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Lord Whitty: A number of points were raised after my first intervention. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that, as I pointed out on an earlier group of amendments, the boundaries have been drawn up on the recommendation of the Local Government Commission. Therefore, they are not a political fix, so to speak, by the Secretary of State. The Government have accepted the Local Government Commission's recommendations in relation to the boundaries as they stand. Putting that into effect by order is the normal procedure in relation to local government boundaries, as the noble Lord will know.

Lord Renton: Will the Minister explain to us why, therefore, that is to be finalised by an order by the Secretary of State over which Parliament has no control except to say yes or no?

Lord Whitty: If I am incorrect, I shall write to the noble Lord but as I understand it, all changes in local government boundaries are implemented by order of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State must accept or query the boundaries as suggested by the Local Government Commission. In this case, we accepted its proposals and we shall carry them through by order. I shall ensure that the noble Lord receives any further clarification which may be required.

I should tell the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that I do not have the numbers off the top of my head or instantly recoverable. There were a number of responses which suggested that there should be more than 25. But there was also a significant number, not least from the business community, whose views were that we must ensure that the assembly is small and streamlined. Our view is that 25 is the appropriate number. It is certainly true that in the responses others took a different view. Some took the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, and others took a different view. In order to achieve the object of establishing a new, unique structure of government for London, we have always taken the view that the assembly should be small and

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that 25 is the appropriate number. I hope that the noble Baroness will not pursue this matter, at least at this point.

Baroness Hamwee: Perhaps not at this point. I read into the Minister's comment on the Green Paper that some respondents wanted more members and some fewer, so the Government have come up with a figure in the middle. It would be interesting to know for a future stage whether the figure of 25 received support.

I took also from the Minister's argument that the electoral system was dictating the figure of 25 members. The Minister did not directly answer the points made by my noble friend and myself about the functioning of the assembly--other than to say that 40 members would be unwieldy. I am sure that 40 members could be controlled by any half-way competent chair. Forty is not all that different from 25.

My noble friend forcefully made the point that we are concerned that all Londoners and all London interests are properly represented. We are concerned also that assembly members have a job that is practicable. I am not sure whether the muttering--I do not mean that unkindly--of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, was on my point about numbers. I am absolutely sure that in dealing with his members in Haringey, which is more of the order of 60 than 40, the noble Lord is totally competent and has them all exactly where he wants them.

Lord Harris of Haringey: Perhaps I could clarify the mumbling. I was trying to understand why, although 40 was not thought a very different number from 25, it was nonetheless preferable because it was larger. I suspect that the figure of 40 was advanced because it fits much more neatly with the principles and requirements of the single transferable vote--which is, I gather, the hors-d'oeuvre up to which we are building. In which case, can the noble Baroness explain why it is appropriate to structure the assembly to fit the convenience of an electoral system, rather than meet the needs of the functions of the assembly that is being created?

Baroness Hamwee: We would be happy to accept 42, 39 or even 35. We would not accept 33 members, for the reasons given in the previous debate. We do not want members tied directly to London boroughs. We believe that would work against the strategic nature of the authority. I apologise if I gave the wrong impression, in suggesting that there is not much difference between 40 and 25 members. I was speaking in the context of whether or not the assembly would be unwieldy. I do not regard 40 members as unwieldy or 25 as particularly more "wieldy"--if there is such a word.

This is a serious point and not an hors-d'oeuvre to the main course of a different electoral system. All my noble friends on these Benches tonight and many of your Lordships have said that they are not theologians with regard to electoral systems. They are not a subject that attracts us as a technical matter. What is of importance is good representation and good

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government. As I made clear to the Minister privately at a meeting last week at which a number of your Lordships and many officials were present, we are concerned about this matter entirely separately from how assembly members are elected. It is not that we feel compelled to argue points so that we may argue the next group of amendments. I dare say that we will reflect on the issue and may return to it. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 6:


Page 2, line 2, leave out from ("members") to end of line 6 and insert ("representing the multi-member constituencies determined by the Local Government Commission under subsection (4) below")

With this amendment I will speak also to Amendments Nos. 7, 11, 12, 13, 16, 23, 27, 27A, 28, 29, 30, 34, 35, 36, 41, 45, 47 and 49.

