Clause 7 — Candidates at general elections

Orders of the Day — Government of Wales Bill — [1st Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 4:02 pm on 27th February 2006.

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Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales 4:02 pm, 27th February 2006

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 4, line 36, leave out subsections (5) and (6) and insert—

'(5) The list must not include a person—

(a) who is included on any other list submitted for the Assembly electoral region or any list submitted for another Assembly electoral region,

(b) who is an individual candidate to be an Assembly member for the Assembly electoral region or another Assembly electoral region,

(c) who is a candidate to be the Assembly member for an Assembly constituency which is not included in the Assembly electoral region, or

(d) who is a candidate to be the Assembly member for an Assembly constituency included in the Assembly electoral region but is not a candidate of the party.

(6) A person may not be an individual candidate to be an Assembly member for the Assembly electoral region if he is—

(a) included on a list submitted by a registered political party for the Assembly electoral region or another Assembly electoral region,

(b) an individual candidate to be an Assembly member for another Assembly electoral region,

(c) a candidate to be the Assembly member for an Assembly constituency which is not included in the Assembly electoral region, or

(d) a candidate of any registered political party to be the Assembly member for an Assembly constituency included in the Assembly electoral region.'.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Chairman of Ways and Means

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 8, in page 4, line 42, at end insert

'(unless section [Person filling constituency vacancy to be eligible as constituency member or regional member at subsequent general election] applies).'.

Amendment No. 9, in page 5, line 8, at end insert

'(unless section [Person filling constituency vacancy to be eligible as constituency member or regional member at subsequent general election] applies).'.

Amendment No. 2, in page 7, line 43 [Clause 11], leave out subsection (8).

Amendment No. 13, in page 90, line 28 [Clause 160], at end insert—

'(8) Section 7 comes into force in accordance with section [Commencement of provisions relating to candidates at general elections].'.

New clause 4—Person filling constituency vacancy to be eligible as constituency member or regional member at subsequent general election—

'A person who has become an Assembly constituency member as a result of an election held under section 10 may be included in a list of candidates for return as Assembly regional members for a particular Assembly electoral region at the subsequent general election even if, at that general election, he is also a candidate to be the Assembly constituency member for an Assembly constituency.'.

New clause 7—Commencement of provisions relating to candidates at general elections—

'(1) Section 7 comes into force on such day after the 2007 election as the Secretary of State may by order appoint.

(2) But no order under subsection (1) may be made unless—

(a) the Secretary of State has undertaken appropriate consultation with—

(i) the Assembly, and

(ii) each political party represented in the Assembly, and

(b) the Electoral Commission has made a report.

(3) No order under subsection (1) may be made unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing the order has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.'.

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

The first group of amendments in the section to be dealt with before the guillotine deals with the position of candidates for the National Assembly for Wales. We debated the matter at some length in Committee, but did not reach any satisfactory conclusion. I am glad that we have the opportunity to re-examine some of the points today. As the Under-Secretary said in his brief speech on the programme motion, there are parts of the Bill with which the Opposition agree. There are several aspects of the Bill, however, to which we fundamentally object. In particular, the proposals in clause 7 are brought into the sharp focus of scrutiny by the amendments.

In speaking to the amendments, I am trying to do one of two things. First, I am seeking to maintain the status quo so that the electoral arrangements, as understood by the people of Wales at the moment, remain the same. If I fail to do that, however, I hope that the option of not introducing those changes until after the Assembly elections in 2007 will give the existing system time to settle down and also afford the Government and the Assembly the opportunity to inform the people of Wales about the proposed changes that they intend to make. There is much evidence showing that people in Wales do not understand the electoral system, let alone the proposals that the Government are now seeking to impose. Conservative Members have argued that clause 7 is a partisan attempt by the Labour party to rig the electoral system to its own advantage.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Secretary of State), Department for Constitutional Affairs

The hon. Lady said that there is much evidence that the people of Wales do not understand the current electoral system, but I wonder what evidence she has seen because all the evidence gathered by academics that I have seen indicates exactly the opposite.

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

The Electoral Reform Society, the Electoral Commission and the Bevan Foundation report, which I shall discuss later—Mr. David successfully introduced the Bevan Foundation report into the debate in Committee—all point to confusion about the system itself. The combination system, which is different from the first-past-the-post system, causes confusion among the electorate.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Secretary of State), Department for Constitutional Affairs

I am not sure whether that is right. In multi-member local government constituencies, people have the right to vote three times for three councillors under the first-past-the-post system. Opinion polls suggest that the number of people who do not use all three votes because they do not understand that they have more than one vote is far higher than the number of people who say that they do not understand the Welsh Assembly voting system.

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

I refer the hon. Gentleman to page 8 of the Bevan Foundation report, which Labour Members have prayed in aid. It states that there is strong survey evidence that people do not understand how the system of elections to the National Assembly for Wales works. I shall go into more detail on that point, but I think that the hon. Gentleman must back down.

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

The Welsh people have not called for the Government's proposed change to the electoral system. Furthermore, it is notable that the Richard commission, which has produced a substantial piece of work on the situation in Wales, did not come up with the change that the Government are attempting to introduce today.

The Government have deployed the argument that the change was in the Labour manifesto at the general election. That is slightly lame, because if they had the best interests of the people of Wales at heart, they would not have made a bald statement in a manifesto and would at least have conducted some research and examined the issues in Wales, which seem to include confusion about the electoral system itself.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

When probing amendments suggesting that there is confusion about the electoral system were moved in Committee, the hon. Lady did not agree that such confusion exists, because it benefited her party to adopt that position. Now she is telling hon. Members that there is confusion, so which one is it? She has claimed that the system is somehow rigged towards the Labour party, and many Opposition Members have alleged that the system has been gerrymandered, but does she have any evidence on that point, because she has not produced any up to this point?

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

I apologise to hon. Members because my voice is gradually fading away and may be reduced to a faint whisper by the end of the debate. I shall pick up those points as I develop my argument.

It is notable that when there was one Labour regional AM we heard no complaints about the system. Now that complaints have been made, we see that there are no Labour regional AMs. That suggests that there is an enormous bias in favour of presenting a political solution instead of one that is good for the people of Wales. When the Welsh Affairs Committee inquired into the Government's White Paper, "Better Governance for Wales", it divided strictly along party lines. The fact that no party other than Labour has picked up the cudgels on this leads me to believe that it is not in the best interests of the people of Wales.

The Electoral Commission is not convinced of the need for change. In its submission to the Welsh Affairs Committee, it concluded:

"In light of the need to encourage voter participation at the Assembly election in 2007, we would caution against any change that is perceived to be partisan and could add to a prevailing distrust of politicians.

On the evidence available to the Commission . . . we do not believe that the case for change has been made out."

I think that the Minister would admit that those words should be taken very seriously; after all, they are from the Government's own commission.

Opposition to the ban was forcefully expressed by the Electoral Reform Society, which concluded:

"We urge the Government to reconsider their proposal to ban dual candidacy, a controversial and divisive argument for which the case has not been adequately made."

