“This is an historic day”

The Welsh Assembly has voted overwhelmingly in support of a motion for a referendum for the people of Wales on granting the Assembly full law making powers.

The Welsh Assembly has voted overwhelmingly in support of a motion to provide a referendum for the people of Wales on granting the Assembly full law making powers. As a result of the motion being passed, First Minister Carwyn Jones will now write to the Secretary of State for Wales seeking an Order to be made to provide for a referendum.

The Secretary of State will then have 120 days to decide whether to grant such a vote and seek Parliamentary approval for one to happen.

Reacting, Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, the Assembly’s Presiding Officer, said:

“This is an historic day in the journey that is devolution in Wales.

“It will now be up to the people of Wales, provided the Secretary of State for Wales agrees, to decide whether we move to the next phase of devolution.”  

Speaking in anticipation of a yes vote, the Archbishop of Wales, Barry Morgan, who chairs the pro-devolution group, Tomorrow’s Wales, said:

“This means that AMs have put the needs of the people before party politics.

“It sets the scene for the consensus-building approach that can deliver a resounding Yes vote in the forthcoming referendum.”

However, speaking for the organisation campaigning against further powers for Cardiff Bay, True Wales, Rachel Banner told the BBC’s Politics show for Wales on Sunday:

“We have to ask ourselves how these law-making powers will benefit the people of Wales, because actually the demand is not coming from the grass roots.

“No one was battering down the doors of the All Wales Convention – it’s not coming from the people of Wales it’s coming from the political establishment.”

Reacting, Welsh Secretary Peter Hain said:

“[First Minister Carwyn Jones] and I have been working very closely together over the past two months to make progress on this issue.

“I fully support the First Minister’s approach and now look forward to receiving his letter so I can begin the necessary preparatory work to take this forward.”

What is more, Shadow Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillian has made clear the Conservatives will not stand in the way of any referendum:

“If the request for a referendum is on my desk should I become Secretary of State for Wales, I will not stand in its way.

Conservatives have said that we will let the people of Wales decide, but my real priority remains the economy, inward investment and getting Wales working.”

The motion did not, however, make reference to a suggested date for a referendum. Mr Hain said:

“In the meantime, as Carwyn and I have said jointly, we both agree that the priority in the coming months will be the General Election, the outcome which will be so important for Wales.

“We must secure economic recovery for Wales, not choke it off with hasty cuts to Government spending.”

Welsh Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have previously indicated that this autumn would be their preferred time for a vote.

It was reported last week that the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives would abstain without assurances that a vote would not take place on the same day as the next Assembly elections in 2011. The fear is that a cross party yes campaign could not work whilst parties are competing with each other in elections to the Assembly.   

The vote starts a chain of events which will enable the Plaid Cymru/Labour coalition government to fulfil its commitment in the One Wales agreement to hold a referendum.

In November, polling for the All Wales Convention, chaired by the UK’s former Ambassador to the UN, Sir Emyr Jones Parry found that 47% of people would vote in favour of extra powers for Cardiff, with 37% likely to vote against.

It led Sir Emyr to warn:

“A Yes vote is obtainable but there can be no guarantee – ie, there is everything to play for.”

With all of Wales’s main political parties in favour of providing full law making powers to the Assembly, a vote against by the people of Wales would be seen as a substantial snub to the country’s political leaders.

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