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Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 3, line 20, at end insert--
(“(d) for or in connection with enabling electors to vote in the poll at such polling stations or other places as may be prescribed, at such times as may be prescribed, on such one or more days preceding the date specified in or provided under subsection (1) above for the poll as may be specified in the order.
( ) The provision that may be made by an order under paragraph (d) of subsection (4) above includes provision for such enactments or statutory instruments as may be specified in the order to have effect with such modifications as may be so specified.
( ) In this section “prescribed" means specified in, or determined in accordance with, an order under this section.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 9 gives the Secretary of State an enabling power to introduce a system of early voting at the first GLA elections next year. This is a new concept. By “early voting" we mean the option for voters to vote in person at a polling station on a day before polling day itself. Putting this in the Bill does not mean that we have made a final decision on whether or not to proceed with early voting for the first GLA elections. We want first to discuss the details with the London boroughs, the Common Council, electoral practitioners and the main political parties. If a suitable system can be developed in time this amendment would give us the power to implement it, and I commend it to the House.

The introduction of such a system was recommended by the official Working Party on Electoral Procedures under the chairmanship of George Howarth, which included

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representatives of all political parties, in its interim report of January 1998. Such a procedure could ensure a higher turnout of voters for the London elections and it is one for which we should provide the power. Whether we can do so will depend on the conditions to which I have alluded. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am thoroughly opposed to introducing an innovation like this at this stage of the Bill. It is something which requires debate and a great deal of consideration. We need to consider what the consequences might be and whether those are desirable. To do it “on the nod" on a Government amendment in the spill-over period at Report stage is, to my mind, totally unsatisfactory.

The Minister has given no justification for this amendment except for a reference to a report which, as far as I know, is not before the House. I do not see it on the table at the moment. I consider this to be entirely unsatisfactory and I do not believe, unless I am contradicted and comforted by my own Front Bench, that we should pass this amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for a meeting we had last week and for a preliminary discussion of this particular subject, since which time I have had the opportunity to test the views of those from another place to a limited degree. I am happy to say that, in principle, they think that anything that would make the voting process easier for the public is to be commended. Therefore, despite the doubts of my noble friend Lord Lucas about the method by which this amendment is being introduced at this late stage--and we have already had sufficient debate on that matter this afternoon--the principle is not objectionable.

The only comment that was made to me was that one might perhaps need to think carefully about how this would be done. If one were to have a polling station open on a Sunday, that might offend Christians. Similarly, I am told that doing so on a Saturday might perhaps offend Jews and that having a polling station open on Fridays might offend Moslems. However, as we have permitted shopping and everything else to take place on these days, it seems to me that that is not an argument. Providing that such polling stations were not open on a particular day but were available for a number of days, I believe that that specific objection would be overcome.

I am happy to support the amendment. It will be very interesting to see how it works and whether Londoners--if they are given the chance--will avail themselves of the opportunity and to what extent they do so.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, perhaps I should preface my remarks by declaring a potential interest in these matters as someone who has been selected as a prospective Greater London assembly candidate.

I, too, welcome the amendment. I know that some discussion has taken place within local government about this possibility during the past few weeks. I believe that there is quite widespread support for this as an innovation. There are many advantages to this proposal. We must recognise that working patterns have changed quite dramatically in recent years. Many people now leave their homes during the early hours of the morning, especially

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those who live in the outer suburbs of London. They do not have the opportunity to vote, or it may not be convenient for them to do so on the particular days set for elections. Moreover, they may not realise this in time to apply for an absent voting arrangement. Therefore, this kind of flexibility would enable people to respond accordingly.

Part of the process that we are discussing must involve separate polling stations being available for a number of days. My own view is that we will not see an enormous uptake of this opportunity at the elections. However, it is an additional facility that ought to be offered to the public and one which should be monitored carefully during the elections. I am sure that it will be of general value in future elections. It is a welcome innovation and I am certainly not disappointed to see it put forward at this stage; indeed, I would have been very unhappy not to have seen it brought forward because it seems to me to be an innovation which is widely accepted.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I do not object to the amendment but I hope that those who consider it will do so rather carefully. There are some quite serious technical difficulties involved. We keep quoting examples from the United States, but I shall do so now in a totally different way. Because the USA is a big country, voting commences either three or four hours earlier in one area than another and, equally, polling stops earlier. As a result, the authorities have had to adopt some very careful rules to ensure that the people who vote late are not influenced by the exit polls or the results of voting in, say, New York or Washington--or, indeed, along the east coast of America in general.

