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Clause 2 — Removal of restriction on standing for election for both constituency — and electoral region

Wales Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 24th June 2014.

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Votes in this debate

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (Wales) 4:15 pm, 24th June 2014

I beg to move amendment 13, page 1, line 9, leave out clause 2.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 14, in clause 28, page 30, line 19, at end insert “except section 2”.

Amendment 15, in page 30, line 37, at end insert—

‘(8) Part 1, section 2, comes into force when a Welsh Government Minister has laid a report before the National Assembly for Wales containing a statement to the effect that the

Welsh Government, with regard to the electoral arrangements of the National Assembly for Wales, is content with fairness of those arrangements.’.

Government amendments 6 and 7.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (Wales)

Amendment 13 would remove a clause which would make it possible for people to stand both on the regional list and in the constituency. A bizarre argument is put forward in favour of dual candidacy—if dual candidacy is not allowed, the smaller parties in Wales may struggle to find sufficient candidates of any quality—but if such parties expect the electorate to take them seriously as parties that could help form a Government in Wales, they need to demonstrate that they can find enough additional candidates to field on each of the five regional lists.

Could this problem of finding candidates be something to do with which parties we are talking about and what they believe in? Could it be that young people in Wales are not rushing to put themselves forward as Conservative candidates because they know that the Conservative party in Westminster abolished the educational maintenance allowance, while the Labour Welsh Government have retained it, or because the Conservative Government here did away with Labour’s future jobs fund, whereas the Labour Welsh Government have launched a similar programme, Jobs Growth Wales, focusing on the private sector? There is also the issue of university tuition fees.

Could it be that people are not coming forward as candidates for Plaid Cymru because they do not want an independent Wales, or because they do not want to support cutting tax for the better off, as Plaid Cymru’s economic adviser, Adam Price, has confirmed is its policy? People have realised that Plaid Cymru is not the progressive party it pretends to be, but a reactionary party.

Perhaps people do not want to put themselves forward as Lib Dem candidates as they are somewhat confused. One minute we hear that the Lib Dems are in favour of a reserved powers model, yet we struggled to see any of them in the Lobby with us, supporting our amendment. I am not sure where they are now.

People simply do not like to think that they have bothered to go out to vote, only to find that although their preferred candidate won, the candidate or candidates they rejected also got in. We all remember the Clwyd West scenario where the Labour candidate won the constituency—

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Culture and Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution)

What advice has the hon. Lady had from her colleagues in Scotland on this issue, given that they are now almost totally dependent on the list for their membership in the Scottish Parliament and have reviewed their whole attitude towards dual candidacy? It is a democratic good, according to Scottish Labour.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (Wales)

I am not casting aspersions on any individual list candidates. We have two excellent Labour list Assembly Members in west Wales—Rebecca Evans, who champions disability issues, and Joyce Watson, who champions human trafficking issues. They are doing an excellent job, because they are focusing on topics, not sitting like some great cuckoo on one constituency out of eight and making that their sole focus of attention, ignoring what is happening in important aspects of the other seven constituencies that they represent.

We have seen such abuse in Wales before. I am sure my right hon. Friend Mr Hain will remind us again, as he has done many times, of the blatant abuse of the list system. He has quoted frequently from the leaked memorandum from Leanne Wood, the leader of Plaid Cymru, in which she gives explicit instructions to her party’s list Assembly Members to direct their time and resources, paid for by the taxpayer, to Plaid Cymru’s target seats.

Some people say that putting into the 2006 Act the clause that prevents an individual from standing for both the constituency and the list was a partisan move by the Labour Government, but we knew full well that it would also prevent our candidates from standing for both. We had at least four sitting constituency AMs who we knew were likely to be vulnerable to electoral change in the 2007 Assembly election and who could have hedged their bets by standing for both. That might have been very cosy for them, but as a matter of principle we knew how much the electorate hated it. On the doorsteps we heard people ask, “What difference will it make if we go out and vote?” It was extremely difficult to convince people after the Clwyd West scenario, because whoever the constituents voted for, all four parties were elected.

It was extremely important to us to stand by our principle, rather than making some sort of cosy situation for our AMs. In fact, I would go so far as to say that in some circumstances, depending on the specific arithmetic for the region, a candidate who could stand for both the constituency and the list could be pretty much guaranteed to be elected on one or other of them. That could breed a certain complacency, which would not serve the electorate well at all. We take issue with the accusation that this is a partisan point, because it is a point of principle. We strongly oppose clause 2, which seeks to turn the clocks back and allow dual candidacy. Our amendment therefore seeks to remove that clause from the Bill.

