Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260 - 266)



  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 Germany—and that has stood the test of time although it is going through a pretty testing moment at the present time—where 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 STV system.

  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 that.

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