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Grand Committee

Monday, 18 June 2012.

Arrangement of Business

Announcement

3.30 pm

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen): My Lords, if there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.

Wales: National Assembly Elections

Green Paper on the future electoral arrangements for the National Assembly for Wales.

Motion to Take Note

3.30 pm

Moved By Lord Wallace of Tankerness

That the Grand Committee takes note of the Green Paper on the future electoral arrangements for the National Assembly for Wales.

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness): My Lords, it is a very welcome that we should have this debate, which is an opportunity for noble Lords on all sides of the House to contribute their views on the Green Paper. Since the coalition was formed in 2010, the Government have delivered major reforms to the country’s political system, making it fairer and more representative. In the previous Session, as many noble Lords present will recall, we took forward two major pieces of constitutional legislation: the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 and the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. Although the Acts related to parliamentary elections and therefore extended to the whole of the UK, they had specific implications for Wales.

On 21 May, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales published a Green Paper on future electoral arrangements for the National Assembly for Wales, which sought views primarily on two issues that have arisen as a consequence of these Acts: whether the link between Assembly constituencies and parliamentary constituencies in Wales should be reinstated, and whether the Assembly’s term should change permanently from four to five years. In addition, it sought views on two other issues affecting elections to the National Assembly for Wales: whether a candidate at an Assembly election should be allowed to stand as both a constituency and a regional candidate, and whether Assembly Members should be prevented from becoming Members of Parliament.

The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 provided for a reduction in the size of the House of Commons and for constituencies of more equal size, so that a vote in one constituency would be worth the same as a vote in any other. Historically, the boundaries of the 40 constituencies for the National Assembly for Wales have been the same as those of parliamentary constituencies in Wales. The PVSC Act

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broke this link in order to ensure that fewer parliamentary constituencies in Wales would not mean correspondingly fewer Assembly constituencies and therefore a smaller Assembly.

However, the effect of breaking the link was that there was now no mechanism to review and alter Assembly boundaries in future. We must put in place a new mechanism—Assembly boundaries cannot be frozen in aspic—and in doing so we should consider whether it would be better to retain 40 Assembly constituencies but make them of a more equal size, or to re-establish the link with the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies. The Boundary Commission for Wales will recommend 30 parliamentary constituencies in Wales as a result of the current review, so reinstating the link would mean a change to 30 Assembly constituencies.

Each option has its merits. If we retained 40 Assembly constituencies, many electors would remain within their current constituencies. However, moving to 30 constituencies would retain the relative simplicity of the current arrangements and would enable electors to continue to vote in the same constituencies for parliamentary elections as for Assembly elections. It is important to make it clear that neither option preserves the status quo. If 40 constituencies are retained, they will be made more equal in size—Assembly constituencies are currently highly unequal. The Government’s reforms to parliamentary constituencies are underpinned by the principles of fairness, and we see no reason why that should not also be the case for Assembly constituencies.

A move to 30 constituencies would mean an increase from 20 to 30 in the number of regional Assembly Members, in order to ensure that the size of the Assembly would stay the same, with each of the five regions electing six Assembly Members instead of the current four. The number of parliamentary constituencies in Wales—and in any other part of UK—may change over time. Restoring the link between parliamentary and Assembly constituencies would mean that the number of Assembly constituencies would change when the number of parliamentary constituencies changed. To take account of this, the Government propose that if in the future the number of Assembly constituencies changes from 30 to, say, 29 or 31, the number of regional Members would increase or decrease accordingly to ensure a 60-Member Assembly. These regional seats would be distributed through the Sainte-Laguë method, which is generally acknowledged to be a fair way to allocate seats. The Government make clear in the Green Paper our preference to move to 30 constituencies but, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales has indicated, this is not set in stone and we want to hear which option people prefer.

The second major piece of constitutional legislation we introduced is the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, which establishes five-year fixed terms for Parliament. This will prevent a future Prime Minister being able to hold an election when it is merely politically expedient to do so. The date of the next parliamentary election is 7 May 2015. However, this date coincides with the elections to the National Assembly for Wales.

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Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Is it not possible that this Parliament could be dissolved in some other way before that date? That could happen if, for example, the coalition was to split and the Prime Minister no longer felt that he had the confidence of the House of Commons. The general election might then take place on a date other than that which the noble and learned Lord has specified.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: That is a theoretical possibility, and the provisions for triggering an election are set out in the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. Indeed, I can recall the noble Lord and other noble Lords present today debating those provisions at some considerable length. So it is possible, but the primary position under the Act is that the next election will take place on 7 May 2015.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords—

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: Perhaps I may make a little further progress before I take the intervention.

As I have said, that date would coincide with elections to the National Assembly for Wales. The Welsh Government raised concerns that a parliamentary poll on the same day could overshadow an Assembly election and, following a vote in the Assembly, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act itself deferred the date of the next Assembly elections by one year, to 2016.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: The Minister is obviously right if that is what happens, but is it wise to move ahead with other legislation on the basis of something that may not actually happen? It may be the most likely event, but it is not necessarily an absolute certainty. Is it wise to change legislation on the basis of something that may not be final?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: The essence of a consultation is for considerations of that kind to be imported into the consultation, but the position is that if the law remains unchanged, and if it is the case that the next general election is held on 7 May 2015, under the five-year fixed-term provisions, five years hence from that date would be the first Thursday in May 2020. If the law with regard to the National Assembly for Wales has not changed, then by reverting back to a four-year term, the Welsh Assembly will also take place on the same day in May 2020. That is why we are examining the question of whether the Assembly should move on a more permanent basis to a five-year term. However, that is to accept that at any time either in this Parliament, the next Parliament or the one after that, there could be a situation where the Parliament does not run for its full five-year term. No doubt future Parliaments would have to address the consequences of that. It is also worth pointing out that if we had not had an Act for fixed-term Parliaments and this Parliament, as previous Parliaments have done, ran to its full term, the dates for the two elections in May 2015 would coincide without any prior provision having been made for that.

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Lord Elystan-Morgan: I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord for allowing me to intervene. Am I right in thinking that the five-year term does not mean a period of exactly five years, because the date for the election can be brought forward or delayed by 28 days on either side of the date? In other words, although it is inevitable that if nothing is done, the next Welsh election will take place at about the same time as the general election, it need not take place on the same day. I apologise if I am wrong about this, but I do not think I am.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I am trying desperately to think back to the debates that we had. I think I am right—and I am sure that by the end of this debate I will be corrected if I am not—that the Bill was amended in its passage through your Lordships’ House. It removed the earlier provision but maintained the possibility for a later provision. I think it is also the case that the Assembly has some power under the relevant legislation to vary the date. I have no doubt that the former Presiding Officer will be able to correct me if I have got it wrong, but I think I am right that the Assembly itself has some leeway.

The Government are seeking views on whether this temporary move to a five-year fixed term should be made permanent. Moving the Assembly to permanent five-year terms would mean it is less likely—although not guaranteed, as we have been discussing—that parliamentary and Assembly elections would be held on the same day in future, so there would be less chance of a parliamentary election overshadowing an Assembly election and of voters being confused by voting in two elections, using two different electoral systems, on the same day. To clarify the point I made a moment ago, it is in fact the Secretary of State who can vary the date of an Assembly poll by one month—but I think that even with one month there would still be the possibility of overshadowing.

However, combining elections can be beneficial by reducing costs—that is the other side of the coin. Holding the 2011 Assembly elections and the referendum on the alternative vote electoral system on the same day is estimated to have saved around £1 million in Wales. Holding elections on the same day may also help to increase turnout. The Government do not have a fixed view on whether the Assembly should have a four- or five-year term, but we believe that the potential impact on the elector is the most important thing to consider in deciding the length of the term.

As I have indicated, the Green Paper also seeks views on two further electoral issues in Wales. Since the 2007 Assembly elections, it has been prohibited for a candidate at an Assembly election to stand for both a constituency and a regional seat. This impacts disproportionately on smaller parties, whose candidates must choose whether to risk everything by standing as a constituency candidate when they could potentially be elected via the regional list instead. Conversely, it also affects parties who have done better than expected in a constituency election. In time, it is possible that high-quality candidates could be lost to the Assembly through this ban. The Government do not think that this situation is satisfactory, and believe the ban on dual candidacy should be removed.

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The Green Paper also considers the issue of “double-jobbing”. The Government note concerns that have been raised over whether elected representatives who sit in more than one elected legislature at a time are able adequately to represent both sets of constituents. Double-jobbing is already prohibited in the European Parliament, as well as countries such as Canada and Australia, and the Government are seeking views on whether Assembly Members should be prevented from standing as Members of the Westminster Parliament simultaneously.

This Green Paper has not come out of the blue. It provides a structure to the debate that has been ongoing for more than a year about the make-up of the Assembly in light of the reforms that the Government have put in place nationally. It seeks to bring this debate out into the open. The consultation runs until 13 August and we are seeking the views of everyone—not least your Lordships—with an interest in the electoral arrangements of the National Assembly for Wales. I hope that this debate will help to explain and put forward ideas and views on these issues. Therefore, in encouraging noble Lords to make their views known, I beg to move.

3.43 pm

Baroness Morgan of Ely: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, for his introductory remarks. I have three questions to ask in relation to this Green Paper. First, why does this need to be done? Secondly, who should decide? Thirdly, why now?

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, has tried to address the first issue. Of course, the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act has gone through; there is a boundaries review; there is a reduction in the number of MPs from 40 to 30; and of course previously there was this coterminosity between the MPs’ constituencies and the first past the post constituencies in the Assembly. Of course, that meant that there will be a hole somewhere. If we are to carry on with the current arrangements, we would still need to consider the fact that at some point we may need a boundary review in Wales for the Assembly. I therefore understand that there is a legal hole somewhere that we need to fill. There is also a Fixed-term Parliament Act that will have a knock-on effect. It is not a good idea to have a general election at the same time as an Assembly election.

However, my real concern is who should decide. We know that there is a legal right for the UK Government to decide this, as there is a legal right to them to decide if they want to abolish the Assembly if they wanted to—but would they do that? They would not do that because it would be wrong. The will of the people was expressed in a referendum back in 1997, and the package that was then presented to the people included the structure and make-up of how the Assembly is elected. It is therefore possible to impose these proposals and to make them happen, but is it morally right to do so? It should be remembered that in 1997, all three main political parties determined the way that they would like the Assembly to be elected. There is a real question mark there. It is not therefore a good idea to have a referendum to ask the public about this.

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At the very minimum, there should be an agreement by the elected representatives of the Assembly that this matter is of critical importance if we believe in devolution. There is a real question mark. What does devolution mean if you can keep on imposing things from London? The principle has been established with the Scotland Act. The matter was not concluded until the Scottish Parliament had spoken. Therefore, my first question to the Minister is, can he give us some kind of assurance that the Assembly will be able to give its view, and that that view will be taken into consideration and accepted by the Government? That is absolutely critical. My understanding is that the First Minister and the previous Presiding Officer were given assurances by the current Prime Minister that the change would not happen without the agreement of the Assembly. It is also worth noting that there is not one Cabinet Member from a Welsh constituency in this Government. It really does look like a throwback to the bad old days of governance of Wales from London.

My second question is one of timing. I recognise that there is need for a legal framework, but why now? Significant reviews are being undertaken at the moment. The first is, of course, the Silk review, which has two phases—the first looking at fiscal powers and the other at broader powers for the Assembly. Then there is the commission on the West Lothian question, which, again, may have a significant impact on the relationships between all these different institutions. And then there is the huge elephant in the room—the referendum in Scotland. We cannot ignore the fact that that will happen and that there will be an impact on devolution in the broader sense, whatever the outcome.

