Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260
THURSDAY 10 NOVEMBER 2005
MP AND RT
Q260 Mr Jones: There is no consensus
for the proposal.
Mr Hain: I am sorry, to put it
in that provocative way I think is unacceptable. We fought a General
Election on a particular manifesto which explicitly had this provision
in for banning candidates from having the best of both worlds
and standing in both listed constituency sections. We won that
election, and we have a mandate from the people, and that is why
this Bill will take that mandate through.
Q261 Hywel Williams: We have heard
of alternative ways of vesting these problems, for example a single
national list or perhaps a candidate standing in a constituency
in one region and standing on a list in another region, or alternatively
all candidates being required to stand on both the list and in
the constituency, as I understand the proposal in Quebec. Have
you given consideration to those alternatives and why do you think
that your preferred solution is superior?
Mr Hain: We have looked at the
whole electoral system, both when considering the policies as
a Government and also in drawing up the Bill. In a variety of
different electoral systems on offer, the one proposed by the
Richard Commission a single transferable vote system, which is
another difference in that this Bill is not proposing that, multi-member
constituencies, increasing the number of members and different
alternative arrangements, we thought we would have a system with
all its imperfections. If you took a partisan Welsh Labour view
today you would probably have an entirely different electoral
system but that would involve departing from a settlement endorsed
in 1997 and it is very difficult to justify doing that.
Rhodri Morgan: Keeping the number
of changes to the minimum necessary I think was a big driving
force in this. It is a small change which solves a substantial
problem. The national list has got a huge objection to it and
unless you set quite a high threshold, obviously as in Germany,
where we and the Americans wrote the constitution for them back
in the post-war ruins of Hitler's Germanyand that has stood
the test of time although it is going through a pretty testing
moment at the present timewhere you have to have 5% support
in order to prevent a new Nazi party coming into being on the
back of getting a minimum of 5%, a national list would tend to
lead to a proliferation of minor parties getting in which is not
in the interests of workability of the Assembly elections. You
could set a threshold and have a national list, but then you are
into all sorts of other problems: how do you decide what the threshold
ought to be?
Mr Hain: On this point, Chairman,
we did some modelling on the 1999 and 2003 Assembly elections,
and the Committee may want to have a look at what it showed. Basically
it does not alter the fundamental balance in terms of the list
system between the parties. In the case of the 2003 Assembly elections
if you had no threshold, Labour would be the same; Conservatives
would lose one seat to UKIP; Plaid Cmyru would lose one seat to
the Liberal Democrats and one seat to the Greens. In the 1999
Assembly elections, Labour would have lost under the national
list one seat to the Greens, other parties would have remained
the same. In the 2003 Assembly elections with a 5% threshold,
you get basically a seat switch of one seat between Plaid Cmyru
and the Liberal Democrats, the Liberals gaining. In the 1999 Assembly
elections with a 5% threshold Labour loses one seat, Liberal Democrats
gain one seat, the other parties remain the same. It does not
change the overall party balance at least on those two elections,
but there are other important disadvantages, I think.
Q262 Hywel Williams: I do not want
to go down the road of discussing the alleged partisan nature
of this, but are you confident you will be able to persuade the
Welsh public, who certainly I want to be supporters for changes,
and that they will not see the proposals as being in some way
partisan, whether they are or not?
Mr Hain: I am because there have
been lots of complaints to me from individuals across Wales about
this system where losers become winners. People do not understand.
Q263 David Davies: You have spent
quite a lot of time, obviously, looking at what political results
you will end up with under different electoral systems. Why was
this necessary if it was not a consideration in deciding what
electoral system to use?
Mr Hain: Simply because if there
was some big benefit from it, if you wanted to go to a national
list system as opposed to a regional list system, the votes being
accumulated in a different way, you want to know the consequences
of doing that or what is the case for it. I do not know the case
for it except if you are a small party and you want a fragmentation
of representation in the Assembly, and more difficulty forming
a government as a result, then maybe that would be a motive. The
way I would go into it, Chairman, is with my eyes wide open, you
would like to know the consequences, and this was a bit of research
I had done to check that out. Nobody has made a strong case for
going to a national list system in any event, but it is of interest.
Rhodri Morgan: I think it would
be fairly badly perceived in North Wales if you did not have a
North Wales region and you had an all-Wales region.
Q264 Mark Williams: From the competing
mandates that we have heard about, would that not have been alleviated
by having a closer analysis of the single transferable vote system
to retain that important regional dimension plus a constituency
element as well? It was, as you say, suggested by Lord Richard
and it seems to have been dismissed out of hand very abruptly
in the White Paper.
Mr Hain: We did not dismiss it
out of hand, we do not dismiss anything out of hand abruptly or
non-abruptly. For the reason I explained earlier this was an electoral
system endorsed in 1997 and I think it needs a powerful argument
to depart from it. I do not think the people in Wales would understand
losing their ability to dismiss Assembly Members that they did
not want to re-elect in the individual constituencies. Once you
move to a single transferable system you lose the individual relationship
between the constituency and the elected member, that is what
you do. It may produce a more proportional result but it breaks
that link which I think is a terribly important feature of parliamentary
democracy and, as it happens, of the emerging Assembly democracy
of being able to vote in or vote out the Assembly Member or the
party as you choose. You would lose that under a multi-member
Q265 Mark Williams: Can I just place
on the record the logical link after lots of quotes from David
Steel and Alex Carlile. The next logical step from what they have
said about the competing mandates, region versus constituency,
was a uniform system of a single transferable vote across Wales?
Rhodri Morgan: That means, in
being give a choice between a good clear system of representation
and a bad one with a bit of confusion, you completely go for 100%
confusion instead of 100% clarity. There would be no clarity about
who you should go to. Presuming you would have therefore multi-party
representation in all areas, the salutary experience of having
Conservative supporters going to take their constituency cases
to Labour AMs or MPs, in my own past history, and Labour supporters
going to Conservative AMs would be completely lost. I think that
would be quite unhealthy really. I know that it works extremely
well in Ireland and I do not want to take anything away from an
extremely successful Irish political history over the last 75
years, but I have exactly the same opposition to it as Peter does
if you break the constituency link.
Q266 Chairman: May I thank you both
for your evidence and thank you, also, for your memorandum. Secretary
of State, you mentioned other documentation; we would be very
pleased to receive whatever else you wish to give us. As I said
at the beginning, we have submitted some written questions to
you and I hope you will be able to respond fairly soon to us.
Mr Hain: Chairman, I am very grateful
and I have enjoyed the experience of being grilled by the Committee.
May I say I would be very grateful, especially, if the Committee
was inclined to look at the pre-scrutiny of Orders in Council
because I do think there is an interest, if not a demand, from
members of the House of Commons, given that in some respects this
is a more compressed process of legislation, to look at pre-scrutiny.
It may be this Committee, which has performed a valuable pre-legislative
scrutiny role in the past, could look at its role extending to
Orders in Council in the future very well, and perhaps working
with the relevant Assembly Committee as this Committee has done
in the past on Welsh primary legislation so the same role could
be applied to the Orders in Council with great benefit.
Rhodri Morgan: May I add a final
word, just simply to thank you for your courtesy today and to
say it is very nice to be back, but now I know what it is like
to be on this side rather than where you are sitting on your side.
Thank you very much for your courtesy. I think there are a couple
of points which we will pick up in writing also.
Chairman: Thank you both for your observations.
We will take those matters seriously certainly. Can I thank my
Committee for their robust questioning and I look forward to the
next session. It has been suggested that the Welsh Affairs Committee
perhaps is not as lively as other committees. I think this session
has been very, very lively and at least we have a consensus on