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Mr. Forth: That is a matter for them.

I must reinforce an argument that emerged during an earlier brief exchange with the hon. Gentleman and I hope that we will not forget or lose sight of this rather worrisome aspect. I hope that the Minister will take up this point and tell us if we have it wrong or if there is something that we should know that is not obvious from reading the Bill.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey advocates individual candidates and I am sure that most hon. Members want some to come through the process and take their place in the assembly, as I do. Clause 11 concerns the filling of vacancies and states that if the office of a London member becomes vacant,


which seems totally unsatisfactory from almost every point of view. I hope that I can be reassured that I am wrong and that the Minister will tell me that vacancies will not remain unfilled. If they do, people will be unrepresented and the assembly will miss the opportunity to reflect possible changes in political opinion.

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The Bill then goes on to state that, where there is a list, if someone resigns or dies the next person on the list will move up. I suppose that we must accept that as an almost inevitable result of the list approach. However, it gives rise to an interesting question, which has always fascinated me and to which even the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey did not seem to have an answer.

This possibility should not be dismissed as totally unlikely. If we have a party list, the top five candidates are elected and a series of mishaps or resignations--even a mass resignation--follows, there may well come a time when no one is left on the list to fill successive vacancies during the term of the assembly. We would then be in the peculiar and anomalous position of having a series of unfilled vacancies.

To reduce the argument to absurdity, and its logical conclusion, one might find that there were an increasing number of unfilled vacancies in the assembly. To the extent to which that is at least a possibility, I hope that the Minister will find some way to reassure us that he has some magical solution. Reading clause 11 of the Bill, one is driven to the conclusion that it is a possibility and it is not reassuring for the people of London, who are being dragged into this experiment by the Government when only 70 per cent. of one third of them turned out to support it--underwhelming support indeed.

There is still a lot of work to be done. I hope that it goes without saying that I support the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk. We need much more explanation from the Government before Conservatives will be even half convinced that this is any sort of way to go ahead with this new approach to the governance of Greater London.

9.30 pm

Mr. McNulty: I hope that the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) will forgive me if I do not dwell on her amendments, not least because, as she said, they are fairly meaningless because of the way in which they have been bunched. They would leave us with 14 directly elected members in an assembly of 14; it may be more than that. I am sure that the way that they are bunched does not reflect what was intended.

I shall not ask to be forgiven for saying that I shall ignore the sad ramblings of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). They were irrelevant, so there is nothing to respond to.

I shall concentrate on what I would call, without reservation and without intending to offend, the dogmatic self-interest wrapped in treacle of the Liberal Democrats. They did not say what the assembly is for, what it is trying to do, what its strategic functions are, and then ask what would be the most appropriate electoral system. Instead, we heard the usual rant about how single transferable vote is as pure as the driven snow and how we must try to fit everything else around it. That is a woeful disservice to London.

If STV does not work, we are offered a menu which says, "If you don't like that, what about AV plus? If you don't like that, how about this?" Everything on this stinky little menu is unpalatable and unworthy. We are talking

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about something as fundamental and important in London's development as the establishment of the Greater London assembly while the Liberal Democrats hold another seminar on their buddhist mantra of electoral reform. Given what London needs, there is no justification for that.

The Liberal Democrats are not alone. The Electoral Reform Society's little ditty runs in similar vain. It says that STV is wonderful because


It has not anywhere where it has been implemented. The pure STV system does not work anywhere.

Mr. Simon Hughes: What about Ireland?

Mr. McNulty: I shall come back to Ireland in a moment.

The ERS states that STV would


That is facile and says nothing. I got 32,000 personal votes; I dare anyone to say that I got less. I know that they were not; others do not. That means nothing. The ERS says:


    "STV would produce a broadly proportional Assembly without the need for two categories of Assembly Member."

That is not proven, not least because of the Irish context.

