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.

Hain welcomes exciting plan for a direct South West rail link to Heathrow

Heathrow airport have committed to a plan to create a new rail link that would take passengers from Reading directly to Heathrow by rail, a route currently only covered by coach. This will open up Heathrow Airport to passengers from South Wales, something that Mr Hain has been pushing for over a number of years. Heathrow’s status as a hub airport means that access to key business routes will become easier.

Reliable and efficient rail services to Heathrow are the key to reducing air pollution along the M4, M3 and M25 by reducing airport bound traffic. Rail accounts for 40% of passengers travelling to the airport but that should increase to 50% and eventually to 55%. The new link will go ahead regardless of plans for the third runway and it will be delivered by 2021 in partnership with Network Rail.

The new link will most likely tunnel under the M25 with minimal disruption to residents. Running four trains an hour between Reading and Heathrow via Paddington, it will improve journey times by up to 60 minutes.

Big Boost to Local Businesses

The government has announced today that Neath will continue to enjoy the benefits of its Assisted Area status after a substantial review of the program by the government.

In news released from the Minister of State for Business and Enterprise Michael Fallon MP, the businesses in the town will be able to apply for government subsidies at a reduced rate in an effort to balance the national economy.

The final map for Assisted Areas will be confirmed in July, it currently gives AA status to many constituencies within Wales and confirms that they will continue to receive the status until at least 2020.

Neath constituency MP Peter Hain said of the news: “This is very welcome and I hope it will provide much needed assistance to many of our local businesses and entrepreneurs who are doing everything they can to get business in the local area growing.”

“Over the past few months we have seen some amazing progress made by the likes of South Wales Transport as well as the successes of heavy manufacturing which is still at the heart of much of Neath and this part of South Wales.”

“I have been in regular contact with the Chamber of Trade for the town and feel very good about its economic future, there is a long way to go yet but together we are moving in the right direction.”



New DWP Demands Hit the Poor Hardest in Neath

Plans introduced today by the Department for Work and Pensions have been heavily criticised by the former Secretary of State for Wales Peter Hain MP who argues they will affect the poorest in Welsh society and are further evidence on the punitive attitudes of the DWP.

Beginning this morning, individuals who receive Job Seekers Allowance and are considered long-term unemployed will have to register with their local Job Centre Plus on a daily basis if they want to keep receiving their social welfare.

However, the plan has already run into a growing body of criticism from leading charities such as Oxfam who claim that you cannot force people to volunteer and will be boycotting the programme altogether to demonstrate their disapproval.

Mr Hain said: “I find it astonishing that the government have gone through with these proposals, it just demonstrates how far out of touch with the daily conditions of people’s lives and the plight of those who are looking for work.”

“In my Neath constituency, which covers a large area in South Wales, the DWP are forcing some of my constituents to spend over half of their Job Seeker’s Allowance payment on just getting to the job centre in the first place, were you to travel from Glynneath to Neath on the bus everyday for a week it could cost you £37, JSA is normally around £55-£65.”

“Today we learn that the long-term unemployed are going to be forced into voluntary work, for which they will not get paid, and if they do not work, the state will stop giving them the pittance which many rely on. Failure to attend these meetings will result in a sanction, it is a vicious circle with only the poor suffering, how is this still social welfare?”

“This is just another effort by the DWP to save money by harming those who do not have a voice, it is the poorest in society who will suffer the most from this.”

“In places like South Wales and the North of England it still will not make a difference, if all of the jobs are in the South East of England then my constituents cannot be helped, we have already seen this with the failure of Ian Duncan Smith’s Work Programme, the only region to benefit was London, everywhere else it was a failure.”

“The cost of living crisis continues and the government pretend it has not happened and worse that it is not happening on their watch.”


Land Registry

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate and on the eloquence with which she is advancing her case. Is she aware that the proposal has cast a big shadow of uncertainty and job insecurity over the staff of the organisation, some of whom work in my constituency, which is nearby, and that when Tesco recently advertised for staff to open a local store in nearby Briton Ferry, 15 posts attracted 600 applicants? These are communities of very high unemployment, and job insecurity is therefore a big problem in the area.

Mrs James: It is. I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. The Land Registry jobs are quality, well paid and well respected posts, and it is very important that we retain them in a mixed economy and give job opportunities and a way forward to people from all sorts of backgrounds. I am very loth to lose one job, of any type or description, from my constituency when, as he has just pointed out, they are all very important.