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Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Hain: I wish to make a little progress and then I shall be happy to let the hon. Gentleman intervene.

The Bill also ensures that, for the first time ever, primary powers for Wales are on the statute book, subject to a referendum. Some have shouted "betrayal" because primary powers are not being delivered immediately, but such a fundamental change from the 1997 settlement, which was endorsed by a referendum, could be changed only by another referendum. To advocates of primary powers, I say, "Don't shout at the Government, but go out and win the argument. Make the case to the people of Wales. If you win the argument, this Bill provides a mechanism for delivery. The ball is now in your court."

An unwelcome development since the 1998 Act was passed has been the problem of defeated constituency candidates being elected through the backdoor on their party's regional list. Politicians are placing an each-way bet on constituency elections, with the electorate losing out. As a Government, we are determined to put the voters back in charge, restoring their democratic right to reject a constituency candidate. We have a clear manifesto commitment and will press the case for reform.

The Bill delivers a lasting settlement that will settle the constitutional argument in Wales for a generation or more. Instead of constantly revising and returning to the issue of its powers and electoral arrangements, the Assembly will now be able to focus on policy development and delivery, in education, health and all the other devolved fields. The constant demand "More powers" will be redundant: they will be on the statute book when the Bill receives Royal Assent, ready for implementation after a successful referendum. Instead of powers, the real question will be: are the Welsh Assembly Government delivering or not? What are the future policies necessary to build a world-class Wales? Political arguments over policies will replace political arguments over powers, so that Welsh political culture gains full maturity.

Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): What is the Secretary of State's response to the Electoral Commission's view that the changes proposed for the voting system are perceived as politically partisan and could lead to less participation in the Assembly elections?

Mr. Hain: I think it is wrong and I shall cite alternative evidence later in my speech. The hon. Gentleman might consider experience across the world,
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in Canada, New Zealand, Mexico, Thailand and a number of other places, where the issue has arisen but the abuse that has taken place in Wales has not occurred to the same extent. I shall come back to that point.

Mr. Grieve: The possibility of people both standing for a seat and being elected from the list when they were defeated was inherent in the system set up in 1998, and is an inevitable consequence of such a system of proportional representation. Indeed, it exists in other parts of the United Kingdom. So on what basis has the Secretary of State suddenly decided that Wales should not have that system, which is common throughout the world, even if it has come in for criticism? Why has he decided that Wales uniquely should not have it, and why has he done so in a manner of which the Electoral Commission has been very critical?

Mr. Hain: I was about to come to that point. The problem with being so generous in accepting interventions is that they come before the arguments have been made.

In 1997–98, I stood at the Dispatch Box with my colleagues and took the Bill through—indeed, the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) was on the Opposition Front Bench at the time, opposing it, as Conservatives always oppose devolution progress in Wales—but none of us foresaw a situation in which the system would be so widely abused. People in Wales say to me, "If I want to defeat a constituency candidate because I don't like them, why should they pop up on the list?" That is the fundamental point. We are putting the voters back in charge. If they do not want to elect somebody, they do not have to do so. There should not be a situation where people can decide to place a both-way bet, stand in both categories and win even if they are kicked out by the electorate.

Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Does the Secretary of State concede that with first past the post somebody could be elected merely on 26 per cent. of the vote, with four parties? The list system compensates for the inequities of first past the post.

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman has only just wandered into the debate and his point is rather wandering as well. All we are saying is that the list system will remain and people can make a choice. They can decide—as Labour Members are doing. As I shall explain later, half a dozen Labour Members will be faced with a tough choice. They face swings against them of less than 3 per cent. Going by the general election performance last year, their seats will be vulnerable in the next Assembly election. They have to face that choice; they do not have the lifebelt of being able to stand in the list, any more than candidates of any other party.

Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): Does not it operate to the advantage of those Labour constituency Members that a softer candidate will be standing against them on a first-past-the-post basis? The more able candidates will stand on the regional list rather than on first past the post. Is not that precisely what the Secretary of State is hoping for?

