Tories clash over Welsh assembly future

David Davis and David Cameron last night clashed over the future of the Welsh assembly as they neared the end of the race for the Conservative leadership.

Ahead of a debate in front of Tory party members in Wales, Mr Cameron said he was committed to devolution, and would support further powers, while Mr Davis said he would hold a referendum to let the electorate decide.

The meeting in Newport last night was the tenth of 11 hustings taking part across the country, and came less than a week before ballots close next Monday.

Speaking to the Western Mail before the hustings – which are not open to the media – Mr Cameron insisted that the Welsh assembly was here to stay, despite being established with only a very narrow referendum vote in 1997.

“I believe the Conservative party should commit itself to making it work for the people,” he told the newspaper, adding: “Devolution exists and that means allowing the assembly to pursue its own policies.”

In an interview with BBC Radio Wales, however, Mr Davis put forward his case for a so-called “preferendum”, where voters would be given three options for the future of the assembly – to keep it, scrap it, or give it further powers.

“It’s what our policy is, a three-way referendum to see what people think after a number of years of having the assembly, and that’s the line,” the shadow home secretary said.

He admitted there was a “broad range of views” in the Conservative party on the issue, but insisted: “At the end of the day, it’s not politicians who own the constitution, it’s the people in the countries involved and such a decision could only be made by the people.”

The successor to Michael Howard is expected to be announced on Tuesday, with Mr Cameron widely expected to take the top job. Speculation is now growing about who would make up his shadow cabinet.

The shadow education secretary has already said he would include Mr Davis, while reports suggest that former Tory leader William Hague is also set to return to the front benches.

Another former party leader, Iain Duncan Smith, has also come out in favour of Mr Cameron, saying he would provide the Tories with a “fresh start”.