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Lord Bowness: My Lords, I support this amendment that stands in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and myself. This was a matter discussed in Committee. At that time I withdrew the amendment that was in my name and promised to read carefully the reply that the Minister gave to the debate on both that amendment and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I must tell the Minister that I have done just that. And just as I did after reading the Minister's response to the issue when it was raised during the Second Reading, I still believe that in resisting two questions the Government are seeing complications where complications do not exist.
The proposal is a very simple one. We would like the people of London to be able to vote separately on the two elements of the Government's proposal. I emphasise that the question does not seek to put before the citizens of London anything different from that which the Government are proposing. Nor, I should say for the avoidance of doubt, does it seek to have a situation where there is either a mayor alone or an assembly alone. Our reason for wanting the question to be posed in two parts is that by then, if we do not have a Bill, we shall at least have a White Paper and some of the details will be very much clearer.
It has to be said, however--and I do not believe that this can seriously be gainsaid--that having seen the details, people may well have a different view about the proposals from those which they currently hold. It is quite conceivable that a voter wishing to see an authority for Greater London might feel that the powers to be given to a directly elected mayor were, for example, too great with insufficient constraints, in which case he might wish to vote in favour of the assembly proposals but not for the mayor. Similarly, voters may dislike the powers and functions to be given to a directly elected assembly. They might consider that those constrain not just the mayor but the boroughs themselves, making it difficult for the mayor and, indeed, the boroughs to do their jobs as envisaged in the proposals or as they would seek to argue they should be done.
The Government appear to have no trust in people's ability to see the difference between the two questions and to answer something more sophisticated than this Government's demand for a simple "yes" or "no". I believe that in what will be a very complicated situation, voters may have a variety of different views and they are entitled to be given as many opportunities as possible to express them
The problem with the Government's approach is that it must be accepted or rejected in its entirety. Indeed, the Government seem to make a virtue of that. They acknowledge it and say that it is a package which the voters must take or leave; there can be no picking or choosing. The Government say that there are no choices on offer. One is bound to ask why they bother with a referendum at all. However, I leave that to one side.
Surely it is possible for the referendum to take place against the background of informed debate and to seek a view of the public in the most meaningful way. Your Lordships will know that given that the Government have decided to go down the referendum route, at the very least the draft Bill should be available. But let us suppose for a moment that it is not. Even the Government's second-best plan envisages a White Paper with proposals being available before the vote. Even the Government propose that. Critical to that debate will be the balance of power not only between the mayor and the assembly but between the mayor, the assembly and the boroughs. As a result of that debate, it is perfectly possible for the voters to say, "We like the plans that you have for an executive mayor but not the plans for the assembly", and vice versa.
Contrary to what the Minister said at earlier stages, that does not commit the Government to proceeding with their plans for a mayor and not an assembly or for an assembly and no directly-elected mayor. The Government can make it quite clear, as they have done, that they view this as one proposal and a package and will not proceed with one element only. No doubt the Government will campaign individually for a "yes" vote on both counts but that does not preclude the proposals being divided and put to the people to seek their views on the two essentials.
If the Government fail to achieve two "yes" votes, they will have to think again on whichever element received a negative vote. It will be up to them. No one else is going to decide how to proceed. Nothing is going to be forced on anybody by having two questions and conceivably two different answers.
In Committee the Minister asked how a voter should vote who wanted a mayor and assembly but only with the proper checks and balances. I should say to the Minister that I have pondered on that question. I hope that I understood it. In asking the question she is assuming that it is only the relationship between the mayor and the assembly which is the relevant question. As I have suggested, there are the matters of functions and relationships with the boroughs which need to be considered.
I believe that the Minister's voter would vote "yes" twice if satisfied on the question which she posed and "no" to both questions if not satisfied. But the Minister did not pose the problem of a voter who is convinced about the need for a mayor, a voice for London and an advocate for the capital who likes the directly-elected concept but who is concerned about the powers and functions to be given to a new assembly.
In Committee in another place it was pointed out that not only did The Times and the Telegraph support two questions but so did the Guardian, which supported the Government's proposals in their entirety. I am sure that the Minister will be aware that the editorial in the Guardian said:
I believe that the case for two questions will be even stronger when the debate takes place against the background of the details to be put forward by the Government in their White Paper. I support the amendment.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I have listened very carefully to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Bowness. I have some concerns about the impact of the amendment, both in terms of the principle of the Bill before us but also in terms of the practical effect that those amendments would have which could lead to both delay and confusion and may thwart the very clearly expressed desire of Londoners to have strategic leadership in the capital as soon as possible.
As both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord pointed out, the Government are proposing a package which embraces both an elected mayor and a separately elected assembly. The proposals were based on the Labour Party's manifesto. They were incorporated within the Green Paper and the consultation that went with it.
The beauty of what is proposed is that the public in London are being given a clear choice to vote "yes" or "no" with the implications of that choice well understood. They can be very clearly implicated if Londoners vote in favour of the proposals.
Once one moves into a two question situation, that undoubtedly complicates the picture. I should say, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, that you could end up with several outcomes: either a mayor and an assembly together, a mayor alone, or an assembly alone. The White Paper that preceded the referendum would then need to discuss that range of options. I suggest that it would present a confusing picture to the people whom we are asking to vote instead of presenting a clear-cut choice. Londoners would have anything but that.
It becomes even more complicated if a Bill must be published eight weeks before the referendum. The danger is that confusion and delay may occur. I believe that our capital city has suffered so much for too long from a lack of clear strategic leadership. The Bill offers us the clearest, quickest and most straightforward way to proceed. We should resist the amendments.
We have here two logically distinct questions. They are far more obviously logically distinct than the two questions put forward in the Scottish referendum. Therefore, since we actually have two questions, I believe we need to know what the people think about both questions. I am sure that your Lordships know the story of Hobson's choice: when you came to the stable you were allowed to choose any horse that you liked, as long as it was the one nearest the door. Hobson was actually a real person. I discovered the fate of his estate in the Record Office of your Lordships' House. He was a Cambridge University carrier who made a fortune of £30,000 but, because he died intestate, the lawyers got it all.
In much the same way the Government may possibly risk getting their come-uppance if they will not allow the voters to make a real and genuine choice. On opinion poll evidence at present, it is perfectly clear that it is overwhelmingly likely that a "yes" would be given to both questions. I know that people tend to get anxious, but I really do not think that the Government need to be this anxious. I believe that they can afford to take the risk.
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