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Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh): So clear.

Mr. Davey: Yes, but still the Minister is trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

The Minister may win tonight's vote, but he and his colleagues will not win the vote in the other place and we all need to know what will happen then. Are the Government seriously saying that they will allow the elections not to take place? Without the two orders that we have debated tonight, they will not happen. That would be a matter of great regret, because we support the Government's general proposition that we need to return democracy to the capital city. The Liberal Democrats and the Labour party have argued that case for many years, ever since the Conservatives abolished the Greater London council. We have supported and worked with the Government, so it is a great shame that they are trying to reduce the democratic voice at the last minute.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South): I live in a block of flats in north London and have a vote in the GLA election. About 200 others also live there. I will know the candidates as I am a member of a political party, but how will the other residents know the candidates of the various competing political parties if those parties cannot carry out a mailshot? That is why I am a little worried about there being no mailshots.

Mr. Davey: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention. Perhaps he joined the debate at a late stage--I am not sure, as I did not notice whether he was in his place earlier--but he is very welcome if he backs our case. If he has not realised it, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are arguing for a free post.

Mr. Simon Hughes: As are the hon. Gentleman's colleagues.

Mr. Davey: As my hon. Friend says, so are some Labour Members. Clearly they have another recruit to the cause, and we are glad that the hon. Gentleman sees the logic of our argument for democracy.

Mr. Simon Hughes: We are adding up the balance of supporters. Am I right in thinking that so far we have not

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heard, apart from the Minister's, any speech in favour of the Government's proposition from any part of the House, including the Government's side?

Mr. Davey: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, as always. We wait in anticipation for some Labour Back Benchers to put their heads above the parapet and try to make the case for the Government, because the Minister clearly has not been able to do so.

Part of the Government's argument tonight has been about frivolous candidates--the idea that people will run for the position of mayor, have a free post and waste taxpayers' money. As a Conservative Member said earlier, it is outrageous that the Government are to decide who a frivolous candidate is. That is against all democratic principles in this country. We have seen for many years in parliamentary by-elections, and indeed in general elections, a variety of candidates from the less serious wing of British politics: the Monster Raving Loony party, for example. No one has questioned its right to free post. I have never seen in a Labour party manifesto or speech by a senior Minister a suggestion that free post should be taken away from such parties, and I hope I never shall.

The Minister makes a spurious point, and indeed goes against the whole theory behind this new form of government. The Government used to argue that, with the new position of mayor, non-political people would be encouraged to come into running the capital: that there would be independents. So if the Government wanted a system to encourage independent candidates, why are they trying to prevent them having the chance to put their case? Again, logic is against what the Government are trying to do in the order.

The Minister made a point with respect to third party expenses. We believe that the third party expense limits in article 2 are rather high. That third parties can spend up to £25,000 supporting a candidate for the mayor of London seems to me ridiculous. One might hypothesise that this was put in to enable various institutions--trade unions, for example--to support various candidates, but the Government might want to think again, given the way in which the unions seem to be stacking up behind certain candidates. Not only is it wrong in principle that the limits should be set so high, but it is also foolish in terms of what the Government are trying to do. Again, the Government seem to be incompetent even with regard to their own motivations.

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): Is there not a danger with third party campaigns, particularly from particular pressure groups, that instead of a campaign in favour of a candidate there will be a campaign against candidates--negative campaigning, as the United States has at present?

Mr. Davey: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention. He makes a very powerful point. We could see in the mayoral elections, if those third party expense limits stay as high as they are, a whole series of people running appallingly negative campaigns. And the Government will have permitted that in their rules.

If the Government were so worried about frivolous candidates, why did they not raise the matter in Committee? Why did they not ask Opposition parties to talk to them to find out how we could change the rules to

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ensure that frivolous candidates could not stand? It could be done by raising the deposits, increasing the number of signatures needed for nominations, or tightening up the rules with respect to free post. The Post Office's rules and guidelines are already very tight. They prevent people from abusing free post for commercial purposes or asking for money. If the Government believe that the rules are not tight enough, why do they not ask us to join in reviewing those guidelines to see whether they can be made tighter still? I see the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) nodding in agreement. I am sure that we could arrange to tighten them up. Then the logic of their position--assuming there is any remaining logic--would certainly go.

It is bad enough when the Labour party tries to fix its own internal elections. It is outrageous when it tries to rig public elections.

12.25 am

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): My constituency is far from London, but never have I heard such metropolitan elitism from the Opposition parties. I have heard the unusual combination of a Conservative party pleading for a significant increase in public expenditure at the taxpayer's expense, and a Liberal Democrat party that is prepared to consign its own activists and members outside London to the hard electoral work of delivering leaflets through letter boxes--indeed, to tower blocks. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) seems to have left, but I assure her that it is difficult to get into some tower blocks in the north of England, not just those in east London.

Liberal Democrats have argued tonight that their poor, suffering activists must deliver leaflets in Sheffield or Manchester, but that in London they should all be able to sit on their sofas watching "EastEnders" while Her Majesty's postal workers do their political work for them. I consider that insulting, patronising and unworthy of a party with which, in many respects, my party is prepared to co-operate.

Mr. Simon Hughes: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. MacShane: I would prefer not to.

Assuming there are about 4 million voters in London--[Hon. Members: "Five million."] The number is increasing by the minute. We are being asked to spend more than £1 million per candidate of my constituents' money because we are not confident that our parties are keen enough on their candidates, whoever they may be. Certainly, when the time comes, I will be out there delivering leaflets for my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), without demanding that money be spent. That is how elections are conducted at local level in this country.

The new shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions is one of the richest Members of Parliament. It is extraordinary that he should encourage one of his junior satraps to increase public spending, when tomorrow his leader--the leader of the Conservative party--will be talking about tax promises, and cutting public expenditure. That is the

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hypocrisy that we see tonight, in miniature. There are about 40 million voters in the country. If the same rule is applied to London as is being called for tonight, I assure the metropolitan chattering classes on the Opposition Benches--

Mr. Jenkin rose--

Mr. Simon Hughes rose--

Mr. Greenway rose--

Mr. MacShane: I will not give way. I am trying to finish my speech.

Let me assure those chattering classes that what they hear in the way of London Liberal Democrat and Tory arrogance tonight they will hear from Rotherham, Sheffield, Exeter and Scarborough tomorrow. I see many Members from other areas present. As I have said, there are some 40 million voters in the country. If we apply the London rule that in local government elections there is to be a free post, we are talking about between £5 and £6 million per main party candidate, which means £40 million or £50 million if the same principle is applied throughout the rest of England--I am not talking about Scotland and Wales. That is unacceptable.

I do not want public expenditure to be increased unnecessarily to support unreasonable causes. I will not vote to increase public expenditure in order to satisfy the laziness, inaction and unwillingness of Opposition parties to campaign effectively in the London election.

I ask the Minister to stand firm. I ask my hon. Friends not to vote for an increase in public expenditure and not to set an example that will demoralise party activists in the north of England--the heartlands of England. Every Tory and Liberal Democrat local party will be absolutely scandalised that the slovenly, lazy Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties in London want the taxpayer to pay for their post delivery, when the rest of us believe in British democracy and are prepared to deliver our leaflets so as to promote our policies and beliefs.

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