Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Denzil Davies: I do not think that Ministers will be surprised when I tell them that I do not support the

20 Jan 1998 : Column 898

system proposed in the Bill. Although I am old-fashioned and, no doubt, in a very small minority, I support the first-past-the-post system. We have been told that no system is perfect, and I will not argue the case for first past the post versus proportional representation in general, because that is not what the amendment is about; but basically I support first past the post for the Welsh assembly--and, indeed, for the House. The Bill proposes the worst kind of PR system, if it can be strictly described as a PR system.

I was surprised by the speech of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik): like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, I had thought that his party's favoured system was the system proposed in the Bill. Certainly, as far as I remember, the Liberal Democrats did not criticise the additional member system during the referendum campaign. I did, publicly, and may have incurred the wrath of the central committee by doing so.

Mr. Livsey: Surely it is well known--and surely the right hon. Gentleman knows--that the Liberal Democrats favour the single transferable vote. The issue was whether we were to have a Welsh assembly, and whether it would involve an element of proportionality. We were prepared to accept that as far as it went, but obviously, as a matter of principle, we favour STV.

Mr. Davies: I think that it would be possible to vote for a Welsh assembly in a referendum as a matter of principle, in support of decentralisation and devolution, while adding the caveat that the Liberal Democrats did not support the additional member system; but I heard no caveats. It surprised me that the Liberal Democrats were not prepared to say fairly, clearly and honestly, before the Welsh people, what they believed.

Mr. Öpik: May I jog the right hon. Gentleman's memory? He may recall that we made our specific concern about the system of proportionality very clear. Indeed, I made it clear more than once on television. During the referendum campaign, we said that strategically things were proceeding in the right direction; the big question, we said, was about PR.

Mr. Davies: I did not hear the hon. Gentleman say that, and his speech came as a bit of a surprise to me, but I do not want to pursue the matter. It is understandable, I suppose: it is in character, in the context of the Liberal Democrat party.

My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), waxed lyrical about a system which, apparently, he had invented along with the Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones). It was marvellous, he told us, because it provided a direct link with constituencies. That is not how I read it. In the case of two thirds of Members the link is there, but in the case of the remaining third it is not a case of breaking a link with a constituency, because there is no link to break. Members are chosen by the party centrally, although there may be certain ways of choosing them.

The Electoral Reform Society has issued a splendid briefing paper. Most of the speech of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire was taken from it, although he did not acknowledge the source of his speech. He even found

20 Jan 1998 : Column 899

a reference to Bavaria in the briefing, but he did not say that he had found it there. He obviously knew about Bavaria before the briefing was published.

The briefing paper gives the example of a ballot paper, which shows vividly that there is no link with constituencies. There are no names of people on the paper in the additional member scheme; there are just names of parties. Perhaps there is a list tucked away somewhere, but it is certainly not possible to vote for the names on such a list. The Members who are chosen will of course be accountable--a word that is used constantly nowadays. They will not be accountable to constituents, because they will have no constituents; they will be accountable to the party that has favoured them by putting them on a list.

The additional member system is an apparatchik's dream. It is democratic centralism: "democratic" in inverted commas, that is. The central party chooses. Although the salaries of the additional Members will presumably be paid by the taxpayer rather than the parties, they will be nominees of the parties and accountable to those parties. I think that we will pay a price at the polls. I am old-fashioned enough to believe that the British like a link between their Members of Parliament and the constituencies. I think that the Welsh people will find a way out, and I think that, if we adopt the same system in Britain as a whole, the British public will find a way of telling us that they do not like the concentration of party power.

The problem nowadays is that political parties tend to be more and more unpopular. People resent a political class that increases its own power, pay, perks and status, but here we are going further down the road when we should be trying to find a way of making people trust us a bit more as political parties, rather than creating a centralised system.

It is true that two thirds of those who are elected will be chosen by constituencies, but the centralising tendency which probably exists in all parties nowadays is certainly very strong in the Labour party. I am told that efforts are now being made to dilute even the constituency element in the choice of the two thirds. I would not dream of using a word like "cloning"; I think that the managerial language is "profile". A kind of DNA profile is drawn up, and those who fit the profile are deemed acceptable. If someone is old Labour, or old-fashioned--as we have heard from the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire, who is extremely new-fashioned--

Mr. Allan: New-fangled.

Mr. Davies: I did not want to say "new-fangled". I wanted to be kind to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire. As his colleague has used the phrase, however, I can.

Those of us who are old-fashioned, with unradical thoughts and minds that are not prepared to address problems, are not the kind of people who fit the "profile". Only those who fit the profile will be thrown back to their constituents.

Last night, the Labour party I think decided to put constituencies together, so even the link between the so-called constituency Member and the constituency

20 Jan 1998 : Column 900

might not be strong. We are seeing again the centralising tendency in my party and perhaps we see it in other parties too.

Ms Julie Morgan: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the purpose of putting two constituencies together is to achieve better representation for women? Can he suggest another way of achieving that?

Mr. Davies: I have no idea. I have not heard any debate on the matter, which is perhaps not surprising. The executive's decision the other night was taken behind closed doors. I have not seen any minutes. This is the first time that I have heard that argument. By all means, let us have the argument, but let us not take the decision before we have it.

Mr. Rogers: Surely my right hon. Friend would accept that the great advantage of being responsible for two constituencies is that the Member can be doubly democratically accountable--he can be accountable to both constituencies. We double democratic accountability.

Mr. Davies: Except that one does not know where the Member happens to be at the time. Putting constituencies together reduces accountability. That is a problem in modern politics in Wales and probably in all the western democracies. Accountability is reduced as the political class creates more power for itself.

9 pm

I agreed with the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire about one thing: we should have an open list system. If we are going down this road--and I am sure that there is no chance of changing anything--we should have that system. I confess that I am not as knowledgeable as the Liberal party about electoral reform--it has been thinking and talking of little else for the past 50 years--but I have read the excellent electoral reform publication and I know about the lady from Bavaria who managed 17 years ago to win an election, even though she was at the bottom of the list.

I was attracted by the specimen ballot paper--if we have to have this system at all. Apparently, although I would have thought that it would confuse voters, it is possible to have a choice: to vote for the party and forget about the people who have been chosen, or to vote for someone on the party list. The person at the top of the list might not receive any votes. That would not be conducive to or useful for the apparatchiks, but at least it ameliorates, although only to some extent, the iniquitous system of the closed list and the additional Member.

We shall not be going back to the first- past-the-post system entirely; I accept that that battle has been lost. One third of Members will be elected by this crazy system, but if we are going to have it let us explore the possibility of the open list system. I do not think that there are any problems. If the Bavarians can do it, so can we. As a party, we are very attracted by the German system. I remember my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) extolling the virtues of Baden-Wurttemberg. I am not sure where that is, except that it is in Germany.

Next Section

IndexHome Page