Examination of Witnesses (Questions 112
TUESDAY 25 OCTOBER 2005
Q112 Chairman: Good morning and welcome
to the Welsh Affairs Committee. Could you begin by introducing
Mr Mathias: My name is Glyn Mathias,
and I am Electoral Commissioner for Wales.
Ms Jenkins: I am Kay Jenkins,
Head of the Wales Office in the Electoral Commission.
Q113 Chairman: Could we begin by
examining the role of the Electoral Commission. Could you tell
us whether the Government has a statutory duty to consult with
you with regard to the proposed changes to the electoral system?
Mr Mathias: No, there is no statutory
obligation on the part of the Government to consult us. The powers
which are given to us under Section 6 of the Political Parties,
Elections and Referendums Act do give us the power to comment
on electoral issues where we think it is appropriate. Perhaps
it is useful to describe our role in the electoral process in
Wales. We did produce a statutory report on the December 2003
Assembly elections which included widespread research into public
attitudes, which is particularly relevant to this discussion.
In addition, the Welsh Assembly Government asked us to report
on the combined elections of 2004, and one of the recommendations
we have made and is now being implemented is the establishment
of an Elections Planning group to co-ordinate the planning of
elections across Wales, in which we are actively involved and
my colleague Kay is represented on that group. So we are actively
involved on a continuous basis in the electoral process in Wales.
That is perhaps more relevant than the statutory basis which you
are asking about in commenting on this particular situation.
Q114 Chairman: Can I thank you for
the evidence that you have provided us with. In particular in
paragraph 16 you stated: "Our priority is that electoral
arrangements should create the best possible conditions for political
parties and candidates to engage with the electorate." Based
on this point of your criteria is there a case for reform to the
electoral arrangements for elections to the National Assembly
Mr Mathias: We have looked at
the particular proposal in the White Paper for a ban on dual candidacy
really from the point of view of the voter and public confidence
in the electoral process. I entirely understand the tensions that
exist between list Members and constituency Members of the Assembly
and I entirely understand that Clwyd West is not perhaps the best
example of how the AMS system works. However, there is a serious
danger that an attempt to resolve one particular anomaly or injustice
will actually serve to create other anomalies and injustices and
that is the basis really of the conclusion we have come to. There
are about 30 other countries around the world which have additional
Member systems as their electoral system. No other country currently
bans dual candidacy on the lines of the proposal in the White
Paper. We therefore feel that reasons for going down this road
have to be more compelling than if there were those other examples.
If you are going to operate outside international democratic norms
then you have to have particularly compelling reasons to do so.
We carried out extensive public research, as I described, for
our statutory report for the 2003 elections. 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. I
think also, as you heard partly in the last discussion, that the
ban is perceived widely as disadvantageous to opposition parties
in its effect if not its intention. It is likely to favour incumbents
in constituencies because opposition parties basically have to
choose where to put some of their best candidates, whether in
constituencies or on the list, and therefore they may have to
put weaker candidates in constituencies and that is likely to
favour incumbents. It is perceived, rightly or wrongly across
the political spectrum, as partisan and there is a danger that
if it is perceived as partisan it might undermine public confidence
in the process. Above all, what concerns us is that there is no
evidence whatever in the White Paper to back up this proposal.
There is no evidence at all to back up this proposal and therefore
we came to the conclusion that we do not think the case for change
has been made.
Chairman: Stephen Crabb?
Mr Crabb: I think Mr Mathias has just
covered the question I was going to ask, thank you.
David Davies: Yes, I was going to ask
you about the advantages and disadvantages but you seem to have
outlined them very well. I can only echo what you say that it
is seen as partisan. Certainly as somebody who is stepping down
from the Welsh Assembly (and therefore I have no further interest
in it personally) I think it is completely partisan and I think
it is an absolute disgrace, and many other people feel the same
way, and that it is being done purely for political reasons.
Chairman: Is that a question?
Q115 David Davies: What do you think,
Mr Mathias: That is clearly not
a comment I am going to make. I am sure the intentions are to
resolve a particular problem. What we are pointing out is if you
think it through as to what the net effects will be, other anomalies
in the system will be created. If you look at Scotland in comparison
with Wales and the Scottish Parliament in comparison with the
Welsh Assembly, to take this particular example, in Scotland there
are four Labour Assembly Members who are list Members including
one of them a Minister in the Scottish Executive. This particular
proposal for a ban on dual candidacy has therefore not arisen
in Scotland. It has arisen in Wales partly because the divide
between the constituency Members and the list Members runs straight
along party lines. All Labour Members are constituency Members
and the list Members are other political parties. It is that party
political divide between constituency Members and list Members
which has exacerbated the problem in Wales. It does not mean the
additional Member system is inherently defective.
Q116 Mrs James: I wanted to take
you back to your comment about extensive public research. Could
you give us some background on that, the demographic breakdown,
who undertook it for you?
Ms Jenkins: Yes, I can fill you in on
that. We have conducted quite a lot of research across Wales.
Before the National Assembly election in late 2002/early 2003
we published Wales Votes, which was looking at the likelihood
of people voting at the Assembly election and probing voter attitudes
towards the National Assembly, and that was based on focus groups
conducted across Wales and, in fact, one of those was in the Clwyd
West constituency. What we found from that research was the most
compelling issue emerging was the public information deficit about
public understanding about what the Assembly's powers and responsibilities
were. Immediately following the election we conducted public opinion
research, a sample of thousand adults across Wales which is the
recognised statistically valid sample. We had another series of
focus groups across Wales probing voter attitudes to try and get
under the skin of what people felt about voting. As Glyn mentioned
earlier, we had unprompted questions during that research so that
if we were not asking the right question about what made people
vote or not vote they had the opportunity to raise issues, so
if dual candidacy was an issue for voters it could have emerged
during any of that research. In addition to that, we had constituency
observations in about ten constituencies at the National Assembly
elections where we had commissioners and our own staff on the
ground in constituencies talking to party activists, voters and
so on. Again, we actually had somebody in Clwyd West by coincidence
and it was not something that came up there. We had a post election
seminar where we had people from across the political spectrum.
Anybody who has anything to do with elections in Wales was at
that seminarpolitical commentators, media, academics and
so on. It was not an issue that emerged around election time at
all. We also have a huge amount of public correspondence and public
inquiries with our office. As you can imagine, people write to
us on any electoral subject they care to raise, and it is not
something that has emerged during that research. Again, we reported
on the 2004 elections in Wales, the local elections and European
Parliament election. We have had audits of political engagement
across Great Britain in between elections, where again we probe
voter attitudes. So we have got a very extensive body of research
on what makes people vote and not vote across Britain and particularly
specifically in Wales, and it is on that basis that we say it
is not an issue we could say that has ever been raised with us
or that voters are clamouring to have resolved.
Q117 Mrs James: I have never met
anybody who has taken part in this research. Certainly there has
not been huge interest in coming to ask the people of Swansea
East. I am really concerned that you are getting to a variety
Ms Jenkins: Absolutely.
Q118 Mrs James: I have been involved
in focus research and believe you me the same people pop up every
Ms Jenkins: Definitely because
we make sure that we have our focus groups in a spread across
Wales to reflect the geographical and political spectrum and also
each time we have had focus groups we have had them in different
Q119 Mrs James: Do you pay people
for attending focus groups?
Ms Jenkins: No, we do not. Our
focus groups are done following a competitive tendering exercise.
We use MORI or NOP or those types of people and the volunteers
do not know they are coming to a focus group with the Electoral
Commission. They know it is going to be a focus group about elections
and they are not paid.