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Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Con): Is the Secretary of State saying that that abuse is peculiar to the Welsh political culture or that dual candidacies per se are bad news? Do the Government believe that the practice should be ruled out in, for example, London assembly elections?
Mr. Hain: The Bill is about Wales. One of the things that Conservatives find difficult to understand is that devolution allows different parts of the United Kingdom to operate in different ways. Circumstances have arisen in Wales that have allowed widespread abuse and we are correcting that.
Is the Secretary of State prepared to place in the Library details of all the objections and problems that have arisen from the present electoral system? He constantly refers to a body of evidence that appears not to exist. I do not know how many letters he has had, but academics and those who have examined the system, including the Electoral Commission, say
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that there is no great body of evidence to justify the changes that he is proposing. Is he prepared to put the evidence in the Library and show us how overwhelming the demand for change is?
It cannot be right for losers to become winners through the back door, despite having been rejected by the voters. That is an abuse of democracy, as is the practice adopted by 15 of the 20 list AMs of using taxpayers' money to open constituency offices in the seats in which they were defeated and targeting those seats to win next time by cherry-picking local issues against the constituency AMs who beat them.
"There is something wrong in a situation in which five people can stand in Clwyd, none of them can be elected, and then they all get into the Assembly. On the face of it that does not make sense. I think that a lot of people in Wales find that it does not."
"Candidates use the list as an insurance against failing to win a constituency contest. This dual candidacy can also confuse the electorate, who may wish to consciously reject a particular candidate only to find them elected via the list. It should remain a basic democratic right not to elect a particular candidate or to be able to vote a Member out."
Lord Carlile, the former Welsh Liberal Democrat[Interruption.] This is not against a list system. It is saying to candidates, "Make a choice." Why are they so afraid of making a choice? Stand and face the verdict of the people in the constituency or stand on the list, whichever they wish. It is[Interruption.] I have been asked for evidence and I have taken up a great deal of time in interventions.
In the consultation on the White Paper, I received only one formal response from the Conservative party, but it was a most significant one. It was from the Preseli Pembrokeshire Conservative association. The hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb) is swelling with pride as the association's representative. It said:
Mr. Grieve: Given the importance that the Secretary of State attached to this issue as a matter of principle, when will we have a statement from the Prime Minister that the other systems of proportional representation in the United Kingdom that the Government have set up will be altered? Does the Secretary of State understand that asking the House to treat something in isolation can be perceived, however great his vehemence, as gerrymandering? We are not prepared to tolerate that. If he wishes to change the system, it should be changed as an issue of principle throughout the country and not for the convenience of the Welsh Labour party.
Mr. Hain: I am glad that I took that intervention. That is because I have further evidence explaining exactly why it is not in any sense gerrymandering or partisan. The hon. Gentleman asks why there should not be a statement by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The abuse has happened in Wales and we are correcting it in Wales. The Bill is about Wales. I know of no similar complaints about London. Indeed, I know of no similar complaints on an equivalent scale anywhere else to those that have existed in Wales.
Huw Irranca-Davies: Does the Secretary of State share my immense regret that we have to discuss these matters today? We do so with deep regret because those of us, with the best intentions, who supported the Government of Wales Act 1998, did not foresee the level of abuse that we have had. I would welcome a strong Liberal Democrat presence in my constituency to bring the fight to me, but regrettably that presence in adverts, local constituency offices and surgeries is in the target seats that the Liberal Democrats hope to win in the first-past-the-post system.
The comments that I quoted earlier from Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, independents, academics and even from the Preseli Pembrokeshire Conservative association, a fountain of wisdom in the Conservative party alone on this matter, show that there is a body of evidence, and there is much more, putting the case for
Mr. Hain: Different parts of the United Kingdom have different[Interruption.] I expect the Conservatives to scoff at devolution. That is what they have done all along and they always will do, as they are doing today. They are seeking to kill the Bill. However, I do not expect the Liberal Democrats to deny that different parts of the United Kingdom can develop in different waysindeed, that is the purpose of devolutionand embrace different practices.
Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC):
The Secretary of State cited as an abuse that he wishes to remedy the fact
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that list Members set up constituency offices. How would his proposal stop them doing so in constituencies in which they intend to stand?
Mr. Hain: It would not stop them setting up constituency offices. However, I think that the Assembly may make a decision in its standing orders to stop that practice, and I hope that it does so. I am glad that a member of Plaid Cymru has asked me about this, because only today I received a press release from Helen Mary Jones, in which she describes herself as the "Llanelli-based Assembly Member". She complains about money spent on a hospital in Carmarthen instead of one in Llanelli. However, as a list Member, she represents both areas, and is the Member for Mid and West Wales. Yet again, a member of Plaid Cymru has been caught red-handed. Of all the parts of the list area that she represents, she targets the one place where she narrowly lost last time, and describes herself as the Llanelli-based Assembly Member. The Bill will stop her describing herself as the Assembly Member for Llanelli in future, because she was defeated there by Catherine Thomas in 2003.
Mr. Llwyd: Surely the right hon. Gentleman understands that Helen Mary Jones is saying that she is Llanelli-based. She lives thereshe does not say that she is the Member for Llanelli. If that were the case, he would have ground for complaint. Perhaps more importantly, the right hon. Gentleman says that the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) may be addressed by standing orders in the National Assembly. Will he oversee those orders, or will he allow the Assembly to deal with them itself?
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