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After Clause 7, insert the following new clause--


(" . 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 Baroness said: My Lords, in Committee I proposed a similar amendment to this one, with one exception, which I shall mention in a moment. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and her colleagues proposed an identical amendment to this one, and I am glad to see that their names join ours on what we consider to be a most important matter.

In response to an entirely unsatisfactory reply from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, suggested that on this very important constitutional matter there should be a discussion between the parties. I concurred with that and said so

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when I withdrew my amendment at that stage. However, nothing happened. No meeting or discussion was offered or took place. The noble Baroness and her colleagues tabled the identical amendment at Report. Because of my absence on holiday and at my party's conference, I was too late to add my name to that amendment. But noble Lords may remember that I spoke in support of it in the renewed debate.

Once again, the Government, in the person of the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, gave what we regarded as an unsatisfactory reply, repeating, we believe, irrelevant arguments about a situation that cannot happen under the current and the Report stage version of the amendment. The essential difference between my original amendment and the one which we discussed on Report and are discussing today is this: I originally proposed that a vacancy should be deemed to have occurred not only if a so-called London member resigned his party Whip but also if he were to be deprived of the Whip for disciplinary reasons. I dropped that second ground because noble Lords were worried that that would put far too much power in the hands of the party machines and would be too centralising. On reflection, I confess that I agree with them and believe that that would be so.

However, the noble Baroness used that as a reason to oppose the amendment, saying:

    "What would happen is that a dissident member would refuse to toe the party line, or resign the Whip, and yet maintain his position".--[Official Report, 12/10/99; col. 255.]

Indeed, such a member might do that, and I agree that there would be nothing that anyone could do about it in the absence of any other sanction. But to cover that situation is no reason to decline to legislate. The Minister may regard it as entirely hypothetical and unlikely that a London member should fall out with his party and then do the honourable thing of resigning the Whip--not just sitting there, but resigning the Whip. The fact that a dishonourable assembly member, elected on his party's list, might seek to avoid losing his place by the dishonest device that the Minister suggested is no reason to fail to provide a remedy in the case of a London member who acts in an honourable manner.

The other and, I regret to say, totally specious argument which Ministers have raised against this amendment is to draw an analogy with the case of, say, a Member of Parliament or a local councillor elected on a first-past-the-post basis. The fiction is that the successful candidate has been elected solely as an individual rather than because of his party affiliation. In reality, that is what I have described it as--a fiction. These days, a candidate puts his party affiliation on the printed ballot paper. I am willing to bet that if you were to stop the first hundred people you met in any high street, not even a handful of them would be able to tell you the name of their MP. However, they would know for which party they had voted.

In reality and not in a fictional world, Members of Parliament and councillors are elected because they have been nominated by their party and not usually

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just because of who they are personally. However, let us pretend for the sake of argument that in the case of Members of Parliament and councillors, it is a personal vote and not one for a party. That does not apply in the case of a London member, who has been elected on the basis of his position on his party's list. He has been elected not because of who he is but because the voters had given enough votes to his party. Only 11 London members will be elected as London members. They have been introduced into the system to ensure that the final composition of the assembly includes a proportion of the representatives of various parties without giving total dominance to just one party. With so few London members representing their party, the defection of just one member can destroy totally that balance. Indeed, let us suppose that the "Moon is Made of Blue Cheese Party" succeeds in securing just one member under this system. If that member defects to the "UFO Supporters Party" then the party that elected him will be completely disenfranchised.

The whole function of the elaborate structure of 14 constituency members and 11 London members is designed to try to maintain some kind of balance. If a nominated London member dies, he is replaced by another person from his party's list. He is not replaced by the by-election process. That is why any gap in the slate of party nominees, however it is caused, needs to be filled by another member of that party.

The argument was also advanced that this provision has not been included in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. To that I can only reply: more is the pity. Two wrongs do not make a right. In due course I hope that the electoral systems for those two bodies will be adjusted to follow the lead that I invite your Lordships to approve for the capital city of the United Kingdom. I beg to move.

