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Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): When probing amendments suggesting that there is confusion about the electoral system were moved in Committee, the hon. Lady did not agree that such confusion exists, because it benefited her party to adopt that position. Now she is telling hon. Members that there is confusion, so which one is it? She has claimed that the system is somehow rigged towards the Labour party, and many Opposition Members have alleged that the system has been gerrymandered, but does she have any evidence on that point, because she has not produced any up to this point?
Mrs. Gillan: I apologise to hon. Members because my voice is gradually fading away and may be reduced to a faint whisper by the end of the debate. I shall pick up those points as I develop my argument.
It is notable that when there was one Labour regional AM we heard no complaints about the system. Now that complaints have been made, we see that there are no Labour regional AMs. That suggests that there is an enormous bias in favour of presenting a political solution instead of one that is good for the people of Wales. When the Welsh Affairs Committee inquired into the Government's White Paper, "Better Governance for Wales", it divided strictly along party lines. The fact that no party other than Labour has picked up the cudgels on this leads me to believe that it is not in the best interests of the people of Wales.
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"In light of the need to encourage voter participation at the Assembly election in 2007, we would caution against any change that is perceived to be partisan and could add to a prevailing distrust of politicians.
Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): Is the hon. Lady aware of the situation of the leader of the Scottish National party, who, if he stood in a constituency and lost, could then be elected through the list? Not only would a loser become a winnera loser would become a leader. Is not that a rigged system? He is effectively betting on a three-horse racehe cannot lose.
Mrs. Gillan: I love the way we move seamlessly from Wales to Scotland. I would have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman had not this electoral system been devised by the Government. They came up with it, and now they are crying foul.
While my voice holds out, I want to turn to some of the points that were made in Committee. The hon. Member for Caerphilly introduced us to the Bevan Foundation's report, "Public attitudes to dual candidacy in elections to the National Assembly for Wales". I was delighted that he pointed me in the direction of that piece of research. I am hoping that he will intervene on me to answer straightforwardly why, when I asked him how much it cost, who paid for it and where it came from, he did not venture to inform the House that he sponsored it. He argued that it was a completely impartial piece of research[Interruption.] Is the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) trying to intervene?
One would have thought that the hon. Gentleman could have enlightened the House when he was trying to tell us that this was a completely independent piece of research. He must have sat on his hands. He knew that he sponsored this piece of research, yet he did not have the guts to stand up in the House and tell us. I honestly think
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that he did not want me to read the research, because when we look at the detail we will see what it contains. It is very interesting.
Mr. David: This is extremely tedious. If the hon. Lady did not hear my comments during our previous proceedings, she could have read Hansard, which shows that I openly said to hon. Members that I had sponsored the research but that it was independent. Big deal.
Let us consider the Bevan Foundation's research. I shall concentrate on the summary and I hope that the hon. Gentleman has a copy because I should like to remind him of its conclusions. It was not based on an enormous sampleindeed, there was
The relative absence of people under 45 and those working full-time means that the results are not statistically representativethey were not intended to be. One wonders why the hon. Gentleman sponsored work that has such a caveat. However, as he has prayed it in aid, it is right to examine the results.
We can all agree with that because there is confusion about the roles, not least among Assembly Members. As expected, those views were part of a wider lack of understanding of the electoral process among many people and a division of views about proportional representation.
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The hon. Member for Caerphilly, who prayed in aid the report, has played straight into our hands. Again, I emphasise that there is slight evidence that respondents believed that dual candidacy was unfair. It hardly constitutes an overwhelming piece of research to back up the Government's proposals.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. When I am on my feet, the hon. Lady must sit down. She must not use the second person because when she says "you" she refers to me and I have nothing to do with these matters.
Mrs. James: I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Does the hon. Lady have any evidence that the people of Wales are happy with the safety net that we provide for the dual candidates? I have found no evidence of people being fully supportive of the process whereby winners become losers, or, as the Japanese put it, zombies become winners. Has the hon. Lady any facts and figures to impart on that?
Mrs. Gillan: I hope that Assembly Members have noted that the hon. Lady likened them to zombies. [Interruption.] I do not care who called them zombies. The hon. Lady likened them to zombies in the Chamber. The Conservative group is one of the most active and effective groups in the Assembly, so the hon. Lady should be careful before she starts throwing around such words to describe it.
This is all about trying to prove a negative. If the Government are going to change an electoral system that they have only recently introduced, they must do so on the basis of fact, investigation and demand. No such fact, investigation or demand exists, as I am seeking to prove, given the public attitudes to dual candidacy and elections to the National Assembly for Wales expressed in the Bevan Foundation's report, which was commissioned by the hon. Member for Caerphilly.
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