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Tories attacked for voting against Bill to strengthen Assembly.

Byline: By TOMOS LIVINGSTONE Western Mail

The war of words over Welsh devolution showed no signs of dying down last night, as the Tories faced criticism for voting against plans to strengthen the Assembly. The party campaigned on the anti-devolution side in 1997, but several key figures, including Nick Bourne, leader of the Tory group in the Assembly, have since changed their position and now back Scottish-style powers.

Nevertheless the party's MPs voted against the Government of Wales Bill late on Tuesday evening, unhappy at the lack of an immediate referendum and with changes to the voting system.

Welsh Secretary Peter Hain said that decision was 'astonishing' and said the Tories were 'going backwards'.

Shadow Welsh secretary Cheryl Gillan said, 'Conservatives want to make devolution work in Wales. But successful devolution depends not only on the support of the people.

'It also requires a broad political consensus. We have seen none of this during the passage of the Bill. What is clear is that Labour has put party politics before the interests of the people of Wales.

'This Bill leaves us with a lot of unfinished business and the impression that the Government is pro-Wales when it is purely pro-Labour.'

During exchanges in the Commons on the Bill, Cardiff-born Ms Gillan said she had voted against it 'with a heavy heart'.

She said afterwards, 'Ours is not an anti-devolution vote or an anti- Assembly vote. It is a vote against a Government that puts party before people.'

But Mr Hain hit back, saying, 'For the Tories to try to kill the Government of Wales Bill on its first day in the Commons is one thing. To try to cripple it at committee stage is another. And now they astonished everybody by being the only party to vote against the Bill at third reading - even Ian Paisley's DUP voted for it.'

He added, 'By voting against it, the Tories have shown they oppose any extra powers for the Assembly.

'Despite David Cameron's warm words about devolution, it's the same old Tories. Redwooditis still rules the roost.'

Mr Bourne said earlier this week he would take part in a Yes campaign in a future referendum. Aides to Mr Bourne said he was 'relaxed' at the way the party's MPs voted.

Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats backed the Bill, which now goes to the House of Lords. Lembit Opik, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said it was 'a flawed but nevertheless genuine contribution to the devolution debate and to devolution'.

The Bill will see the Assembly draw up its own laws after 2007, which will need a Westminster rubber-stamp.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 2, 2006
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