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Lord Graham of Edmonton: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He makes great play of the current situation, believing that the people of London should be asked two questions. Why did not the same view come to the minds of those in the Administration which he served? Perhaps the noble Lord is nit-picking at the procedure, but he said that it was a case of killing the GLC stone dead, or reforming it, or winning the next election. However, without direct consultation with the people of London, he and his colleagues took away the GLC. Of course it had blemishes, but they could have been improved.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: The noble Lord will no doubt wish to make his own speech. I ask him to bear in mind that when the proposal was first put forward in the 1983 election and during the months immediately following there was an overwhelming desire to get rid of the GLC. There is ample evidence of that--
Lord Jenkin of Roding: What happened after the expenditure of some £40 million or £50 million of ratepayers' money on propaganda was that the argument moved the other way. I do not deny that, but that is not my point. My point is that it is possible to envisage that in a referendum on the issue the London public might say, "Yes, we want a good powerful voice for London, but we do not want to risk a second GLC".
I have never forgotten canvassing in what was my constituency in the local elections during the first year of there being no GLC precepts. During that local election, I had a warmer response on the doorsteps of Wanstead and Woodford than I had had during any election I had ever fought. The people suddenly saw that they had got an incubus off their backs and they were paying only the borough rate.
I believe that those memories will live long and that when people are asked whether they should have a London-wide body they will be looking for something like a voice for London. I believe that the referendum should give the people of London an opportunity to express their choice. Under the Government's Bill, they will not have the right to do so. Indeed, the whole issue will be muddled together in only one question. I totally
Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare: I wish to repeat a question put to the Minister. As the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, withdrew her amendment she had no opportunity to answer the particular question and I do not apologise for raising it again. I support the proposal that there should be two questions. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of today's debate is that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is convinced that London does not want a mayor but wants an assembly--
Baroness Hamwee: No. Perhaps I may respond immediately. I am not convinced because I do not presume to know what the whole of London wants. That is why I want Londoners to be consulted on both elements.
Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare: I am sure that it is understood that that is what she would want. I do not change my argument. That is what many of the Liberal Democrats want, although there were one or two interesting diversions among the speeches from those Benches. However, it seemed to be their party policy that they would like not a mayor but an assembly. We hope that that pleases the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. On the other hand, over here we have my noble friend Lord Jenkin who tells us that he believes it quite possible--I put it no higher--that Londoners will say they want a mayor but not an assembly.
Perhaps that proves to the Minister that we should find out what the people of London want; we have heard the argument for that clearly today. The Minister is convinced that we should have one question because that is the Government's package. Perhaps the Government are not prepared to go ahead unless they can have the package that they want. I hear the Minister. But I should like an answer to the Scottish question. Why was there not one question in Scotland which asked, "Do you want an assembly in Scotland with tax raising authority?". Why were they not asked in one question, first, whether they wanted an assembly or a government and, secondly, whether they wanted tax raising authority? I bring back the question to the Minister. Why were we in London not asked if we wanted tax raising authority? That could have been a third question for us. I repeat that I should have liked the answer to that to be "no", but it would not have stopped me wanting to ask the question of the people of London.
If there can be two questions in Scotland, why cannot there be two questions in London? I hope that the Minister will not, as she did on Second Reading and as she has mentioned today, refer to it as a half-considered alternative. I hope that the Minister realises that some of us have spent weeks thinking about this and it is not a half-considered alternative.
Baroness Hayman: I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, that I made the most terrible Freudian slip when I was writing my notes in preparing for this and I did not spell Weston-Super-Mare correctly. However, we all do terrible things in anxiety states.
Baroness Hayman: The noble Lord says that he has given weeks of thinking to this issue and what is the right form of government. Some Members of your Lordships' House have given years of thinking to it.
Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare: That is insulting. I sat on the Greater London Council and that was my first political appointment. I had the privilege and honour of fighting against Sir William Fiske. I have spent my life time thinking about politics. But since this Bill has been published, I have considered its wording.
Baroness Hayman: I do not wish to denigrate the contribution to public life in this country made by the noble Lord. However, I wish to point out that the appropriate form of local government for London has been considered for many years by Members of your Lordships' House after the decision made by the Conservative Administration--described by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin--to abolish the Greater London Council.
