Welsh Referendum

Oral Answers to Questions — Wales – in the House of Commons at 1:39 pm on 18 February 1998.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West 1:39, 18 February 1998

If he will instigate an inquiry into problems arising in the counting of votes in the Welsh referendum; and if he will make a statement. [28404]

Photo of Mr Ron Davies Mr Ron Davies Secretary of State, Welsh Office

There has been not one substantive allegation of impropriety in the referendum count. There are no outstanding problems and there is, therefore, no justification for an inquiry.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that members of his own party described what reigned on the night as chaos? If the Secretary of State is not going to re-establish public confidence by holding an inquiry, what does he intend to do? Already, counties are campaigning to be exempted from the provisions of his Government of Wales Bill. Will he grant their requests?

Photo of Mr Ron Davies Mr Ron Davies Secretary of State, Welsh Office

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that one question was raised by members of my constituency party. It was dealt with fully and comprehensively by the returning officer. I repeat the challenge that I made to the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) a month ago. If the hon. Gentleman has one substantive allegation, he should bring it forward and let us have the evidence. If he does not have such evidence, he should stop abusing the privilege of the House of Commons by casting aspersions on the integrity of decent, hard-working public servants.

Photo of Dr John Marek Dr John Marek Labour, Wrexham

Will the Secretary of State focus his mind not just on impropriety, but on muddle? It would be very helpful to the people of Wales and those of us who fought for devolution if he could give the House a clear assurance that, if all the doubtful votes had been counted adversely, there would nevertheless have been majority for devolution. Such an assurance would go a long way to putting the problem to rest.

Photo of Mr Ron Davies Mr Ron Davies Secretary of State, Welsh Office

Of course I can give that assurance. I remind my hon. Friend that I answered all these matters fully and comprehensively in a series of written answers to the questions tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Thomas) in January. Every question that has ever been asked on this matter has been answered truthfully, frankly and comprehensively. If the previous Government had had this Government's record of honesty, they would not have lost every parliamentary seat in Wales on 1 May.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Conservative, North Shropshire

There is doubt in the public mind. The actual result was only 168 votes a constituency in favour. The Secretary of State's bluster is just not good enough. If the assembly is to go ahead, it must do so on a sound basis and not on the shifting sands of doubt in areas that voted no.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I made a statement last week that questions must be put. The hon. Gentleman did not put a question; he made a statement. I shall be careful not to call him again for some time. [Interruption.] Order. Is my statement being challenged in some way?

Photo of Mr Ron Davies Mr Ron Davies Secretary of State, Welsh Office

It is not a question of whether devolution proceeds; it is a question of when it proceeds. The hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) will know that the Government of Wales Bill is proceeding apace through the House of Commons. If he feels that there is any doubt about the validity of the referendum result, he should explain why he and his right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench are actively co-operating with the Government to get the legislation through the House of Commons as quickly as possible.