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Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): The Government are very keen on consulting. We are told that they are a listening Government. They consult on absolutely everything. They do not take any notice of what is said to them, but they do consult. For example, more than 90 per cent. of respondents opposed the National Offender Management Service, while 0.4 per cent. favoured it. The Government then went ahead with it.
Mrs. Gillan: I am sure that the Minister does not want to be reminded of the National Offender Management Service, but it is true that in that instance there was no consultation worth a row of beans. The Government seem to be falling into exactly the same trap in the case of the merger of police areas. They are not listening to the people of Wales, and the political bullying by the Labour party that is now becoming apparent is the hallmark of their latest term of office.
I am sorry that the Secretary of State is not present as he dealt with these matters in Committee. He said that the Arbuthnott commission would have reached the same conclusion that has resulted in the Government's proposal for a change in the legislation if it had considered what he has called the systematic abuses carried out by list members in Wales.
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"I should also point out that the Secretary of State for Wales has said that if the Commission had considered what he called the systematic abuses carried out by list members in Wales, he would have reached the same conclusion that we have, namely that a ban on dual candidacy is the only effective solution. Do you agree with his line of thinking? Is the Welsh situation one you have studied in coming to this conclusion?"
"Of course we read the material on Wales. The points the Commission took into account on this important issue are as follows: first of all we actually found no evidence that there was a problem for voters in having dual candidacy, nor incidentally, did the Electoral Commission, who have done their own study of this. The idea that a loser is then elected by another aspect or another branch of the proportional representation system is actually a hangover from the first-past-the-post thinking: those coming second are only losers, the only losers in a majoritarian system. The logic of PR is that you actually use the best people as voted for by the electorate and under a proportional system that will not only be the first-past-the-post candidate. As you are aware, I am pretty concerned that we do this on behalf of citizens. Banning dual candidacy would, if you think about it, actually restrict voter choice and potentially diminish the quality of constituency contests."
I think that Sir John has put to bed the myth that he would have arrived at a different conclusion on Wales if he had studied the situation. He obviously did study the situation and I think that the Secretary of State was wrong to put words into his mouth.
I have talked enough, and other hon. Members wish to speak in this debate for which the Government have allowed only a short time. The Secretary of State is trying to amend the system in a way that many people, including myself, believe is cavalier and partisan, with the aim of keeping Labour party members quiet. The case for change has not been made in any substantial research. The Assembly is not crying out for itquite the opposite, in factand the Secretary of State is moving away from what would be its wishes, given the political complexion of the Presiding Officer. I do not think, therefore, that he can argue that the Assembly has been demanding change. Sir John Arbuthnott looked at the situation in Wales, and concluded that there was no case for change in Scotland in light of the information that it provided. The Bevan Foundation research has been prayed in aid and, although flawed, it showed that there is not an overwhelming demand or case for change.
Why, therefore, are the Government messing around again with the electoral system in Wales in such a precipitate way? Will the Under-Secretary wait until after the 2007 elections at the earliest before embarking on that road? I urge him to look at the amendments that I have tabled and, hopefully, accept one of them. If not, he could wait until the Assembly alters its Standing Orders so that regional and constituency Members can resolve their differences. He could at least initiate an education programme about the electoral system, because the Government have failed to educate the electorate.
Why should Wales once again be an electoral experiment? It has three systemsone for Europe; one for Westminster and local government; and one for the Assembly. The system for the Assembly has only been in place for a short while, and it should be given a chance
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to work before it is changed again. I notice that it is the system in Wales that is changing, not the one used in Scotland. The proposals are not good for the people of Wales, and as they do not result from overwhelming demand or substantial research they are not good for democracy.
Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen) (Lab): I did not intend to speak in this debate until I listened to the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), who has not added a great deal to previous debates on this issue. There should be an opportunity to put matters right in the House, as the people of Wales have the right to understand why the Government and the Labour party have introduced the proposals.
The hon. Lady is terribly confused about the electoral system. It was only a couple of weeks ago that we discussed the top-up system on the Floor of the House. She suggested that we ought not to change it, because it is too early to do so, and she has repeated that assertion today. She said, too, that the Labour party introduced the system in the 1997 referendum, so we should not change it. The purpose of the Bill, however, is to reflect on what has happened in the past few years to see whether improvements can be made to the way in which our country is governed in Wales. That point was completely and utterly missed by the hon. Lady.
There is something else that the hon. Lady has failed to grasp. When we debated the system of top-up Assembly Members she rejected the consultation that my hon. Friends and I proposed so that we could consider whether we should revise a system which, I believe, has been discredited. Today, however, she said that the system was confusing. In our earlier debate, she asked me to talk about e-mails from my constituents about the electoral system. I remind her that hon. Members who represent Welsh constituencies do not need to look at e-mails, as we talk to our constituents in markets, pubs, meetings and churches, and they tell us how they feel about different public policy issues, including confusing systems. If she went to Wales a little more than she has done in the past she would undoubtedly hear the same points being made.
Mrs. Gillan: As I spent the first 11 years of my life in Wales, the right hon. Gentleman might say that I have spent a considerable amount of time in Wales. If he is telling me that conversations in markets and pubs are the basis for this Labour party legislation on the electoral system, I am very worried for this Labour Government because they have moved away from the evidence base that they always vaunted so loudly. Where is the evidence? There is none.
I do not live in fantasy land. I live in Wales, which the hon. Lady does not. I do not know whether, during the first 11 years of her life, people were taking about these issues in Wales. She was certainly too young to discuss them. All the references to Professor Arbuthnott, electoral commissions and electoral reform societies do not take account of the experiences of elected Members from Wales who talk to people in their constituencies who are interested in these matters. Today, she is saying that the system is confusing. A fortnight ago, she said that it was not. She has to make up her mind what she thinks about the system.
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Of course, the system is one that the hon. Lady's party traditionally would have rejected. In fact, I agree with most members of her party that the first-past-the-post system is the best. However, the current system has benefited her party. Under the first-past-the-post system, the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) would have been the only Conservative Member in the National Assembly for Wales.
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for reminding us that the Conservative party opposes proportional representation, but we play by the rules that are set. I would have been quite happy to be the only member of the Conservative party to be elected under first past the post. I am sure that most of my colleagues, who are supporters of the first-past-the-post system themselves, would have been pleased to see me there.
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