Clause 103 — Proposal for referendum by Assembly
Government of Wales Bill (Programme) (No. 3)
Peter Hain (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office; Neath, Labour)
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and I appreciate the open-minded and constructive way in which he has sought a resolution to this and other outstanding points in a way that will allow the Bill to receive Royal Assent by the end of next Tuesday. If primary powers were to be granted, it would be by decision of this Parliament. The Assembly cannot grab the initiative. It is for Parliament to decide whether it is right for the Assembly to have primary powers. I hope that all parties will help the Bill to receive Royal Assent through their response in the House of Lords next Monday and that they accept the principle that Parliament cannot accept the decision on calling a referendum to trigger the primary powers—a fundamental step—being taken by anyone other than this House and the House of Lords.
I am trying to be as helpful as I can be to the hon. Gentleman, because he has sought to improve the Bill, not to block it or wreck it, in great distinction from the behaviour of the Conservative party throughout its progress.
Frankly, it would be an act of utter folly for anyone in the Secretary of State's position to attempt to obstruct the will of the people of Wales. Welsh voters simply would not tolerate it. Even a sceptical Secretary of State—we had plenty of those before 1997—would find it impossible to ignore such a request from the Assembly. The Government of the day would have to give the request the most sympathetic and serious consideration and ultimately, in my view, support. But it cannot be a rubber-stamp decision, for the constitutional reasons that I have explained.