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Baroness Hamwee: We have already addressed some of the issues raised by the amendment. Although the noble Lord spoke very passionately about local links, I shall simply say that the strategic task for the proposed body is one where I believe close local links are not as important as they are for other political jobs. Indeed, there are others to undertake the more local jobs--others elected both to another place and to borough councils, though sadly not, in London, to parishes.
The noble Lord said that London is not homogeneous. Neither, I suspect, are many of the boroughs as they are now constituted. I know that many comments have been made about how things were better when there were smaller boroughs, so I do not follow the noble Lord on that argument. The noble Lord did not raise the thorny question that is inherent in the proposal; namely, the different sizes of populations and electorates in the different London boroughs. The noble Lord mentioned Kingston, which has a relatively small electorate of, say, 140,000. I believe that the population of the noble Lord's own borough of Croydon is of the order of 300,000 or 330,000, but I am sure that he will correct me if I am wrong. Nevertheless, even if I have not worked out the figures accurately, the population sizes are very disparate. Indeed, the proposal could, frankly, be quite unfair. The noble Lord may say that there are different numbers for each borough, but that would mean that we would have a very much bigger assembly than anyone is contemplating at present.
On these Benches we recognise that a degree of geographical link is important; indeed, it should not be entirely ignored. That is why my noble friend mentioned the possibility of constituencies which are linked to the old counties. I have come to realise that people's memories and sentiments as regards history run much deeper than one might suspect.
Baroness Hayman: It became apparent in the noble Baroness's closing remarks that the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, was perhaps a little too certain when he said that there were absolutely no practical alternatives to borough-based constituencies. It is an issue about which I understand the noble Lord feels passionately and one to which there was a great deal of response in the Green Paper consultation process. The Government made their position quite clear on the question of electoral arrangements for the new authority. In a way the new amendment is the opposite of amendments which we have just discussed. The latter aimed to give more flexibility to the Local Government Commission to
In the Green Paper we stated that a range of different electoral arrangements might be appropriate for the new authority. As I said, during the consultation process we received a large number of responses on electoral issues which we are considering carefully. Final proposals for the new authority, including the issues dealt with by the noble Lord, will be clearly set out in the White Paper to be published in March. It is on these proposals that the people of London will have the opportunity to vote.
As my honourable friend the Minister for Transport in London emphasised in another place, there is no advantage in fettering consideration of consultation responses by legislating in this Bill in the way proposed. It will be for the people of London to make a judgment on proposed electoral systems in the referendum in May, as part of the package presented to them.
Indeed, these amendments could justifiably be seen by the public as an attempt to frustrate progress towards a new Greater London authority. If the amendments were passed, but the package of proposals approved in the referendum did not include borough-based electoral areas for the assembly, the paving provisions in Part II of the Bill would be useless. That would threaten early elections to the new London assembly, perhaps by up to a year.
I should point out to the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, that the proposals in the White Paper may well reflect the arguments that he has put forward. Following consideration of responses to the Green Paper, it is possible that it will be clear to everyone that the Government accept that borough-based constituencies for the assembly are the best way forward. However, we have stated quite clearly--and these are the issues to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred--that we do not believe there is a case for duplicating the local representational roles of borough councillors, MPs or Euro-MPs. As well as reflecting local interests and concerns, it is important that members of the assembly take a strategic view. As the noble Baroness said, the boundaries of boroughs are not set in stone forever. Certainly my own borough of Camden comprises three very different areas which are not homogeneous and which in fact, in other times, were subject to different local government boundaries and were part of different boroughs.
Basically, the reason why the Government urge the noble Lord to withdraw the amendments is simply that we are still considering the consultation responses. It would wrong to pre-judge that process, and that is precisely what we would be doing if we were to agree to the amendments.
Lord Bowness: I thank the Minister for her response. I feel quite cold when I hear the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, saying that the new Greater London authority is for strategic matters and strategic tasks and that they
As I said earlier, the problems of Greater London are those of some or all of the boroughs which make up the Greater London area. It is just not good enough to say that some of those problems are too great for them to consider and that such matters should be dealt with by another lofty authority which can take a better view. It is the pedestrian crossing/allotment syndrome to which I referred on Second Reading; in other words, the boroughs are all right for doing minor things but we should not let them get involved in anything strategic.
We are talking about the proposed assembly. We are not talking about the assembly of borough leaders; we are talking about a directly elected assembly. Those strategic issues will impact upon the individual towns and cities. Therefore, it is vital that the representatives who sit in that assembly should have a direct linkage with those towns and cities. It is of course for the Boundary Commission to decide the number of representatives for each particular borough. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to the size of individual boroughs, and it is possible that there will be a grouping of boroughs. However, the amendment seeks to ensure--and this is absolutely critical--that the assembly is still rooted in the boroughs of Greater London. They are representative of the people. No Greater London authority can claim to have just a London view regardless of what the people in the boroughs think. That representational role is desperately needed. If this amendment is rejected we stand to lose that vital element. I am not persuaded to withdraw the amendment. I seek the opinion of the Committee.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
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