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Lord Dahrendorf: My Lords, I wish simply to underline that this is an exceedingly difficult issue. My noble friend Lady Hamwee made an extremely balanced statement in pointing out what happens elsewhere in the world. I readily agree with my noble friend Lord Tope when he says that we should deal with the principle more than the mechanism. But in this particular case the mechanism is not unimportant. I feel that I must introduce into the debate some comments on my experience of what happens in other parts of the world. I cannot think of a single example of circumstances in which someone who is directly elected by the people can be removed by another body also elected. There should be a procedure which is in some form judicial. That is true of the United States Congress and the question of impeachment.
It is conceivable that one could return to the original electorate and invite a certain quorum of signatures. I must say to my noble friend Lord Tope that there are quite a few examples around the world where large numbers of signatures of voters are required in order to set in motion a complicated and serious process of this kind. In my view, the mechanism has to be judicial and cannot simply comprise the removal of a directly elected person by another elected body.
We are moving here into an area of constitutional innovation. It is important that we understand what we are doing. The direct election of a mayor by the people is a serious new phenomenon in the practical constitution of this country. It does not have to be a written constitution. We need to think the matter through. It means in principle that whoever is elected cannot be removed except by the electorate or possibly, and arguably--this is where the mechanism as well as the principle becomes so important--by finding a judicial or quasi-judicial procedure. Perhaps there could be some kind of impeachment procedure leading to the removal of the mayor.
I make these comments as a contribution to a continuing argument and not because I believe that I have the right answer. We should take this constitutional innovation seriously. I am wholly in favour of the process, but it has implications, particularly as regards the issue we are discussing.
Lord Whitty : My Lords I am grateful for all the views that have been expressed, particularly those of the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, because this can become an issue of principle. Similar amendments were discussed in Committee. The noble Baroness has abandoned the nuclear option", but she seems to be going for ritual execution.
I have been accused of citing highly unlikely situations. Perhaps I may suggest another extremely unlikely situation. It has been put to me that the noble Lord, Lord Archer, for example, is hugely more popular than is the Conservative Party as a whole in London. I do not necessarily subscribe to that view; nevertheless, it is not inconceivable. That could still mean that he was third in the election; nevertheless, if the noble Lord were elected on that basis and the Conservative Party only had 15 per cent of the vote in the assembly, it is very easy to see that the other parties could gang up against the noble Lord in his new capacity.
It would be unacceptable, therefore, if the 75 to 80 per cent of the assembly which was of a different political persuasion from the mayor, or was momentarily, over an important area of policy, out of sympathy with the mayor, could on political grounds vote against the mayor and remove him from office. No one else in our political system who is directly elected can be removed by somebody else who is directly elected. All the other examples--the Prime Minister, the chair of the branch, the leader of the council--are indirectly elected by the group or the party in power.
The people will have decided who the mayor should be and the people should have the right to remove the mayor after the due four years. That does not mean to say that the mayor cannot be removed. I remind noble Lords that the normal disqualification rules that apply throughout local government apply also to the mayor. The conduct of the mayor will have to comply with what is required in terms of the conduct of all councillors and other local authority representatives, but removal in those circumstances will be by a judicial procedure and not by a procedure of parallel democratic election. Removal would be for specified crimes. The crime of being momentarily unpopular with the assembly is not one which is recognised in local government law. It would not be sensible to pursue that line.
Noble Lords have tried to give as an analogy the position in the United States. Since similar amendments on impeachment were considered by a committee of the House in another place, we have seen a deeply flawed process in the United States in relation to this similar process, which was conducted, until people saw where it was leading them, on deeply partisan lines. That is not a system which I think
That is a principle that divides these Benches and the Liberal Benches. I am slightly more surprised at the Conservative Front Bench's support for the amendment because those noble Lords started from the position of wanting a mayor and not an assembly. Now they are saying that the assembly should be able to get rid of the mayor. That is not a logical and consistent position.
I understand the position put forward by the Liberal Benches, but I do not agree with it and I do not believe that it is a democratic position. Therefore, I urge noble Lords not to accept the amendment.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I should like to deal first with the point made by my noble friend Lord Dahrendorf. I note his concern and anxiety, which I share. However, my noble friend makes the very important point that the Bill has no mechanism for dealing with a mayor who loses the confidence of both the electorate and other politicians, but most importantly the confidence of the electorate.
The Minister criticises the amendment on the basis that we are assuming that the assembly mandate is superior to that of the mayor. That is not the basis of our argument. We are seeking a mechanism to deal with the position where, for example, two years into a four-year term the mayor goes off the rails. The Minister states that no one else in government can be removed in this way. No one in local government or at any other level of government in this country will be elected in this way. We have to deal with a very particular situation. I accept that the normal local government provisions will apply, but they are not adequate to deal with the variety of situations which we hope will not arise, but which just conceivably might.
The criticism is also made that a temporarily unpopular mayor could be disposed of by an assembly acting in an irresponsible manner. I accept that that is just conceivably possible, but I suggest that it is likely that assembly members, who must have an eye to their own position, would be very careful about such an action.
The short point is that there is no proposal in the Bill for dealing with a mayor who acts improperly--but not improperly within the criminal provisions to which the noble Lord has referred. We would look at any proposed judicial mechanism carefully and we might well support it, but the Government have not come forward with such a mechanism. We have thought very carefully, and I hope responsibly, about how such matters should be tackled. I believe that this is a matter on which we should seek the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the affirmative and amendment agreed to accordingly.