HC Deb 21 January 1998 vol 304 cc1062-6
Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones

I beg to move amendment No. 54, in page 2, line 39, leave out 'is to' and insert 'may'.

The Second Deputy Chairman

With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 55, in page 2, line 41, leave out 'is to' and insert 'may'.

Mr. Jones

These are probing amendments, and I want to draw the Minister's attention to the wording of the clause, which seems to imply that for an elector to have valid votes he or she must cast two votes. Subsection (1) says: Each person … shall have two votes", subsection (2) says: One … is to be given for a candidate … for the constituency", and subsection (3) says: The other … is to be given for … electoral region. What happens if an elector wants to cast only one vote? Will that vote be disqualified?

Mr. Win Griffiths

As far as we are concerned, the existing drafting offers no scope to suggest that the voters could cast their two votes other than as set out in the Bill. There is no compulsion to cast two votes. They will have two votes, and it will be up to them how they cast those votes. If we receive legal counsel to say otherwise, we will look at it again.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones

The difficulty we have is with the word "shall" in clause 4(1). Its normal construction implies an obligation on someone. If the clause had read "may" have two votes or that a single vote would not be disqualified, the position would have been clearer. I accept that the Minister may need to go away and think about the problem, but that point has been made to us.

Mr. Win Griffiths

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we will consider the issue, although we do not believe that a change is needed.

Mr. Jones

Given that reply, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Livsey

I beg to move amendment No. 50, in page 2, line 42, at end insert— '(aa) a candidate who is a member of a registered political party which has submitted a list of candidates to be Assembly members for the Assembly electoral region in which the Assembly constituency is located,'.

The Second Deputy Chairman

With this,' it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 51, in page 2, line 43, after '(a)', insert 'a candidate who is a member of'. No. 30, in page 2, line 45, at end insert— '(ab) an individual who is one of the candidates on the list referred to in (a) above, or'. No. 57, in page 3, line 2, at end insert— '(3A) The names of the candidates of each political party standing for an electoral region shall appear on the ballot paper for that region.'.

Mr. Livsey

Amendment No. 50 is an important proposal on the issue of open lists. It would allow voters to place their vote for the electoral region for a candidate on a party list or for the party. Amendment No. 51 would allow voters to vote for a candidate on a party list, but not to vote for the party. Amendment No. 30 would allow voters to vote for the candidate on a list.

The closed lists proposed in the Bill for the electoral regions will not give the voter any feeling of involvement in the process. Political parties will have enormous powers to control the selection and ordering of candidates, a process in which the voters will not be involved. That will increase the public perception that political parties are remote and out of touch, and will leave no opportunity for voters to reject an unpopular candidate at the top of the list. My right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) called that the Tatton factor on Second Reading of the European Parliamentary Elections Bill.

In the East German unification election in 1990, closed lists were used. The top candidate on one list was exposed as a secret police informer four days before the election and too late to change the list. Electors had no choice but to vote for him if they wanted to vote for his party.

The amendments would allow some voter choice in the elections. A completely open list would place the candidates on the ballot paper in alphabetical order and allow voters to choose the candidates to be elected for each party. That would allow voters to choose candidates from within parties, and to choose between men and women and between candidates from different wings of the same party. Voter choice would emphasise the inclusiveness of the electorate and make the assembly more representative of Wales and the Welsh people.

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman said that candidates would be placed in alphabetical order. I presume that he means within their party groupings.

Mr. Livsey

I cannot answer that question at the moment, but I will research it and get back to the right hon. Gentleman. I need to look into the question in more detail and I cannot do that in the middle of a speech.

An alternative to the completely open list would allow voters to vote for a party or for a candidate. That system is used in Belgium for elections to the European Parliament. About half the voters vote for a party and accept the party list; the other half vote for a candidate on the list. It is rare for sufficient voters to vote for a candidate placed low on the list, but the provision is there and would have an effect in exceptional circumstances.

