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Baroness Miller of Hendon: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 [Filling a vacancy in an Assembly constituency]:

[Amendment No. 47 not moved.]

Clause 10 agreed to.

Clause 11 [Filling a vacancy among the London members]:

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 48:

Page 7, line 20, leave out subsection (2)

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 48 I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 50. Amendment No. 48 is a paving amendment to remove subsection (2) of Clause 11. Amendment No. 50 seeks to add a new subsection at the end of Clause 11. We accept what we believe to be the object of Clause 11, but as drafted it leaves an undesirable gap which needs to be tidied up. The clause as stated in the preamble to subsection (1) applies when a vacancy occurs among the so-called London members. If the vacancy occurs among those whose places derive from one of the party lists, his place is filled by his colleague who is next on the list.

On reflection, I see that there may be a possible theoretical flaw left by the wholesale removal of the entire subsection (2) which would occur if all of the reserves--if I may call them that--from the party lists are used up by the wholesale decimation of the elected members. That is something that we could tidy up at the next stage. The gap that I have just mentioned arises if the assemblyman who causes the gap is one elected not as a member on a party list but as an individual. I accept that in the real world the probability of an individual candidate getting enough votes to secure a place is pretty remote. But on the other hand some celebrity, famous TV journalist, or resurrected Elvis Presley might throw his hat in the ring and get elected. If his place fell vacant, the Bill as drafted provides for it to remain vacant until the next election. This situation could theoretically last for nearly four years. Why is that?

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I realise that political parties resent independent candidates getting in and stealing the seat that they believe ought to be rightly theirs. Members on both sides of this Chamber have experienced that indignity over the years. I also realise that by-elections are somewhat inconvenient to organise and are comparatively expensive to run. But no one suggests that if a vacancy occurs in Parliament or in a local council there should not be a by-election. With PR we are, I agree, living in a different world. However, with only 11 London members, the loss of one of them through death or resignation represents a substantial gap, loss of representation and an increased burden of work on his colleagues. If only one independent place falls vacant, our amendment follows the Government's preferred choice and leaves the place empty until the next ordinary election. If somehow two places became vacant--remote though all these possibilities undoubtedly are--the proposed measure provides for the holding of a by-election.

I revert to the problems of expense and inconvenience. We have said that there would be no poll if the event occurred within six months of the ordinary election date. We are not here proposing something that would come into effect often. It may never come into effect. But if there were to be two vacancies among independent assemblymen, it would not be tolerable for there to be a possibility of a long-term 20 per cent vacancy among the London members. This amendment removes that possibility. I beg to move.

9 p.m.

Lord Whitty: The noble Baroness clearly points to a somewhat improbable set of circumstances. They are, nevertheless, circumstances which the legislation would allow to arise. She suggests that where two independents have been elected and two independents resign, die or, for one reason or another, disappear from the assembly, there should be a by-election. Her proposals are different from those we provided for Scotland and Wales, where exactly the same situation could apply.

Improbable though such circumstances may be, one has to assess the cost of running a London-wide election. The assembly can function with vacancies and whereas it is clear who the replacement candidate would be from the party lists, in such circumstances it is not at all clear that a by-election would produce another independent candidate. In practice, the most likely effect of a by-election would be for a member of one of the established parties to win. That would not reflect the original views of the electorate.

There are difficulties in this area. Whatever answer one comes up with creates an anomaly. I am not convinced by the noble Baroness's solution. One can afford an anomaly once but not twice. Were there a large number of independent candidates, one would have to find a mechanism, but I am not sure why it is obvious that because one moves from one vacancy to two, one has to provide for a new election which almost certainly would not result in additional independent members. Therefore the objective of the amendment would not necessarily be achieved.

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I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment, in this form at least. I concede that there is a problem and I am happy to have another look at it. I am not sure that I will come up with a solution that is capable of meeting all the various problems that this distinctly improbable situation would cause. I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith: Before the Minister sits down, when one is drafting legislation improbabilities as well as probabilities have to be taken into account. In this instance, improbable though it might be that two independent members would be elected under a PR system, it is not inconceivable that notable people might be attractive. We are creating something new and different and Londoners may decide that independent members are attractive. One can conceive of circumstances under which assembly members were undertaking an investigation and two independent members were travelling in the same car. They could be involved in the same accident, with fatal consequences.

Does the Minister think that two casual vacancies of two independent members for, let us say, three and half years, is preferable to a by-election? A by-election may produce a different result and not return independent members but at least it would not leave the assembly deprived of virtually 10 per cent of its membership. Given the fact that in legislation one has to consider the improbable as well as the probable, this is a potentially significant matter.

Baroness Hamwee: I agree that one must cater for the "what ifs". My noble friend Lord Tope commented that one of the "what ifs" is not likely to be a resurrected Elvis Presley because he does not have the residence qualification. It would be inconsistent if we did not support the amendment or something rather like it, given our concerns about the size of the assembly and the possible loss of two out of the 11 London members. The balance here points to a by-election even if, as the Minister said, it means that the vacancies are filled by members of a political party rather than by individuals. Given the functions of the assembly, it is more important to have people to carry out the scrutiny role than to try to preserve whatever political balance there may have been at the time of the original election.

Of course the scenario is not very likely. We considered putting down an amendment to deal with the loss of one London member in such circumstances. We decided that that was perhaps being a bit over anxious. However, we feel that there should be some mechanism for filling two vacancies.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My noble friend and the noble Baroness have made the point that the Bill, as well as dealing with probable circumstances, should deal also with what the Minister described as improbable circumstances. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that even were Elvis Presley resurrected he would not qualify under the residence provisions of the Act is quite possible.

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I have mentioned TV journalists. A situation could arise where perhaps two Martin Bells, or someone of that ilk, were elected as independent members. Or perhaps a well-known member of the Labour Party, who did not obtain his party's endorsement to run, would be elected both as mayor and as an assemblyman. It is an unpleasant scenario but perhaps a situation may arise where two independent members, feeling somewhat threatened by the fact that the rest of the members of the assembly belonged to one party or another. became rather friendly and one day became involved in a car crash. Suddenly there would be no independent members of the assembly. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made the point that in a very small assembly it would be a disaster if that happened and nothing could be done.

The Minister said that that was improbable and unlikely to happen. In that case, there is no reason why the Government should not give way and incorporate the amendment into the Bill. As it will not be called upon, it will not cost anything. The Government could actually agree to the amendment because they are certain that such an occasion would never arise. However, if the Government think it might arise, then all the more reason why they should agree to the amendment. However, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 49 and 50 not moved.]

Clause 11 agreed to.

Clause 12 agreed to.

Clause 13 [Failure to attend meetings]:

[Amendment No. 51 not moved.]

Clause 13 agreed to.

Clause 14 [Declaration of vacancy in certain cases]:

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