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Mr. Öpik: The hon. Gentleman has ignored one of the key reasons why the Liberal Democrats supported the change: proportional representation. Will he confirm that one of the factors that simply do not matter to the Tories is the introduction of proportional representation as an electoral system, and that he and his party do not recognise the importance of the pluralism that proportional representation will necessarily introduce in Wales?

Mr. Letwin: The hon. Gentleman, who is a reasonable person, must have misunderstood the way in which the amendment is intended to work. Let me explain slowly, in the genuine hope that I can persuade the hon. Gentleman that he is under a misapprehension.

Mr. Öpik rose--

Mr. Letwin: May I explain? Then I will give way again.

In the single-vote system proposed in the amendment, those who vote for a candidate who is or is not successful--in other words, all who vote for all candidates in all constituencies--add to the total of votes for their

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party. Thus, eventually, there will be a system of proportional representation through the additional member list, as intended by the Government and by my party, which will not be compromised by the amendment.

Mr. Öpik: To save the hon. Gentleman any more bother, let me say that I am perfectly aware of what his proposal seeks to do. Does he not understand, however, that the system he proposes is not a system of proportional representation? As many hon. Members have pointed out, it will be skewed by the preference for individual candidates, unrelated to their political parties. Does the hon. Gentleman not understand that the system he is proposing depends less on party preference than onother factors that will hopelessly skew the proportional-representation outcome that every other hon. Member wants?

Mr. Letwin: I did the hon. Gentleman an injustice. I understand his argument now. He is saying that the amendment would distort the proportions that would otherwise obtain. His argument is an elaboration, or indeed a stronger version, of the Secretary of State's argument. Perhaps he should swap places with the Secretary of State in order to present it properly.

The hon. Gentleman's argument is that the proportions would be distorted, because preferences for particular candidates in particular seats would enter into the equation of apparent preferences for a particular party--his or ours--and that would not be a fair representation of people's party preferences. That might obtain to a slight extent, but I think the hon. Gentleman would accept that all the evidence so far from psephologists who have studied elections not only in this country, but in other countries that have strongly established party systems, suggests that very few people vote for candidates rather than for the party of their choice--except in the case of tactical voting, which the amendment and the additional member system would remove.

Although valid, unlike most of the Secretary of State's arguments, the hon. Gentleman's suggestion would have a minuscule effect. We return to this question: would that effect be greater or less than what the hon. Gentleman considers to be an academic proposition by us--the prevention of alter ego parties?

The Secretary of State says that, because the major political parties have promised that they will not run alter ego candidates, all is well. He suggests that we should go happily to bed, and not trouble the House further with tedious arguments that keep him from his important business of mismanaging Welsh affairs. It is very likely that he is right. We have yet to hear a final statement from the leader of one of the major political parties, but I gathered from an earlier exchange of nods that we would hear such a statement tonight. Indeed, it may already have been made; I may not have heard it.

Mr. Wigley: The hon. Gentleman cast the same slur in an earlier debate. As he has heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), there is no basis for that slur. There is no reason to expect that we would fiddle the electoral system, any more than the hon. Gentleman's party would.

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Mr. Letwin: I am delighted to hear that statement, and I fully believe it. The current position is excellent: the major parties have promised not to take such action. However, will that be true in all circumstances and at all times? We are legislating for a constitution and an electoral system, and the Secretary of State's colleagues in the Home Office have admitted that, should such a problem arise at a time when it mattered, it would matter a great deal. It could distort the whole result of an election.

Can such circumstances be imagined? I regret to say this--the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) will probably think me a cad--but I am trying to tell what I believe to be the truth. It is not intended as any sort of slur on his or his party's honour.

If I were the right hon. Gentleman, and if I believed in Welsh independence as sincerely and passionately as I think he does, and if there came a time--not at the next election, but, judging by what has happened in Scotland and the way in which Labour is proceeding, such a time may come--when the right hon. Gentleman's party stood a chance of gaining an overall majority, I might be inclined to use such a tactic just once. I do not say that the right hon. Gentleman would be inclined to use it ever again.

