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National Assembly Elections

Volume 406: debated on Wednesday 4 June 2003

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What assessment he has made of the level of voter turnout in the last elections for the National Assembly for Wales on 1 May. [116429]

The turnout in the recent Assembly elections was disappointing and the Government and the Electoral Commission are looking at ways of addressing that issue.

The Secretary of State is absolutely right. The actual turnout for the Assembly elections in Wales was extremely disappointing at 38 per cent. If that had been the turnout at a general election, the House would be bewailing the end of representative democracy. Does it not show that the people of Wales do not believe their Assembly is worth anything at all and that their local government and this House are where decisions are made? When will he understand that devolution is not always the answer to the problem?

Presumably, exactly the same logic applies to the borough of Macclesfield, where the turnout was just 30 per cent.—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Gentleman suggest, therefore, that that item of representative democracy should disappear? Of course not.

The hon. Gentleman is a great patriot for Macclesfield—I will not take that from him—and an excellent Member of Parliament but the truth is that turnout in all elections at every level has been falling across the democratic world. It is a great concern and we should all address it seriously.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the reason for the low turnout in the Assembly elections is probably that voters did not believe that the Assembly was relevant to the problems in the communities? If we are to increase the turnout in the next Assembly election, can he advise the leadership of the Assembly to stop wasting money on projects such as the glorified opera house in Cardiff bay, which cost £100 million, and instead spend that money to create jobs in some of the most deprived valley communities?

It is important that we recognise that Cardiff and Wales should be going for world-class excellence in every area. The valley communities that my hon. Friend and I represent are part of that drive to make Wales a world-class nation. In respect of turnout, I do not think that one can draw the conclusion that he has reached. The turnout at the Scottish elections was much lower but the Scottish Parliament has greater powers. The turnout at the last general election was lower than at the previous one. We must address the issue across democratic politics on a non-party basis.