Clause 7 — Candidates at general elections

Government of Wales Bill (Programme) (No. 3) – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 18th July 2006.

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Votes in this debate

Lords amendment: No. 3.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, The Secretary of State for Wales

I beg to move, That this House
disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

I believe that the package of amendments that we present today forms the basis of a cross-party consensus to achieve Royal Assent before the summer. The Government have listened to debates in this House and particularly in the House of Lords, where some major amendments were tabled. We have sought agreement and I believe that we now have that on the composition of Assembly Committees. The d'Hondt formula is now, instead of being up front, very much a fall-back option and on the back burner. It is there if needed, but we hope that it will not be needed. We have also made concessions on the name of the audit committee and, importantly for all Opposition parties and—frankly speaking—for ourselves, on the membership of the Assembly commission.

The debate on the details of the Bill has been had, and I hope that the Conservatives will now join the other parties in Wales to make the new powers work, and not pursue old arguments. I thought that it was very apt of the former Plaid Cymru leader, Dafydd Wigley, to have told the Western Mail yesterday:

"I hope both sides can give and take. To prepare for what happens after next May, it is extremely important that the Bill gets through before the recess."

That is indeed important. There are important preparations to be made for the election and many orders to be laid in respect of the new internal architecture of the Assembly. The Assembly officials and others want to get on with that and, therefore, Royal Assent by next Tuesday is very important.

After that brief introduction, I shall now address the amendments specifically. I realise that the ban on dual candidacy is contentious with all Opposition parties, but it is a manifesto commitment. Our 2005 general election manifesto stated that we would

"prevent candidates from standing on both the list and in a constituency in order to make all candidates genuinely accountable to the electorate and to end Assembly Members being elected via the backdoor even when they have already been rejected by voters."

That is a clear commitment from a manifesto that we took to the country in May last year and on the basis of which we won a resounding victory, certainly in Wales and also in the rest of the country. It is a measure that this House considered at length and supported by a considerable majority earlier this year.

The proposals in clause 7 of the Bill, as originally drafted, will strengthen the integrity of the Assembly's electoral system and the legitimacy of regional Assembly Members. They will put the voters in charge by enabling them to reject a candidate who can currently get in through the back door despite being rejected by the voters in a constituency.

I appreciate that this issue has aroused strong feelings on both sides of the House and concerns have been expressed, but I wish to draw the attention of the House to the views of Lord Elis-Thomas the Presiding Officer of the Assembly since its establishment in 1999 and Plaid Cymru's former parliamentary leader. When asked recently by the BBC about his views on the dual candidacy ban, he said:

"every party has selected under the system which is in the Bill and that, to me, signals a bit of an hypocrisy to carry on fighting old battles, I find that quite boring. So my main battle now is to try and get the structure of the National Assembly under the new constitution and new bill in place for 2007 because I don't want people wasting time, whoever the Government is after 2007, by not being able to get things done."

He added that

"the debate and the arguments have been lost."

That is a significant statement. He continued:

"The politics has been lost. What I'm saying is that the big picture now is to get the Assembly established, and a new constitution, because what we have to do is to make it clear to the people of Wales that we have a new democratic opportunity. That is the most important way to challenge the Labour Party or any other party."

I would be the first to admit that I have not always agreed with the views of Lord Elis-Thomas in the past—and I do not necessarily agree with every word of that quotation— but I believe that on this occasion he was speaking with the best interests of the National Assembly and of Wales at heart. He was speaking in a non-partisan way. I know that he was not a supporter of the ban on dual candidacy, but he has moved on and it is important that the House also moves on.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

I agree entirely with what the Secretary of State said about the manifesto commitment and the fact that we are talking about something that the House of Commons has passed on numerous occasions. Does he agree that Lord Elis-Thomas is, of course, a member of the House of Lords and that he accepts, and his party accepts, in the House of Lords, that the supremacy remains in this Chamber and in the House of Commons?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, The Secretary of State for Wales

Indeed, although I am not seeking to deny that there have been real improvements to the Bill as a result of debates and arguments in the Lords and the amendments that have been moved there. There has been a constructive exchange, which has partly resulted in some of the important compromises that we have offered—not on dual candidacy, because that is a manifesto commitment. In line with the Salisbury convention, I hope that the House of Lords will respect that, because it is fundamental to the Bill and to the integrity of a new electoral system for the Assembly.

Lord Elis-Thomas knows better than many the work and the preparation that needs to be done to enable the Assembly to make a smooth transition next May to the new arrangements, with a separate Executive and legislature. He does not want that essential work to be delayed by arguments over what his fellow Assembly Member, the Liberal Democrat Peter Black, has described as a

"distraction from the real issues in the Bill."

The real issues in the Bill are, of course, primarily concerned with giving extra powers to the Assembly and also with making sure that it acts as a proper legislature with an Executive who are accountable to that legislature—rather than a rather amorphous corporate body that has not really stood the test of time.

Royal Assent before the recess is vital and I am grateful that Mrs. Gillan and Lembit Öpik have recognised the importance of that. The key immovable deadline that we face is the Assembly elections next May. Considerable consequential work is needed following Royal Assent and before the purdah period before the elections. That includes elections and disqualification orders, which need to be made in good time to set out clearly the basis on which all parties and candidates need to organise themselves and to allow adequate time for proper consultation with the Electoral Commission. The Bill includes a power for the Assembly to promote participation in and awareness of the elections—meeting an Electoral Commission recommendation. Clearly, there has got to be sufficient time for that.

Schedule 7 outlines the Assembly's ability to make primary legislation if there were to be a successful referendum. A key commitment is to fine-tune that and to bring forward an amendment order to ensure that it is complete and accurate before the elections next May so that everybody is clear about the new footing on which the Assembly will start. A considerable number of further orders are required—about 14—many of which are fundamental to the separation and include provisions for financing and staffing arrangements. They are critical when it comes to delivering the policy in the Bill, and have to be completed in good time before the next elections.

I hope that I have not taken too many liberties in explaining to the House the importance of getting Royal Assent by next Tuesday. If devolution is to continue to be a success, and the Assembly to help to improve the quality of people's lives in Wales, we need to move on—to go forward, not back. I urge Members to reject the Lords amendment and to disagree with the Lords on this matter.

