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Mr. Llwyd: Risible arguments are precisely what we heard earlier. What nonsense has been put around. I have great regard for the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) but when he was pressed about the evidence, even he could only say that he had had the odd conversation here and there. Nobody has produced a shred of evidence to prove the case.
"After extensive consultations with the expert academic community, we have only been able to discover one place where the change proposed in Wales has been implemented. This was in Ukraine, prior to the 2002 parliamentary elections . . . The only other instance we have been able to find where this has even been seriously proposed is very recently for New Brunswick in Canada. Therefore, the suggested change does, frankly, make Wales look odd."
The Electoral Commission was cited earlier by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham and it has looked dispassionately and independently at the situation. What it had to say about international comparisons is interesting:
But no other country bans dual candidacy on the lines of the proposal in the White Paper. We feel that going down that road requires more compelling reasons without those other examples. If we are to operate outside international democratic norms, we have to have particular reasons for doing so.
The Secretary of State's response, of course, was to rubbish that and pretend that academics highly respected in Welsh and international politics had somehow got it wrong. If he says later that the matter has been considered in New Zealand and Canada, he will be right, but it has been turned down in both, which hardly helps his argument.
The Secretary of State also offered a gratuitous insult to the Electoral Commission in saying that it played a valuable role but could get things wrong and had got this wrong. If we are all, collectively, getting it wrong, why does not the Secretary of State give us some proof instead of conjecture and stories about thousands of people who are beside themselves all night because of the unfairness of the system?
Hywel Williams: Does my hon. Friend find it strange that the Secretary of State and the First Minister have rubbished the Electoral Commission but that the head of that commission has only just been reappointed for a further five years? If he gets things so wrong, why are they reappointing him?
Mr. Llwyd: Precisely so. That is a question that the Secretary of State may wish to address. We are told all the time that the Government like to consult: indeed, they do consult, but if they do not like it, they throw the consultation paper away because it is not what they wanted to hear. What is happening is obvious to anyone who can read. It is disgraceful.
The Bill has good things in it but also contains machinery for the worst possible kind of gerrymandering. That is absolutely obvious. The First Minister, Rhodri
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Morgan, said there was widespread support across non-political people in Wales for this proposition. Where is that widespread support? Dr. Jonathan Bradbury of the university of Wales, Swansea, and Dr. Meg Russell of the constitution unit at University College, London, said that when they were looking for evidence there was
"This issue did not figure in that research. We asked a whole series of questions and sought unprompted replies and this issue did not arise . . . what concerns us is that there is no evidence whatever in the White Paper to back up this proposal. There is no evidence at all to back up this proposal and therefore we came to the conclusion that we think that the case for change has not been made."
"Firstly, in the White Paper there is a very bold, unqualified statement about public opinion, which is not backed up with any reference to evidence at all. Secondly, we say that when we go back and look at what evidence does exist that is relevant to it, it does not appear to support the statement that is made in the White Paper . . . The total number of people who mentioned anything at all as a reason for not voting in 2003 in our sample was two; that is out of more than 500 who said that they did not vote. That would suggest that the electoral system was not an important factor, as the White Paper puts it, 'acting as a disincentive to vote'."
"Given that the reasons offered in the White Paper do not stack up, frankly, are not supported by the evidence, given also that Labour currently do not have any members coming through the list so if it is going to create problems for any parties it is going to create problems for other parties, it is difficult to rule out the hypothesis of partisan motivation. I have no particular private evidence on that matter but, as we say, even if this is not intended it is unfortunate because it is going to look deeply partisan. Whether or not that was the original intention it is going to look that way and if there is one thing that people dislike almost as much as paedophiles living nearby and bent coppers, it is politicians who seem to be stitching things up for themselves . . . it does appear to be trying to adjust the electoral system in favour of one party against the interests of other parties, and it is not being done"
If the hon. Gentleman considers the other evidence presented to the Welsh Affairs Committee, he
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will find other opinions expressed. Dr. Jonathan Bradbury, for example, and Dr. Meg Russell express other opinions. The idea that all the academic evidence is one-sided is totally false, and he knows it.
"Even if the proposal is simply to prevent unsuccessful constituency candidates being elected for the region comprising that constituency, this seems an unnecessary restriction on the democratic rights of potential candidates, parties and local electors to have as unrestricted a choice as possible in an election . . . If Ministers are genuinely concerned with addressing democratically harmful public perceptions, then they should consider whether such legislation will not be seen by that same public as partisan, and not something which would worry the Government if the party distribution of constituency AMs and regional AMs was different."
Let me attempt to sum up. We have heard nothing of substance from the Government to support the ban that they propose. The Electoral Commission has said that it would go outside international democratic norms.
The Welsh Affairs Committee found little support for the Government's proposed solution. Dr. Richard Wyn Jones and Dr. Roger Scully said that it had a "partisan motivation". The Electoral Reform Society has considerable concerns and does not think that the case has been made. It also advocates the single transferable vote.
It is interesting to note that there are no plans to make this change in Scotland, possibly because Peter Peacock is a Labour MSP from the Highlands and Islands and is also a Labour Minister. I know that other Members will wish to speak in this debate, but I have a copy of
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Sir John Arbuthnott's report. I shall refer briefly to it, although others will wish to refer to it in greater detail. It states:
"Dual candidacy is a common and accepted feature of mixed member proportional systems across the world. Indeed, in some cases candidates are expressly required to stand in both contests. We suggest that dual candidacy only seems problematic to some people here because of the legacy of constituency representation within British political culture and the hegemony which this has secured for some parties. Candidates coming in second or third place who are then elected through the regional list are only losers in the context of a first past the post, 'winner takes all' electoral system. This logic does not sit well within a proportional system and introducing it devalues and undermines the concept of proportionality. The criticism, and the pejorative terms in which it is sometimes put, does little to enhance the legitimacy of regional MSPs."
So far, we have heard little mention of the Human Rights Act 1998. I am no expert on it, although I do a little practice in the area, but I will take leading counsel's advice on the legality of that issue. If I have that advice before Report stage, I shall put it before the House.
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