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Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 238:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 239 and 240 not moved.]

Clause 24, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 25 [Elected mayors]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 241 and 242:

    Page 13, line 27, leave out ("of") and insert ("made by or under").

    Page 13, line 27, at end insert--

("(1A) Except to the extent that regulations made by the Secretary of State under this section otherwise provide, an elected mayor of a local authority is to be treated for the purposes of the enactments relating to local government as a member and councillor of the authority.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 243 not moved.]

Clause 25, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 26 agreed to.

Clause 27 [Voting at elections of elected mayors]:

Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 243A:

    Page 13, line 38, leave out subsection (1).

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 243A, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 245A, 245B and 245C. This group of amendments deals with the voting system for the election of a mayor, should such an election take place. Perhaps I may say straight away that, contrary to popular impression, I have spent over 30 years in the Liberal and Liberal Democrat Party and have not spent all my time talking about different voting systems. I recognise that those issues do not greatly excite people, but apparently that is not the case here tonight.

This is an extremely important issue. Should we come to electing a mayor, as in London we shall be doing shortly, it is important that the person who is elected can demonstrate that he demands substantial support. The purpose of our amendments is to substitute the supplementary vote system proposed in the Bill with the alternative vote system. There are important differences. I am fortunate in that the way that the alternative vote system works is set out extremely clearly in Amendment No. 245B. I do not need to take the time of the Committee tonight nor test my intellectual abilities in explaining that.

The defects of the supplementary vote system, which has the effect of eliminating all but the top two candidates, mean that if there are four or more candidates, which is most likely in any mayoral election, the voters who have to decide on their second preference will have to try either to determine that their second preference vote may well be wasted because their favoured candidate will be eliminated or try to determine who, in effect, will come second.

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Whatever the rightness or wrongness of their choice, it means that, for many, their second choice will be wasted. The result will be that the successful candidate very likely will be elected with the support of less than half the people who turned out to vote. If we are investing the power that we are in an elected mayor, it must be important that that person is able to demonstrate that he has genuine popular support.

We did not succeed in persuading the Government of the rightness of this system for London, but we now offer them another opportunity. I am sure that in the months since we dealt with this issue in the GLA Bill, the Minister will have reflected further and seen the weaknesses of the system that the Government have inflicted upon us for London. They will not wish to repeat that mistake for the rest of the country and will now recognise the support which exists for the elections to take place under the alternative vote system. I beg to move.

Lord Lipsey: Unlike the noble, Lord Tope, I have spent much of my life thinking about electoral systems. I was going to suggest that we all put on our anoraks for the next hour! However, having listened to this afternoon's debate, I find that there is a subject still more "anorakial", if I may coin that word, than electoral reform, and that is local government reform. That is a subject discussed with lightness and levity compared to the debates we have had this afternoon. Nevertheless, it is a very important subject on which I wish to detain the Committee for a couple of moments.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that I find it slightly ironic that this amendment should come from the Liberal Democrat side of the Committee because the whole purpose of the electoral system is to find the most legitimate way of electing a mayor. Members on that side of the Committee are not terribly keen on mayors in any event. Therefore, I am not quite sure why they should rally to this cause.

I am extremely keen on elected mayors and I want to see the best possible system. That is why I intervene in this debate. The Government have chosen an extremely respectable method for the choice of mayor. It is better by tons than the first-past-the-post system. If we had a first-past-the- post system for electing a mayor, according to some calculations which I did this afternoon, it is quite likely that the winning candidate would have the support of less than 10 per cent of the electors in his area. That would not be much of a legitimacy for him to carry into action.

Therefore, the SV is a perfectly respectable system. It has a number of strong features to commend it. It was the choice of the committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Plant for national elections. It is nice and simple. Academic research has found that people like using it. It does not give weight to people's mild choices. It does not matter whether you prefer the Green Party to the Monster Raving Loony Party because those parties are well down on the list of most voters. But that system was chosen for London and there is a sort of Occam's Razor effect in the electoral

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system as there is in matters philosophical. So there is a case of substance there which is why that system was chosen for London.

