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Question agreed to.


Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Somebody clearly has a mechanical instrument of some kind. Perhaps they could immediately leave the Chamber and switch the instrument off. If it is a microphone, my apologies to hon. Members present.
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Orders of the Day

Government of Wales Bill

[3rd Allotted Day]

Considered in Committee [Progress, 24 January].

[Sylvia Heal in the Chair]

[Relevant documents: The First Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, Session 2005–06, Government White Paper: Better Governance for Wales, HC 551, and the Government's response thereto, Third Special Report from the Committee, Session 2005–06, HC 839.]

Clause 103

Proposal for Referendum by Assembly

Amendment proposed [24 January]: No. 110, in page 57, line 13, to leave out subsection (3) and insert the words—
'(3) The Secretary of State must—

(a) within the period of 120 days beginning immediately after the day upon which it is received consult upon—

(i) the voting system, and

(ii) the number of Assembly members of an Assembly after the Assembly Act provisions have come into force, and

(b) within the period of 180 days after the end of the consultation—

(i) lay a draft of a statutory instrument containing an Order in Council under section 102(1) before each House of Parliament, or

(ii) give notice in writing to the First Minister of the Secretary of State's refusal to do so and the reasons for that refusal.'.—[Ian Lucas.]
4.40 pm

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen) (Lab): Six days ago, I was stopped mid-sentence when referring to Splott market, and hon. Members may or may not recall that the purpose of my mentioning the market in Splott or any other marketplace in Wales was to try to bring to the House's attention the fact that constitutional matters, such as those that we are discussing, may be of enormous interest to us, as politicians, and perhaps to academics, but the Bill and any legislation passed by the House of Commons and the House of Lords refers to people's lives. Hon. Members will recall that, over the past one and a quarter hours, the House has been dealing with an extremely important matter regarding the health service. So I make no apology to the House for saying that the basis for every Bill that we consider must be an improvement in the services that our people receive in Wales. However, we must understand that the way in which the Assembly Members are held to account by the people of Wales through the ballot box is also of great interest to our constituents. The amendment refers to the need to have proper consultation in the months ahead on the nature of the electoral system—in particular, the so-called top-up system—under which the National Assembly for Wales is elected.
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If hon. Members look at clauses 8 and 9 or paragraph 57 of the explanatory notes, they will see a rather convoluted and complicated description of how the so-called top-up Members are elected. That is for us to consider, but I recall that when I left the polling station after voting during the first election to the Assembly, a little old lady came out with me, clutching what she thought was a manifesto or an election address from a political party. As it turned out, it was the second ballot paper for the top-up Members. She asked me what to do with it, and I suggested that she should go back into the polling station and vote according to her conscience. But she did not know what that paper represented, and there had been plenty of publicity about the nature of the second electoral system.

The figures speak for themselves about how it is that our constituents do not understand what it is that they do when they go into the polling station to vote in the second ballot. For example, my constituency is in the South Wales East region, which has almost 500,000 electors. At the last election—this applies to all parties other than mine—the Liberal Democrat, Mr.   Michael German, won. He gained 17,661 second votes out of 500,000—3.76 per cent. of the people in South Wales East. At the same time, he stood for my constituency—Torfaen—and received 2,746 votes. Of course, he did not win, but he did win in the ballot for the top-up seats. It is virtually impossible for people in our constituencies to understand how it is that they pile up their votes—for example, in South Wales East, for Labour—yet none of them count in determining the second group of people who are elected to the National Assembly for Wales. Therefore, we need to take a very serious look at that system. Proportionality seems to be the answer for the second ballot. Why do people who elect Assembly Members not have them elected on the basis of proportionality and according to the votes that they cast?

4.45 pm

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): I have had the same experience as my right hon. Friend. People at the count have asked me how many candidates we have had elected only to find out that, despite topping the poll, we have had none. That is the same for any political party. Clearly the longer this flawed system goes on, the more it will act as a disincentive for people to take part in the second vote. They think that a vote for whatever party will not deliver them anything.

Mr. Murphy: There is complete confusion among the electors of south Wales, north Wales and middle Wales about the whole question of how votes are distributed.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): How does the right hon. Gentleman reconcile the statement that he has just made with the evidence provided by the Electoral Commission to the Welsh Affairs Committee that this was not a contentious issue? Certainly it was not a topic of conversation on the bus in Dowlais.

Mr. Murphy: I disagree with the Electoral Commission, and I do so on the basis that I have been elected to various bodies in Wales for the past 40 years. The people in this Chamber have been elected by the people who send them here and we talk to our
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constituents. The Electoral Commission is absolutely wrong and it is about time that it started listening to the people whom we represent.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman is making the point that there is widespread and large concern among his constituents and, indeed, throughout Wales. However, would he care to share with the Committee all the letters and e-mails that he has had about this system over the years that the Assembly has been in existence? I would like that large body of evidence to be made available to everybody. If he has such a large body of evidence, we will all be able to understand it. However, the Electoral Commission says that there is no such body of evidence.

Mr. Murphy: If the hon. Lady came to Wales and asked people—whether in Pontypool market, Splott market or anywhere else—what they thought about the second system of electing Members of the Assembly, I have not the slightest doubt that they would show confusion and a complete lack of understanding.

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): Obviously, democracy depends upon understanding, so can my right hon. Friend tell us what percentage of the population understand the d'Hondt system?

Mr. Murphy: I suppose that I am one of the few people in the world who does because, as my hon. Friend knows, the d'Hondt system has been used in Northern Ireland after the Good Friday agreement.

Mrs. Gillan: I must admit that the d'Hondt system is enough to confuse anybody; I am not necessarily supporting a system. However, surely the right hon. Gentleman would not expect me to rely on prompted questions to his constituents or people in Wales. If the concern is widespread, there must be some spontaneous evidence of that in the form of letters and e-mails to all the hon. Members in Wales. I can assure him that my hon. Friends who represent Wales have not received enormous postbags containing concerns about this issue, so we would very much like to see his evidence.

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