HC Deb 02 December 1974 vol 882 cc1111-3
40. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Lord President of the Council if he will ensure that, before any plans are implemented for a Welsh Parliament the opinion of the Welsh people will be sought on their views for the constitu- tional change; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Edward Short

The decisions announced in the recent White Paper on devolution were taken after extensive consultations during the summer, based on the consultative document. The people of Wales, and elsewhere, will have ample opportunity to express their views as we make our further decisions known between now and the publication of the devolution legislation.

Mr. Roberts

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that one of the strongest cases for a referendum on the Common Market issue is that it involves a constitutional change, and that the same thing applies here? Will he bear in mind that only 10 per cent. of the people in Wales voted for the party whose main plank was to have a Parliament for Wales? Will he further tell the House who is to pay for having this Welsh Parliament and the associated jobs for the boys? Is it to be the people of Wales or the people of Great Britain as a whole?

Mr. Short

I have said before that I think there is general agreement that the decision on the European Community is sui generis—a once-in-a-century decision. Clearly there is a case for a referendum in the case, but not for Wales. My hon. Friend overlooks the fact that all the parties in Wales, in their election manifestoes, proposed some kind of assembly for Wales.

Mr. Thorpe

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the only unanimous recommendation in Kilbrandon was that the Parliaments or assemblies in Scotland and Wales should be returned by the proportional representation system? Remembering the dangers which have flowed in Northern Ireland from the gerrymandering which abolished the electoral system of PR—which was unanimously introduced in the Province at the time of Partition—may we take it that before the Government seek to have an unfair inbuilt permanent Labour majority in both Scotland and Wales they will at least consider more democratic systems which will allow everyone to be fairly represented in those areas?

Mr. Short

If direct elections mean gerrymandering, we are all here by gerrymandering. The consultations which took place in Wales and Scotland in July were frequently concerned with the method of election. As a result of those consultations the Government came to the conclusion that they should reject that recommendation of Kilbrandon and recommend direct elections.

Mr. Wigley

I appreciate the opinions of the constituents of the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts) on this question, but is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the great desire in Wales to see a consensus arrived at quickly on this matter? Will he assure the House that the legislation will be published during this parliamentary Session?

Mr. Short

No, Sir. It will be not published during this parliamentary Session but during the next parliamentary Session. There will be one Bill dealing with Wales and Scotland. As the hon. Gentleman has said, there was a great area of consensus on this subject during the election, and certainly during the consultations in July.