Clause 7 — Candidates at General Elections
Orders of the Day — Government of Wales Bill — [3rd Allotted Day]
Elfyn Llwyd (Parliamentary Leader; Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, Plaid Cymru)
From Meg Russell's constitutional unit, her colleague Professor Robert Hazell concluded that the proposals are
"nasty, spiteful and seemingly driven by partisan motives".
Barry Winestrobe, reader in law at Napier university, who has lobbied us on the matter, says:
"Even if the proposal is simply to prevent unsuccessful constituency candidates being elected for the region comprising that constituency, this seems an unnecessary restriction on the democratic rights of potential candidates, parties and local electors to have as unrestricted a choice as possible in an election . . . If Ministers are genuinely concerned with addressing democratically harmful public perceptions, then they should consider whether such legislation will not be seen by that same public as partisan, and not something which would worry the Government if the party distribution of constituency AMs and regional AMs was different."
Moreover, the New Zealand commission ruled out a ban on dual candidacy on the specific grounds that it would be unfair on smaller parties.
Let me attempt to sum up. We have heard nothing of substance from the Government to support the ban that they propose. The Electoral Commission has said that it would go outside international democratic norms.
The Government say that they have carried out extensive public research, but the issue was not even raised in the Clwyd, West constituency. The Electoral Commission cautioned against
"introducing a change to the electoral process that is as yet untested over a period of time."
The electoral commissioner also said that
"there is no evidence at all to back up this proposal and therefore, we came to the conclusion that we do not think the case for change has been made."
The Welsh Affairs Committee found little support for the Government's proposed solution. Dr. Richard Wyn Jones and Dr. Roger Scully said that it had a "partisan motivation". The Electoral Reform Society has considerable concerns and does not think that the case has been made. It also advocates the single transferable vote.
It is interesting to note that there are no plans to make this change in Scotland, possibly because Peter Peacock is a Labour MSP from the Highlands and Islands and is also a Labour Minister. I know that other Members will wish to speak in this debate, but I have a copy of Sir John Arbuthnott's report. I shall refer briefly to it, although others will wish to refer to it in greater detail. It states:
"Dual candidacy is a common and accepted feature of mixed member proportional systems across the world. Indeed, in some cases candidates are expressly required to stand in both contests. We suggest that dual candidacy only seems problematic to some people here because of the legacy of constituency representation within British political culture and the hegemony which this has secured for some parties. Candidates coming in second or third place who are then elected through the regional list are only losers in the context of a first past the post, 'winner takes all' electoral system. This logic does not sit well within a proportional system and introducing it devalues and undermines the concept of proportionality. The criticism, and the pejorative terms in which it is sometimes put, does little to enhance the legitimacy of regional MSPs."
So far, we have heard little mention of the Human Rights Act 1998. I am no expert on it, although I do a little practice in the area, but I will take leading counsel's advice on the legality of that issue. If I have that advice before Report stage, I shall put it before the House.