In dealing with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Archer, perhaps I may deal with the Scottish issue, and I apologise for any discourtesy in not responding to it, but the debate moved on. As regards the issue of two questions in the Scottish referendum, there were two questions in the Scottish referendum because we were addressing two distinct issues: whether or not there should be a Scottish parliament; and whether that body should have tax-varying powers. The Government were testing assent to each of those propositions. They were stand-alone propositions and had the answer to tax-varying powers been "no", it would not have destroyed the constitutional settlement that was proposed in the first question.
The reason that we included the second question is that we take a different position from that taken by the noble Lord, Lord Archer. We do not believe that we should ask questions to which, if we receive the answer "yes", we should not then implement what was being supported because we do not think it the right way to go forward. That is precisely why there was not a second question in the Welsh referendum about tax-raising powers. I hope that answers that specific point.
The noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, said quite clearly--and I think he was right--that we are dealing with two major issues here, one of which is the nature of the referendum and the nature of the exercise which this Bill is trying to set up. That was a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, alluded. The other issue deals with the appropriate and best form of government for London.
Perhaps I may repeat--I apologise if I am restating some of the earlier debate--that the nature of the referendum is not some sort of mega opinion poll. It is not an oversized market research project, canvassing a range of constitutional options. It is not the largest focus group ever seen by any spin doctor. It is a proposition to test the assent of the people of London to the proposals which the Government are putting to them.
I must suggest to the Committee that it is not arrogant to say that as a government. It is responsible of a government to make absolutely clear what are the proposals. Perhaps I may illustrate that. Earlier this afternoon, the Committee voted for an amendment that said we should publish a Bill with the White Paper weeks before the referendum takes place. If we have two questions on the ballot paper giving, as I shall suggest later, not two possible answers but up to five possible answers, what will the Bill say? The Bill could not describe the detail to enable Londoners to be clear as to what they were voting about because there will be several different propositions to be voted upon. There is the proposition that we have talked about. There is the proposition which the Liberal Democrats would like of a directly elected assembly without a directly elected mayor. There is the proposition referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, of a directly elected mayor without a directly elected assembly. How could that be expressed clearly and definitively within the Bill when there are several different propositions?
I return to how we see the referendum in the process. It is a staging post in our proposals to bring forward a strategic, city-wide authority for our capital. We made clear our commitment to a balanced and accountable constitutional settlement of a greater London authority comprising a separately elected mayor and a separately elected assembly in our manifesto. We made it clear also that we should test support for that proposition through the mechanism of a referendum.
The Government's conviction is that for London to have the best from its authority, it is necessary to have both a mayor and a separately elected assembly. That is why we have put forward a clear and comprehensive single question. The noble Lord, Lord Bowness, suggested that there are two parts to the question. If we had not explained what the authority comprised, we should be accused of not giving the detail that people needed to understand what they are voting on. We have put forward a clear and comprehensive single question that allows people to express a view on that package.
To argue for more than one question both misunderstands the nature of the referendum proposed and threatens the integrity of the greater London authority that we are proposing. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said that in his view, there was a great theme of not wishing to recreate an elected authority like the GLC. We have made it very clear earlier that we have no intention of recreating the GLC. However, the noble Lord's view was that public feeling was that there should not be another elected assembly.
I should point out that another theme has emerged as a result of the views expressed regarding the proposals; namely, that we should not have a mayor untrammelled by any form of democratic accountability to a separately elected assembly. That is a very serious and fundamental part of the package that we believe to be the best for London. Indeed, London needs both the visibility and the advocacy of the elected mayor and the accountability and the balance of the elected assembly. The authority will be an interdependent whole, not two separate entities which could exist successfully independent of one another. For those reasons I believe that the amendments before the Committee today are fatally flawed. They threaten both the nature of the referendum that we are suggesting and the absolute essence of the authority that the Government believe to be right.