Photo of Jim Devine Jim Devine Labour, Livingston

Is the hon. Lady aware of the situation of the leader of the Scottish National party, who, if he stood in a constituency and lost, could then be elected through the list? Not only would a loser become a winner—a loser would become a leader. Is not that a rigged system? He is effectively betting on a three-horse race—he cannot lose.

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

I love the way we move seamlessly from Wales to Scotland. I would have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman had not this electoral system been devised by the Government. They came up with it, and now they are crying foul.

While my voice holds out, I want to turn to some of the points that were made in Committee. The hon. Member for Caerphilly introduced us to the Bevan Foundation's report, "Public attitudes to dual candidacy in elections to the National Assembly for Wales". I was delighted that he pointed me in the direction of that piece of research. I am hoping that he will intervene on me to answer straightforwardly why, when I asked him how much it cost, who paid for it and where it came from, he did not venture to inform the House that he sponsored it. He argued that it was a completely impartial piece of research—[Interruption.] Is Chris Bryant trying to intervene?

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

The hon. Gentleman should settle down—it gets better.

Point 6 of the introduction to the report states:

"The research was sponsored by Wayne David MP."

One would have thought that the hon. Gentleman could have enlightened the House when he was trying to tell us that this was a completely independent piece of research. He must have sat on his hands. He knew that he sponsored this piece of research, yet he did not have the guts to stand up in the House and tell us. I honestly think that he did not want me to read the research, because when we look at the detail we will see what it contains. It is very interesting.

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

I give way to the hon. Gentleman to let him tell us why he did not say that he had sponsored it.

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David PPS (Rt Hon Adam Ingram, Minister of State), Ministry of Defence

This is extremely tedious. If the hon. Lady did not hear my comments during our previous proceedings, she could have read Hansard, which shows that I openly said to hon. Members that I had sponsored the research but that it was independent. Big deal.

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales 4:15 pm, 27th February 2006

If the hon. Gentleman reads his contribution at column 112 of Hansard on 30 January, he will realise that it did not reflect the simplicity of the intervention that he has just made.

Let us consider the Bevan Foundation's research. I shall concentrate on the summary and I hope that the hon. Gentleman has a copy because I should like to remind him of its conclusions. It was not based on an enormous sample—indeed, there was

"a predominance of people aged over 45 and of those who were either retired or not working for other reasons."

The relative absence of people under 45 and those working full-time means that the results are not statistically representative—they were not intended to be. One wonders why the hon. Gentleman sponsored work that has such a caveat. However, as he has prayed it in aid, it is right to examine the results.

The report states:

"There is little in-depth analysis or empirical evidence to support the various arguments made both for and against dual candidacy".

That is apparent from our discussions. However, the small-scale project aimed to explore whether the public had views on the issue, as is often claimed. The summary continues:

"We found slightly more of the total number of respondents said that dual candidacy was unfair compared with those who felt candidates should be free to stand in both."

I emphasise the word "slightly". That could mean as much as one in a sample of 47.

The summary goes on:

"This suggests that any proposals about dual candidacy—whether to change or retain the current system—need to be based on sound evidence and be mindful of the differing views amongst the public."

I agree with that. It is obvious that the Government have not based the proposals on sound evidence. The summary states:

"This suggests that there should be clarification of the roles of the two types of Assembly member."

We can all agree with that because there is confusion about the roles, not least among Assembly Members. As expected, those views were part of a wider lack of understanding of the electoral process among many people and a division of views about proportional representation.

The hon. Member for Caerphilly, who prayed in aid the report, has played straight into our hands. Again, I emphasise that there is slight evidence that respondents believed that dual candidacy was unfair. It hardly constitutes an overwhelming piece of research to back up the Government's proposals.

Photo of Siân James Siân James Labour, Swansea East

Have you any research that you can impart on how—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. When I am on my feet, the hon. Lady must sit down. She must not use the second person because when she says "you" she refers to me and I have nothing to do with these matters.

Photo of Siân James Siân James Labour, Swansea East

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Does the hon. Lady have any evidence that the people of Wales are happy with the safety net that we provide for the dual candidates? I have found no evidence of people being fully supportive of the process whereby winners become losers, or, as the Japanese put it, zombies become winners. Has the hon. Lady any facts and figures to impart on that?

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

I hope that Assembly Members have noted that the hon. Lady likened them to zombies. [Interruption.] I do not care who called them zombies. The hon. Lady likened them to zombies in the Chamber. The Conservative group is one of the most active and effective groups in the Assembly, so the hon. Lady should be careful before she starts throwing around such words to describe it.

This is all about trying to prove a negative. If the Government are going to change an electoral system that they have only recently introduced, they must do so on the basis of fact, investigation and demand. No such fact, investigation or demand exists, as I am seeking to prove, given the public attitudes to dual candidacy and elections to the National Assembly for Wales expressed in the Bevan Foundation's report, which was commissioned by the hon. Member for Caerphilly.

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David PPS (Rt Hon Adam Ingram, Minister of State), Ministry of Defence

I am very pleased that the hon. Lady has taken the trouble to read the Bevan Foundation's report. As she knows, I placed a copy in the Library for her to see. As the report states, it is an indicative report that is intended simply to give an indication of the public's attitudes. However, the hon. Lady cannot get away from the fact that its central point is that a majority of the respondents think that the current system is unfair.

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

I am unwilling to concede that, because the report found that only "slightly" more of the total number of respondents held that view—

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

That could be a majority of just one out of the 47 respondents. The hon. Gentleman should read some of the remarks made by those 47 people in the report. I shall not take up the House's time by reading them out now, but I would recommend them to anyone who is interested in the Bill.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

Does the hon. Lady find it curious that Labour Members place such weight on this report, given the small number of respondents it involved? When the Electoral Commission's scientific research was discussed by the Welsh Affairs Committee, Labour Members' response was, "Who are these people? Are they paid? How were they selected?" There was a great deal of scepticism expressed at that time, yet great weight is placed on this piece of research. Is not that strange?

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

The hon. Gentleman and I are of one accord on this. What seems important is whether the Bill suits the Labour party, not whether it suits the people of Wales or contains what is best for the people of Wales. I was at a Scottish Affairs Committee recently at which some eminent people, including Sir John Arbuthnott, were giving evidence. One of the Labour members of the Committee even wanted to know how many degrees Sir John had. I think that that Member was trying to make the point that Sir John was so intelligent that he could not relate to ordinary people. Well, perhaps that was the case, because I believe that Sir John replied that he had 11 or 12 degrees. That certainly put that Labour Member in his place.

The Government have tried to fall back on the old line that there is widespread and systematic abuse—I think that was how the Secretary of State described the situation—in Wales. If the abuse is so widespread and systematic, why has the Secretary of State failed to respond to letters from Nicholas Bourne, the leader of the Conservative group in the Assembly, written on 4 November and 27 January? Those letters contained a request for information about the Secretary of State's assertions. I see that the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Nick Ainger, is looking slightly blank. Nicholas Bourne's letter of 27 January to the Secretary of State says:

"I enclose a copy of a letter I sent to you on 4 November 2005, to which I have, as yet, received no response.

