Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240
THURSDAY 10 NOVEMBER 2005
MP AND RT
Q240 Mr Jones: Secretary of State,
I would like to turn to the White Paper proposals for electoral
reforms, specifically the Government's proposals to outlaw dual
candidacy. The Electoral Commission have pointed out that this
would render Wales unique and said that "...if you are going
to operate outside international democratic norms, then you have
to have particularly compelling reasons to do so'. In fact they
were wrong. It would not make Wales unique because we were told
by two other witnesses, Dr Wyn Jones and Dr Scully, that after
extensive investigations they had discovered one system where
this did apply and this was in Ukraine prior to the 2002 parliamentary
elections. They pointed out this change was introduced by the
same party who more recently attempted to fix the result of the
presidential election and poison the main opposition candidate.
Can you explain to the Committee why you consider that the most
appropriate model for Wales is that of pre-Orange revolution Ukraine?
Mr Hain: It is not, and indeed
the two academics are wrong because I researched this very carefully.
The issue of dual candidacy is one that has proved controversial
in many other jurisdictions that have introduced additional member
systems, and there are not many that have. This is a fairly unusual
system. For example, it was considered by New Zealand's independent
commission on electoral systems and two Canadian Provinces that
are planning to introduce the additional member systems and are
committed to banning dual candidacy. I draw from that that in
those British-type parliamentary systems, New Zealand and specifically
in Canada, they are committed to doing this. The somewhat gratuitous
reference to Ukraine is wrong, and I suggest the academics get
better researchers in the future, similar to the ones I have got.
Q241 David Davies: I was enjoying
this, Chairman. Since the Secretary of State for Wales has done
a great deal of research into this himself, perhaps he could tell
us in the examples cited in the two states in Canada where the
voting system is being changed, is it the case that the governing
party who are behind the changes are likely to benefit from the
changes as the governing party behind the changes in Wales are
going to benefit from those changes?
Mr Hain: These changes are recommended
by an independent commission so that knocks that one on the head.
The idea that this is a party-biased proposal is simply flatly
wrong. There are six Labour Assembly Members, currently, including
three ministers, who are in directly elected constituency seats
who are vulnerable to losing those seats on swings of less than
3%. Now you could say that as a Government and Welsh Labour as
the party and the author of that policy, we are effectively discriminating
against at least six of our own members but we do not have the
ability to give them the lifebelt of standing in both categories.
If I can say this as well, Chairman, I was one of the ministers
who introduced this system in the 1998 Act. I had absolutely not
the faintest idea that it would be subject to the kind of systematic
abuse for party advantage by Opposition parties in this instance
and, secondly, abuse of taxpayers" money as evidenced by
the fact that in the case of 15 of the 20 list members15
of the 20 list members so this is not an isolated accidentthey
have set up constituency offices in the target seats that their
party, and in some cases they, want to contest next time, mostly
in the seats that they lost last time. What they are doing there
is abusing their position as list members, establishing themselves
in the light of the local electorate, using taxpayers" money,
quite a lot of it, to fund constituency offices and effectively
campaign offices against the sitting constituency member they
were defeated by in many instances. That is the abuse, that I
never anticipated, as a Welsh Minister back in 1997-98 introducing
this system, which we have got to stop. We propose in this Bill
to do that in two ways. First of all, by banning the ability of
candidates to stand in both categories, you make a choice. If
it discriminates against anyone, it discriminates against Labour
members as much as any other party. Secondly, you will not be
able any more to call yourself the constituency member for a particular
constituency if you are a list member for the region.
Q242 David Davies: I think the second
point you make is far less controversial because there needs to
be clarity about where people represent, and personally I have
no problem with that second part. To say that people are systematically
abusing the system for party political advantage is surely nonsense.
People are using the system as it is. I understood the system
with no constitutional background after about an afternoon of
reading the White Paper, I could see people who were clearly doing
this. To say the that taxpayers" money should not be used
to put an office in a constituency because it gives an opposing
candidate an advantage is also unfair because clearly the candidate
who has won that constituency can also use taxpayers" money
to set up an office in the constituency and arguably to campaign
Mr Hain: They are the elected
member for that constituency, like you are the elected member
Q243 David Davies: They are the elected
Member for that constituency who should submit themselves to election
against a candidate from another party who does not have the advantage
of having a taxpayer funded office in the constituency.
Mr Hain: I am sorry, Chairman,
either as an Assembly Member or a Westminster Member you win an
election or you do not.
David Davies: It is very important that
the same rules apply to everybody.
Chairman: Order! Order! Mr Davis, you
are taking advantage of the Chair. You must bring your conclusions
to a comment. Somehow or another you must pose a question briefly,
pose that question now.
