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Mr. David: I am very pleased that the hon. Lady has taken the trouble to read the Bevan Foundation's report. As she knows, I placed a copy in the Library for her to see. As the report states, it is an indicative report that is intended simply to give an indication of the public's attitudes. However, the hon. Lady cannot get away from the fact that its central point is that a majority of the respondents think that the current system is unfair.
Mrs. Gillan: That could be a majority of just one out of the 47 respondents. The hon. Gentleman should read some of the remarks made by those 47 people in the report. I shall not take up the House's time by reading them out now, but I would recommend them to anyone who is interested in the Bill.
Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC):
Does the hon. Lady find it curious that Labour Members place such
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weight on this report, given the small number of respondents it involved? When the Electoral Commission's scientific research was discussed by the Welsh Affairs Committee, Labour Members' response was, "Who are these people? Are they paid? How were they selected?" There was a great deal of scepticism expressed at that time, yet great weight is placed on this piece of research. Is not that strange?
Mrs. Gillan: The hon. Gentleman and I are of one accord on this. What seems important is whether the Bill suits the Labour party, not whether it suits the people of Wales or contains what is best for the people of Wales. I was at a Scottish Affairs Committee recently at which some eminent people, including Sir John Arbuthnott, were giving evidence. One of the Labour members of the Committee even wanted to know how many degrees Sir John had. I think that that Member was trying to make the point that Sir John was so intelligent that he could not relate to ordinary people. Well, perhaps that was the case, because I believe that Sir John replied that he had 11 or 12 degrees. That certainly put that Labour Member in his place.
The Government have tried to fall back on the old line that there is widespread and systematic abuseI think that was how the Secretary of State described the situationin Wales. If the abuse is so widespread and systematic, why has the Secretary of State failed to respond to letters from Nicholas Bourne, the leader of the Conservative group in the Assembly, written on 4 November and 27 January? Those letters contained a request for information about the Secretary of State's assertions. I see that the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire (Nick Ainger), is looking slightly blank. Nicholas Bourne's letter of 27 January to the Secretary of State says:
I am concerned that you have made assertions regarding alleged abuse by List Assembly Members of their position in relation to expenses. This is a claim that, as far as I am aware, has never been substantiated.
The letters of 4 November and 27 January from the leader of the Conservative group regarding the systematic abuse that has been prayed in aid in relation to changing the system have not even received a response from the Secretary of State. I hope that a response will now be forthcoming.
Another argument that the Government have used is that the banning of dual candidacy will end the confusion caused by the present system. However, I am not sure how that would follow. The research that I have seen suggests that banning someone from standing in a constituency system or a list system would not address the problem that people fail to understand that there is a first-past-the-post system coupled with a proportional representation system. That is where the sticking point seems to be with the electorate. Clearly, some analysis and research is needed to back up what the Government are trying to do.
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"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."[Official Report, 30 January 2006; Vol. 442, c. 122.]
Well, it is not quite fact No.1, because I decided that I would examine the voting and the debate on the relevant amendments to the Bill in the Assembly. If the Secretary of State thinks that the Assembly voted against the idea, he is skating on thin ice. The amendments were only defeated on the casting vote of the Presiding Officer, who was obliged to vote against them under Standing Orders. I do not know how he would have voted had he been free to vote as he wished, but we need only examine the voting of members of his party to discover where his heart might have lain. To say that the National Assembly for Wales does not support the Opposition proposals is therefore to flirt with the truth.
On amendment No. 1, in the name of Lisa Francis, Conservative Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales, the voting was 29 for, 29 against, and 0 abstentions. On amendment No. 5, in the name of Jocelyn Davies, the voting was 29 for, 29 against, 0 abstentionscasting vote. On amendments Nos. 7 and 11, the voting numbers were exactly the same. The Secretary of State's opening gambit in his response therefore takes the biscuit. Given the opportunity of a free vote by the Presiding Officer, we might find that the National Assembly for Wales does not support the Government's proposals. However, the Labour party supports them, and it is its amendments that we are considering.
Labour Members also displayed a lot of partisanship when they said that one of their problems was with list Members setting up rival camps. I am not sure how this change in the system will stop that because there will still be list Members, who will still be able to set up rival camps. The evidence session given by Professor Sir John Arbuthnott and Dr. Nicola McEwan to the Scottish Affairs Committee on Tuesday 14 February, which I attended, provided an interesting insight into the psychology of the Labour party. I heard the Committee Chairman, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Sarwar), utter the immortal words that are on page 22 of the draft transcript:
That is the Labour party's attitude to Members of the Scottish Parliament and, I presume, to Assembly Members. That is appalling. We have touched on the real reason for the proposals in the Bill to change the electoral system.
That is the case. The hon. Gentleman makes the point well. That takes me back to my initial point that this is merely about Labour party advantage,
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Labour party position and keeping Labour Members. It is not about what is best for Wales and for the people of Wales, which is what Conservative Members want. If the Government are going to make these changes, why not make them later rather than sooner, after a period of reflection or investigation?
Albert Owen : The crux of the Secretary of State's argument was that under the present system an Assembly Member who has been elected on the list and wishes to become a candidate in the constituency puts all the resources into that constituency. The intervention from the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) was interesting. In my constituency, where we have a Labour Member of Parliament and a Plaid Cymru Assembly Member, his party was very worried about the fact that a Conservative list Member would refer to himself as the base in the constituency. The Plaid Cymru intervention is a little unhelpful and I do not think the hon. Lady should associate herself with it.
Mrs. Gillan: The hon. Gentleman almost plays into my hands. If it is just a question of behaviour in target seats, why not change the Standing Orders? Why not consider ways around the problem before going for the nuclear option of changing the electoral system? There is no guarantee that the first person on the list, if he is not of a Labour party persuasion in a Labour constituency, will not set himself up in exactly the same way. I think that that is a red herring. A sop is being offered to Labour Members.
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