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Mr. Llwyd: The one-time Member for Llanelli, the right hon. Denzil Davies, was never a fan of things Belgian. Indeed, he was never a fan of things European in general. He once told me over a cup of tea in the Tea Room that he believed that Monsieur d'Hondt himself did not understand the d'Hondt system. What proof he had I am not sure, but I believed him at the time and I rather wonder whether applying the d'Hondt system to the Committee structure of the National Assembly for Wales has any merit whatsoever.
Clause 29 seems to place the Assembly in a unique position in comparison with other devolved UK legislatures. Section 29 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 prescribes d'Hondt arrangements for Ministers, Committee Chairmen and Deputy Chairmen, but not for Committee membership as a whole; nor do the Standing Orders of the Northern Ireland Assembly require d'Hondt to be used. Strand 1 of the Northern Ireland agreement states:
"There will be a Committee for each of the main executive functions of the Northern Ireland Administration. The Chairs and Deputy Chairs of the Assembly Committees will be allocated proportionally, using the d'Hondt system. Membership of the Committees will be in broad proportion to party strengths in the Assembly to ensure that the opportunity of Committee places is available to all members."
That is the crux of the matter. In my view, it is unacceptable to apply d'Hondt to the selection of Committee Chairs and Vice-Chairs, but it is wrong in principle for it to be applied to the Committee places available to Assembly Members.
In Scotland, an attempt was made to apply d'Hondt principles to Committee membership at the outset of the Scottish Parliament, but that was abandoned when changes were made to accommodate the minority parties with a single Member. The d'Hondt principles are, however, used in allocating Members' business and selecting Convenersthe Chairs of Committees. The principles are not used to allocate membership of Committees.
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I was unable to find any evidence of other parliamentary bodies required to use the d'Hondt formula for selecting Committees by law, or indeed in rules of procedure. Nevertheless, it may be the case that some legislatures have the d'Hondt principles entrenched, but I have not come across them.
"At the beginning of each electoral term, one of the first tasks of the Council of Elders is to reach agreement on the distribution of committee chairs, and deputy chairs, among the parliamentary groups. The number and size of committees, as well as the system used to determine their composition, which is proportional to the relative strengths of the parliamentary groups, are decided ultimately by the Bundestag. As a rule, it bases its decisions on agreements reached among all the parliamentary groups in the House (cross-party agreements).
Until 1970, the relative strengths of the parliamentary groups were calculated using the d'Hondt method, which was also used to calculate the outcome of federal elections until the Bundestag's tenth term (1983). The result, however, tended to favour the larger parties."
"In making recommendations on Committee membership to the Plenary, the Business Committee must have due regard to the balance of parties within the Parliament. Selection of members must not be on the basis of random selection.
The Business Committee, having due regard to the balance of parties within the Parliament, should propose the political party from which a Committee's Convener should be elected. The Committee's members would then elect their Convener subject to that limitation."
4. In proposing a member to be a committee member, the Parliamentary Bureau shall have regard to the balance of political parties in the Parliament and, where that member has expressed an interest in serving on that committee, to his or her qualifications and experience as indicated by him or her."
However, early in the life of the Parliament, the intention had been to apply the d'Hondt principles. In the debate on the selection of Committee members on 17 June 1999, the then Parliament Minister, Tom McCabe MSP, stated:
"The Parliamentary Bureau asked the four party business managers if they could reach agreement on this potentially difficult issue and they undertook to discuss the matter. In the background of those discussions was the desire that Messrs Harper, Sheridan and Canavan could be accommodated on a committee within the Parliament. Clearly, in determining the size of the committees, we had to strike a balance between the need to manage MSPs' time for their chamber and constituency commitments and the time that they would spend in committee.
The d'Hondt formula would have allocated six places on an 11-member committee to the Labour party. To Labour's credit, it immediately recognised that, as it does not have a majority in this chamber, it would not be fair for it to have six places."
According to the best evidence that I have been able to garner and the advice that I have taken, even if Labour were narrowly beaten in the National Assembly next summeras I hopeit would still be in the majority on all the Committees. That cannot be right for a democratic institution and I urge the Minister to look again at the whole matter. If clause 29 goes through, it will bring the whole process into disrepute. We have already heard the word "gerrymandering" this evening, but this is gerrymandering writ large, and it is an unacceptable way to proceed. There is an Independent AM in Cardiff, who would never sit on a Committee. However, it would be even worse if the Labour party were to retain a majority on the Committees without being in power. That would be unacceptable to any parliamentary set-up. I hope that the proposal will be reconsidered as a matter of urgency.
The Minister has been shaking his head from time to time while I have been speaking, but I have models that prove what I have said. A Committee of 10 members would provide the best match for the political balance, but 10-member Committees are not normal in the National Assembly because it would mean AMs having to serve on several Committees, given that there are only 60 AMs. Under the pure d'Hondt formula, single Independent Members would not gain a seat on a Committee until each Committee had more than 50 members.
Two models were considered by the Panel of Chairs in December. Both involved six-member Committees. Further options have been considered, some with eight members and some with 10 members. With eight-member Committees and under the pure d'Hondt formula, Labour would have four members, Plaid Cymru would have two and the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats one each. That does not come close to reflecting the current party balance. It does not give a minimum number of places to reflect current party group membership for Labour or the Conservatives, unless Measure Committees are also includedbut the Conservatives would still be under-representedand there would be no room for Independents. That model, and the same model with an additional Standing Committee, would not come close to the minimum number of places to reflect the current party balance. The Conservatives would still be under-represented and Independents would not be included.
A 10-member Committee would produce five places for Labour, two for Plaid Cymru, two for the Conservatives and one for the Liberal Democrats, which is closer to the current party balance. However, the Conservatives would still be under-represented and other parties would be over-represented. Such a Committee would give the minimum number of places to reflect current party group membership, but it would not include Independents and would mean a far greater work load, because Members would have to serve on at least two, and possibly three, Committees. There are
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two further models but, to cut things short, I can find no evidence that a d'Hondt system would reflect the true political balance of the Assembly.
As the Minister knows, in earlier debates we tabled an amendment drawn largely from Scottish Standing Orders. In effect, it would have made it incumbent on Committees to reflect political strengths in the Assembly. With respect, I suggest that that is the way to proceed. I cannot understand why we need to consider such a complex procedure, which has been shown to be unfair to several political partiesalthough, curiously, it is always over-fair to the Labour party except in one model.
I mentioned earlier the danger that the clause will be seen as gerrymandering. It is insidious. I have had private discussions with the Minister about the clause and hope that he will reflect on it, because it has caused outrage across the Assembly and I feel sure that their lordships will take a dim view of it. Much of the Bill is commendable and acceptable and I want it to proceed quickly, but I fear that the clause will be a sticking point in the other place. The Minister said that he had been discussing it with officials over the past three or four weeks. Obviously, I am not privy to discussions between Ministers and civil servants so I do not know how far they have gone. Suffice it to say that if clause 29 is retained, it will be a red rag to a bull in the other place. It will reflect badly on the whole Bill and make its passage far more difficult andI regret to sayrightly so. I do not like to use the word, but the clause is nothing short of gerrymandering and has no evidence base. If I am wrong, the Minister can explain why.
When the Minister replies, will he tell me what is wrong with the Scottish model, whereby Committees are formed according to the relative strengths in the Parliament, and on which we based our earlier amendments? That would be the best way forward. It would give some slight latitude, but more important it would provide for minority parties as well as for the majority party. Clause 29 is the wrong avenue and if the amendments are pushed to a Division, I shall vote for them.
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