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

First, may I welcome the Secretary of State to the Dispatch Box? It may be the hottest day of the year both here and in Wales, but he always looks as though he has been out in the sun rather a lot when he comes to the House to grace us with his presence, so it is obviously weather that he enjoys.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, The Secretary of State for Wales

Having a permatan does not prevent one from getting a cold.

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

The Secretary of State took the words out of my mouth. He appears to be suffering. I am sorry that he is having so much aggravation with his legislation, both here and in another place. Of course, it is not just this Bill that he is having a little local difficulty with. I understand that there are negotiations on the Northern Ireland legislation, which must be preoccupying him a great deal. We all sympathised with him earlier in the year when he had to pull the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill. It must always cause a great deal of difficulty in the office of the Secretary of State when legislation has to be withdrawn. [ Interruption. ] It was a pleasure to withdraw that piece of legislation—good, I am glad to hear that. We might be able to agree on that, but there is no doubt that we are not going to reach an agreement on dual candidacy. Notwithstanding any backroom deals that might have been done with other parties, we will continue to register our objections by opposing the provisions in principle. I think neither that the matter is boring, nor that it is something that we can just ignore.

It was always apparent from the way in which this aspect of the Bill was approached that a deal had been done—it was a deal between Cardiff and Whitehall—to keep Labour Assembly Members happy and dilute what they perceived to be real competition. In truth, it is competition that Labour Assembly Members cannot stand. The Secretary of State is quite right that various justificatory arguments for changing the electoral arrangements in Wales have been laid out by him, the Under-Secretary and Lord Davies of Oldham. However, it is worth having a look at them because I would not want to admit for one moment that the argument is lost. I think rather that the argument has been won, but that the Government have rolled on regardless.

First, we were told that the provision was a manifesto commitment. A manifesto commitment is a statement of intent, or even a wish. A party that was faced with the need to cling on to power by forming an alliance with another party—the Liberal Democrats, for example—would need to compromise on its manifesto commitments. Indeed, I believe that that has happened in Scotland.

The Labour party in Wales does not even need to enter into a coalition to give up on its manifesto commitments. Page 5 of its 2003 manifesto, "Working together for Wales", said that in the next Welsh Assembly term Labour would

"Scrap Home Care charges for disabled people".

However, on 15 February 2006, Dr. Gibbons, the Labour Minister for Health and Social Services, said:

"in view of all that we now know, it is clear that we cannot put in place our original plans equitably and affordably."

There we have a manifesto commitment that was easily put aside.

That was not even a one-off. "Ambitions for Wales", the Labour party's 2001 manifesto document, said:

"We will not introduce 'top-up' fees and have legislated to prevent them."

Of course, Labour broke that manifesto promise. It was only the Conservatives who forced the Labour party to remove those charges from Welsh students attending Welsh universities. The claim that manifesto pledges cannot be broken really does not hold water as a cohesive argument. Such pledges can be broken when it suits the Labour party.

Secondly, we are told that the system is confusing to the electorate and that we do not want losers to become winners. What nonsense is that? If the Labour party does not want losers to become winners, why has it admitted Baroness Jones of Whitchurch to the House of Lords today? If I remember correctly, she was the losing candidate in the Blaenau Gwent constituency in the general election. Labour Members say that they want losers to be losers and not to become winners, but I am afraid that that rings pretty hollow today. If the Labour party did not want losers to become winners, why did it introduce a list system at all? On the death or resignation of a sitting Member, the next person on the list—most arguably a loser—automatically moves into an elected position. The claim is paramount nonsense.

The electorate are confused not about dual candidacy provisions, but about the multiplicity of the voting systems that the Labour Government have introduced since 1997. We have the supplementary vote system for the London mayoral election, the proportional representation list system for European elections—except in Northern Ireland, where there is a different system—and indeed the single transferable vote system in Northern Ireland. I do not think that I need to go on. The multiplicity of the systems is confusing voters who have been used to first past the post. However, another change is proposed for Wales after only a short time.

What is the basis for the change? If it were based on fact, investigation, consultation or popular demand, I could understand it, but that is not the case. The only research that has been prayed in aid of the change is that of the Bevan Foundation. Despite the foundation's excellent credentials, that work was hardly its finest piece of research. Such a small, isolated, Labour-purchased report should hardly form the basis for electoral change. I have to tell the Secretary of State that I have received no letters from people demanding a change. I have heard no public outcry and have received no letters supporting the changes that he wants to make.

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

I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman who sponsored the research.

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

The hon. Lady has questioned the objective credentials of the Bevan Foundation on numerous occasions, but does she agree that it is significant that the Leader of the Opposition has contributed to its current review?

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

I was not casting aspersions on the Bevan Foundation—I was just saying that I doubt that it is happy, either with that small, imperfect piece of research or for it to be cited as the sole support for electoral change in Wales. The foundation has some excellent credentials, but that research is slightly lacking in my view and, I believe, in the hon. Gentleman's view, given his admission.

To justify the changes, the Secretary of State said that there is widespread, systematic abuse by regional Assembly Members. I have challenged him to produce evidence, as has Nick Bourne, the leader of the Conservative group in the Assembly. In a debate on this subject on 27 February, I asked the Secretary of State whether he had replied to letters that Nick Bourne had sent him on 4 November and 27 January. Since then, another letter was sent on 20 March. Of course, there is no evidence of abuse, which is why, I assume, the Secretary of State has not had the courtesy to respond to those letters. I am happy to give way to him if he would like to explain why he has not done so. Those letters are perfectly polite—if he would like to look at them, I have copies with me. It appears, however, that the allegations of abuse are another fabrication to try to justify the self-serving provision in the Bill.

There is a great deal of opinion against the introduction of such a system, which operates successfully only in Ukraine. The Electoral Commission was 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."

The Electoral Society Reform said:

"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."

During the Bill's passage through the House, we heard from the Arbuthnott Commission which, after 18 months of deliberation and discussion, following the submission of evidence, including verbal evidence, from a range of bodies and elected representatives at all levels, concluded that there was no evidence that dual candidacy was problematic for voters. Professor Sir John Arbuthnott said:

"Banning dual candidacy would, if you think about it, actually restrict voter choice and potentially diminish the quality of constituency contests."

