Governance

Oral Answers to Questions — Wales – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th July 1996.

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Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 12:00 am, 15th July 1996

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make it his policy to hold a referendum on the structure of government of Wales. [35550]

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

No. I believe that the interests of Wales are best served by the direct representation provided in Westminster by hon. Members in the House and the Secretary of State in the United Kingdom Cabinet.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

If the Secretary of State is so confident that the people of Wales back his unelected Tory quango state, why does he not offer them a referendum on replacing it with a Welsh Assembly? Or is he frightened—not so much frit as ofni?

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

The hon. Gentleman forgets several things. The last referendum rejected the idea of an assembly by 4:1 and only 12 per cent. of the Welsh electorate turned out to vote in it. It is incumbent on those who wish to change long-standing arrangements to demonstrate popular support for change. I have no plans for a referendum, because I have no plans to do violence to the constitution.

Photo of Mr Walter Sweeney Mr Walter Sweeney , Vale of Glamorgan

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Welsh branch of the Institute of Directors recently conducted a survey of businesses in Wales and found that more than 70 per cent. were against a Welsh Assembly? Does that not show how disastrous a Welsh Assembly would be for business in Wales?

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

Yes. My hon. Friend draws attention to an important point. Nothing could do more damage to business confidence than the sight of an extra tier of government and an extra roomful of politicians consuming a great deal of time, money and space for no good purpose whatever. Wales is now forging ahead without the arrangements proposed by the Labour party.

Mr. Alan W. Williams:

In the past couple of years, Conservative Members have regularly asked the Labour party to include a referendum in its policy, so does the Secretary of State welcome the decision to hold a referendum? Does he acknowledge that, once we have had a referendum and have achieved a yes vote by a 2:1 majority, which I anticipate, it will be much easier for an incoming Labour Government to implement the legislation, and more difficult for the Conservative party to reverse it at any future stage?

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

The hon. Gentleman must not presume the outcome of any referendum. I seem to remember a number of people presuming the outcome in the 1970s and, indeed, presuming the outcome of general elections.

I welcome the conversion of the Labour party to the idea of a referendum. I have asked Opposition Members about this on many occasions. The mistake that they have made now is to advocate a pre-legislation referendum which keeps the public in the dark about the final details, instead of submitting the final details to the electorate. That is an unsatisfactory option, for reasons well set out by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) only 48 hours before he was forced to adopt it as his policy.

Photo of Mr Irvine Patnick Mr Irvine Patnick , Sheffield, Hallam

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Opposition's policy for a Welsh Assembly would spell economic ruin for Wales?

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

It would do no favours for the Welsh economy and my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the dangers. An extra tier of government, with buck passing between different levels of government and division between different parts of government, is no way to encourage business or to improve business confidence.