Be merciful ... and practical

The matter of the disqualification of John Dixon and Aled Roberts from becoming AMs is of course very embarrassing to them and to the LibDems. There is no excuse for them not knowing the rules.

Yet it does appear to me that there is a clear and obvious way to resolve the difficulty, set out in the very same legislation as they have both fallen foul of. Section 17 (3) of the GoWA 2006 says:

The Assembly may resolve that the disqualification of any person who was, or is alleged to have been, disqualified from being a member on a ground within section 16 (1) or (4) is to be disregarded if it appears to the Assembly –

     (a)  that the ground has been removed, and
     (b)  that it is proper so to resolve

GoWA 2006

I do not see what the point of including this section would be unless the Act envisaged that the rules were complicated enough for people to fall foul of them.

The grounds for disqualification have now been removed by their resignation from the listed organizations, so it is now simply a question of whether the Assembly thinks it proper to allow them to be AMs. My advice is that the Assembly should allow them to.

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We need to be clear that John Dixon and Aled Roberts are entirely at the mercy of the Assembly. But because the matter was clearly an oversight rather than in any way deliberate, I think it is entirely appropriate to show them that mercy.

However to my mind the more important question to ask is what would be achieved by banning them. As they were both returned on the regional lists rather than in constituencies, they would simply be replaced by the two people second on the LibDem lists: Eluned Parrot and Eleanor Burnham. There won't be a re-run of the election, so from a party political perspective there is nothing to be gained; two LibDems will simply be replaced by two other LibDems.

Yet if one of the most frequently heard complaints about the Assembly is the quality of the AMs that are elected to it, then in a practical sense it is surely better that the Assembly has those who the LibDems put at the top of their regional lists for South Wales Central and North Wales, rather than those who the LibDems put second.

Of course I can see the narrow political advantage to be gained from making sure that your political opponents in the Assembly are second rate, but what does this do for the reputation of the Assembly itself? Surely a mature national institution and a confident government should not be afraid of facing the best that one of its opposition parties has to offer, rather than send the signal that they prefer only to face scrutiny from the second best.

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17 comments:

Anonymous said...

That all sounds very reasonable, but surely all this cannot be divorced from the wider context?

We now have a legislative Senedd which will be making laws that affect all aspects of Welsh life. How can we expect the citizens of Wales to accept the validity of these new laws if those passing the laws are seen to be flouting the law from the outset when it comes to two of its own members?

The new Senedd has to be seen to be above reproach in this regard, or there could be a groundswell of individuals deciding to challenge new laws in the courts.

If the election of these two politicians is null and void, doesn't it also follow that the votes cast for the two are also null and void? In that case, it wouldn't be a simple matter of simply promoting the second on the list to take their place. Maybe the only option is to hold another election in the two regions concerned, allow both to stand again if they so wish, and invite the public to decide whether they want to return them to the Senedd.

Cibwr said...

The question you have to ask is what is there to be gained in punishing people by exclusion when the law was created with a mechanism to correct the mistake. Who will be served by excluding them?

Sure I think the law should be revisited and my preference would be to remove the prohibition on standing but include a requirement that if elected they should resign within 28 days of the election. The reason the rule exists is to prevent conflicts of interest by holding both positions. That conflict can only come into effect from the point when a person is elected, not before. It would be more logical to re work it as I suggest.

MH said...

It's not a matter of "flouting the law" because the very same law that disqualifies them also allows the Assembly to disregard that disqualification, Anon. It's a matter of whether the Assembly chooses to do it. If it does, the law will have been upheld, not flouted.

And remember that voters didn't actually vote for these two as individuals, but for the LibDems as a party. Those votes are not null and void, the "return" is void (in this context "return" has the specific meaning of being elected, as in "returning officer").

Whatever else might or might not happen, there will not be another election. If their disqualification is not disregarded, their places will be taken by the second people on the LibDem lists.

MH said...

I agree entirely, Cibwr. I don't think it's reasonable for people to have to give up positions before they can stand for election. It should be quite sufficient for them to do it once they know whether they have been elected or not.

I'm not sure 28 days is necessary. I'd be happy for them to resign those positions before taking the oath. But perhaps some of those positions do require a period of notice before the resignation becomes effective.

Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

Of course, the cynic might just say that they knew the rules all along, but didn't want to resign from the respective bodies in case, as Fib Dems, they failed to be elected.