The commission concluded that there was no case for change in Scotland, and there are no plans to introduce the system there. If it is not good enough for Scotland, why is it good enough for Wales? The Government have neither consulted on, nor examined, the changes in a responsible or thorough fashion. Indeed, in the 2006 annual report by the Wales Office, the Secretary of State said:

"The third commitment was to prevent candidates from standing on both the list and in a constituency in order to make all candidates genuinely accountable to the electorate. The Government believes that following two Assembly elections and experience of the Additional Members System there was a need to modify the system to prevent candidates from standing simultaneously in a constituency and on the regional list."

I assume that the reference to making "all candidates genuinely accountable" means that serving Assembly Members are not genuinely accountable. It means, too, that none of the list Members in Scotland, either before or after the next election for the Scottish Parliament, are genuinely accountable.

The Secretary of State is suggesting that there are two classes of Assembly Member. That is absolute rubbish, and it is not worth the paper it is written on. As I said, the Government have not consulted or examined the changes to the electoral system, or sought consensus. They have not respected the principles of the original devolution settlement in Wales but, as usual, they do things in Wales that suit Labour party politics. I will not support that course of action, so I urge my hon. Friends to agree with the Lords amendment and oppose the Government motion in the Lobby.

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

I apologise for being a little late for our debate.

The Assembly elections will be held in about 10 months' time. The Assembly has done many good things for the people of Wales, but I believe that turnout will be low, which is unfortunate for Wales and for democracy. One problem is that voting in elections is affected by the enormous publicity created by the media. Even at the general election, turnout was reduced. The great bulk of the Bill that we have discussed in recent months will not excite the people of Wales to increase turnout. People vote when their lives are directly affected by an issue, whether it is the health service, schools or local government. Constitutional issues are interesting for politicians, but I am not convinced that the people who elected me are as excited about them as we are in the Chamber.

I do not understand for one second the reasoning of Mrs. Gillan on our manifesto commitment. She cited an Assembly manifesto commitment, but it was not an Assembly commitment, but a manifesto commitment made by Welsh Members who stood for parliamentary election to the House of Commons. She said that we should not break our manifesto commitments, and reeled off a list of accusations, but she went on to suggest that we should break that commitment. That is nonsense.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Conservative, Monmouth

The right hon. Gentleman is far wiser and has more experience of the House than I, but according to that argument, during the 18 years in which the Conservatives held sway, he would not have dared to question anything that we included in our manifesto. If we did not question things in manifestos there would not be much point in our coming to the House.

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

I do not question the fact that Opposition parties should debate the manifesto of the winning party, but there comes a time when the upper House has to acknowledge that manifesto. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the Salisbury convention, and our manifesto could not have made the position clearer. We wanted to change the rules on the Assembly, and people voted on that change. The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham raised the issue of consultation—of course, those matters were discussed at the general election, and were extremely prominent in the run-up to that election. There was a party conference in Wales and those matters were discussed by newspapers and television companies—whatever their views on them.

The hon. Lady represents an English constituency, so she would not know about these things. However, when we travelled around our constituencies, we talked about those commitments, one of which was on the need to prevent the daft nonsense of dual candidacy. I would have gone much further than the Secretary of State in changing the electoral system in Wales, but that is an issue for another day. The hon. Lady is entirely right that the daft system for electing people to the European Parliament ought to be changed. The link between a Member of Parliament and the constituents whom they represent in the House of Commons is a jewel in the crown of our democracy. The added list needs to be looked at, but for all sorts of reasons we are not in a position to do that yet. At present we are abiding by that significant, obvious manifesto commitment to change the rules on dual candidacy.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs 6:00 pm, 18th July 2006

The right hon. Gentleman cites as the core element of his argument the rule that a manifesto commitment must not be broken. Can he confirm that he thinks it was utterly unacceptable for the Government to break their highly publicised manifesto commitment in 2001 not to introduce tuition top-up fees? The question is relevant, because there is no consistency in what the right hon. Gentleman claims his Government should do, and what the Government have done with regard to manifesto commitments.

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

I agree with what the manifesto stated about these issues. The hon. Gentleman and I argued about this some months ago in this place. It is not relevant to what we are discussing. What is relevant is that the House of Lords debated the matter, made the arguments clear and voted accordingly. The matter has come back to the House of Commons and it is now up to Labour Members to honour those manifesto commitments and to ensure that what the people of Wales clearly voted for is honoured by the Government.

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

The right hon. Gentleman protests too much about the Salisbury convention. Although the Liberal Democrats voted with us in the other place to produce the amendment that is presented for the House's scrutiny, and the vote was won by 133 to 114, I understand that a deal has been done with the Liberal Democrats whereby they will not challenge the House's decision in the other place, so they will not stand alongside us on a point of principle. Quoting the Salisbury convention is therefore almost pointless. Once a deal like that has been done, if the Liberal Democrats cannot stick to their guns, the Government will get their business.

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 am delighted to hear that both the Conservatives and the Labour party do not want to make winners out of losers. In the case that neither party gets an absolute majority at the next general election, I presume that they will not seek to impose their minority manifesto upon the country. In that context I was more than a little surprised to hear— [Interruption.] I think I hear the laughter of agreement from Mrs. Gillan.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Conservative, Monmouth

Can the hon. Gentleman assure us that if by any chance his party comes third, it will not seek to implement any of its manifesto on any of us?

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 irony is lost on David T.C. Davies, as usual. It is somewhat dog-in-the-manger to hear the bleating of democratic concern from Conservatives [Interruption.] I am about to say something about the Conservatives, not about Labour. Chris Ruane should not provoke me. He would not like me when I am angry.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. Although I am pleased to find such good humour among Members, perhaps we should concentrate on the debate.

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 was momentarily distracted, Madam Deputy Speaker, by the sheep noises from the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd. Hopefully, his support for rural policies will follow from that.

There is a degree of schizophrenia in the way that the Conservatives approach issues of democratic mandate, but perhaps that is a matter for another day. I am frustrated by the apparent about-turn made by Mr. Murphy, who has my considerable admiration and respect, but not when he picks and chooses the manifesto commitments that he thinks his Government should see through. He is quite willing to see the utter abandonment—the U-turn—on other manifesto commitments, such as on student top-up fees, when that suits him. Let us remember that the Government could not have been any clearer in 2001 about their opposition to introducing student top-up fees, and went on blatantly to break that commitment. When the right hon. Gentleman comes to use his manifesto promises on this occasion, he will understand why some of us are rather cynical about when and where Labour right hon. and hon. Members choose to support their Government.

