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Mark Tami: I would support the hon. Gentleman on such a measure, but we are not proposing that. Does he agree that, if we were, we might be open to the allegation he is making, because such a system would probably deliver a large majority for the Labour party? We have put in place a system that virtually guarantees seats for the opposition parties.
David T.C. Davies: The system to which Labour Members are thinking of changing will continue to guarantee seats for the opposition parties. One problem is[Interruption.] Let me finish the point. The change that Labour Members are talking about making will not reduce the numbers from other parties, but it will mean that some candidates lose their seats. Labour Members know full well that it is causing problems for opposition parties. If they think it is not causing problems, they should withdraw that change and allow us to have a political system that all Members of all political parties could support. The changes they are proposing are dishonourable.
I call on Labour Members to look at themselves in the mirror and ask whether they want to use their large majority to make changes to an electoral system that no
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independent body supports and which they know are for pure party-political advantage. I urge the Committee to support the amendment.
Adam Price : Perhaps even the Secretary of State would privately accept that the sight of a majority[Interruption.] I have not finished yet. This is not exactly the Government's finest hour, as they are pushing through proposals opposed by every other political party at a time of falling participation in politics. There are accusations of abuse and fraud and of gerrymandering. That undermines public trust in politics. What happened to the new, inclusive politics, which was meant to be part of the change in the political culture that the right hon. Gentleman and I were working to create?
For the avoidance of doubt, as accusations of misuse of funds and so on have been made by hon. Members, the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) should confirm that he did not use his parliamentary allowance for the research, which I have read. It has to be said that it was based on a sample of 47, which is minuscule, and two sets of three people were involved. I am not sure what the quorum is for a Labour party focus group these days, but surely three at a coffee morning in Llanelli does not constitute consulting the people of Wales.
Mr. David: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I cannot allow him to get away with that blatant misrepresentation. As I said, and as he would know if he had been listening carefully, there were focus groups in three parliamentary constituencies. I certainly accept that 47 is a small number, but it is indicative. I challenge Opposition Members to bring together their own groups to see whether other people have similar views.
The report points out that there is no evidence for the Government's proposals. The hon. Member for Caerphilly quoted some of the focus groups, so let me quote some of the respondents. Someone from his constituency who was in favour of dual candidacy said that it meant that the power was "spread out", which could make "more of a difference" in the end. Someone else in Caerphilly said that candidates should be free to stand in both ballots, and that that seemed "fair
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enough". Perhaps he should listen to the views of some of the people of Wales. They are waiting for the evidence.
The problem with the proposals, which are perceived to be partisan, is that they undermine public trust in politics at a time of falling participation. My hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) referred to the Human Rights Act 1998 and the enacting of the European convention on human rights. He is right to point to that, because article 3 of protocol 1 sets out the right to free and fair elections, which every member state, including the United Kingdom, through the Human Rights Act, has agreed to enact. There is substantial jurisprudence by the European Court of Human Rights in this area. The UK Government's record is very poor on the right to free and fair elections. They lost a case on article 3 of protocol 1 in relation to Gibraltar, about which the Secretary of State will know something. They also lost a case recently in relation to the right to vote for prisoners. The Government's record is therefore poor on the right to vote.
There is also substantial jurisprudence on the right to stand. The European Court of Human Rights has made it clear that member states cannot set eligibility criteria that curtail the basic right of free and fair elections. They cannot deprive people of that basic right. As the Arbuthnott report makes clear, people have the right freely to choose their candidates.
If the Government do not see sense on the issue, I am certain that they will be challenged, and we will have the unfortunate position of the Government having to defend these iniquitous proposals before the European Court of Human Rights. The proposals are disproportionate. I believe that there is substantial evidence that their aim is partisan and illegitimate and that they will be struck down by the European Court. Surely it is shameful that the Government introduced the proposals in the first place. They demean the political culture that we were trying to createa fair political culture, working together for the benefit of the people of Wales.
Mr. David Jones: I wish to add my voice to the chorus of condemnation of the Secretary of State. There is no doubt that what is proposed is a shabby and dishonourable measure that ought to be criticised by Members on both sides of the House.
I suggest that it is not that aspect of the matter that acts as a disincentive but the Byzantine complexity of the system put in place by the Labour party. The system is complex and difficult to understand. Nevertheless, that is the system that the Government put in place in 1998.
It was always perfectly foreseeable, and an inherent part of the system, that there would be constituencies in which more than one candidate would be returned to the
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Assembly, whether though first-past-the-post or the regional list system. If the Government did not realise that from the outset, they were pretty short-sighted.
My constituency, Clwyd, West, is constantly cited. Four of the five candidates were elected to the Assembly, one under first-past-the-post and the others through the regional list. Again, that was always foreseeable. It was an extreme example and an extreme conclusion. The hon. Member for Caerphilly laughs about that, but the Government put that system in place. It is a bit rich, a few years on, for the Government to start moaning about it and suggesting that they never foresaw it. It is rather facile to suggest that this is resulting in some kind of disengagement on the part of the electorate, especially given that none of the witnesses who appeared before the Welsh Affairs Committee supported that view, and the Committee's conclusion had to be based on
Mr. Jones: All I can say to the right hon. Gentleman is that the Leanne Wood memo must have come as manna from heaven to him. Apart from the memo, what evidence has he of that so-called systematic abuse? We heard from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) that people in his constituency were representing themselves as the Member for Rhondda. No names have been produced, and we have had no evidence relating to any other individualapart from the hapless Leanne Wood, who, as I have said, came as manna from heaven to the Secretary of State.
We are seeing a shabby attempt to gerrymander the electoral system to the advantage of the Labour party. Labour Members know that, as does every Opposition Member. The Secretary of State should be thoroughly ashamed of himself. He laughs. I do not know whether they play conkers in South Africa, but if they do, I bet the right hon. Gentleman was the sort of little boy who pickled his conkers before playing.
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