Hain opposed to new Assembly powers

By Jamie Lyons
Published July 7th 2003 in PA News

The Welsh Assembly is still too young to be handed major new powers, Peter Hain said today.

The Welsh Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons said after just four years it was too soon for another radical shake-up in the way Wales was governed.

Mr Hain said he was a "passionate devolutionist" but did not want constitutional change for its own sake.

He said there must be clear evidence there would be practical benefits to the people of Wales before the Assembly was given extra power.

In a speech to the Institute of Welsh Affairs in Cardiff, Mr Hain said: "I know there is a lot of excited chatter about the Assembly's powers.

"As everybody knows, I am a passionate devolutionist. But the National Assembly is only four years old. The system is still very young. It is just 50 months since the people of Wales underwent a radical change in the way they are governed."

Mr Hain said the Assembly had already used its existing powers to benefit the people it served.

Furthermore, he said, Wales has not been "short-changed" by Westminster in terms of new legislation, and important powers had already been handed down to Wales, including last week's proposal to give the Assembly responsibility over the fire service.

The Richard Commission set up by the Welsh Assembly government is currently looking at its powers and electoral arrangements.

Mr Hain indicated that any further change to the current constitutional settlement would need another referendum.

"Any major changes proposed, as well as having to demonstrate very clear practical improvements in delivery of public services to the people of Wales, would need to have a democratic mandate," he said.

Mr Hain said he did not believe the people of Wales wanted the Assembly to be given the same tax-varying powers as the Scottish Parliament.

He said he could not imagine the Welsh economy operating with a different fiscal regime to England.

"I don't see it as being a realistic proposition and I don't see it as being sensible either," he said.

Mr Hain also revealed his unhappiness with the proportional representation electoral system used for Assembly elections.

"How can it be right that candidates who are defeated in the first-past-the-post ballot can then be elected under the regional list ballot?" he said.