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Lord Crickhowell: It is not the only case. Does he agree that exactly the same situation exists in
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Scotland? Indeed, it has been well pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, and the Arbuthnott committee. Some 83 per cent of those elected in Scotland were elected on the basis that he described. Is that why he is replying to the debate and not the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, who has had to deal with the Scottish issue on previous occasions?
Lord Davies of Oldham: The reason why I am replying to the debate is that it is a high privilege to be asked to do so. I am coming to the Scottish position, because my noble friend Lord Foulkes is scarcely going to allow me to escape it. The Government are considering the Arbuthnott report. We do not think that the issue is cut and dried in quite the way that it has been presented by noble Lords on that side of the Committee this afternoon. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Foulkes, who introduced some balance into the argument on Arbuthnott. That is why we are considering the issue in great detail at present. Before Arbuthnott, we had identified the issue in Wales, and we had indicated to the people of Wales how we intended to tackle it. We are fulfilling that commitment.
I make it absolutely clear that the abuse concerns more than three candidates in one area. The problem with regard to list candidates being successful after they had failed in the consistencies is a much wider issue than just those three candidates. It extends to 18 candidates in all, who were constituency candidates in the same election. For the electoratethe Clwyd case exemplified it in a dramatic and obvious wayit brings the electoral system into some disrepute.
Lord Davies of Oldham: As the noble Lord will know, in one or two counties the issue is being addressed. I have already heard this afternoon that the reference to New Brunswick is not regarded as being absolutely convincing, but it is one illustration of democrats who think similarly to this Government on this problem. The noble Lord will recognise that there is no such thing as a pristine electoral system that solves all anomalies and all difficulties. It is right that where a particular problem occurs that gives considerable offence to an electorate and an abuse appears to have occurred, a government should seek to set that right. We could not have gone about that in a more exemplary fashion. The proposed ban on dual candidacy will correct those anomalies in the electoral system in Wales. It will remove the safety net of dual candidacy, which will make it harder for regional Members to use their position to target particular constituencies, and it will restore the right of voters to reject a particular constituency candidate.
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: Does that mean that the Government will also be introducing similar
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prohibitions against London Assembly Members and against Scottish Members? Or is the position different in London and Scotland?
Lord Davies of Oldham: We will address those issues in good time. I have already indicated to the noble Lord that we have not replied to the Arbuthnott report, which is a serious document that deserves serious consideration. We have not responded to that as yet, but in this Bill we are legislating with regard to Wales, because that is where a clear issue arose.
The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said that the Government were bent on partisan activity and that all others were ranged against the Government. I do not think that we are being partisan; the reform will affect all parties equally. No party will gain or lose a single vote or seat in the Assembly as a result of this change. Three Ministers in the Welsh Assembly Government are currently in marginal seats. They will also lose the safety net that the list system would otherwise have provided. It will not do for noble Lords to suggest that the Government are taking through a narrow, partisan matter to look after their own in Wales. Some of the crucial people who serve the Labour Party in Wales will make the inevitable sacrifice and there will be no safety net for them.
It will remove unfairness in the current system. In doing so, it will improve the electoral system. We maintain that the proposals in Clause 7 to prevent candidates standing both in a constituency and on a regional list will strengthen the integrity of the system. It puts the voters in charge by enabling them to choose successful candidates and reject unsuccessful candidates who cannot then arrive in the Assembly through the back door.
On the basis of those arguments, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment. I recognise the genuineness of the views of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, and the strength with which he has presented them. However, I ask him to recognise that we are not putting forward a casual clause in a Bill. We are fulfilling a clear, specific promise to the people of Wales on how we would deal with a problem identified in the elections for the Welsh Assembly in 2003. We are fulfilling that commitment through this legislation. We have the right and the obligation to do so. This House should tread carefully when such explicit commitments are being made by a properly elected Government.
I was particularly touched by the quotation given by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell from a very independent academic, Professor Robert Hazell, of the Constitution Unit of the London School of Economics. He referred to these proposals as, "nasty, spiteful and seemingly driven by partisan motives".
"Any mechanism that seeks to overcome problems generally experienced only by Labour Assembly Members, will also be open to being seen as partisan. It may be worth reminding Labour Assembly Members that whilst they may feel individual resentments at 'unfair' competition from list Assembly Members, the current electoral arrangements were created with their party's overall aim to remain the largest party".
That is the crux of the issue. The system was set up by the Labour Government in the 1998 Act. They now have to change it in order to protect their own constituency members because they have no regional list members.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: I think that even the Labour Party would have been ashamed of creating such a system; and that is why it never did. It insisted upon a degree of proportionality but, of course, it may be regretting that now.
We have heard a fair analysis of the arguments. We know what lies behind the Government's change in the Bill from the 1998 Act. It is their wish to protect their own sitting Members from attack, not only from regional list members and candidates but from anyone else, because they are in something of a fix and their long predominance in Wales is severely under threat. I shall test the opinion of the Committee.
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