Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Salmond: Well, why on earth did the late Donald Dewar put himself at the top of the Glasgow list? [Interruption.] Why on earth is the Labour party trying to change the situation now, especially—as we have heard—among the casualties would be the Minister for Education and Young People, Peter Peacock, who came third in the constituency—[Interruption.] of my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson).

Mr. David: On a point of order, Sir Michael. This is an amendment to the Government of Wales Bill and it has nothing to do with Scotland. I ask you to rule on that point. [Interruption.]

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Michael Lord): Order. Such matters may be safely left to the Chair. It would greatly help the hon. Gentleman's contribution if Labour Members did not keep intervening from sedentary positions.

Mr. Salmond: Thank you very much, Sir Michael. I was about to point out that among the casualties of this ridiculous proposal, if the hon. Member for Livingston
 
30 Jan 2006 : Column 122
 
(Mr. Devine) had his way and it was applied in Scotland, would be the Scottish Minister for Education and Young People, who has achieved the remarkable distinction of being even more unpopular in Scotland than the English Secretary of State for Education and Skills is in England.

The Labour party says one thing and does another. The real problem for the Secretary of State for Wales is that he does not like the idea that other parties might pursue politics in what he regards as a Labour party fiefdom. He should remember that in liberal democracy it is not common for Governments to change the electoral system without a consensus across the political parties. It was common in the states of eastern Europe, when they were still under totalitarian dictatorship. The manipulation of electoral systems is also common in the third world. We should have left such blatant electoral manipulation far behind. That essential point of democracy applies whether or not it is in Wales or Scotland.

Mr. Hain: A number of Members have described the Committee stages of the Bill as boring. It has been anything but that. We have been united in being exciting this evening, but I have not heard such a farrago of fantasy from Opposition Members in a long time. Why? Because they want a special law for particular categories of candidate. They want people who have been rejected by the electorate to win—to have two bites at the cherry. People rejected by the voters could become winners. That point is at the heart of the amendment.

Mr. Grieve: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Hain: No, I have only a limited amount of time to respond to the debate, so I need to answer the points that were made.

We should start with the facts. Interestingly, the National Assembly for Wales does not support the Opposition proposals for preventing a ban on dual candidature. That is fact No. 1.

The second fact is that, yes, I was one of the Ministers responsible for bringing in the Government of Wales Act 1998 and thus the electoral system. I never imagined, and could not have anticipated, the widespread and systematic abuse that has subsequently occurred. It has undoubtedly occurred. We have heard the evidence, some of which I shall cite, from many Members this evening, on Second Reading and in questions. This is a matter not of party politics, but of ensuring that we have a system of integrity in the National Assembly for Wales.

Thirdly, the ban on dual candidacy was a manifesto commitment. That is an important point. Are Opposition Members inciting the House of Lords to breach the Salisbury convention on manifesto commitments? The manifesto commitment was that

That is a clear manifesto commitment and we won convincingly in Wales, as we did elsewhere in the country.
 
30 Jan 2006 : Column 123
 

The amendments would not only reinstate the status quo with regard to dual candidacy but also, in the case of amendments Nos. 52 and 10, go beyond that by removing restrictions that already exist in the Government of Wales Act 1998 and have not been challenged or subject to serious consideration.

The hon. Member for Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr (Adam Price) questioned whether the measure complies with the European convention on human rights in terms of free and fair elections. I am absolutely satisfied that the measure is compliant. He made the specious claim that we are preventing electors from having the right to choose candidates. On the contrary: we are insisting that electors should have the right to choose the candidate they want. Those candidates when elected should stay elected and not be subject to defeated candidates popping in through the back door.

Far from being partisan, the proposals in clause 7 to prevent candidates from standing both in a constituency and on a regional list will strengthen the integrity of the system, and the legitimacy of regional Assembly Members. They put voters in charge—an important point—by enabling them to reject a candidate who can currently get in through the back door despite being rejected by the voters.

The ban on dual candidacy will end confusion with respect to the Assembly's current electoral system, especially following the Assembly election in the Clwyd, West constituency in 2003, when three of the four losing candidates, who were kicked out by the electorate, became AMs as additional Members elected from their parties' regional lists. As Members have noted, that practice resulted in 15 of 20 list AMs setting up in the constituencies where they were defeated to target them next time.

The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) said that our changes would not prevent that from happening, but actually the Bill's provisions will prevent it. Furthermore, subsection (6) of clause 36, which covers the code of conduct that will be established and the Standing Orders to be considered by the Assembly, will impose the necessary restrictions. If we were in any doubt as to the need for them, we have only to look at the way that Leanne Wood, a Plaid Cymru Assembly Member on the list system, was caught red-handed advocating just such systematic abuse, which taxpayers would not stand for if they knew that it was occurring.

