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Colchester Borough Council Bill [H.L.]

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.--(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.


Lord Carter: My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I explain the procedure for dealing with the three GLA orders today. It has been agreed among the usual channels that the second of today's affirmative orders and the Prayer against the

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election rules will be debated together this afternoon, and that includes the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.

The procedure will be as follows. The debate on the disqualification order will take place first, and the Motion to approve it will be moved and dealt with, it is to be hoped, quite quickly.

The joint debate on the remaining two orders will then begin. My noble friend Lord Whitty will move his Motion that the election expenses order be agreed to. In his speech he will deal with the election expenses order and the election rules order. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, will then move his amendment to the first order and speak also to his second Motion on the election rules.

The joint debate on both instruments will then take place. Any noble Lord who wishes to speak on either Motion should do so at that point. At the end of the debate the amendment to the order will be dealt with first. The Question will then be put on the election expenses order. Finally, and without further debate, the Question will be put on the Prayer against the election rules.

Greater London Authority (Disqualification) Order 2000

3.15 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 3rd February be approved [9th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the first of the Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper is the one that my noble friend the Chief Whip suggested might be over quite rapidly.

In the White Paper A Mayor and Assembly for London, the Government indicated that people who held public offices would be required to resign from them if they decided to stand for election as either mayor or to the assembly. We have decided, on reflection, that a less comprehensive approach, keeping disqualification to a minimum, is the right one to follow.

The Greater London Authority Act 1999, and other existing legislation, disqualifies certain categories of people, such as members of the authority's staff, from being elected or being the mayor or an assembly member. The 1999 Act also establishes tailor-made disqualification regimes for the new police and fire authorities, Transport for London, and the London Development Agency. Under Section 21(1)(b) of the 1999 Act, the Secretary of State may by order designate offices and appointments which disqualify the holders from being elected or being the mayor of London or a member of the London assembly.

The draft Greater London Authority (Disqualification) Order is now before the House. The order has been considered and approved by the other

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place. The purpose of the order is to set out clearly those offices and appointments which are not compatible with the roles of mayor of London or a member of the London assembly. In my opinion, the order is compatible with the European Convention on Human rights.

Part I of the schedule to the order lists those eight bodies all of whose members are disqualified. Part II of the schedule lists a further 18 offices and appointments, the holders of which cannot be the mayor or an assembly member.

The disqualification arrangements for the Greater London Authority need to be tailored to its circumstances--to the role and functions of the mayor and assembly members and to the inclusive approach the authority is intended to embody in London. Our aim has been to strike the right balance between preventing conflicts of interest and restricting the democratic right to stand for election of the fewest possible people.

The GLA will be a strategic authority. It will have a relatively small range of specific functions, all of which are vital to the well-being of the capital. The mayor will also need to provide leadership for London, and to work in partnership with other organisations. We want the jobs of mayor and assembly member to be open to a wide range of talented people and to promote an inclusive approach and co-operation and partnership--and perhaps some untalented people as well! We are therefore keeping to a minimum those offices and appointments which a person will not be able to combine with being the mayor or an assembly member. We want to prevent significant conflicts of interest, but do not believe that we should rule out in legislation overlapping, complementary interests.

We believe that serious conflicts of interest with the role of mayor or assembly member could arise with offices and appointments whose holders are required to be, or to be seen to be, politically impartial--such as judges or civil servants; or who are with a body which has a scrutiny role over the GLA or one of the four functional bodies--such as Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary or the Police Complaints Authority; or who may exercise a quasi-judicial role over the GLA or a functional body--such as a person who hears appeals on penalty fares issued on behalf of Transport for London, a subject which is dear to many of your Lordships' hearts.

Offices and appointments which meet these criteria are listed in the order. The order also clarifies that magistrate members of the new police authority are not eligible to stand for election as mayor or an assembly member. People who currently hold posts or employment which are disqualified in primary legislation or under this order will be required to resign before they give consent to their candidature as part of the formal nomination procedure, under the rules which will apply to the conduct of the GLA elections.

The disqualification arrangements set out in this order will be augmented by statutory guidance on ethical standards to which the GLA will be required to have regard. This guidance which we shall publish

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shortly will cover conflicts (whether of interest or of time pressures) with other public offices. I believe that this is a sensible fulfilment of our requirements under the Act. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 3rd February be approved [9th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Whitty.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Greater London Authority (Election Expenses) Order 2000

3.25 p.m.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

I hope that this one will be conducted with equal despatch! This order prescribes the maximum amounts of election expenses of candidates and their agents, and third parties, in elections for the mayor of London and the London Assembly. In my opinion, the draft order is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The draft order sets out three separate limits; for mayoral candidates, Assembly constituency candidates, and for parties and independent candidates contesting the London-wide list, reflecting the unique voting system that we have in the GLA. These limits are: £420,000 per mayoral candidate; £35,000 per candidate contesting an Assembly constituency; £330,000 per party or independent candidate contesting the London-wide list.

