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Lord Whitty: My Lords, some interesting points have been made. However, I still do not believe there is a convincing argument as to why assembly men and women should be treated differently from councillors throughout the land. Six months has long been the position there and there are local authorities of varying sizes and electorates. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope said, London is unique but there is no point in applying different rules to London from elsewhere just for the sake of it.

As regards the mayor, I can see that there are different arguments but we are in a unique situation in relation to the mayor. We considered that the six-month period was appropriate and a single absence of six months still seems to me to be the sensible position.

I take some of the points made by the noble Baroness in relation to the roll-on effect and how much, theoretically at least, it could mean throughout the mayoral term. I am not entirely convinced that we need to alter this to take account of an unlikely situation, but in relation to the mayor I am willing to consider it seriously.

If we accepted the amendments as they stand, we would have a potentially worse situation from the noble Baroness's point of view because theoretically at least, the assembly could concede that the mayor should not even attend after the six months. Whatever the level, three or six months, the assembly could give leave to him not to attend after that. Therefore, I do not believe that the amendments as they stand would meet either of the Opposition Benches' points. If the assembly were to collude with the mayor, it could allow the mayor to fail to attend for yet more meetings.

There is an issue in relation to the roll-on effect which I ought to consider further. But I would not be prepared to support the amendments as they stand.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, with the leave of the House and before the noble Lord sits down, I know we are at Report stage but it is important. The Minister said that he would consider the question of the mayor and I am sure he is right to do that. Some very good arguments have been made. He said that he saw no valid reason why the assembly members should be treated any differently from members of local government. When the Minister reads what the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has said, he will find that there are valid reasons. I suggest that he considers them.

It is important to get this right; it is not a difficult adjustment to make. The Minister may have considered this very carefully indeed or he may not: I do not know. He may be defending his position until he reads what Hansard says. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, made one or two very good points about the assembly members and I hope that the Minister will look at those as well.

Baroness Hamwee : My Lords, I hope that this is something to which the Government will give a little further thought.

The position may not arise so far as the mayor is concerned, although it is possible that it will. It is fairly likely, however, that a member of the assembly will, over a

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period of four years, be in the position when perhaps illness or some other good cause will make attendance difficult but where, just as with local government councillors, it would be appropriate for there to be a mechanism to allow that person to remain in office.

The Minister has laid great stress on the rules applying to members of the assembly not being different to those applying to members of local authorities, including London boroughs. I believe that there should be no difference in respect of the way an absence is considered, as a quite separate matter from the length of time concerned.

When, as I hope will happen after this stage of the Bill, the Minister looks at how this applies, I would be interested to know how the proposed alterations to Clause 44 will affect the position which allows the assembly to meet more often than once a month, because I believe that we need to consider these things together.

With regard to possible collusion between members of the assembly and the mayor, allowing the assembly to let the mayor off the hook and perhaps spend the period of office promoting London around the world or whatever, we have talked about what is likely, what is conceivable and so on. It is possible that the mayor might decide that his or her duties called for him or her to be away from London at all the relevant points. That does not dispose of the need for attendance at what, for the purposes of the Bill, we are still to call the “State of London debate" and the “People's question time". I do not think that what we are suggesting, therefore, is to allow the mayor to go off on a “jolly" for four years and never to pitch up facing the people of London.

I hope that we may have some news now and perhaps I should go on speaking for a moment. Nevertheless, I hope that the Government will consider the serious points which we are making. This is not an attempt to upset the structure of the Bill. It is an attempt to address likelihoods. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 15 not moved.]

Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 16:


After Clause 7, insert the following new clause--

VACANCY CREATED BY MEMBER RESIGNING PARTY WHIP

(“ . Any London member elected as a member of a registered political party who resigns his party whip shall be deemed to have created a vacancy.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, earlier this afternoon we dealt with the possible eventuality of needing to recall the mayor. We all expressed the hope and the belief that such a situation was unlikely to arise.

This amendment deals with a situation which from long political experience I believe is very likely to arise sooner or later. Again, a Bill which is extremely prescriptive is singularly silent on this particular point. That is, what happens if one of the members of the assembly taken from the party list subsequently resigns the party whip and ceases to be a member of that party?

The Greater London assembly will have 14 members elected from constituencies--very large constituencies. It can be argued quite legitimately there, as it is in respect of

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Members of Parliament, that the people who vote for them vote for them as individuals; they are elected as individuals, albeit most of them on a party ticket. We could have a debate about whether they would or would not be there if they were not on that party ticket. There at least, however, there is a direct link with the electorate. People have voted for that individual and elected him or her. They should no more be obliged to resign should they change parties than they are in the other place. One might have a point of view about what is the ethical thing to do under such circumstances, but there are enough precedents to demonstrate that ethics do not always arise in such circumstances.

Here, however, we are talking about a group of people the like of whom do not yet exist anywhere else in British politics. These are people elected from party lists to give a party balance on the assembly. In other words, to ensure that the membership of the assembly as near as possible represents the proportion of votes cast across London for each party or group. They are people who will be there for no reason other than their membership of a political party and the position on the list on which that party has chosen to put them. That constitutes their legitimacy. They are there because people have voted for the party, not for the individual.