The Assembly has already been given a considerable increase in powers recently, but no increase in the number of Assembly Members. It may be that Silk will come up with a whole range of suggestions of what the Assembly could be doing in the future. If that is the case, there could be a case for increasing the number of Assembly Members. Now is therefore the wrong time to be making the proposed changes.

I should like to speak briefly about the substance of the document. It contains an assertion that the Government do not seek to give advantage to any political party—which is very good. However, is that reflected in the proposed model? What modelling has been done to suggest that no particular party will get an advantage for a change to the current system?

It is worth reflecting on the first Assembly election in 1999 when there were 40 first past the post seats, only one of which was won by a Conservative, and eight Conservative seats were won on a top-up regional list system. We are all au fait with the likely outcome, but what modelling has been done? What has been done so far in terms of looking at what the consequences might be? Who might be the winners and losers if the Government are so determined that no particular party will gain an advantage?

It is also worth noting that, if there is going to be an increase in the size of the Assembly—

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: My Lords, there is a Division in the House.

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3.50 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.01 pm

Baroness Morgan of Ely: My Lords, it is probably worth noting that there is a degree of suspicion on the part of some political parties due to the way in which we have seen the suggested changes to constituency boundaries and the likely political impact.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: Perhaps the noble Baroness will permit me to say that the suspicion is in part because of the effects of the constituency Act, which has borne down most heavily on Wales. Indeed, it has reduced the weight of Wales at Westminster and clearly has important party political implications. That is why, in my judgment, there is a considerable degree of scepticism about the bona fides in this case.

Baroness Morgan of Ely: Another point I want to make is that it was recognised that there might be a change in the size of the Assembly. It was suggested that if that happens, the change could be made up for on the regional basis of the regional list. It could be, therefore, that there are many more members on the regional list than on the first past the post system. That would be a departure from anything this country has previously seen. I believe that what we are suggesting here may have implications for the long term and that at some point, due to changes in the responsibilities of the Assembly, more powers may be given. There may be a need for more support in the Assembly. If so, I would be really concerned that that would be made up on the regional list.

As regards the dual mandates, in principle, it is difficult to serve two political institutions at the same time. However, it can be beneficial to have some individuals also plugged into the national level. There should not be a double mandate, certainly as regards Assembly Members and Members of Parliament, for more than one year. We should encourage a little bit of movement between the two levels of government, but a case could probably be made for the House of Lords. As yet, we do not have individual Members of the House of Lords democratically elected to represent Wales. We happen to be Welsh people, but we do not represent Wales here. It is an accident and we are not speaking officially for Wales in any capacity. However, despite the fact that some individuals would not have a mandate to speak for the Assembly, it would be useful to keep a link and a channel of information open between the different institutions. I have a concern that, as the Assembly settles, we will see less movement between the institutions. Then there is the question of whether you could or should stand on a constituency list in addition to being on a regional list. I can understand how unjust that felt in 2003 in North Wales, when the constituency Labour Member won and each one of his defeated opponents then popped up on a regional list. On the other hand, I felt a little bit sorry for a Tory—which does not happen very often, I can assure you—when the leader of the Tory group, Nick Bourne, was knocked off the regional list; he was rejected

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because of the success of his party at a constituency level. So I have a degree of sympathy, which does not happen very often, as I said.

My conclusion and my clear message is this: whatever is decided, it should be decided with the blessing of the Assembly. If it is not, it will be perceived as something being imposed from London and that will be simply storing up trouble for the future.

4.06 pm

Baroness Randerson: My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest as I am in receipt of an Assembly pension. I am also on the board of the Wales Governance Centre, which is part of Cardiff University and is partly funded by the Assembly Commission.

The point I start from is diametrically opposed to that expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan. As a Liberal Democrat, I continue to support the recommendations of the Richard commission for the single transferable vote in Wales. However, at the start of the Assembly, we as Liberal Democrats accepted the compromise of the list system as being the furthest we could get towards an element of proportionality, and I certainly accept that we are not going to get STV in the near future. Therefore, in general I welcome the proposals in this Green Paper.

I particularly welcome the acceptance of what will become the 30:30 split under the new boundaries, which is the preferred option of the Secretary of State. That is an acceptable compromise. It produces more proportionality, which is very welcome, but I accept that it maintains the dual system that Liberal Democrats do not believe is ideal.

I was an Assembly Member for 12 years. I am pleased to see three former colleagues here today—in fact, we are in danger of this becoming the old group discussing things again. I was a constituency Assembly Member and it is true to say that the role of a regional Assembly Member is very different. Those differences can cause friction, but there is no proposed change in the system here; we are simply looking at the split between constituency and regional lists.

As well as being more proportional and therefore fairer, I believe that 30:30 would be very much easier administratively. Differing boundaries are very complex, particularly for electors but also for political parties and people who run elections. Incidentally, a longer list in each region would also help gender balance. It would increase the number of women and ethnic minority candidates coming forward. STV lists tend to do that and in this case the list for the Assembly would operate in a similar way. It is obviously easier for political parties but it is important to remember that having coterminous constituencies for Parliament and the Assembly particularly would help civic society and electors by removing an element of confusion. In this I agree wholeheartedly with Peter Hain who was entirely right when he said:

“Having different boundaries creates a great deal of confusion for voters, for parties and for the wider public”.

It would also reduce the cost—more than £2.5 million over 10 years—of having to review different sets of boundaries, first for Parliament and then for the Assembly, making it almost an endless treadmill of boundary reviews.

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I totally reject the idea that the 30:30 split could possibly be two-Member wards. That is a Labour Party idea which is designed to remove the element of proportionality. Proportionality was inherent in the offer made to the people of Wales in the vote that they took in the referendum at the end of the last century—a vote that was won very narrowly and that I am pretty certain would not have been won if proportionality had not been there. I believe that 30:30 would be fairer in proportional terms as it would reduce the chances of a party winning a majority of seats on a minority of votes in the ballot box. It is worth noting that in 2011, under the current 40:20 split, the Labour Party won 50% of the seats on just short of 40% of the vote. So when the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, asks us which party would benefit from a 30:30 split I would answer that no particular party would benefit but one party certainly benefits from the current system and that benefit would be lost under the new one.

I want to talk now about process. The voting system is a reserved matter—that was decided by the previous Labour Government when the Government of Wales Act was drafted. The power to decide the electoral system could have been devolved to the Welsh Assembly but it was not. The Assembly had no say in the previous changes, such as the ban on dual candidacy which came in in the 2006 Act. I know that the Assembly feels it should express an opinion. It is absolutely right that it should do so, but it is important to remember that there are no legally binding results to that opinion. As a strong devolutionist, I would have preferred the system to be written differently but that is the system that the Labour Government gave us.

Lord Elis-Thomas: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. Would the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, agree that, despite the fact that there are no legal powers within the Government of Wales Acts for the Assembly to have organised consent, the devolution principle and its constitutional basis must surely point to consent being obtained in one way or another from the National Assembly for changes to its own structure?

Baroness Randerson: That sets an interesting train of thought. As the legislation currently stands, we would move to 30:30 under the current Government of Wales Act. Would consent be needed to adhere to the current legislation? I do not think that would necessarily be the case. The concept of Assembly consent—which has never come up before in this context, so far as I can recall—is desirable and I would hope it would happen, but it does not necessarily follow that it has to be because of the status of the current legislation.

I want to deal with the other issues of significance in this paper. A really important issue is the end of the ban on dual candidacy. In 1999 and 2003, I was a candidate for the list and for constituency seats, along with members of all other parties—including the Labour Party. Dual candidacy ensured vibrant energetic campaigns in individual constituencies. Candidates who knew that they were not likely to win a constituency would nevertheless fight hard in an individual constituency because it contributed to the list campaign. The loss of

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dual candidacy reduced the level of campaigning, particularly as regards the list vote. As a result, we had a loss of democracy in Wales.

The ban came out of the ether, as far as I could see. It seemed to be a purely political measure introduced in 2006 by the Labour Party, and it clearly penalised smaller parties. Think about the mathematics. A party has to have 40 constituency candidates; and now, under the current system, with a ban on dual candidacy, it probably has to have another 25, with five candidates for each of the five regions. Under the old system, if you stood as a candidate in both a constituency and for the list, you could, as a party probably get away with a slate of 40 candidates. Now you have to have effectively 65. That makes the situation difficult for small parties, and the system was designed to do that.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Surely, if a party cannot manage to get even 65 candidates to stand, it does not deserve to get elected Members? Small parties surely deserve small representation.

Baroness Randerson: I do not agree with the noble Lord at all. In a vigorous democracy, parties have to start to develop and form.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: And recruit.

Baroness Randerson: You should not put hurdles in their way. I believe in a developing democracy. I should like there to be a world where the Liberal Democrats were in a majority Government and ran everything. Would it not be wonderful? However, I accept that that is not going to happen on a regular basis in a democracy; and a vigorous democracy should not put hurdles in the way of the development of smaller political parties. One of the joys of devolution has been that new forms of politics have been developing. They may be transitory, but the important thing is that we have more variety in our politics.

It is worth noting—and that intervention was useful—that there has been no such ban on dual candidacy in, for example, Scotland or the London Assembly.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I am sorry to intervene. Does the noble Baroness not know that I have tried twice to get such a ban, whereby Scotland comes into line with Wales? I tried it under a Labour Government, and the noble Lord, Lord Evans—astonishingly—argued for it in Wales and against it in Scotland. I then raised the issue under the coalition Government. I cannot remember but I think it was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, who argued a different case for different countries. I understand the case for consistency, and the noble Baroness is arguing for it, but the inconsistency that we have experienced has been very strange and has been supported by successive Governments.

Baroness Randerson: I think that good sense clearly held sway in Scotland. I am pleased that the noble Lord is consistent, but it was a matter of great good sense that the ban on dual candidacy was not adopted in Scotland.

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The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, referred to the anomalous results that came as a result of the ban on dual candidacy. Like the noble Baroness, I am not always sympathetic to the Conservative Party and its electoral fortunes. In that situation, the party in Wales went from having a 15% share of the vote to having a 23% share—from nine to 14 Assembly Members. That is a record of success. From one constituency seat to six is also clearly a record of success. As a result, the leader of the Conservative Party, which was so successful, lost his seat. Clearly that will not improve the reputation for fairness of the electoral system in Wales.

The reason given by the Labour Government for the ban on dual candidacy was public dissatisfaction. However, the consultation did not reveal public dissatisfaction on any scale. The Arbuthnott commission in Scotland found that there was no such problem and the Electoral Commission in Wales also endorsed the view that dual candidacy was not a problem.

Finally, I will deal with the remaining issues. We support a move to a five-year term, to avoid a clash with general elections. Inevitably, if we held both elections at once, the Welsh political dialogue would be drowned out by the general election. Welsh politics would be overwhelmed by UK politics. That would not be fair and reasonable. I ask the Minister whether there are plans to move local elections in Wales in a similar way. Is there a move towards a five-year term in local government there?

On ending the dual mandate, it is certainly true that being an MP and an Assembly Member are both full-time jobs. Over the years, I have observed many people in the Assembly who held the two jobs. Some of them chose to spend all their time in the Assembly. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, who did that in the first term of the Assembly, is here today. However, some decided to abandon the Assembly and spend all their time in Westminster. Westminster coped with five MPs spending their time in the Assembly, but the Assembly, which is a slim body of 60 people, could not cope easily with the dual mandate for an MP and an Assembly Member—it could not cope with being abandoned. One person disappearing from the Assembly sometimes makes a difference to whether the Government win a vote. I recall cases when that was true. Therefore, it is important that there should be an end to that. In relation to the House of Lords, it is not an issue at the moment while we have the luxury of the pick-and-mix approach to when we attend the House. However, once we have an elected House, such a ban should extend to its Members.

