Mrs. Gillan: The first group of amendments in the section to be dealt with before the guillotine deals with the position of candidates for the National Assembly for Wales. We debated the matter at some length in Committee, but did not reach any satisfactory conclusion. I am glad that we have the opportunity to re-examine some of the points today. As the Under-Secretary said in his brief speech on the programme motion, there are parts of the Bill with which the Opposition agree. There are several aspects of the Bill, however, to which we fundamentally object. In particular, the proposals in clause 7 are brought into the sharp focus of scrutiny by the amendments.
In speaking to the amendments, I am trying to do one of two things. First, I am seeking to maintain the status quo so that the electoral arrangements, as understood by the people of Wales at the moment, remain the same. If I fail to do that, however, I hope that the option of not introducing those changes until after the Assembly elections in 2007 will give the existing system time to settle down and also afford the Government and the Assembly the opportunity to inform the people of Wales about the proposed changes that they intend to make. There is much evidence showing that people in Wales do not understand the electoral system, let alone the proposals that the Government are now seeking to impose. Conservative Members have argued that clause 7 is a partisan attempt by the Labour party to rig the electoral system to its own advantage.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): The hon. Lady said that there is much evidence that the people of Wales do not understand the current electoral system, but I wonder what evidence she has seen because all the evidence gathered by academics that I have seen indicates exactly the opposite.
The Electoral Reform Society, the Electoral Commission and the Bevan Foundation report, which I shall discuss laterthe hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) successfully introduced the Bevan Foundation report into the debate in Committeeall point to confusion about the system itself. The combination system, which is different from the first-past-the-post system, causes confusion among the electorate.
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Chris Bryant: I am not sure whether that is right. In multi-member local government constituencies, people have the right to vote three times for three councillors under the first-past-the-post system. Opinion polls suggest that the number of people who do not use all three votes because they do not understand that they have more than one vote is far higher than the number of people who say that they do not understand the Welsh Assembly voting system.
Mrs. Gillan: I refer the hon. Gentleman to page 8 of the Bevan Foundation report, which Labour Members have prayed in aid. It states that there is strong survey evidence that people do not understand how the system of elections to the National Assembly for Wales works. I shall go into more detail on that point, but I think that the hon. Gentleman must back down.
Mrs. Gillan: The Welsh people have not called for the Government's proposed change to the electoral system. Furthermore, it is notable that the Richard commission, which has produced a substantial piece of work on the situation in Wales, did not come up with the change that the Government are attempting to introduce today.
The Government have deployed the argument that the change was in the Labour manifesto at the general election. That is slightly lame, because if they had the best interests of the people of Wales at heart, they would not have made a bald statement in a manifesto and would at least have conducted some research and examined the issues in Wales, which seem to include confusion about the electoral system itself.