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7.45 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: The Chamber appears to have emptied, but I suspect that that has more to do with the state of Members' stomachs than their interest in this part of the Bill. I hope that that is the case. In speaking to the amendment, I speak also to the amendments grouped with it.

In tabling the amendments I was hoping to tempt the Minister into giving assurances as to the criteria which the Government are considering with regard to the

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electoral systems in respect of members of the assembly and the mayor. If at this stage we can obtain suitable assurances we might be satisfied; if not, we might seek other devices to raise the subject.

My party is identified with concern--in the case of some people, with passionate concern--with voting systems. Like my noble friend, I do not aspire to that, but I am glad that others can get their computers working on STV elections. I asked those in my party who had been examining the issue how the electoral outcomes might be affected by different types of systems. I was told, "We do not know. There are too many variables, unless you want us to go away and come up with a very long report about the numbers in each constituency used in different types of systems". I did not ask for that work to be done. Therefore, in supporting the amendments, I have no idea whether there would be any electoral benefit to one party or another. I hope not. I hope that in examining the issues we can concentrate on what the voters wish to see. I support proportional systems because I believe that they enable as many people as possible to feel that they have voted to be represented by somebody who is elected. Even if that vote has not come as number one, coming high on the list gives you some sense of ownership and a feeling of pride, which is desirable. Furthermore, a fully proportional system allows one to put at the bottom of the list one's least favourite candidate. There is a good deal to be said for allowing the voters to express views against candidates as well as for them. My noble friend referred to the issue of size. Size is related to the workload of the new authority. The make-up of the constituencies must also reflect the strategic nature of the authority. Unlike noble Lords on the Conservative Benches, we wish to get away from a narrow borough outlook.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: Where are those on the Conservative Benches?

Baroness Hayman: It is the Conservative Bench! The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, tempted us to debate the merits of various electoral systems. Perhaps she will understand if at this stage of the Committee's deliberations I resist that temptation and confine myself to the import of the amendments that are before us. They offer a completely different perception of how the Local Government Commission would proceed in its report on electoral arrangements for the authority. The Government cannot accept the case made out in the amendments.

The White Paper will set out a clear policy framework for electoral arrangements for the new authority. Rightly, the Local Government Commission will be asked to provide expert and independent advice on the technical framework that would be necessary to put that policy into practice should it be approved by Parliament in a main Bill. We believe that the commission should not be asked to make recommendations on what are essentially policy questions. The White Paper will set

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out in precise terms the policy framework to be followed on electoral matters. That will then form the package of proposals on which the people of London will vote.

The Bill as it stands confers new functions on the Local Government Commission, requiring it, at the direction of the Secretary of State, to prepare a report recommending the electoral areas into which Greater London should be divided for the purpose of electing members to any assembly established following the referendum, the number of members which should be elected for each elected area and the name by which each area should be known. The Bill requires that any direction made by the Secretary of State must specify the total number of elected areas into which Greater London should be divided for elections to the new assembly and the total number of members for which the commission's recommendations should provide.

The amendments to Clause 7 would give the commission a much broader role--that was acknowledged in the arguments put forward--with a free rein to make recommendations after consultation with many other interested bodies on electoral systems including the election, the system for the election of the mayor, electoral areas and the number of members to be elected.

The Government cannot accept these amendments. They devolve important questions of policy to the commission, asking it to consider issues which are far beyond its remit. The commission is an independent body which advises on boundary issues. There is no case for asking the Local Government Commission--this is quite unlike issues relating to future electoral systems--to make recommendations about how the mayor or the members of the assembly should be elected.

The Government have stated their intention to publish a White Paper which will set out detailed proposals relating to electoral systems. The tenor of the earlier debate was that there should be clarity and that the people of London would understand what they were voting for in the referendum. It would be rather at odds to have what in effect would be a half-baked White Paper because it would be impossible to write a clear and comprehensive White Paper if the commission were given the task of making recommendations on all aspects of electoral arrangements. It could not pre-empt the commission's deliberations. In that case the people of London would be forced to vote in a referendum without having a clear idea about how the mayor and assembly are to be elected. That cannot be good for clarity or democratic choice.

The procedures set out in Clauses 7 to 10 governing the role of the Local Government Commission are well precedented. They take as their model Part II of the Local Government Act 1992 which makes provision for the structural review of English local government and for periodic electoral reviews of counties and districts.

The Government are now spending considerable time and effort analysing consultation responses to our Green Paper New Leadership for London. That asks seven separate questions about electoral systems. Quite properly, we shall set out in the White Paper our proposals after looking at the results of that consultation as to how

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the mayor and assembly should be elected. That will be one piece of the jigsaw which adds up to people's decisions about how they vote in the referendum.