I am concerned that you have made assertions regarding alleged abuse by List Assembly Members of their position in relation to expenses. This is a claim that, as far as I am aware, has never been substantiated.

If you are making such a claim it is clearly a very serious one".

The letters of 4 November and 27 January from the leader of the Conservative group regarding the systematic abuse that has been prayed in aid in relation to changing the system have not even received a response from the Secretary of State. I hope that a response will now be forthcoming.

Another argument that the Government have used is that the banning of dual candidacy will end the confusion caused by the present system. However, I am not sure how that would follow. The research that I have seen suggests that banning someone from standing in a constituency system or a list system would not address the problem that people fail to understand that there is a first-past-the-post system coupled with a proportional representation system. That is where the sticking point seems to be with the electorate. Clearly, some analysis and research is needed to back up what the Government are trying to do.

I want to deal with the Secretary of State's arguments in Committee. I was particularly interested in the way in which he responded to the debate on clause 7. He said:

"We should start with the facts. Interestingly, the National Assembly for Wales does not support the Opposition proposals for preventing a ban on dual candidature. That is fact No. 1."—[Hansard, 30 January 2006; Vol. 442, c. 122.]

Well, it is not quite fact No.1, because I decided that I would examine the voting and the debate on the relevant amendments to the Bill in the Assembly. If the Secretary of State thinks that the Assembly voted against the idea, he is skating on thin ice. The amendments were only defeated on the casting vote of the Presiding Officer, who was obliged to vote against them under Standing Orders. I do not know how he would have voted had he been free to vote as he wished, but we need only examine the voting of members of his party to discover where his heart might have lain. To say that the National Assembly for Wales does not support the Opposition proposals is therefore to flirt with the truth.

On amendment No. 1, in the name of Lisa Francis, Conservative Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales, the voting was 29 for, 29 against, and 0 abstentions. On amendment No. 5, in the name of Jocelyn Davies, the voting was 29 for, 29 against, 0 abstentions—casting vote. On amendments Nos. 7 and 11, the voting numbers were exactly the same. The Secretary of State's opening gambit in his response therefore takes the biscuit. Given the opportunity of a free vote by the Presiding Officer, we might find that the National Assembly for Wales does not support the Government's proposals. However, the Labour party supports them, and it is its amendments that we are considering.

Labour Members also displayed a lot of partisanship when they said that one of their problems was with list Members setting up rival camps. I am not sure how this change in the system will stop that because there will still be list Members, who will still be able to set up rival camps. The evidence session given by Professor Sir John Arbuthnott and Dr. Nicola McEwan to the Scottish Affairs Committee on Tuesday 14 February, which I attended, provided an interesting insight into the psychology of the Labour party. I heard the Committee Chairman, Mr. Sarwar, utter the immortal words that are on page 22 of the draft transcript:

"I represent Glasgow Central. I have 11 MSPs interfering in my constituency."

That is the Labour party's attitude to Members of the Scottish Parliament and, I presume, to Assembly Members. That is appalling. We have touched on the real reason for the proposals in the Bill to change the electoral system.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

Is it not the case that the Labour party is happy for such Members to set up camps as long as they are not in seats that Labour is rightly in danger of losing?

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

That is the case. The hon. Gentleman makes the point well. That takes me back to my initial point that this is merely about Labour party advantage, Labour party position and keeping Labour Members. It is not about what is best for Wales and for the people of Wales, which is what Conservative Members want. If the Government are going to make these changes, why not make them later rather than sooner, after a period of reflection or investigation?

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

The crux of the Secretary of State's argument was that under the present system an Assembly Member who has been elected on the list and wishes to become a candidate in the constituency puts all the resources into that constituency. The intervention from Hywel Williams was interesting. In my constituency, where we have a Labour Member of Parliament and a Plaid Cymru Assembly Member, his party was very worried about the fact that a Conservative list Member would refer to himself as the base in the constituency. The Plaid Cymru intervention is a little unhelpful and I do not think the hon. Lady should associate herself with it.

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales 4:30 pm, 27th February 2006

The hon. Gentleman almost plays into my hands. If it is just a question of behaviour in target seats, why not change the Standing Orders? Why not consider ways around the problem before going for the nuclear option of changing the electoral system? There is no guarantee that the first person on the list, if he is not of a Labour party persuasion in a Labour constituency, will not set himself up in exactly the same way. I think that that is a red herring. A sop is being offered to Labour Members.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

The Government are very keen on consulting. We are told that they are a listening Government. They consult on absolutely everything. They do not take any notice of what is said to them, but they do consult. For example, more than 90 per cent. of respondents opposed the National Offender Management Service, while 0.4 per cent. favoured it. The Government then went ahead with it.

If there is so much evidence out there, why did the Government not go out and consult the people of Wales, and come back with hard evidence which would have informed the debate?

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

I am sure that the Minister does not want to be reminded of the National Offender Management Service, but it is true that in that instance there was no consultation worth a row of beans. The Government seem to be falling into exactly the same trap in the case of the merger of police areas. They are not listening to the people of Wales, and the political bullying by the Labour party that is now becoming apparent is the hallmark of their latest term of office.

I am sorry that the Secretary of State is not present as he dealt with these matters in Committee. He said that the Arbuthnott commission would have reached the same conclusion that has resulted in the Government's proposal for a change in the legislation if it had considered what he has called the systematic abuses carried out by list members in Wales.

It was Danny Alexander who drew Sir John Arbuthnott on the point. He said

"I should also point out that the Secretary of State for Wales has said that if the Commission had considered what he called the systematic abuses carried out by list members in Wales, he would have reached the same conclusion that we have, namely that a ban on dual candidacy is the only effective solution. Do you agree with his line of thinking? Is the Welsh situation one you have studied in coming to this conclusion?"

Professor Sir John Arbuthnott responded

"Of course we read the material on Wales. The points the Commission took into account on this important issue are as follows: first of all we actually found no evidence that there was a problem for voters in having dual candidacy, nor incidentally, did the Electoral Commission, who have done their own study of this. The idea that a loser is then elected by another aspect or another branch of the proportional representation system is actually a hangover from the first-past-the-post thinking: those coming second are only losers, the only losers in a majoritarian system. The logic of PR is that you actually use the best people as voted for by the electorate and under a proportional system that will not only be the first-past-the-post candidate. As you are aware, I am pretty concerned that we do this on behalf of citizens. Banning dual candidacy would, if you think about it, actually restrict voter choice and potentially diminish the quality of constituency contests."

I think that Sir John has put to bed the myth that he would have arrived at a different conclusion on Wales if he had studied the situation. He obviously did study the situation and I think that the Secretary of State was wrong to put words into his mouth.