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Mr. Hain: There we have it in its full glory—the real Conservative face of Wales exposed. Why have the hon. Gentleman and other Welsh Conservatives joined an unholy coalition on the issue with Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats? Why are they so afraid of taking their choice to the people? Are they afraid that they will lose constituency elections and therefore opt for the lifebelt of the list? If so, they might as well not bother to stand in the constituencies in the first place. The hon. Gentleman represents the constituency of Clwyd, West, where at the last Assembly elections, three of the candidates who were defeated ended up winning on the lists. Three of the people in Clwyd, West who were booted out by the electorate ended up as Assembly Members, competing against the winning Assembly Member, Alun Pugh.

Mr. Llwyd: I am not in an unholy alliance with anyone, as far as I know—at least, I was not until just now—but all the extrinsic and academic evidence concludes that the proposal is partisan, in favour of new Labour. In coming to that formulation, did the Secretary of State take advice from President Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine?

Mr. Hain: No, but I studied what has happened in Mexico and Thailand, and in Canada in New Brunswick, among other provinces, and what is being done in New Zealand. I will quote alternative evidence later in my speech, including from a much more respected academic commentator on Wales than those who have been quoted.

Mrs. Gillan: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Hain: As I am in a charitable mood, of course I give way.

Mrs. Gillan: On this occasion, there could be a holy alliance between hon. Members because certainly some people have to think straight. The Secretary of State seems to be taking advice from people throughout the international arena, but I do not understand why he ignored the advice of the First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, who when giving evidence thought that the problems could be dealt with by using a protocol along Scottish lines. Why has the Secretary of State ignored the First Minister? Can we expect these electoral changes to be introduced in Scotland shortly?

Mr. Hain: I do not know where the hon. Lady has done her research, but the First Minister is fully signed up to this policy. At a special Welsh Labour conference on 11 September 2004, he voted for and backed the manifesto on which we stood in May last year that unanimously endorsed the policy. He is enthusiastically backing the policy and she should not take his name in vain in that way.

Although the proposals in the Bill were in Labour's manifesto for an historic third term, it is right to acknowledge the part that people from all parties have played in the debate on the future powers and electoral arrangements of the Assembly. Those people include Lord Richard of Ammanford and the members of his commission who submitted a detailed report to the Welsh Assembly Government in 2004. I pay tribute to
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Lord Richard for the strength of his advocacy. He remains a tribune for Welsh reform, and we look forward to his contributions when the Bill reaches the House of Lords.

Members of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis), have provided expert analysis to inform the debate about the Bill, as have members of the Assembly Committee, chaired by the Presiding Officer, Lord Elis-Thomas.

The vast majority of clauses in this 165-clause Bill should have cross-party support. Ninety-three clauses re-enact, with only minor modifications, those from the 1998 Act. For example, clauses 145 to 147 on Welsh public records, which applied just to the Assembly as a corporate body under the old Act, have been modified to apply to the Welsh Assembly Government and the Assembly Commission separately.

A further 47 entirely new clauses have been incorporated into the Bill to establish a proper legislature to hold the Executive to account—something that all parties support. Many of those provisions draw directly from existing statutes, which provide a successful model for what we are trying to achieve in Wales. For example, the provisions establishing the Assembly Commission are drawn almost word for word from the provisions in the Scotland Act 1998, which set up the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body. I hope that those clauses, too, will prove uncontentious, so that the vast majority of clauses—at least 140 of the 165 clauses—will have cross-party support. Just 24 clauses concern extra powers—the real meat of the Bill—and one clause from the 1998 Act has been amended so as to ban candidates from simultaneously standing in both a constituency and for a region, whether as a list candidate or as an individual.

The Bill will set up the Welsh Assembly Government as an entity in its own right, rather than as an off-shoot of the National Assembly, as it is now. In future, it will be much clearer who is responsible for taking decisions and who should be accountable for them. Instead of an Assembly modelled on old local government lines, there will be a new Westminster-type structure with a clear distinction between the Welsh Assembly Government and the Assembly acting as a proper legislature, holding Ministers to account. This change has support from all parties in the Assembly and will make for better government and better public understanding of the differences between the responsibilities of Ministers on the one hand, and the role of Opposition parties and Back Benchers of all parties on the other.

Secondly, the Bill will give the Assembly enhanced powers to take decisions affecting the people of Wales in areas approved by Parliament on a case-by-case basis.

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