If there is an affirmative vote in the referendum, the commission will be asked to provide technical advice as regards electoral areas. The Secretary of State will issue a direction to the commission based on the policy set out in the White Paper which will give the commission a clear framework within which to operate. We believe that there cannot be a justification for extending the commission's role into questions of policy. It would greatly muddy the waters for voters in the referendum and would take away from government responsibility for policy and for that policy to be based on the results of the consultation. I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Ludford: The Minister feared that the Government would lose the ability to implement their policies. But I ask her to comment on the fact that reserve powers remain in Clause 9. Where a report is submitted to the Secretary of State, he may then, if he thinks fit, direct the commission to produce a supplementary report. Will the Minister explain why that is not considered a sufficient guarantee that the Government will be able to implement, if necessary, their key policies? I ask the Government to reflect further on whether the form of the drafting is too specific and whether they will consider introducing some flexibility into the arrangements.

Baroness Hayman: Before the noble Baroness withdraws the amendment, perhaps I may answer the specific point she raised. If the amendment were accepted, it is right that the Secretary of State would still be able to direct the commission to review the recommendations in respect of electoral areas, numbers of members for each area, and the name by which each area should be known. But he would not be able to ask the commission to review the other recommendations. We do not believe that it would be satisfactory if the commission were to recommend an electoral system completely at odds with the Government's position. That takes us back to the nub of the reason for the Government's opposition to the amendments; namely, that we believe that they put policy decisions before a body which is properly there to advise on technicalities but not to set a policy framework.

Baroness Ludford: Perhaps the Minister will reflect further in relation to flexibility in the directions which they give. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment. Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Skelmersdale): Before I call Amendment No. 23, I must inform the Committee that on Division No. 3, the correct figure for the Not-Contents was 140 and not 141 as stated previously. [Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 not moved.]

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Lord Bowness moved Amendment No. 25:

Page 3, line 24, leave out ("such electoral area") and insert ("London Borough").

The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 26 and 28. Many of the arguments that I deployed in support of an assembly of borough leaders could be deployed in support of this amendment. But Members of the Committee will no doubt be gratified to know that I do not propose to deploy them at length. However, with as much force as I can muster, I suggest that an assembly should consist of representatives of areas or of London boroughs themselves. To suggest that the electoral areas should be other than a part of a London borough, or a London borough, seems to show what I can only describe as an astonishing lack of understanding of the nature of Greater London.

It goes back to the idea that London is somehow, as I described earlier, an homogenous unit where everybody believes the same, has the same interests and there is no identity of the constituent parts. I have spoken of the history and development of the towns and cities which make up the capital. It seems to me that by suggesting that the division should be other than borough based--an assembly of representatives which sought to blur those identities--denying the representatives a representative role as well as a responsibility for the area of the capital as a whole, would be a recipe for considerable conflict, lack of accountability and ultimate disenchantment and frustration on the part of the people in the individual towns and cities within the capital area. In short, I believe that it would be an unmitigated disaster.

Of course, those towns and cities have the common problems and interests of which I spoke earlier. But they also have their own identity and community. Let us not forget that the Local Government Commission has been involved in not inconsiderable controversy in other parts of the country in creating authorities where the population considered it had no affinity, one part with the other. To replace the boroughs of London with some artificially created electoral unit would be madness.

We know that in the past there has been great difficulty in creating constituencies for the European Parliament which have anything like the community of interest for which we search when creating parliamentary constituencies and, indeed, even local government wards. The London boroughs are communities. Some, like Kingston, are of enormous antiquity and of long and historic standing. Others are of more recent creation; nevertheless, they are communities which have been built by hard work and common interest.

If members of the assembly do not have an allegiance to their borough as well as to Greater London as a whole, the assembly will not be in touch with the citizens. There is nothing unusual about having a dual responsibility and interest. Local councillors have a borough or county-wide responsibility and a responsibility and interest for their own particular wards. It is never suggested that those ward interests may prevent them from taking a borough-wide view, although in particular instances they may fight that ward interest. The same is true of Members of Parliament and their constituency interests and their interests for the

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country. Members of the European Parliament have perhaps an even greater range of interests in terms of constituency in the UK and European interests.

We would be making the most enormous mistake if we divided Greater London into what I have described as artificially created electoral units. It is for that reason that I ask Members of the Committee and the Minister to consider and accept the fact that there is no real practical alternative but to base the electoral areas on the boroughs or parts thereof. I beg to move.

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