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Mr. Rogers: I would rather leave that to my hon. Friend, who is more skilled in verbosity. He talks about

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the interchangeability of votes. The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), realised a couple of weeks ago that it is possible that more than 50 per cent. of the people in Wales are against the Welsh Assembly, and, although 50 per cent. of the votes may be interchangeable between the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and Labour, the only Unionist party standing will be the Conservative party. The Labour party must wake up to that fact.

Mr. Morgan: That may be to the Conservative party's advantage, but opinion poll evidence suggests that its position is now worse than it was last May when it got only about 19.5 per cent. of the vote. Its Unionist stance has not done its prospects in the vote next May any good. Everything may change by next May, but the problem is that the Conservative vote in Wales, such as it is, is soft and may leak out on the second vote. Conservatives know that they will not gain from the split ticket voting of voters of the other three parties. That is the motivation behind the absurd position that they are presenting. It is not a fear of parties subdividing, but of finishing fourth in the elections next May.

6.45 pm

Mr. Livsey: The Bill proposes a two-vote additional member system, which was contained in the White Paper. It was clear in the referendum last year that every voter in Wales, especially those who voted yes, understood that. The Liberal Democrats would prefer the use of the single transferable vote system. If the official Opposition were proposing an amendment that included the single transferable vote, we would have a different view of what they are up to.

Dr. Fox: Given the great consistency shown by the hon. Gentleman's party on the single transferable vote issue, why did his party in the House of Lords vote against this proposal when it was considered in the other place?

Mr. Livsey: Our approach was based on realism. It was recognised that we must get the Bill through. The element of proportionality contained in the Bill is a seismic move forward, and the amendment would unstitch that. We accept that the additional member system proposed by the Government is a vast improvement on the first-past-the-post system. It is a more proportional electoral system, and it is one of the features that we support. It will ensure that representation bears more resemblance to the proportions of votes cast, and it will be fairer to all parties. As has been said several times, that is part of the new politics, and we welcome that.

The two-vote additional member system has the advantage of allowing voters to express their preferences for individual candidates in the constituencies and for parties on the lists. That clearly increases voter choice, and allows a vote to be cast for an individual from a different party to the list vote. It allows local, effective candidates to be rewarded above party preferences, with party preferences being re-established in the list vote.

The two-vote system also makes it more likely that an independent candidate can be elected for a region. The Conservative amendments would remove the provision for independent candidates to stand in the

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regions. That is undemocratic, and the Bill should not exclude the possibility of independent candidates coming forward. In my constituency in 1983, I was opposed by a rural revivalist, Richard Booth, who is a well-known local bookseller in Hay-on-Wye. Does the Conservative party really want to snuff out such individualism and such colour in our political system?

Following the election, we want a review of the electoral system to be used for the Assembly. The Secretary of State agreed to such a review with Alex Carlile, the former Member for Montgomery. Why is there no provision for a review in the Bill? We hope that the spirit in which the Secretary of State came to that agreement with Alex Carlile will live on. The Government conceded in amendment No. 136 that a review of the Assembly's work with regard to sustainable development should be carried out. We should like an assurance from the Secretary of State that the agreement that was struck with Alex Carlile will be honoured. He has given that before, and I am sure he will not find it difficult to give it again.

The Tories say that their amendments will prevent split-ticket voting and stop parties using the additional member system to their advantage. I shall shorten my speech because we have been through all that and I want to make progress. The Minister has made it clear that there was no collusion. I said that we did not subscribe to such a practice and Plaid Cymru also said that, so we can bury that issue.

We would have some sympathy with the spirit of the amendment if the only outcome would be to prevent split-ticket voting. However, it would reduce voter choice, which is crucial, and would remove the ability of independents to stand in the regions as well. The amendments are not the best way to prevent dishonesty, and we do not support them. We supported amendments to the Registration of Political Parties Bill to prevent split-ticket voting, and I hope that another way can be found to prevent it under this legislation.

Lords amendment No. 21 closes a loophole that would allow a person who has left a political party to become an Assembly Member following a vacancy for the party that he or she has left. It will protect parties from the problem of defectors and ensure that voters are represented by a member of the party that they support. We welcome that amendment.

Mr. Syms: In Committee, we had a wide-ranging debate on electoral arrangements. When we raised concerns, we were told that they would be dealt with under the Registration of Political Parties Bill. I was on the Committee that examined that Bill, and some of the issues that were raised then, especially by my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), relating to alter ego parties are not dealt with by that Bill. To some extent, that is why the amendment has been tabled. It would not be necessary if the Registration of Political Parties Bill had closed what may be a loophole.

When the electoral arrangements for a description on the ballot paper were changed in the late 1960s, James Callaghan told the House that the arrangements would not be abused, but, in recent years, people have used descriptions to mislead electors. The Registration of Political Parties Bill rules out that abuse, but, under the additional member system there is potential--I put it

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no higher than that--for abuse by some alter ego parties. We are all honourable people in the Chamber, and I do not think that any party would try to deceive the electors. However, if there is a loophole some party may try to use it. It may do that only once, after which there would be great uproar and perhaps the law would be changed. At this stage, the general concern, certainly among Opposition Members, is to close the loophole now.

A single vote proposal for first-past-the-post seats and a top-up list is not new. The Hansard Society proposed alternatives to our current electoral system in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and came up with a similar proposal. I understand the Secretary of State's point that, in one or two cases, it would cut out independents, but it is a question of balancing rights and wrongs. The deficiencies in the current legislation may outweigh the difficulties of the change in terms of a single vote causing difficulties for one or two independents.

The additional member system has been used in Germany, and there have not been many examples of alter ego parties. In one or two lander elections, particularly in north Germany, some states parties tended to align with one or other of the major parties--the Christian Democrats or the Social Democrats--because there was an advantage in picking up list seats. In the early 1950s, the German Refugees party, which was part of the Adenauer coalition, used to garner a substantial number of votes on the list. Of course, it was part of the general centre-right and over the years it was absorbed into the Christian Democrats. That is probably the only example of a party that picked up list seats. The issue is serious and it deserves careful consideration.

In the context of alter ego parties, whether it is an advantage to a party to try to pull a fast one depends a great deal on the predictability of the first-past-the-post results because, under the additional member system, the distribution of additional seats is in proportion to those who do badly or those who do very well in terms of first-past-the-post seats. The one certainty about Welsh politics, certainly in terms of single-member constituencies, is that it is a relatively predictable area of the United Kingdom in that it regularly returns Labour party candidates. I do not think that there are many marginal seats in the Principality. In future, it would be possible for a political party to form a view on how it will fare on first-past-the-post and perhaps arrange matters in a way that might enable it to get some slight additional benefit under the additional member system. That system reduces the likelihood of a party getting an overall majority, partly because of proportionality.

There are 40 first-past-the-post and 20 additional-list seats and perhaps a party--in the context of Wales, it would probably be the Labour party--might be close to an overall majority. In such an event, there would be a tremendous temptation to get an extra seat or two to try to form an administration. All politicians are sometimes tempted, especially when we feel passionately about our cause. The amendment merely tries to fill a gap that the Registration of Political Parties Bill has not filled and to deal with this important issue.

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