David Davies: I want to make a point
of order to you, Chairman. The Secretary of State for Wales was
out of order to say that any political party has abused the electoral
system, that is a very serious charge, when all political parties
have followed the rules as far as the current system of voting
Chairman: If you wish to raise a point
of order you should have done so at that time. Please proceed
and ask a question.
David Davies: I am raising a point of
order with you, Chairman. My point of order is that no political
party has abused the electoral system and the only abuse of the
electoral system is going on by the Labour Party at the moment.
Chairman: I have heard the point of order
and I am ruling it out of order.
Q244 Mr Jones: Secretary of State,
to return to the point you made about never having foreseen the
consequences of people setting up their own operations in the
first past the post constituencies. This was a point raised again
with the academics who appeared before this Committee on 18 October.
Dr Scully in response to that, said this: "There has been
a long tradition in countries that have mixed member systems that
people who are going on the list do some element of shadowing
of certain constituencies". He went on to say: "Frankly
if the Government did not realise when it brought in this White
Paper that it would happen, they should have done, they were negligent
in not realising that". Did you never not foresee this would
Mr Hain: What I never foresawat
the danger of repeating myselfwas this absolutely consistent
and systematic abuse of the system, and I stand by that statement.
The evidence is plain for anybody to see as an active politician
in Wales. It was provided graphically in the memorandum from the
Assembly Member Leanne Wood, the Plaid Cymru Member, who explained
that this was the very purpose of it all, and I am happy to provide
a copy of that memorandum to the Committee, if you wish. I do
not agree with the academics who made that point. I think that
what is quite evidentand it is interesting that Canadian
Provinces have anticipated the problem on recommendation of the
independent commissionis not just in Wales but in Scotland,
where the former presiding office, the former Presiding Officer,
Lord Steel, made it absolutely crystal clear in, again, a quote
I am happy to provide the Committee with, that he saw the practice
of list Members in Scotland, even though there was a code of practice
in the Scottish Parliament, where there is not one in the Welsh
Assembly, as just absolutely flagrant abuse of the system. I agree
with him and the Arbuthnott Commission has taken quite a lot of
evidence itself to that effect.
Rhodri Morgan: If I could add
something to that. The key sentence which I think sums this up
best comes from the independent Province of New Brunswick Commission
on Legislative Democracy. It says: "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." That is the key to all of
this, and I think there is widespread support across all parties,
and across non-political people in Wales, for that proposition.
Q245 Hywel Williams: I do not raise
this for any really partisan reasons, but I hope the Secretary
of State will also confirm that the judgment in the Leanne Wood
case confirmed that no illegality had happened? Can the Secretary
of State confirm that in respect of his earlier statements?
Mr Hain: I never said that there
was any illegality in it. I said an abuse of the system was clearly
laid out, a route map was laid out in that memorandum which, as
I recall, Chairman, Plaid Cmyru disowned and distanced itself
from, and I am not surprised given its content. There is an elementary
principle hereand we all know that as people who have been
elected by our constituentswe have been elected by our
constituents and we are accountable to them. If they do not like
us, they can get rid of us as directly elected Members. We have
a protocol in the House which I think might be borne in mind that
Members from outside the constituency cannot interfere in constituency
matters because otherwise the whole system would break down. I
fear that has not happened and I am afraid, I might have been
misguided in this, we did not anticipate that that would happen
when we brought the legislation in.
Chairman: Mr Jones, Mr Hywel Williams
wants finally to make another supplementary.
Q246 Hywel Williams: I am concerned
about something that the Secretary of State said earlier on and
I wrote it down so I could be sure what he said. He said the constituency
offices were being effectively used as campaign offices. Now I
am very careful in my own constituency office to separate those
matters which are party related from my Parliament duties and
I should imagine that would be the case for every hon Member here
and, also for Assembly Members. Does he have evidence for what
I understand to be illegally happening in Wales and has he put
that evidence before the proper authorities?
Mr Hain: I think it is significant
that in the case of 15 of the 20 list Members, it just so happens
by an absolutely remarkably astounding coincidence that their
constituency offices are in their party's target seats, often
the ones that they lost in last time and in some cases are on
the record as wanting to contest again in the constituency seats
Rhodri Morgan: The next time is
the principle involved.
Q247 Hywel Williams: That sounds
like no evidence to me.
Mr Hain: I have just given evidence.
