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Mrs. Gillan: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has commissioned a piece of research. I would like to know how long it took, how much it cost, who paid for it, and whether he would make the full details available in the Libraries of both Houses. That would be very helpful to all members of the Committee. However, I must point out that if he individually commissioned it as a Labour party member, it would perhaps lack the independence that he claims for it.
Mr. David: It is unfortunate that the hon. Lady is so cynical about what ordinary people in Wales have to say. The debate is one that Opposition Members hold between themselves; it is a debate of the chattering classes. The Chamber has suddenly gone quiet. The debate is about how we enhance our personal position despite what the people of Wales want. When they have a voice and a report, which expresses their feelings, is published, the Opposition parties are silenced and frightened by it. I challenge other hon. Members to commission research, convene focus groups and listen to what the ordinary people of Wales have to say. I guarantee that they do not want dual candidates.
Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman knows that I believe in first past the post and I have no doubt that he is right that, once one departs from that system, the majority of people, when asked if they understand the electoral system, reply that they have not the slightest idea about what is going on. However, the system at least has an intellectual coherence, which the Bill would remove. Although the Secretary of State claimed that the clause would make no difference, does not the hon. Gentleman understand that the smaller parties would be disadvantaged by the proposals? The smaller the party, the greater the likely disadvantage for those who wish to maximise the chance of getting their chosen people into the Assembly. The proposals will undermine those people and I should be grateful if he dealt with that.
Mr. David: That was an interesting intervention. The hon. Gentleman referred to the chosen people as if some had the God-given right to serve in the National Assembly. Those people want the electoral system that is most convenient for them. However, we are considering democracy, fairness and extending a system to which people can relate and understand because it is inherently fair.
No, I simply want to tell hon. Members what ordinary people are saying on the streets, in the
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chapels and in the public houses of Wales. [Interruption.] We can hear the chattering classes opposite; they do not like it. A proportion of the respondents to the survey did not like the system because they viewed election by the back door as "suspicious". They do not understand how individuals can lose and win an election on the same day. They cannot understand how a system, such as that in Clwyd, West, where there are five candidates and four of them are elected, is morally justifiable. One wins the election but the others get in through the back door. What is the justification for that? There is none.
"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."
Mr. David: The system for electing the Welsh Assembly is primarily first past the post. It produces some proportionality but we do not have a proportional system. The quote from the Arbuthnott commission does not therefore apply to Welsh circumstances.
Chris Bryant: Does my hon. Friend accept that the other parties oppose the change because they are worried about getting enough candidates now, without having to increase the number of candidates? The people who are being profoundly partisan are that lot over there.
Mr. David: Absolutely. That was an objective observation of the chattering classes' concerns. They are worried about their self-interest and their own side; they have no interest in democracy or what the people say.
Ordinary people have conclusively said through the Bevan Foundation report that they do not want election through the back door, they do not want losers to become winners, and they do not want politicians to have two bites at the cherry. The Government's proposals are fairness personified and the most refined form of democracy. It is unfortunate that Opposition parties do not accept that reality.
David T.C. Davies:
May I declare an interest as a Member of the Welsh Assembly? I have no interest in changing the voting system, because I have always won elections under the first-past-the-post system, which I support. I do not like proportional representation. I do not like the fact that it breaks the accountability with the electorate, or the fact that it gives the party managers too much of a say in who goes to the top of the list. They often pick the yes-men rather than the people who will
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stand up for their constituents, although I am not pointing the finger in any particular direction in that regard.
Having said that, however, as a supporter of the first-past-the-post system, and someone who supports the Union and who did not want the Welsh Assembly, I have accepted the result of the referendum that was held some eight years ago. Intrinsic to that referendum was the voting system that the Labour Government put in place. It was their system, not ours. It is simply not good enough that, seven or eight years after the referendum, they have decided that it does not quite suit their purpose to continue with that system, and that they are going to change it.
The Government have come up with some of the most ludicrous excuses for changing the system. They talk about the confusion that arises, they say, when someone loses an election to a constituency but still manages to win in a region. No one has ever complained to me about that electoral process in any of the many surgeries that I have held. However, let us take that criticism head-on. It would still be perfectly possible for any of us to stand as a councillor in any ward in our constituencies. Plenty of wards in my Monmouthshire constituency vote Labour, and I probably would not get elected if I stood as a councillor in any of them. However, I would still represent those wards as their Member of Parliament.
The Government have failed to realise that we are talking about two separate legal elections: one for the constituency seat and one for the region. There is no cause for confusion if someone loses the contest for the constituency but goes on to win a seat as a regional Member. There is no evidence of any such confusion, except that of the Bevan foundationwhich is very independent, I am sure; it was set up a few years ago by some Labour party memberswhich was cited by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David).
The other non-existent problem that has been mooted as a reason for the change in the system is that regional Assembly Members might tout for business. However, if constituency Assembly Members are doing their job properly, they should have absolutely nothing to fear in that regard. It has certainly been my experience as a constituency Assembly Member that the first person to whom a constituent will go with a problem is their Member of Parliament, regardless of the problem and of who should deal with it. The second person they go to is their constituency Assembly Member. In fact, most people are unaware of who their regional list Members are, which is a matter that those Members might want to address. There is no reason for any constituency Assembly Member to be concerned about an office opening up in their constituency; if they have been doing their job properly, they will have nothing to worry about. As the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) said, a little bit of competition does us all good.
David T.C. Davies:
Perhaps that question ought to have been addressed to the Secretary of State for Wales. I believe that a lot of regional Assembly Members work extremely hard. There are others about whom I am not quite so certain, but I am not going to name names.
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I have already told the Committee what I think about the proportional representation system in general. It is regrettable in the extreme that Labour wants to use its majority to tinker with that system and to change it in a way that will give it an electoral benefit. Of course that will be the result, because, by and large, the only people who get elected to the regions are members of the smaller partiespeople who are not members of the Labour party. Any change that will affect the regional list candidates will be bad news for the smaller parties. That is really why the Secretary of State is so determined to introduce this change.
Labour Members keep talking about the Electoral Reform Society. I am not sure whether they are confused and do not know the difference between the Electoral Reform Society and the independent Electoral Commission. I started off thinking it was just ignorance that led them to confuse the two organisations, but I am now starting to think that they are deliberately referring to the Electoral Reform Society because they are embarrassed about the fact that the Electoral Commission gave such damning evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee and said, more or less, that the change was being made purely out of political partisanship.
I have already said that I do not like the proportional representation system. The Secretary of State for Wales does not like it, and a few years ago he published a good book entitled "Proportional Misrepresentation: The Case Against PR in Britain". I wish he had acted on that book before he set up the current system, but that is another problem.
This change is driven purely by political expediency. It is a nasty, devious, partisan bit of gerrymandering. If the Labour party does not like the PR system, it should simply say so. Labour Members should move an amendment calling for the PR system to be abolished in respect of the Welsh Assembly and for a return to a first-past-the-post system. They would be surprised where they received support from.
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