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Mr. Shepherd: With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to respond to the Secretary of State's speech.

I have to say that, no, I do not accept the Secretary of State's argument. I could have written his brief--indeed, it could have been written at any time in the 18 years of the previous Government. No instance--not one--was given of a case where the ability of the Welsh Assembly to address the matters relevant to its remit as a Crown body was constrained. There was only a generality of arguments. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East and I contended that the European dimension--information exchanged between Governments in confidence--would be excluded from the knowledge of the Welsh Assembly. It clearly is of some importance to the Welsh Assembly.

The measure sends out entirely the wrong signals: there is no need for it, and the Government have not made a case for it. I apologise for not having been present on 3 May when the amendment in my name was debated. I was in Canada, meeting the commissioner for freedom of information. The Bill as it stands is truly unsatisfactory. It does not reflect the position of the Opposition, because one key element is missing from the Official Secrets Act--there is no public interest defence.

My rational final point for the Government to consider is to ask how they could seriously mount a prosecution. I shall take an outside-world case, that the leader of the SNP is a Member of the Scottish Parliament and information comes to him that there is something perverse or wrong about Dounreay. What law in the land could hold or bind a man of conscience who wanted to bring to public notice such a threat or fear? No prosecution could succeed. The trouble with the old Official Secrets Act was that it had fallen into disrepute, and the new Act was an attempt to modernise its provisions.

There is no purpose behind the amendment. I am sorry that there was only a three-column debate in the House of Lords, because the issue requires proper reflection. The new Labour Government are sworn to openness; I believe

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that, in the past, the words "unbundle Britain" have been used by a right hon. Labour Member. I believe in the democratic rights of the people because of the oldest argument of all: how can we reason but from what we know? A Welsh democratically elected Assembly should be party to the information that is important to the government of Wales.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords Amendment No. 82 agreed to.

Clause 4

Voting at ordinary elections

Lords amendment: No. 3, in page 2, line 42, leave out from ("have") to end of line 9 on page 3 and insert
("one vote (referred to in this Act as a constituency vote).
(2) The constituency vote is to be given for a candidate to be the Assembly member for the Assembly constituency.
(3) There shall also be calculated the number of additional member votes for each registered political party which has submitted a list of candidates to be Assembly members for the Assembly electoral region in which the Assembly constituency is included.
(3A) The number of additional member votes for each party shall be the same as the number of constituency votes for the candidate of the party in that constituency.")

Mr. Ron Davies: I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 5 to 12, 14 to 16, 18 and 20, each with Government motion to disagree, No. 21, amendment (a) thereto and No. 22, with Government motion to disagree.

Mr. Davies: I believe that it is the mood of the House to move quickly on these matters--

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): Not any more.

Mr. Davies: Fine. In that case, it appears that we have a considerable amount of time in which to develop interesting and persuasive arguments. I look forward to a lengthy exchange on the amendments.

The amendments, which were introduced in the other place to change the additional member system from a two-vote ballot to a single-vote ballot, are fundamentally flawed. They are undemocratic and discriminatory. I believe that the House has a moral obligation to overturn the amendments and to restore unfettered democratic choice to the Welsh electorate.

I remind the House that the White Paper "A Voice for Wales" spelled out clearly that the electoral arrangements for the Assembly would be based on electors having two votes. The additional member system, as proposed for the Assembly by the Government--and endorsed by the electorate in the referendum--would give voters two votes. It is worth reminding the House that, before the election, there was broadly based agreement that that form of electoral system was necessary for the Assembly. Agreement was sufficiently broadly based so that all

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Members of Parliament elected at the last election to represent Welsh constituencies subscribed to it in their national manifestos.

At its conference in March 1997, the Labour party unanimously agreed that that was the system we wanted. I had many discussions with Alex Carlile, the former Liberal Democrat leader in Wales, and I know that he broadly accepted the proposal, as did the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) and his party. I acknowledge that there were some differences, and that some amendments were required, but there was broadly based consensus that the additional member system was necessary in order to introduce the form of plurality into the Welsh Assembly that that new democratic institution demanded.

6 pm

There was broadly based agreement in 1997, and the people of Wales obviously accepted that view at the general election, because they voted to elect in each of the 40 Welsh constituencies Members of Parliament whose national manifestos supported the additional member system. I am sure that the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) does not want to re-run the referendum, even at this late stage. However, those proposals were put before the people of Wales in that referendum of 18 September last year, and they endorsed them. The House should consider that point very carefully.