Q248 Mr Jones: Secretary of State,
in your ministerial foreword in the White Paper you say that voters
are confused and concerned about the way the Assembly's electoral
system and its candidates who lose first past the post still become
Assembly Members representing the same area. You have just cited
the Arbuthnott Commission. Is it not the case that the Arbuthnott
Commission concluded that while the current voting system has
". . . the potential to add to existing cynicism . . . current
disengagement was not the result of voting systems"?
Mr Hain: I do think it encourages
cynicism. It is very hard to be absolutely, as it were, scientifically
certain about a particular reason for a lower turnout. I do think
it encourages cynicism, indeed, and lots of people have said this
Q249 Mr Jones: Do you not think these
proposals are deemed to be partisan?
Mr Hain: No, I have given an example
of six Labour Assembly Members who will lose out by the system
because they will not have the option of a safety belt, a lifebelt,
of standing in both categories. They will have to make a choice
and I think they have all decided to re-stand in their constituencies,
so I do not think it is partisan at all. I agree it is in the
interests of Opposition parties in the Assembly to present it
as partisan because it is a bit of a smokescreen for what has
really been going on here.
Q250 Mr Jones: Forgive me, I would
be uncharitable, would I, if I was to suggest that these proposals
are nothing more than a disreputable attempt to gerrymander the
system to the electoral advantage of the Labour Party?
Mr Hain: But how can you gerrymander
a system when the people have the ultimate verdict here? They
either decide to elect a Conservative Assembly Member in David's
case or they decide to elect a different Assembly Member, that
is their verdict. All I think people do not understand, as has
happened in Clwyd West, as it happens, where Members lose, Members
they have kicked out stop winning and then set themselves up as
rival constituency Members, people do not understand that. Losers
become winners by the back door.
Q251 Mr Jones: You mentioned Clwyd
West and it is rapidly becoming known as the "Clwyd West
Mr Hain: Indeed.
Rhodri Morgan: That is because
Q252 Mr Jones: Again, this was put
to the Electoral Commission witnesses who appeared before this
Committee a couple of weeks ago. We were told by Miss Kay Jenkins,
one of the witnesses that "There is no evidence that the
Clwyd West so-called problem has had any impact on voter participation".
Mr Hain: I think it is has had
an impact. As I said, there are lots of different reasons for
voter participation and a lot of them are quite complex, probably
to do with macro and political factors. It is quite clear people
do not understand how people who lost can suddenly have won, they
do not understand that.
Rhodri Morgan: I think this is
not the Electoral Commission's finest hour, and as regards the
academics you quoted it was not their finest hour as well. We
have had some poor unsupported claims made by the Electoral Commission.
I accept the Electoral Commission is an independent body, but
I do not think it was their finest hour in accumulating evidence.
Likewise in terms of international evidence from the academics,
this business about being only the Ukraine when in fact it is
Ukraine, Thailand, Mexico and, to a lesser degree, Japan as well.
In terms of devolved parliaments they did not look at it all,
they were completely unaware of the evidence from Prince Edward
Island and New Brunswick's independent commissions and I do not
think that is really geared up to that.
Q253 Mrs James: I am going to talk
about this confusion a little bit and then I have a particular
question I want to ask about it. The public are very confused
when they hear quotes like "Each regional AM has an office
budget and a staff budget of some considerable size. Consideration
should be given to the location of their office. Where is the
best place in the region. Is this a target area". When the
public hears comments like that they are confused, they are puzzled
about why people are placing offices in various places. Lord Richards
himself, when we took evidence from him, said there was a deep
sense of unfairness. What are we going to do about this confusion?
Do we need a code of conduct at the Assembly, regulating the relationship
between the list and constituency AMs? Would this be a simpler
way of engaging the problem?
Rhodri Morgan: Yes, sort of; that
is one of the areas where we hope there will be a protocol in
the Assembly and we hope that will be part of the Bill, to have
some sort of regulation of the relationship to avoid confusion
so that there is the obligation to do the same amount of constituency
work in all parts of a regional list, shall we say, to make sure
you cannot cherry-pick issues, to make sure you cannot use your
office for partisan purposes in the way described in Leanne Wood's
memoranda almost blaming her predecessor who was a constituency
AM for doing too much casework and so forth. Something along the
Scottish lines which does not seem to regulate, it is not the
last word on these matters and you can never just take something
from Scotland and put it in Wales, it is not as easy as that,
but they do have a protocol, so something workable along those
lines saying what you have to do and what you must not do in terms
of avoiding the potential conflict and confusion for casework
and representational work as an AM. I think we should be going
down the Scottish road and one of the proposals is to have such
Mr Hain: Except, Chairman, if
may I add to what Rhodri said in agreeing with him, when you are
aware of what Sir David Steel, the former Presiding Officer of
the Scottish Parliament said, where they did have a code, he saidand
I think it is as well to get it on the record"The
system as operated had led to a confusing and expensive proliferation
of parliamentary offices throughout the country; in at least one
town there are four. They have become a thinly disguised subsidy
from the taxpayer for local party machines. In my view they are
a serious waste of public money". He added: "Quite the
most distasteful and irritating part of my job as Presiding Officer
was dealing with complaints against list Members" behaviour
from a constituency, Members of the Scottish Parliament, Westminster
MPs and local authorities. I could not understand at first why
we had such problems until it dawned on me that what some were
determined to do was misuse their position to run a permanent
four-year campaign as candidate for a particular constituency".
