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David T.C. Davies: Does the hon. Lady also agree that one does not have to be Carol Vorderman to work out that if the Assembly sits only two afternoons a week, there is plenty more time in which it could sit and absolutely no reason why we should pay for an extra 20 politicians?
Numerous voices, including the Richard commission, have warned the Government that if extra powers are given to the Assembly, it will need to expand. The vision laid out by the Richard commission two years ago was
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an 80-Member Assembly with primary powers. The Welsh Liberal Democrats endorse that vision, but it is being short-changed by the Bill.
A further aspect of the Richard model was the voting system. The Government's proposals on the Assembly's electoral system have rightly attracted much controversy, as we have heard today, because they have abjectly failed to come up with any evidence to support their move to ban dual candidacy. However, we must see the dual candidacy debate for what it is: a major row about a minor point. By focusing so intently on it, we are guilty of missing the wider wrong.
There is wide consensus on both sides of the House that problems due to low voter turnout and the public's engagement with mainstream politics exist throughout the country. Much of that is dismissively attributed to voter apathy, but my experience shows that the public are not apathetic at all. Although I do not wish to rehash arguments that have already been heard today, many people are fundamentally disillusioned with a voting system that does not represent their will. Banning dual candidacy will do nothing to improve that situation, but introducing single transferable voting would. Even as a Lib Dem, I cannot believe that the first amendment that I am moving in the Chamber is on STV, but I am sure that my colleagues are very proud of me.
STV is an inclusive and fair system. By failing to adopt it, the Government are missing a huge opportunity to put Wales in the vanguard of electoral reform. The Secretary of State would give the public a system that ensured that they got what they voted for if he was truly worried about the "disincentives" that he says that voters face and the
Mr. Paul Murphy: I had not intended to speak to the group of amendments, but given the views of the Liberal Democrats on amendment No. 110, which was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), I am rather puzzled by their position on the group. Amendment No. 110 was quite modest in comparison because it referred to consultation with the people of Wales on whether the electoral system should be changed. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) more or less dismissed the amendment by going on about the number of people who voted for the Government at the general election. However, I now assume that the Liberal Democrats and those who support the amendments in the group believe that the present system of top-ups is flawed and discredited. It is fair enough if that is their view, but it seems to contradict what was set out to the Committee half an hour ago. I find that difficult to understand.
We could spend hours and hours debating whether single transferable voting is a good or bad system. The question is: has there been sufficient consultation of the people of Wales about whether this is the appropriate system to replace the system with which the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Jenny Willott) now says she does not agree?
In a previous debate, the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) implied that we were not allowed to change our mindsbut the whole purpose of
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the Bill is to change the system on the basis of the experience of the past seven or eight years. Hers is a flawed and preposterous argument, and if it is used further in this debate, it should be knocked down with the ferocity that it deserves.
The amendment would not allow anyone in Wales to be properly consulted about whether we should have the single transferable vote. I am not arguing about the STV system itself, but about whether there should be a proper consultation on it. It has been argued that Lord Richard's committee was one, but that was not about the electoral system alone; it was about a whole host of systems. My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) and I argued that there should be a specific consultation among the Welsh people about the way in which we elect our Assembly.
Lembit Öpik: Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can explain his transformation on the road to Damascus on the subject of consultation. His party's Government have displayed an utter and abject failure to consult on some profoundly important issues, stretching fromas one can predictnuclear power, to reforms in the police service. Why does the right hon. Gentleman choose to defend this one constitutional issue as an appropriate one for wide consultation, when this Government repeatedly force their will on the Welsh people on a minority of the vote?
Mr. Murphy: Because we are now debating the Government of Wales Bill; that is why we are considering this particular subject. The hon. Gentleman has been involved in Welsh politics for some years, so he will understand that these issues need to be resolved in the light of experience.
The Richard report was one way of looking at the matter, and should be taken as part of the consultation process. Others argue that an electoral commission could give us some idea of where we should go. I say that ultimately, the people of Wales should be consulted in a referendumon the major change in the electoral system, not on dual candidacy. A change from the present system, which I agree is partly flawed, to a completely new STV system strikes me as a proper candidate for a referendum, whenor rather, ifwe eventually reach the stage of changing the law-making powers of the Assembly.
To change the method of voting completely would be such a fundamental change in the way in which the Assembly works that it deserves a referendum at some later date. Before that, however, there should be a proper consultation of the people. The Liberal Democrat amendment would change the voting system fundamentally without asking the people of Wales.
It seems strange to me that the right hon. Gentleman insists on a referendum in Wales and a consultation on STV for the Assembly, yet his Government introduced the same sort of proportional system for the election of Members of the European Parliament without any such consultation.
Mr. Murphy: I did not like that eitherbut that is another issue. I respect the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams); he is a good Member for his constituency, and is rooted in Welsh politics, so he will understand that this is such a fundamental change that people should be given the opportunity to debate it properly. As I said earlier, the Richard commission touched on the matter, referred to it and made recommendations, but as part of a wider range. This issue is so fundamentally different that we ought to have proper consultation on it. Then, perhaps if we have a referendum on law-making powers, it should be combined with a referendum on how we change the electoral system.
There was one thing that I found interesting in the speech by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amershamand presumably it will be echoed in later speeches. Labour Members were derided when we said that we had some doubts about the present top-up system. The system now suggested would completely replace that, and I assume that the Liberal Democrats and others who support the amendment do so, as a matter of policy, because the system that it would introduce is better than the top-up system from their point of viewnot from the point of view of electoral advantage, but because they believe that it is right. However, the amendment is wrong, because it does not give the people of Wales the opportunity to be consulted and to vote on such a fundamental change.
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