Surely, their party agents would have enquired whether they were in fact eligible to stand as candidates in the first place?

Perhaps they thought they could simply act first and seek forgiveness later. Section 17(3) of the GWA does seem to suggest they could seek clemency from the Assembly. The section appears to be badly drafted, though. How can the disqualification be disregarded if the election has already been declared void?

If a Section 17(3) motion is passed, I would feel somewhat aggrieved if I was down at 5 or 6 on the Green Party or UKIP list and had resigned my quango sinecure before the election. I might feel even more aggrieved if I was the Lib Dem Number 2. High Court anyone?

MH said...

It might be worth looking into whether anybody has actually given up a prohibited position before standing for election, Emlyn.

The lists do seem to be fairly extensive, and there are overlaps between what's prohibited for AMs, MPs and I'd guess MSPs and MLAs. So I'm pretty sure there must be a few examples.

How ironic it would be if it transpired that resignations had been made immediately after the results of elections had been known, or that predated resignations had been made with the understanding that they would be torn up if the candidate wasn't elected. How much more ironic would it be if they were from parties that are looking to take advantage of this current situation.

rhetoric said...

There is stuff at stake because the ruling party in the Assembly are weighing up carefully who they would rather have in opposition.
Dixon could be a nightmare for Welsh labour so they may push to get Parrott and Burnahm instead.

Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

@Rhetoric

Which is why this whole mess out to be sorted out legally (being both merciful and practical, as MH suggests) rather than politically.

It seems absolutely ridiculous to think that Welsh Labour get to choose who represents the Welsh Liberal Democrats in the Assembly!

If the legal advice is that a Section 17(3) motion would get John and Aled back, Carwyn bach, whip your AMs into line and tell them to pass that motion.

Anonymous said...

I've stood for election and it's blincking complicated. Most candidates have and agent who sorts this kind of thing out.

It's hardly a 'sacking offence'. It's an oversight.

I'm more concerned about the way Labour backed PFI, messed up the NHS and then gerrymandered the schools strategy to avoid amalgamating two English-medium schools in Cardiff, than I am by an obvious cock-up which has no effect on the electorate or the work of the AMs.

Some common sense, please.


Twmffat

Gwilym said...

Labour now have an overall majority of two in the Assembly thanks to an incompetent and devious opposition party (Huhne, Laws, Clegg at the U.K. level and members of the "losers' list here in Wales).

If this mess is sorted out legally, there's a chance of a resolution just before the next Assembly elections. Legal process often takles years.

Cibwr said...

There is a fair amount of hysterics about this, witness Betsan Powys' blog. A fair amount of it comes from those that see no good in the National Assembly (some even seem to be blaming them for the mess) and a fair amount of it is politically motivated. This is a cock up, not a conspiracy, and the common sense solution is to quickly pass a motion setting aside the disqualification and then seek to change the law to remove the disqualification for standing and change it to requiring resignation from bodies where there would be a conflict of interest. This sort of row does no one any favours and turns off the public from politics.

Emlyn Uwch Cych said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lyndon said...

God, what a fuss about nothing, it's making the Assembly a laughing stock. The men have resigned these positions, they should apologise and get reinstated.

This is starting to look like Labour throwing its weight around already.

glynbeddau said...

Personally I believe what you say should be the course the Assembly should take.

The problem is, what would happen if there was a legal challenge on Legislation which was passed bt the Assembly and someone claimed that it was not valid because 2 AMs were not entitled to vote?.

You can bet there are some out there who for publicity or political advantage would do so.

Witness UKIP going to the Police where I believe most of us would have hoped this was dealt in house.

We could have legal minefield and the Assembly could be limbo as Court challenges and appeals go on for months.

I don't want to see these two lose their seats over this but it may be the only option and believe that the Assembly should make sure that it doesn't happen again by making sure that AM's swear in a week after the election and in the meantime they should resign from any position such as Dixon and Roberts had.

This would mean that candidates are only disqualified from holding such offices after they have taking the oath.

I understand that the rush to take the oath is partly due to the fact that they don't start being payed until they do.

MH said...

I agree with a lot of what you've said Glyn. I think the key is to make a distinction between their disqualification and any offence of making a false declaration.

I've just written a new post on it.

Siônnyn said...

What is to stop these two resigning, and for the limp dems to reappoint them to the list - and hey presto they get in?

MH said...

It's not possible, S. If they resign they could only get back in 2016 or in a by-election.

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