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(1) Section 52 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 (c. 29) (meetings of the whole Assembly) is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (3) there is inserted—
"(3A) A meeting of the Assembly held under subsection (3) shall not be held within 21 days of the date when the last such meeting was held."
(3) In subsection (6)(b) for "28" there is substituted "21".
(4) Subsection (7) is omitted."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I know in my heart that this might go somewhere. I am not able to read the code signalled by the Minister and so I do not know whether I should speed up or slow down.

Amendment No. 24 concerns the meetings of the London Assembly. It seeks to rectify a technical but very irritating difficulty. At present, the assembly is not required to give notice of the Mayor's question

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time until the previous Mayor's question time has taken place but it must give 28 days' notice. It is perfectly reasonable that Mayor's question times should not be bunched because if the Mayor and the majority of the assembly were ever of the same political party it would be possible for them to be in cahoots and bunch together all the meetings, possibly even over August when the press are not very active.

My amendment seeks to address that point and to make the notice period shorter so that there is more flexibility in the programme. Even though the diary would normally be set many months in advance, it would be possible to make a change without being caught by these very tight provisions.

I believe that the amendment meets the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, in Committee. His view was that the Mayor should have time to report and that the public should receive sufficient notice to enable them to attend the meetings. Therefore, I hope that the amendment, or something very similar to it, will find its way into the final version of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, at present the London Assembly is required to hold 10 mayoral question time meetings each year. There is a requirement that at least 28 days' notice be given of any such meeting. The practical effect of that is that the meetings will always be at least 28 days apart. Amendment No. 24 would reduce the notice period and the minimum time between each meeting from 28 to 21 days.

It is important for the effective scrutiny of the London Mayor that the mayoral question time meetings should continue to be spread relatively evenly throughout the whole year. We are also keen that adequate notice should be given of the meetings so that the Mayor and others attending the meetings have time to prepare and so that members of the public have time to make arrangements to attend if they so wish.

I listened carefully to the debate on this issue in Committee. We fully understand that the GLA has experienced some difficulties with timetabling the meetings. We appreciate that the amendment seeks to resolve those difficulties. As I explained when the noble Baroness raised this issue in Committee, there are a number of technical defects in her amendment, and therefore, in those circumstances, the Government cannot accept it.

However, having considered the matter very carefully since the Committee stage, we have considerable sympathy with the concerns raised by the amendment. Therefore, what I say today is designed to be helpful. We want to explore the issues further before Third Reading and, as part of that, we shall offer the noble Baroness an early meeting so that we can resolve the matter fully to everyone's satisfaction.

I have seen the various options laid out in the letter that the noble Baroness was kind enough to send to me and to the Mayor and others. Obviously, if the noble Baroness has identified a problem here, then we shall want to sort it out. It will help to ensure that the extra

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layer of openness and transparency, to which I referred earlier, is available in the multiple ways that access to information, and so on, is provided for in the GLA and by the Mayor and that it is further enhanced. We want to ensure that we underpin and underwrite that. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel that I have addressed the issue, and I hope that she will now be happy to withdraw her amendment with the promise of exploratory talks to sort out the problem.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, after 12 years in this place, I still cannot get the drafting right—as long as my clients never discover that. I am grateful to the Minister for what he has said and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 25 not moved.]

Baroness Scott of Needham Market moved Amendment No. 26:

    After Clause 121, insert the following new clause—

In section 79(1) of the Local Government Act 1972 (c. 70), for "twenty-one" there shall be substituted "eighteen"."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, as long ago as 1970 the age of eligibility to vote in public elections was reduced from 21 to 18. However, the age at which an individual can stand for election remains at 21, and my amendment seeks to reduce the age of eligibility to 18.

The Local Government Information Unit recently commissioned an independent inquiry into local governance and recommended that the age of candidature for local elections should be reduced to 18. It felt that that was especially important in local elections, for which there is generally a very poor turn-out, particularly among those in the youngest age range. It believed, and I agree, that reducing the age of candidature would be a step towards encouraging young people to vote and to play an active role in local government in their areas.

The British Youth Council gave written evidence to the commission. It cited research showing that young people do not engage in the political processes, not because they are apathetic but because they see politicians as negative and unrepresentative of their views. That view is rather supported by the report of the Hansard Society, published in December 2001. It considered why people failed to vote in the 2001 general election and found that many of the young people who did not vote were very active in interest groups and that some of them were even members of political parties, but that they did not vote then because they felt that it would make no difference to their areas or their lives. I believe that the large number of people who turned out to march against the war demonstrates that they are not apathetic but that they care.

The Government have quite rightly introduced citizenship lessons for young people in schools, so it is possible that young adults will be quite politically

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aware at the age of 16. Nevertheless, they will have to wait two years before they can vote and five years before they can stand for election to their local councils. I have been unable to find many activities in relation to which 21 remains the age of eligibility. The only one of which I am aware is the requirement to be 21 to hold a heavy goods vehicle licence. It seems to me rather odd that we can trust young people to be soldiers at the age of 18 but not to be members of the allotments sub-committee of their local district council.

I hope that the Government will look sympathetically at the principle behind this amendment, even though I have not quite got the technicality right. I beg to move.

Earl Russell: My Lords, in supporting the amendment, I would like to quote a passage from my grandfather's diary in 1864. He was standing as a parliamentary candidate in a by-election on behalf of the Leeds Radical Workingmen's Association. He said:

    "Either the working class have a separate interest from the rest of the community or they do not. If they do, the injustice of denying them the suffrage is greater than even Mr Bright has ever maintained it to be, and, if not, why so much fuss?".

I believe that a large number of issues come before a local authority in which people between 18 and 21 have interests that tend to be different from those of others. One might mention, for example, leisure facilities. In particular, there is an interest in late-night transport. I remember very vividly from the days when I was courting that she lived in Notting Hill and I lived in Hornsey. The issue of late-night transport was ever present.

I believe, therefore, that there is a separate interest. I have no idea of the views of Mr Bright, but I think that to deny them the right to be councillors is a greater injustice than even the Liberal Democrat youth and students have ever maintained it to be.

Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, I support the amendment. I have indicated my support on previous occasions for lowering the qualifying age for candidature for public office. It is right that lowering to 18 the age at which one qualifies for election would bring the age into line with the voting age, but there is no reason why the two should be the same. In many countries they are not. My view is that if one lowers one age, one can make a greater case for lowering the qualifying age for public office. The reason is that lowering the voting age to 18 empowers 18 year-olds. When one provides for 18 year-olds to stand for office, one empowers the electorate. The choice available to the electorate is widened.

The important point is not about candidates—they may be immature or they may not be—but about electors deciding whether they want candidates to speak for them. That is the fundamental point. My view is that the matter should be widened as much as possible and then it is up to the electors. If the electorate want someone who is not good, it is entirely up to them. I can see no argument against widening the

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choice. Although 18 year-olds would be allowed to stand, they would have to go through a certain process before becoming candidates as it is not an open matter like using a vote. I believe that there is a very powerful argument for lowering the qualifying age for candidature for public office. I believe that that case is stronger than the case that was made for lowering the voting age to 18, which took place in 1969. I believe that this change is long overdue and I add my support to the amendment.

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