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In a third term we will legislate for a stronger Assembly with enhanced legislative powers.
We will improve the accountability of Ministers by ending the confusing corporate status of the Assembly.
So it is very clear that that is what we are going to do, and we have the support of this House. These days, I am far more diplomatic than the Secretary of State on such issues. I understand that we have these debates, and I am not really worried about this legislation, but I am proud that we are standing by our manifesto commitments. One cannot get much clearer than the third statement:
Alongside the changes we will prevent candidates from standing on both the list and in a constituency in order to make all candidates genuinely accountable to the electorate and to end Assembly Members being elected via the backdoor even when they have already been rejected by voters.
Lembit Öpik: Does the hon. Gentleman therefore oppose the appointment to another place of candidates who obviously lost in the elections in Wales? Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, is the hon. Gentleman really expecting us to believe that the Labour party voted for the proposed change, while all the other parties voted against, because it wanted to help all the other parties and thought of no particular benefit whatsoever for the Labour party?
Albert Owen: Those two points do not relate to the clause. I think that the hon. Gentleman leads with his chin. I do not agree with the House of Lords per se. It is an unelected Chamber and I hope that I have the opportunity in this Parliament to vote for a democratic Chamber in the other place. That is where I stand on the House of Lords. As I have said, the hon. Gentleman leads with his chin because one of his colleagues is sitting in the Gallery, someone who has been rejected on several occasions by the electorate of north Wales. I do not think that that person or any others should be in the House of Lords. That is my answer to the hon. Gentleman.
Our manifesto stated clearly what we were going to do and I am proud that we have adhered to that. However, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is perhaps too diplomatic with regard to the status of the House of Lords. We know the position. We have had great debates on Second Reading and Third Reading,
and we have carried the measure through with a huge majority. Now, the House of Lordsno one has elected its membersfeels that it can overturn our decisions. This is a constitutional issue. I believe that the Salisbury convention should be adhered to and that Opposition Members should not support the other place. Instead, they should vote for democracy. They should vote in accordance with the Labour party manifesto, Labour being the largest party in this place. We are entitled to govern on our manifesto.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): The right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) did not on this occasion pray in aid the piece of research from Splott market. We had an exchange on that during previous proceedings. The right hon. Gentleman said that he had discussed the matter in a few pubs in his constituency. He was asked questions about time and so on, but we will not go into that now. Suffice it to say that, on any objective view, I do not believe that there is any evidence upon which the change can seriously be put to us. Opposition Members know that, despite the sterling efforts of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) and the fantastic ground-breaking piece of research that he commissionedit was not persuasive, but ground-breaking neverthelesswe have not been presented with very much.
The right hon. Member for Torfaen said that he never did deals. For someone who has been in high office in the north of Ireland, that is difficult to understand. However, I am sure that, as always, he is telling the truth. However, a deal was struck for the proposal to go through between the anti-devolution Labour party and the pro-devolutionists. That is what it is all about. It is a piece of red meat to keep those who are against further devolution happy. That may or may not be relevant to the debate.
We had a sterling speech, if a little ex-cathedra, from the hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig). It was interesting in that he showed that he does not want to see anybody else getting elected in Wales other than Labour candidates. I believe that that is his true position. At least he is honest enough to say it, and I respect that.
I will not go through the evidence again because time is short and there are other important issues that we must discuss. However, I will touch briefly on one or two matters now. When the Secretary of State opened the debate he said that the Queen must give Royal Assent to the Bill at some time between now and Tuesday. The right hon. Gentleman detailed why that must be so, and I am sure that everything he said was right. He said that over the coming weeks and months there will need to be several references to the Electoral Commission for discussions and, if necessary, to vary regulations. On two occasions during his opening speech he prayed in aid the Electoral Commission. Why then was the electoral commissioner, Glyn Mathias, roundly ignored when he said that he thought that the proposal would be a partisan move and that there was no evidence to support it? Glyn Mathias commented on the research that the commission had undertaken. He said:
This issue did not figure in that research. We asked a whole series of questions and sought unprompted replies and this issue
did not arise...what concerns us is that there is no evidence whatever in the White Paper to back up this proposal...therefore, we came to the conclusion that we think that the case for change has not been made.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will recognise the booklet that is in my handthe Arbuthnott report. It reached the same conclusion and found that there was no evidence to suggest that this was an issue for the public. In fact, Arbuthnott went further and suggested that dual candidacy was anti-democratic. Perhaps the difference between Arbuthnott and the Richard commission was that Arbuthnott was a cross-party document and was consensual, whereas the Richard commission was a Labour party inspiration which was there only to serve the Labour party.
