Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 111)

TUESDAY 25 OCTOBER 2005

RT HON LORD RICHARD QC

  Q100  Hywel Williams: I think I have concerns about the understandability of it all for the public in Wales and therefore the difficulty of recruiting them as supporters eventually, from my stand point in particular.

  Lord Richard: I think there is something in that. One of the objects of our report was to try to simplify matters, not to complicate them. That was why we were very much in favour of severing the Assembly Government away from the rest of it, in other words moving away from this concept of the Assembly being a corporate body because people did not understand what that meant. As you know, there was confusion as to whether the Assembly was doing something or whether the Assembly Government was doing it. I think to move into a situation in which, if it is being done by Orders in Council, people will not be sure (i) whether the Assembly have asked for power and (ii) whether the refusal of power is because they have not got through to Westminster or for some other reason, and (iii) whether what is being operated is basically a Westminster power in Wales or a Welsh power in Wales. I think that is going to be a source of some confusion. I do not think it is insuperable but it is an additional hurdle.

  Q101  Mark Williams: Can we turn to the electoral system and STV. You have explained the logic which led you to reach the conclusion of STV. Why would you have ruled out an extension, if you like, of the additional Members system?

  Lord Richard: It is very difficult to do, 40 list and 40 constituencies. The existing strains that there are with 40/20 we have heard about and to double the number of list Members, which is what you would do, you increase those strains.

  Q102  Mark Williams: Did you look in terms of the boundaries that would operate of the regions within the STV? We heard from some of the academics last week that it was time to update the boundaries under which the system is undertaken, given that we are working on boundaries that were European election boundaries some years ago?

  Lord Richard: Yes, we looked at that.

  Q103  Mark Williams: What did you find?

  Lord Richard: Can I make the point again that I have just been making because if you can run it on 60, you do not need to do anything with the electoral system; if you cannot run it on 60 and it goes up to 80, you do need to do something with the electoral system. You have then got to decide what it is you want to do with it. You cannot have first past the post clearly. You cannot have a list which is equal to the number of the constituencies, so you have got to have another one. We looked at the different types of electoral systems that were on offer.

  I have to tell you I am not an expert on the details of proportional representation systems so you must forgive me if you are. It did seem to us that the most logical one was STV.

  Q104  Mark Williams: What consideration did you give to replacing the system with a single national list?

  Lord Richard: We looked at that. The problem with the single national list is that you do not have any relationship then between the individual and a recognised geographical entity. We did think that it was important to try and preserve as much of a geographical link as you reasonably could. So how do you do it? I suppose in theory you could double up on everything but I do not think that is particularly fair politically nor would it be particularly efficient. The other thing you can do is that you can enlarge the number of constituencies but have more Members per constituency. If you do that, what new constituency boundaries do you have? You cannot just double up on the parliamentary ones. On the other hand, if you take the European ones, then you can probably have a sufficient number in each of those constituencies to make STV reasonably workable, because we did hear quite strong evidence that you have got to have about four or five Members as a minimum for STV to work properly and then is STV too complicated? There are certain parts of Western Europe however where it has not proved too complicated. The Irish seem to get along well with STV. It takes a bit longer to announce the results of their elections but people seem to be able to grade candidates in the order in which they wish them to be graded, first, second, third and fourth, so we came to the conclusion that although STV is a considerable mouthful to gulp down to start off with (and I understand the politics of this) nevertheless, once you have actually got the meal down, on the whole, it might be fairly palatable. At least, it would not prove unpalatable, let's put it that way.

  Q105  Mr David Jones: Continuing with this discussion, last week, as I said earlier, we had evidence from a panel of academics who told us that the White Paper's proposals for reform of the electoral system, particularly with regard to list Members, look deeply partisan (whether or not that was the intention behind it) and this may have a negative impact upon public confidence in the system. In fact, one of the academics said words to the effect of—and I paraphrase—if there is one thing that the public dislike almost as much as a bent copper or a paedophile living down the street, it is a politician who seems to be stitching up the electoral system to his own advantage. What are your views on that?

