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Viscount Slim: My Lords, today we are all rising to speak at the same time. I have always taken instruction from the Companion--your Lordships may care to read it occasionally--which states that we should defer every so often to other noble Lords.

I must declare that I am a Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London. As noble Lords know (although there are many new faces in various parts of your Lordships' House), in many ways I keep out of the politicising and the politics of your Lordships' House. However, I have a view, and that is allowed.

When I visit the boroughs, I do not say anything, but I get the impression that some of them are not exactly sold on the idea of a mayor of London. I say "some" and not "all" because I have not visited all of

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them. However, they feel that the creation of a mayor will provide another tier from which they will receive instruction and that their freedom and flexibility will be removed.

I listened to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, but did not find his remarks very encouraging. He spoke in a measured way, which was good, but he spoke with little passion. He spoke as though he did not believe what he was saying. I am sad because from these Benches I shall support any government, if they make sense. Lately, I have been having great difficulty in supporting Her Majesty's Government. On several occasions, I had great difficulty in supporting the previous administration. I believe that noble Lords on the Government Benches are making a mistake. I do not believe that they are thinking of the people. They are thinking of themselves and of their party. There are 15 million people in London who are worthy of their consideration. I am convinced that they are not giving it. I hope that some sense will prevail and that they will think of the people of Greater London.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, perhaps I may begin, as I did last week, by declaring an interest, having been selected by my party as a prospective candidate for the Greater London Assembly. I am also chair of the Association of London Government. That association held an all-party view that there should be some system of freepost, and I listened with great interest to the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon. I had forgotten that the All-Party London Group also expressed a similar view some while back. I believe that the Government have moved substantially on this issue in the past few days. My noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton is to be congratulated on the flexibility that he has shown in response to views that have been expressed on all sides of the House.

However, I must say that this afternoon one or two noble Lords seem to have lost the plot slightly on this issue. What are we all trying to achieve by having a system of freepost? If I remember correctly the arguments which were put forward the other day, the key point seemed to be that certain individuals--perhaps potential independents--or certain political parties would not be able to get across their message in the absence of a system of freepost. I believe that that is a compelling argument. However, what now appears to be in dispute is precisely how that message should be put across.

As I understand it, it is being proposed that there will be a booklet in which all those who are contesting, for example, the office of mayor of London will be required to set out their stall, as it were, to the electors in a standardised format. The party or individual concerned will be required simply to submit in a standard format the material which is to appear in the booklet. However, if we move to a system which requires that the candidates produce leaflets--perhaps they will be provided to a central place and stuffed into a large envelope or perhaps that will be done by some agency on their behalf--that will require a

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substantially greater degree of resources and effort on behalf of the political parties or independents. Therefore, if we are arguing that we want to encourage those who might otherwise not get their voice across to do so, the Government's proposal for one standard format makes sense.

I turn to a matter which I am sure will be the subject of much debate and discussion. No doubt it was this morning and no doubt it will be over the next few days. I refer to the question of how many words are appropriate. Two hundred words may not be enough, although I would countenance anyone who is interested in putting ideas into the minds of the electorate that essays of longer than 200 words may not, in fact, be read to the end. The number of words, the size of the material and, indeed, the typeface, will no doubt be the subject of much discussion and debate. That, however, is a matter of detail as opposed to principle. But I should like to suggest that there should be a little more flexibility in relation to photographs and emblems. It sounds as though that is to be the case. Certainly, I believe that if we are to put party emblems on ballot papers, which I believe is now envisaged, those same party emblems should appear in the material put forward by the candidates.

The noble Lord opposite made the point that the format was perhaps influenced by that used by the Labour Party in its own internal arrangements. That is an interesting argument. The internal ballot which the Labour Party held for our candidacy for mayor was, indeed, in a standard format. Attached very helpfully, I believed, was a letter from the Prime Minister to party members on the subject of why the ballot was so important. If noble Lords opposite are suggesting that we should follow the pattern used by the Labour Party, no doubt a helpful guide from the Prime Minister on the issues facing London would be useful. However, I am sure that that is not what the noble Lord had in mind and, certainly, I would not advocate it.

5.30 p.m.

Earl Russell: My Lords, perhaps I may tell the noble Lord that we are happy to do without that assistance.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful for that reassurance which I am sure will reassure the whole House.

Lord McNally: My Lords, will the noble Lord remind us how Labour voters reacted to that advice from the Prime Minister?

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, all the Labour voters to whom I spoke were, indeed, deeply encouraged by the advice that they received from the Prime Minister. But in one or two instances other factors had upset them.

But the other issue which must be addressed is the question of frivolous candidates. I know that that gets brushed aside and that the specific example which I

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cited in your Lordships' House last weeks seems to be being ignored. But that does happen. A standardised format with very specific requirements on what can and cannot be included can resolve the matter. It would be a mechanism which would enable us to be sure that the information coming from candidates enabling people to make up their minds is related to that election and is not related to extraneous factors.

The final issue is as to whether or not any such mailshot should be delivered to electors or to households. Some noble Lords who have spoken on that matter make quite compelling arguments about some doors through which this would have to go. It seems to me that it would not be beyond the wit of the civil servants who advise my noble friend Lord Bassam on how he might open his remarks today to try to define those households in which there may be a serious problem. In most households it is not an issue. One bundle of material about the election is probably more than sufficient on the door mat. Equally, I do not suppose that 100 bundles of material about the election which arrived through the doors of a hall of residence would be treated with any more thought than if a single copy arrived. There must be ways in which to provide sufficient extra material. But those matters should be looked at in the days ahead.

Finally, we have been told that this is all about preventing independent candidates from having a fair hearing. My point is that the best way of ensuring that independent candidates, whoever they may be, or small parties, whichever they may be and whoever they may represent, have the best, fairest and easiest chance, given the limited resources they might have available, is the sort of proposal which my noble friend has put on the table today.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, some time ago the word "Kensington" was mentioned, which brought me to the front of my seat. A little while later the word "Chelsea" was mentioned which brought me almost to my feet. And, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, mentioned the by-election in his speech last week.

We had an excellent result in Kensington and Chelsea. But it would be fair to say also that there were several frivolous candidates. There was a Daily Sport candidate; there was a Lucy Lovebucket; and on a previous occasion there was a Miss Whiplash. It all added to the joy of the occasion and the election. Such candidates add to the occasion but they do not add to the occasion of what we are talking about today.

I want to reinforce the proposal that this free mail should go to each member of the electorate. I am conscious that each elector must have an electoral poll card. Indeed, that is mentioned in the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Mackay. Everybody will receive a poll card and, therefore, by right, everybody should know who the candidates are.

When I spoke previously I pointed out that all of us who are involved in politics believe that this mayoralty race will grip London by the throat and that everybody will be enchanted and rushing around, waiting for the moment to vote. Probably we delude ourselves if that

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is what we believe. Some people will understand about the election and will be raring to go and vote while others simply do not know and will be minded and perhaps encouraged to vote if they know something about the candidates.

That seems to me to be what democracy is about. It is about ensuring that people who are entitled to vote know who they are entitled to vote for and what those candidates stand for. Even if they are frivolous, they are still entitled to be voted for. Indeed, the Daily Sport lady received 15 votes in all in Kensington and Chelsea, which must have pleased her enormously, even if it did not please the Government.

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