Wales Is Ready to Say Yes Full Lawmaking Powers for in Referendum on the Assembly; All Wales Convention to Report on 'Significant Shift' in Public Opinion

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Byline: Martin Shipton

A REFERENDUM on full lawmaking powers for the National Assembly will be recommended by the All Wales Convention when it reports next month, we can reveal.

Members of the body set up to assess the mood of the nation on the issue have concluded that a significant shift in public opinion has occurred and that a Yes vote would be likely, sources have told us.

The convention is also expected to report that few people in Wales understand the current cumbersome process under which powers to make laws are transferred from Westminster to Cardiff Bay - a state of affairs regarded as highly undesirable in a functioning democracy.

Sir Emyr Jones Parry, the former UK Ambassador to the United Nations who chairs the convention, has already indicated that the report he is due to present to First Minister Rhodri Morgan and his deputy Ieuan Wyn Jones on November 18 will be more decisive in its recommendations than some had expected.

Now it is apparent that the Assembly Government will be given the green light to proceed with the referendum both Labour and Plaid Cymru committed themselves to in the One Wales coalition agreement negotiated after the 2007 Assembly election.

In recent months there has been a mood change on the matter among many AMs. Before the summer even enthusiastic sup-porters of primary lawmaking powers were cautious about holding a referendum. There was a widespread view that voters' minds were focused on the recession rather than constitutional matters.

Three factors seem to have played a role in persuading doubters that a referendum should be proceeded with: frustrating delays in the current constitutional arrangements; polling evidence that there has been a clear swing in favour of more powers; and the increasing likelihood that a Conservative government will be in office within months.

Earlier this week Marc Phillips, Plaid Cymru's nominated representative on the convention, resigned from it to pursue a bid to become the party's parliamentary candidate in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, the seat being vacated by Adam Price.

Mr Phillips, a former national chair of Plaid Cymru, said: "Even after the Assembly gets primary lawmaking powers, there will be an important role for Plaid Cymru MPs to play at Westminster in the non-devolved policy areas I am interested in like benefits, poverty in general and pensions. It will also be vital to ensure that Wales gets the best possible financial settlement."

Plaid AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas said: "The current arrangements under which we have to seek permission from Westminster is extremely frustrating and simply doesn't work. The delays in getting powers over the Welsh language transferred to the Assembly are such that we will be lucky to have legislation in place by the time of the next Assembly election in 2011.

"There have been delays with every LCO {Legislative Competence Order - the means by which Assembly bids for lawmaking powers are granted}. We're still waiting for the Environment LCO to help us deal with climate change and the proposal on affordable housing has had to be started from scratch again. Why should people waiting for an affordable home have to wait so long before we have better tools to deal with the problem? We need a referendum."

The issue to be resolved is one of timing. Mr Price, who is standing down from Westminster at the next general election but hopes to become an AM in 2011, said: "I have long favoured holding the referendum on the same day as the Assembly election, but a consensus seems to be developing that the autumn of next year would be the appropriate time. There is a view that the Assembly should vote in favour of a referendum before a general election, with it being approved at Westminster by the present Government."

But Labour AM John Griffiths, a strong supporter of primary lawmaking powers for the Assembly, said: "I think the most sensible course is to wait until after the general election before deciding on a date for the referendum. …