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I welcome the booklet scheme. It seems to me that it is a good solution and that the Government have come down on the right side of the debate which has taken place very warmly on the subject. It is tremendously important for the democratic process that the booklet should go to every elector and not to every household; I welcome that wholeheartedly.
The only question to which I do not entirely know the answer concerns the issue of mayoral candidates not being allowed to refer in their address to other candidates for the council. For the reasons that have been given, I think that that is absolutely right. But some mayoral candidates--possibly those who have less likelihood of being elected, although no one ever knows what the electorate will do--also want to be elected as members of the council if they should fail in the mayoral election. Are they allowed to refer to this possibility? It is not a bull point for voting for them for mayor but, nevertheless, is probably a useful thing. Are they allowed to refer to this matter in the course of their election address for mayor?
Lord Monson: My Lords, I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, who, at the previous stage, drew attention to the problems presented by blocks of flats where there might be only one large brass letterbox at street level serving, say, a dozen or 20 flats. If I understood the noble Lord correctly, it has been the practice of the Post Office up until now to push through the door only one electoral communication per block, so that only one of the flats' tenants would receive it. Have the Government thought of any way of overcoming that particular problem?
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, on the becomingly modest way in which he spoke to his amendments. I think that it is a device which justifies a high degree of modesty, and the noble Lord met the requirement admirably.
I am not revealing anything at all surprising when I say that I was not in any way consulted. For that I am deeply grateful. Nor did I have any part in the negotiations which have produced this, to my mind, extraordinary arrangement. The noble Lord said that a great deal of time had been spent on the issue. I can understand that. He then made the candid admission that the matter could have been handled more speedily. I am not sure that the noble Lord is right about that. The subject contains material that would allow for almost endless delay. On the whole, I am rather surprised that in the end weariness came to his rescue and he was able--I shall not say, "to cut it short"--to reduce the length of the proceedings which otherwise may have obtained.
When it comes to the "birth" of the election booklet--if that is the right phrase--or when it makes its appearance, it will be a fairly astonishing document. I can bear witness and testify to the fact that it will probably not be the most widely read publication there has ever been. I also think that it will be useful to many people who are not taking any part in the election. I am sure that comedians--who, in our time, do not lack altogether raw material--will find it a useful quarry for further reference. The Minister said that it is important not to bring the election into disrepute. I agree with him. I think he can safely leave that little task to other people who will be more immediately involved than even he is.
My view, which I have attempted to express in your Lordships' House on previous occasions, is that the idea of having a mayor of London is a thoroughly bad one. The matter was not thought out by the Government and they have found themselves horribly embarrassed, as has been the Tory Party to some degree, by some of the fruit--shall I say, "by some of the harvest"?--that has sprung from their idea.
I think the Government are justified in saying that at least they have paid some degree of homage to the idea that, if we are go to through this extraordinary process, the individual elector should receive some kind of communication with his name on it. From what the noble Lord said, I am not sure how confident he is that each and every elector will receive an accurately addressed package containing this booklet. It will be interesting to see what turns up. Judging only from the extraordinary results achieved by firms which go in for this kind of operation and from the versions of our names (even if we have quite simple ones) that they produce from time to time, one is lead to expect that in the course of this delivery some people will receive communications addressed to people they have never met but who are, roughly speaking, intended to be themselves.
It would be churlish to divide the House and to break up the happy harmony which has prevailed between the Front Benches. The Government of the day, the Liberal Democrats--with the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, championing his cause, quite rightly up to a point--and my noble friend on the Front Bench have all gone into cahoots and produced this extraordinary creature. Naturally they wish to cheer it on its way. I cannot resist the temptation of saying that I do not fall over myself with enthusiasm for the creature they have produced. I recognise that they are entitled to a degree of self-congratulation, but they must not expect me to join in.
Lord Jopling: My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, three questions arising from the debate so far. I share two points with the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. First, like him, I was not consulted by anyone; and, secondly, I have rarely in my life voted with greater conviction than when I voted "no" to there being a mayor for London. It still
My three questions begin with the statement made by the Minister when he said that no material should refer to any candidate standing for election to the assembly. I am not quite sure where we get to with that. It would mean, let us say, that a Labour candidate could not refer to Mr Norris but, presumably, a Labour candidate could refer to the policy of the Conservative Party. I understand that. One cannot refer to an individual but I should be very surprised if one could not refer to a party.
For example, what would happen if Mr Livingstone, having been thrown out of the Labour Party, founded something he called the "Livingstone Party" which, as an individual, he could well do? What would the position be if the name of his party happened to be his own name too? Would it then be illegal for any of his opponents to refer to the "Livingstone Party"? I think it is a rather important point that could inhibit criticism in his opponents' election addresses. We are entitled to know what the situation would be. It gives rise to a number of problems.
Secondly, I want to inquire about the position once the draft of an election address has been submitted. Presumably, all that would be necessary is for one copy in draft to be submitted to the returning officer for it subsequently to be printed. Of course, the draft would have had to be submitted to the Post Office first. It would be very unsatisfactory indeed if, once a submission had been put in to the returning officer, there was an opportunity for it subsequently to be withdrawn or amended, the particular candidate having seen what was in other candidates' election addresses and being able to alter his own to meet a particular point made. It really would be unreasonable if that were to happen.
I want to stress how important it is to maintain the confidentiality of an individual candidate's election address from the point of submission to the point when it goes finally to be printed. It would be very unfair indeed if one candidate or another were to know what was in his opponent's election address. I should like to know what would happen in that event. I cannot over-emphasise how important it is that returning officers and the Post Office treat these documents with the greatest confidentiality.
My final point concerns the contribution of £10,000 towards the printing of the booklet. The Minister may recall that last week at Report stage I said that it would be totally unacceptable if a cash contribution were to be demanded towards the cost of postage. I hope I am right in assuming from what the Minister said and from what I read in the draft regulation that all that would have to be submitted are one or two pieces of paper constituting the draft of the address and that there would be no prior printing costs for the candidate before he put in his draft election address. I would be content with that situation. I am perfectly content with a £10,000 contribution towards the cost of printing because that could well be less than the cost to the individual candidate himself of printing all his own election addresses. I made that comment last week on the basis that the candidate had already paid for the printing of all his election addresses. I said that it would be totally wrong if a further contribution were demanded to cover part of the postage. I hope the Minister will tell me that I am correct in making that assumption.
I wish to make another point on the financial contribution. The Minister did not make clear the small print. If at the end of the day the cost of printing the booklet came to more than the £10,000 contribution covered, the candidates would be surcharged for the remainder. The Minister looks slightly befuddled by that, but I would refer him to paragraph 9(4)(a) and (b) on page 14 of the Marshalled List which specifically says that if there is to be any excess expenditure over the sum of all the £10,000 contributions, the candidates would be surcharged for the remainder. I find that slightly surprising as it seems to leave things wide open for a very extravagant printer.
Otherwise, I congratulate the Minister on listening to what your Lordships' House had to say. The Government have gone a very long way towards meeting our case.
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