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Mr. David: Our debate is an impassioned one, and this part of the Bill has excited more interest and perhaps controversy than any other part. I should like to address three of the main arguments that the Opposition have made against the Government proposal.
First, we hear consistently that this is part of an attempt to enhance the electoral position of the Labour party. It has been suggested that it is an electoral plot, a means of gerrymandering, or an underhand method to pervert the democratic system. It is nothing of the sort. We have all heard those accusations, but we have not heard a single concrete example of the way in which that gerrymandering will be carried out. No one has demonstrated that, and no one can do so. It is possible[Interruption.] I was hoping that someone would provide an example of the way in which the system could be gerrymandered but, despite the external pops, that is not possible. No one inside or outside the Chamber has demonstrated how the change proposed by the Government could enhance the Labour party's position. Quite simply, it cannot.
In fact, an interesting article by Dr. John Cox, published recently, demonstrates the contrary case. I do not know whether Opposition Members have received a copy, but it has been e-mailed to all Labour Members. Dr. Cox, who is no friend of the Labour partyin fact, he is an implacable opponentsaid that the Labour party is wrong if it thinks that the measure will enhance its position. I stress that Labour does not think that way, but Dr. Cox argues that the measure will adversely affect its interests.
David T.C. Davies: I have not had the privilege of reading that comment, but clearly Dr. John Cox thought that the Labour party believed that it was an advantage, otherwise he would not have issued that warning.
Mr. David: The article by Dr. John Cox is designed principally to create mischief in the Labour ranks. He cites at length the Secretary of State and accurately, I thinkthe Under-Secretary. Those arguments speak for themselves, and they are set out clearly. No oneI repeat, no onehas offered a convincing argument or, indeed, any argument at all to explain how the measure will enhance the Labour party's position.
David T.C. Davies: The hon. Member will accept that if the rules come into effect they will affect only the parties that win seats as a result of proportional representation in the regional list. All the regional list Assembly Members are members of parties other than the Labour party.
The fact of the matter is that the rule applies to all parties and all candidates. There is no question of it helping the Labour party or Plaid Cymru; it simply provides more fairness for everyone. That is
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what it is all about. Opposition Members, however, do not like the term "fairness", which is obviously antipathetic to everything that they stand for.
Mr. Hain: Does my hon. Friend agree that the ban on dual candidature would not change the distribution of a single seat and that the outcome of an election would be exactly the same? Gerrymandering involves one party using the system to obtain a disproportionate electoral advantage.
Mrs. Gillan: I apologise unreservedly to the hon. Gentleman. I was not trying to be ungracious; I was trying to be quick, although it still looks like we will not have time to discuss major provisions in the Bill. If the provision will not affect the smaller parties, why does not the Secretary of State adopt the approach of the Labour party in Wales, which is voluntarily not to stand in constituencies in the list system? That would be perfect, because it would leave the smaller parties, which would be elected only on the list system, to get on with it. The Labour party should adopt that approach as a self-denying ordinance.
Mr. David: I am glad that the hon. Lady has recognised that the Labour party has set an excellent example, but unfortunately the other parties have not followed it, and it is therefore necessary to legislate to ensure that the rules of internal fairness apply to everybody. We are extending fairness across the board.
Secondly, the Arbuthnott report suggests that dual candidacy should not be banned in Scotland. However, there is the obvious fact that Wales is not Scotland, and just because something is proposed for Scotland, it does not automatically follow that it should be introduced in Wales. Wales is an independent, freestanding country, and we should not be dictated to by what happens north of the border.
The electoral systems in Wales and Scotland are profoundly different, because a larger proportion of Members of the Scottish Parliament are elected by the additional Member systemin Scotland, the percentage is 42 per cent.; in Wales, it is 33 per cent.so we cannot use easy or simplistic parallels. [Interruption.] Those are the facts, which speak for themselves.
Although I do not want to interfere in Scottish politics, the Arbuthnott report is confused. On the one hand, it argues against dual candidature, but then suggests the introduction of STV for elections to the European Parliament. Where is the logic in that argument? If the report advocates STV for the European Parliament, it should advocate STV for the Scottish Parliament. The argument in the report is not intellectually consistent and does not stand up to careful analysis.
The hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Devine) was anxious to intervene and disagree
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with the hon. Gentleman. The Arbuthnott commission considered the open choice of the electorate. When it suggested the introduction of STV for the European Parliament, it proposed an open list for the additional member system, which would allow the electorate to choose.
Hon. Members have referred to international examples as though there are no arguments against dual candidacy worth considering, except so far as Wales is concerned. I refer Members to information that has come from Canada regarding the situation there. A commission on legislative democracy that was set up in New Brunswick concluded:
"The Commission recommends that candidates not be able to present themselves in both a single member constituency and on a party list for the same election. The Commission heard that in some jurisdictions where candidates are able to run simultaneously on both ballots, voters are displeased with the case where a candidate is not successful in a single member constituency, but is elected anyway by virtue of being placed on top of a party's list."
The third argument that has been advanced concerns evidence given to the Welsh Affairs Committee by the Electoral Reform Society and others. As I pointed out earlier, that evidence was far more balanced than Opposition Members have suggested. It is important to say that the Electoral Reform Society emphasised, above all else, that there is a great deal of misunderstanding among most people as regards the electoral system and how it works. That is the essential point that it wished to convey. It is therefore hardly surprising that it was able to conclude that it had had very few representations made to it about inherent unfairness in the system.
Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): If I may correct the hon. Gentleman on a point of information, that evidence was given by the Electoral Commission, not the Electoral Reform Society. I can vouch for that as a member of the Committee.
It has been consistently argued that the Government have no empirical, objective evidence to support their case for introducing a ban on dual candidacy. That has been repeated time and again in this Chamber and outside. Mindful of that fundamental criticism, I commissioned a report myself, with a think-tank, the Bevan Foundation, which is completely independent and non-party political. The report was based on the responses of 47 respondents in three constituencies in south WalesLlanelli, Swansea, East and my own constituency of Caerphillyconcerning the electoral
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system and how it works. They had not been asked what they thought on the street; they were ordinary people brought together in a situation in which they were free to speak their mind without any partisanship.
The first conclusion, unsurprisingly, was that most of the respondents did not understand the electoral system and did not know why two votes were being asked of them. When it was explained to them how the system worked, they had some interesting views.
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