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for introducing this amendment which, as she says, is supported by both the Opposition Front Benches. We proposed this amendment at the last stage.

The situation whereby a member from the list resigns the Whip is one which could possibly happen. One hopes not, but it is certainly a possibility. The legitimacy of party list members in part lies in the internal mechanisms of their respective parties which put them on to the lists in the first place and which, depending on the party, may be more or less democratic. Secondly, it lies in the election of--let us face it--the representatives of the party rather than individuals. This electoral system marries proportionality with a constituency base for 14 of the members. We on these Benches are happy that there is a proportional system, although it is certainly not our system of choice. On a preferential basis, it is perhaps the second or third of our preferences. But we do support it.

However, as I am sure your Lordships would wish, we must ensure that the proportionality is strictly applied. As the noble Baroness said, the assembly is

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small. A change of party by one of the 11 will have a disproportionately large effect. At the last stage, the Government's response was to say that that approach is impractical. I do not understand that response. I do not see what is not practical about what we propose.

Secondly, the Government's argument was that individual members represent the whole electorate from the moment that they are elected. To take on the mantle of representation is not the same as staying once one has given up the Whip for one's party. I believe that those are two separate issues.

The third argument, which I believe has already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, is that such an approach is "dangerously centralising". I wish it were easier to show irony on the pages of Hansard. For the Government to suggest that this approach is dangerously centralising in the context of a highly centralised structure for the whole of London's government is, to my mind, an inappropriate response. As I said, we support the amendment that has been tabled and, indeed, we have added our names to it.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I also support the amendment, although I do so with a heavy heart. One has to support it because it is a logical extension of the voting system in the Bill, and the system in the Scottish Parliament.

My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish said that he wished that we had thought of this provision when the legislation setting up the Scottish Parliament went through the House. In fact, as we watch the activities of the Scottish Parliament, we can see some of the unfairness that has been created within parties and within constituencies due to the system.

I do not love the system any more than I did when the Scottish Parliament was launched. However, we are creating it again in this Bill. The Liberal Democrats, who like the system, naturally want to extend it by adding this amendment, saying that it is the party that matters and not individuals and that if an individual changes party he or she has to go. That is the logic of the system. It is an unfortunate but completely logical corollary to the system. I feel bound to support the amendment.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, we have been round this circle several times. I am utterly unconvinced by any of the arguments that have been put for this case. At least on the previous amendment the noble Lord had half an argument. I do not honestly believe that the parties opposite have an argument at all on this one. I am extremely surprised at the Liberal Democrats pursuing the matter.

I believe that under a proportional system there are still individual members. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, makes my case for me by saying that under the present system one is hardly ever elected except by party label. We have recognised that under first-past-the-post systems, as pertains in the House of Commons or in any council, if one changes one's party--as happens--there is no requirement on one to stand for by-election. We have recognised that in

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relation to the Northern Ireland Assembly, which is based on STV, and in relation to the European Parliament. That is also recognised in relation to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. There is no requirement under any of those different voting systems for someone who has been elected on a party ticket and who changes party once in office to submit himself to a by-election, although that might be argued to be the most honourable course. It may also be argued that such a situation should be institutionalised. I do not accept that. Why should we do so in this case and not in any others?

One also has to consider the practical point. A dissident member of a registered party who stood to lose his or her seat in changing party might simply not resign the party but act in support of one of the opposition parties. At earlier stages of the Bill the movers of these amendments did not support a situation whereby somebody expelled from a party loses their seat. Therefore, a dishonest member could continue to act under a Labour Party label but actually vote with the Conservative group on every issue. The sanction would apply to an honest member and not to a dishonest member. That does not seem to me a principled way of approaching the matter.

In every other electoral entity and under every other electoral system that we have adopted, for better or worse, in the House, there is no such principle as is proposed in the amendment. I see no reason for there to be such a principle in relation to the London assembly. I had hoped that we had disposed of this argument at an earlier stage and I hope that it is not pursued further today.

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