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.

Queen’s Speech 2014 – Pensions

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): I wish to speak specifically about the pensions tax Bill and the private pensions Bill in the Queen’s Speech. The Government have proposed the biggest reform to pension tax rules in nearly a century. There is no denying that it is popular to give citizens—especially those with small pension pots—the choice to take lump sums that may be more beneficial to them than eking out a living from the small annual payments on which they would otherwise rely. Paying off a mortgage or a loan on retirement by drawing down a lump sum may well be better for such pensioners, but there is real danger in destroying good annuities. That has been going on for a few decades now, and is bequeathing a nightmare that Government policies are nowhere near capable of preventing.
We have a rapidly ageing population that is dumping a huge additional burden on the young, many of whom are already leaving university with massive debts thanks to this Government’s dysfunctional policies. Now they will be saddled with subsidising through their future taxes older people who are being encouraged to live for today and not protect themselves for tomorrow.

The closure of defined benefit schemes and the shift towards defined contribution schemes has been an utter catastrophe. Accelerated further by record demographic changes, that shift is a worldwide phenomenon and a product of the neo-liberal orthodoxy worshipped by the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox), which has gripped Governments from the era of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and which this Government still seem to be in the grip of. In the US, for example, the number of defined benefit schemes halved in under 30 years, while direct contribution schemes tripled. Australia, also worshipping such neo-liberalism, saw an 80% reduction in the number of workers covered by defined benefit schemes from the 1980s.

That is the background, but there are disadvantages to the new pension freedom. For example, people might decide to spend all their pension savings at the point of retirement, dooming themselves to poverty later in life. Having saved into a pension fund, received tax relief for many years and reached retirement with a pot of money, they might be tempted to blow the lot at once, meaning that they will never have the benefit of the extra income that they would otherwise have had as they got older. If that happens, the tax relief they receive would not fund a pension, and employer contributions that they may have received along the way would end up funding immediate consumption, rather than providing a long-term income. We know that some people will do that; we do not know how many but we hope the number will be relatively low. Pensions expert Ros Altmann suggests that about 7% of people currently say that they would spend it all. In truth, it impossible to predict that accurately.

Geraint Davies: I am sure that my right hon. Friend is a supporter, as I am, of the idea of a British investment bank. Does he think that the Chancellor should have set up tax incentives to encourage people who have liberated their pension pots to reinvest in a British investment bank and create jobs and wealth for the future, instead of it being blown on everyday consumption?

Mr Hain: That is a very good point.

The new flat-rate state pension, which is cited in mitigation for this new approach to pensions, still means that a lot of people will fall back on the state having spent all their pension savings. Around 20% of pensioners will still be on means-tested benefits even after the new system starts. People might also try to game the system by taking all their pension money and recycling it into a new pension fund, getting more tax free cash and another lot of tax relief. That could mostly benefit those who are reasonably well-off with high incomes in later life, and it could be costly in extra Exchequer spending on tax relief.

This is mainly a market problem, and it should perhaps have been possible to reform that market without the draconian retreat from annuities proposed by the Government. Would it have been possible to insist that insurers are obliged to treat customers fairly, and ensure they would be liable if they did not carry out suitability checks to identify which type of annuity was best and offer a good rate? Would it have been possible to reform the way annuities work, and allow more freedom but not complete freedom?
What protections will be built into the new system to ensure that unsophisticated consumers are not left at the mercy of product providers offering poor product choices, or higher risk products that people simply do not understand and through which they end up losing significant sums? The Financial Conduct Authority needs to be on top of that right from the start, but judging by past form can we be confident of that? I have very serious doubts.

If guidance is delivered by product providers, those providers are liable to entice their customers towards more poor-value products. Experience shows that they will do whatever they can to try to keep customers’ money, or give them poor value and make extra profit. The annuity market has worked poorly for years, with rising profits to insurers and reducing value for customers. How will the Government ensure that the new products developed finally offer good value, and that the charges are fair and terms reasonable?