I have talked enough, and other hon. Members wish to speak in this debate for which the Government have allowed only a short time. The Secretary of State is trying to amend the system in a way that many people, including myself, believe is cavalier and partisan, with the aim of keeping Labour party members quiet. The case for change has not been made in any substantial research. The Assembly is not crying out for it—quite the opposite, in fact—and the Secretary of State is moving away from what would be its wishes, given the political complexion of the Presiding Officer. I do not think, therefore, that he can argue that the Assembly has been demanding change. Sir John Arbuthnott looked at the situation in Wales, and concluded that there was no case for change in Scotland in light of the information that it provided. The Bevan Foundation research has been prayed in aid and, although flawed, it showed that there is not an overwhelming demand or case for change.

Why, therefore, are the Government messing around again with the electoral system in Wales in such a precipitate way? Will the Under-Secretary wait until after the 2007 elections at the earliest before embarking on that road? I urge him to look at the amendments that I have tabled and, hopefully, accept one of them. If not, he could wait until the Assembly alters its Standing Orders so that regional and constituency Members can resolve their differences. He could at least initiate an education programme about the electoral system, because the Government have failed to educate the electorate.

Why should Wales once again be an electoral experiment? It has three systems—one for Europe; one for Westminster and local government; and one for the Assembly. The system for the Assembly has only been in place for a short while, and it should be given a chance to work before it is changed again. I notice that it is the system in Wales that is changing, not the one used in Scotland. The proposals are not good for the people of Wales, and as they do not result from overwhelming demand or substantial research they are not good for democracy.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

I did not intend to speak in this debate until I listened to Mrs. Gillan, who has not added a great deal to previous debates on this issue. There should be an opportunity to put matters right in the House, as the people of Wales have the right to understand why the Government and the Labour party have introduced the proposals.

The hon. Lady is terribly confused about the electoral system. It was only a couple of weeks ago that we discussed the top-up system on the Floor of the House. She suggested that we ought not to change it, because it is too early to do so, and she has repeated that assertion today. She said, too, that the Labour party introduced the system in the 1997 referendum, so we should not change it. The purpose of the Bill, however, is to reflect on what has happened in the past few years to see whether improvements can be made to the way in which our country is governed in Wales. That point was completely and utterly missed by the hon. Lady.

There is something else that the hon. Lady has failed to grasp. When we debated the system of top-up Assembly Members she rejected the consultation that my hon. Friends and I proposed so that we could consider whether we should revise a system which, I believe, has been discredited. Today, however, she said that the system was confusing. In our earlier debate, she asked me to talk about e-mails from my constituents about the electoral system. I remind her that hon. Members who represent Welsh constituencies do not need to look at e-mails, as we talk to our constituents in markets, pubs, meetings and churches, and they tell us how they feel about different public policy issues, including confusing systems. If she went to Wales a little more than she has done in the past she would undoubtedly hear the same points being made.

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

As I spent the first 11 years of my life in Wales, the right hon. Gentleman might say that I have spent a considerable amount of time in Wales. If he is telling me that conversations in markets and pubs are the basis for this Labour party legislation on the electoral system, I am very worried for this Labour Government because they have moved away from the evidence base that they always vaunted so loudly. Where is the evidence? There is none.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

I do not live in fantasy land. I live in Wales, which the hon. Lady does not. I do not know whether, during the first 11 years of her life, people were taking about these issues in Wales. She was certainly too young to discuss them. All the references to Professor Arbuthnott, electoral commissions and electoral reform societies do not take account of the experiences of elected Members from Wales who talk to people in their constituencies who are interested in these matters. Today, she is saying that the system is confusing. A fortnight ago, she said that it was not. She has to make up her mind what she thinks about the system.

Of course, the system is one that the hon. Lady's party traditionally would have rejected. In fact, I agree with most members of her party that the first-past-the-post system is the best. However, the current system has benefited her party. Under the first-past-the-post system, David T.C. Davies would have been the only Conservative Member in the National Assembly for Wales.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Conservative, Monmouth

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for reminding us that the Conservative party opposes proportional representation, but we play by the rules that are set. I would have been quite happy to be the only member of the Conservative party to be elected under first past the post. I am sure that most of my colleagues, who are supporters of the first-past-the-post system themselves, would have been pleased to see me there.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

The hon. Gentleman had better have a word with the shadow Secretary of State for Wales. She seems to be a great advocate of proportional representation—at least that is the impression that the House gained some moments ago.

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

A moment ago, the right hon. Gentleman said that we should listen to the elected Members for Wales. Therefore, why does he not listen to the Assembly? The vote was tied at 29 to 29; the casting vote was made by the Presiding Officer on a Standing Order. Surely, therefore, the Government are not listening to the elected Members. The right hon. Gentleman is going against the will of the elected Members in Wales.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

I listen to elected Members of the Assembly all the time. The vote that the hon. Lady referred to was presumably split on traditional party lines. Of course, a fair number of those who voted were Members who were elected on the top-up system anyway. The point that I am trying to make, however, is that to try to deny that there is unease or dissatisfaction about the system is wrong.

There is a much more significant point, however, which my hon. Friends have already raised: this was a manifesto commitment. It was clear as day, in black and white. All of us who were Labour candidates in Wales at the last general election fought on a manifesto that said that we would change the position on dual candidacy.

When the Bill goes to the other place, I hope that Members of the House of Lords will reflect on that issue, too. This proposal has not come out of the blue. The reason for the change is that, initially, the Labour party conference agreed by an overwhelming majority that the change had to take place. That was put in a manifesto to the people of Wales. We won on that manifesto. Therefore, it is the duty of Labour Members in this House of Commons to put that forward. When the proposal goes up the Corridor to the House of Lords, I hope that it will realise that, if it rejects it, it will reject a Labour party manifesto commitment that was crystal clear at the last general election.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

I am not sure what the position of the right hon. Gentleman was, but his party clearly did not consider the manifesto commitment on top-up fees to be sacrosanct. One wonders why this particular one should be sacrosanct. [Interruption.] One or two Labour Members supported it, but not the bulk of them.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

The hon. Gentleman can pick and choose from a list of policies if he wants to, but today we are discussing dual candidacy, and Labour's policy on dual candidacy was included in the manifesto. I fought on that manifesto commitment, as did other members of my party.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

The right hon. Gentleman is trying to send to the other place the message that, because this was a manifesto commitment, it should respect it. Does he not accept that it is entirely inconsistent for him to expect others to honour that commitment, given that, as Mr. Llwyd rightly pointed out, the Government themselves broke a fundamental promise on student funding? The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament 4:45 pm, 27th February 2006

The point is being made that this policy simply appeared out of the blue and was dreamed up at the last moment, but it was not like that. The people of Wales knew precisely what the Labour party's policy was and what they were voting for, and in any event, it is a sensible one. If people do not like a particular Assembly Member who has been elected as a constituency Member through the first-past-the-post system, they can vote that Member out of the Assembly. However, if, as happened in Clwyd, West and other constituencies, someone chooses to stand dually—in the top-up AM list and in the constituency—and loses, they can still get back into the Assembly. I am sure that if we asked any of our constituents whether that is fair, they would say that it is not.