The second point, which I make to the Secretary of State, is that the Government did not win the last general election. They got roughly a third of the vote. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] Hon. Members seem surprised by the mathematics of my claim. I think they will understand when I say that 35 per cent. support suggests to me that 65 per cent. of people voted against their proposition. Even in Wales, a majority of voters voted against the Government's manifesto, so they cannot realistically cite in defence of their proposal—any proposal—the claim that a majority of people in Wales voted for their manifesto commitment.

The amendment tabled by the Conservatives and ourselves reversed the Government's attempt to ban dual candidacy, for the reasons that we have discussed many times, some of which have been repeated by the Conservative spokesperson this afternoon. The amendment maintains the electoral status quo, with Assembly Members able to stand simultaneously for a constituency seat and on the list.

The Liberal Democrats have always maintained that the dual candidacy debate, which has attracted the most attention in the media of all the issues relating to the Bill, is not the single most important issue. It is, in a sense, a secondary procedural issue which has attracted a disproportionate amount of attention. The Bill is fundamentally about devolution and the extent and quality of the powers handed down to the Assembly. Nevertheless, since we are debating it and the Secretary of State is inviting us to rehearse the arguments again, let us recall briefly why there has been opposition to what he and the Labour Government seek to do.

The Clwyd, West problem is something of a red herring. The Government White Paper stated that the current arrangement for dual candidacy

"devalues the integrity of the electoral system in the eyes of the public and acts as a disincentive to vote in constituency elections", presumably because candidates who lose constituency elections can become Assembly Members via the list. However, the Electoral Reform Society commented:

"It has been almost universally agreed that there is little evidence" to back up the Government's claims.

In her submission to the Welsh Affairs Committee, Kay Jenkins, Head of Office at the Electoral Commission, said:

"There is no evidence that the Clwyd West so-called problem has had any impact on voter participation. . . We have got a very extensive body of research on what makes people vote and not vote across Britain and particularly specifically in Wales, and it is on that basis that we say it is not an issue we could say has ever been raised with us."

In their evidence to the Committee, Dr. Roger Scully and Dr. Richard Wyn Jones from the university of Aberystwyth cited a study that they had done. They said:

"The total number of people who mentioned anything at all as a reason for not voting in 2003 in our sample was 2; that is out of more than 500 who said they did not vote."

Let us remember that the Welsh Affairs Committee was split strongly along party lines on the matter and voted 5 to 4 to back the Government's stance. My hon. Friend Mark Williams voted against the Bill's proposals, as did the three Conservative members. There are no points for guessing the party affiliation of those who voted for it.

Faced with all that powerful evidence to suggest that the Government are pursuing their proposal for party interest rather than democratic interest—

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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 a moment. I was about to say that we have one robust piece of research from Mr. David, which we will hear about after the break.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

The hon. Gentleman says there is massive evidence and cited two people out of 500 who did not vote. What evidence does he have for the assertion that he keeps making—on Second Reading and subsequently—that the Labour party will benefit in Wales? He has none, so why does he keep repeating that it is acting for party political interests? He quotes evidence to back one argument, but he keeps asserting another for which he has no evidence.

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 reason is fairly obvious to all of us on the Opposition Benches and, I suspect, to a number of members of the Labour party. The reason is that the present electoral mathematics would make it, as far as we can see, attractive to Labour Members to try and separate the list from the constituencies. [Interruption.] Members just saying from a sedentary position that that is not the case does not alter my perception that it is the case. [Interruption.] Well, it is a perception; that is what I believe is going on.

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 I am a very perceptive individual, as my hon. Friend perceptively points out.

Having said that, let me respond to the plea for information by Albert Owen by citing the one piece of research that we have discussed in defence of the change. It comes from the hon. Member for Caerphilly. His research has been discredited as hardly scientific, but it is laudable that he still clings to the morsels of hope that it provides for his conscience in respect of seeing that this change needs to be made.

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

The hon. Gentleman refers to the research as my research. Does he not accept that it was conducted by an independent think-tank?

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

If the hon. Gentleman had reread a debate that we had in the past it would save me a lot of time in highlighting why we think that his research is desperately flawed. Indeed, I have little doubt that that research will go on to prove that he is the greatest politician who ever stood—in Caerphilly—and that Labour is the greatest party ever to represent Wales. [Interruption.] The sheeplike noises from Labour Members back up that assumption. My point is that that was the only research that we heard in defence of the change.

The final defence for the change, which we heard from the Secretary of State, is that the current electoral arrangements have been subject to, in his words,

"systematic abuse for party advantage by Opposition parties".

He must acknowledge that the Electoral Reform Society—which does not have a party interest in supporting one system or another—said that

"a ban on dual candidacy will not provide a solution to this dilemma—whether or not they are permitted to stand as constituency candidates, there is nothing to stop list candidates from targeting particular constituencies on behalf of their parties."

The ERS concludes:

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

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

Would the hon. Gentleman also like to acknowledge that even if the Secretary of State could not reply to the letters from Nick Bourne, the leader of the Conservatives in the Welsh Assembly, he did reply to Rhodri Morgan, under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, in respect of producing any evidence of the alleged abuse of positions by regional Members of the National Assembly for Wales? On 25 April, the reply came that the Government had not been able to uncover any such information. No evidence whatever of any abuse has been brought forward. Therefore, they are basing these electoral changes on a false premise.

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 have to admit that I agree with the hon. Lady. That serves to underline the reason behind my response to the hon. Member for Caerphilly and others: they have failed to provide a plausible intellectual or objective defence of the change that they wish to make.

I ask the Secretary of State one last time to reconsider. Trying to make this change has not been the Government's finest hour. Whether or not they admit that, they must accept that the perception is that this is being done out of party political interest, and it is beyond us why they continue to pretend that it will go the slightest way towards preventing targeting by one party of a constituency held by another.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government's proposals would not stop a successful list candidate in one election targeting a constituency for the next election? These proposals do not prevent that from happening.

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

My hon. Friend is completely right.

