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Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare: I wish to ask the Minister some questions. Why was the figure of 25 chosen? Why has that 25 become a division of 14 and 11? I ask the Minister to take seriously the points made by my noble friends Lady Gardner and Lady Young.
I was in Ireland over the weekend. On the lamp-posts, in the streets and in the houses were names and pictures of human beings who wished to represent that country in Europe. I was very struck by that because the European elections have been the first I remember in 30 years where I hardly saw a poster from one end of Britain to the other. Could that possibly be because no one knew who they were voting for? Is it too late for us to acknowledge that the turnout of 23 per cent was not good? Is it too late for him to go back to the Deputy Prime Minister and say that perhaps strategically it is wise to have 25 and perhaps there is a reason for not having 32, but would it not be wise for those 25 all to have to stand in front of the electorate and state that they wish to be elected to the assembly? Is it too late to ask the noble Lord not to stand at the Dispatch Box and say, "Frankly, we have decided. We have not taken any notice of what happened in last Thursday's election. We will go back and we will reconsider. It is possible that we may even have made a mistake"?
Lord Tope: The noble Lord, Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, has once again provoked me to intervene. I was interested in his experiences in Ireland during the recent European elections. I therefore look forward to his support later on today when we move amendments for elections by the single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies, a system identical to that which he has just been praising in Ireland. We look forward to his support later today.
Most of today's debate has been about the shortcomings, or the perceived shortcomings, of the Government's proposals. I have considerable sympathy with much of what has been said about the present system. We will be raising our concerns and our alternative proposals a little later on. However, what I wish to deal with are the amendments before us, which is what I think we should be debating, and the proposals coming from the Conservative Benches. I suppose that I have an interest to declare because the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, and I are the only two
I was elected to Sutton Council to represent the people of my ward on Sutton Council. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, would say the same of his authority. I have not been elected, yet, to the Greater London assembly. There is an important difference. We have seen something of the effect of indirect nomination in Greater London over the past 13 years. For example, we see it on all the joint bodies that have been trying to run London. For a few years I served, for my sins, on the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority which is, as its name suggests, an authority. It comprises representatives of each London borough and the City of London. It does its best to do a good job. In saying this I do not wish to criticise the authority, but it is not the same as having an authority which is able to take a strategic view of London. Every year the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority has a battle over its budget, every year there is a battle over which fire stations to close or which pumps to remove, and every year the borough representatives, absolutely correctly, fight for their borough interests. Of course they do. They were elected to their borough councils, and that is what they are there to do.
There is an important difference between the proposed assembly and any authority in that the assembly will not be an operational body. It will not have powers like that. But if people go there directly from their borough councils--not directly elected by the people, but appointed by their borough councils, as was said when the amendment was moved--appointed by the majority party, in those cases where there is a majority party, they will be there and will be expected to be there fighting for the particular interests of their borough, and even more particularly for the interests of their borough council, which is not necessarily always the same thing.
We strongly believe that the Greater London assembly and the Greater London authority must take a strategic view. We have concerns that the 14 proposed constituencies would inhibit that. I am certain that if we go there simply as representatives nominated by our borough councils, as if we were appointed to any other outside body, as every council does at its annual meeting every year--perhaps this authority is slightly more important than some of the others--it will be very difficult indeed even for the paragons of virtue that will form this assembly to take a strategic view for London overall. While I do not support the Government's proposals, I think that the alternatives suggested in the amendments are the worst possible, and we will oppose them.
Lord Whitty: In replying to the debate, I, like the noble Lord, Lord Tope, would like to address the amendment that is before the Committee. We have so far ranged rather widely in the debate. The proposition of the noble Lord, Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare,
This group of amendments directly confronts the issue of whether the assembly should be appointed or elected. That is a fairly simple question. The wider implications that have been raised may well arise when we discuss the mechanics of election once we have disposed of these amendments. Of course, if we were to carry the amendments, we would never reach that point. I trust that noble Lords will appreciate that what we are proposing with regard to election is not precisely the same as that used for the European elections. I hope noble Lords will understand that on today of all days I do not wish particularly to dwell on the European elections. They were, however, very similar to those successfully conducted in Scotland and Wales.
So far as this group is concerned, what is proposed is that the London borough authorities should take one of their number from each authority and make them into the assembly. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said, the councillors for those boroughs, worthy and effective though they may be, were not elected for that job. They were elected to look after, not the strategic interests of London, but the interests of their electorates in a particular borough.
Moreover, the people of London have clearly pronounced on the principle here. The referendum was pretty clear: are you in favour of the Government's proposal for a Greater London Authority, an elected mayor and a separately elected assembly? I do not think there is any ambiguity there. If your Lordships now wish to overturn the referendum decision and what was in the Act passed by this Parliament, then we are getting into difficult waters. I think it is clear that there is a different role for the assembly. The assembly must concentrate on representing the electorate of London over strategic decisions affecting the whole of London. It is not a delegated body, with representatives delegated to represent the individual boroughs.
We clearly want to differentiate between the parochial--perhaps in the best sense--interests of the boroughs and the strategic planning for transport and other powers that we are investing in the authority. That requires a direct relationship with the people through directly elected assembly members. They do not need to be indirectly nominated by the London boroughs whose members were elected for a different purpose. This principle has already been endorsed by Parliament and the people of London. We should therefore reject these amendments and proceed to perhaps a more interesting although more complex issue--the method of election to the assembly. I hope that the noble Baroness recognises that she is attempting to reverse decisions already taken. That is not profitable in this context and perhaps we should move on.
Lord Whitty: I hope that the noble Baroness does not think I was being discourteous. The point I was making was that this amendment clearly includes the word "nominated." As to the size of the assembly, there is an amendment down later suggesting 40 rather than 33, and this question will come up more logically with the next group. I thought therefore I would not deploy the argument here. I apologise to the noble Baroness if she thought I was being discourteous in not directly replying to her point.
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