Mr. Llwyd: I differ slightly from what the hon. Gentleman says about Lord Richard. I think that Lord Richard did a sterling piece of work and I would not level a charge of partisanship at him. However, I take the hon. Gentlemans point. The Arbuthnott conclusions were quite different.
I will not refer to the various academics who have been referred to at length in previous discussions, including Dr. Richard Wyn Jones and readers from the Napier university. As far as is known, the only other system that embodies the system that we are talking about introducing in Wales was in pre-revolution Ukraine. If we want to adhere to standards such as that, all well and good, but I ask must ask again where one might find the evidence for this change in the law? I cannot see it. Other hon. Members have referred to the Electoral Reform Society. There is a welter of evidence against the proposed change. The only thing in favour of it is the rather scant piece of research commissioned by the hon. Member for Caerphilly. The Government have brought the proposal before the House and have found that the only evidence to support it was commissioned by a Back-Bench Member of Parliament halfway through the proceedings. That is not persuasive.
Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman refers to the Electoral Reform Society as if it did not have an agenda. It clearly has an agenda, and that is why it is putting forward the views that it is.
the Electoral Commission is an independent body established by the UK Parliament in 2000 by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act. We are independent of the UK Government and political parties, and are directly accountable to Parliament.
This will go down as probably the most partisan change in the law in the last five years. Hon. Members may laugh because they are content with it;
they know that it will assist them, so why should they not laugh about it? But others in different parties, others of no political affiliation and other academics throughout Britain and beyond have looked at this and come to the same conclusion. It is a partisan way of proceeding, and that is what we are arguing about. I do not say that it would necessarily benefit my party unduly, or indeed anybody elses, but it will benefit the Labour party, and that is why I am concerned about it. It is all very well referring to the Salisbury convention, but this is a bad piece of law that we are debating. It is partisan. I shall not refer to the other quotations.
Mr. Llwyd: That has already been explained fully. [Interruption.] How many times do hon. Members want to hear it? We have heard it from both sides of the House. Suffice it to say that my belief is that it will benefit the Labour party. It is not me saying so, but Dr. Scully, Dr. Wyn Jones and Dr. Weinstrob. I could go onSir John Arbuthnot. There are plenty of people to whom we could refer. Those people are entirely without political connection, and they have reached that conclusion.
This matter will be put to a vote, I believe on a matter of principle. I do not want to see the rest of the Bill being delayed, but this is a bad clause and the Lords are right in their conclusion on this part of the Bill at least.
Mr. Hain: I was gently rebuked by my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) for being too diplomatic in my introduction, but I reassure him that I have been severely provoked this evening by the Oppositions contributions. The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) seems to question the Salisbury convention. She seems to pay no attention to that convention, under which, for generations, the unelected House of Lords defers to a manifesto commitment of the governing party in the elected House of Commonsa point ably made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy). She seems to dismiss this. I do not know whether it is a new Conservative party policya party that had just 30 per cent. of the votethat the House of Lords should be able to trample over all the manifesto commitments of the governing party, elected by the people to form the Government of this country. I disagree with her, because therein lies a recipe for constitutional confusion.
Mrs. Gillan: It is not a question of rubbishing, ignoring or talking down the Salisbury convention; it is just that the right hon. Gentleman has done a deal with the Liberal Democrats, so the arithmetic adds up in his favour. It is as simple as that.
I would have been happy to do a deal with the hon. Lady, if she had shown the same support for the principle of devolution in the Bill as the Liberal Democrats, who in particular have the interests of Wales at heart, rather than the interests of narrow party concerns. I am surprised that she refers to us dumping manifesto commitments. The Leader of the
Opposition almost daily dumps commitments from the election manifesto on which he and the hon. Lady were elected just over a year ago.
