Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I never said anything of the kind. All I said was that the noble Lord behaved modestly on this occasion.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, that is wonderfully put! However, I must take issue on one point. The noble Lord seemed to suggest that it was weariness on the Government's part which obliged us to make the concession. I have to contradict that and say that it is because we listened to all sides of the debate. We did not weary. From time to time we even found the debate exciting.

A number of points were raised in the discussion. I shall respond to them as best I can. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, asked whether mayoral candidates standing for assembly can refer to assembly candidates. The answer is no. The proposed new schedule rules out references to,

In this instance, "any candidate" would include himself or herself in the capacity of assembly candidate.

The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, said that he would raise three points; he raised four or five. I do not chide him for that. It was fair. Referring to parties, the prohibition is on any candidate standing for election to the assembly. Reference can be made to parties and to other mayoral candidates. So there will not be a prohibition on candidates referring to parties in the way they address their election material.

Lord Jopling: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. The regulations as drafted state that,

    "an election address must not contain any material referring to any candidate standing for election to the Assembly".

As I read that, it would preclude a candidate from referring in his election address to his or her own suitability for the job. I should have thought that most unreasonable. An election address should allow a

6 Mar 2000 : Column 823

candidate to refer to himself or herself. I understand the drafting, but surely it should preclude any material referring to any candidate other than himself or herself.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, mayoral candidates cannot address their suitability as assembly candidates. I hope that that clarifies the point. That is what we seek to achieve.

The noble Lord raised the issue of confidentiality. I hope that I can reassure him. There will not be an opportunity for candidates of one party, or independent candidates, to be able to see opponents' material submitted to the Greater London returning officer or to the Post Office. That would not be acceptable.

The noble Lord also asked what the £10,000 covered, and whether there would be a surcharge. The £10,000 is specifically a contribution towards the printing of the election booklet--the summary of election addresses. That is all it can be used for. Clearly any candidates will have to pay for the camera-ready artwork they provide, but that is their own cost. It is their own material. They are responsible for its origin. But at the point at which it is passed over to the GLRO, the cost of publication will come from that £10,000.

I hope that I can put the noble Lord's mind at rest on this point. There will not be a surcharge on top of the £10,000 if the sum of the costs is more than £10,000 collected together. However, there will be potential for a refund. The noble Lord may have misunderstood the wording under that part of the schedule. For instance, if, let us say, 30 candidates chipped in £10,000 each, it is possible that there might be a small surplus. That will be refunded pro rata. We consider that candidates are getting a pretty good deal from the arrangements that we propose.

The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, asked about typographical corrections to the proof. There will be corrections to the proof, as appear appropriate, only if the election agent of a candidate fails to check the proof of a candidate's address. They will be made at a time and place to be notified by the GLRO. There will have to be consultation between the GLRO and the candidate and/or his agent to ensure that typographical corrections are understood to be exactly that, and no more. If there is a problem, there will no doubt be careful consultation. We expect the provision to cover simple mis-spellings rather than changing the text fundamentally. I hope that that clarifies the point.

The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, raised a point about referring to deputies. Mayoral candidates will not be able to refer to assembly candidates, including those who may become deputy mayor. Therefore, that is a straight exclusion. No doubt in all the other material produced by candidates' parties and so forth there will be ample opportunity to mention running partners--but not in this leaflet. I hope that that is clear and tidies up the last point.

6 Mar 2000 : Column 824

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to the discussion. I shall not go over the constitutional issues because they have been well rehearsed, but the contributions have been valuable.

I turn to the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. There are difficulties, but probably any reference to the assembly elections will have to fall short of endorsing candidates. That will probably be the guiding rule. Clearly, it is not black and white. But, based on the drafting of the amendment, that is how it should work.

This has been a useful debate and we have focused on the issues. We have been reminded of the importance of the elections and the contribution which the booklet can make to democracy. It may well be that this is the most successful pilot run within the terms of the Representation of the People Bill. I have little doubt that the 5.1 million documents being circulated in the capital will help to excite the later stages of the election. I am also confident that they will improve the level of turn-out.

These are important elections and our concession or amendment to the legislation recognises their value. We believe that we have done the right thing, having given careful thought to all the issues. I am grateful to all those who have helped us along in that direction, including the experts; notably the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, whose contributions to the discussions were most helpful. I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister and I am content to beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

Clause 10 [Pilot schemes]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 4:

    Page 13, line 27, at end insert ("either--

(i) without modification, or
(ii) with such modifications as, after consulting the authority, he considers appropriate,").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendments Nos. 5 to 8:

    Page 13, line 37, leave out second ("and").

    Page 13, line 38, at end insert--

("(c) the sending by candidates of election communications free of charge for postage.").

    Page 13, line 39, leave out ("and such a scheme may, in particular,") and insert ("( ) Without prejudice to the generality of the preceding provisions of this section, a scheme under this section may").

    Page 13, line 41, at end insert--

("(b) for postal charges incurred in respect of the sending of candidates' election communications as mentioned in subsection (2)(c) to be paid by the authority concerned;

6 Mar 2000 : Column 825

and where a scheme makes such provision as is mentioned in paragraph (b), the Secretary of State's order under subsection (1) may make provision for disapplying section 75(1) of the 1983 Act (restriction on third party election expenditure) in relation to the payment of such charges by the authority.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendments Nos. 5 to 8.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the fast progress, but I should have liked the Minister to comment on the amendments. I presume that they have been made in order to allow for the Watford experiment with the postal vote. The Minister mentioned that in a letter to me, but it would be advantageous to have it on the record. I believe that there is to be a freepost. The amendments allow for that experiment to take place and make it clear on the face of the Bill that Watford pays.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I should have picked that up and I apologise to the noble Lord. We have had careful deliberations on the freepost issue and it begs the question of whether the use of the freepost facility is a sensible use of public funds. All things considered, we believe that to be right in relation to the Greater London Authority mayoral election. We reached that view after careful consideration and debate.

The freepost facility has never been made available in local elections. That was part of the original argument over the mayoral freepost. However, it seems to us to be sensible to allow local authorities, if they wish to use their own funds for such a purpose, to run pilot schemes involving a freepost. If it works for the GLA and for Watford, and if it can be demonstrated to have made a marked impact on turn-out, no doubt other local authorities may want to apply to run pilot schemes involving freepost.

As your Lordships will be aware, Watford Council has already indicated that it wants to do that at this year's May elections and that it intends to use its own resources for the purpose. We hope that in future other authorities may well take up that refrain.

We shall have to have a full evaluation. We discussed the conduct of that at earlier stages. No doubt that evaluation will focus on how much impact the freepost facility has had in raising the profile of the election and drawing it to people's attention. It could make a valuable impact. We shall await the assessment. This will be the first time it has happened in local authorities outside London and we shall carefully watch and monitor it. I suspect that it will have some impact, but as regards how much only the future can tell.

I am happy to move our amendments which regularise the situation. We look forward to seeing and studying the fruits of the Watford initiative.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

6 Mar 2000 : Column 826

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page