Another point that we must ram home constantly is that few top-up Assembly Members concentrate on safe seats. They often concentrate their activities in marginal seats: ones that they think they are most likely to win at the forthcoming election. That may be politically sensible—I am not saying that it is not—but is that the role of an AM who is a top-up Member? No, it is not. The role of an AM who represents a region of Wales is to represent that region equally and properly. That sometimes happens, but often it does not because of the concentration of political activity in marginal seats. Such concentration distorts and perverts the reason for having top-up AMs in Wales.

The best solution is to do away with the system altogether and to come up with a different one. That is a debate for another day, but today we are debating an issue that the vast majority of people in Wales understand: doing away with an unfairness. They were told about this policy during the general election, when a clear manifesto commitment was given. I urge the House to follow the wise advice that my hon. Friend Nick Ainger—he is not a junior Minister but the Under-Secretary of State for Wales—will give us when he winds up: to vote against these amendments.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

Mr. Murphy said that Mrs. Gillan added little that is new to this debate, but given that we have already discussed this issue comprehensively, it is hardly surprising that we should go over some of the same ground. I was slightly surprised by the position taken by the right hon. Gentleman, who seems to be arguing as his core case that because this policy was a manifesto commitment, others need to honour it. As I made clear in my intervention, and as Mr. Llwyd did in his, it is very difficult to take that argument seriously, given that the Government themselves do not respect their manifesto promises to this country. Such an approach certainly does not add any credence to whatever claims may be made that these changes will increase the democratic effectiveness of Wales as a nation.

I shall go through some of the points that have been made, some of which, hopefully, are new. First, we must recognise that there is an attractiveness in separating the constituency and list candidatures, as outlined by the right hon. Gentleman. That looks like a nice way of making it more difficult for opposing candidates from other parties to campaign in marginal seats. Indeed, I would go further: I have some experience of this issue, having observed what goes on in Montgomeryshire. Simply to argue for a change because it makes it easier for the incumbent has nothing to do with the democracy of the system. Surely the right hon. Gentleman does not think that it is justified to change the system to make it more difficult for other parties to marshal their resources and provide significant competition in a given constituency. Anyone who did that would be doing what the Government claim they are not doing, and that is gerrymandering the system.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Secretary of State), Department for Constitutional Affairs

If that were the case, I would wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman. However, Labour Members find it distasteful that the three Opposition parties who oppose the change cannot accept the fundamental principle that losers should not become winners. They hide the fact that the main reason they oppose the change is that they do not have enough members who want to stand and would be decent enough candidates to fill both the list and the constituency vacancies.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

The second part of those remarks is simply vexatious mischief. If the change goes through, we will see whether the parties have sufficient candidates. However, the change will harm the minor parties. It will necessarily cause a convergence towards larger parties and it is clear from what the hon. Gentleman says that he is pleased about that. He thinks that it is reasonable to make it difficult for start-up parties to do well in the Welsh system. The more important point is the hon. Gentleman's claim that it is fundamentally wrong that losers should become winners.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

The hon. Gentleman used the term "gerrymandering", and the shadow Secretary of State for Wales talked about "rigging". My understanding of gerrymandering is that it involves clear political gain for the party that undertakes it. What is the political gain for the Labour party from the changes? The hon. Gentleman must produce some evidence if he wishes to use such strong terminology.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question lies in the comments by the right hon. Member for Torfaen. He is an effective parliamentarian and it has always been an honour to work with him, but he highlighted his belief that the change is necessary to reduce the likelihood of various parties focusing their resources in marginal seats. I am happy to give way to the right hon. Gentleman if I have misinterpreted what he said, but I am fairly sure that that is the meaning of what he said. We may have a genuine difference of view, but I do not think that that is a good enough justification for altering the democratic system that pertains. It is suggesting that the present system may cause discomfort and heat to the incumbent in a marginal seat, and that is a sufficiently good justification to pray in aid of this change.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

My point was that the system distorts the purpose of top-up Members. When the House debated the Government of Wales Act 1998, the purpose of those Members was not only to represent the proportion of votes for parties, but to represent all the parts of the region equally. That has been perverted and distorted because political resources are put into those constituencies where the party can go for both seats.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

In his heart of hearts, the right hon. Gentleman surely cannot pretend that this change has anything to do with forcing the regional list Members to represent their regions rather than their immediate locality—[Interruption.] Labour Members, including Front Benchers, seem to object to that, but I look forward to hearing the Minister's explanation of how this mechanism will ensure that individuals who have been elected as list regional Members will not tend to use their resources of time and money to focus on the locality within which they live. If the Minister is suggesting that is the reason, why has it taken five days of debate to reach that justification? Why was it merely a sedentary response to my comments?

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a minute, but I want to respond to the more interesting of the points that he made earlier on, which also ties in with something that the right hon. Member for Torfaen said. The hon. Gentleman said that losers should not be winners. What a dramatic change for the Labour party: losers should not be winners. Where does it say that manifesto commitments secured by only a third of the popular vote mean that a party has the justification, in any democratic sense, to force through such provisions?

Labour Members know as well as I do that two thirds of the British population voted for parties that were not Labour, yet when they are talking about democracy that fact seems to go out of the window. Today, it is convenient for Members sanctimoniously to masquerade as keepers of the democratic process, but we should never forget the complete contradiction in the Government's justifying their proposed changes on the basis that there is some kind of democratic deficit in Wales, while forcing through these and many other provisions when they very well know that most of the electorate voted against their manifesto.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Secretary of State), Department for Constitutional Affairs

The hon. Gentleman is getting into what the House of Lords should do to legislation from this place. His argument seems entirely consistent with what other Liberal Democrats and Conservative Front Benchers have said since the last general election—that they have no intention of standing by the Salisbury convention because they believe that we did not properly win that election. The hon. Gentleman is introducing a second version of losers shall be winners.

Earlier, the hon. Gentleman said that he felt that I was urging that we have a system that disbenefited smaller parties, but the present system gives smaller parties an extraordinary advantage. My experience in south Wales is that smaller parties are smaller parties because they do not command the support of the people of Wales, and I do not think that we should give them an additional leg up.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

The hon. Gentleman is obviously beginning to panic about how the upper House may interpret this debate—as well he might. Sadly, and increasingly of late, the unelected upper House remains the last stand between the authoritarian autocracy of the Government and the interests of the people and democracy as a whole—

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

Yes, autocracy—[Interruption.] I will not be drawn on that. The hon. Gentleman should remember that English is my second language—

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

Greek is certainly not my second language, but English is, so the hon. Gentleman should cut me some slack if he has issues with my terminology.

I want to focus on the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that losers cannot be winners. Today and in previous debates, he and others have claimed as justification that the public in Wales want the proposed changes. However, just as two thirds of the British population as a whole voted against the Labour party in the 2005 general election, so too did a majority of electors in Wales. It is thus obvious that if Labour Members claim democracy as justification for making these changes to our electoral process they are contradicting their own arguments. Most people in Wales who used their vote did not support that manifesto commitment. I do not understand why it is so difficult for Government Members to grasp the contradiction between what the public said then and what the Government are saying now.