There is a final piece of good news. If the Government's intentions are sincere, they will ensure that Labour Members who represent one constituency will not be actively involved in trying to win constituencies around their own. But of course we know that that will not happen; we know that in the competition of British politics, parties will attempt to gain seats from each other, because that is how politics in this country works. When the Secretary of State used in defence of the change the argument that it would make it more difficult to do that, he was ignoring one political reality above another. The argument on this entire matter has not been persuasively made, and I hope that, even at this late stage, the Government might think again.

Photo of Don Touhig Don Touhig Labour, Islwyn

I apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for missing his opening remarks; it took me a little while to arrive in the Chamber once I saw that our business had started.

Devolution is still a confusing and divisive issue in Wales. Although the National Assembly for Wales has been in place for more than seven years, much work still needs to be done to convince people of its worth. My right hon. Friend Mr. Murphy said on Second Reading on 24 January that when scrutinising any legislation before this House we must make full use of the Splott market test: how will that legislation affect the person shopping in Splott market on a Sunday? I apply the Blackwood high street test in much the same way. Seven years on, it is my belief that if we were to ask people their views on the Assembly's electoral system, a great many of them would say, "confused." They are confused by it. Why is it, they ask, that people who are soundly beaten in a straightforward first-past-the-post election can then guarantee themselves a place in the top-up on the party list system?

We have heard much wailing and gnashing of teeth from Opposition parties about winners and losers; looking around this Chamber, it is clear that we have a record of winning and they have a record of losing. For all the Opposition parties' arguments, it is surely unfair that a person—such as the leader of the Tories or the Liberal Democrats in the Assembly—who has been rejected by the electorate in a constituency in the direct election can then gain a place at the top of the top-up list and find themselves in the National Assembly. Indeed, I understand that they can then call themselves alternative AMs for the constituency that they represent. That is a bizarre practice, which I am told has the support of the Presiding Officer.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Conservative, Monmouth 6:15 pm, 18th July 2006

The hon. Gentleman has a point, but although that is a bizarre practice it is a fault of the proportional representation system itself. Why does he not have the courage to come out and say that PR is a bad electoral system, instead of making subtle changes that will not prevent the situation he has described?

Photo of Don Touhig Don Touhig Labour, Islwyn

The hon. Gentleman and I might find ourselves in some agreement about PR, but that is perhaps a matter for another day.

People ask why it is that the party with the largest share of the vote in the top-up—the Labour party got 36.6 per cent. of the vote in the top-up at the last Assembly elections—is denied any seats as a result of that. My own view, for what it is worth, is that we should separate the first-past-the-post system from the top-up system so that the results truly reflect the wishes of the electorate.

It is a matter of some regret to me that the Bill does not do that. However, I accept that my Front-Bench colleagues have to gain the broadest possible consensus on a constitutional Bill of this nature, and although I believe that my proposals are right, they certainly would not produce a consensus—but then I have never been a consensus politician. The fundamental issue is how we can make this system more effective and more just. I believe that the amendment that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has tabled to overturn the Lords amendment is right, and it has my full support.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Conservative, Monmouth

I am one of the people who Lembit Öpik referred to earlier: I voted and campaigned against the Welsh Assembly and I make absolutely no apologies for doing so. [Interruption.] In response to more noises from Labour Back Benchers, let me say that—as with members of Plaid Cymru, who are sitting in a Parliament whose location is perhaps not of their choosing, and members of the Liberal Democrat party, who have fought many elections under a voting system that they do not necessarily agree with—it is right that Conservatives who had opposed the Welsh Assembly were more than happy to accept it as a reality on the ground and to work constructively to try to ensure that it delivered stability for Wales. Seven years down the line however, it comes as something of a surprise to all of us that, instead of looking at why the voting turnout is not what it should be, the Government have decided to push through a subtle, but very sneaky, change to the electoral system.

In a very worthy speech, Mr. Touhig decried the overall system of proportional representation and pointed out that it means that people who have not gained the confidence of the majority of an electorate in a given constituency can nevertheless sit as Members of this institution. Mr. Murphy made a similar point, and I have to say that I have a great deal of sympathy with that view. I do not believe in the PR system. I happen to agree with him that a Member's representing first and foremost the people who vote for him, rather than the political party that put him there, is indeed the jewel in the crown of our electoral system. But I then have to ask Labour Members why, if they believe that, they propose a subtle change to an electoral system that will allow the overall principle to continue, instead of having the political courage to come out and say, "We don't believe in proportional representation. We are going to scrap it completely and have either one or two Members elected to each constituency in Wales."

That would be an intellectually honest approach for Members who do not like the PR system to take. [Interruption.] I am quite happy to take interventions. But instead, those Members propose a change so subtle that very few people will understand it. This is where I begin to diverge from the right hon. Member for Torfaen, because the reality is that virtually nobody will complain that they wanted not this PR system, but another one. We are used to receiving hundreds of letters from our constituents about a variety of things—from the situation in the middle east to whether bears should be used in circuses—but I can honestly say that in my one year as a Member of this place, and in seven as a Member of the Welsh Assembly, I have not received a single letter suggesting that the current PR system is wrong and should be amended. Nobody has ever come up to me in the street and suggested that the system should be changed. I have heard many people, some from my own association, say, "Scrap PR altogether," but I have never heard anyone suggest that this subtle change to the system will make any difference to voter turnout or anything else.

So one has to ask why the Government are going ahead with this proposal, and the answer is that, yes, they are going to derive a straightforward political advantage from doing so. They know perfectly well that the minority parties benefit from the PR top-up system, so it is those parties—the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Conservative party—that will be most disadvantaged by the change that the Government are pushing through, and which they know very few people will understand. I am afraid that some of the reasons that they have come up with for the change—I tried to make a note of some of them—are absolutely pathetic. I have heard it said that AMs do not like regional Assembly Members competing with them in their constituencies, but those who say that seem not to have grasped the simple fact that, even if this change is made, regional Assembly Members will still be able to open an office in, and put up a sign in, the constituencies of existing Labour AMs, and some will still do so. If Labour AMs are doing their job properly, they will have absolutely nothing to fear from regional AMs.

The regional AM for South Wales East—the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Welsh Assembly, no less—has often tried to portray himself as the AM for Monmouth. That never bothered me in the slightest, and do you know why, Madam Deputy Speaker? Because everyone would scratch their heads on reading his leaflets and wonder who the hell this bloke was who was pretending to be the AM for Monmouth, when they all thought that it was me. Such behaviour reflected rather badly on those people. If directly elected AMs are doing their job properly, they have nothing to fear from regional AMs who would like to think that they represent a constituency.

