that state. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal has pointed out, we still have the huge difficulty of providing an answer to the West Lothian question. I do not happen to know what the answer is. We cannot carry on with the status quo. I do not like the idea of more politicians sitting in an English Parliament. I tend to go along with my right hon. Friend's view that preventing Welsh and Scottish Members from voting is the answer, but the constitution is a fragile flower and if we are going to start tampering with it, we need to be clear what we are trying to achieve.

For example, there is, within one strand of the Conservative party, a perfectly logical argument for some sort of federal United Kingdom. I do not happen to share that argument but I can see the logic of it. However, if one is going to go down that line, one has to say so from the start and set out exactly how it will be achieved on an equitable basis.
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We now have the prospect of yet more powers for the Welsh Assembly without any of those other questions being answered, and those questions will get bigger and bigger. That is why it is important that we have a referendum. It is only fair. Before the referendum took place, the former Secretary of State for Wales, Ron Davies, was asked in The Western Mail:

He said:

If the Welsh Assembly were an end in itself back in 1998, it is completely wrong that we should come back just a few years later to discuss giving it significant further powers, without any prospect of a further referendum. Therefore, I support the amendment.

Mr. David Jones: I also support the amendment wholeheartedly because it seeks to redress the fundamental dishonesty of the Bill, namely, that the powers that are to be transferred are so small and modest that they do not need to be put to a vote of the Welsh people. We have heard already that those powers can be used for the purpose of amending, extending or repealing Acts of Parliament. It is hard to think of powers that can be more extensive than those.

We have heard that in 1997 it was made abundantly clear to the people of Wales what they were voting for—an Assembly that would assume responsibility for exercising the powers that were at that stage exercised by the Secretary of State for Wales. They were secondary law-making powers. The Minister has conceded today that what is proposed is the extension of primary legislative competence to the Welsh Assembly, not as a block but, as was eloquently described by the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) on Second Reading, on a salami-slicing basis: a bit of power is given here, a bit more next year, then a bit more and a bit more. Ultimately, we end up with the whole salami transferred to the devolved body and none left with Parliament. That is by any standard a major transfer of power. The convention in this country is that such transfers of power are put to the vote of the people in a referendum.

It is abundantly clear why the Government do not want a vote. It is because, as the Secretary of State has already conceded, they know that they would lose the vote. It is simple. He said that the Labour party is not in the business of holding referendums that it knows it would lose. This is an illegitimate, dishonest device for getting around the problem of going to the people in a referendum.

Mr. Gummer: Does my hon. Friend agree that that gives the lie to the argument that the Labour party has a mandate because of the general election? If it were so sure of its mandate because of the general election, would it not be happy to have a referendum? Is it not the case, in fact, that it knows perfectly well that the people of Wales did not vote on the issue at all at the general election?

Mr. Jones: Not only did the people of Wales not vote on the issue, but the Labour party knows that, if it were to hold a referendum, it would lose it.
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Lord Richard made the position clear in his evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee. It is worth quoting. He hit the nail on the head:

That is exactly what is proposed by the Government. They are behaving in the most dishonest fashion. I, as a Welsh Member, sitting for a Welsh constituency, feel angry that they will not give the people of Wales the right to vote in a referendum. If the Government are so convinced that what they are proposing is for the good of the people of Wales, let them ask the people of Wales. Otherwise, let them withdraw their proposals.

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