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Baroness Hamwee: I shall write down "amendment for Report" now. Before my noble friend responds, perhaps I can ask the Minister to accept that in the alternative vote system, although electors may vote all the way down a list, they need vote only for one, two or three or however many candidates they choose to vote for.

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Many of us who advocate the system recognise its benefits in allowing that amount of flexibility but also in allowing, as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, indicated, one to show one's opposition to a candidate as well.

I am sure that my noble friends have had the experience which I have had. We use the system of single transferable votes within our party for internal elections. There have been several occasions when I have had quite clear views as to those I would not want to see elected. I have worked on the ballot paper, starting from the top, down a few, then to the bottom and up for a few and then filled in the middle.

Given that we seem to be moving so fast in the direction of "personality politics", there may well be occasions in mayoral elections when certain candidates will raise strong feelings among the electorate, both in favour of and against. The alternative vote system would allow those feelings against to be expressed in a way that is not possible with the supplemental vote system.

As we continue with the Bill I gain the increasingly distinct impression, perhaps wrongly, that because mayors in general were thought to be a good thing, Downing Street--maybe particularly the Prime Minister--felt that there should be mayors up and down the country. We are in a situation where we have to work towards that somehow, however many problems are identified and analysed in the legislative process. To say that because we have a particular voting system in London we must therefore apply it directly in other cities and districts seems in no way to support intellectually the argument for mayors. I believe that such argument is becoming weaker as we continue with the Bill.

9 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: Perhaps I may point out that most people are perfectly capable of ranking 15 items in order of preference, let alone four or five.

Lord Tope: I am not surprised that the Minister rejected the amendments. On these Benches, one tends to get used to that. However, I was disappointed with the way in which he dismissed not my arguments but the much more able and experienced arguments of his noble friend and, indeed, those of his own party's electoral commission and all the bodies with which the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, was involved. I am pleased to see that the noble Baroness has joined us for this part of the debate.

I hope I do not do the Minister an injustice by saying that all the arguments are dismissed on the grounds that the mistake has been made once in London. Perhaps it is a mistake recognised with hindsight on his Benches but, I have to say, not on ours. Therefore, having got it wrong for London, the same mistake has to be inflicted on the rest of the country. That appears to be almost exactly what he was saying.

He also appears to say that the British electorate is not capable of writing down, "1, 2, 3, 4, 5" instead of "X, X". The Minister is not a patronising man.

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However, that was a patronising statement, although I am sure unintended. I am disappointed by the way in which the Minister dismissed the arguments. I suspect he did so because his brief required it of him rather than because his head told him to do so.

As he goes home and thinks about the issue--I am sure he will think of little else tonight--I hope that he will perhaps consider the plea, not from these Benches but from his own, to reflect further before the same mistake is made for the rest of the country as is now being demonstrated has been made for London. This small change in the voting system is important. It could easily be made and is one which the Government should now adopt. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 244:

    Page 13, line 39, leave out from ("have") to end of line 4 on page 14 and insert ("one vote and the candidate receiving the greatest number of votes shall be returned as the elected mayor").

The noble Lord said: I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, will not think it ironic to find the Conservative Party trying to change the system of voting for mayors back to first-past-the-post. At least there is an element of consistency in what we advocate. Not only that, we advocate a system which appears to satisfy everybody in the other place. There seems to be no sign at present that they have any wish to change it. One might have thought, therefore, that the first-past-the-post system, which has the merit of even greater simplicity, if perhaps an element of unjust brutality, would be preferable to devising even more complex systems of voting than the one inflicted on London.

The whole authority is an experiment as the Greater London Authority does not exist. It is just being brought into being. Perhaps, therefore, it is not unreasonable to have an experimental system when dealing with an experimental authority. If the Government had been prepared to sit back, draw a deep breath and wait to see how it worked before inflicting the system on the rest of the country, I might have been more willing to go along with what I would call the direction of their legislation. I nearly said "the drift" of their legislative programme. As stated by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, they appear to be committed to a system in which mayors are a good idea, therefore everybody should have them.

In many parts of the country the local government system, although interfered with over the years by numerous governments, has nonetheless been in existence for a long time. We are dealing with longstanding responsible bodies which know exactly the meaning of local administration and do it well. Nonetheless, they are to be changed. If they are to have elected mayors, they will also have inflicted upon them this marginal system of proportional representation. The British people are adaptable and will make of it the best they can. However, as in so many things, I expect that they would prefer the system with which they are familiar. It may not always produce the most just result. However, if we were to explore the result of the last general election there could be some argument

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about justice and the fact that the Government received fewer votes in 1997 than their predecessors, the Conservative government, in 1992. The difference in results is extraordinary.

However, that is the system we accept and it would seem reasonable to argue for it. Amendment No. 244 would bring that about. If Amendment No. 244 is accepted, Amendment No. 245 would not be necessary. Schedule 2 appears after this amendment. However, perhaps it would be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak to it at the same time. Schedule 2 would also be unnecessary in the event that Amendment No. 244 is accepted. That is the reason why Schedule 2 be agreed to is on the Marshalled List. I do not intend to discuss it again. I understand the procedure, that it must be separate, but I shall certainly not speak to it again.

Our position is clear. We are convinced that the ground on which we are standing is perfectly adequate. I am not optimistic that the Minister will accept my remarks. But if he were to try to impose on Members of Parliament in the other place what he is trying to impose on local government, he might have an interesting debate on his hands. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: I fear that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is right in divining my intentions in relation to this amendment. I regret that I cannot accept it.

The Government have the benefit of consistency, albeit slightly less long-run than the consistency of the party opposite in defending first-past-the-post to the last ditch in all circumstances and at all times, in that we consider that our proposal in relation to the supplementary vote to be the appropriate one for mayoral contests. We enacted that in relation to London and consider it to be appropriate here.

We do not consider the first-past-the-post system to be appropriate for a mayor. As alluded to in the previous debate, it could lead to a mayor in a four-sided contest succeeding with around 28 per cent of the vote. That is not an appropriate way in which a mayor for any local authority should be elected. Therefore, though I have some intellectual cross-over with those advocating the alternative rather than the supplementary vote and feel that there is a fine argument in that regard, I do not feel that there is a fine argument here.

We cannot read across from Westminster seats, whatever one's view may be on how we elect people to the other place. For the institution of mayor we must have a result which at least means that a substantial proportion of the population voted for the mayor either as first or second choice, and not just a potential minority as the amendment suggests. I hope therefore that the noble Lord will not proceed.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I hear what the Minister says. He may well end up with a minority mayor whatever happens if he finishes up with only a 30 per cent poll.

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So one has a problem. However, I have said what I have said. I do not withdraw any of it, but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments No. 245 and 245A not moved.]

Clause 27 agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Election of elected mayor]:

[Amendment No. 245B not moved.]

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clause 28 [Entitlement to vote]:

[Amendment No. 245C not moved.]

Clause 28 agreed to.

Clause 29 [Power to make provision about elections]:

[Amendment No. 246 not moved.]

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