New Clause 2 — referendum not to be held more than ten years after passing of act
Orders of the Day — Government of Wales Bill — [2nd Allotted Day]
Nick Ainger (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales; Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, Labour)
The practical effect of new clause 2 would be to ensure that a referendum under the terms of the Bill could not be called by Order in Council more than 10 years after the Bill had received Royal Assent. It will come as no surprise to David Mundell that I cannot accept that such an arbitrary time limit on the possibility of enacting the part 4 provisions is necessary. Those provisions do not have a use-by date.
Under the Bill, the timing of a referendum would have to be considered and agreed on by a two-thirds majority in the Assembly and by both Houses of Parliament. That consideration by democratically elected bodies, and not an arbitrary 10-year time limit in the Bill, will ensure that the referendum is held at an appropriate time. The Secretary of State has said that he cannot see a referendum happening before 2011, because it makes sense to see how the provisions enabling the Assembly to make measures bed down first. I cannot predict at this stage exactly when a referendum should be held, and it would be inappropriate for me to say that a referendum should be held within 10 years, or not at all.
New clause 13 is aimed directly at ensuring that there would have to be a gap of four years between any referendum and an Order in Council calling for a further referendum. The fact that a referendum can be held only with the agreement of two thirds of the Assembly, the Secretary of State and both Houses of Parliament—all of whom would be aware of the financial and political cost of frequent repeated referendums—is safeguard enough in this respect. I fully agree that frequent referendums under the Bill would be counter-productive. However, the process for approving a call for a referendum that is built into the Bill will ensure that referendums are not called repeatedly for no good reason. I therefore invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the new clause.