Our view is that the Assembly’s electoral arrangements should be decided in Wales, so we have also tabled an amendment proposing that an order should be laid in the Assembly by the Welsh Government before any change on dual candidacy can be implemented. I hope that Members will vote for our amendments.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Labour, Neath

I, too, wish to speak in favour of amendment 13 and against clause 2 remaining in the Bill. The Secretary of State and other Members who have taken part in our proceedings on the Bill might recognise some of my comments from my single transferable vote speech on dual candidature, because I remain firmly opposed to that abuse of democracy. However, I will be brief, because my favourite premiership player, Frank Lampard, is captaining England at 5 o’clock, and I know that even Members from Welsh constituencies, with the possible exception of our Plaid Cymru friends, will want to cheer them on in their final game.

I repeat my basic argument, which I have expressed throughout the Bill’s proceedings, and the rationale for my ban on dual candidature in the 2006 Act: it cannot be right for losers to become winners through the back door, despite having been rejected by the voters. That is an abuse of democracy. People who stand for a single-Member seat and then lose can end up being elected anyway, in defiance of the electorate’s wishes, because at the same time they are in a list category, and that is an abuse of democracy. There is no real argument against losers becoming winners in that way.

There was a widespread abuse practised by 15 of the 20 list AMs prior to the 2006 ban. They used taxpayers’ money to open constituency offices in the very single-Member seats in which they were defeated. They then targeted those seats at the following election by cherry-picking local issues against the constituency AMs who had beaten them. Why are they so afraid of taking their choice to the people, and why are the Government so afraid of democracy? Why are they so afraid of losing constituency elections that they need the lifebelt of standing for the lists as well? That is what the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood, for whom I have considerable admiration despite all that, is doing in Rhondda. In a leaked memorandum written in August 2003, she was refreshingly honest about promoting abuse of the dual candidature system by list Members using taxpayers’ money.

With the 2006 Act ban having been removed by the Government, there is nothing to stop such abuse being practised again. I suspect that Leanne Wood may need to reissue her guidance. Perhaps she could pass it round to all the political parties in Wales so that Labour, the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and the UK Independence party can exploit the system together instead of leaving it to Plaid Cymru. Indeed, perhaps the Secretary of State could issue the document from the Wales Office so that it has the official approval he presumably wants in changing the law as he now intends, despite the strength of the arguments against it, because it is really a bible for the dual candidature that he and the Government are so enthusiastically preaching and want to restore following the 2006 ban in the wake of these serial abuses. I remind him, and the House, of just how valuable that guide could be for all the political parties. If the political system is to be brought into disrepute by the restoration of dual candidature and the ending of the ban following the serial abuses, why cannot all parties take part and make sure that the decline in respect of Assembly elections is endemic in the system, given that that is what he is encouraging?

Leanne Wood urged Plaid Cymru list Assembly Members to concentrate tens of thousands of pounds of their local office budgets, paid for by taxpayers, on their party’s target seats. She urged them to do casework only where it might benefit Plaid Cymru in those target seats, and to attend civic and other events in the constituency only if they thought that there were votes in it.

There has been a deafening silence from Ministers about this bible for dual candidature, so I will repeat its essential contents in case they have not memorised my two previous speeches on the subject. Leanne Wood’s memorandum, “What should be the role of a Regional AM?”, perfectly illustrates the problem that we faced before the 2006 Act banned dual candidature in Wales. She should be praised for her honesty—indeed, her transparency. She wrote:

“Each regional AM has an office budget and a staff budget of some considerable size. Consideration should be given to the location of their office—where would it be best for the region? Are there any target seats...within the region?”

She meant, of course, single Member target seats.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Culture and Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution) 4:45 pm, 24th June 2014

I am genuinely interested in the right hon. Gentleman’s view on this issue. What advice does he have for Scottish Labour, which has just done a total U-turn on dual candidacy and is now allowing the practice to go on? Will he disparage Scottish Labour as much as he seems to be disparaging Plaid Cymru for carrying out this appalling act?