4.23 pm

Lord Wigley: My Lords, I suppose that I, too, should declare an interest—although it is substantially smaller than that declared by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. I am a little worried that I agreed with most of what she said; it may give me cause for some concern later.

I welcome this debate as it focuses on an issue that needs attention in relation to the National Assembly’s electoral arrangements. However, I believe that these arrangements should be matters for our own National

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Assembly to decide, not for the two Chambers in Westminster. In this regard, I concur with the sentiments of Wales’s First Minister, Mr Carwyn Jones—something that I do not always do—in today’s

Daily Post

when he said:

“The electoral system for the assembly is a matter for the people of Wales and no one else”.

As noble Lords will understand, I wholeheartedly agree with him on this occasion.

I am glad that my colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, is here—for the first time we have been able to spend some time in Grand Committee together. He speaks with the authority of a long-serving, three-term Presiding Officer of the Assembly, who is widely recognised across party divisions as having done an excellent job. No doubt he will be speaking from the context of his experience as Presiding Officer.

I want to outline the position of my party, Plaid Cymru, on these matters. The power to determine the electoral arrangements should indeed be transferred to the National Assembly. I will address the four subjects broached in this Green Paper; first, the voting system. Plaid Cymru supports the STV system mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, a moment ago. It is used in the Northern Ireland Assembly and I believe I am right—the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, can correct me—that it is used in Scottish local government as well.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Yes.

Lord Wigley: Yes, indeed. I do not see any reason why it could not be introduced for the National Assembly for Wales. It avoids having two classes of Member, as is inherent in the present system, which was recognised by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. The panel chaired by Sir Roger Jones that looked at certain aspects of the Assembly’s work also noted that there were two different jobs being undertaken. The STV system ensures a direct link between the AM and the voters. Incidentally, alongside increasing the Assembly numbers from 60 to 80, STV was a recommendation of the commission led by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, which reported on these matters in 2004. In fact, the amount of legislative work that has come to the Assembly is greater than that anticipated when he made that recommendation.

This Green Paper is very narrow and restrictive. It neither offers STV nor the status quo as options, and I wonder why not. Both options in the Green Paper involve redrawing constituency boundaries. The STV option does not add to the administrative workload at all. Maintaining the 40:20 split between the constituency and regional list AMs implies regular boundary reviews—costing about £1.7 million a time—to equalise constituency sizes. Adopting the 30:30 split involves no greater expenditure as it uses the Westminster constituencies. However, I emphasise that Plaid Cymru has consistently criticised dogmatic equalisation of voter numbers because of the importance of geographic and historic community links, and because it would be very much harder for an AM or an MP to serve some scattered rural constituencies than it would be in an inner-city area because of the scale and mileage involved.

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Some people have suggested having 30 constituencies coterminous with Westminster but possibly electing two AMs each. Other colleagues may address this later, but unless the Assembly size is increased to 90 Members, the proportionality explicit in the 1997 referendum and implicit in last year’s referendum would be broken. However, such a change could deal with the gender balance issue as it would provide adequate capacity to deal with the Assembly’s legislative scrutiny role, which is increasingly becoming evident.

An Assembly of 90 Members would still be smaller than the Northern Ireland Assembly of 108 Members or the Scottish Parliament of 129 Members. I repeat that this is not Plaid’s preferred option as we regard the STV system based on 80 AMs as the best way forward. Plaid Cymru will not agree to any change that reduces the proportionality of the Assembly. For change to happen, there should be consensus, and I do not believe that there is consensus in Wales for either eliminating or reducing the proportionality of the Assembly.

On the five-year term, which seems to be the accepted norm at Westminster, we would likewise accept it for the Assembly but ensure that elections for the House of Commons and the Assembly did not coincide. It is not a matter just of the administrative arrangements, which could be complex enough with different constituency boundaries, but a matter of which candidates are speaking on which manifesto. It would become infinitely more complex.

If the present electoral system remains, the ban on candidates standing both for constituencies and for the list should be lifted. A ban is not imposed on Scotland. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, talk about this previously in another context in the Chamber. There is no consensus in Wales for the current system. A similar system is operated, I understand, only in the Ukraine—which is not a particularly good precedent. The ban was introduced for glaring party-political advantage by the Labour Government at Westminster and, frankly, it should be scrapped. However, if the STV were to be adopted, there would be no need to get into those problems.

On the dual mandate, I express my personal view. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, referred to my experience in the early years of the National Assembly. My noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas may have a different view on this matter—I am not sure. I served for two years, from 1999 to 2001, as both an AM and an MP. Frankly, it was a total nonsense to try to do so, and it was impossible to do both jobs effectively. In the early months, I found myself bouncing back and forth like a yo-yo between Cardiff, Westminster and my Caernarvon constituency—a formidable triangle. That undoubtedly contributed, along with other factors, to the emergency heart operation that I underwent at that time. Furthermore, a real complication arises if the constituency boundaries differ for the two seats—if one is representing a Westminster seat, with one set of boundaries, and a National Assembly seat, with another set.

Candidates may stand on different manifestos for the two legislatures, again causing confusion. The Assembly seat should be made vacant at the point at which an AM takes the Oath as an MP. Taking the

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Oath should be the determinant, not the rules that are currently applied for other purposes in the National Assembly and of which the Liberal Democrats fell foul in the last election.

I conclude as I began, by reasserting that the Assembly’s electoral system should be a matter for the people of Wales to determine.

4.32 pm

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, perhaps I may say two fairly generous things to start with. The first is how much I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, whom I congratulate on her Front-Bench status. This is the first time that I have had the opportunity of listening to her, and it is clear that she speaks with great authority and immense lucidity. The other not ungenerous thing that I should like to say is that I am delighted that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, is leading for the Opposition.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: He’s the Government!

Lord Elystan-Morgan: The coalition Government. Old habits die hard. I remember when I was a student, a very long time ago, reading something to the effect that the surname Wallace derives from “Wallish”. Wallish, in Scots Gaelic, meant “Welsh”—so it may well be that some millennium and a half ago we had common ancestors.

Having spoken, I hope not ungenerously, on those two matters, perhaps I may say that the Green Paper has come about because of a massive blunder by Her Majesty’s Government 18 months ago. I refer to the fact that a decision was made without any empirical evidence or research to the effect that the number of Members in the House of Commons should be reduced from 650 to 600—a perfectly arbitrary judgment. It may very well be that there were elements of self-interest in that decision, but I am prepared to accept that that was probably not the case.

It was a slavish pandering to vulgar populism. It you were to put this to an audience in the front bar of most public houses in the United Kingdom, many people would say, “Yes, certainly. Do away with half the so and sos”. It was that motivation that brought about one of the most massive errors of judgment in relation to parliamentary democracy of the past 100 years. The effect was that ancient constituencies—representing very old communities that had been hammered out on the anvil of time—disappeared. Natural boundaries—rivers, mountains, bridges, old county boundaries—melted away. All this was done, according to the Government, to bring greater fairness, greater cohesion and greater certitude. I do not believe that one could have been more destructive of those elements if one had really tried.

Tacitus speaks of generals who laid waste huge areas of land, saying that where they create a desert they call it peace. Here, the Government create chaos and they call it electoral reform. That is what has brought this Green Paper into existence and the necessity of making judgments in relation to these matters.

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The Government speak as if they are now stepping in nobly to deal with some sort of crisis created by some utterly external and independent agency—something that has come about without any responsibility on the part of the Government. I remember a report of a case in the assizes about 100 years ago. A person had been found guilty of murdering his mother and father. The allocutor asked him, “Have you anything to say on why judgment according to law should not be passed upon you?”. He said, “My Lord, I throw myself on the mercy of the court. I am an orphan now”. The crisis is entirely of the Government’s own making.

I do not apologise for my short preamble, but I now turn to the Green Paper. I will confine myself to whether there should be 30 or 40 constituencies for the purposes of election to the Welsh Assembly. I agree with my noble friend Lord Wigley and others that there is an overwhelming case for concentrating on 30. It comes about for all the wrong reasons, but I believe it is a fait accompli that one should accept. All the alternatives would be infinitely worse. There would be a lack of cohesion, nightmarish conflicts, unnecessary cost and hassle. One should build on the 30 in any event, but one should go much further than that. The real issue today is not the number of constituencies or any of the other questions raised by the Green Paper; it is the question that is dismissed in one sentence in paragraph 1.1, where the Government state that the number of Members of the Welsh Assembly should remain at 60. That is a massive and utterly existential question.

I believe in my very bones that 60 was a ludicrously small number to begin with and made it impossible for the Assembly to have any real future or viability and promise. That was the situation when the Assembly was created and it is now infinitely more acute since the referendum in March of last year. What we have now, whether or not we call it an Assembly, is a Parliament—a legislature with responsibility for substantial areas of primary legislation. If that Assembly is to be shackled and emasculated to the degree of having only 60 Members, we will deny it the real prospect of life and growth. It does not give me any pleasure to make that point because people in many parties have been saying all along, “For goodness’ sake, don’t talk about adding to the number of Members in the Assembly”. It is about the most unpopular subject that you could raise. To some extent all of us, including Assembly Members, are guilty of that mentality, but leadership must be conducted in an honest and statesmanlike way.

I do not know exactly how many of the 60 will be left to deal with scrutiny, something which has come about in the Assembly for the first time so far as primary legislation is concerned. Unless the Assembly can scrutinise in a detailed, honest and comprehensive way, it might as well not be there. This House and the other place have exercised that privilege and responsibility for centuries, and they earned it the hard way. But at all times they have had an adequate number of people to allow them to do it. By my rough calculation, having taken into account the Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Chairmen of Committees and one or two other

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functionaries who would be exempt from the exercise of scrutiny, only around 30 Members would be left. Indeed, from what I have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, who I think will deal with the exact numbers, that is a gross underestimate. What noble Lords hear from me is advocacy, but what they will hear from him is testimony.

The situation is this. If we want the Assembly to be a real legislature, it has to move away from the shackle of 60 Members. The Richard commission said eight years ago, before the referendum last year, that 60 Members were too few. Noble Lords will remember that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, recommended 80. In my view, 90 would be a perfectly reasonable and adequate figure, and of course it has the blessing of being able to be divided by three. I suggest that 60 should be elected by first past the post, but I would not go to the stake if it were the other way around, with 30 elected by first past the post and 60 under the additional member system. I think it would be wrong, but rather than see the Assembly emasculated and turned into a little puppet government, I would prefer to see that.

On that basis, therefore, I appeal to the speakers in this debate and to all who are concerned about politics in Wales to see to it that that reform is brought about. The Government have made a great error and committed a massive blunder, but the situation is not irredeemable. They can use that blunder to bring about an utterly necessary reform—that of increasing the number to a viable level of 90 or thereabouts. We have been told that Scotland has 129 Members, which is one Member for each 39,000 of its population. Northern Ireland has 108 Members, one for each 15,700 of its population. Wales has 60 Members, which is one for every 48,000 of its population. I hope that those who cry for equality, equity and justice will accept the case.

4.44 pm

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, first, I will compliment the Secretary of State, my noble and learned friend, and those who drafted the Green Paper. It is a model of clarity in its presentation of the choices before us and the arguments for and against them. As noble Lords said, the choices were consequential on earlier parliamentary legislation.