The Government are right to legislate to permit collective defined contribution pensions, but I warn Ministers about over-hyping the benefits. In principle, such pensions ought to be better for employers than traditional final salary schemes and better for workers than traditional defined contribution schemes, but in practice they still suffer from market and actuarial risks. Ros Altmann points out that lower earners may subsidise higher earners, and younger members may subsidise older members. The new pension freedoms to take most, if not all, of the pension pot in a lump sum, however attractive and justified that may be to certain people, may also mean that people prefer pure defined contribution schemes that they can access in retirement if they wish. Collective defined contribution schemes, admirable as they may be in principle, usually mean that people cannot just take the cash, which means they may well be less attractive for members.

My challenge to the Government is this: rather than leaving the private pension system to market providers and their whims, why not build a new system that works? We need a system with longevity that savers will understand and find confidence in—a lack of confidence in this Government’s approach to pensions is something that I imagine savers and I share. While the Chancellor’s right hand further fragments and individualises pensions through these tax proposals, the pension Minister’s left hand makes legal collective direct contribution pensions. Why should any employer move to that collective system when they can see the Treasury going down precisely the opposite route? I doubt whether many will do so.

The Government are not doing anything like enough to face up to the time bomb of our ageing society and the whole person social care that the shadow Health Secretary eloquently advocated, or anything like enough to face up to the pensions needed to underpin the new life that is rapidly overtaking us, and the whole person care necessary to protect us. The whole Government philosophy of leaving private pensions to the market and saying to citizens, “Effectively, you are on you own” has failed abysmally in the past, just as I believe it will fail abysmally in the future at a terrible cost to all of us—pensioners, taxpayers and the public in general. I urge the Government to look again and come back with proposals that really begin to meet the scale of both the pension challenge and the whole person care challenge that haunts the whole of this country.

Youth Unemployment Wales

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Given that the future of businesses in Wales depends on the vibrancy of our young workers, is the right hon. Gentleman encouraged by the fact that the Welsh Government’s policies are clearly working, in that the youth unemployment rate has come down faster and further than anywhere else in the United Kingdom? Will he be less churlish towards the Welsh Government and praise the jobs growth fund and that achievement?

Mr Jones: Far from being churlish, I commend Jobs Growth Wales for making an important contribution. Having said that, it is a limited contribution, and the important thing is for the Welsh Government to work closely with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that we can drive down even further the unemployment rates.

Wales Bill – Shamelessly Proceeding To Enshrine Abuses

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): I welcome your Celtic insight into this debate affecting a Celtic neighbour, Dr McCrea. I apologise to you, and to those on both Front Benches, if I have to be out of the Chamber for the winding-up speeches.

I wish to speak on clause 2 stand part, a clause that reverses the ban on dual candidature, which this House legislated for in 2006. On Second Reading I provided detailed evidence about the widespread abuses of the dual candidacy system in Wales that led to it being banned under the Government of Wales Act 2006, which I introduced. None of that evidence was disputed or rebutted by the Government or any of the parties. I readily confess to being one of the Wales Ministers who, prior to devolution, took the original 1998 Government of Wales Bill through Parliament that permitted dual candidature, but I never for one moment imagined the abuses that it would produce and the antipathy it would create. Voters never understood that it was widespread practice, from when the Assembly was established in 1999 up until 2007 when it was banned, for candidates rejected by a particular constituency to secure back-door election as Assembly Members through the regional list. They were then even able to claim to represent the very constituency that had rejected them.

After reading the Government’s proposals for repealing the ban on dual candidacy, I have searched in vain for substantial arguments beyond cries of political partisanship. The truth is that the ban has affected all candidates of all parties by preventing each one from having a two-way bet with voters. The ban simply puts the voters in charge by ensuring that, if a candidate is defeated in the constituency vote, that candidate does not get elected in defiance of the popular will. At a time when the political class—all of us—are held in lower repute than at any time in the history of British democracy, the very idea that the Government are proceeding to ensure election losers become winners is absolutely extraordinary. It holds the electorate in utter contempt.

Let us examine the case advanced by Ministers. First, the Government have used evidence borrowed heavily from the Scottish elections, which are similar to ours in Wales, and manipulated evidence from the Arbuthnott report to support their case. Ministers claimed in the Green Paper that the Arbuthnott report on the situation in Scotland found no justification for the argument that public dissatisfaction with dual candidacy had a negative impact on voter turnout. They also used evidence from the Electoral Commission’s 2006 “Poll Position” report, which focused on voting in the National Assembly elections. Clearly, however, the Government chose only to reflect the contents of those reports selectively.

