Plaid peer claims Tories may drop election change plan

At the time, it was billed as a policy "to avoid a disproportionate impact on smaller political parties". But has the UK government got cold feet over plans to allow candidates for the National Assembly for Wales two bites of the electoral cherry?

Seven months ago, the UK government announced: "To avoid a disproportionate impact on smaller political parties, there will be an end to the prohibition on candidates at assembly elections standing in both a constituency and a region at the same time."

The ban was introduced by the last Labour UK government to avoid a repeat of the 2003 assembly election in Clwyd West, where the top four candidates ended up in Cardiff Bay despite three of them losing the first-past-the-post constituency election.

Welsh Secretary David Jones told MPs: "We will end the prohibition on candidates at assembly elections standing in both a constituency and a region at the same time. The Government believes that, in principle, candidates should not be barred from standing in a constituency and a region, and the current prohibition impacts disproportionally on smaller parties."

But for the last couple of weeks rumours have been circulating at Westminster that the Wales Office is rethinking this policy ahead of the publication shortly of the draft Wales Bill on the assembly's electoral arrangements.

Two MPs have approached me in the hope I could shed light on the rumours, which have also reached the House of Lords. Plaid Cymru's former leader Lord Wigley tweeted last night: "Tories to scrap plans for assembly candidates to fight seats/list 2015. Why? Tory fears Labour will reverse it post 2015. Conservatives expect to lose election?" Plaid Cymru are taking a keen interest in the issue, as lifting the ban could allow Lord Wigley's successor-but-two Leanne Wood to fulfil her promise of standing in her home constituency while using the safety net offered by regional lists.

Over to the Wales Office then, where a political source chooses their words carefully: "We have said we would lift the ban. It is still our intention [my itallics] to do so". The reduction in certainty between those two sentences almost suggests what we hacks refer to as "a non-denial denial". We should find out for sure when that draft Wales Bill is published "later in the year".