The Government propose that electors should have two votes. The first would be for the constituency Member, elected by the first-past-the-post system under the traditional method. The second would be for a party list or independent candidate--that is particularly important in rural Wales; I know that Conservative Members do not understand the politics of rural Wales, so I urge them to reflect carefully on this point--

Mr. Letwin: We have.

Mr. Davies: I am being uncharacteristically generous to the hon. Gentleman.

The second vote would be for a party list or independent candidate, and would determine the four additional Members for the voter's electoral region. Under our proposals, voters would be given the right to choose whom they vote for in both the constituency and the electoral region.

It is quite possible that voters would take two separate decisions: they might decide to support one candidate in the constituency section and a party in the regional list. That is common practice in Wales. Indeed, at the last election, I venture to suggest that there was a great deal of tactical voting. The people of Wales regard that as a great success, because they got rid of all Conservative Members of Parliament for Wales. I can understand why the Conservative party is loth to see the development of any electoral system that empowers people to get rid of Conservative candidates, but that is the reality of politics in Wales.

The other place has chosen to deny that choice to the people of Wales, and that issue is at the heart of our debate. The amendments introduced there allow voters one vote only--they deny the opportunity for asecond vote--for the constituency ballot. Under those

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arrangements, a voter wishing to express a choice for the regional candidates can vote only for a constituency candidate from a party that has also put forward a party list.

I shall give an example from my constituency. A vote for the Conservative candidate in Caerphilly--a rare prospect, one might imagine, but it is nevertheless technically possible--would register automatically as a vote for the Conservative party list for the whole south Wales east electoral region. I am prepared to acknowledge that some of my constituents might choose to vote Conservative as an alternative to voting for the Labour candidate--they may be instinctively inclined to support Labour but have some difficulty supporting the Labour candidate in Caerphilly.

However, under those circumstances, it would be wrong to assume that they would always vote Conservative, and to tot up those votes for the Conservative party. However, that is precisely the effect of the amendment that the House of Lords invites us to accept. The voter would not have the option to vote for the list of a different party.

The consequence of the single vote system is that the four additional Members elected from each of the five regions will be elected indirectly. That makes a total of 20 indirectly elected Assembly Members from a total of only 60. Under the proposals endorsed by the electorate in the referendum, the additional Members would each receive a separate mandate from electors choosing to support their party.

The question arises under the Lords amendments: to whom would those Members be accountable? Would they be accountable to the electorate, or to the constituency Members in their regions for whom the votes were cast directly? If the hon. Member for West Dorset reflects on that point, he will see that that is precisely the logic behind the House of Lords suggestion.

The provisions inserted in the other place are discriminatory. They discriminate against small parties. That may concern the Conservative party, because, according to the latest evidence, it is the smallest party in Wales. Conservative Members should reflect carefully on the prospect of suffering more self-inflicted damage. The provisions also discriminate against independent candidates--that point concerns me, as I am sure that the Conservative party can look after itself--and against elector choice.

For smaller parties, which are unlikely to win any constituency seats, the best chance of winning seats is through the electoral region. Under these arrangements, to have any chance of winning additional member seats in a region, a party would have to put forward candidates in all constituencies within that region. That is manifestly unfair in the case of parties such as the Green party. It would mean putting up between seven and nine constituency candidates per region, which would be a tremendous strain on the finances and resources of those small parties.

Why should smaller parties be obliged to overreach themselves and compete in the most unfavourable circumstances? Having looked closely at the arguments made in the other place, I can conclude only that it is simply because the Conservatives have a fertile imagination.

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In our previous debates, and in the other place, Conservative Front Benchers sought to suggest that the electoral system proposed by the Government would distinguish between the status of Members voted for at the constituency level and those from the list. That will not be the case. However, the amendments made by the other place offer the clearest indication that the official Opposition want to have second-class Members of the Assembly. That is unacceptable to the Government.

The Conservative spokesman in the other place made much of the possibility of collusion by political parties--even though the House and the other place have put it on record that the parties will not entertain any such suggestion. I give the hon. Member for West Dorset an assurance that there will be no collusion by my party or by any persons standing as Labour party candidates.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on the fact that the Labour party made a momentous decision in moving away from a system that had served us well, guaranteed us a majority and denied the Conservative party a majority in Wales every since the secret ballot was introduced in the last century. It was a momentous decision to move to a system that guaranteed fairer representation for all political parties in Wales.

It is a travesty of politics in Wales to suggest that, having moved from that position, the Labour party would seek deliberately to collude or enter into underhanded arrangements that would deny the effect of our proposed change. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reflect on that point. The amendments made by the Lords offer the clearest indication that the official Opposition want to create suspicion.

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