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Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman has a very good point. We are signatories to the protocol in relation to free and fair elections and the expression of the views of the electorate. It must be questionable whether the proposals fit with that, especially given that the Government are engaging in discriminatory tinkering with an aspect of the electoral process in one part of the country while allowing it to be maintained in another.
Chris Bryant: The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) said that she believed that the proposals had been introduced because Labour politicians in Wales did not like competition. I, for one, enjoy the fact that I face elected politiciansalbeit to the Assembly and by different meansof a different political persuasion. I relish the political argument and competition, because it keeps us all on our toes. I know that many hon. Members disagree with me, but it is one of the reasons why I would, in the majority of situations, support some form of proportional representation. It is better for the Government of the people to reflect the diversity of the people. That is why, broadly speaking, I support the way in which we constituted the Assembly and the additional Member system.
As a cheeky aside, I may say that my experience has been that the more exposure the smaller parties get in my local area, the more my vote goes up. On the whole, I relish the opportunities that Leanne Wood is given to speak in public and I am delighted that the Plaid vote has collapsed.
The important point, which Opposition Members have refused even to consider, is that some of us who support the system that we introduced also believe that some of the abuses that we have seen are inappropriate and undermine the whole concept of trying to build a representative Government who reflect the diversity of Welsh opinion. For instance, it happens with monotonous regularity that someone pretends to be a
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constituency Member when they are not. There are hundreds of different ways that they can do so, and every time an Assembly Member is told off for doing it, they find a new way to do it, which shows the ingenuity of some of them. It is wrong.
David T.C. Davies: The hon. Gentleman must realise that no Assembly Member has ever been told off for saying that they are a Member for a particular constituency. The Presiding Officer of the Welsh Assembly has made it clear that he recognises all Assembly Members as being equal. It is something that we all live with.
Chris Bryant: I believe that all Assembly Members are equal and should be regarded equally. I also believe that all Members of this House should be regarded as equala position that the hon. Gentleman does not entirely share. If Assembly Members have not been told off, they should be told off. It is simple enough: if an Assembly Member seeks to portray themselves as the constituency Member for the Rhondda, when they were not elected as such, it is a deception that taxpayers' money should not be allowed to be spent on perpetuating. It is a form of fraud and it should be stopped.
Mrs. Gillan: The hon. Gentleman makes what I hope is a hypothetical point. Does he have any evidence that an AM has sought to pass themselves off as a constituency Member? If so, the Assembly should deal with that in its Standing Orders.
Chris Bryant: I am glad that the hon. Lady agrees with me. It happens so frequently that we have almost given up sending letters to the Presiding Officer, because he is of course an accessory after the crime.
Mr. Salmond: On a point of order, Mrs. Heal. The hon. Gentleman has accused some unnamed Assembly Members of fraud. I know that he is speaking under privilege, but if an hon. Gentleman makes an accusation as serious as that we should hear the names of the people he accuses of that criminal offence.
Chris Bryant: I am grateful for the intervention, because I wish to make it clear that I am not accusing anyone of financial fraud or electoral fraud. I am making it clear that I think that people are acting fraudulently if they try to persuade the people that they are the elected Member for the constituency of the Rhondda, when they plainly are not. It is no good saying that people can say that they are the Assembly Member based in the Rhondda, because that is an attempt to deceive the people of the Rhondda.
It is entirely dishonourable for someone to use public funds to send out leaflets and press releases
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claiming to be the Assembly Member based in the Rhondda and trying thereby to deceive the people of the Rhondda into believing that they were elected for that constituency. I simply believe that is wrong. Furthermore, that is an act of fraud[Interruption.] Fraudulent and fraud come from the same base[Interruption.]
The First Deputy Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman is referring to people who are not Members of the House, which does not mean to say that one would condone any such behaviour, but as I understand the hon. Gentleman he was referring more to the generality than to the specifics.
Another point that Opposition Members have refused to understand is that regardless of whether tens of thousands of people have come to our surgeries or written to us about the issue, we believe there to be an injustice. It is an injustice if all have won and all must therefore have prizes, even though some people were not elected in the same system.
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Labour Members believe that there has been an injustice and that it is important for us to put it right. I note that Members have pointed out that other countries have not done so, but other countries have different traditions of proportional representation, not least in New Zealand. Indeed, as the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham said, we do not have a historical tradition of PR. In other countries, such as Spain, France or Italy, most politicians would deliberately put high-ranking, publicly known figures at the top of their lists to attract people to vote in both halves of the election. We do not have that tradition, which is why the injustice element is a much more predominant argument and thus far more important.
Some people have argued that the Labour party is acting in a partisan way and I understand that argument. However, people do not seem to understand that it would probably be in our electoral interest, in the list vote, to put Rhodri Morgan at the top of every list in every region in Wales. That would be the best way for us to attract votes, because it would be clearer to people that that was how they could vote Labour and ensure that Rhodri Morgan was running the Assembly. I believe that it is inappropriate for us to have that electoral advantage, so I do not believe that we are acting in a partisan way. In fact, for those who make that argument, the measure can be partisan only if they believe we will never lose a constituency seat. Those are the only circumstances in which the measure would be partisan.
The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham argued that the Electoral Commission is independent, so it is important that we always accept its advice. However, it is an important principle that we maintain our right, as a Parliament, to take a different decision from the Electoral Commission. Indeed, her party agrees; for instance, her party supports giving a national insurance number when registering for voting, but the Electoral Commission disagrees. It is important to maintain the theology that the Electoral Commission provides advice but that it is not for the commission to decide. We can choose, or not choose, to take that advice.
The most important theology of all in democracy is not only that a person cannot stand in two elections, in two systems, on the same day. Incidentally, we abolished that when Keir Hardie stood in two elections on different days; he failed to be elected on the first day,
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but succeeded on the next, when he was first elected as a Labour Member of Parliament, which is why it is no longer possible to be elected for two constituencies.
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