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Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 6:


Page 1, line 11, leave out ("question") and insert ("questions").

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 6 is grouped with Amendment No. 7 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, and Amendment No. 8 in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Ludford. Amendment No. 6 is in my name and that of the Conservative Front Bench since it is a necessary paving amendment to the alternatives proposed in Amendments Nos. 7 and 8.

The Minister described the not quite so innocent earlier amendment as a wrecking amendment. I assure her that I do not speak to Amendment No. 8 as a test of

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political machismo. It is not proposed as an amendment to wreck the Government's proposals. It is not a matter of our questions being better than theirs. I believe that it is a proper attempt to ensure that the referendum is a good consultation related ensure proposals on offer. The Government say that their proposal is a package upon which they seek the views of voters. We have already had discussion about the difference between referendums and plebiscites, different views being taken on what those terms connote and in what context they should be used. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, in the debate on the Local Government (Experimental Arrangements) Bill before Christmas, used the term "trigger ballot". That is a term well worth bringing into the jargon. It is clear that it would trigger the pursuance of proposals, but that is not on offer here.

I cannot help but continue to regard the referendum as something nearer to a consultation than to a yes/no package, because there will be a White Paper, albeit a White Paper upon which there might have been a debate. It is not a post-legislative referendum. It is important that the consultation is conducted in a manner which permits a detailed and thoughtful response. Some voters may say "yes" to a mayor but "no" to an assembly. I must be careful how I put this, but my noble friend and I would not agree with that. The Government would not agree, so they would need to take it away and consider it.

What if the answer is "no" to the single question set out in the schedule to the Bill? The Government have already said that it is likely that they would think again. That would be right. They would not know whether the voters' objections were to the whole package or to one or other element, because, as has been said before on the Bill, the question as scheduled contains two questions.

There may be voters who, faced with the Government's question, would say "yes", but with considerable reluctance, on one element on the constitutional package. That could be a recipe for instability. The last thing we want is that the new authority should start without the confidence of Londoners. We propose a set of questions not previously debated by either Chamber. Our amendments deliberately spell out the Government's proposed package. The question has a preamble:


    "The Government propose that there should be a Greater London Authority made up of an elected Assembly and a separately and directly elected Mayor".

That is to meet the point that the Government are concerned to present their proposals as a package.

Faced with that preamble, and then the two questions, the voter, who may want to vote for one but not the other element, would know the context and what he or she was doing. The questions may be capable of improvement. It has been put to me that, "Do you agree" is an aggressive phrase, and that, "Are you in favour of", would be more gentle. No doubt there are all sorts of improvements that could be made. The form of the question, following a short description of the proposal, merits some attention.

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I hope that the Minister will be prepared to consider the proposition. As I said, I do not regard it as an exercise in political machismo. Today is not the end of the parliamentary process. I hope that we will receive a considered response today so that we can consider that response before the next stage. I prefer the Tories' two questions to the Government's one question, but I prefer ours to either of the others. On that basis, I beg to move.

Lord Bowness: I speak to Amendments Nos. 6 and 7. It will not surprise the Committee to know that I prefer the Conservative amendment to those proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. There is no intention that this should be considered as a wrecking proposal. The amendment seeks to put the Government's proposal to the citizens of Greater London in two questions rather than one.

I read carefully what the Minister said in some detail on Second Reading. I am not convinced by her rejection of the proposal. If the Government are not prepared to take the risk that in a referendum people might not like the Government's proposals in their entirety, they should not be going down the referendum road. It has been said by other Members of the Committee and by myself that the Government have the ability and majority to legislate, if they so wish, subject to the parliamentary process. No one could have criticised them for doing that if that had been their choice. It was, however, their choice to say in their manifesto, and to bring forward proposals, that their plans should be put to the people of London. It is entirely appropriate that we should discuss and suggest that the question be framed in a way different from what the Government propose.

For anyone who wants genuinely to consult on the amendment there are no hidden risks. There is no hidden agenda. It merely puts the Government's proposals to the people in two questions. I do not believe that that presents the difficulties that the Minister outlined on Second Reading. If there were a "yes" to both questions, there would be no problem for the Government. If there were a "no" vote to both questions there might be a problem for the Government but not in the way the Minister foresaw. There is no constitutional settlement being imposed, as was suggested earlier today.

Let us for a moment assume that there is a vote in favour of the assembly but against the directly elected mayor. That would mean that people were either against the idea of a mayor or had been convinced by the arguments that will be deployed by others that the mayor is better drawn from the assembly itself. Either way, that result would not commit the Government to a particular course of action. But, clearly, they would have to think again and bring forward different proposals. Whether they chose to consult the people on those different proposals would be a matter for them. That would have happened because it was the view of the people whom they had set out to consult.

If the people vote for the mayor but reject the directly elected assembly, the arguments are the same. The Government's apparent unwillingness to accept the concept of two questions suggests that they are not prepared to argue the case for each and to trust the

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people to whom they are putting the question. They will not take the risk of putting the proposals to the people in a meaningful way. It is take it or leave it. If that is so, I wonder why the legislation road was not chosen rather than the referendum road.

It is possible for the electorate--it is sophisticated enough to look at the Government's plans as they may be available at the time of the referendum--to consider those plans and to say that it does not like part of them. When we see the White Paper it may reveal plans for a mayor who is perceived to be too powerful. There may be insufficient safeguards. The proposals for the assembly may be perceived as giving the assembly too many functions at potentially too high a cost. The people may reject the part of the proposals they do not like. That would not be end of the Government's plans to reform the government of the capital, but Ministers would need to think again in the light of the people's verdict on a particular part of the proposal.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: I have not taken part in debates on the Bill, but I have come strongly to the view that there should be two questions. I do not wish to rehearse the arguments that we had a few minutes ago on Amendment No. 3 when we were covering the same ground. There was a good deal of debate foreshadowing this amendment.

I believe that the people of London may well take the view that they would like a mayor. I hope that I am not disclosing Cabinet secrets, but perhaps I may point out that the longest single debate which we had in the Cabinet which decided to abolish the GLC was on whether there should be retained in some form or another what was then called and has been called since "a voice for London". Such were the enormities which the GLC had been getting up to, the huge extravagances and the highly damaging policies that it had pursued, the view prevailed that if one was going to get rid of it one should get rid of it lock, stock and barrel. Therefore, there was no voice for London.

I understand how opinion has moved. I enormously admire what has been done as regards collaboration between the boroughs and the various public/private sector partnerships which have grown up over London. One can understand and have sympathy with the view that what is missing is a voice for London. Therefore, I believe that it is possible that the public will say yes. They might think of the mayors of Paris and New York, for example, and that a single powerful executive voice can represent London as a whole.

At the same time, they might well believe that it went wrong last time with the 1962 legislation and with the GLC in 1964 and that what began as a reasonable division of powers between the upper tier authority of the GLC and the boroughs became a monstrosity which in area after area was totally overriding what most people regarded as being the proper function of the boroughs. Therefore, the people might well say that they will have a mayor, but in the light of experience I do not believe that we should again risk a directly elected assembly.

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The argument which the Minister deployed--that the referendum is not about that, but about whether the public agree with the Government's package--is arrogant. I believe that the people of London are capable of examining the proposal and saying, "There are two parts to it. Yes, we want a voice for London, but we do not want to risk a second GLC". Of all the arguments that I have heard and in which I have taken part as to what should be the future of the governance of London, a common note has emerged from across the political spectrum; "We do not want a second GLC". That has been reiterated and echoed across the spectrum. The risk which people might see in the directly elected assembly is that in time it could be looking for things to do.


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