The choices that I make are governed by the principle that the best choices are those that bring the National Assembly and this Parliament closer together, rather than those that tend to drive apart these institutions. Therefore, it will come as no surprise that I favour the proposal that Assembly constituencies should be aligned with their parliamentary equivalents, and that we should follow the 30:30 model of 30 directly elected Assembly Members to complement the 30 Members of Parliament, and 30 Assembly Members elected by STV from five regional combinations of six parliamentary and matching Assembly constituencies. The pattern will lead to less confusion and more clarity among electors, and will appeal to local party organisers; I think that we all know that that is true. It will make life simpler for them—and for Members of Parliament and of the Assembly, who will be able to sort out between them the constituency cases that will belong appropriately to each of them.

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I also favour the five-year term for the National Assembly, which will match the parliamentary term. Same-day elections should assist turnout. Its decline over the years has concerned us all. It should not be beyond the wit of most electors to handle three ballot papers simultaneously, especially if they have been warned in advance about what to expect.

Lord Wigley: Does the noble Lord not accept that if the elections for the National Assembly and the House of Commons were on the same day, inevitably the overwhelming attention of the press and media would be on the Westminster election? The paucity of our independent press in Wales underlines that. It would lead to a situation where there was no proper scrutiny of the programme being put forward for government in Wales—something that should be basic to democracy.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: Yes, of course there is a case to be made along those lines. At the same time, I urge the noble Lord to consider the low turnout at Assembly elections. The fact that there is a higher turnout for parliamentary elections could be combined and taken advantage of in order to secure more consideration by the individual elector when he gets to the ballot box of what else there is for him to choose. In practical terms, it may well be that United Kingdom politics would get more attention than local Assembly politics. However, I am not so sure that electors might not have a different view in each case. The fact is that they would be attracted to vote, which is what concerns me, and would make their decisions in the privacy of the voting booth.

I will return to my first principle: that we should endeavour to bring the National Assembly and Parliament closer together. Both institutions are, after all, part of the same democratic state, and one derives its power from the other. I said in the debate on the Queen’s Speech that there had been a strong tendency for the institutions to drift apart. Some would say that that divide has been deliberately promoted and a wedge driven, largely from the National Assembly side, but I would say that wouldn’t I? If so, it has not been particularly beneficial to Parliament, the Assembly or Welsh electors—quite the opposite.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: Would the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, not agree that it may be that a wedge was driven from the other side too? The Prime Minister said, in the first instance, that there would be no question of carrying through proposals for retracing the boundaries of the Welsh Assembly without the agreement—that was the word—of the Welsh Assembly. That was an undertaking given to Mr Carwyn Jones. He said later that it would be done after consultation—a very different matter and a far more colonial prospect.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: The Opposition, as always, put forward their own independent case and I would have to consider what the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, has just said. The main drive towards separation has come from the National Assembly. I do not think it has been particularly beneficial to Parliament, the Assembly or Welsh electors. The Assembly has gained

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more powers following a positive referendum—provided, after all, by central government and on a low turnout with little or no opposition to speak of. Most of us now recognise that, whatever our earlier views, the Assembly is here to stay and our duty is to make the best of it.

There is much more to be gained by collaboration between the National Assembly and this Parliament than from the mock tug of war for more powers than has been the feature of the past. The willing establishment by the Secretary of State of the Silk commission, its membership and remit proves that there is a new, pro-devolutionary spirit abroad and the National Assembly should welcome it. It could begin to reciprocate by improving its communication with this place. I give just one example: last month, the Assembly Government published their first annual report for the Assembly term 2011-16 with a foreword by the First Minister. I obtained a 19-page summary of the report entitled Programme for Government. I was not able to get the full 600-page document: it was not available to us here in the Library or the Printed Paper Office, although I am glad to say that it is available today thanks to the indefatigable industry of Mr Quin at the Printed Paper Office. When I have finished perusing this somewhat substantial document, I shall make sure that it is in the Library for other Members.

Even the summary refers to a number of White Papers, draft measures and strategy documents. They were not available either and I doubt whether they are available now. They may be on the web but they should be as available—and in the same form—as the Green Paper we are discussing now. The least we should have is a list of Assembly publications and their whereabouts.

Lord Elis-Thomas: I am afraid I have been provoked, because we go back a long time in this discussion. Will the noble Lord accept that the National Assembly for Wales is an electronic democracy in which everything is digitally available?

Lord Roberts of Conwy: I agree. Even this tome, which I can barely lift, is available on the web but even the website reference is complex enough. Also, I really do not think that you can read 660 pages easily on the web.

My real point is this. As a consequence, most of us—of course I speak for myself—are pretty ignorant about what goes on in Cardiff Bay, which begs the question: is it right for this Parliament to devolve powers and then wash its hands of the use made of those powers? I do not think it is right. Those powers involve the use of British taxpayers’ money, and we are accountable for how that money is spent. It is irresponsible on our part. We should know what is being done and the National Assembly should be proud to tell us. It may be that we require a sub-committee of the Constitution Committee as the equivalent, as it were, of the Welsh Affairs Committee, to consider developments in Wales. Better communications and a ready supply of documents are only one aspect of improved relationships. There could be more official visits to Cardiff Bay, and I commend the Assembly

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Government Minister, Edwina Hart, who has been assiduous in cultivating informative relationships with Members of this House through the good offices of the noble Lord, Lord Touhig.

Finally, I turn to the Government’s proposal to restore the right of an Assembly constituency candidate also to be on a regional list, which was the original position. I am in favour of this not only because Arbuthnott found nothing against it in Scotland but because it will help to ensure that the best candidates a party can offer—I am thinking particularly of the smaller parties—have the best chance of securing Assembly membership. We want only the best in the Assembly, and they are not all that plentiful in any party. I am aware of how rivalries between some candidates in Wales led the Labour Government to abolish in 2006 the right to dual candidacy but, as we all know, rivalry is inherent in political life and only to be expected.

4.57 pm

Lord Touhig: My Lords, I am sure that noble Lords will be relieved to know that I will do my best not to repeat the excellent arguments that have already been put to the Committee, but I am caused to ask this question: what are we doing? This is only the second specifically Welsh debate we have had in your Lordships’ House during this Parliament, and what are we debating? Are we debating the impact of the double-dip recession on the people of Wales, a recession made in Downing Street? No, we are not. Are we debating the lack of economic growth or high unemployment? No, we are not. Are we debating the mean and spiteful cuts in benefit support for disabled people and the poorest people in Wales? No, we are not. Are we debating the Remploy factory closures, which will see hundreds of disabled people thrown out of work, and who will probably never get another job in their lives? No, we are not debating any of these things. Instead, we are debating constitutional reform again. I feel sure that I can report to noble Lords that in the pubs and clubs of my former constituency of Islwyn, they will be talking about nothing else. While hard-pressed and hard-working families struggle to make ends meet and keep their heads above water, this Government seem to be obsessed with constitutional change.

It was only on 11 October last year that the Welsh Secretary, Mrs Cheryl Gillan, set up the Silk commission and gave it two tasks. First, it was charged with reviewing the case for the devolution of fiscal powers to the National Assembly, on which it was asked to report by the autumn of this year. Secondly, it was given the task of reviewing the powers of the National Assembly, on which it is to report by 2013. Barely six months later, finding that she cannot wait for the commission’s report, the Welsh Secretary has surfaced once again, this time with a Green Paper on the future electoral arrangements for the National Assembly for Wales. How I wish the Welsh Secretary were here to answer the debate this afternoon. Although it is not possible, it would be far better than meeting Peers behind closed doors. However, we are fortunate that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, will respond. I know that I am not alone in admiring

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and respecting the Minister, who is held in high regard and with a deal of affection on all sides of the House. I feel sorry for him now that he has been asked to front-up the Green Paper for the Secretary of State for Wales.

I begin by asking the Minister what discussions the Secretary of State had with Paul Silk and his commission before embarking on the exercise of producing the Green Paper. Did she ask commission members what they thought of the idea of producing a Green Paper while they were in the middle of their deliberations? Did the commission consider that the Green Paper would undermine its task? What opinions and advice did the commission give to the Secretary of State? Will the Minister give us a full report of the discussions that took place between the Secretary of State and the commission, and perhaps also publish all correspondence on the matter? I suspect that while the Silk commission was busy carrying out Mrs Gillan’s task, she bypassed it and published the Green Paper.

The Government are obsessed with tinkering with the British constitution while bread and butter issues that affect most people I know are marginalised. For the past two years since they have been in government, this has been their main thrust.

Baroness Randerson: I was very interested in what the noble Lord said. Does he agree therefore that the Labour Party was obsessed with tinkering with the British constitution when it introduced devolution and other significant changes, including to this House?

Lord Touhig: There is a huge difference between what the Labour Party did in government and what this Government are doing. I shall develop the argument and thank the noble Baroness for allowing me to do so. For the past two years, the main thrust of the Government’s legislative programme has been about constitutional change. For a start, we had the biggest act of electoral gerrymandering—the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, was more generous than me about this—with the Bill to reduce the number of parliamentary seats. It was all done for party advantage. The legislation was put forward by the Conservatives and warmly embraced by the Liberal Democrats. Government MPs and Peers trooped through the Division Lobbies time and again to reduce the number of representatives from Wales by a massive 25%. While the Labour Party and others valiantly tried to defend Wales, we witnessed the enthusiasm with which the Conservatives and Lib Dems forced through the reduction in the number of Welsh MPs.

How quickly that enthusiasm has evaporated. It evaporated when the Boundary Commission completed its review and produced the first draft of its report on 30 new parliamentary seats in Wales. If the report is accepted, Conservative and Liberal Democrat representation from Wales in Westminster will be all but wiped out. I judge that the governing parties are not as enthusiastic as they were about reducing the number of Members of Parliament for Wales.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Bill was designed to keep this failing Government in office no matter what happened. As a result, it is no longer enough for a

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Government to lose the confidence of the House of Commons before they lose office. It is now necessary for two-thirds of the Members of Parliament to vote to throw them out of office. The Bill is a blemish and a stain on Great Britain’s long and cherished democratic system of parliamentary democracy.

Here in the United Kingdom, we are proud of our past. We are proud of the fact that we moved from empire to Commonwealth. We see ourselves as the fountainhead of democratic government, which we tell ourselves is the envy of the world. We were encouraged and flattered when many newly independent Commonwealth countries followed our example of a representative parliamentary democracy. However, I contend that if the Government of one of our Commonwealth partners were to use such a blatant act of gerrymandering to stay in office, Great Britain would be the first to challenge and charge them. I have no doubt that the Liberal Democrats would be at the forefront of such a condemnation and would probably want that country thrown out of the Commonwealth. What high ideals and great principles a once great party of liberty has traded for a handful of ministerial red boxes.

In the middle of all this, we have the referendum in Wales on more powers for the National Assembly. I had some reservations about this, not so much about passing over more powers to the Assembly but about the fact that it represented a further piecemeal tinkering with our constitution, chipping away here and there rather than looking at the big picture. Capping this constitutional onslaught, we have the Clegg Bill to abolish your Lordships’ House and give our country 400 more paid politicians, who will have guaranteed highly paid jobs for 15 years, doubtless with a pension. I know people who would like a job—any job—let alone one guaranteed for 15 years. The Remploy workers would certainly like a job guaranteed for the next 15 years.

Finally, as my noble friend Lady Morgan of Ely said, we have the elephant in the room: a referendum in Scotland that could see our union split apart. Will all this constitutional tinkering never end? The Minister could do no better than go away from this debate today, reread this little blue book—I am sure he has already read it—and take up its sound advice. It recommends that we have a constitutional convention looking at the whole of the constitution of the United Kingdom, and stop this piecemeal tinkering with our constitution.

