|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: The major innovation here is not the elected assembly which will, after all, reverse the extraordinarily ill thought through abolition of the GLC by Mrs. Thatcher. The major constitutional innovation is having a directly elected mayor for what is in effect a regional authority. The Government need to carry the population with them on that matter. The case needs to be made. If we are moving towards a more participatory democracy, I suggest that the case should be made in a two-question, rather than a one-question, referendum.
Lord Mishcon: I must not conduct a debate across the Floor, even though it is very tempting when the noble Lord makes any utterance to say in polite terms that one disagrees. He put forward a point of view and I tried to simplify the issue.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I always think highly of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. However, in this instance I believe he has misinterpreted the amendment. It merely seeks to delete certain words from the Bill. It does not seek to say that there should only be a mayor, or only an assembly. It simply seeks to terminate the clause after the words,
That would mean that a decision could be made at any stage as to what to put to the people--whether to put the matter to them as a package or as two separate items. But deleting those words from the clause does not automatically rule out still having an elected assembly and an elected mayor if that is what the people want. I do not agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, that one is essential to the other. I understand her party-political viewpoint, but I do not agree with it. I believe that the matter should be put to the people to decide. However, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is mistaken in believing that by ending the clause at this particular point we should be ruling out any options. I do not believe that to be the case.
Baroness Hamwee: I had thought this to be a rather innocent little amendment. It was drafted by me some time between Christmas and New Year when I realised that it was a requirement if we were to debate whether there should be one question or two, and to that extent it is consequential, as my noble friend described it. However, it has provoked something of an over-reaction. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, are absolutely right in their interpretation of the objective of the removal of these words; that is, not to pre-empt the subsequent provisions within the Bill.
To respond to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon--whose disingenuous description of himself as a simple fellow was not believed by anybody--the noble Lord rightly posed the question as to whether the Government could properly give Londoners the opportunity of voting for what he described as an individual having dictatorial powers without the restraint of an assembly. That is the very point that we on these Benches seek to have debated as fully as possible. It is not only the possibility of dictatorial powers in one individual about which we are concerned. We are also concerned about the powers of the assembly to restrain that potential dictator. That is why we spoke to the previous amendment and why we seek a debate on the two elements. We shall come to that later in the Committee stage. We wanted a debate on the two elements so that that restraint can be well understood and accepted by people as being effective and sufficient. We happen to believe that the provision is unlikely to achieve that.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: Perhaps I may ask a question of practical construction. I accept that if we knock those words out we avoid pre-emption. I tried to say so when I first rose. But is it not possible to have an elected assembly without an elected mayor? Let us think about it for a moment. We have one Lord Mayor; we do not have to have another mayor. If people want an elected assembly, cannot they have one without having to have an elected mayor?
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, makes a good point: we cannot have an elected mayor without an elected assembly. Why cannot we have an elected assembly without an elected mayor? That is what I do not understand.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that it had seemed an innocent little amendment. I understand why she and her colleagues thought that it was simply a paving amendment. However, the debate we have had on it has started to illuminate those issues to which we shall return on the two questions. They are the fundamental issues to which my noble friend Lord Mishcon referred. They concern the nature of the exercise in which we are involved in setting up the referendum and they are also the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace.
It is absolutely correct that a policy that is in a party's manifesto could be implemented without any referendum simply through legislation. That is how we conduct ourselves in most matters of policy. Why the Government get themselves into trouble on the issue, if I may put it that way, is in trying to go beyond that, recognising that it is a constitutional issue and a major change. We have thought it proper that the proposals we put forward for government in London should be tested to see whether they have the approval of the people of London. That would accord with the values of new Labour, to which the noble Lord referred, in terms of being open, testing and consultative.
Where we draw the line is in putting ill-defined questions which could produce answers which the Government believe would be wrong and irresponsible and which they would not implement. I do not believe that that is giving real choice to people. It would be quite improper for a government who believe as strongly as we do that the two constituent parts of the assembly and the mayor must go together. Other people may disagree; Londoners may reject the proposition. That we are prepared for. What we are not prepared for is to have imposed a constitutional settlement which we believe would be fundamentally wrong. That is why the amendment is ill-founded.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I am becoming a trifle puzzled. Is it not the case that until we have the second Bill we shall not know what the constitutional settlement is? We know what its principle is and that it is suggested that there should be an elected mayor and an elected assembly to oversee him, or we assume that. But we do not know what the relationship is. Nor is there any means of devising it from the question in the paper. What is worse is that the procedure being suggested, as I understand it, permits the referendum to take place before the definition is clear. Although that has nothing to do with the amendment, it arises from the discussion that has taken place on the amendment. I am becoming a little concerned. It appears increasingly to me that we are being asked to fulfil an election commitment rather than informing and genuinely obtaining the opinion of the people of London on what the detail of the final settlement is to be. We do not have that. It is a dilemma we faced in the Welsh debate and subsequently in the Scottish debate.
The situation is extremely difficult and I accept the Government's problems in tackling it. Producing a Bill to deal with a referendum is relatively simple. We have a brief and commendably understandable Bill, but the Committee must be concerned with what lies behind the legislation. The difficulty we face is once again that we do not have the clarity which is required for us to be able to debate the matter simply and easily.
Baroness Hayman: I suggest to the noble Lord that that is exactly why we should not add to the lack of clarity by possible fundamental differences in the structure that we propose. Perhaps I may put it this way. I revert to the issue of the devil being in the detail and exactly what detail people will know. The flesh that will be put on the bones of the Government's proposals will be made clear in the White Paper. It will be finally refined--if that is what you do to flesh--when we go through the legislative process of the scrutiny of the Bill. But the skeleton is not up for negotiation. The skeleton is that for the matter to hang together coherently we need the two parts: the mayor and the assembly, working inter-dependently. That is the Government's position, the fundamental position to which we shall return and the proposition on which we wish to test assent in the referendum.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I believe that if the Minister accepts that this is a constitutional question--and I must declare an interest as a member of the Charter 88 Executive--it seems to me that we are edging towards the increasing use of referenda without appreciating just how much it is changing the British constitution. We all understand the difference between a plebiscite and a referendum. A plebiscite is something which an authoritarian government pose which is intended to contain a question to which there is only one possible answer. A referendum, as I understand it, is a consultation in which it is possible for the people to choose realistically among a number of options.
The difficult question for all of us is: do we wish to accept not just the return of elected government to London but also the major constitutional innovation of a directly-elected mayor? The debate we are now having is because the Government wish to say, "You can only have one, so long as you have the other." That seems a contradictory and possibly semi-unconstitutional measure. We do not have clear constitutional rules on it and I believe that the Government should give a better answer, if not now then certainly before we come back at Report stage.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page