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Lord Richard: My Lords, of course we will consider how best to handle the matter. All I was doing a few moments ago was telling the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that it is premature to consider now how we will handle the findings of an inquiry that we have only just set up. Noble Lords opposite shake their heads. I do not know--they may know better than I--what the findings of this inquiry will be. It will no doubt come to a conclusion when it has considered the evidence. When it comes to a conclusion, it will no doubt communicate

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that conclusion to the Government and to the world. It is at that stage that the handling of the findings becomes important.

As to the sensitivity of the process, I emphasise that of course the Government are conscious of the sensitivity of the issue. We are having the inquiry because it is such a sensitive issue. The only sensible and sensitive way to deal with the matter is to set up a tribunal of inquiry in the terms that I have expressed this afternoon. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, thinks that we have made a major error of judgment. I do not.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, when does the Leader of the House envisage that the inquiry will make its report, and when will the report be published? Does he think that it will be before or after the planned conclusion of the peace process, which I believe is at the beginning of May, because it could have an effect on the peace process?

Lord Richard: My Lords, I cannot give any date for the conclusion of this inquiry. It is very much a matter for the chairman and the members of the tribunal. I had better leave it there. It is almost impossible to tell until the process is launched.

Greater London Authority (Referendum) Bil

4.15 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Referendum]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 13, leave out ("question") and insert ("questions").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 12. Amendment No. 1 is a paving amendment. The amendments deal with the question or questions to be asked in the referendum. It is a matter which was considered at some length in previous stages. During earlier exchanges the Government asked whether the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives could come up with a set of questions upon which the two groups agreed. She criticised us, perhaps understandably, for proposing different sets of questions, although they were not far apart.

We have responded to that challenge. We have not done so because we agree on the preferred model for London government but because we believe that there should be a debate on the model--the type of debate that a referendum will engender, not the rather peripheral discussion which will occur if there is just one package/question, where the issue for debate will be the generalised issue of the government of London.

It is no secret that all the parties have different views as to the elements there might be in the government for London. The Government propose a package, and they have been clear about that: an authority consisting of a separately directly elected mayor and an assembly. Most of the Liberal Democrats support an assembly with the

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leader of the assembly taking the mayoral role. Most of the Conservatives support the idea of a directly elected mayor, and an assembly or group comprised of leaders of the London boroughs. There is a range of views in all parties. There was a reference at an earlier stage of the Bill to the leaks about discussions within the Greater London Labour Party and other Labour members in London.

In Committee the Minister talked (col.950) about providing firm leadership, setting strategic direction and getting things done. She ascribed those actions to a mayor, and said that that was what a mayor could do. Those actions could equally well be ascribed to and carried out by an assembly with a leader. As I have said previously, the model for an assembly, a group, a parliament with a strong leader, is that of Mr. Blair. But those activities could also be carried out by a mayor subject to different types of checks than the ones which will be on offer in this package.

The Government believe that the mayor should not have too much power. I agree with that. I believe that no individual in any level of government should have too much power. The recipe of the Liberal Democrats is to write in checks so that an assembly can deal prospectively, not just retrospectively, with proposals and can be effective; in other words, involving a group of elected representatives at the start of every project and every undertaking.

I have referred before to the model of New York, often quoted, where I believe that the mayor has the support of an office of financial officers 350 strong, yet the assembly with the role of scrutinising the mayor's budget has the support of a mere 35 officials, 10 per cent. I give that as just one example of the sort of thing that worries me and noble Lords of my party. That, of course, has been our policy quite consistently.

I am aware that the package on offer from the Government is what was in the manifesto "after a referendum". Those were the words used. So I do not believe that it is of quite the same status as other manifesto items. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, at the last stage said:

    "It is right that the Labour manifesto, which I read often, makes the point that there will be an elected assembly and a separately elected mayor. But it does not make the point that people shall not be able to have one without the other ".--[Official Report, 13/1/98; col. 952]
Nor does it say that there cannot be expressions of opinion about the two elements.

I am sure that the Government do not wish to suggest that the vote in the referendum will be the sort of vote one sees in a totalitarian state, where the people are required to show support for any proposal that comes from the head of state and they have no alternative. So what are we to make of the notion of a referendum, still a very new procedure in the United Kingdom? My noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire at the last stage distinguished between referendums and plebiscites. Plebiscites are what governments do to demonstrate the illusion of consultation but to get their will. Referendums are real consultations with the public. There are different views about what referendums should comprise, what they should be expected to

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achieve. But there is the common element that they should involve a process of education of the public and encouragement to participate, of consultation and involvement; all values which are certainly values of my party, but I believe that they are expressed to be values of new Labour.

The noble Baroness spoke at an earlier stage of not having imposed upon the Government a constitutional settlement other than the package which is on offer; a settlement, as she described the possible outcome, which the Government believed to be fundamentally wrong. Of course not. I do not believe that a referendum can impose--certainly not the referendum that we are talking about in this context; it can guide.

I agree with my noble friends Lord Wallace and Lord Dahrendorf that public debate about what is the real role of plebiscites and referendums would be useful. But even without that debate I am in absolutely no doubt that what Londoners expect is to be asked their views. The propositions are novel: a mayor, a very strong mayor with powers of which we have no experience. They expect to be able to express their views on the novelty.

The notion that this is presented as a package has been greeted with some amazement by a number of people to whom I have spoken who have not followed the detail of the argument in the way that your Lordships will have done. Their common sense approach is, "This is something on which we should be consulted. We should be able to say what we want. But there are two parts to it. We want to express our views on both parts".

I have referred to it being a package which is on offer. I hope I do not sound impertinent in saying that it is intellectually a very respectable argument to say that we propose a package, we do not want to disaggregate that package, we will ask views on that package. What I find less easy to understand is how the Government could proceed if there was a no vote because they will not know what the voters regard as being objectionable.

Our approach is quite different. It is setting out the context of the package, that the Government propose an authority made up of an assembly and a mayor. Then it asks the two questions because, whatever my preferences and those of my noble friends, and I believe those of the Conservative Party, we do not believe that any of those who support the amendment before your Lordships this afternoon would say that politicians should be pre-empting the views of Londoners. The Government may say that if only the mayor were to be approved from a two question referendum it would not wish to proceed with the mayoralty. It is up to the Government, and indeed, up to my party to argue against an authority which comprises only a mayor with insufficient checks and balances. But if, nevertheless, this is the outcome, that there is not support for both elements, then of course the Government will have to think again. I cannot believe that that is an inappropriate outcome because a constitutional settlement which does not have the resounding support of Londoners must have an element of instability.

The Minister referred at the last stage to the referendum not being an oversized research project. Equally, it is not a directive which the Government are

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bound to follow if their proposals do not receive support. She said it is a package with interdependent parts. Yes, then that is what should be argued during the referendum campaign. It is not a matter of offering two alternative choices to the people of London. If there is a preference for one element--the authority--but not for the other, there will have to be further work on how and if that element might operate. But overwhelmingly, I suggest that it is Londoners not Labour who should decide. I beg to move.

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