This Green Paper is a bit thin. It poses four questions, but why so few? If we must go through this process, there are many more questions that ought to be asked and answered. As the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, said, now that the National Assembly has primary lawmaking powers, is it able to scrutinise the Executive and hold it to account? I am certainly not suggesting more Assembly Members—although I know that some people think we should have at least 80—I am simply asking whether, in view of the major lawmaking powers now held by the National Assembly, its Members can adequately scrutinise legislation. Can the Opposition hold the Welsh Government to account in a way that we would want them to do?

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Moving on, should we not be asking about the system for electing Members of National Assembly? Frankly, the present system is barmy. I know it was introduced by my party; then again, madness and being a member of the Labour Party are not necessarily mutually disqualifying. It is a barmy system. In Wales we have 40 first past the post elected Assembly Members. On top of that, we have an electoral top-up system of 20 Members, which gives the party with the most votes no seats and the party with the least votes seats.

Take the last election: setting aside the election of 40 first past the post seats—I know some of your Lordships believe we should have a different system, as has been well articulated today—in the election for the 20 top-up Members of the National Assembly, the Labour Party polled 37% of the vote and got two seats. The Liberal Democrats, with 8% of the vote, got four seats, and the Conservatives, with 23% of the vote, got eight seats. In the North Wales region, Labour got 32% of the vote and no seats. The Liberal Democrats got 6% of the vote and one seat. In South Wales Central, Labour won 41% of the vote and gained no seats. The Conservatives won 22% and gained two seats and the Liberal Democrats, with 8%, got one seat. South Wales West was even more bizarre. Labour won a massive 46% of the vote and did not gain a single seat. The Liberal Democrats, with 7% of the vote, got a seat.

Is it not funny how the Liberal Democrats always gain the lowest vote but always end up as winners? I am sure their Conservative colleagues in government have come to understand that that is their working relationship. Certainly, it is a puzzle to me. I suppose it is what happens when you have coalitions. I just hope that the leader of my party will recognise that those who get the lowest votes often end up on top in these kinds of situations.

The electorate of Wales do not understand the present system, so why does the Green Paper not consult them? Further, if we are to have a PR element— I favour first past the post rather than PR—why do we not split the first past the post election from the election for top-up Members? The public would then vote for the party candidate of their choice in the first past the post election, and the party of their choice in the constituency part of the election, and their choices would be elected. Giving the electorate what they want might seem novel, but at least they would understand what they were being given.

On the whole there has been a negative reaction to aspects of this Green Paper—to what it does not ask rather than what it does. It is a friendless Green Paper. Not even the Conservative leadership in the National Assembly will support it—and if the largest party in government will not support it, why should we?

5.10 pm

Lord German: My Lords, I start by saying how much I welcome the views of the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, which I presume do not represent the mainstream of the Labour Party, or the National Assembly would not have been created in the first place. Perhaps it would be useful to trace a little of the electoral history of the Assembly prior to 1997 and 1999. I first declare

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my interest as being in receipt of an Assembly pension. Also, last week in my absence, I was elected a director of Cymru Yfory, which is campaigning for the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, to have 80 National Assembly Members elected by single transferable vote. I will say more about that later.

On the history behind the electoral system for the National Assembly, some of us were engaged in discussions prior to the 1997 election of the Labour Government about how the Assembly should be elected. It was clear that those who favoured a National Assembly were not of the view that it should be dominated entirely by one party throughout its existence. Therefore, proportionality was an important facet of the proposals that were brought forward in the Bill of 1998. At the time, we were told by Ron Davies, the Labour leader on Welsh issues in Parliament, that the deal he could get through his party was the one that we ended up with in 1999, and which went into the 1998 Act. There was no doubt that it was fudged so that the Labour Party at some stage would have a majority in the National Assembly, but on most occasions would not. That was the political imperative driving the way in which the system was devised.

As a result, the system is not as proportional as that in Scotland. We must recognise that. We do not have the system of representation that the Scottish people enjoy. I will return in a moment to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, because I have a list—of which I would like him to take note—of members of the Labour Party who stood as constituency candidates in the most recent elections to the Scottish Parliament, and also stood as members of their party’s list. I will relate the list in a moment, but that is why we are where we are. Clearly, the campaign that started with the commission of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, was a move towards trying to make those changes.

Of course, some of us would like the changes to be made more quickly, but we are where we are because of other legislation that has come before us. I remind my noble and learned friend—we have been involved in these matters together for many years—that the Government of Wales Act 1998 states:

“The Assembly constituencies shall be the parliamentary constituencies in Wales”.

The Government of Wales Act 2006 states:

“The Assembly constituencies are the parliamentary constituencies in Wales”.

If that is the case, we will have to accept that the number that the Boundary Commission comes up with—which could be 29, 30 or 31—will be the number of parliamentary constituencies in Wales, and we could see a reduction in the total number, because 20 would remain.

The status quo cannot remain even if we retain the current 60 Members. It is quite right and proper that if we are going to hold the current position—and I have talked about where I want to see the position go in future—then we will have to have change. Those who argue for the current position will also be arguing for legislative change. Therefore, we have to consider the Green Paper that is before us.

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There are some problems with a dual mandate of people putting their name on both sides of the ballot paper. However, in general terms, all you are doing is giving parties the opportunity to present their best candidates. I refer the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, to Elaine Murray, Sarah Boyack, Lewis Macdonald, Claire Baker, Richard Simpson, David Stewart, Linda Stewart, John Mackay, Kieron Green, Donald Crichton, Gordon McKenzie, Greg Williams, Jean Morrison and Kevin Hutchens, some of whom were elected to the Scottish Parliament and all of whom were on the party’s regional list as well as being constituency candidates. This is perfectly appropriate and the Scottish Labour Party did the right thing by allowing the best people’s names to be put forward. Some of those people, who were preferred by the Labour Party in Scotland because of their talents, were duly elected to the Scottish Parliament.

The issue of the dual mandate has become somewhat different over the years. At the beginning, some Members of Parliament chose to put their names forward and stand for the National Assembly for Wales. For those who gave and devoted their time to it, it was a very useful and helpful device because parliamentary experience came to the National Assembly at the same time as experience from those who came from local government or who came with no political experience. Since those early days the trend has been the other way and Members have gone from the National Assembly to the House of Commons. As it is a full-time job, it is important that both the National Assembly for Wales and this Parliament should have full-time people elected to one or the other as swiftly as possible. The political parties have themselves been engaged in a regime with their own rules to ensure that this happens as rapidly as possible. The Green Paper proposes speeding this up so that it is dealt with more quickly than the current arrangement of waiting for the next election. There are powerful arguments for saying that if you are elected to do a full-time job, it should be done in one places.

On the balance of regional Members and constituency Members, we have not today raised the respective roles of regional Members and elected first past the post Members. I am the only person in your Lordships’ House who was elected as a regional Member in the National Assembly and I know very well that there are tensions. However, there will always be inbuilt tensions between Members of Parliament of different parties. If in a constituency there is a Member of Parliament from one party and a Member of the National Assembly from a different party, there will undoubtedly be tensions. The reality is that the elector has more choice. We can deliver choice to the electorate through proportionality. Another way is through creating a healthy tension between Members—not always of different parties—by having them elected to represent constituents. I do not see the jobs or the tasks as different, but the ability of the elector to choose and work with different elected Members is very helpful. I am therefore in favour of reinstating the names of regional candidates on the ballot paper.

The issue that we face today is whether we should debate constitutional issues relating to Wales and not other matters. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, that we will have a debate tonight on the Remploy

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issue. It is a named debate brought by the Liberal Democrats on an issue where there is unanimous support from all the disability groups named in this document for the changes that are going to take place in Wales. Of course, the only opposition that the independent study found was from the Labour Party and the unions. So we will have the opportunity to have these discussions in the Chamber.

Lord Touhig: Is the noble Lord now telling me that the Liberal Democrats support the campaign to keep the factories open in Wales, or are they going to do as they did before and support closing them?

Lord German: The Liberal Democrats support the policies that are evinced in this document—

Lord Touhig: Closing the factories.

Lord German: No—I ask the noble Lord will be patient for just a second. The position is that the Government have provided for groups of employees and their supporters to come together with options for building and retaining their own independent operations. That is what was recommended by the government report, that is what we are supporting, and that is in fact what will happen to a number of factories. If noble Lords want to engage in this debate, they can do so later this evening in the Chamber.

I was going to spend some time talking about the benefits of the Sainte-Laguë formula over the d’Hondt system but I will resist the opportunity to indulge myself. I will talk about five-year terms. I believe that the elections should be on different dates. As the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, said, it is not just about different manifestos but about different electoral systems. The Scottish experience of having an STV election on the same day as an election by the additional member system for the Scottish Parliament was very difficult because there were different arrangements and people had to mark their ballot papers in different ways. On top of the issues of manifestos and focus, it is right that the elections should be separated and that this should be locked in by having a five-year cycle for all.

In conclusion, the Green Paper is a very important document for discussion, and we will have an opportunity to debate it further. It raises crucial issues, all of which must be dealt with because the status quo is no longer suitable.

5.22 pm

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, after the powerful declaration by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, that this is a matter for the people of Wales and no one else, I rise with some trepidation. I do not even have the advantage of a name that can be brilliantly transposed into Welsh by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan—

Lord Morgan: Foulkes is a Welsh name.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Nor was I going to pray in aid the fact that I was born in Oswestry, because that is three miles over the border. However, as my

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noble friend said, there are some justifications for me to be able to speak in this debate.

Lord Morgan: Is my noble friend aware that his name actually begins with two little fs?

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Not any more, I am glad to say, because that would be very difficult. It is bad enough having a title without having two little fs in one’s name, especially in Scotland.

In an excellent and articulate speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, said that this was a matter for the people of Wales—as did the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. I took it that they meant the elected representatives of the people of Wales—we are not going to put everything to a referendum. We live and work in a devolved system and there are representatives of the people of Wales in this Parliament and in the National Assembly. This is devolution. We are not separate. We remain part of the United Kingdom and we still have a responsibility within this Parliament. We must exercise it with caution and care, but we have a responsibility.

This is not a party-political point, so I shall try to put it in a different context. I am genuinely worried that in a unicameral system such as that of Wales, if my party achieved an overall majority in both the Executive and legislature, it could change the electoral system so that it had even more of an advantage on a permanent basis. That would be wrong. We have to remember that checks and balances are needed in what I hope will remain a devolved system. I hope that this Parliament will be the check and balance that ensures that our devolved Parliaments do not do anything anti-democratic.

My second point echoes what my noble friend Lord Touhig and others said about the piecemeal nature of constitutional reform. In deference to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, I accept that my own Government did not consider fully the implications of the constitutional reform we undertook. We did it with the best will in the world, and I supported it because I had been a devolutionist for a long time. I campaigned for it as far back as the 1960s and 1970s. However, to some extent we did not work out all the consequences or anticipate some of the unintended consequences. It is important to draw lessons from that. We should learn from experience, and so I say to the current Government: be careful about what you are doing with this piecemeal constitutional reform.

As others said, we have many balls in the air at the moment. In Wales we have the Silk commission with two remits. Scotland will take a monumental decision, probably in 2014, on whether to remain part of the United Kingdom. That will have implications not just for Scotland and England but for Wales and Northern Ireland. Those have to be taken account of as well. We also have Sir William McKay—the other day I called him Bill McKay and was told off—heading a commission on the West Lothian question. We do not know when he will report or what he will say. My noble friend referred to the elephant in the room being the Scottish referendum. It may be the elephant, but we also have the rhinoceros of Lords reform. There are major

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things that will affect what we are doing. That is why I wonder if it is wise to press ahead so quickly with constitutional change in Wales.