Mr. Wigley: The hon. Gentleman might; we would not.

Mr. Letwin: I am delighted to hear that.

Mr. Ron Davies: Nor would we.

Mr. Letwin: I am delighted at that as well. However, it is not good law--

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones: Will the hon. Gentleman stop digging a hole for himself? He is casting aspersions that are entirely baseless, for which there is not a shred of evidence. I ask him to withdraw them.

Mr. Letwin: The hon. Gentleman misunderstands me. I have considerable respect for him, for his party and for the sincerity with which his party holds its views. The fact is, however, that there could come a time when the balance was so delicate that there was a possibility of achieving a long-held desire. In such circumstances, it makes sense to legislate to stop that possibility.

I concede that, if the amendment gave rise to serious difficulties--if the Secretary of State, unaided by the Liberal Democrats, had been able to produce a serious argument--that remote possibility might not be worth pursuing; but the fact is that the amendment has no serious disadvantages. There are slight disadvantages associated with Independents, and there is a slight possibility of distortion in regard to proportionality, but those are not serious problems. The serious point is that there is a slight risk of a devastating disaster, which ought to be legislated for.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan: In spite of the pseudo-cerebral meanderings of the Opposition spokesman in his worst, or perhaps best, Reith lecturer manque mode, it is clear that the Tories motive for tabling this amendment is based on their fear of finishing fourth in the Welsh

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Assembly elections. Despite the protestations of the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), that is what the amendment is all about.

The Tories know from bitter experience and from all the latest opinion poll evidence that they have not recovered from their below 20 per cent. performance in the election last May. They also know that if the people of Wales are faced with the prospect of voting, not for an individual, but for a party, those who split their votes are more likely to vote for other parties and not for the Conservative party. That is the naked truth, despite the hon. Gentleman's protestations that this is a great constitutional exercise to help to clean up politics in 30 or 40 years' time, because of the possibility of parties subdividing themselves to take advantage of the two-vote system.

Will the Tory party ever get away from the problem that they have with the people of Wales, which causes this dilemma? Their proposition is that a Conservative candidate may get 30 per cent., 40 per cent. or 50 per cent. of the vote, depending on the constituency, but in the second vote the Conservative party will do less well than the individual Conservative candidate. The hon. Gentleman is asking us to believe that he thinks that the Conservative party in Clwyd, North-West is less popular than Rod Richards. That is an extraordinary proposition, but that is the basis of the Conservatives' thought processes.

The Conservative party is still unable to come to terms with the decision made by the people of Wales. There may be split ticket voting: people may vote for a Labour, Liberal Democrat or Plaid Cymru candidate, but will vote for another party with their second vote to have another bite of the cherry. It is human nature that 5 or 10 per cent. of the electorate will think that that is the wise thing to do. Liberal Democrat, Plaid Cymru and Labour votes may be interchangeable, but they will not leak out to the Conservatives.

Mr. Rogers: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Morgan: I shall give way in a second.

Conservative voters, if they are of the same mind as split ticket voters, will vote for a Conservative Member of the Welsh Assembly but may vote for another party with their second vote. The Conservatives lose on the leaking out, but they do not gain anything on the leaking in, because they refuse to come to terms with devolution. The three parties that are in favour of devolution have the right body language for the Welsh Assembly, but the Conservative party is still playing devolution hokey-cokey: put the right leg in, take the right leg out, put the right leg in and shake it all about.

The Conservatives will not overcome this problem. The votes of the other three parties may be interchangeable for the 5 or 10 per cent. who split their votes, but the Conservative party will not gain because it is not seen as playing the game and is not positive about devolution. If it accepted devolution, it would not lose when people vote for a Member of the Welsh Assembly from one party, but vote for another party on the second vote.

I shall now give way to my hon. Friend, who is an expert on the hokey-cokey.

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