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Mr. Öpik: No Conservative Member has described how the Opposition system takes account of the fact that tactical voting will massively skew the proportions and further distort the outcome and make it difficult for proportional representation to work effectively.

Mr. Syms: One of my reasons for being a great supporter of first-past-the-post is that it leaves greater discretion at constituency level with electors. If they wish to vote in a specific way, perhaps not particularly for their first preference but for a Liberal Democrat or a Labour candidate to defeat my party, that is their choice. Inevitably, there will be some variation in seats, but, in 40 constituencies, the swings and roundabouts would mean that the vote would not differ much when all the results were added. In Brecon, the tactical vote may go one way, but the seat next door may go in a completely different way. The totality of the vote would show a close correlation. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's point is material.

Mr. Swayne: At the risk of taxing the patience and good will of the Secretary of State, particularly in this age of new politics and consensus, may I say that he rather overplayed the argument that the amendment addresses a problem that is largely a figment of Conservative imagination? That was certainly not the case in the other place. Lord Falconer of Thoroton said:

It is the height of irresponsibility to acknowledge that there is a problem with the legislation and to rely on the Opposition and other parties to address the solution. However, the solution having been addressed, it has been decided to reject it.

The second point that the Secretary of State was determined to labour was the minuscule probability of split-ticket voting, but that is not the perception of their lordships. Lord Bledisloe said:

We all accept that no political party in the House today would indulge in that sort of activity. However, the Secretary of State described the pressures that led to tactical voting at the last general election. Does he suddenly believe that this new age of consensus and good will has banished those pressures for ever? Does he believe that future political leaders under those pressures will not institute just such a form of voting to achieve the desired ends? Of course that is possible, so it is right that we should try to deal with the issue now.

The right hon. Gentleman's principal argument against the amendment is that it would undermine the democratic integrity of the voting system. That is nonsense. AMS was introduced to address the overall proportionality of the votes. That will be guaranteed by the amendment.

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7 pm

Mr. Ron Davies: We have had an interesting debate and I think that we all understand the issues involved in the Lords amendment. I still believe that what the other place is suggesting is unfair and discriminatory. It does not deal with the problem of alter ego parties, despite the protestations of the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). All parties in the House have given undertakings, and we all accept them. None of the existing political parties will become involved in the collusion that has been suggested. I say to the hon. Gentleman that, given Wales and Welsh politics, if that were to happen it would be quickly exposed and immediately reviled by the people of Wales. It would not be successful.

The amendment strikes at the heart of an important part of devolution--the settlement that we have and the new democratic arrangements that we are proposing for the Assembly. It is contrary to the mandate that was given to all politicians from Wales at the general election and contrary to the wishes of the people of Wales as expressed in the referendum. Therefore, I believe that the House should reject the amendment.

Lords amendment disagreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 5 to 12, 14 to 16, 18 and20 disagreed to.

Lords amendment No. 21 and Government amendment thereto agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 22 disagreed to.

Clause 12

Disqualification from being Assembly member

Lords amendment: No. 27, in page 8, line 9, at end insert
(", or
(e) he is a Minister of the Crown.")

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With this, it will be convenient to take amendment (a) in page 28, line 12, at end insert--

'( ) A Minister of the Crown may not--
(a) be elected to be Assembly First Secretary, or
(b) be appointed as an Assembly Secretary.'.

Mr. Hain: I will speak briefly at this stage in the hope of replying more fully to the debate later.

First, let us be clear about the terms of the Lords amendment. The entire argument by the Conservative peers who backed it was whether the Secretary of State for Wales could also be the National Assembly's First Secretary. They were particular about that, to the point of obsession. However, the amendment does not specify that. It does not even specify that the Secretary of State should be barred from being a member of the Assembly Executive; it seeks to determine who should be a Member of the Assembly itself.

I freely acknowledge that quite different constitutional functions will be exercised by the Secretary of State for Wales and the First Secretary of the National Assembly.

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We have never suggested that they could or should be exercised by the same person in perpetuity. What we have here is a smokescreen of concern, hyped up into a frenzy and disguising a blatantly political exercise to dictate to the people of Wales for whom they may or may not vote.

If the people wish to elect a Minister of the Crown as an Assembly Member, that is their right. Why should this House deny them that right? I urge the House to reject the amendment.

Dr. Fox: The arguments on the issue have been put clearly both here and in the other place, so there seems little point in detaining the House unnecessarily by reiterating them.

This is not just an exercise in political posturing, as the Under-Secretary suggested; it is about a point of principle. To understand what lies behind the Lords amendment and our amendment in lieu we have to look at two matters. First, what is the role of a Member of the Assembly; and secondly, what is the role of a Minister of the Crown?

First, the direct constituency Assembly Members have to do what we understand clearly in this House, which is to look after our constituents' interests as well as scrutinising the wider picture. Secondly, those on the party list will have to look after the general interests, under whatever arrangements they come to within their parties or relating to whatever constituency interest may be pertinent. Thirdly, all Members will have to scrutinise the political life of Wales independently, just as hon. Members are supposed to do in this House.

We have also to consider the role of Ministers of the Crown. The Prime Minister published a ministerial code in July 1997. The first principle set out is:

The second is:

    "Ministers have a duty to Parliament to account, and be held to account, for the policies, decisions and actions of their Departments and Next Step Agencies."

The eighth principle is:

    "Ministers in the House of Commons must keep separate their role as Minister and constituency Member."

I shall deal with the last principle first. Those of us who have been Ministers know that a great deal of discipline is required to keep ministerial and constituency roles separate. In many Departments, there is potential for the roles to overlap, so Ministers require a great deal of self-discipline to keep them separate. How much more difficult would that be if another role were added--ministerial, constituency and Assembly roles, all at the same time? There are phenomenal dangers in creating potential for conflicting interests.

The part of the code that deals with the

creates another difficulty. A Minister of the Crown may sit in a Welsh Assembly and be responsible not only for the scrutiny of, for example, United Kingdom-wide agencies, but for the agencies' actions in Wales. That is utterly preposterous. Upholding collective responsibility is the most difficult responsibility.

The Under-Secretary referred to the First Secretary. What could be more preposterous than having to be First Secretary and a Minister of the Crown at the same time? What is he supposed to do--write to himself,

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"Dear Secretary of State, I find myself in my position of First Secretary in the Assembly needing a bit more money so could you please arrange this for me because I am finding it awfully hard? Yours, the First Secretary." Then he has to write back to himself saying, "Dear First Secretary, Unfortunately, due to my collective responsibility in the Cabinet, my Treasury colleagues tell me that I am not able to discuss this with you. Yours, the Secretary of State."

Perhaps that will be the ultimate job share--or, in the lingo of the Welsh Labour party, the ultimate twinning. However, it seems to those of us who live in the real political world that that is extraordinary politics and will create incompatibility on a scale that we have never known in the House of Commons. It is not a point of party politics; it is a point of principle. The Secretary of State for Scotland has made it clear that he could not stand to be the First Minister in the Scottish Parliament while being Secretary of State for Scotland, because that would be a conflict of interest. If that is true of devolution in Scotland, why is it not true of devolution in Wales? If it is a point of principle for the Secretary of State for Scotland, why is it not one for the Secretary of State for Wales? It does not matter whether one holds the posts for a week or a year; a point of principle is involved.

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