  Lord Richard: I certainly agree with every syllable of that remark.

  Q106  Mr David Jones: Is that the way it looks to you?

  Lord Richard: No, I do not think it does. Do you mean the abolition of the right to stand on the list and the right to stand in the constituency?

  Q107  Mr David Jones: The motives behind the proposals?

  Lord Richard: I do not know what the motives are because I am not in the government, but I think there is a basic logic in asking people to choose where they want to stand and how they want to stand. If you just let people double up you get this absurd situation, as I said before, of people being rejected by the electorate but nevertheless ending up sitting in the Assembly. If at the beginning of the process they say, "We are not going to stand for the constituency, we are going to stand for the list," okay, I accept that.

  Q108  Mr David Jones: You mentioned earlier the Clwyd West result. Was not the Clwyd West result always foreseeable having regard to the form of devolution settlement that we had?

  Lord Richard: The electoral system as then present?

  Q109  Mr David Jones: Yes?

  Lord Richard: Yes, it probably was. I do not know the details of Clwyd West but, yes, I think it probably was.

  Q110  Mrs Moon: Sorry to interrupt you. An interesting comment about stitching up the electoral system. I think part of the problem that we have at the moment is that the regional AMs refer to themselves—and it is a linguistic issue—as the Member for a constituency rather than a Member for a constituency. I do think that that is part of the problem that we have and certainly one that the public finds difficult when they have people representing themselves as the Member when in fact they are a Member. I just wondered what your comments on that would be?

  Lord Richard: I can see that it could be a problem. I have to tell you when we probed a bit talking to AMs about this particular issue we did not find that the AMs themselves were particularly worried by this. We found Members of Parliament rather more worried than AMs seemed to be. Everybody said if you are an AM you are an AM and therefore you should be treated in exactly the same way, and the jurisdictional fights, if I can put it that way, between the individuals did not seem to be all that great. That was certainly my impression. I may be wrong about that but, on the other hand, it is a relationship—this comes back to a point I was making earlier about the strains—it is a relationship which has strains built into it and it does require a certain amount—a considerable amount—of tact, to put it politely, on both sides for the thing to work properly. In most cases I think it probably has; in some cases it has not.

  Q111  Mrs Moon: Finally, you said the Government's proposals are over-complicated. I think you have said that several times today and we are quite clear that you are not happy with that. You have outlined some of your preferences but just as your final submission could you tell us what you feel would be the simple and effective means, very briefly, for giving that?

  Lord Richard: Along the lines of something similar to the Scottish settlement, that everything is devolved except that which is reserved, and where Cardiff would have a power to pass legislation in the way the Scottish Parliament does. For the life of me, doing the best I can with the arguments, I do not see the argument against that. It seems to me basic, quite honestly, that if you are going to have a devolved Assembly then it ought to have powers. At the moment it does not have powers to do what it wants to do and it ought to have the powers to do what it wants to do, broadly speaking, within sensible limits and all the rest of it. To leave it in semi limbo, in which it is, dependent upon whether or not it can get time at Westminster to get the bills in the legislative programme there is a good example of what is wrong. When it comes to competition for parliamentary time at the moment, what happens? Wales is treated in exactly the same way as any other government department so it has got to compete against the Home Office, the Department of Health, the Department of Trade and Industry, and all the rest of it, for legislative time to introduce a measure. First of all, it should not be treated as if it were a government department because it is rather more than a government department or a county council. It is basically a nation, one of the nations of the United Kingdom, so it deserves to be treated differently from that point of view. Secondly, so long as legislation remains confined to Westminster, you are bound to have these strains on parliamentary time. Having sat on these committees at one stage to decide what bills go in and what bills do not go in, the horse-trading is extraordinary. It is inevitable, but I do think that Wales is a bit different and deserves to be treated a bit differently than an ordinary horse caper.

  Chairman: Lord Richard, thank you very much for your evidence.





 
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