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Melding: Challenges ahead on Richard Commission response

Speech to the National Assembly for Wales

"It says much for the robustness and coherence of the Richard commission report that all parties, to some extent, find parts of it challenging.

It could perhaps be said that not all are meeting that challenge. However, one proposal has absolute agreement, namely the need for a split between the executive and legislative functions of the Assembly — although I agree with the First Minister's rather mischievous observation that that would not ask much of the Assembly's legislative arm as it is presently constituted, as it would not be doing much and would not even be the fictional executive body that it currently is in its corporate status.

As a Conservative and one of the 10 Members elected by the additional list system, I believe that my party, in particular, needs to reflect on the suggestion that the Labour Party will seek to reform the electoral system used in the Assembly in order to iron out anomalies. Incidentally, the commissioners did not identify these anomalies.

To suggest making changes to the electoral system is a profound step, and to do that without cross-party talks, let alone support, is an act of some violence on the constitution. The Labour Party must face strong scrutiny on this.

Why would the additional member system work so differently in Wales compared with anywhere else in the UK and internationally?

I know of no system that prohibits Members from both contesting constituency seats and appearing on the list. Helmut Kohl would have frequently failed to be elected to the German Parliament if such a law had prevailed there.

It may be that Rhodri does not rate the former German Chancellor highly, but Labour needs to reflect on such matters in considering the robustness of some of its suggestions.

The Labour Party seeks to change the electoral system on 37.5 per cent of the vote: that is what it got at the last Assembly election. That won the party a bare majority to rule in the Assembly.

John Griffiths referred to that as symbolising Labour's continuing dominance in what I sensed he would like to be a one-party culture.

However, we are not a one-party culture, and the proportion of the vote that Labour won in the last Assembly elections was as low as that which it polled in the 1983 general election.

One change that is happening in Wales as a result of devolution is that politics is becoming somewhat more competitive, and Labour should not proceed along this course without further thought.

Frankly, if Labour Members think that the current system is wrong, there is a remedy in the Richard commission report, which is to use a purer form of proportional representation, and that is what you should do.

I believe that the Assembly should have legislative powers and that the argument for that is overwhelming, because if you do not believe in that, you are saying that the Welsh are constitutionally lesser beings than the Scots, the Northern Irish, the people of the Isle of Man, the people of the Channel Islands and so forth.

What is absolutely necessary, and I am glad that the Labour Party has grasped this, is another referendum, because, if we become a legislative body, it is a big change, although an important one.

I can answer the question of what I will do in that referendum campaign: I will say to the people of Wales that we should confidently apply the British parliamentary model, which has always put the Government and the legislature together.

Having the Government here in Cardiff, represented by Rhodri Morgan, and having the legislature, which locomotes most Government activity, ultimately in London, makes no constitutional sense.

This settlement is unique to Wales for the reason that it is utterly bizarre. That does not recommend it.

The First Minister's proposal is a halfway house: that is his own phrase.

I did not say that I would campaign for primary powers — I repeat that for your benefit.

A preferendum, which was used most recently in New Zealand, seems to be the best way forward. That would give us a constitutional settlement.

I do not want devolution to be a process — it seems to me that we are best governed by an absolute settlement.

If we were to become a proper parliament, with an Executive responsible to us, that would give us enduring constitutional stability.

First Minister, if your 13.2 plus, minus, multiplied, or whatever, works, it is rather like travelling from Cardiff to Newport via Wrexham—why the hell bother?

Why not just have legislative powers and be done with it? Finally,

I commend to colleagues a Conservative Party publication by our official spokesmen on devolution, 'The Conservative Party and Devolution', which called for a federal system should a Scottish Parliament be established.

That was published in the 1970s, and its authors were Francis Pym and Leon Brittan. A federal state is the best system for Britain, and I hope that we use the Richard commission as a means of getting there."

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