We could have people voting on Sunday; indeed, I do not know why we do not all vote on Sunday. An awful lot of people vote on Sundays and it is a day when most people are not working. If, for example, some people voted on a Sunday and others voted on the subsequent Thursday, exit polls taken from people coming out of the polling stations on Sunday might very well influence the way people voted on the Thursday. People like to be on the winning side and that is one of the things that happen in elections. That is just one of a number of obvious technical problems. A slightly more frivolous one is that I hope that the fact that people are able to vote early will not mean that they will be permitted to vote often.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am grateful for the support expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and by my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey. It should be clear that a lot of further, detailed work will be required with the London boroughs and with the election officers before we could put this process into practice. However, it would be remiss of the House not to allow this possibility for the GLA elections.

As regards the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, I should point out that it is a different situation when the whole electorate has voted early in one part of the country, with an exit poll being taken, and where a few people have voted on a quite unrepresentative basis at an early date. We manage to keep the results of the European elections (where people vote on different days) secret until they are all announced on the Sunday. Therefore, I see no reason why we should not do so for these elections. I commend the amendment to the House.

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On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 4 [Voting at ordinary elections]:

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 10:

Page 4, line 13, leave out subsection (10) and insert--
(“(10) At an ordinary election a person may not be both a candidate to be an Assembly member and a candidate for Mayor or Deputy Mayor.")

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 12. Both amendments cover an identical point which occurs in different parts of the Bill. They would prohibit a person from simultaneously being a candidate for both the office of mayor and for a place in the assembly.

When I raised this matter in Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, who responded for the Government, pointed out in an endeavour to be helpful--for which I thank her--that under Clause 4(7):

    “The persons who are to be returned as--

    (a) the Mayor, and

    (b) the constituency members,

    must be determined before it is determined who are to be returned as the London members"--

in other words, if the person who is elected mayor was also high up on his party's list for being a London member, he is eliminated from the list.

I can understand a party wanting to place a mayoral candidate in a favoured position so that it can get him on the assembly if he fails to get elected as mayor, but why should he be allowed to have this safety net? Is it a qualification for a seat in the assembly that the electors did not think that you were fit to be the mayor? If you are not fit to be mayor, how are you qualified to exercise the supervisory and advisory functions of an assembly member?

The so-called “London members" are being elected by proportional representation off party lists. As an intrinsic part of that system, it is only those at the top of the list and who are not ineligible for some reason or other who get elected. As drawn, the Bill allows someone to stand simultaneously for mayor and also for a place in the assembly. I ask again: why should this be permitted? Why should someone be allowed to ride two horses at the same time?

A parliamentary candidate is not allowed to stand for two constituencies simultaneously, so why should the candidate for mayor be allowed to hedge his bets in this way? Is it not demeaning to the office of assembly members that a person standing for the office of mayor should say, in effect, “Well, if I'm good enough, elect me as mayor, but if I am not good enough for that, why not let me settle for second best"?

Although the Government accept that a person has to be eliminated from the contest for election as a London member if he is elected the mayor, there is still the anomaly of the person standing for and being elected simultaneously as a constituency member and the mayor. This would give rise to the need for an immediate by-election. Is that not the height of folly?

The Government have already legislated in Clause 10(10) against a candidate running in a by-election for a vacancy as a constituency assembly member if he is already a member of

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the assembly or the mayor. The Government have already legislated in Clause 16(10) against a person simultaneously standing in by-elections to fill casual vacancies for mayor and the assembly. Why then do the Government turn their face against a person running for both offices in by-elections but insist on permitting it in an ordinary general election?

The noble Baroness did not deal with those points on the last occasion that the issue was before your Lordships. I do not believe that any logical reason can be given for the Government insisting on this anomalous position and I have brought back the matter for your Lordships' further consideration. I beg to move.

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