What we are trying to deal with here is a situation where an individual decides that he or she no longer wishes to represent that party and to be a member of that party within the assembly. We are not dealing with a case where the party expels that member. That was a point of difference we had with the Conservative amendment at the Committee stage. I did not agree with that because, if it were to deal with expulsion, the incentive to expel a troublesome member might be rather too tempting on occasion.

The situation with which we are dealing here is one where an elected assembly person from the list chooses no longer to be a member of the party from whose list he or she has been elected. When that situation arises--and I believe that it will arise, perhaps not in the first term but sooner or later--the individual who has been elected and put in that position solely because of having been put on a party list by that party will no longer be representing that party. The party will be deprived of that representation. The voters who have voted for that party in the expectation that they will have that proportional representation will then be deprived of that representation.

My Lords, that is a different situation from any other in the British political system, structured as it is at the moment. I forget Scotland and Wales. I should say in the English political system. It is a very important situation and one which should be dealt with.

We are dealing with it in the way suggested here. We believe that someone who loses his or her electoral or party legitimacy as a London member, should be deemed to have resigned and to have created a vacancy. I think that is the right and proper way to deal with the matter, and presumably the next person on the list would step in.

I again ask the Government, as I did on the question of recall, if they recognise that this is a situation which is likely to occur sooner or later but they do not like this particular

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mechanism--though personally I think that it is the best one--will they tell me what mechanism they propose to deal with it when it does arise?

This extremely long, very prescriptive Bill is strangely silent on something which is not a remote possibility but which is a very likely event, sooner or later. I beg to move.

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, is right that we had a very similar amendment to this at Committee stage, with the additional part relating to expulsion. On reflection, we decided that the Liberal amendment was better than ours and we dropped our amendment. It was the second of the two amendments I mentioned earlier to which my name was unfortunately not added because of a problem when we went to the Public Bill Office rather later than we should have done.

I do not wish to repeat everything that the noble Lord has said. There is one thing I would say, however. The noble Lord, whose party has far more enthusiasm for proportional representation than do I or my party, joined me at Committee stage in pointing out that there is a vast difference between a first-past-the-post Member of Parliament crossing the floor and a member who owes his election simply to being a representative not of the members of his constituency but of a political party.

The fiction that applies in parliamentary elections and local council elections--namely, that voters elect individuals and not parties--does not apply here because that is precisely what the electors are doing. First, they are told, or authorised, to vote for a candidate for the constituency in which they reside. Secondly, they are authorised by a combination of the provisions of Clause 4(1)(c) and Clause 4(5)(a) to vote for,


    “a registered political party which has submitted a list of candidates".

As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has already said, that is precisely the point. The London vote is for a party, not an individual. The parliamentary fiction does not apply.

This is supposed to be an election based on proportional representation, and the proportionality chosen by the electorate--I stress that--ceases to exist when a party representative simply changes sides.

Why is it that Clause 11 is devoted to the machinery for replacing a vacancy among London members, but the Government, judging by their response at an earlier stage, decline to accept that such a vacancy occurs when a member of the assembly ceases to be a member of the party that sent him to the assembly? Why does Clause 11(5) specifically provide that when a vacancy occurs among the London members, which must be filled from among the other members on the list, someone who is not a party member is not eligible as a replacement?

What is the reason for the Government's inconsistency in this matter? Having listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to the Committee and studied it carefully in Hansard, I confess that I do not know. I cannot see it. It cannot be that they believe that under the benign dictatorship of their leader they are immune from defections from their party; certainly at local level, they are not. The noble Lord nods his head, but I am not sure that that is due to the note that he is reading or as a result of what I have said.

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This amendment is not some devious plot on the part of the Opposition, including the Liberal Democrats, to damage the Bill; it is designed simply to correct an anomaly or to cure an oversight. The noble Lord criticised the Liberal Democrat amendment on the ground that a dissenter would not leave his party, but would simply ignore the Whip. He did not answer my amendment at all, except to repeat the entirely fallacious argument that people are to elect an individual, not a party. He prayed in aid the fact that it is only comparatively recently that party labels have been attached to candidates' names in Westminster and local elections. That was done precisely because it was realised that a large number of the voters did not have the foggiest idea who was the local candidate for the party of their choice, no matter how many posters went up in neighbours' windows or how many unread election leaflets fell onto their doormats, along with soap coupons and adverts from the local pizza delivery service. Three months after an election how many electors can tell you on the doorstep what party their member represents, much less his name? The election of a London member will take place not because of who he is, but because he is a member of a particular party. His individuality is absolutely irrelevant.

When the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, began his response to this debate in Committee, he admitted that he was “a little torn" on it. I assume that he meant that he agreed that the point had some merit. He said that he tended to think that if people left a party, there should be some sanctions, but that he thought our proposals were “pushing it a bit". But in this case he has missed the point. The sanction is not that the defector loses his seat; it is against the voters who lose one of their elected party representatives. It is not like an ordinary parliamentary constituency where the voter can take his problems to another Member of Parliament in a neighbouring constituency. There can be absolutely no reason at all why the voters who have elected somebody on a party ticket, not as a theoretical individual, should be deprived of part of their voice--perhaps of all of it if their party has only one London member--when an individual changes the party allegiance for which he was selected. I can only hope that the Government, having had time to reflect on what both I and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said in Committee, now accept this entirely constructive amendment.


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