Incidentally, I do not want to stray too far from the debate, but if the Government are suddenly so concerned about what the people think, how is it that they ignored the obvious anecdotal judgments of the public about the war in Iraq, about the anti-terrorist legislation or about something that we have discussed already—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means 5:00 pm, 27th February 2006

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take the advice that he has just given to himself.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

I value the person who gave that advice, so I will take it and I will stop there. I simply say in general terms that the Government cannot have it both ways. They cannot say that they will take the advice on one occasion and not on another.

We hear an age-old argument about the general public's confusion. We are told that they do not understand how the system works. Once again, I simply ask the Government to provide some solid hard-core data to show that people who voted either in the most recent Welsh Assembly election or perhaps even in the one before have genuinely said, "If I had understood the system better, I would have changed my vote."

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

And 24-hour drinking will not help the case of the right hon. Member for Torfaen. While sort of thanking the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, I want to point out that hon. Members are mixing up two things when they cite the public's alleged confusion as a justification for this change, which is nothing to do with changing the list and constituency system. All it will do is prevent individuals from exercising their human right to stand for election on the list as well as in a constituency. At the heart of it, there is nothing very complicated about our difference of view.

To summarise, it happens that it will be convenient in my constituency if the amendment is accepted, but that does not make it right. It is unquestionably convenient for some hon. Members to consider making it more difficult for their opponents; but, once again, that is not a good enough reason to monkey with the democratic system. The greatest irony of all is that the provision will make almost no difference in the way that the Government intend, but it will make a significant difference to the opportunity for individuals to express their democratic right to stand for election on the list and in a constituency.

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

Does the hon. Gentleman intend to join me, my party and Plaid Cymru Members in the Lobby if I ask for votes on amendments Nos. 1 and 2?

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

To raise the suspense, I will come to that in just a minute.

To finish off, I ask the Minister to reflect on what he is asking us to do today. Is he really so sure that he will achieve the intended goals and that, if we have such a debate again in the Chamber in four years' time, he will be able to point to evidence and say, "Look at all the things we cleared up"? I simply do not believe that. I do not believe that he really believes it either. This is a sop to bitter Labour Assembly Members who are concerned about the trouble that the Opposition parties cause in their constituencies. Therefore, I suggest that if the Government are serious about democracy rather than opportunism, they will think again. To answer the hon. Lady's question, if she chooses to divide the House on the issue, the Liberal Democrats will unquestionably support her amendment.

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas PPS (Bill Rammell, Minister of State), Department for Education and Skills

Opposition Members have repeatedly alleged that the proposal to disbar candidates from standing for election on the list and in constituencies is in some way to the party political advantage of the Labour party. I rise to suggest that that is entirely incorrect and that we have heard no evidence to that effect at all. On the contrary, one group will be disproportionately affected adversely if the proposal is accepted: Labour Assembly Members.

Labour Assembly Members are the largest group of directly elected Members and, if the proposal goes through, they will be prevented from using the safety net that exists under the current system for constituency Members who wish to preserve their position by remaining on the list.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Conservative, Monmouth

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that Opposition parties are being extraordinarily politically generous to the Labour party by suggesting that the system should not be changed, as if it is changed, it will be to the disbenefit of the Labour party? Does that not prove that we are acting from the highest possible motives?

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas PPS (Bill Rammell, Minister of State), Department for Education and Skills

With due respect to the hon. Gentleman, when someone—particularly him—puts that argument to me, I immediately move to preserve my pockets.

Photo of Mark Tami Mark Tami PPS (Rt Hon Dawn Primarolo, Paymaster General), HM Treasury

To reinforce my hon. Friend's point, the Assembly Member, Carl Sargeant, who represents the same area as me, would, under our present system, be No. 1 on the list, as well as standing for the seat, which would obviously put him in a strong position to retain his presence in the Assembly, but he supports giving that up.

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas PPS (Bill Rammell, Minister of State), Department for Education and Skills

My hon. Friend is right. In north Wales, there are a number of individuals in Labour seats—some of whom are Ministers—who have very small majorities. Those are the individuals who are most at risk of losing their seats. They will not have the safety net that he described if the proposal goes through.

The Opposition, who seem to believe that the mere repetition of an argument somehow gives it logical weight, must concede that they have produced no evidence whatsoever at any stage in this extremely long and detailed debate that the proposals are to the party political advantage of the Labour party.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

I have heard the Secretary of State make the same point that the hon. Gentleman is making: Labour constituency Members who might be in marginals will not have the luxury of being on the list. However, looking at the voting trends in 1997 and 2001, that is an irrelevance to Labour because it would not get any seats on the list.

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas PPS (Bill Rammell, Minister of State), Department for Education and Skills

The hon. Gentleman should wait for the outcome of the election, when he will discover that Labour will reassert and extend its current position. I am confident of that.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

That involves a slight contradiction: if Labour does even better, it is even less likely to win seats on the list.

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas PPS (Bill Rammell, Minister of State), Department for Education and Skills

But it will gain more constituency seats.

My next point concerns the placement of constituency offices by list Members. With due respect to the Opposition parties, they are confused about the role of Assembly Members, which is to serve their constituents. That is the role that they should fulfil when they are elected. It is not the role of an Assembly Member, or a Member of Parliament, to campaign for an individual political party at public expense. Hon. Members know very well that there are strict regulations in the House about the spending that we incur and what it can be used for. I have been concerned by some pronouncements from Opposition Members that suggest that it is in order to use public money to campaign in individual constituencies for the benefit of political parties. That is at odds with the long-standing conventions and rules of this place and I have little doubt that it is also at odds with the conventions and rules that apply in the Assembly.

It is the role of Assembly Members to represent their constituents. For list Assembly Members, that means representing, to the best of their ability, all the people in the region. It is not appropriate for them cynically to place offices to their own political campaigning advantage in individual seats. I have seen that in my constituency, where Plaid Cymru, when I was first elected, had an office in my constituency. That Assembly Member moved the office to the Clwyd, West constituency shortly before the last Assembly elections. I believe that that was not unconnected with the fact that that individual was a candidate in that constituency.

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the answer is that regional Members should have an office in every constituency? The situation would then be even-handed. Regional Members would then be representing the regions that he says they should be representing. A Member of the European Union Parliament can open an office wherever he wants within his constituency. Since the Government entered office, that applies from Buckinghamshire down to Brighton and includes the whole of Wales. I think that the hon. Gentleman is misunderstanding the roles of our elected Members. Should he not be pleased that a regional Member can open an office in his constituency and give more representation to the people, instead of being such a dog in the manger? Or is he like Mr. Sarwar, who says that he has 11 MSPs interfering in his constituency?

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas PPS (Bill Rammell, Minister of State), Department for Education and Skills

I am surprised that such an experienced Member should make such a protracted and ineffective intervention. I fully understand the role of Assembly Members. If the hon. Lady had been paying attention to what I said earlier, she would understand that my argument was that the role of Assembly Members was to represent individuals within a constituency. If it is Conservative party policy to suggest that every Assembly Member in a region should be entitled to have an office in each individual constituency, perhaps the general electorate should be told that. That may influence people in casting their vote in the next Assembly elections.