I also wonder whether it is wise because there have been problems with the system. We have ended up with a dog’s breakfast not just with constitutional changes but with the electoral system. For those standing for seats in the European Parliament there is a list system. I shall take Scotland as an example. For the UK Parliament we have first past the post, for the Scottish Parliament we have AMS—which I shall come back to in a moment—and for local government we have STV. I have always been a strong supporter of first past the post. People will accuse me of being a tribal Labour loyalist, but I support it for a variety of reasons. They include stability of government, and the identity and accountability of the elected Member with the constituency. While I recognise that things have moved on, perhaps we should simplify the situation. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, suggested STV for Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections. At least that would simplify and improve things to some extent. It should be looked at.

The existing system of AMS is almost the same in Scotland as in Wales. We have constituency Members and additional Members. Like the noble Lord, Lord German, I was a regional or list Member. There are two different kinds of Members. I confess that it was much easier for me as a regional Member to be without the constituency burden. I was a constituency MP for 26 years and I know the burdens. I did not have them as a regional Member. That is one thing that is wrong with there being two types of MSPs or AMs with different roles and pressures.

There is another thing that is wrong, relating to standing for both bodies. We, as a party, for three elections stopped people standing for both; and then we realised that that position was impossible to sustain. What happened was that initially—in 1999 and then in 2003—we held most of the constituency seats. Most of the SNP, our main opponents, were regional Members. The regional Members targeted a constituency seat, set up an office, adopted a candidate for that seat and challenged the local Member. That created problems as regards Members’ relationships with officials, and with MSPs of different parties raising the same kind of questions on behalf of constituents. That certainly created problems.

The other thing that the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, said about bringing in the AMS system was that it was to benefit the Labour Party. I wish to goodness that that had been the case. The Labour Party benefited from the previous system. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, knows this as one of the conspirators who achieved it on behalf of his party—although he was perfectly entitled to do it—knows that he and the Liberal Democrats negotiated with Labour in Scotland and managed to achieve the additional member system, which was replicated in Wales. I mean no disrespect, but Wales followed on and it strongly benefited the Liberal Democrats. I can understand why they are so enthusiastic about that system.

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There are many things that need looking at. Even David Steel—I am sorry, the noble Lord, Lord Steel—who is one of the architects of this system, along with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, and others, is now disenchanted with the additional member system and thinks that we need to review it. This then relates to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, and others about the size of the Assembly. We are trying to make an artificial arrangement and assist the Government into having a 60-Member Assembly. It is a system that will not work with 60 Members, and having 80 does not seem to be a great improvement. I must say that a figure of 90 sounds about right. Of course, some people will throw their arms up and say that it will cost more money. I defended MPs’ salaries, which was not popular, but if 90 is the right number, we should have the courage to stand up and defend that view, and say that in order to have proper scrutiny, and a Government and Opposition who operate well, there needs to be more Members—especially if more and more is being devolved to the Welsh Assembly, there should be proper scrutiny of education, the health service and other devolved areas.

Then there is the question of double-jobbing. I had never heard that phrase until I read this Green Paper. I do not know who made it up. I do not think that the Minister had heard that wonderful expression. I think that officials suddenly came up with it. It is right to say that you cannot do both. If you choose an arbitrary point at which you must give up one seat when you get another, you have to be careful. Some degree of flexibility is needed. If there is still the AMS system for constituency vacancies, there must be a by-election. For regional vacancies, the next person on the list takes over. However, what happens for an independent Member? I hope that this never arises, but my lovely friend Margo MacDonald had to retire during her term in the Parliament. There is no mechanism for replacing her. That issue needs to be looked at, and I tried to raise it during our discussions on the Scotland Bill. The whole system needs to be reviewed, but this does not deal with that at all. It makes it worse. It does not deal with any of the problems properly; it makes them a great deal worse.

My plea to the Minister is this: go back to my good friend Cheryl Gillan. She is a Scot as well, which is interesting—

Baroness Morgan of Ely: She claims that she is Welsh.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: Others say she is English.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: She is an intelligent person. The Minister should go back to her and say that the time is not right to do this. It will make it worse, given all the implications that are looming. I agree with my noble friend Lord Touhig that probably the best and most intelligent thinking on constitutional reform that I have seen in 26 years in the Commons and now six years here is reflected in the alternative report that came out of the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform. It asked for a comprehensive look to make sure—

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Baroness Randerson: Does the noble Lord accept that under the current legislation, you cannot have the status quo without depleting the number of Assembly Members. I cannot recall without a close reading of the Government of Wales Act 2006, but I am absolutely sure that it must provide for an Assembly of 60. You could not have an Assembly of 60 under the current rules. Something has to be done and therefore a consultation is required.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: The noble Baroness may be right because she knows a great deal more about the detail of the position in Wales than I. If that is the case, perhaps I can make a plea to do the minimum necessary. Do nothing that will create problems in terms of the other things we are looking at. If it can be done, let us hold back until further consideration has taken place. I say that because the unintended consequences of constitutional reform can be very damaging indeed, as we have found in Scotland. We were told that we had a system of elections in which no party would ever have an overall majority, but of course that is manifestly not the case. As I say, sometimes the unintended consequences can be pretty dramatic, as they have been in Scotland. That is why we should think very carefully before embarking on something that could create many more problems than it is meant to resolve.

5.37 pm

Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, we are due to finish at around six o’clock and some of us have trains to catch because we are double-jobbers. That is only a passing reference and I do not intend to spend any time on it. However, I do not think that this House should be accused of having people who are double-jobbers if they are also Members of the National Assembly for Wales. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, might have a word with the Secretary of State about improving the quality of the language used in Wales Office Green Papers.

Today we have the advantage of meeting after the National Assembly has debated this issue. I know that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, will have read carefully on the National Assembly website the record of proceedings. A Motion was debated and there was a clear vote: 43 were in favour, with one abstention and six against the proposition that the National Assembly,

“believes that no change to the current electoral arrangements should be introduced by the UK Government without the consent of the National Assembly for Wales”.

That is the issue I want to pursue in my contribution because we started a very interesting discussion during the exchange at the beginning of this debate. The First Minister made it the main theme of his rather philosophical speech in the National Assembly debate. He linked the idea of the consent of the Assembly to the nature of devolution. He takes a rather different view from that of some of the Labour Members in your Lordships’ House who are taking part in the debate today. He invited the Assembly to agree that there should be no change without consent because he regarded it as a fundamental constitutional principle,

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as a necessary consequence of a constitution based upon the principle of devolution. My noble friend Lord Wigley quoted similar remarks published in the

Daily Post

this morning, a fine newspaper for which my noble friend is himself a fine columnist. But we will move on.

I ask the Minister what consideration has been given by the UK Government to the way in which they should proceed when they make changes to the electoral arrangements or other constitutional aspects of a sister institution—an elected legislature. Here we are not dealing even with a local authority, which is the creature of a statute of another place. Of course, the National Assembly for Wales is the creature of a statute of Westminster and could be abolished. However, in reality, because of the way in which elected bodies are established and powers laid upon them, they begin to take on a democratic life and identity of their own. They have powers and affiliations on that basis.

What was interesting and even exciting for me about the debate last week in Cardiff was that there was cross-party agreement on these issues in all the speeches, if not in the final vote. The leader of the Welsh Conservatives, a good friend of mine from the Vale of Glamorgan, said that the Assembly should determine its own boundaries. As one would expect, similar views were expressed by the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Kirsty Williams, on the importance of the consent of the Assembly. There was a very interesting exchange between the former leader of Plaid Cymru and Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones and First Minister Carwyn Jones on an issue that was brought up in your Lordships’ House—the point was made just now by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes—about how we could ensure that a party with an overall majority would not use a majority of one to change the electoral system against the wishes of the other parties. When Ieuan Wyn Jones asked whether there should be a two-thirds majority of Members of the National Assembly to make any change to the electoral system, the First Minister made a very considered reply. He stated:

“Ieuan asked”—

this is how we speak to each other in Cardiff—

“whether it would be appropriate to have a two-thirds majority of Assembly Members. Better that than no vote at all. Better that than that the Assembly should express an opinion without that opinion being taken into account in any way by the UK Government. I think that that is something that should be considered in the future and that it is something that is crucial and fundamental in terms of the Assembly”.

The First Minister of Wales and leader of Welsh Labour gave an assurance that he would allow consideration of a change to the electoral system only by a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, in order to ensure that all the views in the Assembly were considered. We should contrast that with what is likely to emerge here. The UK Government will take it upon themselves to make the decision regardless of the views of the National Assembly. We have had no assurance on the meaning of consent. One of the first words that I heard from the Secretary of State and from the Prime Minister when I was in another job in the Assembly was a reference to respect for the Assembly. I am afraid that I do not hear that very often these

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days. I invite the Minister to use it this evening and to confirm that respect for the Assembly will include no changes to any system in the constitution of Wales without the agreement of the Assembly. If that requires a two-thirds majority, it is clear that the present First Minister of Wales is such a democrat that he is prepared to put the interests of the Welsh constitution well above those of his own party.

5.45 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, I have no interest to declare other than that I have enjoyed going down memory lane, being back in the Welsh Grand Committee and hearing contributions from a number of former colleagues there. Perhaps if I were to follow my good friend the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, I would confess that I was held up at Swansea High Street Station as I was trying to leave this morning by a queue of unemployed young people wanting to lobby me on the provisions of this Green Paper.

I follow the point about respect which is being made by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. If we are to change constitutions, we should do so, as far as possible, after full and genuine consultation and on a non-partisan basis. If it were not so, the party which felt aggrieved would feel quite justified in altering the situation after another election. I felt that the reduction from 650 to 600 parliamentary seats was done in a partisan manner. It was a figure pulled out of a hat: it had a disproportionately adverse effect on Wales and will mightily reduce the weight of Wales at Westminster. The National Assembly is now a full and accepted part of the political landscape of Wales and is evolving in a highly mature way. The principle of respect mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, should mean that, for a wholly internal Welsh matter like this one, we have some way of saying “Well of course it is a reserved matter; yes the Parliament here at Westminster has to have overall responsibility; but surely there should be some formula for subcontracting the real work on this to the Assembly”. In the spirit which the First Minister has shown, I am sure that there would be a very rigorous and proper debate there.

At this point in the progress of the Assembly—in a direction we know not where—they should be in the driving seat and we should be allowing them to make their own decisions. I agree with the Green Paper that the spirit is not an absolutist one. On the various issues which have been raised, people of good will can come down easily on one side or the other. To be fair to the Government, although they express their own preference, there is no closed book on this.

On the various proposals in terms of constituencies, we currently have a distribution of 40:20 and an overall number of 60. Whatever the merits of an increase to 80 or 90, I do not think Welsh public opinion would be happy to see this. I hear the arguments about leadership, but there is a strong tide flowing against more elected representatives. In spite of the recent accretion of powers to the Assembly and despite the fact that there will eventually be an overwhelming case for increasing the number, I am not persuaded that we have yet reached that point along the continuum.

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I would like to have a personal chat with the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, on this, but the Assembly meets for two days a week, plus committees, and I do not have the feeling that it is overwhelmed. However, I hear the case that there is inadequate scrutiny and there may be an argument for finding more ways of having checks and balances on whichever party is the leading party in the Assembly. Whereas the House of Lords has a function as a check and balance on the Executive, there is no similar mechanism within the Assembly—but that is another debate for another time.