In fact, the Arbuthnott report quoted the Scottish social attitudes survey 2003, which found a high degree of opposition to party control of candidates on their regional election lists. Moreover, opposition to party control of the lists was particularly acute—this is the important point—because of public confusion with the system, exacerbated when regional Members of the Scottish Parliament appeared to get in through the back door having been defeated as constituency candidates. In the 2003 Scottish election Arbuthnott report, the public was indeed concerned that 88% of regional MSPs elected had fought and lost in constituencies. The closed list system was seen to have undermined the election result in these scenarios, as it raised questions of legitimacy for regional MSPs in voters’ minds. The Electoral Commission’s 2006 “Poll Position” report on voting in Wales clearly demonstrated that more than half the Welsh population—56.7%, to be exact—opposed the closed list system, which is still in place, and that more than 60% of the electorate preferred to be represented by just one Assembly Member.

The Arbuthnott report confronted exactly the same problems that I faced as Secretary of State: the questions “How do we limit the tension between AMs and MSPs that is created by constituency and regional lists where losers become winners?” and “How do we reduce abuses of dual candidacy?” The report suggested two measures to remedy those problems in Scotland, the more significant being clear identification of the differences between regional and constituency Members in legislation, with a clear code of conduct for Members of the Scottish Parliament. That is not proposed in the Bill.

The report argued that regional MSPs should not make misrepresentations to specific constituencies, and there should be a tacit understanding between constituency and regional MSPs that a constituency matter was for the constituency MSP alone. That effectively created a quasi-second tier for regional MSPs, because they had no remit to meddle with constituency matters. We do not have that system in Wales, and the Bill does not propose such a system. The report’s recommendation was then reinforced throughout Scotland by means of an educational campaign to highlight the subtle and important differences between regional and constituency representatives.

The Government may refer to clause 36 of the Government of Wales Act 2006, which is designed to prevent the public from confusing constituency and regional Assembly Members. It states:

“The standing orders must include provision about (or for the making of a code or protocol about) the different roles and responsibilities of Assembly constituency members and Assembly regional members; and…Assembly constituency members must not describe themselves in a manner which suggests that they are Assembly regional members, and…Assembly regional members must not describe themselves in a manner which suggests that they are Assembly constituency members.”

I legislated for the introduction of those standing orders in 2006, but there is still an endemic problem. Time and again, the result has been cherry-picking by regional members with clearly partisan motives of the matters in which they wish to become involved, while constituency members must deal with either the leftovers or the vital but burdensome daily process of casework and individual representation which is their proper responsibility. There was a clear example of that recently in the South Wales West region. A regional Assembly Member tried to claim leadership of the campaign for the Visteon pensioners, although it was not a devolved issue, and was being addressed—and, indeed, was finally resolved—by a cross-party group of Members of the House of Commons.

In practice, the system means that a regional AM or MSP who has lost a constituency vote can work within a constituency, and can effectively run a four or five-year election campaign focusing on high-profile public campaigning and generating publicity, while never having to confront the tough issues of daily representation and passing the buck to the constituency Member.

In 2003, former Liberal party leader and Scottish Parliament Presiding Officer Baron Steel of Aikwood said:

“My second reason for having second thoughts about the list system is that it led to unnecessary tension between some list Members and constituency Members and others. Quite the most distasteful and irritating part of my job as Presiding Officer was dealing with complaints against list Members’ behaviour from constituency MSPs, Westminster MPs and local authorities. Most did their best to obey the code of conduct, but there were a few serial offenders whose behaviour was referred to the Standards Committee. I could not understand at first why we had such problems, until it dawned on me that what some were determined to do was misuse their position to run a permanent four-year campaign as candidate for a particular constituency. In most Parliaments you do not have Members sitting in the same chamber or in committees who are going to be election opponents, and it does not make for a good working atmosphere.

My third objection to the system as operated is that it has led to a confusing and expensive proliferation of ‘parliamentary’ offices throughout the country. In at least one town there are four. This arose because of an agreement between the parties that regional list Members as well as constituency ones should have publicly funded offices.”