Amendment No. 6 removes the distinction between constituency and London members and provides for the Local Government Commission to determine constituencies. Amendment No. 7 says that there shall be more than one member per constituency--in other words, that there shall be multi-member constituencies. Amendments Nos. 11, 12, 13, 16, 23, 27A, 29, 30 and 45 all remove mention of London members. Amendment No. 34 adds a section explaining the filling of vacancies by alternative votes, because the single transferable vote cannot be used to elect one person. Amendment No. 35 explains the STV system. Amendment No. 36 removes the detail of London members' elections. Amendment No. 41 explains that seats are allocated to candidates with the most votes. Amendment No. 47 makes provision for by-elections. Amendment No. 49 removes the reference to the highest-placed candidates being elected. After that, I feel confident that the whole Committee will wish to support that group of amendments.

The art of good leadership is delegation. My noble friend and leader for this purpose, Baroness Hamwee, has kindly delegated this task to me. In more than 30 years' membership of the Liberal Party and latterly the Liberal Democrats, I have managed never to make a speech explaining the intricacies of the single transferable vote--for which there is a good reason. I have, however, made many speeches on my genuinely held belief in the beneficial effects of such a system.

We touched in an earlier debate on the Conservative amendments relating to borough representation and their views, which I think we share, about the inadequacies of the proposals for 14 fairly large constituencies and a top-up list of 11 London members. Whatever system is used, the one we have is by no means the best. The 14 constituencies will be too large to be in any sense local and too small to be in any sense strategic to two or, in some cases, three boroughs. There will still be a degree of local interest, with the focus still very much on borough interests--although a little less than single-borough interests. But the constituencies will not be large enough to be strategic.

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The Electoral Reform Society states that based on the 1998 borough election results--I know as well as anyone that things can change but those are the most recent and reliable indicators--only one of the proposed 14 constituencies can genuinely be held to be marginal. All but four would be regarded as safe. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, is looking at me with interest. That is not a claim on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. Nevertheless, four seats could be and are considered as safe for one party or the other.

Even more important to Liberal Democrats is that, based on the 1998 borough elections, only three of the 14 constituencies would have elected a winner having more than half the votes. That is a fundamental democratic flaw. As to the 11 top-up seats for so-called London members, two different categories of assembly members are introduced. I hope that will not show too much in practice, but it is an undesirable division. There is no need or real justification for two different sorts of assembly member. I hope that they will not come to be seen within the assembly or, more likely, outside it as being in some way different--one more legitimate than the other.

Putting the list system together with the constituency system as I described it means, according to the Electoral Reform Society, that something like 20 of the 25 assembly members will be able to count themselves virtually sure of election once they have secured their party nomination; in other words, we are adopting a system in which, even more than present systems, the assembly membership will be determined not by the London electorate but by the London political party members. That is inherently undemocratic.

The proposal that we are putting forward is for election by the single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies. We would envisage four or five large constituencies, which could perhaps be based on the old county boundaries, but that would be a matter for the Local Government Commission to determine. It would give a degree of local representation--I use that word loosely; perhaps geographical representation is a better expression--shared with others but with a large enough interest to be able to be genuinely strategic.

That is the argument for the multi-member constituencies. The argument for STV within those constituencies is based on three principles, which I believe any election system ought a have. First, and most important, there is fairness to all voters. Secondly, there should be real natural constituencies; and, thirdly, there should be genuine voter choice. All of those will be met by STV in multi-member constituencies. We would stand to gain the best opportunity that we are going to get of actually electing an assembly--be it 25 or, as we would prefer, 40 members or thereabouts--which would be more likely to be at least reasonably representative of the many communities of London, as opposed to 25 members who would, in effect, be almost entirely chosen by the political parties. That is another advantage of what we propose.

STV would also allow voters to express preferences for individual candidates both within a party and between parties. Again, it would allow much wider voter

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choice. It would also help to create an assembly which would be more representative. It is interesting to note that STV is the system used in Ireland, and the noble Lord, Lord Archer, was kind enough to express his enthusiasm for it earlier. It has worked well in Ireland and, interestingly, it is the system which was introduced by the previous government; indeed, it is still used in Northern Ireland, as witnessed in last week's European elections. There is a very good reason for that: again, as far as possible, to enable the communities in Northern Ireland to be more fairly represented.

We propose STV for multi-member constituencies, not because any of us is an election anorak or, indeed, because I wish to be known, as my noble friend said to me privately earlier on, as "Lord Nerd"--because I do not--but because we genuinely believe that it is more democratic and that it will produce a much more representative assembly elected with the best possible voter choice and the least possible political party choice. I beg to move.


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