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Baroness Miller of Hendon: The Minister is absolutely right. I shall be delighted to withdraw my amendment. I should like to assure the noble Baroness that I certainly was not trying to impugn that she, or any other Minister for that matter, did not read everything carefully and did not consider it. It is simply that we are

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always being asked to look at such matters again. I just thought it was my turn to put another little spoke in the wheel. I beg leave to withdraw--

Baroness Hamwee: Before the noble Baroness withdraws her amendment, perhaps she could answer my noble friend's question.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: I actually nodded my head in assent to the noble Baroness when she made her second suggestion to indicate that that was exactly what I did mean. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 63 to 65 not moved.]

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clauses 21 and 22 agreed to.

Clause 23 [Declaration of acceptance of offer]:

[Amendment No. 66 not moved.]

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 67:


Page 13, line 1, leave out ("two months") and insert ("forty two days")

The noble Baroness said: The purpose of this amendment is to reduce the period of acceptance of office by the mayor and assembly members from two months to 42 days. If the election is held on 4th May in the year 2000, it makes the difference between 17th June and 4th July; that is about 19 days. Personally--and I emphasise that--I do not understand why anyone should need to sign an acceptance of offer of office after an election when he has signed a nomination form and has fought an election campaign which obviously indicates that he wants that position. However, it seems to have been ever thus. Until the system is changed, we will have to carry on with written acceptances and time limits.

The period of two months for both the mayor and assembly members to accept office is far too long. We propose that the period should be reduced to a maximum of 42 days. That is what applies elsewhere in local government where the period is the same--42 days. That is calculated from the 35 days for lodging a declaration of election expenses, plus the seven days. Incidentally, the same 35- day period for filing election expenses also applies in the case of Westminster and European parliamentary election expenses, although in those cases no acceptance of office is required.

In the interests of consistency, which I am having to urge elsewhere in our debates on the Bill, I believe that the Government should find it easy to accept this amendment. I can remember when I received a letter asking me whether I would be prepared to accept a life peerage and come to your Lordships' House. My reply, saying in effect, "Not 'arf", was virtually on the way to a letter box before the postman who delivered the letter had left the street. I believe that the honour of being elected mayor is such that he will have his acceptance letter in his pocket ready for the declaration. Therefore, 19 days fewer than the proposed two months will not

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inconvenience the new mayor or assemblymen. I hope that the Government will find it possible to accept this very small amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The noble Baroness described most clearly how this clause requires both the mayor and assembly members to make a declaration of acceptance of office before they proceed to act in their respective positions. As she said, this declaration must be made within two months from the day of the election. I am slightly puzzled as to why this particular period of reduction from two months to 42 days is being proposed. As the noble Baroness is aware, the period of two months is strictly in line with Section 83 of the Local Government Act 1972 and therefore in those circumstances could be argued to be logical and appropriate.

However, what we propose for London is, of course, a new style of local governance, but I think it is only fair that it be subject to the same rules of election that apply to local government, where that is possible. There appears to be no special imperative unique to London which makes it necessary for the mayor and assembly members to be subject to different rules which require an earlier formal declaration than is necessary elsewhere. Like the noble Baroness, I am confident that successful candidates will be only too willing to make prompt declarations of acceptance. However, I shall undertake to read carefully and to consider the points raised by the noble Baroness. In the light of that response I hope that the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: I am most grateful to the Minister for smiling at me when she said that she would read carefully what I have said. I hope that the Government will take some notice of my comments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 68 not moved.]

Clause 23 agreed to.

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 69:


After Clause 23, insert the following new clause--

REFERENDUM

(" .--(1) At the end of the eleventh year after the first Assembly is elected the Mayor shall arrange for a referendum to be held to take place at any time within the ensuing six months.
(2) The persons entitled to vote in such referendum shall be the persons entitled to vote in any local election in Greater London at that date.
(3) The questions to be asked at such referendum shall be--
(a) Are you satisfied with the present structure of the Greater London Authority consisting of a Mayor and an elected Assembly of twenty five members, none of whom represent an actual single borough? YES/NO
(b) Would you prefer the Assembly to consist of thirty three members, each one representing a single one of the thirty two London boroughs together with the Common Council of the City of London? YES/NO
(4) The Mayor shall transmit the result of the referendum to the Secretary of State and to both Houses of Parliament.

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(5) Each Parliament being sovereign and one Parliament being unable to bind a later one, the Secretary of State shall not be bound by the result of the referendum.
(6) The Secretary of State may by order authorise (but not require) the Mayor to include further questions in the referendum if so requested by the Mayor.")