We have heard it said that it is unfair that a directly elected AM should have to contest an election against somebody who has already been doing the job for a couple of years, and who has been pretending to be the AM for the area. What this amounts to is that the Labour party, which has enjoyed a political monopoly in Wales for decades, is just a little upset at the fact that it is losing the advantage of incumbency. Instead of fighting against candidates who do not have all the advantages of sitting AMs or MPs, they are fighting against those who, to some extent, have the same opportunities and the same access to offices and leaflets, and they do not like it. They do not like competition on an equal basis.

The Government are pushing through a change that they know will mean that regional AMs will be in direct competition with members of their own party who are standing for the constituency seat. That is why this change will undermine the minority parties. The Government know the game and they do not want us to explain it, but we all know that the reality is that a regional AM will suddenly find themselves in direct competition with a colleague from their own party who is standing for the constituency in question. That is why the Government are pushing through this change. They can smile and laugh, because they know that most people will be lost when the change is explained to them. They know that the man on the Pontypool omnibus—if there are such things any more; that is perhaps a debate for another time, but thanks to the cuts, many such services are disappearing —[Interruption.]

Photo of David Davies David Davies Conservative, Monmouth

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am not going to talk about the No. 73 omnibus that runs between Chepstow and Cwmbran, because that one is disappearing as well. But the fact is that nobody on any of the few omnibuses that are left in Wales is talking about the need to change the PR system in the way that this Government propose. Tonight, they want to use their majority to push through a profoundly undemocratic change to the electoral system. I urge those decent members of the Labour party to forget about their party Whips, for once, to think about what is good for democracy in Wales, to reject what their Government are trying to do, and to support the Lords amendments tonight.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

It is always a pleasure to follow David T.C. Davies, with whom I agreed on a couple of points. However, there is no party political advantage to this proposal. The Opposition parties have had opportunities on Second and Third Reading, on Report and in the Lords to come up with evidence that this proposal will lead to a party advantage for Labour, but they have failed to do so.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Conservative, Preseli Pembrokeshire

The hon. Gentleman sat through, and read the evidence sessions of, the Welsh Affairs Committee, and he will have heard the Electoral Commission say that, regardless of whether this change will lead to a measurable party advantage, the mere perception of a partisan advantage is enough to undermine faith and trust in the democratic process. We have heard a lot of talk this evening about trying to achieve cross-party consensus, but through this proposal the Government have set their face against consensus.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

I hate to correct the hon. Gentleman on facts and detail, but I was not a member of the Welsh Affairs Committee and I did not participate in that evidence session. I did read the report of that session, but I did not agree with it. Reference was made to perceptions, but what we need to talk about is facts and how we are going to move the Bill forward.

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

If the hon. Gentleman wants to talk about facts, he has only to look at the vote that took place in the Assembly. The casting vote by the presiding officer, who had to vote in the way that he did, was the only reason why the motion was carried—it was all the Labour party AMs against the rest. What more evidence could there be of a partisan Labour position?

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention and I am very glad that my Labour colleagues in the Assembly agree with the Labour party in Wales. We stood on a very firm manifesto commitment. My Front-Bench colleagues will be very happy to know that I carry my copy of the manifesto with me and read it in great detail. This is a very serious issue, and on page 108 of the manifesto, there are three very clear statements about our intention to introduce the Government of Wales Bill.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

We have had very unclear statements from the Opposition, so it is right that I read out those statements before giving way. The first says:

"In a third term we will legislate for a stronger Assembly with enhanced legislative powers."

Some Opposition Members disagreed with that idea during our debates and that is fine, but that is what our manifesto states. The second statement is:

"We will improve the accountability of Ministers by ending the confusing corporate status of the Assembly".

So it is very clear that that is what we are going to do, and we have the support of this House. These days, I am far more diplomatic than the Secretary of State on such issues. I understand that we have these debates, and I am not really worried about this legislation, but I am proud that we are standing by our manifesto commitments. One cannot get much clearer than the third statement:

"Alongside the changes we will prevent candidates from standing on both the list and in a constituency in order to make all candidates genuinely accountable to the electorate and to end Assembly Members being elected via the backdoor even when they have already been rejected by voters."

That is a very clear commitment and I stand by it. When I discussed the Assembly on the doorsteps of Ynys Môn, that very issue did arise, and I intend to vote with the Government.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs 6:30 pm, 18th July 2006

Does the hon. Gentleman therefore oppose the appointment to another place of candidates who obviously lost in the elections in Wales? Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, is the hon. Gentleman really expecting us to believe that the Labour party voted for the proposed change, while all the other parties voted against, because it wanted to help all the other parties and thought of no particular benefit whatsoever for the Labour party?

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

Those two points do not relate to the clause. I think that the hon. Gentleman leads with his chin. I do not agree with the House of Lords per se. It is an unelected Chamber and I hope that I have the opportunity in this Parliament to vote for a democratic Chamber in the other place. That is where I stand on the House of Lords. As I have said, the hon. Gentleman leads with his chin because one of his colleagues is sitting in the Gallery, someone who has been rejected on several occasions by the electorate of north Wales. I do not think that that person or any others should be in the House of Lords. That is my answer to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. First, it is not in order to refer to whoever might be in the Gallery. Secondly, let us now concentrate on the amendment.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. I could not resist referring to the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party in Wales.

Photo of Don Touhig Don Touhig Labour, Islwyn

Does my hon. Friend agree that if the Liberal Democrats did not have a host of rejected parliamentary candidates, they would not have anybody in the House of Lords?

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

I shall keep with the amendment that is before us. However, I agree with my hon. Friend.

Our manifesto stated clearly what we were going to do and I am proud that we have adhered to that. However, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is perhaps too diplomatic with regard to the status of the House of Lords. We know the position. We have had great debates on Second Reading and Third Reading, and we have carried the measure through with a huge majority. Now, the House of Lords—no one has elected its members—feels that it can overturn our decisions. This is a constitutional issue. I believe that the Salisbury convention should be adhered to and that Opposition Members should not support the other place. Instead, they should vote for democracy. They should vote in accordance with the Labour party manifesto, Labour being the largest party in this place. We are entitled to govern on our manifesto.