That is coming from Lord Steel, as it happens a Liberal Democrat
not a Labour functionary.
Mrs James: One of the things we should
be looking at is a report that has recently come out into constitutional
law at the University of Wales, Swansea, looking at the work of
Scottish MPs and MSPs which was published in May 2005 which says
that there is a strong and extensive focus on a single constituency
within a regional framework. This is something that is clearly
happening in Scotland and is causing some concern.
Q254 Mr Crabb: In a previous answer
the First Minister sounded like he was trying to trash the evidence
provided to us by the Electoral Commission. Perhaps I can put
it to you, First Minister, the Electoral Commission said to us
that they are "...worried that in the run up to the elections
if there are accusations about partisanship, which we think is
very likely, that could have an adverse impact on voter participation
at the next election". Do you regard that claim as poor and
Rhodri Morgan: I cannot see how
it would work in that way because, as I think I said earlier and
Peter has said as well, there is a wide range of cross-party support
for this separating out of people who are standing on the list
and who are standing in the single-member constituency, including
your own predecessor, Lord Crickhowell, not your own predecessor
Q255 Mr Crabb: Different seat.
Rhodri Morgan:four, whatever,
up to 1987, who said the present arrangements are unsupportable.
Lord Carlile said the same thing and David Steel from his own
particular perspective as first Speaker of the Scottish Parliament.
I think people see this as clarifying in the first place how you
stand and having clarified how you stand then clarifying the roles.
I think that is for everybody's benefit. Sometimes we even have
difficulties between Members of Parliament and Assembly Members,
not in David's case because he is both, but in other circumstances
you can get "That is a case for me, now it is a case for
you". Sometimes you want to pass all the cases over, particularly
the difficult ones. Sometimes you want to grab all the cases because
you think that might be good for your reputation. That is between
MPs and AMs without any complication from the list. It is very
important to have the clearest possible view, at the point of
election and after election, when it comes to the question of
to whom do you go for somebody to help you when you have a difficulty
with Executive decisions.
Q256 Mr Crabb: I would like the Secretary
of State to comment as well. You do not think it is irresponsible
in a way for the Government to press aheadignoring the
Electoral Commission's concernswith a measure which many
people will regard as self-interested?
Rhodri Morgan: How can it be self-interested
when it is supported by your predecessor, a former Conservative
secretary of state; by Alex Carlile, a former Liberal Democrat
MP; by Lord David Steel, a former Liberal Democrat leader and
then Speaker of the Scottish Parliament. Other Members from the
Conservative Party who I will not quote here because that would
not be fair, I have not asked their permission, very prominent,
have said the present arrangements are unsupportable.
Q257 Mr Crabb: I am asking about
the evidence the Electoral Commission has given this inquiry.
Mr Hain: I am happy to respond
directly to that. I think the Electoral Commission plays a very
valuable role but it can get things wrong, and I think it has
got this wrong. Some of the evidence that it gave to this Committee
and elsewhere is almost politically unworldly, and does not really
take account of what is going on on the ground. I think the Electoral
Commission should continue to perform its important role but take
account of political reality from time to time; in this instance
clearly it has not.
Q258 Mr Jones: Do you not think it
is important to gain a consensus over electoral reform so that
this charge of partisanship can be properly refuted?
Rhodri Morgan: I cannot see how
anybody can make a charge of partisanship in the light of the
support that has been given to this clarification of the roles
of list and constituency MPs by a former Conservative Secretary
of State, by a former very senior Liberal Democrat MP, by a former
Liberal Democrat Leader and Scottish Parliament Speaker. It is
absolutely clear that there is widespread support from senior
figures from across all departments which shoots down your charge
Mr Hain: And I think by, if I
am not wrong, Preseli Pembrokeshire Conservative Association which
has also criticised this policy. Is that not right?
Mr Crabb: I think they favour abolition.
Q259 Mr Jones: There is clearly no
consensus. Respected commentators think it is partisan and frankly
you do not care.
Rhodri Morgan: There is no consensus
for the present system.