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Mrs. Gillan: My hon. Friend has encapsulated the point.

Chris Bryant : Will the hon. Lady give way?
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Mrs. Gillan: No, I will make some progress. [Interruption.] No. Plenty of Members want to speak in the debate. I have been generous in giving way, and Members can make their contributions when the time comes.

It is obvious that the Secretary of State needs to read the Arbuthnott report carefully. He is worried about it; otherwise, why would he have put out a press release on 19 January, shortly after it was announced? He also needs to have a word with Sir John Arbuthnott, because I am worried about a paragraph in a press release that prejudges what the leader of that commission might say. I am worried about the impression that the Secretary of State is giving. We have already seen him trying to give the impression that he has consulted Committees in another place, which is not the case. We need to know exactly what he means when he says things, to whom he has spoken, and how he can put words into the mouth of Sir James when Sir James has not the opportunity to respond. Sir James may agree with the Secretary of State, and that is all well and good, but I note that the Secretary of State has not intervened to tell me that he has spoken to Sir James.

Chris Ruane : He was on holiday.

Mrs. Gillan: He went on holiday at the end of last week; there was plenty of time for the Secretary of State to speak to him before he went on holiday and before the press release was issued on 19 January. He was not on holiday then.

Interestingly enough—as if to compound all this—the Secretary of State for Scotland was answering questions in the House on Tuesday. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell) asked him a simple question: was he aware of what was happening, and would he rule out the introduction of the changes that he proposes in Scotland? The Secretary of State replied that he did not

and that he had

Why would that be? Might it be that Labour Members in Scotland are in the list system, which does not apply in Wales? I leave the Committee to draw its own conclusions. Other Members may wish to allude to the subject, but I believe that more than one Member is in the list system in Scotland, and one may be a Minister. If that does not represent a level of hypocrisy, it is hard to understand why.

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

Mrs. Gillan: Of course, but it will be the last time.

Mr. Devine: May I point out that it is Scottish Labour party policy for candidates not to stand in a constituency at the next election, but to stand in a list?

Hon. Members: It is a matter of principle.

Mrs. Gillan: I do not think that it could be described as a matter of principle. That is what I call a convenient
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intervention from Scottish Members, who have obviously been got at because of all the problems thrown up by the Arbuthnott commission. If that is what they have agreed, of course, they will not be forcing it on the other parties. That is a matter for the Labour party. I assume that the other parties will be able to stand according to the list system and in constituencies as they wish. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to do that in the Labour party we are happy for him to do so, but he should not force it on the other, smaller parties.

I do not think the hon. Gentleman's intervention was all that clever. Why should something that is not happening in Scotland happen in Wales?

If, as the Secretary of State says, systematic abuses are taking place, we want to see them listed. We want to see them formally recorded. We want to see them dealt with. Instead of altering the electoral system and confusing people even more, why should not the Government alter the Standing Orders? Why should there not be some decent guidelines? Why should the matter not be discussed in the Assembly with the aim of reaching some sort of arrangement? As far as I can see, the only evidence produced by the Secretary of State consists of a load of spats between list and regional Members. We should not legislate to change the electoral system because people cannot get on with each other and are bitching about each other. Why does the Secretary of State not give Assembly Members power to make up their own minds, and allow them to alter their Standing Orders to deal with the so-called abuses?

I also disagree with what the Secretary of State has said on many occasions—that he must change the system because people who are losers are perceived to be winners. That upsets the Secretary of State a great deal. I am not sure how his proposals will go any way towards dealing with it, however. If the closed list system is retained, even if dual candidacy is prevented, parties that had lost the constituency election will still be seen to have won a regional seat. There will still be people who are losers, but on this occasion it will be much more apparent that parties are seen to be winners. That is what Kay Jenkins said when she gave evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee.

Mark Tami: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Gillan: I have given way enough, and am nearing the end of my speech. I feel that some of the interventions have been less than helpful, and indeed rather frivolous. This is an important matter. I can tell from the laughter on the Labour Benches that the hon. Gentleman thinks that it is a joke, but it is not. We are talking about a serious piece of gerrymandering on the part of his party, which the Committee must discuss. [Interruption.]

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means: Order. There have been enough sedentary interventions, especially from the parliamentary private secretary, who is not supposed to intervene—certainly not on a regular basis from a sedentary position.

Mrs. Gillan: I am grateful to you, Sir Michael.

This is a party-political move. Labour politicians in Wales and Assembly Members have had it all their own way, and, as I have said, they now face a bit of
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competition in their constituencies. There is no demand from the voters—I defy any Member to produce the huge body of evidence that people are clamouring for the change—and there has certainly been no demand from any other party. The Secretary of State has had no intention of discussing the matter with other parties, unlike the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), who as recently as this month said that it should be discussed across parties. Recently both the Electoral Commission and the Arbuthnott commission opposed the proposal. Academics are against it, but the Government are pressing for it.

I am appalled that the Government are continuing along these lines, and I invite Members to support our amendments. Unless the Government withdraw their proposals, we shall press ours all the way. Even if the Government use their huge majority to win the vote tonight, I am sure that those in another place will want to cast an eye over the changes, and not to cast aside words of wisdom that have come from so many people as lightly as the Secretary of State is introducing this measure.

Mr. Llwyd : Like many other Members, I went to the constituency office on Saturday morning; but the pattern of events was different from usual. I could not get into the office because there were tens of thousands of letters from constituents who were concerned about the patent unfairness of the dual candidacy system. It was so bad that I had to order a truck to carry the post away. I could not possibly answer it all. If Labour Members want evidence, there is literally tons of it in Dolgellau waiting to be picked up. I am sure that that will reinforce the facile arguments that we have heard from them so far.

I rise not just to be a wisecracker but to speak to the Tory amendments and to amendments Nos. 10 and 11, to which my hon. Friends and I have added our names. As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives and my party—and, I might add, the Scottish National party—have united in this instance. It does not happen very often, but it is only right that it should happen when such a fundamental matter is involved.

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman says that it does not happen very often. It has been happening pretty well every week in the Assembly lately, with an unholy grand coalition of opportunistic oppositionists including Plaid Cymru voting alongside the Tories.

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