Of course, that operates in Wales as well. Lord Steel continued:

“I registered my objection at the time because they have become a thinly disguised subsidy from the taxpayer for the local party machines and added to the tendency I have just described. In my view they are a serious waste of public money, and I do not exclude my own former regional office from that stricture.”

That is an independent observation by a former Speaker of the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Harper: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Hain: I would like to make a bit more progress, because although the hon. Gentleman was generous in taking interventions, his contribution lasted 40 minutes. I would prefer to be a bit briefer, and I normally am very generous.

The fact that, nevertheless, Scotland has retained dual candidature, in defiance of Lord Steel’s advice, is no reason for Wales to do the same. The Government simply will not acknowledge the fundamental democratic abuse of dual candidacy, which is that losers become winners, and that voters are second-guessed and contradicted by the system, their choices denied. The second significant measure the Scottish Parliament adopted after Arbuthnott tried to increase the accountability of regional MSPs to the electorate by changing the voting system and introducing an open list for regional candidates—not something this Bill provides—to give some measure of control for Scottish voters. That was done because the Scottish social attitudes survey 2003 found a high degree of opposition to the party control inherent in the list system. Voters in Wales enjoy no such privilege and the Government are not proposing to give it to us.

On the issue of dual candidacy, two different paths were followed: in Scotland it was through greater clarification of the roles of Members and by turning to open lists; and in Wales we felt that the ban was the right solution to dual candidacy abuse. Nearly a decade on from the Government of Wales Act 2006 I feel that we made the right choice, but much more must be done to give regional Assembly Members more accountability to the electorate. On candidacy, this Bill does nothing to further the evolution of Welsh democracy—indeed it puts it into reverse.

Over the past 15 years, the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly have both evolved in different ways to better suit the needs of their individual electorates. As the Government’s proposal stands, we will return to some of the absurd anomalies we saw in 1999 and 2003. As has been mentioned, in Clwyd West in 2003 every one of the three losing party candidates nevertheless won. Let us also consider the following cases from the 1999 elections, when 17 out of the 20 regional Assembly Members elected lost constituency elections. Thus, more than three quarters of the regional AMs did not have a democratic mandate to represent people—voters had not voted for them—and 15 of these 20 had offices in the constituencies they failed to be elected in.

In the Conwy constituency the Lib Dem AM Christine Humphreys came fourth in the popular vote—she had less than 10% of the vote in Conwy—yet still became an AM for the North Wales region. In Wrexham the Plaid Cymru AM Janet Ryder came last in the constituency, with 2,659 votes—the constituency AM had 9,239 votes—and yet still became an AM through the back door. In Ynys Môn the Tory AM Peter Rogers won 6,031 votes, which put him third on the constituency list—the Plaid Cymru AM who won a majority had more than 16,000 votes—yet he still became an AM for the North Wales region. It is not a partisan argument but simply a truth to state that those results are fundamentally undemocratic.

In the 1999 election more than 215,000 Welsh men and women voted in the North Wales region. Were we to look at every individual who ran as a constituency candidate in that election and collate their votes, we would find that Christine Humphreys, Janet Ryder and Peter Rogers polled less than 6% of the total regional vote and yet still became AMs for that very same region. After two Assembly elections where this was a regular occurrence, and with almost half the population saying in 2006 that they did not understand how their electoral system worked, we sought to remedy confusion over how AMs could still get in through the back door. The ban on dual candidature was the right choice then and remains so now. We introduced the ban in 2006 to stop these anomalies and the confusion they produced in voters’ minds, but now the Government are proposing to start this all over again.

In 2006, Victoria Winckler, director of the Bevan Foundation, conducted a survey, which found broad support for the ban on dual candidacy. Her report also highlighted the need for greater education and understanding among the general public. This report qualified the findings of previous research into dual candidacy. It said that none of it had been sufficient to make a substantial case on whether or not the public were for or against it in elections, but that it did discover considerable public disquiet on the issue with broad support in favour of the ban.

Jonathan Edwards: If dual candidacy is so objectionable to the right hon. Gentleman’s party, will he explain why, when it was in power in Westminster in 2010, it did not ban it in Scotland or for the Assembly in London?