These orders were the subject of substantial consultation with the political parties in December. We listened carefully to the points that they raised about the level of the limits and significantly reduced our original proposals for the mayor and the London-wide list from the levels that we had originally proposed, which were £990,000 and £495,000 respectively. That was because the consultees in other parties considered them to be too high and likely significantly to disadvantage smaller parties in particular. The new limits provide for a more level playing field for candidates, while at the same time allowing candidates and their parties the freedom to put their message across to the electorate.

The limits can be broadly compared to expenses limits in other relevant regimes. The expense limit for mayoral candidates and parties contesting the London-wide list are broadly derived from the figure of £30,000 per parliamentary constituency used in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill as the building block for calculating the national spending limits which we are proposing for political parties. The Assembly constituency limit is broadly equivalent to the sum of parliamentary constituency limits within an Assembly constituency area. Those limits are enough to enable parties and candidates to fight effective campaigns at either the London-wide or constituency level, while at the same time not allowing their spending to become unacceptably high.

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When the order comes into force, GLA candidates and parties contesting the London-wide list will not be permitted to spend more than the relevant prescribed limit in respect of their election expenses. Election expenses are defined in the Representation of the People Act 1983 as,

    "whether before, during or after an election, on account of or in respect of the conduct and management of the election".

Spending before 14th December 1999, the date when the relevant provisions in the GLA Act were commenced, is not caught by the provisions of the Representation of the People Act and hence would not, in our view, count towards the limit.

Article 2 of this order prescribes the maximum expenditure which a person other than a candidate or his agent, that is a third party, may incur at such elections. Those limits are: £25,000 per third party supporting or opposing mayoral candidates; £25,000 per third party supporting or opposing London-wide list candidates, including independents; and £1,800 per third party supporting or opposing an Assembly constituency candidate. These limits are derived from the formula that we intend to bring forward by amendment to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill to limit third party spending in local elections.

During the debate on this draft order, the other place expressed concern that these limits were high. I recognise that they are indeed high compared to the current limit of £5 set out in the Representation of the People Act 1983, but I believe that they are justified both in the light of the Bowman judgment in the European Court of Human Rights, in which the court ruled that the £5 limit constituted an unjustifiable restriction on freedom of expression, and to ensure that third parties are able to put their case across to the electorate. They are the main points of this order.

Because of the procedure outlined by my noble friend the Chief Whip, I need also to refer briefly to the election rules which are referred to in the Prayer of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. Those rules, which are under the negative procedure, deal with the nuts and bolts of the election, such as the time by which nominations have to be submitted, how the public know when and where they can vote, how the polling station functions, and how the counting of votes is organised. If there are no rules, the elections cannot go ahead. I make that point in view of extraneous comment outside this Chamber. Except where necessary--for example, to provide for new voting systems in London--they follow exactly the patterns which have been set by all election rules made in the past 50 years.

As with the order, we have consulted with the political parties in producing these rules and with those who are professionally involved in running elections, and we took account of the views received in those consultations before we laid these rules before Parliament. The rules, therefore, are not controversial. Representatives of all parties have been consulted and

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have raised no objection to them. I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, and others who may speak in this debate will bear that in mind.

I need to say one other thing. This is a straightforward proposal under provisions in the GLA Act. This order and the election rules follow the normal procedure in drawing up the election rules and expenses rules under the legislation in local authority elections. I had my lunch interrupted on Sunday and my breakfast interrupted today by the dulcet tones of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, who indicated, slightly to my astonishment, that the Opposition intended to move against this order and these rules. In addition, I have had an indication that the Liberal Democrat Party might also be tempted to support this move, not on the ground of anything contained in these orders--as I have said, these have already been agreed by the parties--but on the ground of an entirely extraneous matter that is not and could not be contained in these orders. I therefore suggest that, as we move to the joint debate for which my noble friend the Chief Whip has indicated the procedure, we should bear in mind that any vote that is taken today will not be a vote on what has been put before this House, it having been passed in another place; it will be on something quite different. Before deciding whether and how to vote tonight, your Lordships should bear that in mind. I commend the Motion to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 3rd February be approved [10th Report from the Joint Committee]--(Lord Whitty.)

3.30 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish rose to move, as an amendment to the above Motion, to leave out all the words after "That" and insert "this House declines to approve the draft order laid before it on 3rd February and calls on Her Majesty's Government to lay an order which provides that candidates are allowed one freepost delivery per household".

