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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: On this occasion I cannot thank the Minister for his reply. I became increasingly amazed at the arguments. Perhaps the one that amazes me most is that somehow it is too late in the day to do anything.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, said to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that this should have been an amendment in the Greater London Authority Bill. I have not had time to skip through the Scotland Act but I do not believe there is mention of the freepost in Scotland. I could not be absolutely sure. I have tried to whip through it and I am pretty certain there is not. That provision came later in regulations. The same is true of Wales. I am not in a position to say one way or another about Northern Ireland. However, if the same precedent was formed, it came in regulations.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. This comes back to the question of what is a local election and what is a general election. The election of assemblies and parliaments are general elections. Does the noble Lord accept that these are local elections and those are general elections?
Earl Russell: I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord. Would the Minister agree that the Government cannot stand on the platform that this is simply a local election until they cease to require deposits?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The noble Earl makes a good point. I was simply going to say that we have been round this course many times this evening. This election is not a local election as we have understood them in this country up till now. It cannot be considered as such. I know the noble Lord dismisses it, but the scale of magnitude of the electorate for the election of one person is out of proportion to anything else in this country. There may be a few elections in England breaking 100,000 voters, but nowhere is there
My point was that, until these orders were laid, we did not know for certain that the Government were going to follow this course of action. We therefore took this opportunity to bring this matter forward. The Minister should be pleased; at least it is not next week when two Prayers are tabled and the Government are faced with a precipice because the rules of the House are inflexible on secondary legislation--that is not my fault. This is a flexible way forward for us to approach this issue. I proposed this as one way of dealing with the matter. I shall be happy to listen to any other proposals the Government have in order to save some of the money that they seem so worried about spending. They should have thought about that when they started off on the course of having a mayor for London with all the trumpeting that went with it.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I want to get this on the record. Is the noble Lord saying that a blank cheque for these elections of perhaps £30 million or £40 million is entirely justified as a form of public expenditure when not one penny of that will contribute to the improvement of the police service, transport service or highway services in the capital?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I do not like to go over old arguments but the whole operation of electing a mayor will cost money. I am sure that that too can be translated into buses and the Underground service and so forth. The noble Lord willed having an authority over Greater London and willed having a mayor; he must face up to the consequences.
In relation to the £20 million or £30 million, it will not take long for noble Lords to suggest ways in which the expenditure could be controlled, if that was necessary. I was going to leave this point, but, as the Minister keeps coming back to it, I should remind him that we had European elections, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, reminded me--I had forgotten about them--and they had a freepost system. Scotland and Wales are two easily defined areas. Anybody who wanted to have a free mail shot to every house in Scotland could easily have nominated himself or herself for the European Parliament and got on with it. As far as I recollect, that simply did not happen. There were two or three more political parties, but what is wrong with that? That is called democracy. Nobody abused the mail shot for the European elections in those large constituencies. If I am wrong, the noble Lord will no doubt tell me so.
This idea that 20 or 30 candidates are going to stand for mayor, half of them to advertise their restaurant or whatever it may be, is really cloud cuckoo land. The Government will have to do a good deal better than that. I hope we shall not hear any more of that
The arguments have all been made. My noble friend Lady Hanham made one I had not thought about. She reminded us about the low turn-out in the referendum on the London issue. Frankly, it is valid to ask, given that low turn-out, are we looking at a low turn-out in these mayoral elections? This Bill is supposed to encourage people to vote. That is totally inconsistent with saying that there cannot be a freepost system operating in these elections.
I am not sure if we have made any progress; I do not believe we have. But I hope that we have made this much progress. Members of the Committee on this side of the Chamber are serious about this issue. Even when we read tomorrow what the Minister says, I doubt that we shall be in the least convinced.
I could be convinced about going for a compromise in order to find some middle ground, if that does not sound too much like consensus politics. But I am certainly not going to accept the suggestion that we can have absolutely no movement in this matter. I recommend to the Government that they start serious negotiations about some form of movement in this respect before I have to stand up and address this Chamber regarding the Prayers, where, as I said earlier, the situation is a good deal more dramatic than just amendments to a Bill, which can either be agreed or not agreed here and either accepted or not accepted in the other place.
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