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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, has said in introducing his amendments, they deal with the issue of potential collusion under the additional member scheme. In essence, what the noble Lord means by that is a situation where one group stands in the constituencies under the name of a party and then produces another apparent party to stand in the electoral regions when they are all part of the same party.
Everybody recognises that in theory that is possible. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has rightly pointed out that the Liberal Democrats, the Labour Party, the Conservative Party and the Welsh Nationalist Party have all indicated that they would not do such a thing. Moreover, it presumes a lot of quite unparalleled cynicism and duplicity among any political party that did that, supported by indifference and naivety on the part of the voters and of the media.
I submit that the noble Lord's approach throughout this debate and the earlier debate on this issue has been decidedly alarmist. He grossly exaggerates the likelihood of those hypothetical scenarios becoming a reality. No electoral system is without its potential for manipulation, not even first-past-the-post. I remind the noble Lord that it has long been common practice in local government elections in parts of Wales for members of political parties to stand for the council as
The options offered to us by the noble Lord are not new. They are variations on an earlier proposal which has already been considered at length by Ministers in the departments responsible for organising party list elections.
All five options impose restrictions on and requirements from political parties which wish to participate in the elections for the national assembly for Wales. All the options would require a party wanting to put forward a party list for an electoral region to mount at least some degree of challenge in the constituencies within that region. All the options would oblige a party which was contesting a certain number of constituencies within an electoral region also to put forward a party list in that region. Those impositions--it is the price the noble Lord says we have to pay for the theoretical possibility he identifies--are fundamentally undemocratic and imperiously draconian.
In a democracy, is it proper for the state to exercise such authority over where a political party mounts its electoral campaigns and targets its resources? I do not think so. The parties which would suffer most from the provisions, whichever of the five options is adopted, are the smaller parties which do not have the resources or the electoral appeal to engage in many contests or to mount campaigns over large areas. For tactical or economic reasons they would want to concentrate their activities on a small area or in a limited number of contests. Concentration of resources, to my mind, is a perfectly legitimate electoral strategy. The Greens, for example, contested only four out of 40 constituencies in the 1997 general election in Wales. I imagine that parties like theirs will be focusing on the electoral regions for the assembly elections, quite legitimately. It would be wrong if we were to oblige parties to engage in what were "token" contests in some areas simply to allow them to pursue their real intent in another.
I do not exaggerate when I refer to "token" contests. These provisions would have the effect of requiring candidatures to be mounted in a specified number of constituencies simply as a qualifying condition for submitting a party list. The other element of the various couplets--they all come in twos--obliges parties which ran candidates in a specified number of constituencies in a region to put forward a party list for that region, whether or not they wanted to. Why should those token contests be inflicted on the electorate? Why should a party have to stand in an electoral region when all it wished to do was to stand in a specified number of constituencies? What intrinsic democratic purpose would this extraordinarily directive election serve?
We would have constituency candidatures which were no more than qualification criteria for party lists; and party lists which were no more than penalties imposed for exceeding the approved threshold for the
All the major political parties have given solemn undertakings in this House and in another place not to indulge in blatant manipulation of electoral machinery. I do not believe that we shall see the nefarious activities envisaged by the noble Lord. I have more faith in the good sense of the electorate and the political parties. I am afraid that he does not appear to share that good faith, even in respect of his own party. Whatever may happen, I believe strongly that the so-called solutions put forward by the noble Lord are more undemocratic and duplicitous than any of the unlikely circumstances that he described today.
Lord Onslow of Woking: My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord sits down, perhaps I may say this. He will be familiar with a law which states that if something can happen, sooner or later it will. By his own admission, under this legislation as we have it now, it would be perfectly possible for what my noble friend has suggested to occur. It has to happen only once to invalidate the whole system. We have the opportunity now to make sure that it cannot happen. Much faith though I have in all those who have given solemn undertakings that their party would never do any such thing, I remember being in the House of Commons when a Labour Home Secretary felt obliged, to lay an order amending the constituency boundaries as the law provided, and to whip his party to vote against it. I do not suppose the noble and learned Lord would accuse me of being naive if I said that that sort of thing has happened once and it can happen again. I support strongly what my noble friend said.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I have accepted, as the noble Lord pointed out, that it could happen. But the point I am making is that the solution proposed--as any solution proposed would have to be--is much worse than the consequences the noble Lord proposes. What the noble Lord proposes, is that parties be compelled to place people in constituencies and to place lists in electoral regions simply as the price to be paid for standing where they wish to stand. That is not fair and it is not democratic; and it is unnecessary, having regard to the level of the risk of untoward events occurring. That is at the heart of our objection to the amendment proposed by the noble Lord. In those circumstances I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Before I conclude, I say this in relation to four out of his five couplets. Although this is a drafting point, they are mutually contradictory in the way they operate. For example, the first one says that one can put forward a list in an electoral region provided that one has somebody standing in each assembly constituency. Then
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for the last point. I shall study it with interest and see what I can do to improve the amendments--or one of them. I have listened to the noble and learned Lord. My noble friend Lord Onslow of Woking made a telling point in his intervention. If I had stood before your Lordships all those years ago and said that it was possible that a government might obey the law, lay the orders regarding electoral boundaries before the House, and then proceed to vote them down, I am sure that I would have received much the same answer from the government minister of the day. He would have told me that I was grossly exaggerating, that people would not do that, and so on. But, lo and behold, in the fullness of time they did so.
It is exactly the same with this provision. I do not believe that I am grossly exaggerating. As I mentioned to your Lordships, the original idea is contained in an article by Dr. Dyer, who I believe is a lecturer in politics at Aberdeen University. It was taken up by a Member of the other place, Mr. Ian Davidson, the Member for one of the Glasgow seats, who advocated it in exactly the same way that I illustrated for the Scottish parliament. I shall bring forward similar amendments in relation to Scotland, but the position is exactly the same in Wales. The potential is there.
Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? I am grateful. Will he indicate which parties or candidates in Wales have indicated publicly that they might adopt this course; or which political commentator who is read seriously in Wales has suggested that this might happen?
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