On the other hand, there is a strong list of features which should commend AV to the Committee. It was the choice of another committee--that chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, on which I had the great privilege to sit--for electoral reform for Westminster. It is simple to use. Indeed, it is used for the lower House in Australia where there is compulsory voting and, therefore, it is not necessarily the case that every voter is the enthusiastic expert who goes to the polls in this country.

It gives voters more freedom. For example, they can choose between the Green Party and the Fascist Party, which for many of us would be quite an important choice to make. And crucially--and this was the point to which the noble Lord referred--it is the only system which means that when the last ballots are counted, the winning candidate invariably has more than half the votes. That is a powerful case for the AV.

As regards a change since the Bill for London, I would have thought for that Bill it was even-Stevens: there was a case for the SV; there was a case for the AV; and I certainly do not criticise the Government for opting for the SV. But let us look at the concrete situation in which we find ourselves. SV is fine so long as there are only three serious candidates, which has been the case in the country until now. It works fine. But let us suppose in a couple of weeks' time, as I richly hope, my party chooses Frank Dobson as its standard bearer and let us suppose that Ken Livingstone runs as an independent and the Liberals have their charming Mrs Kramer and the Conservatives have their charming Mr Norris. In that case, people's third and fourth preferences may become terribly important.

I know that some members of my own party-- I would not necessarily count myself among them--would do anything to stop Ken Livingstone being chosen. They want to be able to put him fourth. But under the SV system, they do not have that choice. It is only their first two choices which will count and, therefore, they do not have that fully articulated option to express their choices right through.

What has happened in London may happen in other cities. I can imagine situations in which the three parties put forward candidates and some local dignitary or independent puts himself forward. The people there should have the full choice which the AV grants them. We cannot tell the future, but if we were looking again now at a system for London, although I believe the Government made a perfectly good choice at the time, the system of AV would have been better in the situation in which we find ourselves.

Therefore I ask the Minister to reflect on these questions. I hope that the amendment will not be pressed this evening because the issues require serious consideration. I ask him to go further at a later stage

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and tell the House that, having reconsidered the arguments, he now sees the case made out for the alternative vote.

Lord Whitty: I see the Conservative Front Bench has no role to play in the slightly esoteric argument taking place among the electoral reformers.

I have considered the alternative proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Tope. Indeed, it was considered at some length during the deliberations of the commission chaired by my noble friend Lord Plant of Highfield. It may be that that was not the final word of wisdom on the matter. I know that my noble friend Lord Lipsey has sat on other commissions and my noble friend Lady Gould of Potternewton has had the distinction of being a member of all of them. Therefore, she is probably the greatest source of wisdom on these matters.

Nevertheless, there is a difficulty in accepting the view put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Tope. It may be said that one difficulty we brought upon ourselves; namely, that we have already adopted the supplementary vote system for London. But having done so, the system must have some clarity about it in terms of how the votes are designated. Most people can move quite easily from putting one cross on a ballot paper to putting two. The final run-off, in effect, is between two persons. Therefore, there is a clear choice. It provides a clear solution. It is simple and easy to understand and results in a clear winner.

But even if I were slightly hesitant in those arguments, the fact that we have already chosen one system for London is important in that respect. That system has been chosen for the election of a mayor of London, which is the highest-profile contest that we are likely to see, and some people will say, "Thank goodness for that". The election of a mayor for London will be a high profile political event. Why should we have a different system and how do we explain the need for a different system to the electorates of those other authorities which choose to elect a mayor?

My noble friend Lord Lipsey has explained to the Committee the supplementary vote system. It has certain advantages. The alternative vote system also has advantages and I accept that the balance is a fine one. Nevertheless, I do not believe that there is a clear argument for departing from the decision which we took in relation to London when choosing the system for the election of mayors of other cities and local authorities. Therefore, I am not moved to accept the amendment and I understand that we may return to this matter when we shall probably have a longer and even more arcane debate. However, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Tope, not to pursue the issue this evening.

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