This may sound daft but I fully support STV in the Irish Republic because it is appropriate to its body politic. Outside Dublin, Ireland is a disparate, rural land. The quota for seats is no more than 7,500. Within the multi-member seats, there is county bias at each end of a constituency. That is appropriate because it means that a sparse rural community will be served well in the Dail by its Teachta Dala.

It is the same in Dublin because despite its spread, it is a morass of little villages and communities that is served by STV in a way that, in an Irish context, first past the post would not. However, STV is not, in an Irish context, proportional. As the Irish electorate becomes more and more volatile, they get TDs who do not have the quota and get in because they just managed to survive in last place. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) told the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst--I suppose that I have to say that--that 25 or 26 per cent. can be sufficient to get a candidate elected in a diverse first-past-the-post constituency. That happens but it happens with increasing regularity in the pure STV system that he is so fond of in the Irish Republic. More and more often, in every constituency johnny-last-in gets elected, with no quota at all, but--this might sound familiar--as the repository of every protest vote scraped up so that he can stay in. That brings us back to Liberal self-interest, which is what the amendment is all about.

During the previous debate, the point was well made that it is incumbent on us to ensure that the Greater London assembly reflects the inclusivity of London's rich and varied society. That will not, as if by magic, happen if we use STV, AV-plus or any other proportional system; nor will it happen if we utilise the system set out in the Bill. It happens--here comes the standard Liberal cop-out--where political parties have the will to make sure that it happens. It is incumbent on all the parties in

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London to ensure that their candidates for both the 14 directly elected seats and the 11 list seats reflect the gender balance and the rich cultural diversity of London.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey suggested that using STV will ensure that a trade unionist will be elected here, a woman there and a black or Asian candidate somewhere else. That is facile and abject nonsense that simply hides the self-interest that is always nakedly present beneath the Liberal Democrats piety, as they deliver the latest sermon on STV from the pulpit. It is complete nonsense.

Electoral systems have to be horses for courses. If the additional member system or the hybrid version is appropriate for the London assembly, the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly, that is fine by us, because we start by asking, "What are those bodies for?" and then ask, "What electoral system will best reflect those functions and serve the community?" We do not aim for the purity of the Liberal Democrats' approach.

I am polite, so I tried not to snigger when the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey suggested that AV-plus has new legitimacy because of the Jenkins commission report. I have to say, with the best will in the world, that AV-plus, to paraphrase one of the hon. Gentleman's ex-colleagues, will probably be strangled at birth, because of Jenkins; it will die before it ever rears its ugly head because of Jenkins. Despite the report's sweet, literary style, probably resulting from its having been written in a haze of claret, the Jenkins commission got it wrong.

I am not a first-past-the-post Luddite, either in a London context or more broadly; nor am I an STV or PR evangelist. Show me what the architecture of government is about and what it is supposed to represent, then tell me how the electoral system best enables the community to get what it needs from that architecture. You have not done that--sorry, Mr. Martin: the Liberal Democrats have not done that. The Conservatives certainly have not done it either, but we shall put that down to the selection of amendments. We could probably have had a more interesting debate on their amendments--they would still have been wrong, but we could have gone into greater detail had the Conservatives managed to table their amendments in proper order.

The Liberal Democrats have not started with the 14-11 split of the constituencies as they stand in the Bill, nor by telling us how that is wrong within the context of what is sought from the assembly, but that is the question they have to answer. We do not want boy scout stuff about PR from the Liberal Democrats, nor Luddite stuff about first past the post from the Conservatives. They have not told us how the two aspects--the architecture and the electoral system--marry together.

This is not a little debating chamber where someone can get good marks and go to the top of the class--that is the Liberal conference, which is held only once a year. The issues at stake are real: after the elections, the Greater London authority will have a real impact on the people of London, whom we all purport to represent, so mess with it at your peril. We do not want the GLA to suffer because the high priests of PR or the Luddites want to play games.

What is in the Bill is right and we must stick with it. I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) to close the door completely and not to entertain any alternative electoral system. This is London's reality and we should get on with it.

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