Mr Hain: I have already dealt with that matter, but I will, if I may, correct the hon. Gentleman. It is not objectionable to my party; it is objectionable to voters. That is the point about this, and we are representing the voters’ will.

Perhaps the great irony of the Government’s proposals is that when they released their Green Paper in 2011, they found what was described as a

“small majority of people opposed to the Government’s proposal to lift the ban”,

and yet they still carried on. The Government, who themselves have a small majority, now seek to overturn a small majority. A former Liberal Democrat leader and a Conservative Secretary of State backed my 2006 ban, as did the chairman of the Richard commission. The commission reported in 2004, recommending extra powers for the Assembly, which my 2006 Act delivered. Lord Richard told the Welsh Affairs Committee:

“There is something wrong in a situation in which five people can stand in Clwyd, none of them can be elected, and then they all get into the Assembly. On the face of it that does not make sense. I think a lot of people in Wales find that it does not.”

The eminent Welsh academic, Dr Denis Balsom, said in his evidence to the Richard commission:

“Candidates use the list as an insurance against failing to win a constituency contest. This dual candidacy can also confuse the electorate, who may wish to consciously reject a particular candidate only to find them elected via the list. It should remain a basic democratic right not to elect a particular candidate or to be able to vote a Member out.”

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the real objection to dual candidacy is that those individuals who are rejected are then let in by the parties through the back door, and not by the electorate?

Mr Hain: My hon. Friend expresses my argument well—indeed better in some respects. One motivation for reversing the 2006 ban expressed by Plaid Cymru was the loss of its unquestionably talented Assembly Member, Helen Mary Jones. On 9 January 2006, when I was Secretary of State for Wales and dual candidature was still permitted, Helen Mary Jones put out a press release in which she described herself as the “Llanelli-based Assembly Member”. In it, she complained about money spent on a hospital in Carmarthen instead of one in Llanelli. However, she should really have been supporting both hospitals. As a list Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales, she represented both towns. If she had really been discharging her list Member duties properly, she would not have discriminated between those two towns or their hospitals. Yet of all the parts of the list area which she represented, she targeted the one place where she had been narrowly defeated in 2003, invariably describing herself as the “Llanelli-based Assembly Member”. The 2006 Act stopped her describing herself as that, although in the meantime she had campaigned hard as the list Member and had won the seat back in 2007, only to lose it again in 2011. As the ban had kicked in by then, she no longer remained the list Member. That has made it much harder for her to win the seat back for the next elections in 2016.

Now I come to the pièce de résistance. If this Bill gets enacted unamended, the Plaid Cymru party leader, Leanne Wood, will be able to implement—indeed quite possibly is already implementing—the comprehensive strategy she laid out in a remarkably candid memorandum in August 2003 when she was a list Assembly Member. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) has quoted from that document, so I will not do so—[Interruption.] I can if Members are disappointed.

The memorandum was issued privately to key party colleagues but, even before the era of WikiLeaks, it was happily revealed to the rest of the nation in a generous act of democratic service. If the Bill becomes law, Leanne Wood can put into practice her own painstakingly frank advice to her colleagues. She is, and has been since 2003, one of the four list members for the South Wales Central National Assembly for Wales electoral region, but on 15 March 2013 she announced plans to stand for the Rhondda constituency in the Assembly elections in May 2016. In her press releases—I have one with me dated 13 November 2013—she modestly describes herself as the “Rhondda-based Assembly Member Leanne Wood”. To be fair, she does live in the Rhondda but her office is in the town of Pontypridd, which is located in the Pontypridd rather than the Rhondda constituency. So she is not actually the “Rhondda-based Assembly Member Leanne Wood” but the “Pontypridd-based Assembly Member Leanne Wood.” Never mind, however; we will move on fast from that trifling matter of accuracy.

Leanne Wood could also have chosen to describe herself as Aberdare-based, Cardiff-based or Cowbridge-based, as those are all places in her South Wales Central regional constituency, but no, she is apparently uninterested in the concerns of the other parts of her regional constituency. By some amazing coincidence, she is interested only in the Rhondda, because she always and only describes herself as Rhondda-based.