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

Mr. Murphy did not on this occasion pray in aid the piece of research from Splott market. We had an exchange on that during previous proceedings. The right hon. Gentleman said that he had discussed the matter in a few pubs in his constituency. He was asked questions about time and so on, but we will not go into that now. Suffice it to say that, on any objective view, I do not believe that there is any evidence upon which the change can seriously be put to us. Opposition Members know that, despite the sterling efforts of Mr. David and the fantastic ground-breaking piece of research that he commissioned—it was not persuasive, but ground-breaking nevertheless—we have not been presented with very much.

The right hon. Member for Torfaen said that he never did deals. For someone who has been in high office in the north of Ireland, that is difficult to understand. However, I am sure that, as always, he is telling the truth. However, a deal was struck for the proposal to go through between the anti-devolution Labour party and the pro-devolutionists. That is what it is all about. It is a piece of red meat to keep those who are against further devolution happy. That may or may not be relevant to the debate.

We had a sterling speech, if a little ex-cathedra, from Mr. Touhig. It was interesting in that he showed that he does not want to see anybody else getting elected in Wales other than Labour candidates. I believe that that is his true position. At least he is honest enough to say it, and I respect that.

I will not go through the evidence again because time is short and there are other important issues that we must discuss. However, I will touch briefly on one or two matters now. When the Secretary of State opened the debate he said that the Queen must give Royal Assent to the Bill at some time between now and Tuesday. The right hon. Gentleman detailed why that must be so, and I am sure that everything he said was right. He said that over the coming weeks and months there will need to be several references to the Electoral Commission for discussions and, if necessary, to vary regulations. On two occasions during his opening speech he prayed in aid the Electoral Commission. Why then was the electoral commissioner, Glyn Mathias, roundly ignored when he said that he thought that the proposal would be a partisan move and that there was no evidence to support it? Glyn Mathias commented on the research that the commission had undertaken. He said:

"This issue did not figure in that research. We asked a whole series of questions and sought unprompted replies and this issue did not arise...what concerns us is that there is no evidence whatever in the White Paper to back up this proposal...therefore, we came to the conclusion that we think that the case for change has not been made."

This is the same Electoral Commission that will be busy in the coming weeks and months when the Bill is enacted. In this instance it was roundly ignored on an important part of the Bill.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will recognise the booklet that is in my hand—the Arbuthnott report. It reached the same conclusion and found that there was no evidence to suggest that this was an issue for the public. In fact, Arbuthnott went further and suggested that dual candidacy was anti-democratic. Perhaps the difference between Arbuthnott and the Richard commission was that Arbuthnott was a cross-party document and was consensual, whereas the Richard commission was a Labour party inspiration which was there only to serve the Labour party.

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

I differ slightly from what the hon. Gentleman says about Lord Richard. I think that Lord Richard did a sterling piece of work and I would not level a charge of partisanship at him. However, I take the hon. Gentleman's point. The Arbuthnott conclusions were quite different.

I will not refer to the various academics who have been referred to at length in previous discussions, including Dr. Richard Wyn Jones and readers from the Napier university. As far as is known, the only other system that embodies the system that we are talking about introducing in Wales was in pre-revolution Ukraine. If we want to adhere to standards such as that, all well and good, but I ask must ask again where one might find the evidence for this change in the law? I cannot see it. Other hon. Members have referred to the Electoral Reform Society. There is a welter of evidence against the proposed change. The only thing in favour of it is the rather scant piece of research commissioned by the hon. Member for Caerphilly. The Government have brought the proposal before the House and have found that the only evidence to support it was commissioned by a Back-Bench Member of Parliament halfway through the proceedings. That is not persuasive.

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

The hon. Gentleman refers to the Electoral Reform Society as if it did not have an agenda. It clearly has an agenda, and that is why it is putting forward the views that it is.

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

In the document before me, it says that

"the Electoral Commission is an independent body established by the UK Parliament in 2000 by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act. We are independent of the UK Government and political parties, and are directly accountable to Parliament."

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

This will go down as probably the most partisan change in the law in the last five years. Hon. Members may laugh because they are content with it; they know that it will assist them, so why should they not laugh about it? But others in different parties, others of no political affiliation and other academics throughout Britain and beyond have looked at this and come to the same conclusion. It is a partisan way of proceeding, and that is what we are arguing about. I do not say that it would necessarily benefit my party unduly, or indeed anybody else's, but it will benefit the Labour party, and that is why I am concerned about it. It is all very well referring to the Salisbury convention, but this is a bad piece of law that we are debating. It is partisan. I shall not refer to the other quotations.

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

Will the hon. Gentleman answer this simple question: how on earth will it benefit the Labour party?

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

That has already been explained fully. [Interruption.] How many times do hon. Members want to hear it? We have heard it from both sides of the House. Suffice it to say that my belief is that it will benefit the Labour party. It is not me saying so, but Dr. Scully, Dr. Wyn Jones and Dr. Weinstrob. I could go on—Sir John Arbuthnot. There are plenty of people to whom we could refer. Those people are entirely without political connection, and they have reached that conclusion.

This matter will be put to a vote, I believe on a matter of principle. I do not want to see the rest of the Bill being delayed, but this is a bad clause and the Lords are right in their conclusion on this part of the Bill at least.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, The Secretary of State for Wales

I was gently rebuked by my hon. Friend Albert Owen for being too diplomatic in my introduction, but I reassure him that I have been severely provoked this evening by the Opposition's contributions. Mrs. Gillan seems to question the Salisbury convention. She seems to pay no attention to that convention, under which, for generations, the unelected House of Lords defers to a manifesto commitment of the governing party in the elected House of Commons—a point ably made by my right hon. Friend Mr. Murphy. She seems to dismiss this. I do not know whether it is a new Conservative party policy—a party that had just 30 per cent. of the vote—that the House of Lords should be able to trample over all the manifesto commitments of the governing party, elected by the people to form the Government of this country. I disagree with her, because therein lies a recipe for constitutional confusion.

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

It is not a question of rubbishing, ignoring or talking down the Salisbury convention; it is just that the right hon. Gentleman has done a deal with the Liberal Democrats, so the arithmetic adds up in his favour. It is as simple as that.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, The Secretary of State for Wales

I would have been happy to do a deal with the hon. Lady, if she had shown the same support for the principle of devolution in the Bill as the Liberal Democrats, who in particular have the interests of Wales at heart, rather than the interests of narrow party concerns. I am surprised that she refers to us dumping manifesto commitments. The Leader of the Opposition almost daily dumps commitments from the election manifesto on which he and the hon. Lady were elected just over a year ago.

