Orders of the Day — Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:12 pm on 22nd May 1997.

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Photo of Mr Ieuan Wyn Jones Mr Ieuan Wyn Jones Plaid Cymru, Ynys Môn 5:12 pm, 22nd May 1997

No, because my contribution will be short.

There is merit, in the spirit of inclusive politics, in giving the people in Wales who want to go that step further the opportunity to do so. Our preference—we fought the election on it—is for a multi-option referendum. We may not be able to argue that point in the Chamber: we shall have to wait and see.

I ask the Government to consider giving the people of Wales the opportunity to vote on, at the very least, the legislative and tax-varying powers that are on offer in Scotland. Why not include that in the debate on the Welsh Assembly? I accept that the Government are perfectly entitled to have a referendum on the question as it is framed in the Bill, but they could include all shades of opinion on the right side—if I may put it like that—of the debate.

The Government have introduced the Bill in a spirit of co-operation and on the principle of a move towards inclusive politics. The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Neath was right to say that it may be a long time before we have another opportunity to legislate on an elected body for Wales. Some people in Wales may find it strange that, faced with the ballot paper, all they are offered is a straight choice between the Labour party's position and that of the Conservative party. There are no Conservative Members in Wales, yet its position is preserved in the Bill. The Government should accept that, by going that little stage further and including all shades of opinion in Wales, they will be able to gauge the opinion of all the people in Wales.

All of us involved in this debate who fall on the side of positive change carry a great responsibility. We know from the history books or from being Members of the House that constitutional change is a momentous task. It has often ended in failure. Our children and future generations will rightly criticise us and may find it hard to forgive us if we get it wrong now. Wales is now ready for leadership, ready to consider co-operative politics, and ready to act on the desire for change.

I accept that there are no absolute truths in this debate: we must all recognise that. We have shown that there is a way forward to accommodate all shades of opinion. I hope that the Labour party will grasp that opportunity, so that the people of Wales can vote for meaningful change. If the Government are prepared to do that, we will be content to leave it up to the people of Wales to decide what sort of body they want. I am confident that if they are given that opportunity, not only will they vote for change, but will embrace change, as a modern, mature democracy that is part of the European community of nations. I hope that the Government will respond positively.