When the leader of Plaid Cymru said that she would stand for the Rhondda, it sounded like a brave—some might say foolhardy—move, but then, of course, the Conservatives proposed to bring back dual candidacy and she said that it was likely that she would also stand to retain her regional Assembly Member position on the list. Not so brave after all. When she loses in the Rhondda constituency in 2016—I am afraid that I have to break the news to her that she will lose heavily to the sitting Labour Member, the admirable Leighton Andrews—Leanne Wood will have the lifeline of dual candidacy to fall back on.

Mr Harper: On the subject of bravery, will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Hain: No wonder Plaid Cymru is such an enthusiastic little helper to the Government on this clause. We should rename the Bill “Leanne’s lifeline”. I will give way.

Mr Harper: I have been listening carefully to the right hon. Gentleman’s argument and I do not understand this concept of the “back door”. I might be wrong—I am sure that Opposition Members will tell me if I am—but surely if party candidates are listed on the ballot paper and electors cast a vote in a regional ballot, which is a separate vote, they know the consequences of that vote. If someone on that list is elected based on the second vote that somebody casts, the voter will have known that that could happen. I do not know how the right hon. Gentleman can describe that as someone being elected by the back door.

Mr Hain: I realise that the hon. Gentleman is not a member for a Welsh seat, but the truth is that people in Wales feel that people are being elected by the back door when they turn down a particular individual as their constituency Member only to find that they are elected anyway. This description of such an election as “by the back door” seems to me to be valid.

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Hain: I want to make a little progress, if my right hon. Friend does not mind. I have a series of points to make in conclusion.

A Mrs Jones or Mr Davies living in Porth or Treherbert in the Rhondda constituency should be forewarned by Leanne Wood’s memorandum, which amounted to a charter for abusing their money as taxpayers. I would advise them not to bother to approach for help and to check first whether they fit into her game plan. That plan is not about helping either of them, but about helping her and her political party. She is extremely—some might say recklessly—honest about her real intentions.

In the memorandum, Leanne Wood urged Plaid Cymru Assembly list Members such as herself only to do casework not where it is needed—not where it might help Mrs Jones or Mr Davies—but where it might benefit Plaid Cymru in its target seats, now including the Rhondda. She advised her colleagues to attend civic and other events in the constituency only if they thought there were votes in it. I would say, “Those are your votes, Mrs Jones and Mr Davies. I would check it out first if I were you.” She urged Plaid Cymru Assembly list Members to concentrate tens of thousands of pounds on their local Assembly office budgets in their party’s target seats, such as Rhondda. Leanne Wood’s memorandum of August 2003 was entitled, “What should be the role of a Regional AM?” It made a perfect case for the ban on dual candidature in Wales, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd made clear by quoting in detail from it.

The Government are shamelessly proceeding to enshrine again in statute, in clause 2, the very practice that this Parliament banned eight years ago to prevent such abuses, of which there had been very many over the years.

Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is making a brilliant and convincing argument against dual candidacy, as always, but does he agree that, as the Electoral Reform Society has said, at the very least changing the system back and forth risks undermining the stability of the electoral system? Should we not just stick with the system that we have?

Mr Hain: I completely agree. The change was made after evidence had been assembled for Parliament, and Parliament was convinced by that evidence.

There is a simple question that both supporters of the Bill and critics of this Parliament’s 2006 ban cannot answer. It is this: if candidates cannot persuade voters to vote for them, why should they nevertheless be forced on voters through the back door? The people of Wales are entitled to an answer, even if this Government cannot give it to them by ramming through this highly contentious, undemocratic and thoroughly objectionable clause in a Bill that otherwise, in its broad features, enjoys a fair degree of cross-party consensus.

The fundamental point is that the Government of Wales Act 2006, by introducing the ban, put the voters back in charge. If voters did not want to elect somebody, they did not have to do so. If they reject a candidate, that candidate should not end up representing them. We should keep the voters in charge by rejecting clause 2.

Personal Independence Payments (Wales)

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I apologise at the outset for having to leave immediately after I finish speaking, to undertake an official appointment relating to my duties as a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I will not hear the Minister’s reply, but I will of course read it.

In the short time since personal independence payments have come into force, it has quickly become evident that the system is miserably failing people and leaving some of the most vulnerable in our communities in absolute desperation. My Neath constituency has one of the highest rates of take-up of the old disability living allowance, a legacy of the industrial heritage that once provided livelihoods for many of my constituents, but has now resulted in serious health problems—a heavy price to pay.

