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Mr. Jenkin: Has my hon. Friend noticed how the Government are not shy about putting out their own information? I have no doubt that London voters will be deluged by publicity at public expense to educate the masses about the great new assembly and mayoralty that is being created, but the Government do not want voters to receive information from other parties. There is something deeply unsavoury about that whole aspect.

Mr. Wilkinson: It is not only unsavoury, but dishonest. The Government insisted all through the passage of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 that one of the merits of proportional representation would be to ensure the inclusion of representatives of smaller parties. Smaller parties are important for London, as they represent perhaps different communities and ideologies. If the assembly is to be a working democracy, it is crucial that they should have a chance. Clearly, they will not have a genuine chance if there is no free post.

The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington, with her candour and her charm, let the cat out of the bag. She did not name the feline specimen to whom she was referring, but it is a specimen red in tooth and claw, the hon. Member for Brent, East whom at all costs--but at zero cost to the electors--the governing party wishes to keep from office.

Nevertheless, I suspect that--having fraudulently put a double question in the referendum, then having tried to rig the ballot for the Labour candidacy, and now having sought to do away with the traditional democratic process of a free mailshot to all electors--they will get their come-uppance, which I suspect will be that the Labour candidate will not win the mayoralty on 4 May. That will be wonderful news.

11.16 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill): Rather unusually among the speakers in this debate, I intend to speak to the issue that we are debating. We are not debating the Greater London Authority (Election Expenses) Order 2000--on which it might be possible to hang a discussion of the issue of free mailshots--but the

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Greater London Authority Elections Rules 2000, which are about organisation of the election. If the rules were to be annulled, there would be no London elections at all.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Good.

Mr. Hill: Opposition Members say good. Perhaps the prayer is part of a deep-laid plot to stop the elections.

The Greater London Authority Act 1999, approved by the House at the end of the previous Session, provides for the establishment of a Greater London Authority consisting of mayor and a London assembly. Section 4 and schedule 2 to the Act specify the voting systems for electing the authority, and schedule 3 amends section 36 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, so that rules can be made for the new elections. We are debating those rules today.

Those rules make possible the election of the Greater London Authority--which is a manifesto commitment. I also remind the House that the Greater London Authority was the subject of a London-wide referendum in 1998, which resulted in a clear yes vote from the people of London. The Greater London Authority was also the subject of legislation that was passed by both Houses and that, in November 1999, gained Royal Assent. That legislation specified the date of the election--May 4--in section 3. There can be no doubt that Parliament was clear about the date of the election. Without the election rules, there can be no election.

We have heard today that the Opposition's intention is to annul the rules, if not in this place, then in another place. They are attempting to do so not because there is anything wrong with the rules--which have been consulted upon widely, and are widely precedented--but because of an entirely extraneous issue that is not relevant to the rules at all: the Opposition's desire to have free mailshots. That desire is nothing to do with this order at all, and the Opposition's action is virtually unprecedented in the history of Parliament. It is incredible.

My noble Friend Lord Bassam, the Home Office Minister, made it quite clear in the debate in another place on the Representation of the People Bill why there would be no free mailshots for GLA elections. The GLA elections are local elections, and those do not have mailshots. Moreover, the cost of mailshots would be not only astronomical, but uncontrollable. The fact is that 20 mayoral candidates alone could spend £15 million, and there would be a real risk of abuse by frivolous candidates.

The GLA is a small streamlined authority with a budget of £35 million, and expenditure of £15 million to £20 million on mailshots would be quite disproportionate.

Mr. Brake rose--

Mr. Hill: I dare say that the hon. Gentleman would like to talk about the composite free mailing--an issue beloved of the Liberal Democrats, but not so enthusiastically endorsed by the Conservatives. However, the issue is not so straightforward. There are innumerable technical difficulties, possibly including statutory issues.

The electoral registration officers have made representations to the Home Office, saying that the task of producing a composite free mailing would undermine their independent role in the elections. The Liberal

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Democrats may not like that, but it is the truth. If the electoral registration officers do not organise the composite free mailing, who would be acceptable to the British National party and the Liberal Democrats, who would have to share and agree the delivery process? [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. I am hearing an awful lot of noise from below the Gangway.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon): Yes.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman says yes, but I say no. There should not be any noise.

Mr. Hill: I am grateful for your support, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but they cannot shout me down.

The rules are not even about mailshots. They are about the details of the election. I shall explain some of those details in the hope that Opposition Members will understand that they are technical and uncontroversial.

Mr. Jenkin: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Hill: No, I shall not. There were seven speakers in the 46 minutes of debate before I rose to speak. It is my responsibility to respond with an explanation of the Government's position and, importantly, of the contents of the order.

The people of London would not understand what the Opposition were up to if the election were jeopardised over such an issue. Election rules instruct returning officers on the practical details of setting up the election, running the poll and counting the votes. They do not deal with how much money candidates or parties may spend in advancing their cause. That is covered by the order that will be the subject of our next debate.

Members of Parliament are only too well acquainted with the parliamentary election rules, which govern their entry here. Many of us also have personal experience of the workings of the principal area rules that govern election to large local authorities. The rules before the House, for the new Greater London Authority, are based solidly on the local election rules with which we are all familiar. They vary only in ways made necessary by the different voting system or some other factor special to this election.

The rules are a sizeable document, running to over 100 pages, so I am sure that hon. Members will forgive me if I pause to explain their relatively simple structure. There will be three elected elements to the Greater London Authority: constituency members of the London Assembly; London members of the Assembly; and the mayor. Each is elected according to a different system. Not surprisingly, schedules 1, 2 and 3 of the rules are three freestanding sets of rules for enabling each of those elements of the authority to be elected. Schedule 4 modifies those three sets of rules when all three elections happen at the same time--once every four years when there is an ordinary election of the whole authority. Schedule 5 revises the wording of normal electoral forms for the new election and will not contain any surprises for those used to electoral law.

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However, schedule 6 contains something different. For the first time in a British election, we have rules enabling the votes to be counted electronically instead of by a large staff of people. Schedules 7 and 8 modify the election rules when a GLA election is combined with a local authority election or with a parliamentary election. The latter combination would require amendments to the Representation of the People Regulations 1986, which will be effected by an order under section 405 of the Greater London Authority Act, and which I shall lay before the House shortly.

Mr. Edward Davey: What do the Government intend to do when the other place votes these statutory instruments down?

Mr. Hill: It would be an act of the grossest irresponsibility for an unelected Chamber to seek to dictate electoral practice to the elected House and we would resist it.

Mr. Simon Hughes: Answer the question.

Mr. Hill: I have answered the question.


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