Voters do not understand how defeated constituency candidates can be elected through the backdoor on their party's regional list. The new provision will restore voters' democratic right to reject a constituency candidate, as well as to elect one. The current system undermines—

Mr. Llwyd: On a point of order, Sir Michael. The Secretary of State has restated the matter of Leanne Wood. As a matter of record, she was fully exonerated by the appropriate Assembly Committee, and such a ruling was made by Mr. Speaker when the right hon. Gentleman tried to say such things last time.

The Second Deputy Chairman: That is not a matter for the occupant of the Chair at this point.
 
30 Jan 2006 : Column 124
 

Mr. Hain: I have limited time, and I need to make progress so that the Opposition have an opportunity to reply to the debate.

These proposals would affect all parties equally, not least the six Labour Assembly Members with tiny majorities. In one case, a dozen votes could go the other way and deprive the Member of a seat. They will be prevented from standing for election on the list.

Criticism of dual candidacy has come not just from the Labour party, but from right across the political spectrum. The respected Welsh academic, Denis Balsom said:

I completely agree with him. Evidence has come from academics across the field and from Canada, New Zealand and Japan. More recently, research by the independent Bevan Foundation on public attitudes to duel candidacy in Wales has concluded that there is indeed "considerable public disquiet" about the issue. Whatever questions may be directed at people in focus groups and so on, that is the only independent research conducted in Wales.

Amendment No. 52, which Opposition Members support, would take us backwards. The Government of Wales Act 1998 already provides that candidates who are on a regional list may not stand for a constituency in a different region. People who lose should not then be allowed to stand for election on the list. The Opposition now propose that those people could lose in south Wales and pop up in north Wales. What sort of system is that?

Lord Richard, the chairman of the commission, has backed the Government's policy on the matter. Lord Steel, the former Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament—we have heard lots about Scotland this evening, even though this is a debate on Wales—has also supported the Government's policy in this respect. To illustrate the cross-party concern about the issue, I want to put on record a number of other quotes. Lord Carlile, a former leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, said:

Lord Crickhowell, a former Conservative Secretary of State for Wales, said:

Glyn Erasmus, Plaid Cymru regional co-ordinator, said in a letter to The Western Mail on 17 December 2005:

Finally, just for completeness, let me give another quote. Preseli Pembrokeshire Conservative Association said:


 
30 Jan 2006 : Column 125
 

That is the only consultation response that we received from any Conservative in respect of "Better Governance for Wales"—long may those involved continue to have such wisdom.

I conclude with a few final points. We have heard a whole series of specious arguments in the debate this evening and in the debate in Wales. First, we heard that the proposal—regrettably this point was repeated by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs.   Gillan)—could affect the quality of candidates. We have the proposition that bright high-quality candidates actually need two bites at the cherry. These bright candidates in all the opposition parties are so worried about being defeated by the electorates in the constituencies where they stand that they want an insurance policy, an each-way bet and a lifebelt. It is a funny sort of brightness that has no respect for democracy and no respect for the verdicts of the people.

9.45 pm

What are the opposition parties afraid of? What are Plaid Cymru, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats united in this unholy coalition to seek to defeat the Government on this matter afraid of? I submit that they are afraid of the voters, because what this proposal does and what the Government are seeking to do is put the voters, and not the parties, in charge. It says that if a candidate is defeated in a constituency, that candidate should not pop up on a list as has been happening right the way through. This will affect the Labour party equally, and some may say disproportionately worse than the other parties. It is not a question of party bias.

There have been charges of gerrymandering, which is a very serious charge to make. Gerrymandering comes from the process of rigging constituencies and rigging election systems for a particular party to gain party advantage. There is no way at all that any party can gain party advantage from this. Not one seat will change hands. Either a party will win a constituency or it will not. Whether the party wins or not will determine the number of party representatives on the list seat. Banning candidates from standing in both categories does not affect the party outcome at all. It does not affect it by one seat; it does not affect it by one iota. This is another of the specious attacks on the Bill.

If there has been gerrymandering, it has been by those list Members abusing their position and abusing their Assembly allowances—I think the Assembly ought to address this matter—to set up constituency offices in target seats deliberately to target the Members who beat them the last time. That is an abuse of democracy and one of the reasons why the Government will fight to the very end—and the House of Lords ought to respect our manifesto commitment and the Salisbury convention—to have a clean system in the Welsh Assembly elections and to make sure that the voters are in charge once and for all instead of the parties manipulating the system for their own advantage.


Next Section IndexHome Page