Mention has been made of Ukraine. The truth is that this issue has become controversial right across the globe, from Canada to New Zealand, not simply Ukraine. That evidence has been given at length in earlier debates in the House. I am asked for evidence. In the interests of brevity, I did not quote the evidence because it has all been quoted before, but I have a fistful of quotes and evidence, from Lord Carlile of Berriew, the former leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, speaking in the House of Lords on 15 June, and from Lord Richard, the chair of the Richard commission, in testimony to the Welsh Affairs Committee on 25 October. This is about Wales, but mention has been made of Scotland, so let us look at Scotland. The former Liberal Democrat Presiding Officer of the Scottish Assembly castigated the abuse of the system, saying that it had been thoroughly abused, and that was despite the code of conduct in Scotland, which we do not have in Wales. I could carry on providing all the evidence: there is the evidence of the chief of staff of the Scottish Liberal Democrats andof the leader of the Assembly Conservative group, on 14 June and again on 15 June. I could also quote some academic evidence.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, The Secretary of State for Wales

I just want to carry on with this point. A fistful of evidence has been presented during the debates in both Houses, but particularly in this House. I do not want to detain the House by repeating it all, although I am happy to do so if provoked. I do not know whether the hon. Lady wants to provoke me.

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

I am certainly not trying to promote the Secretary of State, who is clearly struggling. [Hon. Members: "Promote?"] No, provoke. I certainly would not want to promote him, although I think that he would like to promote himself. The right hon. Gentleman made some obtuse remarks about what is happening in other countries. In Italy and Denmark, and in some regions of Germany, double candidacy is expressly required, and candidates have been permitted to run both in constituencies and in lists in Germany, New Zealand, Japan, Hungary and Russia, all of which have had mixed Member systems running since the 1990s. Therefore the throwaway line that the system is not used in other countries is not entirely accurate, and that is from the Electoral Commission's report.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, The Secretary of State for Wales

The hon. Lady obviously did not listen to what I was saying. I said that the issue had arisen and that great concern had been expressed right across the globe.

Then the hon. Lady asks where in Wales the concern has arisen. I will tell her. I, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, and my right hon. and hon. Friends, have had meetings up and down the country. At those meetings there was more burning anger among the public on this issue than on anything else. There was strong feeling about the need to put the voters in charge. That is the fundamental democratic principle at stake here.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, The Secretary of State for Wales

I will give way in a moment.

The voters should be in charge. If the voters kick somebody out in the constituency, why should that person pop up on the list and be elected? That is not the voters in charge; that is the party manipulating the system. In almost every case, those whom voters rejected in the constituencies in 1999 and 2003 popped up on the regional lists. That is why we are asserting the basic principle of parliamentary democracy that the voters are boss. If the voters reject somebody, they should not be elected by the back door. People do not understand how on earth that can happen and that is why we are correcting this widespread abuse. I say abuse, because it is not just a matter of principle, it is the fact that time and again we have seen regional list Members abusing the system by coming into constituencies claiming to be the elected Members for those constituencies when they are not. A Plaid Cymru Assembly Member has presented a dossier on how to manipulate the situation in the interests of her party, and that has been referred to at length in the House. I could go on and on, so I will allow David T.C. Davies to intervene to provoke me further.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Conservative, Monmouth

Many of us here are astounded that at these many meetings that the Secretary of State attended there was so much anger about a proportional representation voting system, yet nobody mentioned the health service, the council tax or the lack of dentists. He said that there was more anger about this matter than anything else. Is he living on the same planet as the rest of us?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, The Secretary of State for Wales

The hon. Gentleman is a vocal but junior Member of the House. I was talking about consultation on the devolution Bill, on what should go into it, on the policy that should fulfil our party commitments following the Richard commission's report. At those meetings, people wanted to discuss the detail of what might transpire in a Bill to follow the recommendation of the Richard commission, which would command support across the House. That issue was one of the most strongly felt—indeed, there was bitter anger up and down Wales. Look at the situation in Clwyd, West, where the sitting Labour Member defeated all the other candidates, who all got elected nevertheless.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn has said, the Labour party will be equally hit by the provision, which will not benefit any party in particular. When we asked for evidence of how it could possibly benefit the Labour party, the hon. Member for Monmouth and others changed their tune and began to talk about perception. We want evidence: where is the evidence that the Labour party could benefit by putting the voters in charge?

I am grateful for the support of my hon. Friend Mr. Touhig, despite the fact that he has never pretended to be an enthusiast for more and more powers for the Assembly. He has worked with me honourably and with great influence in framing the Bill, for which I am grateful. I secretly sympathise with his advocacy of a first-past-the-post system, but if we were to introduce one in this Bill, we would hear even louder complaints of abuse.

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

If the Secretary of State and the Government are so concerned about giving voters a choice, will they consider creating open lists? That would allow the electorate to vote for an individual rather than a party that then appoints an individual. Without being party political, that would be a rational and reasonable step forward, although I accept that it is not included in the legislation that we are discussing today.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, The Secretary of State for Wales

No; I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman and do not propose to introduce such a provision at this late stage, especially given the consultation across Wales.

In conclusion, the basic point of the Government's position is that the voters should be in charge, not the parties, and that losers should not become winners. Why are the Opposition parties so scared of having to make a choice between standing in a constituency or standing on a regional list? The voters expect candidates to make that choice, and the integrity of the system will be increased by it, especially because at least six sitting Labour Members will be "penalised"—if that is the word—along with other party members. In my view, however, no one will be penalised; indeed, I think that the voters will win.

I welcome the point made by Lord Elis-Thomas, the Presiding Officer of the Assembly, who has said that the argument has been won—he has recognised the reality—and both former leaders of Plaid Cymru have made the same point. We need Royal Assent for the Bill before the end of the Session, and I hope that nobody will seek to frustrate that ambition and that the Government's position will be carried tonight.

Question put, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 294, Noes 213.

Division number 291 Government of Wales Bill (Programme) (No. 3) — Clause 7 — Candidates at general elections

Aye: 294 MPs

No: 213 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment disagreed to.