Photo of Mark Tami Mark Tami PPS (Rt Hon Dawn Primarolo, Paymaster General), HM Treasury

There are Assembly offices in north Wales. Does my hon. Friend think that it would be a good idea that Members should have an office there rather than wasting taxpayers' money having them where they obviously choose to target certain seats?

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas PPS (Bill Rammell, Minister of State), Department for Education and Skills

The essence of my point is that Assembly Members should represent the people in their constituency and not use public money for party campaigning and for political purposes. It is in this respect that the helpful memorandum from Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru was so informative. The memo makes it clear what such expenses have been used for in the past.

I am an old-fashioned type of Member. I believe that it is the role of public representatives to represent each individual constituent, regardless of party political affiliation, to the best of their ability. Accordingly, I believe that the proposal before us will help each individual Member to fulfil that role in a better way.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

I shall comment on what Ian Lucas said about what Leanne Wood had or had not included in her letter. Let us remind ourselves that she was fully exonerated by the Assembly Committee. There is no point in the hon. Gentleman shaking his head, or perhaps there is, because that is the sort of bloke that he is. The point is that Leanne Wood was fully exonerated, and that should be placed on record. We have to dwell on this issue to fill a void, because there is no real reason for the change other than narrow party political gain. It is astonishing that he has to pray in aid a young woman who has been exonerated for what she said already. I give way to the sponsor of the Bevan Foundation report.

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David PPS (Rt Hon Adam Ingram, Minister of State), Ministry of Defence 5:15 pm, 27th February 2006

I thank the hon. Gentleman. I am very proud of that report. He referred to Leanne Wood AM. Does he think she was right or wrong to say what she said?

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

A certain gentleman from Wales was recently on "Question Time". He was asked about matters which he said were dealt with in this place, and he had no opinion on those matters. What we are discussing is a devolved matter. I have no opinion on it. Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Opening the debate, Mrs. Gillan mentioned the Richard commission. It produced an excellent piece of work. Eighteen months of deliberation, evidence taking and examination of all aspects of the governance of Wales resulted in a very useful report. I shall not dwell on it. My party's view is obvious: its recommendations should have been implemented.

Despite examining all aspects of Welsh governance and taking hundreds of pages of evidence from dozens of witnesses, the report made no such recommendation as the proposal under discussion. The Richard commission considered how many Members there should be in the Assembly and favoured increasing the membership. As we know, the commission recommended primary powers at the next stage, but it made no recommendation along these lines.

The commission was better placed at that time to look into everything. Everyone who wished to give evidence, from all political parties and none, was allowed to give evidence. That was a model way of dealing with the subject. Curiously, no one seems to have given evidence along the lines that hon. Gentlemen are arguing. Had that been the case, it would have been included in the report and the commission would have reached some conclusion about it. If there was the kind of concern that Mr. Murphy encounters in the pubs that he obviously frequents, the commission would clearly have made some recommendation. We have heard nothing about the matter from the Richard commission, so that concern could not have been expressed.

I have a great regard for the right hon. Gentleman, who says that he has picked up on such concern when he visits his constituents. I can straightforwardly and honestly say that during my travels throughout Wales in the past seven or eight years, the matter has not been broached with me. I will admit that on occasion, one or two people have expressed some confusion about the new system, especially early on, but never from 1997 to the present day has anyone said to me, "This is unfair." I say that in all honesty. I have not heard it. Had I heard it, I would relay it to the House, as it would inform the debate. It has not happened, even during our debates over the past weeks.

Many people out there follow our debates, and they have not seen fit to raise the issue, even now. If there was such unfairness as is alleged, surely during the debate somebody would have expressed some opinion to that effect, perhaps in a letter column or in a local newspaper. Had such a complaint appeared in a local newspaper, I have no doubt that the Government would have used it in the debate today. The truth is that there is no evidence whatsoever, although I accept entirely what the right hon. Gentleman says. He is a truthful man and there may be some confusion on Torfaen. He would not mislead the House, of that I am sure, but I tell him, equally honestly, that I have never had the matter broached with me.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

The issue that I have addressed both today and some weeks ago is that the system with which we now elect our Assembly Members is confusing in terms of accountability—who represents what and how people can be elected for different places. Generally, the system is confusing for our electors. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the issues that we have been discussing for the past three or four weeks are not generally on everybody's lips in our constituencies. I am not saying for one second that they are, but people who are interested in such matters express dismay at what they see.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

As I said, the right hon. Gentleman and myself are as one on the fact there has been some confusion about the system, especially early on. I admit that, but I also point out that, in the past few years, in the run-up to the previous election and since, I have heard nothing along those lines, although there was confusion to begin with.

On the so-called evidence that has been produced by the Bevan Foundation, we have been through all these matters before on 30 January. The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham has given an excellent synopsis of the rather threadbare Bevan Foundation report. We are told that the report is thoroughly independent and that the Bevan Foundation is politically unaligned. If anybody can listen to that suggestion without laughing, there must be something wrong because it is clearly nothing short of a front for the Labour party.

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David PPS (Rt Hon Adam Ingram, Minister of State), Ministry of Defence

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there are members of Plaid Cymru in the Bevan Foundation?

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

Yes, and one member of Plaid Cymru asked for the annual accounts and was refused them. [Hon. Members: "Ah!"] The hon. Gentleman flew into that one. All I shall say is that a sample of 47 people is about as useful as a pair of paper socks, as it does not take us anywhere at all. The process is not scientific. I have heard programmes on which the hon. Gentleman has said about a political sample, "Oh, this is a sample of only 500; it is not indicative of anything." Well, 47 is not exactly persuasive. For all I know, some of the 47 had been in the pub that has been mentioned and were confused before they started. Who knows?

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that some of the narrative in the report is interesting? At one stage, it states that a substantial minority of respondents supported dual candidacy and commented that it was fair for people to have a second chance and that it gave voters a choice and spread power. The report says that it was regarded as part of the democratic system and essentially as not a problem. I hope that he will join me in the Lobby if we vote on the amendment.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

Absolutely. We are fixed in our view that the premise is unfair and that the case has simply not been made. I recall comments made by the Secretary of State, who is not present, about Sir James Arbuthnott and what would have happened if he had been aware of the Welsh scene. The hon. Lady dealt with that point, so I shall not repeat it, but I think that it was appalling to make such assertions in respect of a highly regarded academic such as Sir James. It was not proper to pray in aid such sneering remarks to try to put together a cogent and believable case—a case that has clearly not been made. The hon. Lady also referred to what was said in response to such assertions, which was definite and clear. We can forget about that strand of the argument in support of this specious and rather nasty change in electoral practice.

The Secretary of State has not been exactly forthcoming in giving good reasons to support the proposed change in the law and he was not very good on police amalgamations either. Both examples show an abject failure to advance a credible case. I have to ask this question: what is the point of the Electoral Commission? Why do we have one? What is the remit of the electoral commissioner and why was he recently reappointed to that remunerated office at public expense? I may be wrong, but I thought that the electoral commissioner was there to ensure safeguards and fair play for all involved in the political system, regardless of party allegiance.

