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Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman had better have a word with the shadow Secretary of State for Wales. She seems to be a great advocate of proportional representationat least that is the impression that the House gained some moments ago.
Mrs. Gillan: A moment ago, the right hon. Gentleman said that we should listen to the elected Members for Wales. Therefore, why does he not listen to the Assembly? The vote was tied at 29 to 29; the casting vote was made by the Presiding Officer on a Standing Order. Surely, therefore, the Government are not listening to the elected Members. The right hon. Gentleman is going against the will of the elected Members in Wales.
Mr. Murphy: I listen to elected Members of the Assembly all the time. The vote that the hon. Lady referred to was presumably split on traditional party lines. Of course, a fair number of those who voted were Members who were elected on the top-up system anyway. The point that I am trying to make, however, is that to try to deny that there is unease or dissatisfaction about the system is wrong.
There is a much more significant point, however, which my hon. Friends have already raised: this was a manifesto commitment. It was clear as day, in black and white. All of us who were Labour candidates in Wales at the last general election fought on a manifesto that said that we would change the position on dual candidacy.
When the Bill goes to the other place, I hope that Members of the House of Lords will reflect on that issue, too. This proposal has not come out of the blue. The reason for the change is that, initially, the Labour party conference agreed by an overwhelming majority that the change had to take place. That was put in a manifesto to the people of Wales. We won on that manifesto. Therefore, it is the duty of Labour Members in this House of Commons to put that forward. When the proposal goes up the Corridor to the House of Lords, I hope that it will realise that, if it rejects it, it will reject a Labour party manifesto commitment that was crystal clear at the last general election.
I am not sure what the position of the right hon. Gentleman was, but his party clearly did not
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consider the manifesto commitment on top-up fees to be sacrosanct. One wonders why this particular one should be sacrosanct. [Interruption.] One or two Labour Members supported it, but not the bulk of them.
Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman can pick and choose from a list of policies if he wants to, but today we are discussing dual candidacy, and Labour's policy on dual candidacy was included in the manifesto. I fought on that manifesto commitment, as did other members of my party.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): The right hon. Gentleman is trying to send to the other place the message that, because this was a manifesto commitment, it should respect it. Does he not accept that it is entirely inconsistent for him to expect others to honour that commitment, given that, as the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) rightly pointed out, the Government themselves broke a fundamental promise on student funding? The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways.
Mr. Murphy: The point is being made that this policy simply appeared out of the blue and was dreamed up at the last moment, but it was not like that. The people of Wales knew precisely what the Labour party's policy was and what they were voting for, and in any event, it is a sensible one. If people do not like a particular Assembly Member who has been elected as a constituency Member through the first-past-the-post system, they can vote that Member out of the Assembly. However, if, as happened in Clwyd, West and other constituencies, someone chooses to stand duallyin the top-up AM list and in the constituencyand loses, they can still get back into the Assembly. I am sure that if we asked any of our constituents whether that is fair, they would say that it is not.
Another point that we must ram home constantly is that few top-up Assembly Members concentrate on safe seats. They often concentrate their activities in marginal seats: ones that they think they are most likely to win at the forthcoming election. That may be politically sensibleI am not saying that it is notbut is that the role of an AM who is a top-up Member? No, it is not. The role of an AM who represents a region of Wales is to represent that region equally and properly. That sometimes happens, but often it does not because of the concentration of political activity in marginal seats. Such concentration distorts and perverts the reason for having top-up AMs in Wales.
The best solution is to do away with the system altogether and to come up with a different one. That is a debate for another day, but today we are debating an issue that the vast majority of people in Wales understand: doing away with an unfairness. They were told about this policy during the general election, when a clear manifesto commitment was given. I urge the House to follow the wise advice that my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire (Nick Ainger)he is not a junior Minister but the Under-Secretary of State for Waleswill give us when he winds up: to vote against these amendments.
The right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) said that the hon. Member for Chesham
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and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) added little that is new to this debate, but given that we have already discussed this issue comprehensively, it is hardly surprising that we should go over some of the same ground. I was slightly surprised by the position taken by the right hon. Gentleman, who seems to be arguing as his core case that because this policy was a manifesto commitment, others need to honour it. As I made clear in my intervention, and as the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) did in his, it is very difficult to take that argument seriously, given that the Government themselves do not respect their manifesto promises to this country. Such an approach certainly does not add any credence to whatever claims may be made that these changes will increase the democratic effectiveness of Wales as a nation.
I shall go through some of the points that have been made, some of which, hopefully, are new. First, we must recognise that there is an attractiveness in separating the constituency and list candidatures, as outlined by the right hon. Gentleman. That looks like a nice way of making it more difficult for opposing candidates from other parties to campaign in marginal seats. Indeed, I would go further: I have some experience of this issue, having observed what goes on in Montgomeryshire. Simply to argue for a change because it makes it easier for the incumbent has nothing to do with the democracy of the system. Surely the right hon. Gentleman does not think that it is justified to change the system to make it more difficult for other parties to marshal their resources and provide significant competition in a given constituency. Anyone who did that would be doing what the Government claim they are not doing, and that is gerrymandering the system.
Chris Bryant: If that were the case, I would wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman. However, Labour Members find it distasteful that the three Opposition parties who oppose the change cannot accept the fundamental principle that losers should not become winners. They hide the fact that the main reason they oppose the change is that they do not have enough members who want to stand and would be decent enough candidates to fill both the list and the constituency vacancies.
Lembit Öpik: The second part of those remarks is simply vexatious mischief. If the change goes through, we will see whether the parties have sufficient candidates. However, the change will harm the minor parties. It will necessarily cause a convergence towards larger parties and it is clear from what the hon. Gentleman says that he is pleased about that. He thinks that it is reasonable to make it difficult for start-up parties to do well in the Welsh system. The more important point is the hon. Gentleman's claim that it is fundamentally wrong that losers should become winners.
The hon. Gentleman used the term "gerrymandering", and the shadow Secretary of State for Wales talked about "rigging". My understanding of gerrymandering is that it involves clear political gain for the party that undertakes it. What is the political gain for the Labour party from the changes? The hon. Gentleman must produce some evidence if he wishes to use such strong terminology.
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Lembit Öpik: The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question lies in the comments by the right hon. Member for Torfaen. He is an effective parliamentarian and it has always been an honour to work with him, but he highlighted his belief that the change is necessary to reduce the likelihood of various parties focusing their resources in marginal seats. I am happy to give way to the right hon. Gentleman if I have misinterpreted what he said, but I am fairly sure that that is the meaning of what he said. We may have a genuine difference of view, but I do not think that that is a good enough justification for altering the democratic system that pertains. It is suggesting that the present system may cause discomfort and heat to the incumbent in a marginal seat, and that is a sufficiently good justification to pray in aid of this change.
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