It has been said during the debate that there are no hidden risks in the proposed questions. I have to challenge that view. I believe that the questions, which look so simple, about offering choice do not do so. Clearly and simply, there are two choices and two questions. I certainly do not dispute that there are a number of views, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Archer, which illustrate differing opinions as to how London should be governed. Today we have discussed the views of the Front Benches in this Chamber. However, I am sure that there are other views about other constitutional arrangements that could be made. I should like to prove to Members of the Committee that even the limited range of options expressed from the Front Benches in this Chamber as regards the best form of London government would not be clearly and unambiguously addressed by the two questions proposed in either amendment.
Let us start with the Government's position. It has been stated that the Government's proposal would be voted on by way of these two questions because people could vote "yes" to both of them. However, as I have made clear, the dual elements of the mayor and the assembly are two parts of one proposal. How, with the amendments, would I as a London voter be able to express my choice--and I stress "my choice"--that I want a mayor and an assembly and that, if I cannot have both of them and the checks and balances are not in the package, then I would rather have neither? How do I express that view with those two supposedly simple questions?
I move on to the Liberal Democrat position which, I understand, is that the best answer would be an assembly that is directly elected and a mayor who is not. How would one differentiate when people vote for a directly elected assembly but say "no" to a directly
The mayor without an assembly--or, to be more specific, a mayor with an indirectly elected assembly comprising borough leaders--is of course the position of the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, and his party. Indeed, that is what we voted on earlier. But how does the Londoner who agrees with the proposition that, as well as an elected mayor, there should also be an assembly but indirectly elected, differentiate himself on these two questions from the Londoner who wants an elected mayor but no assembly at all? That is not such a wild position. In the process of evolution of the noble Lord's party, I believe that that was its position for a little while. It is possible that some of its supporters in London still adhere to that view. How does that voter make it clear on these two questions that that is what he is looking for?
Both versions of the questions do not offer clear choices to voters. They raise the prospect of people's votes carrying the day for a package with which they do not agree. That is not good for democratic choice, for clarity or, indeed, for an effective authority. It is a recipe for confusion. Two questions would force people to guess what the outcome of their vote would be and then oblige them to vote accordingly.
The British people showed some sophistication as tactical voters in the last election in their determination to get rid of the last government. However, I do not believe it to be proper to rely on them to do so again in a referendum on the governance of London.
As I explained, there are a range of possible outcomes to the two sets of questions--a mayor and assembly together, a mayor without an assembly, and an assembly without a mayor. But even these outcomes do not reflect the essential detail of the preferred positions either of the Government Front Bench or of the Liberal Democrats which are, respectively, a mayor with an indirectly elected assembly and a mayor indirectly elected from a directly elected assembly.
Given the range of possible outcomes that two questions could produce, we must also consider just how voters would make an informed choice. Great play has been made about the importance of clarity over the issues in the referendum. I support that; indeed, that is what we were talking about in terms of having a debate and in terms of the White Paper spelling out most clearly the implications involved. However, it would be practically impossible to provide clarity and certainty if the two questions were posed on whether to have a mayor and an assembly separately with all the variations and permutations that I described. I do not believe that people would find the choice on the ballot paper clear and comprehensible; indeed, it would be extremely confusing if a White Paper had to show alternative versions of what was actually on offer for Londoners as regards the alternative permutations that might be the result of the referendum.
There are severe technical deficiencies with a two-question referendum. However, the crux of the matter to which I wish to return is that the proposed amendments offer the possibility of outcomes which the Government believe to be wrong and unworkable. I do not believe it to be correct or justified to accuse the Government of arrogance in that respect. It is not the arrogance of power; it is the responsibility of power of a governing party. It is wilfully to misunderstand both the nature of the referendum that we propose and the strength of feeling of the Government that it would be wrong to put to the people of London a package which they would not be willing to implement.
That is absolutely right. That is a risk that the Government are prepared to take. We have been accused of not having the courage to put our proposition to the people and allow for a range of options. That really is an unreasonable construction of the position in which the Government find themselves. We intend to seek the consent of the people to a considered package--an entire framework for government. Londoners will have been fully informed of the Government's proposals in a comprehensive White Paper to be published well in advance of the referendum. They would then be able to vote in the full knowledge of what they are voting for, or what they are voting against. That is clear, fair and democratic. There has been some talk about the possible totalitarian nature of referenda and plebiscites. It is not totalitarian to put one question: it is totalitarian to have only one possible answer.