We all know that the electoral commissioner is an even-handed and fair-minded man who dealt with all parties equally when he was involved in the broadcasting scene. His report is definite that there is no case for change, and it contains some strong remarks, including saying that that particular issue did not figure in the extensive research:

"We asked a whole series of questions and sought unprompted replies and this issue did not arise".

That ties in with my point. The report continues:

"what concerns us is that there is no evidence whatever in the White Paper to back up this proposal. There is no evidence at all to back up this proposal and therefore we came to the conclusion that we think that the case for change has not been made".

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

The hon. Gentleman has prayed in aid various people in Wales, including Glyn Mathias and Lord Richard, who has said that there

"is something wrong in a situation in which five people can stand in Clwyd, none of them can be elected, and then they all get into the Assembly. On the face of it that does not make sense".

Many people in Wales think that that does not make sense. What is the difference between what Lord Richard said and what Glyn Mathias said, and which one of them does the hon. Gentleman support?

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

It is a question of research and evidence. Lord Richard expressed his personal opinion before the Welsh Affairs Committee, but his report does not refer to the subject. Returning to my opening point, I find it strange that nobody raised the question in the 18 months of consideration, but that is by the by.

I will not labour the point with further quotations: suffice to say that Dr. Scully and Dr. Richard Wyn Jones from Aberystwyth have used strident language in stating that the measure looks like a purely party political move by the Labour party, and the evidence from Barry Winestrobe, reader in law at Napier university, is very clear, too. We did not receive any evidence in Committee, apart from the fabled Bevan Foundation report, and frankly we have not received any evidence today. In Committee, I asked the right hon. Member for Torfaen to bring the paperwork showing his constituents' concerns. I would not and do not doubt his word, but it would interesting to see some extrinsic evidence supporting the point made by Labour Members.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

I invite the hon. Gentleman to come to "The Mount" in Cwmbran on Friday night, where we can discuss the matter.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

That is a kind offer, and I must look at my diary—I may well be going on a fact-finding tour on Friday evening.

The change has not been proven to be necessary. It will benefit the Labour party and it will disadvantage all other parties. Dual candidature is acceptable in other countries—in some countries, people are expected to stand both in a constituency and on a list—but it has suddenly become wrong in Wales. It has probably become wrong in Wales because Labour Members have done the sums and realised that they will not get anywhere in the National Assembly without cooking the books. However, I tell them that even after cooking the books, they will not get anywhere in 2007.

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales 5:30 pm, 27th February 2006

We have heard Opposition Members claim that this measure is partisan, gerrymandering, rigged, fixed and so on, yet not one has been able to provide any evidence whatsoever.

Mr. Llwyd asked why the ban on dual candidacy will apply in Wales whereas other countries with the additional member system do not ban it. He has not done his research. It applies in Ukraine, which people seem to laugh at—[Laughter.] They laugh again. It also applies in Thailand and Mexico.

Very few countries have the additional member system, so there is not a great deal of evidence. Independent commissions in New Zealand and in Canada have raised substantial issues in relation to dual candidacy.

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales

No, because I have only six more minutes.

In New Zealand, public opinion research conducted by the independent review committee appointed to examine the electoral system found:

"One key criticism was that it was possible for MPs to be defeated in electorate contests but returned to the House through their position on the list."

In New Brunswick, the independent commission endorsed the ban on dual candidacy, saying:

"The Commission heard that in some jurisdictions where candidates are able to run simultaneously on both ballots, voters are displeased with the case where a candidate is not successful in a single member constituency, but is elected anyway by virtue of being placed on the top of a party's list."

That is some of the evidence that is available, but there is more. My right hon. Friend Mr. Murphy quoted Lord Richard on people not liking losers becoming winners. More than that, Lord Carlile, the predecessor of Lembit Öpik, said:

"I am sure that many in Wales will welcome . . . the removal of the absurd dual candidacy opportunity."—[Hansard, House of Lords, 15 June 2005; Vol. 672, c. 1217.]

What about a Conservative peer? Lord Crickhowell, the former Tory Secretary of State for Wales, said:

"The present arrangements are really pretty indefensible".—[Hansard, House of Lords, 15 June 2005; Vol. 672, c. 1216.]

A wide range of opinion across the political spectrum recognises that it is wrong.

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales

The hon. Lady is aware that I have to wind up by 5.36 pm. She had better be extremely brief, given that she spoke for more than half an hour.

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

That is because I feel strongly on the subject. I just wanted to quote some of the good people of Caerphilly, who say:

"It is good that people have more than one chance.";

"They should be free to stand in both ballots—that seems fair enough.";

"That means that the power is spread out which can make more of a difference in the end."

Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales

Absolutely. As my hon. Friend says from a sedentary position, they are in a minority. Does the hon. Lady want me to quote the others? For example:

"I think it is unfair . . . it's like people can sneak in the back door.";

"It doesn't seem right that they can stand for both somehow. Makes it too confusing for everyday people.";

"They should choose perhaps. They should have to decide.";

"You don't have two bites of the cherry."

Those are the quotes from the Bevan Foundation report that the hon. Lady did not use.

We had a good debate in Committee, where we spent more than two and a half hours discussing the matter. We have now debated it for a considerable time. Let me deal with some of the amendments briefly.

I urge my hon. Friends to oppose amendment No. 1. The ban on dual candidacy was a manifesto commitment and the amendment would reinstate the status quo. That means that dual candidacy and all that that entails would continue.

Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 and new clause 4 would also contradict the manifesto commitment, for which clause 7 provides, by allowing a candidate who has been elected to fill a constituency vacancy at a by-election to stand as both a constituency candidate and a regional list candidate at the subsequent general election. They go further and would enable candidates to stand on a regional list and in any constituency, even outside the region. That would not happen even under the current arrangements.

Amendment No. 2 would enable any candidate who was on a regional list to stay on it and fill a regional vacancy if one occurred. As drafted, it would even cover candidates whose return was void, but I take it that the intention was to cover those who decide to stand in a by-election. Voters clearly do not understand how defeated constituency candidates can be elected through the back door on their party's regional list. The new provision will restore voters' democratic right to reject a constituency candidate. That is as important as the right to elect a candidate but some hon. Members do not appear to appreciate that.

The current system undermines electoral confidence at a time when we need to increase voter turnout. The proposals would affect all parties equally, not least three members of the Assembly Cabinet who stand to lose their seats if there is a significant swing against them, with no parachute, which Conservative Members demand.

As I said, criticism of dual candidacy has come from across the political spectrum. I therefore ask Mrs. Gillan to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Cheryl Gillan Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

I have listened to the Under-Secretary and I disagree with him. He has not made his case and I should therefore like to press the amendment to a Division.

It being two hours after the commencement of proceedings on the programme motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [this day].

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 205, Noes 283.

Division number 172

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Deputy Speaker then proceeded to put the remaining Questions required to be put at that hour.