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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The noble Lord said that in his opinion the comparison with local government is not valid. However, I am sure that the noble Lord will agree that local government provides experience of circumstances in which people may fail to attend. The noble Baroness's amendment proposes that disqualification will occur at the end of the period, as it does in local government. Therefore it is not a matter of judgment. My understanding is that the noble Lord was referring to something not encompassed by the amendment, which provides for the breakpoint--which in the case of local government is automatic disqualification.

Lord Tope: The noble Baroness is one of the people in Committee with whom I would not clash over local government matters, but I am moderately confident that in local government, where prior reason has been given and the council has voted to accept that good reason, an absence may continue. That should, of course, be the case with the Greater London Authority, whatever the period of absence. I do not know whether the amendment provides for that but if not, no doubt that point will be dealt with.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I owe the noble Lord an apology--I was in error. I withdraw my comments.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: I was most grateful for the assistance of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, in clarifying my remarks. The noble Lord said that it would be reasonable to extend the time. We will reconsider the amendment because it might be that we would wish to say that for both the mayor and the assemblyman an absence should be allowed provided the assembly agrees. So disqualification would not be automatic but a person would be unable to extend absences from meetings without anything happening. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Declaration of vacancy in certain cases.]:

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8.30 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 43:

Page 5, line 9, at end insert ("or
(d) if he has been elected as a London member, resigns from or is expelled from his party or the group on whose behalf he was elected, or transfers his allegiance to another party (or none) or group (or none),")

The noble Baroness said: With this, I will speak also to Amendment No. 44. There is a theory or myth that in first-past-the-post elections, one is voting not for the party but the candidate as an individual. I suppose that a lot has to do with the party to which the individual belongs. Under the system to be used in Greater London, almost half the members of the assembly will owe their places to the fact that they were selected by the party that the voter supported. Such members will be in the assembly because of their position on the list, through whatever machinery the party used for that purpose. No elector will have the choice of voting for or against any individual candidate.

As the assemblyman is there purely as a representative of his party, not in a personal capacity, if he crosses the floor of the assembly he will be depriving his party of one representative chosen by its supporters at the ballot box. In the deviousness of politics, a person could rebel and vote against the party whip without officially resigning from his party--but it is for the party machinery and discipline to deal with such behaviour. That is why the amendment includes a provision for a party member to be expelled.

The proposal would not act to the advantage of any particular political party. Over the years, elected members of every party have crossed the floor, especially in local government. I know cases where that has resulted in control of a council passing from one party to another. With an assembly, where a substantial part of its membership has been selected solely because of their party affiliations, such action will deprive electors of the choice of party that they made at the ballot box, which was the sole criterion for their vote.

What if an independent member of the assembly decided to join a particular party as distinct from supporting it in assembly votes? Electors, having chosen a person to exercise personal discretion should not complain if he or she does so. In truth, I do not believe that independent members will be elected that often.

It is unnecessary to introduce a complicated provision to deal with the remote possibility of an independent being elected, then suddenly seeing the light and joining a party. The proposed provision is simple, as can be seen from the brevity of the amendment's wording. It would not be helpful to introduce an extra refinement to deal with a remote pair of possibilities. I beg to move.

Lord Tope: Amendment No. 44 raises the same important issue as the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, but with a slight difference. I shall listen with interest to how the Government have addressed this important issue. As the noble Baroness said, we could maintain what is probably a fiction--that candidates are elected as individuals. We could argue

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about the importance of the party label. Here, we are talking about the 11 London members who will be chosen by a party and elected from a party list. In other words, the electorate will be voting not for the individual but a party. Voters will have the right to believe that the people elected represent that party. That is essentially different from the situation in parliamentary and local authority voting, where candidates are elected as individuals, albeit with a party label. In this case, the party will be elected.

