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Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister's response, but I am not altogether persuaded of the argument that he advanced. We had similar discussions in respect of the Freedom of Information Bill when the Minister advanced exactly the same argument with regard to flexibility. He argued that circumstances might arise which we cannot envisage. That is a dangerous argument. I accept what my noble friend Lord Cranborne said. The measure gives Ministers a broad power in whatever circumstances they think may justify the use of that power. However, the Minister is unable to say what those circumstances may be. Therefore, the broad power is conferred to cover the position. As I say, we heard exactly the same argument with regard to the Freedom of Information Bill. I was not persuaded of the validity of the argument on that Bill. I am not persuaded--
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, does not the noble Lord agree that the amendment assumes a burden of proof; namely, of proving that there could not possibly be anything which did not fall within the list in the clause, and that that burden of proof has not been discharged?
Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, I understand the noble Lord's point, but the clause is so broadly drawn that it is comprehensive in terms of what the commission is expected to do and I can see no reason for going beyond that. It is in many respects, as the Minister argued, a small point in the context of the Bill, but I do not necessarily think that it is a small point in terms of the principle that is involved. It is that principle on which we ought to take a stance. I therefore wish to seek the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment arises out of our discussions a year ago about the free delivery of election addresses at elections to the Greater London Authority. Some of your Lordships may think that I am simply trying to revisit the scene of my past victories, but that is not the point of the amendment. We were immediately suspicious when we saw that the provision was included in Clause 6 and tabled amendments to move it to Clause 7. That may not seem a staggering change, but it is significant.
Before I continue, I should congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bach, on his translation from the Whips Office to be the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State to the Lord Chancellor, no less. I did not know about the change initially. The Government clearly do not believe in the Freedom of Information Bill and were trying to keep the fact a secret. However, it has slipped out and I am sure that the whole House offers the noble Lord our congratulations and best wishes.
I am sorry that I have to argue with the Minister on this first occasion, but he will remember that your Lordships' House forced the Government to climb down on a free post for the London mayoral elections. The other place had decided that there should be no free post. I suspect that the Government had realised that any free post would only do even more damage to their preferred candidate, Mr Dobson. In the event, poor Mr Dobson was resoundingly beaten and Mr Livingstone was declared the mayor. As far as I can see, the sky has not yet fallen in, although I suspect that it could happen any day.
The eventual compromise was that there would be a free post in the first London mayoral elections. The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, and I negotiated with the Government on the issue. We heard a lot of arguments about the idea being unaffordable and impossible to organise in time and many other excuses, but in the end the Government gave in and we came to a compromise. It may not have been what the noble Lord, Lord Rennard and I preferred, but it was at least an option. It gave the London electorate a piece of paper which explained what the election was about and who the candidates were. I shudder to think what the turnout might have been if there had been no free post delivery. Many electors in London would not have been acquainted with what was going on.
As an aside, it seems very unfair that poor Mr Livingstone is still outside the Labour Party, considering that Mr Dennis Canavan, who left about the same time and for largely the same reason, now appears to have been readmitted to the party. If Mr Livingstone reads the proceedings of the House of Lords, which I am sure he does--at least, those parts which refer to Mr Livingstone--I can advise him that the clear course of action is to follow Mr Canavan and threaten to cause a by-election. The moment that one
The Bill, as drafted, states that the question of the delivery of a free election address at elections to the Greater London Authority would be one of the matters where the authority would consult the commission. That implies that it could consult the commission and, if it said that it thought that there should be a free post, the authority could still decide otherwise. By moving the paragraph from Clause 6 to Clause 7 I have put it into one of the places where the powers would only be exercisable on the commission's recommendation. So, if it recommended a free post, that would take place, but, if it said no and that there was no need for it, the Government could achieve its original purpose. That would be quite sensible here.
I shall be interested to hear what the noble Lord has to say about it because he will remember the difficulties that the Government had. I am not sure whether I should tempt the Liberal Democrats. I shall be interested to see what support I may get from them for this amendment, which is very small and consistent with previous outings today. I am quite sure that the Government could quite easily accept it. I beg to move.
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