On the issue of 40:20, I recognise that there has to be a change and the most logical and easy one is to move to 30:30 in the mean time, using the 30 constituencies in Wales. However, I am not persuaded that the reduction in the number of seats to 30 will necessarily take place. If, as is very possible, the House of Lords Bill does not go through, particularly if the guillotine is not accepted—and the current mood among many Conservatives in the House of Commons is not to vote for the guillotine—there may have to be a deal where the Liberal Democrats would lose on the reduction of 650 to 600 and accept a delay on the implementation of the constituencies Bill and the Conservatives will say, “Well, House of Lords reform will go to another day”. If that is so, where are we left in respect of the consequential position in Wales if there is nothing to be consequential to? There is a strong case for not proceeding in haste on this but to see, if there is a deal struck and there is delay on the constituencies Bill, whether there is a case for not altering the status quo at this time.

A number of noble Lords have made the point that perhaps this Green Paper is not radical enough. The whole point of a Green Paper is that it sets out the stall and all the options. For example, it does not set out the possibility of having two Members per constituency in the Assembly, which I am not particularly wedded to but is worth looking at. That would be one means of having a gender balance. The gender balance is very good in the Assembly but it could be a means of institutionalising that. A whole series of more radical proposals could be looked at, which are worthy of debate, some of which I personally do not feel wedded to but at least could solve the gender balance institutionally. There are other, more radical things we could look at; for example, ways and means of having stronger checks and balances on the Welsh Government. The Green Paper is too timid.

On the length of term, the next general election is meant to be in 2015 and the next Assembly election in 2016. I am not a Chartist in favour of having elections every year, but there is an argument for shorter terms, particularly when there is not very much on the governmental side in Wales, to get closer to the people and give them the option of deciding on their representatives more frequently. There is also some merit in having cohabitation and a sort of creative tension between whatever party is in power at Westminster and the party in power at Cardiff. That is one thing that we need to look at.

On the question of the dual-hatting—

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Double-jobbing.

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Lord Anderson of Swansea: I can see the arguments on both sides. In the 2003 Assembly election, I remember watching the televised results coming in and seeing the result in Llanelli, where the very able Helen Mary Jones was virtually in tears, having lost her seat. An hour later, she had sped down the road to Carmarthen and was rejoicing in the fact that she was elected after all. That is not very democratic. In many ways, I am sad that Nick Bourne lost his seat because he was a very able man, but that is democracy. We have to accept that at Westminster; why should we not accept in the Assembly that it is one of the hazards of political life to lose your seat? I did it in 1970, alas, and it taught me many lessons. But the point about the election in North Wales, where everyone who was defeated in the constituency got in by the back door, is that there is something not totally democratic about people who are defeated by the electorate rejoicing in being accepted by the electorate very shortly afterwards.

I have one quick final word to say on multiple mandates. When I first entered Parliament many years ago before the flood, many people in local government also sat in the Westminster Parliament. I fully accept that that is now impossible because of more pressure on Members of Parliament, including from their welfare role, and because there is more pressure on councillors. I am rather tempted by the concept frequently used in France of having a deputy mayor, whereby someone can be both a parliamentarian and mayor of his village. I would love to be mayor of, say, Llandaff and sit in Parliament. At least such an arrangement would, institutionally, provide an opportunity to listen to the folks at grassroots level and bring their views to Parliament. I agree that it is impossible for a man or woman to serve two masters—to be in both the Assembly and in an elected-Member Parliament. However, the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, is a prime example of how today and previously he can bring the views of the Assembly to Parliament. In the relevant paragraph of the Green Paper, something should surely have been said about the way in which this House can be used, even in the event of the House being reformed on an 80:20 basis. There is no reason why some of the 20 Members should not be drawn from the Assembly. They could bring the views of the Assembly to Westminster in a more direct way. I can see no objection in principle to that and I echo what many Members who have contributed in the debate have said about piecemeal reforms. Alas, we do our constitution in a very piecemeal way, and this Green Paper is but yet another example of that.

5.57 pm

Baroness Gale: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his opening remarks and I thank all those who have spoken. We have had a good typical Welsh debate, and a welcome contribution from my noble friend from Scotland, for which I thank him very much. The speeches set out the often different views of the political parties in Wales, and those of the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan. I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned the remarks of Peter Hain, who said that there could be confusion about the different boundaries. He said that in relation to having elections on the same day, rather than about the

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confusion of having permanently different boundaries for Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, praised my noble friend Lady Morgan of Ely for being on the Front Bench. However, I think he elevated her a little too soon. I have absolutely no doubt that one day she will be on our Front Bench. I asked her if she would like to sit with me to keep me company. Obviously, her great speech made one think that she was on the Front Bench.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: I do not want to elevate myself too high, but sometimes I have the eye of the prophet.

Baroness Gale: I can agree with that. I thank my noble friend for her great speech in which she mentioned that the Green Paper expressed hope that there would be no advantage to any party. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned the voting figures and how things were working out, and raised the issue of party-political advantage. I welcome the Secretary of State saying that there should be no advantage to any political party. However, when one looks at the voting figures and the regional list results that my noble friend Lord Touhig mentioned, one sees that on an all-Wales basis Labour got 36.9% of the vote—the highest percentage—and two seats. The Liberal Democrats got 8% of the vote and four seats.

Baroness Randerson: The noble Baroness overlooks the point of the list system, which is to put right the disproportionality of the first past the post system. In the three recent elections in Wales, the overall proportionality of both list and constituency seats resulted in the three main parties getting roughly the same number of seats as they got percentages of the vote, although the Labour Party always got a higher percentage of seats than of the vote.

Baroness Gale: I thank the noble Baroness for that intervention. Perhaps I may remind noble Lords that it was the Labour Party that brought in devolution and agreed that there would be an element of proportionality. We wanted a brand-new institution in 1999. I and many others in the Labour Party did not want it to look like the old Glamorgan County Council that many of us could remember, which was totally dominated by the Labour Party and had very few representatives from other parties. With the new institution we wanted to involve all parties so that everybody who voted for the smaller parties would have a chance to be represented in the Welsh Assembly. I am very proud that the Labour Party was able to do that.

Gender balance has been mentioned a few times this afternoon. The gender balance in the Welsh Assembly has been pretty good. Again, much of this was brought about by the Labour Party. We guessed that we would win most of our seats in the constituencies, so our policy was to have an equal number of male and female candidates. As a result, a good number of women were elected in the first election, and by 2003 there were an equal number of men and women. It was the first democratically elected institution in the world to have an equal number of men and women.

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Proportionality does not necessarily mean that you will get more women unless every party puts them at the top of the list.

As my noble friend Lord Touhig said, this consultation paper has been brought out at a time when the people of Wales have much to concern them. Many are concerned about their jobs, or lack of them—young people are worrying about whether they will get a job—and about the lack of economic growth. I refer, for example, to young couples wanting to buy a house. These are the issues worrying Welsh people today. I assure the Minister, as other noble Lords did, that they are not particularly concerned about electoral arrangements for the Welsh Assembly, which must surely come at the bottom of their list of their concerns. Unfortunately, Welsh people have much more important things to worry about.

Since the referendum of 1997 when the Welsh people voted in favour of devolution, all major changes have been made after either a manifesto commitment or a referendum that allowed them to decide how they wanted devolution to evolve. We are not advocating a referendum before any changes are made, but there should be at least a manifesto commitment in the spirit of devolution to allow Welsh people to make their views known.

The Green Paper offers four matters to be consulted on: the size of the constituencies, the ratio of list Members to the constituencies, and the retention of 60 seats, although a number of noble Lords today have mentioned 80 seats. Indeed, I thought I heard for the first time the figure of 90 mentioned. Eighty seats have been talked about in the past, but everyone recognises that this is not the time to increase the number of seats in the Assembly. The Green Paper also asks whether there should be a fixed term of five years, whether candidates should stand for both constituency and regional lists, and whether AMs can also be MPs or Peers.

We already have four-year fixed terms, but it has been agreed that this Assembly will serve a five-year term until 2016 to avoid clashing with the planned general election in 2015. Should we now move to a permanent five-year fixed term? If we revert back to a four-year term, we will get the same problems in 2020 when the general election and the Assembly elections would be held on the same day. I think that the general feeling is to hold the elections at separate times. We all know why that would probably be for the best, but it is right that we should consult on the matter. However, there is a widely held view that the two elections should not clash.

In the Government of Wales Act 2006, the Labour Government did away with what we believed was the anomaly of allowing a candidate to stand both for a constituency seat and in the regional list. That was a manifesto commitment made for the 2005 election. It was something that confused the Welsh electorate. A candidate who was defeated in the constituency could then become a Member of the Welsh Assembly by virtue of being on the regional list. It is now clear that defeated candidates in the constituency cannot gain a list seat; they must make a choice on whether to stand for the constituency or in the regional list.

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Should people be able to serve in the Assembly and in the House of Commons or the House of Lords? It will be interesting to see what comes out of this consultation. There is a view that there should be some degree of overlap for a period of time because if someone who is a Member of the House of Commons is then elected to the Assembly, there should be a period of overlap to allow exchanges to take place. That happened in 1999 when a number of MPs were elected to the Welsh Assembly and stood down at the next general election. It also happens the other way around, with AMs being elected to the House of Commons.

The present arrangement of 40 constituency seats and 20 list seats, a ratio of two-thirds to one-third, is how the Assembly has been elected since 1999. If the boundaries change and the number of constituency and list seats changes from the present ratio of 40:20 to 30:30, this will be regarded as a major change, not just a minor adjustment in how Members of the Assembly are elected. The Secretary of State says in the Green Paper that the Government prefer option 2, to make the parliamentary boundaries and the Assembly boundaries the same. She states that there is,

“greater complexity in having different boundaries for Parliamentary and Assembly elections than the present arrangement”.

However, Scotland has different boundaries, which means that an analysis could be made to see if there are difficulties for Scottish electors when they cast their votes. However, to my knowledge, no analysis has been made. There is no evidence to suggest that there are problems in Scotland and therefore no evidence to justify the case the Secretary of State is making for the 30:30 ratio. We note that the Government are not proposing such a measure for Scotland.

The fundamental point of principle here is that it is for the people of Wales to decide on major changes to their electoral arrangements, either through a referendum or by a manifesto commitment. In a debate on the Green Paper in the Welsh Assembly on 12 June, First Minister Carwyn Jones said:

“I received an assurance on two occasions from the Prime Minister that there would be no change without the consent of the Assembly, and I am on record as saying that. I took that assurance in good faith and I expect it to be adhered to. However, the reality is that Scotland will continue to have different boundaries for Scottish Parliament and UK Parliament constituencies. If it works in Scotland, what evidence is there that it could not work in Wales? None is offered”.

I am very pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, in his place today, taking part in our debate. He has confirmed that when he was Presiding Officer he too received assurances from the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State that there would be no changes to the boundaries to coincide with the Westminster boundaries. What are we to believe regarding commitments given by the Prime Minister as far as Wales is concerned? Last year we had a UK referendum on the voting system to the House of Commons but at least we knew this was a commitment of the coalition Government. Where was the commitment for this Green Paper? As the First Minister said last week, it has come “out of the blue”.