The noble Lord said: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has just explained, these orders for the London mayoral election and the GLA elections lay down rules which are largely based on our parliamentary rules for elections in Westminster and Europe, the Assembly elections that have been conducted recently in Wales and Northern Ireland and, of course, the Scottish parliamentary elections, where the top up member system to be used in the London Assembly was also used.

One important aspect is missing. It is an important aspect which, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has pointed out, has led me to move this amendment and the Prayer and which has led the Liberal Democrats to say that they are absolutely with me on this issue. Unlike all the election candidates for the elections that I have mentioned--the House of Commons, the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly--the London candidates will have no access to freepost. Candidates will not be able to send an election address to each elector, or even to each

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household. A much more important point is that each elector will not receive through the post a communication from the candidates informing them of the election and informing them of the candidates who are seeking the support of the voters.

We heard last week from the Minister, Keith Hill, in the other place and from the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, in your Lordships' House why the Government had decided not to make the freepost delivery available. Rather briefly, we have also heard an argument from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, today.

We have to go back to the arguments we heard in your Lordships' House last week from the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton. They were also deployed by Mr Keith Hill when moving these two orders in the other place. First, we are told that it is too late to raise the issue; that it should have been raised during the passage of the Bill and it was not. That statement is wrong. The issue was raised in the Standing Committee in the other place on 28th January 1999. The Minister's uninformative response was:

    "The right honourable gentleman raised a different issue on whether a free mail shot should apply, as in parliamentary elections, or whether it should not, as in local government elections. Perhaps he has raised one more issue".

And that was that! We might have a debate about the meaning of that answer or non-answer, but the idea that the issue was not raised is not true.

Equally, freepost was not an issue during the passage of the Scotland Bill or the Government of Wales Bill. And after those Bills became Acts, no one suggested that just because the issue was not raised during their passage through Parliament no freepost should be given in Scotland and Wales. So that point is entirely bogus.

Then we have the principal point; the local government argument. The argument is that these are local elections and we do not have a post at local elections. I looked back at what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said when as Minister she introduced the Greater London Authority White Paper on 25th March 1998. To be fair, she started by saying:

    "Today we are publishing our detailed proposals for a radical new type of local government".

But then she went on to say:

    "The new authority will have new powers devolved from central government ... This is another step in our programme of constitutional reform. We are establishing new devolved assemblies in Scotland and Wales"--

a read-across to Scotland and Wales--

    "We are now taking a significant step in decentralising government by establishing these new arrangements in London ... The mayor of London will be a powerful figure, with an electorate of over 5 million voters--more than any other individual politician in this country ... [He] will control a large budget--currently more than £3 billion".--[Official Report, 25/3/98; col. 1278.]

That is what the noble Baroness said. Your Lordships will notice that the budget was £3 billion and not the £30 million mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, last Monday.

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I now draw your Lordships' attention to the words of the Deputy Prime Minister, which are to be found in Commons Hansard on 14th December 1998. He said--and he must have been reading it out because the English is quite good--

    "The proposed authority is not similar to any local government authority as we know it. It will be a new type of city government, with a city executive and elected mayor ... Therefore, it is fair to say that it is not the normal local government structure".--[Official Report, Commons, 14/12/98; col. 624.]

Exactly, my Lords! London already has local government and local government elections in its 33 boroughs. They will continue. The London-wide elections are for a new form of government, not "local" as we have traditionally known them.

As we have traditionally known council elections, there is no freepost, but equally there is no deposit. However, your Lordships will find that under these orders and the Greater London Authority election rules, there are deposits in these London elections. So they are not as local as the Government are trying to make out. The deposits are £10,000 for the mayoral candidates; £1,000 for a first-past-the-post candidates; and £5,000 for each top-up party. Deposits are what we have in Westminster, in the European elections and in the elections in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; and with deposits goes a freepost. The Government cannot have it both ways.

Of course, there is a huge electorate in London; bigger than any other in the country. Five million people will elect one person. Nothing--nothing--comes within the same league as such an electorate and election.

One thing surprised me. At the end of last week the Home Office announced the pilot schemes. Noble Lords who have been following the Representation of the People Bill will know that there are to be pilot schemes of various kinds to try out ways to increase turn-out at local elections this coming May. Local authorities have put in bids for them. One local authority which has put in a bid, and had it accepted, is Watford, and the experiment in Watford is a freepost facility.

It goes further than that because if it were a success, under the Representation of the People Bill the Government would have the power to roll out the same freepost facilities to local governments throughout the country and by secondary legislation.

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