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Mr. Fitzpatrick: Let me say immediately that I respect the views expressed by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), and do not for a moment question the integrity of the Liberal Democrats.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the racism that is endemic in a minority of the east London community. As I have said, I respect his party's integrity. The hon. Gentleman knows, as I do, that the British National party won a by-election on the Isle of Dogs in 1993, partly because of policies employed by the Liberals in Tower Hamlets. Those policies were condemned not just by the Commission for Racial Equality and by hon. Members on

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both sides of the House, but by the High Court, as being racist in their application to housing. In the climate that was created, the BNP was able to exploit antagonism in impoverished communities in relation to unemployment, housing problems, overcrowding and all the difficulties that the hon. Gentleman and I experience in Southwark and Tower Hamlets.

I commend the Liberal Democrats for taking action. Let me make a belated suggestion. I know that members of the hon. Gentleman's party, including him, wanted disciplinary action to be taken against elements in Tower Hamlets. Friends of mine in the party argued for some time that it had been hijacked, and I do not for a second suggest that the responsibility lies directly with the hon. Gentleman or his party, but there is some culpability. Extremists of the right will try to infiltrate all political parties to pursue their own advantage.

In 1993, the BNP won a by-election on a first-past- the-post basis, gaining nearly 1,600 votes and beating Labour by seven. We employed our resources massively to win back the seat, doubling our vote to 3,000; but the BNP increased its vote to 2,000. I speak as one who represents part of Tower Hamlets and part of Newham--an inner-city east London seat with a multi-cultural population, like those of the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King). My point is that, as it is easy for racists to play the racist card when it comes to poverty, overcrowding and homelessness, we should introduce artificial requirements to ensure that the racists have no platform.

In the GLC elections of 1977, the National Front scored 19 per cent. In that context, a 5 per cent. threshold would be meaningless. I want to engender a multi-cultural London and to promote the diversity and richness that already exists. In a democratic society, there is no place for people who say, "You do not have a right to live. You do not have a right to a job. You do not have a right to live here, in dignity and with respect." We need thresholds of decency. I see this as nothing other than a genuine attempt by those who are concerned for society to make it clear that there is no place in that society for racism. I accept that many views exist about political theology, ideology and philosophy, but there can be no place for those who take a discriminatory or prejudiced approach to people because of the colour of their skin, their race, their sexuality or their religious origin.

Mr. Simon Hughes: I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman is saying, but, so that people do not receive an unhelpful false impression, will he confirm that the 19 per cent. figure that he gave for the 1977 election was not--thank God--the London-wide figure, but was only a local figure? Nothing approaching 10 per cent. has ever been achieved across London.

Mr. Fitzpatrick: I thank the hon. Gentleman for correcting me.

We have seen what can be conjured up. In France, the National Front and Jean-Marie le Pen command a respectable number of votes. Thank goodness for the winning team in the French world cup, which was multi-cultural. Zinedine Zidane scored goals in the final. If anything cheered anti-racists throughout the world, it was the French winning the world cup. I have no

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hesitation in saying that, in a Parliament dominated by English Members. They may not be the greatest lovers of French culture, but, as an expatriate Scot, I do not have the same difficulty.

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow): When we discuss the election of one local councillor, should we not bear in mind that in 1981 Jean-Marie le Pen managed to secure the election of only one local councillor, but 10 years later there were 1,000 in France? It takes only one to provide the electoral credibility that can start the process. That is why it is so important for the Government to provide for a 5 per cent. threshold.

Mr. Fitzpatrick: The bottom line is that fascism is not about democracy, about respect for the 5 per cent. threshold or about respect for humanity or individuals. The BNP and the National Front will put on an electoral facade in order to con people. They will say, "We are looking after white interests." But we know that, as soon as they have been beaten in the ballot boxes, they will take to the streets. They will continue to perpetrate violence against black people, and people who do not agree with them--against political opponents like all of us in the Chamber.

There is no place for racism, extremism or fascism in our society. There is no disagreement about that. That is why Labour Members wholeheartedly support the Government's threshold, which we see as a message or symbol. We have read about the Lawrence inquiry, and we know what is happening in society. We are determined to create dignity and decency, and we must convey that message.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow has said, if we give such people an inch they will take a mile; so we must give them nothing. We must give them no space in which to breathe, or to peddle their propaganda. We must prosecute them whenever possible when they express their views in writing, and we must not give them space in which to operate as a political organisation. We have learnt the lessons of history, from Germany and elsewhere. Such people must not be given a toehold.

I respectfully suggest to Conservative Members that, although a 5 per cent. threshold introduces an artificial obstacle to democracy, democracy itself is too precious for us to give such people the air to breathe. This is a small step towards depriving them of their platform.

Mr. Wilkinson: I admire the moral conviction ofthe hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Mr. Fitzpatrick), but I cannot share his conclusions; rationally, they do not stand up. I wholeheartedly support amendment No. 58 and, on this occasion, we have support from the Liberal Democrats.

As I said at the outset, there is, as Kenneth Starr might have observed, a pattern of behaviour emerging. Clause 3 contains the power for the Secretary of State to dictate the timing of the second and third elections to the Greater London authority. In schedule 1, which we did not debate, the Secretary of State has the power to decide when a boundary commission should examine constituency boundaries. Now, in schedule 2, the Secretary of State will have the power, if the schedule is passed unamended, to decide whether the threshold should be above the natural one, under the d'Hondt formula, of some 3.8 per cent., up to a limit of 5 per cent.

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It is surely for us to decide what the threshold should be during the passage of the legislation. I concur wholeheartedly with the judgment of my hon. Friends that it should be the natural threshold. If the d'Hondt formula has any merit--it has little--it is that it does at least set a natural threshold that eliminates the possibility of, I will not say rogue candidates, but not serious candidates, who have minimal support, being returned to office.

I caution the House against artificially limiting the accession to the assembly, by diktat of the Secretary of State, of representatives of political parties that the Government may not support and the objectives of which they may not share. To do so is fundamentally undemocratic. It is for the electorate to decide who their representatives should be.

If the electorate votes in sufficient quantities normally--that is, without such interference--to secure representation, they should be permitted that representation. If they are not, frustration results and the likelihood is greater, rather than less, that those who are denied representation will pursue anti-democratic, perhaps violent means to achieve their political objectives.

We have seen with the proscription of Sinn Fein and other parties that such proscriptions are unwise. Setting an artificially low threshold will not have the result that the parties on the Government Benches desire.

Mr. Linton: Will the hon. Gentleman explain how it can be fundamentally undemocratic to support a threshold of 5 per cent. if he supports a system that has an implied threshold of at least 30 per cent.?

Mr. Wilkinson: I do not support any artificial threshold. I just happen to feel that the person who secures the most votes in any particular electoral area should be returned, however many people vote for him or for her. As I have said, it is not a matter for such jiggery-pokery.

In my political career, I have seen people putting up supposedly hopeless causes. When I was first elected in Bradford, a representative of the Pakistan People's party stood in the Manningham ward in Bradford, West. It may have seemed totally illogical, but, at that time, to the Pakistanis, it seemed the right thing to do. No doubt Mr. Bhutto was pleased that they had a candidate, but that is beside the point. The lesson to be drawn was that the Pakistanis felt that a PPP candidate would have represented their interests best. Had he been elected, be it by 30 per cent., as the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Linton) suggests could have occurred, I would have accepted that result.

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