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Lord Tope: My Lords, I listened with interest to the noble Baroness. She moved her amendment solely in terms of the mayor and whether the mayor should be able to be a candidate for the assembly--and I have some sympathy with her arguments. I have also some sympathy with the smaller parties--the Greens, for instance--which may well recognise that their candidate is not likely to be elected as mayor, but wish to have their best person standing for that role and to be a member of the assembly, which is a little more likely.

The amendment refers also to the deputy mayor. As we discussed earlier, we differ on that matter. We certainly would not support the amendment--for reasons we have rehearsed many times; I shall not do so again. We believe strongly that the deputy mayor should be able not only to stand for the assembly, but should also be a member of it.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, given that the noble Baroness did not pursue her earlier amendment, if this amendment were to be agreed, the provisions would be somewhat flawed. The question of fitness for these offices is a matter for the political parties putting forward candidates and for the electorate who will judge them. It is clear that the mayor cannot occupy both offices at once, but there is absolutely no reason why, in the first instance, the electorate should not be asked to decide about someone who is a candidate for mayor and who also appears on the party list. In the possible event of a candidate being elected to both offices, there would have to be a by-election. That is a relatively small price to pay for allowing the parties and the electorate the freedom to choose whoever they wish. I am not convinced by the noble Baroness.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, are correct. It would have been very different if the Minister on behalf of the Government had accepted my earlier amendments concerning the deputy mayor. I had such confidence that he would accept the amendments that I did not think it was necessary to table an amendment to this provision. In view of that, I shall not seek to press the amendment. I hope that the Government will reconsider the position in order that we may bring it back at Third Reading, if necessary, with the deputy mayor omitted.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.15 p.m.

Schedule 2 [Voting at elections]:

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 11:

12 Oct 1999 : Column 240

Page 207, line 27, at end insert (“no later than 55 days prior to the date set for the ordinary election")

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 11, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 13.

The Registration of Political Parties Act 1998 was passed to set up proportional representation by the party list method. Amendment No. 13 is a technical amendment which is partly dependent on Amendment No. 11 being agreed. It also tidies up the 1998 Act by setting a time-limit on the registration of political parties for Greater London election purposes.

The main amendment requires a party to submit its list of candidates no later than 55 days before the date of the election. That is more or less the equivalent of two months or 11 five-day working weeks. A 55-day deadline will serve to discourage last-minute entries by single-issue pressure groups. I remind your Lordships that as long ago as 17th May 1995 there was a debate on single-issue pressure groups when it was generally agreed that such groups often exercise an undue and undemocratic influence on governments. They are the inevitable consequence of proportional representation. However, we are not here to debate the merits--or lack of them--of voting systems.

The question is: whose convenience is to be considered? The registrar's duties are purely administrative. I venture to suggest that no more than a few hours' work is required to check the validity of each application. Any political party worth its salt will have its list ready well in advance of the 55-day deadline.

The public interest is paramount and needs to be considered. Bearing in mind that this election will be always on a fixed date, the public and the media are entitled to be given as much notice as possible of who the candidates are as that will enable them to make a thorough check of the candidates' antecedents and capabilities.

I was very surprised when the Government refused my amendment at an earlier stage. Despite studying the Government's reply, I cannot understand their reasons. The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, said that the time-table imposed by the amendment would give the registrar,

    “effectively three weeks in which to register a late-arriving application".

However, under the Bill as it presently stands, there is no time-limit except the physical one of what it is possible for the registrar reasonably to do. According to the noble Baroness, the registrar's aim,

    “is to decide straightforward applications within five days".--[Official Report, 14/6/99; col. 75.]

A possible five days; what sort of notice is that? To paraphrase Dr Johnson, if a party knows it will be excluded in two months, that will concentrate its mind wonderfully!

The next ground on which the Government opposed a time-limit was that one had not been imposed in any other election. The whole concept of PR and party lists is new to Britain. We are not talking about upsetting a long-standing, tried and tested system. Our concern--I am sure it is the concern of everyone in the House today--is London, a part of the United Kingdom which has a greater population than Wales and Scotland combined. What may suit two comparatively small electoral units may not suit London.

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Equally, what is suitable for a national election for the European Parliament may not be suitable for local elections in the largest capital city in Europe. Are the Government telling us that the administrative arrangements for this novel form of election are the acme of perfection and need no adjustment or modification?

If the Government again ask your Lordships to reject this very modest, constructive and non-controversial slight modification to the rules, we should have a more explicit reason than the one given by the noble Baroness previously; that they do not

    “add value to the Bill".--[Official Report, 14/6/99; col. 75.]

I think it makes the Bill better for the public. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Baroness has not convinced me. The strictures imposed by straightforward applications would not be a great burden on the registrar; in practice, he already substantially exceeds them.

Part of the problem is that we have a complexity of electoral law. In this area there seems to be no good reason why the time-scales and procedures applying to London should be different from those relevant to any other election. I am not sure that the noble Baroness has put forward a convincing argument as to why they should differ. It is normal procedure for time-scales to be set out in election rules rather than enshrined in primary legislation. As my noble friend Lady Farrington informed the House previously, we will follow that general practice in London.

There has been no move to put forward different time-scales and procedures in relation to other elections which have introduced new voting procedures and I see no reason to do so in London. I have heard nothing from the noble Baroness which would convince me to alter the procedure. Let us keep it simple.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, there have not been many different kinds of electoral procedures. I made the point that Scotland and Wales cannot be compared to London; we think that London is special and I think that the amendments would be helpful. However, as the Minister wants to keep things simple, at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 12 and 13 not moved.]

Clause 6 [Failure to attend meetings]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 14:

Page 4, line 23, leave out (“six") and insert (“three")

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 15, 19 and 20. These two pairs of amendments deal with disqualification of, first, a member of the assembly and, secondly, the mayor for failure to attend.

We propose in both cases a reduction in the period of failure to attend that would lead to disqualification. The amendments are supported by the Conservatives. We have added accompanying amendments to provide that if the assembly agrees to a longer period of non-attendance, that would override the basic period.

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The point about the period of non-attendance was made by the Conservatives at the previous stage. We thought that they had a good point. We propose that in both cases the period of six months should be reduced to three. In replying, the Minister said that six months was the period that applied in the case of local government--local authority councillors are disqualified if they fail to attend meetings over that period--and the Government saw no special reason for the period to be different in this case.

We believe that there is a difference. The assembly will have only 25 members. It will be a far smaller body than London borough, county, unitary and most district authorities. The impact of non-attendance will be proportionately greater.

The Minister said that it was unlikely that the mayor would consciously seek to avoid meetings but that he or she would have other “significant duties". The Minister could easily conceive of reasons--for example, illness--which would keep the mayor away.

This pair of amendments is intended as a balance. Six months is a long period. It is one-eighth of the term of office. However, there may be very good reasons for either an assembly member or the mayor being absent for more than three months. We follow the analogy of local government in the second of each pair of amendments by proposing that the assembly should be given the opportunity to consider whether the reason is a good one. If it is--for instance, illness--then, if noble Lords like to use the phraseology, the rule could be waived. The assembly will be in a position to judge whether a colleague or the mayor is “skiving" or whether he or she has a good reason for not being there for the period in question.

I recall a councillor colleague suffering from a long-term illness. It was well understood among councillors of all parties that that colleague was still carrying out certain functions as a councillor but that there were difficulties in attending meetings. Our proposals, which apply in local government, allowing the period to be altered are a matter of common sense and should apply in the case of both members of the assembly and the mayor. However, given the responsibilities and the numbers of people involved, the basic period should be reduced from six months to three months. I beg to move.

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