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The amendment relates to the period after the Assembly has voted in favour of moving forward on the proposal to this place for an Order for primary legislative powers. This is an unusual section of the Bill because it addresses a period that most parties agree is some time distant from today. It is not within the contemplationI hopeof the Government to bring forward proposals at this stage for a referendum to introduce the part 4 process. We are therefore talking about a period that is some years hencemy right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned 2011-plus.
In those circumstances, it is appropriate that if we are to consider the position politically at that time, there should be some provision in the process for a broader reflection on the Assembly to take place. The amendment proposes that after the Assembly asks for primary legislative powers there should be a consultation process, so that the people of Wales can be asked two questions relating to the Assembly.
The first question relates to the voting system for the Assembly. We should not assume that the system that was put in place by the Government of Wales Act 1998 should be set in stone for ever. If we are to have an Assembly with primary legislative powers, we shall have a different creature to the body created by the 1998 Act. It would thus be entirely appropriate at that stage at
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least to consult the people of Wales on the voting system that should be used to elect the new Assemblyif I may call it that.
People have extremely different views on the appropriate voting system for the Assembly at present. I am satisfied that the legislative powers for the Assembly that are proposed by the Bill are not so different from the existing powers that they require the system to be reconsidered at the moment. A referendum was held in 1998 and an additional member system was introduced. When a further referendum is held, there should be at least consultation so that the people of Wales can consider whether it is appropriate to continue with the additional member system. I have strong views on the matter. The Richard commission put forward several views, and the parties have different views on the system that should used. It would thus be right and proper to ask the question at the time of the referendum.
Mrs. Gillan: I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman. Will he tell the Committee which voting system he prefers? He says that he has strong views on the matter, but has not explained the voting system that he would like to see at that stage.
Mrs. Gillan: That is very clear. Why has the hon. Gentleman restricted his amendment so that it allows consideration of the number of Assembly Members, but not commensurate consideration of the number of Members of Parliament at the same time?
Ian Lucas: The amendment proposes consultation. If primary powers are allocated to the Assembly following a referendum, the Labour Government are likely to reduce the number of Welsh Members of Parliament, just as they did with Scottish Members, because the Labour party is a generous party. When the Labour party considered voting systems, it even assisted the official Opposition by ensuring that they had additional Assembly Members in Wales although they could not win a first-past-the-post seat.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Is it not the case that the number of Scottish Members of Parliament was reduced not primarily because of the increased powers of the Scottish Parliament, but because of the significant inequity that had grown up over the years due to the number of people represented by each Scottish Member compared with the number represented by each English Member?
David T.C. Davies:
May I remind the hon. Gentleman that there are some honourable exceptions to the rule of Conservatives not winning first-past-the-post seats? We have held at least one ever since the first Assembly elections were held.
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Mark Tami: Like my hon. Friend, I support the introduction of the first-past-the-post system. Perhaps those who want a full single-transferable-vote system would give us an opportunity for the debate to take place. Few people are wedded to the current system. Many people on either side of the argument think that the system is badly flawed.
Ian Lucas: Indeed. My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. It is for that reason that I suggested a consultation. The issues are controversial. The importance of raising the subject at this stage is that unless the Bill is amended, the issues cannot be considered within the context of the referendum debate that will take place so far in the future.
The second aspect of the consultation relates to the size of the Assembly in terms of the number of Members. Clearly, an Assembly that has primary legislative powers will have a scrutiny role that goes far beyond the existing scrutiny role of the National Assembly for Wales. It is not often that politicians call for more politicians. I am afraid that I will do so, because one of the most important aspects of any legislator's job is to scrutinise legislation. My personal sense is that it would be essential to increase the number of Assembly Members if primary legislative powers were to be granted to the National Assembly for Wales. Any sensible discussion in the lead-up to a referendum on primary legislative powers would inevitably touch on that issue. Again, with the Bill as it stands, it is difficult to envisage how that could be sensibly raised and how more Members could be introduced.
I have suggested a consultation. I know that the issues are controversial, but when a major constitutional debate takes place in Wales when the referendum is calledif ever such a referendum is calledit is important that we have the discussions, consult the people and hear what they have to say.
Mrs. Gillan: I have read the hon. Gentleman's amendment carefully. Has he given any consideration to the length of time that the consultation should take? Does he envisage there being a specific period of time, so that it would not be an open-ended process?
Ian Lucas: I did consider the length of time, because the amendment stipulates a length of time. However, it is optimistic. I am not wedded to it. I was conscious that I did not want an extended period of consultation because I did not want to delay the process if the decision had been made by the Assembly. On the other hand, it would be necessary for a consultation to take place over a period of time, and for that reason I included the 120 days.
Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen) (Lab):
It is 18 years ago almost to the day when I was squeezed into such a debate, with two and a half minutes left at the end of
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business on Welsh questions. I hope that the rules of the House will permit me to continue my remarks when we return on Monday to discuss this important business.
I sometimes look at legislation and apply what a very good friend of mine calls the Splott market test, which is: what would the people of Cardiff who go to the market in Splott on a Saturday morning think of the legislation that we are producing? I suspect that they would not think an awful lot about some of the constitutional issues that we have debated. I am not underestimating the significance of those issues, but we have to understand that, at the end of the day, the Welsh people want to consider how devolution affects their lives. Are their hospitals any better? Are their schools any better? Has the system of local government or planning been improved by the existence of the Assembly? The answer, probably, is yes, because the Assembly has given accessibility to Ministers and the accountability of Ministers to the people of Wales in a way that was never there when we had the old Wales Office.
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