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Before you answer, Mr Hain, let me make it absolutely clear that we are talking about dual candidacy in Wales, as I think you probably appreciate. This is a tightly drawn debate and that is the subject of the amendment.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Labour, Neath

I am grateful for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, which directly answers the hon. Gentleman’s point. I am speaking about Wales. I am not aware of serial abuses of the kind practised in Wales prior to the 2006 ban occurring in Scotland. Indeed, I think that the codes that apply in Scotland may be different. I note that the then Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, Lord Steel, attacked dual candidature in terms very similar to mine.

Leanne Wood’s bible for dual candidature went on:

“We need to be thinking much more creatively as to how we better use staff budgets for furthering the aims of the party.”

She finished with a refreshing burst of honesty that, in an era of political spin, can only be commended:

“Regional AMs are in a unique position. They are paid to work full-time in politics and have considerable budgets at their disposal. They need not be constrained by constituency casework and events, and can be more choosy about their engagements, only attending events which further the party’s cause. This can be achieved by following one simple golden rule: On receipt of every invitation, ask ‘How can my attendance at this event further the aims of Plaid Cymru?’ If the answer is ‘very little’ or ‘not at all’, then a pro forma letter of decline should be in order.”

All the arguments and evidence I have cited, in the past few minutes, in Committee and on Second Reading, demonstrate that the 2006 ban was not partisan but instead enhanced the democratic standards of all Welsh Assembly Members.

Indeed, I reminded the House at the time of the ban that six Labour Assembly Members, including three Ministers, would be defeated in the 2007 Assembly elections by a very small swing of 3% against them. They would not have the lifebelt of dual candidature, which I had removed; they would no longer enjoy the safety net of the regional list. Two of them subsequently did lose, as I said could happen. The reform affected Labour candidates and candidates of other parties alike, a point that my hon. Friend Nia Griffith made so eloquently.

In conclusion, the Government have now officially blessed this practice—presumably, they will marshal the votes shortly to try to defeat our amendment—and it appears that they are, sadly, doing so with the blessing of the Electoral Commission. I therefore look forward to Labour being welcomed into the fold of running dual candidates again. After all, why should we lose out while everybody else takes advantage? Never mind the voters, let us put our own self-interest as political parties first. I trust that the Government will be proud of bringing politicians in Wales into even greater disrepute than the political class right across the United Kingdom. Tellingly, the Electoral Commission is endorsing that disrepute and the Secretary of State is now smiling in anticipation of that happening. That is the consequence of his reversal of this ban; he is opening the door again to the serial abuses which have been documented and proved beyond doubt. He is going to invite that very abuse of democracy in Wales by removing the ban and installing clause 2, which is the reason for moving and supporting amendment 13.

Photo of Siân James Siân James Labour, Swansea East

I wish to speak briefly in support of amendment 13 and against the removal of clause 2. I oppose dual candidacy simply because if a candidate is not elected by a constituency under the first-past-the-post system, it cannot be right for them to be elected under the list system. If the electorate have rejected someone once as their first-choice candidate, it is not acceptable for them to have the opportunity to re-enter the game through the back door. In mainstream society people get one chance at a job; if they are not successful at an interview, they have to accept the decision and they do not go back squealing to the prospective employers saying, “Can we change the rules now? Can I possibly be appointed under different criteria or under a different set of interview processes?” Things should be no different for politicians. There should be no swapping or alternatives; it should be the same for everybody.

Let us examine the attitudes towards dual candidacy. We have heard a lot of pooh-poohing of the Bevan Foundation’s inquiry and report, but my constituency took part in that inquiry and I did not see any party members participating; those who participated all came from local community groups and pensioners groups, were not affiliated to any particular party and were not aligned to any political point of view. Some of them were sceptical about devolution and the political process, whereas others were very supportive of it. Those who participated sent a clear message saying, “We are really concerned about the way politicians are behaving on the dual list system and about what is happening.”

The report found that more respondents said that

“dual candidacy was unfair compared with those who felt candidates should be free to stand in both.”

Someone who was interviewed said:

“I think it is unfair…It’s like people can sneak in the back door.”

Another said:

“It seems unfair in a way, surely if they weren’t popular enough they shouldn’t be able to get in.”

There has also been international criticism of the dual candidacy idea. Moves have been made to improve things in New Zealand and in Canada, and Canadian research states:

“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.”

