Assembly proposals to be known in June

By Martin Shipton
Published March 16th 2005 in icWales

A WHITE Paper proposing greater powers for the National Assembly is on course to be published in June, we can reveal.

It is understood that civil servants based in Peter Hain's Wales Office have been asked to complete a draft of the Government's proposals before the general election expected in May, although the final text will not be released until the following month.

A Wales Office spokesman said, "Drafting work on the White Paper is continuing. The intention is to have it ready for publication around midsummer [June 21]."

At this stage Mr Hain, who doubles as Welsh Secretary and Commons Leader, does not wish to discuss in detail what the White Paper will contain.

Dafydd Elis-Thomas, pictured, the Assembly's Presiding Officer, said, "This is not just a matter for the Government to have discussions with Whitehall about. It is in all our interests to have an input into how the Assembly itself should be restructured.

"I do hope there will be some proper consultation both with officials in the Assembly Parliamentary Service who represent the interests of members and with party leaders, myself and my deputy.

"We are the people who have the experience of running the institution at present. Although there are obviously matters which are for the Government, there are also obviously democratic issues for all of us."

Lord Elis-Thomas expressed concern about Labour's suggestion of holding a referendum on primary lawmaking powers only after legislation on the precise proposals has been passed by Parliament. When this last occurred, in 1979, the proposal to establish Assemblies in Wales and Scotland was defeated after anti-devolutionists inserted a "wrecking" clause stating that 40% of those eligible to vote would have to vote Yes at referendums for the project to proceed. In 1997, when there was a narrow Yes vote in Wales, the referendum took place before the legislation.

The Presiding Officer said, "Doing the legislation first is putting the administrative cart before the democratic horse. We did it the right way in 1997 when the proposal was agreed in principle and then the Government of Wales Bill was put to both Houses of Parliament. I believe strongly that it is for the people of Wales to decide the principle first, and then for their elected representatives to legislate."

Lord Elis-Thomas also said he thought there was little chance of a Labour proposal to ban candidates from standing in both sections of an Assembly election getting through Parliament.

At present all the regional list AMs, elected by proportional representation, come from the opposition parties. In most cases, they were defeated by Labour candidates in first-past-the-post contests. Labour cites the example of Clwyd West, where in 2003 all three defeated main opposition party candidates ended up in the Assembly thanks to the regional list system.