Secretary of State for Wales Cheryl Gillan has laid before Parliament the Welsh Referendum Order to take forward arrangements to hold the referendum on further powers for the National Assembly for Wales on March 3, 2011.
Mrs Gillan said: “I have today laid before Parliament the referendum Order and associated Orders, which will enable the referendum on the Assembly’s powers to be held on March 3, next year. This is the culmination of months of hard work and co-operation between the Welsh Office with the Welsh Assembly Government, Electoral Commission and other key stakeholders.
“March 3 was the date requested by the First Minister, and fulfils my commitment as Welsh Secretary to hold the referendum in the first quarter of next year. It also enables the Welsh Assembly Government to deliver its One Wales commitment to hold the referendum before the Assembly elections in May next year.”
Mrs Gillan added: “I have always been committed to giving the people of Wales the opportunity to decide in a referendum whether they want the Assembly to have these further powers. This was my top priority when appointed Secretary of State and I took forward arrangements for that referendum as quickly as possible but without cutting corners that would compromise the integrity of the process.
“Throughout the process, the Referendum Project Board, led by the Welsh Office, has involved a wide range of key stakeholders. I am confident that the legislation I have laid today will form the basis for a fair and well-run referendum process, with a referendum question as recommended by the Electoral Commission.
“It is only right that the people of Wales should now have their say in the referendum next March.”
The Welsh Referendum Order will now also be laid before the National Assembly for Wales. Subject to approval by both Houses of Parliament and the Assembly, the Secretary of State will submit the Order to be made by Her Majesty in Council. The aim is to complete this process before Christmas.
Written Ministerial Statement on Referendum
The referendum project board included representation from the Welsh Assembly Government, Electoral Commission, Assembly Commission and Cabinet Office and Welsh Language Board, to underpin the process of putting this legislation together.
The Secretary of State has now laid three draft Orders before Parliament:
- The draft Referendum Order (National Assembly for Wales Referendum (Assembly Act Provisions) (Referendum Question, Date of Referendum, Etc.) Order 2010 )
- The draft Expenses Limits Order (National Assembly for Wales Referendum (Assembly Act Provisions) (Limit on Referendum Expenses Etc.) Order 2010)
- The draft Schedule 7 Order (National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) ( Amendment of Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006) Order 2010)
She has also made a written Ministerial statement to Parliament, on “National Assembly for Wales: Referendum on law-making powers”, confirming that she has laid these Orders, and also placed in the libraries of both Houses a copy of the Electoral Commission’s report of its views on the proposed referendum question. She has accepted the Electoral Commission’s recommendations on the wording of the referendum question.
The draft Referendum Order makes the bulk of the provision relating to the holding and running of the referendum. It makes provision for the date of the referendum, the referendum question, how people can vote in the referendum (including provision for voting by post or by proxy), and the referendum rules (how the referendum is run and administered, including how the count is run). It also contains an appendix of forms, including the ballot paper, official poll cards, proxy and postal voting statements.
The Expenses Limits Order prescribes the spending limits for the permitted participants taking part in the campaign. The Secretary of State has set these at the level recommended by the Electoral Commission.
The Schedule 7 Amendment Order updates Schedule 7 of the GOWA 2006. The Schedule lists the subjects on which the Assembly could legislate in the event of a Yes vote. The changes update the Schedule to take account of the powers the Assembly has gained since the Schedule was last updated in 2007.
The referendum and Schedule 7 Orders will be debated first in the Assembly, and then debated in Parliament. Subject to approval by a two thirds majority in the Assembly, and by a simple majority in both Houses of Parliament, these two Orders will then be made by Her Majesty in Council. The Expenses Limits Order will be debated in Parliament only, and subject to approval there will be made by the Secretary of State for Wales.
The referendum period will begin on the day that the referendum Order comes into force. It is intended that the start date will be the 16th December. As soon as the referendum period starts, those wishing to campaign and spend a substantial amount of money (£10,000 or more) will be able to apply to the Electoral Commission to be registered as permitted participants, whose expenditure will then be regulated. Permitted participants will also have five weeks to apply to become the lead Yes or No campaign. The Electoral Commission will decide whether they can designate lead organisations on both sides of the campaign by February 2, 2011. They have to designate organisations on both sides of the campaign, or not at all. If designated, the lead Yes and No campaigns will be eligible for some financial and other assistance, as provided for in the Political Parties Elections and Referendum Act 2000. The amount of the financial assistance available will be decided by the Electoral Commission.