The noble Baroness said: This amendment is, by its novel nature, a probing amendment. It is similar to what is called a sunset clause, but unlike a true sunset clause it does not automatically make an enactment expire after a given date. Although it is an historic fact that the Conservative Party was opposed to the restoration of a modified Greater London Council in the guise of the greater London authority, we have of course accepted the democratic decision of the London electorate who voted for it in a referendum. All we seek to do is to be constructive with regard to this Bill. We shall be equally constructive with regard to the running of the authority and of the assembly once they come into operation. I emphasise that point because I do not want it to be said that this probing amendment of mine could in any way be considered a wrecking amendment, which it certainly is not.

However, when the referendum was held, we objected to the loaded double question which did not allow the voter to choose a mayor with executive powers without an assembly, or to choose an assembly without the mayor. We also objected to the constitution of the assembly which we have attempted to alter both here and in the other place. However, I am sure that this is not the occasion and certainly not the hour to refight old battles. If the Government feel able to accept this amendment--or any on similar lines--there will be a clear two-and-three-quarter terms (that is, 11 years) for the voters to make up their mind whether they like the form of the assembly. It will also allow for the 10 years of the hypothecation of the taxes, as the Secretary of State said in the other place.

The point about the proposed new clause is that neither Parliament nor the Secretary of State would be bound by the result of the referendum. It would be "for information only", as it were. To anticipate a possible riposte from the Minister, of course I expect there to be another Conservative government long before the 11-year period mentioned in the proposed new clause. However, I cannot speak as to their future policy and programme. As a small cog in the wheel I can deal only with the situation as it is today.

In a speech to the London Chambers of Commerce on 3rd June the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said,


    "I think the idea of regulations with an expiry date is an attractive one. There may be a case for sunset clauses in new regulation". I refer to the doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility--unlike my own pronouncements, presumably this is government policy. I remember when I was appointed to the Front Bench opposite I was warned to be careful of what I said. I could always correct a minor factual error but a serious slip of the tongue could in effect be an announcement of new government policy. I was always petrified when I had to answer questions in case I made such a slip of the tongue.

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If regulations need to be considered for a possible use by date, the same can possibly be said for some Acts of Parliament, especially when they are based on a piece of public opinion which is notoriously fickle and can change in the course of 11 years. As I said before, the two questions I mentioned were joined together and therefore one did not have a choice in the referendum to say which part of the measure one liked. Only afterwards could we say from these Benches that we liked the mayor; and from the Liberal Democrat Benches that they liked the assembly. Such is democracy that we ended up with both.

I and my noble friends will be extremely interested to hear what the Government have to say about how confident they are that the form of assembly they propose to impose on London--a point not covered in the referendum--will stand the test of time. I beg to move.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Whitty: Like my noble friend Lady Farrington I always consider deeply and give great reverence to points made in your Lordships' House before we reach the next stage. On this amendment, I cannot offer any hope of reconsideration of the clause.

The Committee will know that I rarely make cheap political points. However, I am tempted to do so. I shall just remind the Committee that 13 or 14 years ago the previous government, in the face of massive opposition in London and without any talk of a referendum, completely demolished the structure of local government. That is why we are here today attempting to reconstruct a new system of local government that will take us into the 21st century. The Opposition now have the cheek to say to us that the new structure is on probation and that after 11 years we will have to reconsider it, come what may.

As a second order point, the noble Baroness should look at the wording of her amendment, particularly if she objects to the "loaded double question" as she referred to the terms of the referendum that was carried out. Setting a double question for London rather demonstrated the wisdom of the Government. What will happen under the noble Baroness's referendum if the electors of London answer "no" and "no" to the two questions? Where would that leave us? The assembly would be abolished and nothing would be left in its place.

I do not see why we should not have subsequent questions about an assembly of 40 members, PR in various forms, as we have discussed earlier, and so on. Of course we recognise that future governments--I do not entirely exclude the possibility of a future Conservative government, even within this period; I am probably off message for saying so--may consider that this system of government for London has not worked and it will certainly be within the wisdom of that future government to put that proposition to a referendum. We are trying to establish a whole new system of government for London; to create a strategic authority

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for the 21st century which will address the problems that have failed to be addressed over the past 14 years. For the Opposition to then say "You are only there for 11 years; many of the problems will take 20 years to sort out" is stretching a sunset clause into a direct imposition of an immediate move to midnight.

It is not sensible to incorporate the amendment into an Act of Parliament. It constrains future Parliaments and future governments to a degree to which we normally object in this House. The noble Baroness should reconsider and withdraw the amendment. Should she come back with it, I am afraid she will receive little sympathy from these Benches.


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