Politics: Tories say Davies has no right to judge Welsh poll

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The Independent Online
There were angry scenes in Westminster as the Secretary of State for Wales faced questions about his handling of September's referendum on devolution. But while he will hope the spat marked the end of the affair, Fran Abrams writes, the Tories are determined to pursue it.

Ron Davies's need to preserve his own job made him an unfit judge of whether there were irregularities in the referendum count, a Conservative MP said yesterday.

"It is your political career that is on the line if this project fails," Owen Paterson told Mr Davies at a hearing of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee.

"You have more to lose than virtually anyone and you are in a very difficult position being judge and jury."

Mr Davies hit back by saying Mr Paterson, who represents the English seat of Shropshire North, had little right to address the matter. "You are speaking for no-one but yourself," he retorted after Mr Paterson said he represented 550,000 people who voted against a Welsh Assembly.

He said Mr Paterson was making "personal accusations that I am covering up something because it is for my own political convenience. That is not the case and frankly it is offensive," he said.

"I do hope we have now seen an end to this unsubstantiated campaign of smear and innuendo against decent, honourable, hard-working public servants."

Mr Paterson responded that as the only MP on the committee against devolution he had a right to speak. With a majority of just 6,700, or 0.6 per cent, in favour there must be no questions left unanswered. "It is crucial that if this assembly goes ahead it isn't built on the shifting sands of doubt."

The committee chairman, Martyn Jones, stepped in to end the exchange after it became heated, reminding the two men that they were there to discuss Welsh economic development.

However, he did allow other members of the committee to speak in support of Mr Davies. Julie Morgan, Labour member for Cardiff North, rejected the Conservatives' claim to speak for "no" voters.

"Mr Paterson doesn't even represent a constituency in Wales and cannot speak on behalf of anybody in Wales," she said.

Meanwhile, Michael Ancram, the Conservatives' constitutional spokesman, claimed the credibility of the "yes" vote was still in doubt despite a statement by Mr Davies on the matter on Monday.

A senior judge should be appointed to carry out a "short, sharp, in-depth and independent inquiry," he said.