Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Öpik: On the contrary, I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have no doubt that, were STV to be introduced in Wales, the return of the Tories would mean that many of the ills of society would return to sit in the Welsh assembly. It is not in our political interests that we move the amendment; it is in the interests of democracy.

Mr. Anderson: What self-sacrifice.

The amendments set out a series of potential voting systems. It is fair to say that there is no perfect voting system and the outcomes are never exact, save in a country such as Israel, where the whole country is a single electoral unit. Unless there is a minimum vote requirement--say 5 per cent.--the result can contain enormous distortions and give great power to fringe groups such as that of the late Rabbi Kahane in Israel.

Mr. Syms: Because of the fringe elements and the diversity of its system, Israel has introduced a directly elected Prime Minister on an essentially first-past-the-post system so as to get away from minorities holding power.

Mr. Anderson: That Prime Minister is still dependent on the Knesset, which is itself the result of a one-country proportional system that carries with it all the problems of coalition-building and fringe or minority power that can now be seen affecting the peace process. Leaving Israel speedily, it can be said that all systems are proportional, but some are more proportional than others. All have advantages and disadvantages.

One important and fundamental point has not yet been made. The fact that the Government are introducing a system of proportional representation tells us something about the spirit in which the devolution package has been put forward. It is an important signal that, in this respect, the Labour party is Plaid Cymru--the party of Wales. Under the current system, we have gained all the seats in the European Parliament--five out of five. To put it bluntly, we are overrepresented and, by contrast, the Conservative party is underrepresented. By what can only be deemed to be an act of generosity, the Labour Government are proposing a system from which we as a party shall not benefit--but Wales will benefit.

If the assembly were to use the first-past-the-post system, we would have the same distortions as have been thrown up by the current system in this Parliament. The Government and the Labour party have not been given sufficient credit for their act of generosity--an act not of weakness, but of strength, because we can decide the issue. It was a spirit not of domination but of inclusiveness that persuaded the Labour Government to bring forward a system of proportional representation in

20 Jan 1998 : Column 892

the first place. That fundamental point needs to be stated before we consider the effects of different electoral systems.

Mr. Allan: I should like to stress that Liberal Democrat Members give the Government credit for their decision. My hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) made it clear that we feel that the Government have gone a long way in a fairer direction and that we are talking about the final outcome. We fully accept and are duly grateful for the fact that the Government took that decision. It is an essential step forward and we hope that it will be a model for the whole United Kingdom.

Mr. Anderson: I welcome that response. I simply said something that must be said. Had we accepted the Conservative amendment, which would have introduced a first-past-the-post system, the result in respect of the assembly would have been as distorted as was the result of the last election. In that election, the Conservative party received about 20 per cent. of the vote in Wales but had no representatives whereas Plaid Cymru had 10 per cent. of the vote and has four representatives. If that is what the Conservative party wants to follow from its amendment, so be it, but it is wrong in principle and unfair.

The Labour Government are coming to the aid of the Conservative party, both in respect of Europe and in respect of proportional representation, and trying to breathe some life into the corpse that is the Conservative party in Scotland and in Wales. It may well be that that corpse will be slightly revived by the electoral system we are debating.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Anderson: Yes, to the hon. Gentleman speaking from the dead.

Mr. Robertson: To get 20 per cent. of the vote and yet no seats is wrong only if one looks at the whole area of Wales; but if we look at each constituency--the principle on which the constitution of this country is rightly founded--we see that in each case electors chose to vote for another candidate. Surely that is quite acceptable to everybody?

Mr. Anderson: If the hon. Gentleman supports the amendment put forward by his party in favour of the first-past-the-post system, he must intend the natural consequence of that, which is that on the 1997 outcome the Conservative party would not be represented in the assembly. He may welcome that and think it a happy result of the electoral system, but I think that it is wrong and unfair. The Conservatives should be included, in spite of themselves, in the assembly.

Mr. Wigley: The hon. Gentleman must be aware that many Conservative party members in Wales desperately hope that this provision will be in the Bill; they include a number of former Members of Parliament who are looking for a new incarnation.

Mr. Anderson: It is wonderful to think of former Conservative Members in Wales having a Damascene

20 Jan 1998 : Column 893

experience. They have seen the light and, in spite of the unreconstructed policies put forward by the Conservative Front Bench, they now say that they wish to clamber on board and that they were really closet devolutionists all the time. Like Nicodemus, they come to us at night and say that they were really with us.

Various systems were on offer. The present Welsh Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones), and I happily proposed a system that was accepted by the Government--our submission was not to Alex Carlile but to the Welsh Labour party. It was based on the following principles: first, the link between a Member and his constituency is deemed to be valuable and should be accepted in the system. I have been here for a fairly long time. My international experience has shown me that many of my colleagues on the continent come from multi-Member constituencies or have no real identity and base in the areas that they represent. There should therefore be a direct link between a Member and the constituency that he or she purports to represent.

8.30 pm

Secondly, there should be, as far as possible, a known electoral division. Hence the proposed system is based on the current Westminster constituencies because they represent identities and communities. It is also based on the Euro-constituencies, which will now be swept away but which have some relevance in terms of community. Ultimately, there will be a greater relationship between the seats in the assembly and the votes cast by the people of Wales. That is part of the inclusiveness that clearly weighed heavily with Alex Carlile when he accepted that view before the election.

As part of the package my hon. Friend and I proposed, we suggested that there should be 60 seats--40 plus 20--and not simply because there happen to be 60 seats in the Swansea guildhall and, by some great foresight, the founding fathers, who helped to construct and design the Swansea guildhall, had put 60 seats in the chamber. Although that is an important consideration, we thought that that figure made sense. We did not want people to say, "There they go again; we are over-governed." That number of seats seemed to be right for Wales as a whole. It is the Goldilocks syndrome of not too many and not too few. However imperfect it is, I believe that our suggestion meets the requirement.

Hence, I agree with Alex Carlile and the Government, but I do not agree with Lloyd George or the Liberal Democrats.

Mr. Ancram: It is always a pleasure to follow a speech of that kind and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) for his solicitousness about the Conservative party. I assure him that if he thinks that we are a corpse, he will have some sleepless nights, because we shall haunt him. He may find a little later that it is not the Canterville ghost but a live political body that is haunting him. But by that time it may be too late to do much about it. He spoke about Nicodemus coming in the night. That was a little rich coming from a Labour Member in the context of Wales because there is not total unity of spirit among Labour Members. I, too, have had some interesting conversations over the past four months about the proposals before us.

20 Jan 1998 : Column 894

I am sorry that the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), is being overworked tonight. This is the third debate to which he will have responded. I had been looking forward to the launching in Committee of the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), who I thought was the devolution Minister, particularly during the referendum campaign. I then remembered that about 20 years ago he wrote a book called "Proportional Misrepresentation", in which he completely destroyed the argument for proportional representation and came out in favour of the first-past-the-post system, so a speech from him from the Government Front Bench might not have helped the Government's cause.

I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik). I felt that we were having a peep-show view of the Lord Jenkins of Hillhead committee and the attempts of the Liberal Democrats to persuade their Labour colleagues of the benefits of the single transferable vote. The more I hear the arguments for STV, the less I am convinced by them. The hon. Gentleman talks about fair votes, but when my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) suggested that only 24 per cent. in Powys had voted for the assembly, we were effectively told that those who had voted against were wrong, so they could be ignored. That is the antithesis of an argument for fair votes.

Next Section

IndexHome Page