Mention has been made of Ukraine. The truth is that this issue has become controversial right across the globe, from Canada to New Zealand, not simply Ukraine. That evidence has been given at length in earlier debates in the House. I am asked for evidence. In the interests of brevity, I did not quote the evidence because it has all been quoted before, but I have a fistful of quotes and evidence, from Lord Carlile of Berriew, the former leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, speaking in the House of Lords on 15 June, and from Lord Richard, the chair of the Richard commission, in testimony to the Welsh Affairs Committee on 25 October. This is about Wales, but mention has been made of Scotland, so let us look at Scotland. The former Liberal Democrat Presiding Officer of the Scottish Assembly castigated the abuse of the system, saying that it had been thoroughly abused, and that was despite the code of conduct in Scotland, which we do not have in Wales. I could carry on providing all the evidence: there is the evidence of the chief of staff of the Scottish Liberal Democrats andof the leader of the Assembly Conservative group, on 14 June and again on 15 June. I could also quote some academic evidence.
Mr. Hain: I just want to carry on with this point. A fistful of evidence has been presented during the debates in both Houses, but particularly in this House. I do not want to detain the House by repeating it all, although I am happy to do so if provoked. I do not know whether the hon. Lady wants to provoke me.
Mrs. Gillan: I am certainly not trying to promote the Secretary of State, who is clearly struggling. [Hon. Members: Promote?] No, provoke. I certainly would not want to promote him, although I think that he would like to promote himself. The right hon. Gentleman made some obtuse remarks about what is happening in other countries. In Italy and Denmark, and in some regions of Germany, double candidacy is expressly required, and candidates have been permitted to run both in constituencies and in lists in Germany, New Zealand, Japan, Hungary and Russia, all of which have had mixed Member systems running since the 1990s. Therefore the throwaway line that the system is not used in other countries is not entirely accurate, and that is from the Electoral Commissions report.
Then the hon. Lady asks where in Wales the concern has arisen. I will tell her. I, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, and my right hon. and hon. Friends, have had meetings up and down the country. At those meetings there was more burning anger among the public on this issue than on anything else. There was
strong feeling about the need to put the voters in charge. That is the fundamental democratic principle at stake here.
The voters should be in charge. If the voters kick somebody out in the constituency, why should that person pop up on the list and be elected? That is not the voters in charge; that is the party manipulating the system. In almost every case, those whom voters rejected in the constituencies in 1999 and 2003 popped up on the regional lists. That is why we are asserting the basic principle of parliamentary democracy that the voters are boss. If the voters reject somebody, they should not be elected by the back door. People do not understand how on earth that can happen and that is why we are correcting this widespread abuse. I say abuse, because it is not just a matter of principle, it is the fact that time and again we have seen regional list Members abusing the system by coming into constituencies claiming to be the elected Members for those constituencies when they are not. A Plaid Cymru Assembly Member has presented a dossier on how to manipulate the situation in the interests of her party, and that has been referred to at length in the House. I could go on and on, so I will allow the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) to intervene to provoke me further.
David T.C. Davies: Many of us here are astounded that at these many meetings that the Secretary of State attended there was so much anger about a proportional representation voting system, yet nobody mentioned the health service, the council tax or the lack of dentists. He said that there was more anger about this matter than anything else. Is he living on the same planet as the rest of us?
Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman is a vocal but junior Member of the House. I was talking about consultation on the devolution Bill, on what should go into it, on the policy that should fulfil our party commitments following the Richard commissions report. At those meetings, people wanted to discuss the detail of what might transpire in a Bill to follow the recommendation of the Richard commission, which would command support across the House. That issue was one of the most strongly feltindeed, there was bitter anger up and down Wales. Look at the situation in Clwyd, West, where the sitting Labour Member defeated all the other candidates, who all got elected nevertheless.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn has said, the Labour party will be equally hit by the provision, which will not benefit any party in particular. When we asked for evidence of how it could possibly benefit the Labour party, the hon. Member for Monmouth and others changed their tune and began to talk about perception. We want evidence: where is the evidence that the Labour party could benefit by putting the voters in charge?
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