The Home Secretary is still considering allowing voter choice in the European parliamentary elections, and he has not ruled out changing the closed list system proposed in the European Parliamentary Elections Bill. If open lists were used for elections to the Welsh assembly, we would lead the way and set a precedent for elections to the European Parliament and the Scottish Parliament.

We are approaching the first-ever elections to the Welsh assembly. It is vital that we get the system right from the beginning. The people of Wales must feel that the system has been chosen for them, not to serve the interests of political parties. Let us choose a system that will allow voter involvement and increase the interest of the Welsh people in the assembly. Allowing open lists would achieve that.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones

I support the amendments. Amendment No. 57 would give the Minister another option. If he wishes to reject the option of open list, or part open list, he could—as a compromise—ensure that the names of the candidates will appear on the list. The Minister will know that people traditionally like to see the names of the candidates on the list.

Amendment No. 57 does not go as far as those tabled by the Liberal Democrats and it would not mean that the voter would be able to distinguish between candidates, but at least the ballot paper would contain the names of the candidates whom the party had decided should appear on the list in a particular order. Even if the Minister cannot grant the Liberal Democrats' requests, he could accept amendment No. 57.

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones) raises an important point because, if the system is to work, the voters must know who is on which list. However, complications can arise, as I know from my experience of the elections to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland. I understand that each party will have 12 candidates, with anything up to 10 parties registered for the elections. The idea that 120 names could be placed on the ballot paper begins to defy the logistics of printing those papers. We got round it in Northern Ireland by having the names listed in each polling booth. That is a sensible suggestion and I hope that it will be adopted.

I understand that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) has now taken advice and agrees that candidates would be ordered alphabetically within party groups. The system would not make much sense otherwise. While we do not agree with the additional member system that has been proposed, for all the reasons that I mentioned yesterday, the Liberal Democrat amendment would be an improvement because it would remove pressures in parties to place candidates according to the party interest and would allow the electors some say in deciding the order of a party's candidates.

Another element that bothers me about the proposals is the potential to elect individual Members on the list. That provision is common to both the Government of Wales Bill and the Scotland Bill. However, it could create not two but three categories of Member: one would be directly elected for a constituency, a second would be elected through the party system on the additional member list, and a third would be elected as an individual for the region and would, therefore, regard himself as having a mandate within the region by direct election.

We must think very carefully before creating three categories of representatives in the Welsh assembly or the Scottish Parliament; otherwise, we will get a lot of crossed wires after the elections. Given my opposition to the additional member system, I am not sure that I can be persuaded to back the Liberal Democrat amendment, although I sympathise with it.

Mr. Win Griffiths

This debate has perhaps been the best that we have had, because everyone has tried to make a constructive contribution to improving the additional member system. The Government are not minded to accept the amendments, because we believe that they would introduce a complexity to the assembly elections that would confuse the electoral process.

However. we believe that it is important that the electorate are aware of the individuals that each party has selected to represent it on the party list. That is why we would be happy to accept the suggestion made by the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). We have had discussions about the best way to achieve that; it may be to ensure that each polling booth contains, in a prominent place, the names of all the candidates on the additional member list for voters to read. As it will be the first time that we run the system, we want to keep it as straightforward as possible. The only place where there is a totally open system is in the Bavarian state Parliament, where the ballot papers are sometimes as large as our broadsheet newspapers, such as The Guardian or The Times. That is not an appropriate way to encourage people to use their vote positively.

The difficulty with the Plaid Cymru amendment is that if someone inadvertently puts crosses or numbers against the names on the ballot paper, that paper would be spoilt. We would not want that to happen.

Although there is much to think about in terms of how the additional member system can best operate—

It being Seven o'clock, THE CHAIRMAN put the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [20 January].

Amendment negatived.

THE CHAIRMAN then put the remaining Questions required to be put at that hour.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 5 to 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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