Wednesday's 'Gracious Address' informed us that the Coalition Gov't has plans to change the electoral arrangements for the National Assembly for Wales. My understanding (and its no more than that) is that we are considering three changes. At this early stage, I am very much in favour of one, am very much against a second, and am marginally against a third. Let's run through them.
Firstly the possible change that I strongly support - reversal of the ban on 'dual candidacy'. Political parties should be free to choose whoever they want as candidates. Parties should be free to choose the same individual to contest a constituency seat, and be placed in a favourable position on the party's list for an 'additional member' place. The ban was brought in by a Labour Gov't as a blatantly partisan measure. Labour thought it would discomfort the Conservatives. It was shameful 'gerrymandering' - which rather backfired. I suspect there will be support for this change across all parties.
Secondly the possible change I don't support - a ban on individuals serving as an MP and an AM at the same time. Now, this is not to say I approve of such an arrangement. I don't. And I would discourage parties from so arranging. But I just do not think it right that we should be passing laws that unnecessarily restrict the freedom of political parties. If a political party wants to introduce such a rule - that's fine. But if a political party wants to put forward an AM to contest a Westminster seat, or put forward an MP to contest an Assembly seat, we should not be legislating to stop it. In general, I believe the governance of Wales would benefit from representatives moving between institutions and we should not be legislating to make it more difficult.
And thirdly, the change I'm marginally against, but not too fussed - legislating for a 5-year fixed term Assembly. In principle I do not believe we should electing 'parliaments' which cannot be dissolved if circumstances dictate. Westminster (in its wisdom) has legislated for a fixed term Parliament, but there is a mechanism for dissolution - albeit rather complex. And anyway 5 years is a very long time between elections. The 4 year Assembly term seems about right. I suspect international practice points to 4 year rather than 5 year parliaments. And why should there not be an Assembly Election and a General Election on the same date. Its to avoid this situation that such legislation is being considered. So happens, having both elections on the same day would probably help the Conservatives - not that this should influence my thinking. But it does give us an added benefit on top of saving a bit of money.
Now its very early days on all this. There could well be some changes before definite proposals are made. And this post is only me thinking aloud. Considered reflection (assisted by the Chief Whip's armlock!) might have some influence on my opinion. Only joking of course. I'll probably say all this in the next Welsh Grand Committee. Interesting to find out what my colleagues think.