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Several hon. Members rose—

Mrs. Gillan: I am willing to give way, but before I do so I must point out that that goes to show that voters are
 
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confused because, since 1997, the Government have introduced so many different electoral systems that it has been hard to keep pace.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Is not the heart of the problem the fact that there are two systems—a list system and a constituency system? Therefore, dual candidacy is quite fair. I cannot see why, other than for political motives, this change is being introduced. A word of warning to the Secretary of State: with the Conservatives on the up and Labour on the way down, this might not be the right way for him to go.

Mrs. Gillan: I leave my hon. Friend's intervention to stand alone—perhaps the Secretary of State will heed his warning—but, yes, that is the crux of the problem.

7.45 pm

Mr. David : Does the hon. Lady accept that, given the complexity of the electoral system, if more people understood it, they would be aware of its unfairness?

Mrs. Gillan: I do not think that we are at odds on that, for the simple reason that if people understood the system better they would have no problem with dual candidacy. The Government are particularly confused about this, as the Electoral Commission alleges, perhaps because people are finding it hard to get used to the perception of proportional representation. Certainly, Labour AMs are finding it hard to get used to. They have been used to having things all their own way and I am afraid that this has been a shock to their system, as I have no doubt we will hear again from the Secretary of State.

Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): Are we not in danger, however, of underestimating the sophistication of the electorate in Wales? We are constantly told that the electorate are confused about the system. Is it not the case, however, that at the last Assembly election in Clwyd, West, the Labour party won on the first-past-the-post basis, but the Conservative candidate had the greater share of the vote on the list basis? Does not that tend to suggest that the electorate are more sophisticated than the Government suggest?

Mrs. Gillan: If my hon. Friend is saying that the electorate are learning how to play the system, I think that he is absolutely right. I am sure that that is to our advantage in Clwyd, West.

The Electoral Commission, in preparing its response, contacted all political parties registered to contest elections in Wales. Of those who responded, the majority strongly opposed the change. A perception exists that the change favours incumbency and the current party of Assembly government that holds the large majority of constituency seats—the Labour party. The conclusion that the Electoral Commission drew on the provision says it all. On the evidence available, it said, it did not believe that a case for a change had been made. The Secretary of State should think hard before going against the opinions of one of our leading independent bodies.
 
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Opposition to the ban has also been expressed forcefully by the Electoral Reform Society, which concluded:

Yet another independent organisation is therefore criticising the proposals.

Mark Tami: As I pointed out on Second Reading, the Electoral Reform Society is not an independent organisation. It is an organisation that has set out to promote proportional representation for our system. Arguing that it is some sort of independent voice without its own agenda is totally false.

Mrs. Gillan: The Electoral Commission is independent. The Electoral Reform Society is certainly not financially supported by my party. I do not know whether it is supported by the Liberal Democrats.

Mr. Salmond: Would the hon. Lady like to try the Arbuthnott commission, appointed by no less a judicious person than the Secretary of State for Scotland? Surely that was an independent commission.

Mrs. Gillan: The hon. Gentleman anticipates my next point. He must have seen the document that I have in front of me.

Scotland currently has the same system for election to the Scottish Parliament. As I understand it, however, there are no proposals for change. Had the issue been a great concern, even at election time, when preparing the Labour party manifesto, the issue could have been addressed. Were the Scottish system so imperfect, changes could have been made when the Scottish Parliament (Constituencies) Act 2004 was passed. The Arbuthnott commission, however, reported last week, and concluded:

The Secretary of State was so worried by what the commission said that he had to get a press release out really fast. His response to the Arbuthnott commission on boundary differences and voting systems in Scotland stated:

I hope that the Secretary of State will let me know what conversations he has had with Sir John Arbuthnott. I do not know how many Members have read the Secretary of State's press release, because he went on to say:

I hope that the Secretary of State has discussed that with Sir John Arbuthnott. I tried to ring Sir John this morning to find out his opinion, but he is away on holiday. I spoke to another member of the Arbuthnott commission this morning, however, who said that the commission considered the situation in Wales
 
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exceedingly carefully, so much so that the Secretary of State will find that the Arbuthnott commission refers to Wales in several places, specifically in paragraph 4.21, which alludes to the parallel situation and, for those Members who are interested, states:

Wales was therefore at the forefront of the minds of members of the Arbuthnott commission. It also refers to Wales in paragraph 4.58, noting specifically that these proposals would affect the quality of candidates. I agree with that. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State is now laughing, so, obviously, he is rubbishing the Arbuthnott commission.

Mr. David: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Gillan: No, I will make some progress.

At paragraph 4.58, the commission states:

Therefore, the Arbuthnott commission has definitely considered the Welsh situation, and is making points that are applicable.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mrs. Gillan: I have been generous in giving way to Labour Members. I will give way to some Opposition Members.

Mr. Salmond: Would not paragraph 4.60 of the Arbuthnott commission's report be an even better example? It sums up the commission's opposition to this undemocratic practice by quoting from evidence in the response to the White Paper on Wales, which criticised the Secretary of State for trying to preserve Labour's hegemony.

Mrs. Gillan: Yes. I will not read out that part of the Arbuthnott commission report.

Mr. David Jones: Has my hon. Friend noticed paragraph 4.57, in which the commission comments specifically on the assertion in the White Paper that the present system

Did she note that the commission commented that it


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