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

Part of Wales Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 24th June 2014.

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Photo of David Jones David Jones The Secretary of State for Wales 4:45 pm, 24th June 2014

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.