Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


6.30 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his detailed reply. I have listened to it with great care and I can divide it into two parts: one part is the same reply we received from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate in August, which satisfied us at the time, that the courts would still have a role in certain circumstances. I am pleased to have a repeat of that assurance. On the second part, which really arose from the problems in Caerphilly, it has been useful to have on record what really ought to have been done. I hope that similar problems will not happen for any local Labour parties in London at the referendum on London.

In trying to keep my remarks short I omitted to say that another of the complaints was that the observers were not allowed into the postal vote part. I was therefore delighted with the assurance from the noble and learned Lord that it would be clear that observers will be able to attend the postal vote, sending out and opening, as they do at General Elections. I thank the noble and learned Lord for that assurance.

It is an interesting point. The noble and learned Lord suggested to me that in Wales it would not have made any difference. I do not think that is the point. These things cannot be done by looking backwards. Nobody knew that it would make no difference. Indeed, a lot of the problems in Caerphilly arose

29 Jan 1998 : Column 376

because the local Member of Parliament, the Secretaryof State, declared that it was the 6,000 majority in Caerphilly that actually delivered the "yes" vote for his party in Wales by a margin of 6,700. How he actually knew that that was the case is quite hard to decide, given the fact that it was a bigger area. But never mind; he said that.

I know that I will be accused of being theoretical but let us assume for a moment that it had been even closer in Wales. Then I think the importance of the points made by the local Labour party there are underlined. There should not be any doubt about the result. It is interesting that the story started in a Scottish newspaper. I suspect that the Welsh newspapers did not want to touch it for a variety of reasons. However, when the Scotsman started the story, it raised very serious issues which deserved to be aired both in the press and in your Lordships' House.

The noble and learned Lord will be pleased to hear that I accept his assurances. I hope that the words which he spoke on the two specific issues will be heeded. I am grateful to him for his remarks about postal votes. I am persuaded by the noble and learned Lord's argument about the general principle and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 6 to 10 not moved.]

Clause 7 [Functions of the Local Government Commission]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 11:


Page 3, line 26, at end insert ("and
( ) specifying the electoral systems for the purposes of the election of members of any assembly and of any separately elected mayor established following the referendum held by virtue of Part I").

The noble Baroness said: I return to the issue of the electoral systems to be used in the elections, if there are to be elections, following the referendum.

At the last stage, we approached this matter in the context of the powers of the Local Government Commission and my noble friend and I realised that we had concentrated particularly on the systems to be used for the election of members of the assembly. I shall use this occasion to put on record our concerns about ensuring the fairest systems, both for the election of the assembly members and also for the directly-elected mayor, if there is to be one.

It may be that the Minister will tell me that since the direction to be given under Clause 7 will specify the number of electoral areas and the number of members, that direction cannot be given unless full consideration has been given to the electoral system to be applied. The need to reflect the size, cultural diversity and general differences across London needs to be recognised and I believe that a proportional system argues for quite large constituencies in order that that proportionality can be reflected.

For example, if the constituencies for the London authority are based on two or three boroughs, there would be problems of fairness because of the different sizes of the London boroughs. I do not choose the

29 Jan 1998 : Column 377

example of a constituency coterminous with any London borough because I believe that the Government have ruled that out.

As regards the mayor, it is important that voters are able to express their full preferences; in other words, to go on voting until they have exhausted their preferences. That may mean voting all the way down a list of eight or 10 candidates. As I have observed before, among other things, it gives one the opportunity to register who is one's least favourite candidate by putting him at the bottom of the list.

More important, a fully preferential system allows everyone to have the opportunity to vote for the winner and to generate something of a feeling of ownership of the result. Even if one's preference for the eventual winner is half way down the list, one has, at least to some extent, signed up to that candidate.

In addition, it does not require the voter to make any tactical decisions. Genuine preferences can be expressed all the way down the list.

If the voting system is first-past-the-post, to which we are all so accustomed, it will be entirely possible, given the large number of candidates, for the winner to have the support of a very low proportion of electors. That would be an undesirable outcome. The system to which some people have pointed which is in between, known as the supplementary vote, allows, as I understand it, only two choices. Of course that is a little fairer. It allows a little more expression of preference. But it is more complicated than simply voting one's way down a list. It means that one cannot put one's least favourite candidate at the bottom. It means that one must exclude all but two of the candidates in voting. If the position is that there are two clear favourites in the campaign, voters will have to guess which of those two is most likely to do well; in other words, such a system would not achieve the involvement of electors in the way that other systems may do. I beg to move.

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has returned to the discussion which we had in Committee on the basis that the Local Government Commission should be able to make recommendations on the electoral systems to be used both for the mayor and for the assembly. I accept her point that we dealt mainly with electoral systems for the assembly at an earlier stage and that the argument applies to both.

Perhaps I may take the opportunity to restate why the Government find unacceptable the argument that the commission should have that responsibility. I understand very clearly that the noble Baroness and her party feel strongly about electoral systems. She made those views clear in proposing the amendment today. The Government do not dispute that that is a crucial issue for the assembly and the mayor. In fact, in the Green Paper New Leadership for London, we asked seven separate questions about electoral systems and we are now spending considerable time and effort analysing consultation responses to that Green Paper.

29 Jan 1998 : Column 378

We shall set out in the White Paper proposals, after looking at the results of the consultation, as to how the mayor and assembly should be elected. I suggest to the House that the results of that consultation, the details of the electoral system, will be a vital piece of the jigsaw which adds up to people's understanding of the proposition put forward in the referendum.

But this amendment would devolve important questions of policy to the Local Government Commission, asking it to consider issues which are far beyond its remit. The commission is an independent body which advises on boundary issues. There is no case for asking that commission to make recommendations on how the mayor or members of the assembly should be elected. We have said that we shall set out clear proposals on how the election should be conducted, and that quite rightly, the commission will then be asked to provide expert and independent advice on the technical framework necessary to put that policy into practice. That is the right way round. The commission should not be asked to make recommendations beyond its remit on policy issues.

As I said to the House at an earlier stage, such amendments would make it nearly impossible to write the White Paper. If the commission were to be asked to make recommendations, presumably it would not be acceptable for the Government to pre-empt those recommendations by publishing their own proposals on electoral systems in the White Paper. In turn, that would reduce clarity and certainty as to the basis for the new assembly.

In that case, the people of London would be forced to vote in the referendum without having a clear idea about how the mayor and assembly would be elected. That is not good for democratic choice and I do not believe that it is good for informing clearly and specifically on the Government's proposals.

How the mayor and assembly will be elected are very important issues. I do not dispute that for a moment. However, we believe that they are integral to people having a clear understanding of the proposals which we are putting before them. Therefore, I do not believe that there is a case for asking the Local Government Commission to make recommendations on electoral systems. Such central policy should and will be addressed in the White Paper. On that basis, I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page