Wales Bill – It Cannot Be Right For Losers To Become Winners Through The Back Door

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): I, too, wish to speak in favour of amendment 13 and against clause 2 remaining in the Bill. The Secretary of State and other Members who have taken part in our proceedings on the Bill might recognise some of my comments from my single transferable vote speech on dual candidature, because I remain firmly opposed to that abuse of democracy. However, I will be brief, because my favourite premiership player, Frank Lampard, is captaining England at 5 o’clock, and I know that even Members from Welsh constituencies, with the possible exception of our Plaid Cymru friends, will want to cheer them on in their final game.

I repeat my basic argument, which I have expressed throughout the Bill’s proceedings, and the rationale for my ban on dual candidature in the 2006 Act: it cannot be right for losers to become winners through the back door, despite having been rejected by the voters. That is an abuse of democracy. People who stand for a single-Member seat and then lose can end up being elected anyway, in defiance of the electorate’s wishes, because at the same time they are in a list category, and that is an abuse of democracy. There is no real argument against losers becoming winners in that way.

There was a widespread abuse practised by 15 of the 20 list AMs prior to the 2006 ban. They used taxpayers’ money to open constituency offices in the very single-Member seats in which they were defeated. They then targeted those seats at the following election by cherry-picking local issues against the constituency AMs who had beaten them. Why are they so afraid of taking their choice to the people, and why are the Government so afraid of democracy? Why are they so afraid of losing constituency elections that they need the lifebelt of standing for the lists as well? That is what the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood, for whom I have considerable admiration despite all that, is doing in Rhondda. In a leaked memorandum written in August 2003, she was refreshingly honest about promoting abuse of the dual candidature system by list Members using taxpayers’ money.
With the 2006 Act ban having been removed by the Government, there is nothing to stop such abuse being practised again. I suspect that Leanne Wood may need to reissue her guidance. Perhaps she could pass it round to all the political parties in Wales so that Labour, the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and the UK Independence party can exploit the system together instead of leaving it to Plaid Cymru. Indeed, perhaps the Secretary of State could issue the document from the Wales Office so that it has the official approval he presumably wants in changing the law as he now intends, despite the strength of the arguments against it, because it is really a bible for the dual candidature that he and the Government are so enthusiastically preaching and want to restore following the 2006 ban in the wake of these serial abuses. I remind him, and the House, of just how valuable that guide could be for all the political parties. If the political system is to be brought into disrepute by the restoration of dual candidature and the ending of the ban following the serial abuses, why cannot all parties take part and make sure that the decline in respect of Assembly elections is endemic in the system, given that that is what he is encouraging?

Leanne Wood urged Plaid Cymru list Assembly Members to concentrate tens of thousands of pounds of their local office budgets, paid for by taxpayers, on their party’s target seats. She urged them to do casework only where it might benefit Plaid Cymru in those target seats, and to attend civic and other events in the constituency only if they thought that there were votes in it.

There has been a deafening silence from Ministers about this bible for dual candidature, so I will repeat its essential contents in case they have not memorised my two previous speeches on the subject. Leanne Wood’s memorandum, “What should be the role of a Regional AM?”, perfectly illustrates the problem that we faced before the 2006 Act banned dual candidature in Wales. She should be praised for her honesty—indeed, her transparency. She wrote:
“Each regional AM has an office budget and a staff budget of some considerable size. Consideration should be given to the location of their office—where would it be best for the region? Are there any target seats…within the region?”

She meant, of course, single Member target seats.