Page last updated at 10:08 GMT, Wednesday, 10 February 2010

AMs vote in favour of Welsh assembly powers referendum

The start has been signalled towards a referendum on assembly powers

Welsh assembly members have voted in favour of holding a referendum on devolving further powers for the institution from Westminster.

The vote was passed without opposition, with 53 AMs supporting it.

Presiding Officer Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas called it a "historic day in the journey that is devolution in Wales".

He added: "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."

Last week, the assembly government secured the support of opposition parties for the vote.

AMs vote in favour of a referendum - from BBC Democracy Live

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats had threatened to abstain over concerns about holding a vote the same day as an assembly election.

The first minister says they will work to accommodate those concerns.

Both Labour and Plaid Cymru are committed to holding a referendum on full law-making powers in devolved areas such as health, education and agriculture by May 2011 as part of their "One Wales" coalition agreement.

First Minister Carwyn Jones will now notify Welsh Secretary Peter Hain of the assembly's wishes within 14 days by letter.

Mr Hain would then have 120 days - or until 9 June - to lay a detailed draft order for a referendum, to be voted on by both houses of parliament.

'Battering down the doors'

Mr Jones told assembly members that the existing devolution settlement was just a stepping stone, and that "the next great test is one of public opinion."

While avoiding any discussion of specific dates for a referendum, Mr Jones acknowledged the difficulties of voting on the same day as the next assembly elections.

The leader of the Conservatives, Nick Bourne, said that the call for a referendum had his full support, and that the political parties should march forward together, "to let people have a decisive say."

Peter Hain
Peter Hain, Welsh Secretary
Carwyn 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.

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

Mr Bourne also said that whatever the outcome of the forthcoming general election, David Cameron would not block a referendum.

Shadow Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan said: "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."

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams said that it was an "honour" to speak in "a debate that will make the next step in the devolution process truly work for the people of Wales."

She argued that the existing settlement was unsustainable, and that the vote today was the most important vote in the history of the assembly.

The deputy first minister Ieuan Wyn Jones, for Plaid Cymru, said that the maturity of the debate - where 18 assembly members all spoke in favour of a referendum - was a sign of the evolution of the institution.

"The unanimous cross party support for this referendum is a clear signal of the breadth of support for a referendum and strengthens the case for it substantially," he said.

Ahead of the vote, Rachael Banner, a spokesperson for True Wales, an organisation set up to oppose more powers said: "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."

She told BBC Wales' Politics Show programme: "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."

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