Lembit Öpik: I understand the right hon. Gentleman's disagreement with amendment No. 70. We simply have a difference of view, and, in the light of that, we can hardly negotiate towards an agreement. I was not really persuaded by the Secretary of State's argument on this issue, and we might have to return to it on another occasion.
On amendment No. 69, I really do not see why the Secretary of State, who is admittedly pro-devolution, is nevertheless intent on preserving this privilege to an individual who will almost certainly not sit in the Assembly. I do not see why the Secretary of State thinks that someone who has been appointed by the Prime Minister to serve in a Government in Westminster is best equipped to determine the date of an ordinary election in Wales.
I am disappointed that the Government, and specifically the Secretary of State, take a rather intransigent view on this matter. Every fibre in my body tells me to divide the Committee on it. However, given the excitement that we have had in the past half hour, and the fact that I shall have the opportunity to return to the matter on Reportif I feel provoked to do soin a couple of weeks, and given that the Secretary of State has made his point and I have made mine and we have agreed to differ for now, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Mrs. Gillan: We now come to one of the meatier sections of the Bill, as I am sure the Secretary of State appreciates; I see him grinning. It is indicative of the strength of feeling on this side of the House that only one amendment in this group is supported only by Conservative Members, that only one is supported only by Liberal Members, and that only one is supported only by Plaid Cymru Members. The rest are supported jointly by Plaid Cymru and ourselves. That illustrates the strength of feeling about what the Government are attempting to do in clause 7.
When the Labour Government came to power in 1997, there was only one system of voting, which was understood by everyone in the country; first past the post. Now, we have five systems of voting throughout the United Kingdom. We have the first past the post system, also known as the plurality rule, for the Westminster constituencies and local council elections. We have the supplementary vote, which is used in the London mayoral elections and 12 local mayoral elections. The list proportional systemproportional representationis used for the UK European elections, except in Northern Ireland. The single transferable vote system is used in Northern Ireland for Assembly elections, local elections and European parliamentary elections. Finally, there is the additional member
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system, which is used for elections to the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Greater London Assembly.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I hate to add to the hon. Lady's list, but there is yet another example. Single transferable voting is used for the replacement of hereditary peers in the House of Lords.
Mrs. Gillan: These voting systems are really coming out of the woodwork now. It is only when we start to list them all that we realise exactly the extent of the constitutional vandalism that has been perpetrated by the Labour Government on these islands. If we change the electoral system in the way that is being proposed, yet another system would be added to the list.
Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): The hon. Lady will be aware of Brian Monteith, a member of her party in Scotland, who stood in a constituency and lost, but was elected to the Scottish Parliament via the list system. He was then expelled from her party, yet he still sits as an MSP. Is not that a farce?
Mrs. Gillan: I do not want to pre-empt any debate that we might have on these issues later, but the hon. Gentleman will perhaps have noticed amendment No. 213. Rather than answering questions about my party, I hope to have the opportunity to probe the Secretary of State on how he views such matters if we reach that amendment later. However, I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter, because I shall be interested to hear how he would want to apply the rules to members of his own party.
Mark Tami: Does the hon. Lady acknowledge that we are accepting that, so far as this system is concerned, we have got it wrong, just as her own party seems to be accepting that it has got wrong everything that it ever believed in?
This is a serious group of amendments, on which I have a number of points to make. I shall be listening carefully to what the Secretary of State has to say about them, as will many of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members on this side of the House. We deplore the Labour Government's attempt to rig the electoral system to satisfy Labour Assembly Members, who do not like competition in their own back yard. The Government intend to do this by disqualifying candidates from standing both for a constituency and for the regional party list.
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Significantly, and reinforcing the Labour bias that I allege in the proposal, the Labour-dominated Welsh Affairs Committee, whose report on the Government's White Paper, "Better Governance for Wales", was published in December. I know the Secretary of State goes to bed reading it; divided on party lines on this issue. It is quite evident that it is the Labour party versus the rest.
It is not good enough for the Secretary of State to argue that the proposal was in the Welsh version of the Labour manifesto at the last general election and that he therefore has a mandate. I have a copy of the Welsh Labour manifesto here, and it says Labour will
The Secretary of State has not bothered even to consult or take the views of some of his colleagues. I want to set the debate in context by referring to the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), who gave a speech to the Hansard Society on 16 January. I am sure the Secretary of State is familiar with her words. The speech was entitled "A New Deal for Democracy", and the Secretary of State can find it on the speeches section of the Department for Constitutional Affairs website, as it is a published document. Under the heading, "We need to adopt a non-partisan approach", the Minister said:
And though I've stood for election seven times as a Labour candidate, it is not difficult for me to get into non-party mode in carrying out these responsibilities in my new department because there's no other way to do this job. You simply can't make progress in addressing electoral issues from a party-political basis.
Nobody from the Wales Office has worked closely with parliamentarians from other parties. From some of the speeches that have been made during scrutiny of the Bill, I am not even sure whether people from the Department have worked closely with Government Back Benchers, although this is a telling phrase:
This change has not been called for by anybody except Labour Members. It has not been called for by the Welsh people, nor was it recommended by the Richard commission. I checked in the Library, because I thought that a flood of papers might have been put there by the Secretary of State, which would amount to the body of evidence of the demands for those changes on which we could draw as a Committee. But after checking again as recently as this morning, I am afraid to say that no body of evidence has been deposited by
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anyone from the Wales Office. I can only conclude that this is not a measure that has been demanded by the people of Wales, but one designed to suit the interests of the Labour party.
Significantly, this is being proposed when Labour has no regional AMs. There was no such proposal made before the 2003 Assembly elections, when Labour had one regional AM and no complaint about the system was heard at all. [Hon. Members: "Ah!"] Opposition Members are confirming that I am exactly right in my suppositions on that point.
I shall turn to comments made by other bodies; why rely on what politicians say? Let us consider some independent commentary on our electoral systems. The Electoral Commission is an independent body established by a Labour Government in 2000 under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. It is independent of the Government and of political parties, but it is directly accountable to Parliament through a Committee chaired by the Speaker of the House of Commons. It exists to do something very special; to foster public confidence and participation in elections by promoting integrity, involvement and effectiveness in the democratic process. I think we can all be encouraged by that.
"In light of the need to encourage voter participation at the Assembly election in 2007, we would caution against any change that is perceived to be partisan and could add to a prevailing distrust of politicians.
"In the time available to respond to the White Paper, it was not feasible for us to commission public opinion research on the issue of dual candidacy. Drawing on our quantitative and qualitative research on public attitudes to the National Assembly election in 2003 . . . we note that the 'Clwyd West problem' as described in the White Paper did not emerge in any of our attitudinal research about voting in the election. As our research included unprompted questions to the public about their reasons for voting or not voting, this may suggest that there was in fact low public salience of the issue at the time.