New applicants face a system of delay and despair. Many constituents have been waiting six months or longer, having had their face-to-face assessments and been told, frustratingly, that

“the report is in the final stages with a senior healthcare professional.”

For those six months they have been living off savings to help them to adapt to their conditions. The prospect of a backdated payment is of no comfort to them as they struggle with day-to-day tasks that many of us take for granted, while their families suffer under the stress and strain of caring for them.

In some of the cases processed by Capita, health care reports have not been up to standard and further information has been required. That involved going back to the assessor and requesting further information. In one case, a second face-to-face assessment was required, and in one astonishing instance it came to light in March 2014 that despite the assessment being carried out in November 2013, no assessment report had been prepared by the assessor. Those constituents’ misery and distress seems to have no end.

The protracted ordeal is just to get the assessment report from Capita to the Department for Work and Pensions. As the assessment reports start to trickle through to the Department, the emerging trend is of further delays in the final decision after the report has reached the Department. So after months of waiting with Capita, applicants face further delays, and that only adds to their misery.

I raised with Capita and the Department a case that encapsulates the ordeal. A constituent made his original application on 5 July 2013 after suffering a serious brain seizure, a stroke and several other seizures. He returned to work initially, but because of his mobility problems he could not continue. He underwent a home assessment on 15 October 2013, and made numerous calls to the Department for Work and Pensions to chase up the progress of his application. Every time, he was referred to Capita because the report had not been sent, but he was told that

“the report is in the final stages with a senior healthcare professional”.

One event epitomises his situation. He woke up one morning and asked his wife to leave him in bed as he was feeling unwell. Shortly after she left for work at 8 o’clock in the morning, he suffered a series of convulsions that lasted approximately 30 minutes. He had difficulty breathing and removing his continuous positive airway pressure mask, which he has to wear because of obstructive sleep apnoea and the danger of a stroke or heart attack. He was unable to get out of bed for the rest of the day until his wife came home at 4.30. He did not eat or drink all day and had to urinate into a bottle.

My constituent’s wife is caring for him but because he has no income from PIP she is at the point of utter exhaustion. The decision to award the benefit is vital to enable his wife to give him the proper care and supervision he needs. Until a decision is made, the couple cannot arrange that care, and their life is in limbo. In March, my constituent finally received his decision notice, only to be informed at the end of the month that a stop had been put on his payment—a decision that could not be explained when he phoned DWP. It has now been nine months and he has not received a payment. DWP’s decision notice states that he is owed a back payment of more than £5,000. He has been let down by Capita and the Department for Work and Pensions as his anguish goes on.

In another case, the application was made in June 2013. The report from Capita was eventually received by DWP on 13 February, but a decision has still not been made. The claimant told me:

“I have no confidence that the process will ever end, there is always one more stage, one more delay.”

That sentiment is felt by many who have lost faith, which is a dreadful stain on the Department for Work and Pensions, where I served as Secretary of State.

The excruciating stress and anxiety is hitting people seriously, including cancer sufferers and ex-servicemen with post traumatic stress disorder. Ministers should be ashamed of the system, which is punitive, nasty and causes abject despair to far too many people.

Kevin Brennan: To emphasise the dilemma facing our constituents, I should say that in a similar case in my constituency a women who suffered a stroke made an application in June 2013, and has just received the benefit. Her husband elected to reduce his hours at work as a result of which they lost the tax credits that they were entitled to, so they went into even deeper problems as a result of the unacceptable delays.

Mr Hain: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am not going to make personal attacks on Ministers because they probably believe they are doing a professional job, but I sometimes wonder whether they have any idea of what is happening on the ground as a result of their policies.

If the Atos debacle taught us anything, it is the importance of getting the decision right in the first place—in my constituency, the local welfare rights unit had an 80% success rate with its appeals against Atos’s decisions—but that should not mean waiting unacceptably long times such as six, seven or eight months for a decision that could dramatically affect somebody’s life and income. Action must be taken immediately to address this inexplicably lengthy and prolonged system that is causing misery and despair for applicants. The turnaround of applications must be drastically accelerated by both the assessment provider and the Department.