Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Bill

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Mr. Lansley: Perhaps I am not following the hon. Gentleman sufficiently carefully. I am not sure that there is such a demand in East Anglia—or the eastern region, as we must now call it. In any case, to have what London has is clearly not appropriate. I thought that we had agreed, in all those debates, that London had not a regional assembly but a city-wide election. Regional assemblies are different.

Mr. Tyler: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. However, if we seek to ensure that discrimination—in the sense of affecting the outcome positively—is appropriate for the other bodies covered by the Bill, surely the measures should extend to the Greater London Authority and to regional assemblies as devolution rolls out.

The amendment might also be relevant to the possible constitution of the House of Lords. It is heavily rumoured that a White Paper due out tomorrow morning will extend the principle of election to the House of Lords, but only in a limited way, through indirect election. The only logical way in which indirect election could be acceptable under the British constitution is if it comes from regional assemblies. I do not understand how otherwise we might achieve indirect election to the House of Lords. Although I do not sign up to that idea, it may be the Government's intention. Given that the proposals will be announced tomorrow, perhaps the Minister could give us all full details in the secrecy of this Room, as people do not necessarily listen to everything that is said here.

If the Government intend to propose a small number of directly elected Members—against the wishes of the Conservative party, the Liberal Democrats and a large majority of Labour supporters—they may sweeten the pill by having indirect elections. Candidates for those indirect elections will have to come from elected regional assemblies, so the Bill will have to apply at both levels. It would be ludicrous if it did not. What is the point of taking a stance on this issue and then leaving out an important part of our constitutional settlement? I underline the point made by the hon. Member for Maidenhead that, if the Bill represents an opportunity to get this matter right, we should insert into it the replacement democratic bodies. For the sake of consistency, it is important that we establish that principle.

I have only one point to take up with the hon. Lady. She referred to changes imposed by this or future Governments, and those changes are enacted by Parliament. On constitutional matters, it is important that we develop an evolutionary and consensual approach—that is why I welcome the atmosphere in the Committee. I hope that the Minister will be able to address the various misgivings that we have expressed.

12.45 pm

Finally, in reference to the exchanges between myself and the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire, it is important that we have the question of proportionate measures in the back of our minds as we apply the new legislation. Clearly, the extent to which we have proportionate representation—whether it is in the GLA, regional assemblies or, indeed, direct elections to the House of Lords—must be taken into account in considering the application of these measures.

Mr. Lansley: I will try not to repeat what has already been said eloquently. To follow up the point made by the hon. Member for North Cornwall about proportionality, I find it interesting that the Government have excluded the election of the mayor of London from the legislation, because that suggests that they have reached a view about what is proportionate. The Government do not regard as proportionate the application of a selection system that would give an automatic preference to a woman as a candidate for the post of mayor. That raises an interesting question about the application of the same view in the election of a Member of Parliament, although in that case, I understand that there is a broader issue about the representative nature of us all as a legislative assembly. Does the Minister intend that all directly elected mayors will be excluded from the legislation?

Mr. Raynsford indicated assent.

Mr. Lansley: The Minister seems to be indicating that they will be.

The hon. Member for North Cornwall and I have talked about regional assemblies prospectively. For the avoidance of doubt, I hope that assemblies are not established in the eastern region, or in most of the other English regions. However, there are bodies that already describe themselves as regional assemblies. Technically, they are appointed rather than elected, but the selection of those people and the manner in which they conduct themselves give the impression of a nascent regional assembly. That raises the question of whether the selection of members of such assemblies should be covered in some way.

It is difficult to speculate about the House of Lords, because we may find out more tomorrow about what is proposed—as the hon. Member for North Cornwall has suggested. If the hon. Gentleman is right—I suspect that he is—we should take this opportunity to make clear the desirability of gender balance, as the White Paper may require many other kinds of balance in representation in the House of Lords, and gender balance might otherwise be missed.

Mr. Raynsford: I welcome the desire of the hon. Member for Maidenhead to ensure that all elections, both present and future, are covered by the Bill. I support those sentiments wholeheartedly but hope that I can persuade her that her amendments are not the appropriate way to achieve that outcome.

Let us consider the various bodies in turn. The Bill already covers the elections to the Greater London Assembly. I do not hold it against the hon. Lady for not knowing the detail of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 as it is one of the largest pieces of legislation, and I spent a disproportionate amount of my time guiding it through the House. I also would not expect her to know that section 203 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 was amended by schedule 3 of the 1999 Act so that the GLA is defined for that purpose as a local authority and is, therefore, covered by the extension to local government.

The hon. Member for North Cornwall made the point that the GLA has a relatively good gender balance. He missed a trick, because 75 per cent. of Liberal Democrats on the GLA are women. He is right, however, that overall there is a 40 per cent. representation of women on the GLA. There will be a barb later for the hon. Gentleman in exchange for the little morsel that I have tossed out. In general, the GLA has a good gender balance, primarily because it is a new body and not because of the type of election. When it was set up, most of the parties--as in the elections to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly--were determined to put in place arrangements to ensure a good balance between male and female candidates.

It is possible that devices such as twinning and zipping work only when one is starting from scratch and there is a clean slate. It is not possible to apply the same arrangements when casual vacancies subsequently arise. We should not take too much consolation from the relatively good results in Scotland, Wales and the GLA, because those results could evaporate over time if appropriate measures are not in place to ensure that the good level of representation of women on those bodies is maintained.

Rosemary McKenna: I wholeheartedly agree with my right hon. Friend that those arrangements must be in place when bodies are newly elected. Is it not a great pity that the Liberal Democrats missed that opportunity in Scotland by agreeing to deliver twinning but not carrying it out?

Mr. Raynsford: My hon. Friend delivered part of the barb that I was going to offer the hon. Member for North Cornwall in exchange for the kind words earlier, but let us move on.

Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 8 would extend the provisions to cover new elected bodies or elected bodies that do not yet exist, and would specify the House of Lords and any regional assemblies in England. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire raised a most interesting proposition, which the hon. Member for Maidenhead was clearly not keen to pursue. It is not clear how he could devise something that would have applied to last year's elections in the House of Lords, but I shall pass rapidly over that.

It would not be right for us to propose speculative legislative changes against as yet undefined future events, although I take the opportunity to reassure hon. Members that the Government intend to press ahead both with reform of the House of Lords and on our regional agenda. I am sure that hon. Members will be pleased to hear that. It is implicit in our constitution that we cannot bind future Governments or legislate against future eventualities that have not been defined in legislation.

The Greater London Authority Act 1999 amended previous legislation to ensure that the GLA was covered by the definition of local government, and in the same way it will be appropriate to add provisions to the Bill to ensure that it also extends to future elected bodies. I hope that the hon. Lady recognises that that is the right constitutional way to proceed.

The hon. Member for Maidenhead expressed opposition to regional assemblies. I remind her that the Conservative party expressed opposition to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the GLA, and subsequently changed its mind about all three bodies. I advise the hon. Lady against getting too stuck in the ditch defending a position that may be completely washed away by the tide of history when regional assemblies are up and running, and popular. However, I will pass over that too.

Mr. Lansley: I do not know to what period the Minister was referring, but on a point of fact, the Conservative party supported the introduction of a Greater London authority, albeit in a different form from the one for which the Government legislated.

 
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