In further support of my argument, I give the example of the unfairness—this has already been mentioned by colleagues—in the Clwyd West constituency. It puzzles most people in Wales that it was possible for all four candidates on the first-past-the post list to end up being elected. When I got into politics, a very wise old bird told me, “Siân, don’t get into politics if you’re not prepared to lose, because there’s only one winner.” We have totally turned that on its head with devolution and now anyone can be a winner, as long as they are at the top of their party’s list. I think the public find that difficult to understand and they are puzzled by it.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean

We debated this issue at length in Committee. What the hon. Lady is really doing is criticising a closed-list system whereby voters can vote only for parties and have no choice of candidates. She is not really offering a critique of the Bill’s proposals. If she does not like that system, she should remind herself that it was her party that put it in place.

Photo of Siân James Siân James Labour, Swansea East

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but it is not true that I am opposed to the list system. I think it is excellent and that it gives an opportunity to all parties. It is fair and gives a voice to parties that may not otherwise have had a voice in the Assembly. What I oppose is placing candidates at the top of the list so that if they lose in one system they have the chance to win in another. I am not criticising the system; all I am saying is that dual candidacy is not acceptable.

For an individual who is already standing as a candidate on a constituency list to have an opportunity for a second bite of the cherry is political carpetbagging—that’s all it is, pure and simple—and therefore unacceptable.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

Does that mean that the hon. Lady is in favour of a complete list system or an individual candidacy system? What she really seems to be against is mixing them up, so which of them does she support?

Photo of Siân James Siân James Labour, Swansea East

I support having both first-past-the-post and regional Assembly Members. They add a great deal to the Assembly and, as I have already said, the system is fairer and proves that people who stand for smaller parties get a voice. That cannot be opposed, but I am opposed to people standing on both lists.

Photo of Siân James Siân James Labour, Swansea East

I want to finish, because I promised to be brief and I want to keep my speech tight.

It is no wonder that the public see us politicians as a bit devious and above and beyond the basic rules, because we always apply rules that suit us. That is what the public see this as, purely and simply: politicians having a second bite of the cherry when they do not. I ask the Secretary of State to reconsider the amendment and to consider our proposals seriously.

Photo of David Jones David Jones The Secretary of State for Wales

With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will first address the Government amendments in this group. The Bill provides for a referendum to be triggered by the Assembly on whether a portion of income tax should be devolved. If the Assembly triggers that referendum, as I very much hope it will, it will be the third referendum on devolution to take place in the past two decades. It is vital that we as a Government learn lessons from the previous referendums, particularly the referendum on law-making powers that took place in 2011, to ensure that the framework for holding an income tax referendum is as robust as possible.

Hon. Members will recall a key issue in 2011 that led some to question the system that was then in place, namely that, because no credible organisation applied to the Electoral Commission to become the designated no campaign, no yes campaign could be designated either. Any future referendum on the devolution of a portion of income tax would pose a crucial question to the electorate in Wales that would affect generations to come, so it is highly important that the credibility of that poll should not be questioned in any way.

Amendment 6 therefore provides more flexibility in the designation process so that, should the Government of the time wish to, they could, by Order in Council, enable the Electoral Commission to designate an organisation under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 for only one possible outcome of the referendum rather than only both. That will ensure that where a credible organisation seeks designation for one outcome, it can be designated even if no credible application for designation for the other outcome is made. We would of course want credible campaigns for both outcomes in a future referendum so that a full and vibrant debate about the issues could take place, but amendment 6 will help to ensure that there is no repeat of the situation that arose in 2011, when no organisation was designated for either outcome.

Amendment 7 makes further provision for when an organisation is designated for only one outcome or no organisation is designated for either outcome. Under the amendment, an Order in Council can allow the Electoral Commission to take action to promote public awareness of the referendum in Wales, including about the referendum itself, the question on the ballot paper and the importance of voting in the referendum. It will enable the Order in Council to require the chief counting officer to take action to encourage participation in the referendum and, to give full effect to that, the chief counting officer can give directions to local counting officers in Wales about how they should encourage voting in the referendum in their locality. That will ensure that if an organisation were designated for only one outcome or if no organisation were designated for either outcome, the Electoral Commission could take action to ensure that the electorate in Wales were adequately informed about the important issue on which they were asked to decide.

Taken together, amendments 6 and 7 provide for flexibility in the powers to make an Order in Council for the conduct of a future income tax referendum to enable the Government to ensure that such a referendum is conducted using as robust a process as possible. The Government have consulted the Electoral Commission in preparing them. The amendments show that we have learned from previous referendums, and I ask hon. Members to support them.

