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Mr. Jones: The fact is that this is an attempt at gerrymandering, which does not belong in the House of Commons or in the Welsh Assembly. The Labour party should be thoroughly ashamed of itself, and I wholeheartedly support the amendment.
: Notwithstanding what I thought was a brilliantly deadpan and ironic speech from the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David), the highlight of the debate came 40 minutes ago when the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) came into the Chamber, realised that he was about to be endorsed by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), and promptly turned on his heel and returned to the safety of the Members Lobby.
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This has been an extremely enjoyable debate. I intrude on it because I believe that there is a Scottish dimension. I was fogbound at Dundee airport this morning and thought that I would miss the start of the debate, although I recognised the ability of my Welsh colleagues to spin it out through the afternoon. I have sat patiently, wanting to contribute whatever wisdom I can from a Scottish perspective.
The fog at Dundee airport was as nothing compared to the red haze that has descended and clouded the judgment of the Secretary of State for Wales and one or two Scottish Back Benchers. They have dressed up a clear case of gerrymanderingor, as we must now call it, conker-picklingon the Secretary of State's part, claiming that it is to everyone's advantage and has absolutely nothing to do with the poor, pathetic stories of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) about Members opening offices in his constituency and pretending to be politicians. The poor, sensitive flower among Welsh Labour Members! Ah, I see that the tender flower has returned. [Interruption.]
I am in favour of the additional member system, although I have been elected six times by means of the "first past the post" system, with a swing towards the SNP at every election. On the last four occasions, I was elected by an absolute majority of the votes cast.
I make that point because I think that people who start talking about electoral losers in list systems should start to look at the strength of their own political mandates. I am glad to see present in the Chamber the ringleader of those who want to foist the gerrymandering that is happening in Wales on Scotland. The new hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Devine) has been in the House a matter ofoh10 weeks, and with that enormous parliamentary experience has chosen not to represent his constituents who are desperately worried about the withdrawal of fire services
Mr. Salmond: I am pointing out, Mrs. Heal, that those who argue that list members are failures should consider the strength or otherwise of their own electoral mandates. The hon. Member for Livingston received 41.79 per cent. of the vote, which was only 16 per cent. of the total electorate of Livingston. Some 84 per cent.
The First Deputy Chairman:
I have already ruled that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) must confine his remarks to the amendment to the Government of Wales Bill.
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Mr. Salmond: Yes, and that is exactly what I am doing, always, as I do, taking your advice, Mrs. Heal. It is interesting that Labour party members who are prepared to dish out gerrymandering to the other parties in Wales cannot take a bit of debate in the Chamber. What sort of attitude is that? If I had been elected by a mere 16 per cent. of the electorate in Banff
Mr. Salmond: The amendment is about the strength or otherwise of electoral mandates. As we have been discussing all evening, the Arbuthnott report on the situation in Scotland said clearly, on the Government's proposals:
Having looked at the Welsh example, it suggested that the motivation was to preserve one-party hegemony. When we hear Labour Members argue that it is actually for the general good and the health of democracy, we should remember that the commission that studied the matter saw a different motivation.
Who are the Arbuthnott commission to rule on these matters? Were they hand-picked by the Conservatives, or by Plaid Cymru or by the Liberals? They were hand-picked by the Secretary of State for Scotland. They were described recently by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland as
"a serious commission carrying forward a serious piece of work on our behalf. It is composed of extremely high-calibre individuals who have made outstanding contributions to public life . . . over many years. They are going about the task that we gave them with exemplary thoroughness and integrity."[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 9 November 2005; Vol. 2043, c. 105WH.]
Oh, but that the Secretary of State for Wales had taken the advice of people of similar integrity. The Secretary of State for Walesthe part-time Secretary of State for Walestold us in his press release that he had information
I am continuing in a perfectly orderly manner, Mrs. Heal. I am pointing out that the Secretary of State for Wales is on the record as saying he had information that Sir John Arbuthnott would have taken a different view if he had known of the malpractices that were taking place in Wales. He has yet to tell usno doubt he will do so when he sums uphow he came to that conclusion. Had he spoken to Sir John Arbuthnott? The Arbuthnott commission quotes extensively from the evidence given on Wales, all of it against the Secretary of State's position, in coming to its conclusion that to rule out dual candidacy would be "undemocratic" and a protection of the hegemony of one political party. I hear a Front Bencher suggesting, from a sedentary positionyou obviously did not hear it, Mrs. Healthat that is not true. In what aspect is it not true that that is what the Arbuthnott commission concluded
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Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Why does the hon. Gentleman think that our party is likely to lose out from these proposals? I know many of our candidates in marginal seats who will be at risk if they are not allowed to stand for the list seats as well as for constituencies. Can the hon. Gentleman explain, with reference to Wales, how he can accuse us of making a partisan decision in such circumstances?
Mr. Salmond: If the hon. Lady had been paying attention to the debate, she would have heard the reason. The Labour party can do whatever it likes in Wales. No one on this side of the Chamber is suggesting to the Labour party that it impose restrictions on its candidates. That is not what is in dispute. What is in dispute is the arrogance and contempt for democracy of a party that believes that it can legislate to put unfair restrictions on the candidates of other parties, just in case they inconveniently open up a political office in one or other constituency.
Has the abstinence from dual candidacy been the normal practice of the Labour party across these islands? I have been looking at the Labour list for the Glasgow constituency in 1999[Interruption.] At the head of the list is Donald Dewar. Was he standing on that list because he was frightened that he would not win in Anniesland or Garscadden? Or was he pursuing a legitimate option to rally support for the Labour party in Glasgow by standing on the list? Nor was it just in the first election for the Scottish Parliament that the Labour party tried that particular trick.
Mr. Devine : I know that the hon. Gentleman's party was not part of the convention, because it stayed out of the tent with its friends in the Tory party. Donald Dewar led the Labour party, other political parties, trade unions and Churches into the Scottish convention, which agreed that the list MSPs would have the same status but a distinctive role of overview on what was happening in the regions. The hon. Gentleman must agree that that never happened.
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