The Green Paper is before us and my party will play a constructive role by making a submission to the consultation. I understand that the Government will

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publish their response in November. When could we think of having a further debate on the Government’s proposals, and when can we expect legislation? Finally, I ask the Minister: why are the coalition Government reluctant to allow the Welsh people to decide on these matters for themselves? Why instead are they taking this top-down approach? It is our belief that it is for the people of Wales to decide what kind of electoral system they want. Let them decide what they believe is the best system to serve democracy in Wales. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

6.12 pm

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who took part in this debate, which has been very useful. First, I acknowledge a comment by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan. I was indeed aware that the origins of the name Wallace come from the Shropshire-Wales boundary; I think the names are very similar. That only proves to me that we are pretty much a mongrel island and therefore those who would try to artificially break it up should reflect on the fact that peoples have moved around these islands for centuries. That may be one of the things that bind us.

The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, asked why we were debating this as opposed to many other issues. I think it is a red herring to claim that if you are focusing on one thing you are completely ignoring other issues. There is no doubt that the Government are absolutely committed to pursuing the economic objective of recovering the country’s finances from the situation we inherited in May 2010. Very often that is not done by legislation, and just because we are focusing on one or two items of legislation does not mean to say that we are taking our eye off the ball on the fundamental issues of the economy.

I would welcome more debates on Welsh issues, be they economic or otherwise. Having served in the House of Commons, the Scottish Parliament and the House of Lords, the ways in which the usual channels move are mysterious and wondrous to behold, but I am sure that we will try to find other opportunities to debate Welsh issues, and that there will be general support for that on all sides of the Committee.

Lord Touhig: I am most grateful for that commitment from the Minister. As the grandson of Katie Wallace, I knew that I could always trust a Wallace.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: The noble Lord is my kinsman.

A number of noble Lords raised questions about the voting system and the size of the Assembly, so I should perhaps say at the outset what this consultation paper does not try to do. It was never the intention that it should open up these far more fundamental issues. It was clear from the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, that there is no consensus on the size of the Assembly. Although this is not an issue for this consultation paper, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, on the need for scrutiny, and the presidency—or vice-presidency—of the organisation to promote an Assembly of 80 Members

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elected by STV, to which my noble friend Lord German has recently been appointed, lead me to suspect that it will not go away.

When the Silk commission moves on to Part 2 there will be an opportunity for representations to be made, not on the voting system but on where the responsibility for that may lie. I may want to come back to this issue. It would have been wrong, in this consultation, to have gone into the much wider issues of the size of the Assembly or the voting system. It is intended to address mechanisms because of a situation that has arisen as a result of the two pieces of UK legislation to which I referred.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I was seeking to make the point that there is an inexorable nexus between the issue of a possible 90-Member Assembly and the question of the need for a minimum number of persons available to scrutinise legislation. I was unwilling to nail my argument to any particular number. My understanding is—and my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas may be able to confirm it—that on one count the number of persons available to scrutinise would possibly be as low as 18. If that is true, one is talking not about the efficiency of an Assembly but about the very existence of an Assembly.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: The noble Lord raises an important point about scrutiny, which was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, when he spoke about unicameral situations. However, that goes far wider than what we seek to do in this Green Paper. That does not mean to say that the debate will not continue. The matter must be addressed in the Green Paper as a consequence of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act and the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. There may have been a slight misunderstanding by my noble friend Lord German. Both the Government of Wales Act 1998 and the Government of Wales Act 2006 stated that individual constituencies for the National Assembly of Wales would be the same as Westminster constituencies. That link was broken under Section 13 of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act, so the status quo would be to have the existing 40 Welsh Assembly constituencies plus the 20 regional seats and, as is widely anticipated, the 30 Westminster seats.

We are bringing forward this Green Paper because two choices must be addressed. The status quo is not an option because, under the present arrangements with 40 Members, the constituency of Arfon—which I think the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, represented in the previous Assembly—has an electorate of some 40,000, and Cardiff South and Penarth has an electorate of between 76,000 and 78,000. That is a disparity within Wales and therefore a boundary commission would look at the size of the constituencies even if the number remained at 40. One way or t’other, we are either going to have a boundary commission to look at the 40 constituencies or move to the 30:30 system, as indicated in the Green Paper. It is in that context that we must look at these proposals. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, that this is why it needs to be done and why we are consulting on it now.

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Baroness Morgan of Ely: I accept that and I hope I made it clear that I understand why it needs to be done. There is a legal hole that needs to be filled. However, I wonder if the noble and learned Lord could address the issue raised by my noble friend Lord Foulkes. Why can we not keep this to an absolute minimum? Why can we not plug the legal hole and look at the broader questions once the Silk commission has reported?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, the primary consultation is about plugging the legal hole, but it is only fair to point out that when we agreed to extend this term of the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament to five years, I indicated from the Dispatch Box in the Chamber that we would consult on whether that should be a permanent arrangement. It seems an appropriate time to do that. Also, the issues of whether a person should be allowed to stand for the regional list and a constituency or whether there should be so-called double jobbing fit in neatly when a consultation is being undertaken.

Perhaps I may respond to a specific question put by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, about the discussions between my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales and Paul Silk. The terms of reference for the Silk commission, which were agreed by all the political parties in the Assembly, specifically exclude the Assembly’s electoral arrangements. It would not be appropriate to discuss with Paul Silk a matter that is not within the commission’s remit. However, it is the case that my right honourable friend has regular discussions with Paul Silk, as chairman of the commission, with regard to its progress.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: On the point of commitments, can the Minister tell us today what specific commitment was made to the First Minister by the Prime Minister in terms of consultation?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I have heard of that before today. I can confirm that the Prime Minister and the First Minister have met on a number of occasions and it is my belief that, among other matters, this issue has been discussed, but I am not aware of any firm commitment on the part of the Prime Minister. I know that the issue has been raised, but I am not aware of the nature of any firm commitment. I cannot go beyond that because it is not a matter within my knowledge. I am aware that the matter has been raised, but I am not aware of any commitment having been made.

Lord Wigley: I am very grateful. The Minister will be aware of the tenor of the representations that have been made not just from this side, but also from certain colleagues on the other side. It should be the wishes of the people of Wales as expressed in the National Assembly that determine the outcome. Will he therefore give an undertaking to those noble Lords who have taken part in the debate today that he will take the message back that this is the expectation of Wales, and that we would like a response to that representation?

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Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I am coming on to address that point and I accept that it is important. In terms of taking messages back, I can assure noble Lords that these proceedings will be read, it is fair to say, avidly by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. Not only will I report back, but I am sure that they will be read in the Official Report.

Lord Touhig: I apologise; the noble and learned Lord is being very generous in giving way. I accept what he says about the Silk commission being excluded from looking at the situation in Wales, but the point of my question was this: was the Silk commission consulted about this Green Paper because it has come out of the blue for all of us?

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, it is my understanding that the commission was not consulted, but that was because what this Green Paper is about is beyond its remit. Questions have been raised about these deliberations, and I am aware of the debate last week in the National Assembly for Wales. The fact—one that has been reflected by a number of contributors to the debate—is that the electoral arrangements of the Assembly are a non-devolved matter. The matter is reserved to this Parliament. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, made the point that Wales has two Governments: it has a Government in Wales in the National Assembly and also has a Government here at Westminster. The devolution settlement agreed in the Government of Wales Acts 1998 and 2006, and the distribution of powers that was approved only last year in a referendum, retain the electoral system and arrangements for the Assembly as being matters for the Westminster Parliament.

I accept that those in Plaid Cymru who aspire to much greater powers for the National Assembly for Wales would argue the case that electoral arrangements, and possibly the system, should be devolved—albeit with a two-thirds majority—and clearly that case can be made. The Silk commission does not have within its remit the current electoral arrangements but it does have within its remit the distribution of powers between the Westminster Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. I have no doubt that representations to that effect will be made, but that is not the current devolution settlement.

Lord Elis-Thomas: Will the Minister accept that I was not arguing on behalf of Plaid Cymru—I very rarely do, according to some of my party colleagues—but that I was reflecting the agreed consensus of the National Assembly on Tuesday? The UK Government at Westminster ignore such views at their peril.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness: If I did suggest the noble Lord was expressing a party view, I did not intend to—although I think I rather know where he will come from in terms of the distribution of powers. Of course Her Majesty’s Government will have regard to the views of the Assembly, and of all who contribute. We are very keen for people to contribute. It is not the position at present that we should subcontract to the Assembly—as I think the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, put it—given that there is a settlement that has been

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voted by Parliament and supported in a referendum. But I repeat that we will have regard to the views of the Assembly.

There is no way we are going to change the constitutional arrangement for responsibilities when I have indicated from the outset that there is a need to do something: either have the 40 seats with the new boundaries, which would require the Boundary Commission to be given responsibility for doing that, or move to the 30:30. Of those who expressed a view, the balance was that there were merits in the 30:30 arrangement. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, said that otherwise there could be conflict or a lack of cohesion. My noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy said there would be less confusion for electors or party organisers. I think we would all accept that at the end of the day the electors are more important than the party organisers, but let us not forget that the parties and the party organisers help the wheels of democracy to turn and it is important that these wheels are properly oiled. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, made the point that whatever we do, it should not be less proportional. Clearly 30:30 would not be less proportional, but if 30:30 was doubled up with Members elected by first past the post, that would be less proportional.

The point was made about the position in Scotland. It is fair to say that in Scotland the boundaries for the Westminster constituencies are different, principally because the link was not broken between the parliamentary constituency and the Scottish Parliament constituency. When the Westminster Parliament reduced from 72 to 59 pre-2005, there would have been an automatic reduction in the size of the Scottish Parliament, as intended by the 1998 legislation—I remember the debates—but by the time we got there, there was a view that that was not right, that the parliament should not decrease in size, and therefore the link was broken. That was the history of that. In 2006, the Arbuthnott commission reported that,

“most individual voters surveyed ‘claimed not to care’ about whether constituency boundaries were coterminous, and that it was ‘not an issue which would dissuade them from voting’”.

I appreciate that people have strong views on this issue and that is precisely why we are consulting on it.

On the position of the five-year fixed term, I think that there was a consensus across the Committee, given what has happened and the recognition that it was not desirable in 2015 to have elections on the same day, that the arguments that were persuasive then

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remain persuasive. With regard to my noble friend Lady Randerson, it is my understanding that local elections in Wales are a devolved matter, but Welsh Ministers have moved the 2016 local elections in Wales to 2017 to avoid a clash with the Assembly election. That matter has clearly been addressed.

As regards the ban on double candidacy—and the quality of any democracy is how it considers a range of parties—the point was made that it impacts more heavily on the smaller parties. The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, and my noble friend Lady Randerson mentioned the position of the Leader of the Welsh Conservative Party who was rewarded for his party’s success by losing his seat, which seems to be somewhat ironic. It was the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, who said that if international comparisons are to be made, it is probably only the Ukraine that does this. The point was also made by the Arbuthnott report in Scotland that the electorate did not have a problem with people standing in both the individual constituency and the regional list.

On the question of double jobbing—I will certainly report the angst about the terminology—again it is quite clear that there are issues on both sides, and that is why the Government are consulting on this. I was struck by what the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, said about how difficult he found it. We are all declaring interests and, after the Scottish Parliament was established in 1999, I served for two years as both the Member of Parliament for Orkney and Shetland and the Member of the Scottish Parliament for Orkney. I managed to do that because I knew that I was not going to do so beyond 2001. There is an issue as to whether, if we were to go down that road, there should be some flexibility whereby people could see out a term of office to avoid a by-election, particularly if they have only one year left. However, I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, said about perhaps there being an automatic election; and that is clearly a relevant consideration to take into account in a consultation.

I realise that I have probably not done justice to everyone’s comments, but I hope that I have addressed the main points raised. I assure the Committee that the contributions to the debate will be taken into account, as indeed we will pay proper respect to the views expressed in the National Assembly for Wales.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 6.33 pm.