Turning to the Opposition amendments, amendment 13 seeks to remove clause 2 from the Bill and to continue to prohibit candidates from standing in both a constituency and a region in an Assembly election, while amendments 14 and 15 seek to delay the commencement of the provision. Once again, it is disappointing but not at all surprising that the Labour party continues to plough its lonely furrow in opposing clause 2. Indeed, this is very much groundhog day. I must pay tribute to Nia Griffith and Mr Hain for their persistence in putting their heads above the parapet to be shot at again.

Hon. Members will no doubt know that this issue was debated at great length in Committee of the whole House, which then voted by 265 votes to 191 that clause 2 stand part of the Bill. Rather than seek to debate aspects of the Bill that might have a real impact on the prosperity of businesses and individuals in Wales, the Labour party is focusing on a partisan electoral issue of appeal only to Labour party members. That is underlined by the extraordinary arrogance of amendments 14 and 15, which, if clause 2 remains part of the Bill, would provide for the Labour Welsh Government in Cardiff to decide whether the dual candidacy provisions come into force. Interestingly, the amendments would not even allow the Assembly to have a vote on the decision. Clearly, the Labour party is not even bothering hide the partisan agenda that it is pursuing.

To repeat—this is very much a repetition, because it has previously been aired at great length—Wales is the only country in the world where dual candidacy is banned under this type of electoral system. As was discussed at great length in debates on Second Reading and in Committee, when the Labour party introduced the ban in 2006, it did not make the same provisions for elections to the Scottish Parliament or the London Assembly.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Labour, Neath 5:00 pm, 24th June 2014

Is the Secretary of State aware of the evidence that Professor Roger Scully has brought forward? A number of Asian countries have a similar ban, including Taiwan and South Korea, in similar circumstances. Does the Secretary of State think that he should withdraw the statement that he has just made?

Photo of David Jones David Jones The Secretary of State for Wales

I clearly referred to a particular type of system, which is the majoritarian type. That is where the votes in the constituencies count towards the list elections. In Asia and Ukraine, there is something similar, but not under that type of system. I am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman refers to Professor Scully. In his evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee during pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill, he clearly said:

“If parties that are defeated at constituency level can still win representation through the list, then it is difficult to see why that should not also apply to individuals.”

In other words, what is the difference for this purpose between a party and an individual? That is Professor Scully’s view. To pray him in aid goes against the advice that he gave during pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Labour, Neath

Notwithstanding that advice, Professor Scully was simply correcting the Secretary of State on his basic proposition. The point is this, and no one has disputed it: neither the Secretary of State nor the Minister have challenged one bit of evidence that we have brought forward, and which I have repeatedly cited, about the serial abuses in Wales under the dual candidacy system, which the Secretary of State is about to reintroduce. He offers no protection or guarantee that that serial abuse will not happen; it went on prior to the ban in 2006. In fact, his Bill is a charter for reopening that abuse.

Photo of David Jones David Jones The Secretary of State for Wales

I have to take issue with the right hon. Gentleman. The reason for the abuse was that a particular individual, whom the right hon. Gentleman constantly quotes and cites in this context, behaved extremely badly, and people will continue to behave extremely badly. Let us go back to Professor Scully. He said in his evidence to the Committee:

“No substantial independent evidence was produced at the time of the GOWA (or, to my knowledge, has been produced subsequently) of significant public concern about dual candidacy. The claims made about dual candidacy ‘devaluing the integrity of the electoral system’, and ‘acting as a disincentive to vote’ therefore remain wholly unsupported by solid evidence.”

Those were the comments of the academic Professor Scully, whom the right hon. Gentleman prays in aid. That same professor demolishes the right hon. Gentleman’s argument.

The prohibition was introduced against the advice of leading academics such as Professor Scully, organisations such as the Electoral Reform Society and independent bodies such as the Electoral Commission. I was very surprised by the right hon. Gentleman’s criticism of the Electoral Commission. We are now legislating to correct this anomaly and I hope that the hon. Members for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) and for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) will not press their amendments, although I am not holding my breath.

The House divided:

Ayes 196, Noes 278.

Division number 19 Wales Bill — Clause 2 — Removal of restriction on standing for election for both constituency — and electoral region

Aye: 196 MPs

No: 278 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly negatived.