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Earl Russell: My Lords, has the Minister ever objected to a Bill because of a clause that is not there?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Earl has on many occasions objected to a Bill because of a clause that is not there. However, he has not broken a convention which, in the case of affirmative resolutions, has existed for 32 years. I do not often refer to great tomes such as Erskine May. However, I have checked Erskine May because the Library's research document does not answer the point definitively. Erskine May indicates that at no time has this House ever adopted a Prayer against a negative Motion. We are therefore in new territory. Of course the House has a right to do so. I have not denied that. The Leader of another place has not denied that. We have queried the wisdom of so doing. We have queried the prudence of so doing. We have queried the political implications of so doing. But we have not queried that right. Noble Lords now need to assess for themselves whether the wisdom of so doing is clear.

I referred to a period of 32 years. The last time this House voted down an order of this kind was on the basis of sanctions against Southern Rhodesia. It was a vote which I thought brought shame on the House. Nevertheless, it voted on the order that was before it. In 32 years we have not done the same. I believe, therefore, that we need to think.

The issue of the freepost is entirely extraneous to the matters in the rules and the order. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, shakes his head. He has said that it is the convention in these matters for the parties to be in agreement on the rules. These rules, which are fairly

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extensive, and this order, which is also fairly extensive in relation to the expenses, were subject to that convention: the parties agreed them.

Moreover, as I made clear to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, not only does the noble Lord's amendment require us to do something which is not covered by the orders--this is not a lawyer's niggling point, something my noble friend Lord Borrie found himself condemned for saying--it also asks the Government to act ultra vires in terms of existing legislation. Noble Lords may well be of the opinion that the Government, this House (we are all partly guilty) and another place--Parliament as a whole--were remiss in not putting such a provision in the Greater London Authority Act. However, none of us did. The brief reference made in Committee in another place was passed over not only by my colleague, Nick Raynsford, but also by the Opposition in another place. It was not pursued. The matter was not raised in this place, so we did not make provision. The power, therefore, does not exist to do what the noble Lord's Prayer requires us to do.

This again is utterly and completely unprecedented territory. It is not a question of constitutional rights. It is not a question of breaking a convention, which I accept your Lordships have the right to break. It is moving into completely new constitutional territory. I hope that noble Lords recognise that.

Noble Lords raised the precedent of Scotland and Wales. I repeat--noble Lords seem to have missed this point--that in relation to Section 11 of the Government of Wales Act and Section 12 of the Scotland Act there is power for the Secretary of State to bring forward regulations which apply the national election provisions to the elections for that Assembly and that Parliament. I repeat: the equivalent provision does not exist in the Greater London Authority Act. We are therefore in totally new territory. I beg the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, and those who are tempted to follow him, to consider what they are doing.

It is legitimate for the noble Lord to raise the issue in a different context. He raised it at Committee stage of the Representation of the People Bill. However, it is not legitimate and verges on serious impropriety and abuse of procedure to debate an entirely separate issue which we are not allowed to raise under the primary legislation in this context, force through a Division and vote down secondary legislation on the basis of such a move.

This is not the House of Lords behaving like the watchdog of the constitution. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, put it better when he said that we are behaving like a Rottweiler, an undisciplined and undisciplinable animal. That is not the role of the House of Lords in any of our views of the future; and it should not be a role advocated by the Front Bench of the Liberal Democrats. I am rather surprised that the noble Lord did so.

What is to stop my noble friend Lord Stoddart of Swindon, for example--I see that he is not in his place--from moving to vote down secondary legislation on matters of education on the grounds, for

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example, that he objects to the common agricultural policy? Once we get into that territory, your Lordships are using one area of law, of regulation, to vote down another. It amounts to an abuse of the proceedings of this House and, I would say, leads us not only into very difficult territory but also territory which--if the noble Earl, Lord Russell, were not about to jump to his feet and accuse me of asperity of speech--I would suggest was close to a serious criminal offence.

However, for the record I address some of the points raised in relation to a freepost. I am sure that we shall return to the issue next Tuesday in relation to the Representation of the People Bill. I turn, first, to the question of cost. The figures referred to by my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton, quoted elsewhere, relate to the original proposition of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay; namely, that we adopt the same procedure as for national elections in the Greater London proposals. That would mean an addressed envelope to every elector costing £750,000 per party. On the basis that there might well be 20 parties contesting the mayoral plus the GLA elections, the cost could amount to £15 million or more. The proposition today is slightly less expensive in that the delivery is addressed to households. But even that would cost £420,000 per party and therefore over £8 million.

Not only do we not have the primary legislation authority; we do not have the budget to pay for that. Therefore the money would come out of the GLA budget. As my noble friend Lord Bassam rightly pointed out, the budget of £35 million is the administrative budget for the GLA. The £3 billion relates to all the expenditure by the police, the Greater London Development Agency and Transport for London and not the administrative expenditure of the GLA. We are suggesting, therefore, that we take £8 million out of that £35 million for the first year of the GLA'S operation. We have at the very least to consider the wisdom and acceptability of doing that in relation to London.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, before the Minister leaves that point, and to save bringing forward the issue later, where is the £4 million coming from to send out the 11-page leaflet to every household?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, that expenditure will come from central funds and we have the authority to pay. We do not have the authority to pay, nor do we have the budget allocated for us to pay, under the GLA Act.

I wish to raise one other point on this extraneous matter. It relates to abuse. A number of noble Lords suggested that we do not want a freepost in case my good friend Ken Livingstone decides to run as an independent and we would wish to stop him getting any publicity. I think that noble Lords recognise the somewhat absurd implications of that.

However, we wish to stop abuse in this area. We are talking about a circulation to 5 million people. My noble friend Lord Harris referred to a driving instructor somewhere in Camden. I have a more exciting example. In the recent Kensington and

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Chelsea by-election, the electors of Kensington and Chelsea--one might have thought that they had had enough excitement with having Nicholas Scott, Alan Clark and now Michael Portillo as their MP--were treated to 19 candidates. One of the candidates who took advantage of the freepost was a Ms Louise Hodges of the Daily and Sunday Sport Party. Some of her policies were quite respectable. However, the implication, to be frank, is not quite so respectable. She does not put her telephone number but only the address of the Daily Sport. I believe that that semi-commercialisation of the election and freepost process--the current procedures of the Post Office, to which the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, referred, were incapable of stopping it--is a possible abuse. To put it at its lowest, we should at least consider these implications before we move into this election, leaving it open to abuse of a mailing to 5 million people of that sort of material.

I return to the substance of what I have been talking about. The election rules that are before the House have been agreed between the parties. The expenses provisions that are before the House have been agreed between the parties. There is no dispute about that. Not one noble Lord who has spoken has raised any objection to that. Yet we are faced with a proposition from the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, that we should vote against those provisions. If we stick with that position from the House of Lords, of course we shall have no rules for the election; we shall have no limit on expenses for the election. Is that really in the interest of Londoners or the interests of democracy?

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, that is simply not true. All you have to do is reintroduce an order which proposes something slightly different. That canard is simply not a runner. That is a bad metaphor!

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