Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [24 May],
Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [24 May],
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): Last week, I published the White Paper "Better Governance for Wales", which sets out the changes the Government propose to the electoral system for the National Assembly for Wales in chapter 4.
Mr. David : I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Does he agree that in elections to the Welsh Assembly there is a democratic deficit? That is because individuals who stand in the constituency list and lose can nevertheless get elected on the regional list.
Mr. Hain: I very much agree with my hon. Friend, as Conservative Members would be astonished to know. I have been looking at some of the figures and at what has happened: Eleanor Burnham, 7.9 per cent. in Clwyd, West, elected as a regional Member; Owen John Thomas, 8.7 per cent. in Cardiff, Central, elected as a regional Member; Laura Jones, 10 per cent. in Caerphilly, elected as a regional Member; Mike German, 14 per cent. in Torfaen, elected; and Lisa Francis, 16 per cent. in Meirionnydd Nant Conwy elected. In all of those cases losers became winners. The system is abusing the electoral process.
Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. Like her, I have noticed that that is being argued for in respect of Scotland in some of the evidence put to the independent commission. I know from my own constituency experience that voters find it confusing having two ballot papers. It may be that it is something that we need to consider. I would be interested in further representations on the matter from her or other colleagues, or from Opposition Members.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Does this not sum it all upno discussion about the Richard commission about legislative proposals? Instead, there is a planted question from the Whips to do with a spiteful, narrow little party point. That shows new Labour as exactly what it isitself first, the people of Wales last.
"A system in which candidates can lose elections but nevertheless win seats undermines respect for the electoral process. There is also a concern that list Members can cherry-pick issues, deciding to focus their activities on those issues most likely to raise their profile or create problems for their constituency opponents".
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I am pleased that the Secretary of State is answering this question because he is on record, when he was a member of another party, as supporting the single transferable vote for proportional representation. As that was the recommendation of the Richard commission, will he put on the record why he is now against STV and the reasons for that?
Mr. Hain: Actually, the hon. Gentleman is plain wrong. More than 30 years ago, when I was in the Young Liberals, I argued against Liberal policy on the single transferable vote. I have always advocated the alternative vote system, which retains the single Member constituency, in which electors can get rid of people who they do not want and elect people who they do want, which cannot be done under the Liberal Democrat proposals.
Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): Will the Secretary of State explain why he did not see the anomalies of that system when all Labour Assembly Members stood on both the regional and the constituency lists?
Mr. Hain: For the simple reason that I did not have any idea thenand neither did the then Secretary of Statethat there would be widespread abuse of the system, which was designed to achieve greater proportionality and, for example, allow Conservatives to be elected to the Assembly. They could not possibly be elected otherwise, given the number of votes for them across Wales. The system was designed to be fairer, and it demonstrated generosity. We did not realise, however, that there would be flagrant abuse of the system whereby losing candidates, including a whole string of Conservatives, set themselves up in the very constituencies where they were defeated as rival Assembly representatives to the elected Members. The Electoral Reform Society is therefore concerned, as is the former Conservative Secretary of State, Lord Crickhowell, who said that the arrangements are "pretty indefensible".
Mr. Hain: No, I will not. The number of Welsh MPs reflects fairly the needs of Wales. The proposals in the White Paper, not just those on the electoral system, do not alter that at all. I find it odd that the shadow Secretary of State is making all sorts of points about the Assembly's future structure when his policy is to abolish it.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger):
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had regular discussions over the past few months with the Secretary of State for Health on this
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matter. Earlier this week, the Government published a consultation on proposals for introducing smoke-free environments in England and Wales.
David Taylor: Early-day motion 333, which was tabled in my name, welcomes the vote of the National Assembly to seek powers to restrict smoking in workplaces and public places. Does the Minister agree that whether someone works in an office or in a non-food pub, they deserve equal rights to health protection? Will he resist any attempt by his ministerial colleagues to weaken the potential for a Welsh blanket ban with exemptions that may make the English one unworkable and unsustainable?
Nick Ainger: Perhaps it would be helpful if I clarified the situation for my hon. Friend. The consultation published on Monday includes proposals for England to provide smoke-free environments through the proposed health improvement and protection Bill. The Welsh Assembly would be given powers to deliver measures that reflect the wishes of the people of Wales. The Assembly Government are currently considering their detailed response to a report published last month by the Assembly's all-party Committee on Smoking in Public Places. Once detailed proposals have been agreed, a further round of consultation will take place in Wales. The power clearly lies with the Welsh Assembly, not with any other ministerial Department.
Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): There is agreement across the House and in another place, as well as among a wide range of health bodies in Wales, voluntary organisations and the National Assembly, that a ban is required. Given that fact, and given the health statistics on heart disease and lung cancer, how can the Minister justify a delay of at least three or four years in implementing a ban in Wales? Yet again, we are last in the queue.
Nick Ainger: I am surprised at that question. The consultation will be completed by 6 September and the Government will introduce the health improvement and protection Bill shortly after. Hopefully, legislation for Wales will be delivered by the Assembly to implement bans from the end of 2006, and in 2007 and 2008. Industry, particularly the hospitality industry, needs considerable time to carry out such measures, so I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman's question.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that most smokers want to give up and would welcome a ban on smoking in workplaces and enclosed public places, as it would help them to do so? Does he further agree that that is the experience in Ireland, where there has been a drop in the number of smokers.
Yes, I agree. I congratulate my hon. Friend on her work in bringing this issue to the attention of the House through her private Member's Bill. The evidence in Ireland is very positive, and we should not forget the reason why the Government want to introduce smoking bans in public places. This year, the British Medical Journal produced evidence showing that 30 people a day die from second-hand smoke. The NHS
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is currently spending £1.7 billion every year on smoking-related diseases, which lead to more than 100,000 deaths a year. Something has to be done, and the Government intend to take action.