The Government accept the possibility that the people of London will not agree with the proposition placed before them. We favour a mayor and an assembly as a complete framework--a mayor to provide a voice for London and articulate London's interests both at home and abroad and an assembly to provide essential checks and balances. Those two elements are the cornerstone of our plans for a new authority for London. It is on that package that we intend to seek the consent of Londoners.
Our proposed single question will deliver a decisive referendum outcome. If there is a yes vote, we can get on with delivering our proposals. If Londoners vote no, we shall not implement those proposals. It is as simple and as straightforward as that. But there will be a clear expression of public opinion, one way or the other. That, as I said earlier, is exhibiting not the arrogance of power, but the responsibility of power in preparing workable proposals which, if approved, the people can trust--we have had talk of trust--will be implemented.
Baroness Ludford: The Minister remarked early in her reply that the proposals for London government had been debated by parliamentarians for years. That is, of course, right, but they have not been debated by the people of London who have not been given that chance. They have had to say yes or no or to have their vote for particular parties at particular elections interpreted, indirectly, as an indication of their preferences. That is why it is right to have a referendum as people may have voted Labour in the general election last May for a host of reasons. They may not have focused on the proposals for London government. That is why it is right to test those proposals in a referendum. What is not right is to create a take it or leave it situation. Many of the Minister's arguments are forced and artificial. There is a danger that her arguments may be turned on their head.
The Minister said that if we adopted a two question referendum, either our version or the Conservative version, if people were unhappy about the links between the assembly and the directly elected mayor, they may be driven to vote no, no. I put it to the Minister that if there is only a single question for the package, those people who are unhappy with one element of the package--let us say that they do not want the assembly, they only want the mayor, although that is the opposite of what I believe--will be driven to vote no and the Government will not know why they have voted no. Therefore the same arguments apply to the Minister's package as apply to splitting the question into two elements.
On the same point, the Minister said that people might be driven to vote no, no because they did not know the details of the relationship we are discussing. That reinforces the arguments that were dealt with earlier this afternoon for putting a great deal more flesh on the bones of the proposals as regards the checks and balances of the assembly on the mayor. That is precisely the reason we want Londoners to have those details before they vote; namely, so that they will know the relationship between the mayor and the assembly. It is precisely because it is salutary for parliaments and governments to have to address the concerns of the people that it is wise to give people an opportunity to have a real debate and real choices.
The Minister placed a great deal of emphasis on the fact that the Government find these proposals convincing. If I may say with respect, that is neither here nor there. It is the people of London who need to be convinced by the proposals. The Minister defended herself against the charge of arrogance. I feel that she must be sensitive to that charge if she addresses it at all. That charge could be made to stick if Londoners are not given a choice in this matter. In answer to the point
I believe at one point the Minister said that people would not know whether there would be collective leadership or one leader of the assembly. I believe that she is in danger of entering the realms of fantasy. The norm of government in this country is to have a leader elected by an assembly, parliament, council or whatever. I have called some of her arguments forced and artificial. I refer to the question: why will you not allow the people of London to choose? Her only real answer to that question is: we do not want them to have the choice because we believe that we are right. The Minister does not have any credible answers and she has been forced into giving incredible responses.
I am afraid that I am guilty of the charge that was levelled by the noble Lord, Lord Archer, at my noble friend Lady Hamwee. It was I who said that I thought that the people of London would not vote for a directly elected mayor only. I could be proved wrong and I am ready to be proved wrong. I cannot say I would be happy to be proved wrong. However, that gives me, as it gives others, the strongest incentive to campaign before May to convince people according to our beliefs on what would be best for London. It is in precisely that context--and not in the context of a take it or leave it package--that Londoners are likely to be most engaged and most involved in the outcome. The people of London did not agree with the Tories when they abolished the government for London. The word "stability" has been mentioned on several occasions this afternoon. I believe there is a common wish in this Chamber to create a system of government for London which will last a long time, will be stable and will deliver good government for London. The best basis for securing that is to allow Londoners to have the maximum debate on the options.
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