Again, we are talking about a small assembly of 25 persons in total, where one change could make a significant difference. I do not mean a difference to the balance of control because the assembly will not be a local authority in that sense, so control will matter less. Most important of all, the member concerned would be exercising a deceit on the electorate, who voted for a party as distinct from a person. We debated earlier the unlikely event of a mayor ignoring the assembly. A change of representation is a much more likely event. Rightly or wrongly, people do change their party allegiance. If a person who has been elected as a Conservative sees the light and decides that he is really a Liberal Democrat--and such things are not unknown--that would be a deceit and different from Parliament and local authorities.

Our amendment differs in an important respect from that of the noble Baroness, but we may be able to debate that later. Amendment No. 43 applies also to someone being expelled from their party. That worries me a little because it would give a party the ability to get rid of a troublesome member chosen by the electorate. The temptation to do that might be too much for some party managers to resist. Our amendment deliberately does not refer to expulsion but to the decision of the assembly member to belong to a particular party or to no party. It will be his or her choice, under whatever duress. I invite the Official Opposition to reflect on that difference, as we will. But both amendments address an important situation that, sooner or later, will arise.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: Before I heard the noble Lord, Lord Tope, I was going to say that our amendment and Amendment No. 44 were very similar but ours was better because it allowed for more eventualities--such as expulsion. Having listened to the noble Lord, it may be that his amendment is better. I need time to reflect. The Minister should understand that both the noble Lord and I feel that it would be dreadful if someone were elected on a party list, not as an individual, then decided to become a member of another party--although I will not use strong words such as "a deceit on the electorate".

It is different when Members of Parliament cross the Floor. Independent MPs are elected as individuals, and presumably electors allow them to use their judgment. I understand that their judgment now is that the Conservative party is better than the Liberal Democrats. I could not help making that observation after the way that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, explained the change-over of crossing the Floor. I thought that we would even out the argument on that point. However, it

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is a very serious matter if we are to be so involved in a small assembly with just 11 elected members who will be able to criss-cross the Floor in this way.

Lord Whitty: I cannot understand why anyone would leave the Liberal Democrats for the Conservatives or, indeed, vice versa. I am a little torn on this one. After all, I am an old apparatchik and I tend to think that if people leave a party there should be some sanctions. However, on reflection, I think that these proposals are pushing it a bit. There are certain practicalities involved, especially as regards the Liberal Democrats' amendment. In reality, if anyone realises that he will lose his job as an assembly member in such circumstances, he will not resign the party whip; indeed, he will just ignore it. Therefore, it will become a matter of party discipline and it is an issue upon which the party will almost automatically take a view. As I know, partly to my cost, you then get into all sorts of court cases, litigation and in this case presumably employment rights to some extent because we are talking about a paid job.

Therefore, there are real problems involved. But quite apart from the practical problems, there is also an issue of principle. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, is right to say that we are creating a unique body, although it is a relatively small one. Nevertheless, we have had a long-standing convention at all levels that, if people change their allegiance once elected by electorates, they do not automatically have to resign. Of course, there have been one or two honourable exceptions to that in the past 100 years, but not very many, relating to Parliament, local government or indeed the European Parliament. I also believe that that is the case in most other countries. I asked for advice as to whether there was any situation in any country where this applied by law. The general view was no, although someone did indicate that it might apply in North Korea under rather greater sanctions.

It is not long ago that the ballot paper did not give any party affiliation. However, in the past few decades we have put the candidates' affiliation on it. Is that, in essence, any different from saying, "These are the top three Labour candidates", or "These are the top three Conservative candidates", who get on as a result of selection? I do not believe it is that different in principle from us being able to say that a convention which has run for many years in local government, in Westminster and more recently in the European Assembly should apply here.

Once you have elected someone, he will serve his term. He will have been elected under a party label, whether it was by first-past-the-post, by an alternative vote, STV or indeed a list system. In all such cases, simply because someone decides that he is unable to continue to share a party label--and it may well be that the party has changed rather than the person; that does happen--there is no reason why the person should lose the position for which he was voted by the electorate. In any case--and I return to a practical point--the reality is that in those circumstances no one would actually resign the whip. We would be straight into party discipline, and that is a point which the Liberal Democrat Benches

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were trying to avoid. That, of itself, creates many more complex problems than are addressed by this amendment. Therefore, with those words, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

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