Select Committee on Welsh Affairs First Report


146. There has been general welcome for the Government's proposals in relation to the separation of the executive and the legislature and some support for the proposals for enhanced legislative powers. That general welcome has not been extended to the UK Government's proposals for reform of the National Assembly's electoral system. In the White Paper, the Government proposes to "change the provisions currently in the Government of Wales Act to prevent individuals from simultaneously being candidates in constituency elections and being eligible for election from party lists".[238] The rationale of the Government is that such a proposal, if enacted, would counter what has been termed the "Clwyd West problem". In that constituency, five candidates stood for election in the 2003 National Assembly elections. One candidate was successful in becoming the constituency Member, while another three became Assembly Members as additional candidates elected from their respective parties' regional lists.[239] It is the Government's view that such an outcome "devalues the integrity of the electoral system in the eyes of the public and acts as a disincentive to vote in constituency elections".[240]

147. During the course of our inquiry, we heard evidence of some concerns about the Additional Member System and the way in which it was working in Wales. Lord Richard said "there is something wrong in a situation in which [four out of the] five people can stand in Clwyd, none of them can be elected, and then they all get into the Assembly. On the face of it that does not make sense".[241] The Secretary of State quoted Lord Steel, the former Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, as saying of the Scottish experience that the "system had led to a confusing and expensive proliferation of parliamentary offices throughout the country".[242] Dr Jonathan Bradbury suggested therefore that "abolishing dual candidacy is an option worthy of consideration for solving perceived problems of electoral representation in Britain's mixed member electoral systems".[243]

148. The First Minister cited the independent Province of New Brunswick Commission on Legislative Democracy, which had considered the option of dual candidacy for the new MMP (multi-member proportional) system to be introduced in that Province. It was argued that "the Commission is of the view that if a candidate chooses to run in a single member constituency the voters in that constituency should determine whether that candidate is elected and that there should be no back door to the legislature".[244]

149. However Dr Roger Scully, Senior Lecturer in European Politics at the University of Wales Aberystwyth commented that the 'back door' was completely foreseeable in the context of the AMS system in Wales. He said "frankly, if the Government did not realise when it brought in this White Paper that that would happen, they should have done, they were negligent in not realising that".[245] Furthermore, the Electoral Commission cautioned against "introducing a change to the electoral process that is as yet untested over a period of time".[246]

150. The Committee found little support for the Government's proposed solution to this problem, i.e. to ban dual candidacy. Both Lord Richard and Lord Steel's solutions to the problems they identified would be to introduce the Single Transferable Vote in both Wales and Scotland.[247] While Lord Richard acknowledged that there "was a basic logic in asking people to choose where they want to stand and how they want to stand",[248] Dr Richard Wyn Jones, Director of the Institute of Welsh Politics claimed that the proposed ban would "give Wales an internationally anomalous system".[249] That point was disputed by the Secretary of State.[250]

151. Glyn Mathias, the Electoral Commissioner for Wales, acknowledged that tension existed between list and constituency members in the National Assembly, and stated that "Clwyd West is not perhaps the best example of how the AMS system works".[251] Despite this, the Electoral Commission have found no evidence in their research that it posed a problem to the electorate. Kay Jenkins said that despite extensive public opinion research, including in the Clwyd West constituency: "[dual candidacy] is not an issue we could say that has ever been raised with us or that voters are clamouring to have resolved".[252] Jonathan Bradbury stated that the argument that there is public disquiet over what the Secretary of State for Wales described as "losers become winners",[253] "is the weakest part of the case given the lack of clear evidence to prove that there is a problem".[254]

152. Dr Roger Scully, Director of the Jean Monnet Centre for European Studies supported this. He described the Government's claim in the White Paper as "a very bold, unqualified statement about public opinion,"[255] but argued that it was "not backed up with any reference to evidence at all".[256] He added that based on detailed public opinion research in Wales, that in North Wales and in Clwyd West "opinion towards the electoral system was just as favourable as it was elsewhere in Wales".[257] In evaluating the Government's claims, Glyn Mathias, the Electoral Commissioner for Wales told us, "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".[258]

153. The First Minister dismissed the view of the Electoral Commission, describing it as presenting "poor unsupported claims".[259] The Secretary of State added that they had "got this wrong", and that some of their evidence was "politically unworldly".[260] Mr Mathias told us that the Government has no statutory obligation to consult with the Electoral Commission. It powers rest under Section 6 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, which provide for the Electoral Commission to comment on electoral issues where it thinks it is appropriate.[261]

154. Dr Wyn Jones aired his concerns that the proposed change would reduce the quality of Assembly members. He said, "any step which - and this is from a general perspective of the functioning of Welsh democracy - makes it more difficult for the opposition parties to get their "best members" in a 60 Member Assembly is I think problematic".[262] Given that the majority of Labour members are constituency members and the majority of opposition members are list members,[263] this would cause more problems for opposition parties in Wales than it would to the Labour Party in Wales. For that reason Drs Wyn Jones and Scully concluded that it was "difficult to rule out the hypothesis of partisan motivation".[264] While they were clear that they had no evidence that pointed in that direction, Dr Scully argued that "even if this is not intended it is unfortunate because it is going to look deeply partisan".[265] Glyn Matthias added: "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.[266] The Electoral Commission concluded that, "in light of the need to encourage voter participation at the Assembly election in 2007, we would caution against any change that is perceived to be partisan and could add to a prevailing distrust of politicians".[267]

155. Dr Bradbury described any reform to the electoral system as "inherently difficult, given the distinctive nature of the system, the variety of reform options available, and likely perceptions of partisanship".[268] However he suggested that the reform proposed in the White Paper is "at least a plausible basis for incrementally developing the current system to solved perceived problems without necessarily causing new ones".[269]

156. Taking into consideration evidence to the Committee, informal feedback from the public and written evidence submitted to the Committee, we support the proposals for electoral reform as laid down in the White Paper.

238   Cm 6582, para 4.4 Back

239   Cm6582, para 4.5 Back

240   Cm6582, para4.5 Back

241   Q96 Back

242   Q253 Back

243   Ev89 Back

244   Q244 Back

245   Q49 Back

246   Ev 39 Back

247   Report from the Richard Commission, p259, and the National Library of Scotland, Donald Dewar Lecture 2003. Also see Ev 95 Back

248   Q107 Back

249   Q60 Back

250   Q239 Back

251   Q114 Back

252   Q116 Back

253   Q250 Back

254   Ev 90 Back

255   Q50 Back

256   Q45 Back

257   Q45 Back

258   Q114 Back

259   Q252 Back

260   Q257 Back

261   Q114 Back

262   Q61 Back

263   Ev 253 Back

264   Q61 Back

265   Q51 Back

266   Q51 Back

267   Ev 39 Back

268   Ev 93 Back

269   Ev 93 Back

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Prepared 13 December 2005