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Election 2011, News, Politics

A Fine Mess

UKIP MEP John Bufton may have just done Carwyn Jones a big favour.

He’s complained to the police about Aled Roberts and John Dixon, the two Liberal Democrats who have been disqualified as Assembly members because they were members of quangos answerable to the Assembly at the time of their election.

If the police decide to mount an investigation, it is likely that nothing will be done to either reinstate or replace the two AMs until after the inquiry is over.

Meanwhile, Labour will enjoy a two seat majority in the Senedd.

Whether or not it is a police matter hinges on the fact that the two men actually took the oath of office, took their seats and voted in the election of the deputy presiding officer.

When Sir Alec Douglas Home’s father died and he became the Earl of Home, the Conservative whips at Westminster stopped him taking part in a Commons vote.

They warned him that he would probably end up being fined if he did so. He then left the chamber. When he realised that he had forgotten his glasses, he was prevented from going back to get them, he was no longer an MP.

Oddly enough, there seems to be nothing to stop a disqualified person standing for election in the first place.

The best known example is Tony Benn, who lost his seat at Westminster when he succeeded his father as Viscount Stansgate. Benn fought and won the by-election but was disqualified and the Conservative he had beaten took the seat instead. (His opponent was honourable enough to step down and cause another by-election once Benn had been allowed to renounce his peerage).

So whatever the outcome of the police investigation of what Aled Roberts and John Dixon did once they got to the Senedd, there seems to be little doubt that their election is null and void.

The clearest precedent is the case of Shelagh Roberts, who was disqualified as an MEP after winning London South West in the first European Parliament election in 1979.

She too sat on a quango, the Occupational Pensions Board. She resigned after the election, just as Aled Roberts has now quit the Valuation Tribunal for Wales and John Dixon the Care Council for Wales. Shelagh Roberts still had to fight a by-election to win back her seat.

European elections were first past the post contests back then, the two Lib Dems won regional list seats so there cannot be by-elections to replace them.

There is no precedent but it is very unlikely that the entire Lib Dem lists of candidates in North Wales and South Wales Central will be disqualified. At the moment, the most likely outcome is that the two men will be replaced by the next candidates on the two lists.

That would mean an unexpected return to Cardiff Bay for Eleanor Burnham, who was displaced from top spot on the Lib Dems’ North Wales list by Aled Roberts.

In John Dixon’s case his replacement would be Eluned Parrott, who was the Lib Dems’ Westminster candidate in the Vale of Glamorgan last year. Kirsty Williams could try to console herself with the thought that this fine mess could at least boost the number of women AMs, which slipped back badly at the election.

The former Consul General for Wales, (and former Liberal parliamentary candidate) Winston Roddick QC has stated that the Assembly cannot vote to waive the disqualifications, even though a motion doing just that appeared on the Assembly’s order paper yesterday, only to be withdrawn when it became apparent that it did not have the cross-party support the Lib Dems were hoping for.

Even if other legal minds decide that there is a way for AMs to reinstate the two men, there are fears that it would set a bad precedent.

In future candidates could ignore the rules and remain on quangos until and unless they were elected. They would then demand that the Assembly waives the rules again. Otherwise they could take the Assembly to court on the grounds that it was unfair to treat them differently.

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