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Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, the Minister commented on the relationship between these two amendments and the first amendment. However, as we have already disposed of the first amendment, I suggest that it is not necessary to address that point.
The first point to strike me when I read the Commons reason was how inadequate it is as a reason. It does not begin to reflect the Minister's argument, which was a perfectly respectable argument--I am sorry, I hope that that does not sound impertinent. For the Commons to say, "We disagree with the amendment because the question should be in the form in which we first proposed it", is not the highest reasoning of which either House of Parliament is capable.
I congratulate the Minister on presenting the Motion in a somewhat calmer fashion than appeared to prevail in the other place, according to my reading of the Commons Official Report. A sharp distinction can be drawn between presentation there and in this House. I suppose that it is not for Members of this House to comment on the standard of debate in another place, but it did not seem to me to set a gold standard.
There is a difference of view--some may put it more emphatically than others--as to what this exercise should comprise. The Minister has been clear throughout that the Government propose a package. She has said that it is not a consultative exercise in the sense in which we on these Benches would like to see it. She
We on these Benches believe that if two questions were asked and the outcome was not what the Government favoured, the matter would have to be reconsidered. We have made no bones about that. We have never proposed that the Government should be bound by the outcome of a two-question referendum if they genuinely considered that it would not be possible or practical--the term "pragmatic" was much used in another place in relation to this exercise--for the wish of Londoners expressed in answering the questions to be put into effect. I am disappointed. I regard this as a lost opportunity to achieve a high level of democratic legitimacy for the two constituent parts of the proposed authority. I believe that we shall require a better debate than will be enabled of a subject that so far appears to have been hijacked by discussion of the personalities involved, not the way in which the authority will operate.
Yesterday I attended a discussion held by the King's Fund on the impact of the GLA on health in London. Formerly, health was not proposed to be within the power of the GLA but matters such as pollution and housing very much affect the health of Londoners. What particularly struck me was the almost dangerously high expectations among the very well informed people who discussed this topic without a debate about how the structure would operate, as if we would move from nothing--not even a skeleton--to something that was fully formed. They expected this new organisation to solve so many problems.
I do not believe that the White Paper will produce the level of detail that we seek. Earlier this year I tabled a Written Question relating to the responses to the Green Paper. I asked how many people had expressed themselves to be in favour of an assembly with a separate directly elected mayor, an assembly alone or a mayor alone. The Answer of the Minister was that the details would be in the White Paper to be published in March. I do not believe that the White Paper is likely to provide that kind of detailed analysis. I appreciate that the responses are available for inspection, but it is beyond the scope of members of the public, and, quite honestly, Members of the Opposition, to do the amount of work required to provide an answer. I believe that the Government have an obligation to answer those questions.
However, with a sense of disappointment but also realism, and also a little question in my mind as to whether when presented with the ballot paper on 7th May I shall be tempted to spoil it by writing yes and no--because I do not find the question crystal clear according to the Minister's description of it--we on these Benches accept that this composite question is the question to be asked. I therefore look forward to working on the substantive Bill. That may be the second best approach, but the details of the relationship between
Lord Bowness: My Lords, this response is almost as regrettable as I found the response to the previous amendment, especially as the Government at an earlier stage in another place virtually invited the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to produce a proposal for a sensible set of two questions that they could both support. That was done. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I am disappointed by the reasons given for its rejection. It appears that once again the Government are not prepared to listen to the argument or, despite what the Minister said earlier this afternoon, to risk having to listen to the people.
The Government may well want a directly elected mayor and a directly elected assembly. I have no doubt that members of the Government will campaign for it. The Minister says that it is not possible to produce a Bill, or, as it is to be, a White Paper with alternatives, but that is not something for which we have asked and it is not what we say. Were the Government to listen to the essence of this amendment they would produce their White Paper on the basis of their stated policy. But there are two questions. I submit that it would be a better pre-legislative test of consent, if that is what it is, not a consultation, if the two questions were posed.
It is possible to want one proposition but not the other. It is possible that with merely a White Paper people will form views on the details--even those that the Government decide that they need--but not be prepared to endorse one or other element of the proposition. This does not commit the Government to proceeding with one and not the other, but they would need to think again about the rejected element. I find it distressing that the Government will not take that risk. One is inevitably drawn to the conclusion that they are sure about people's willingness to buy the proposal neatly wrapped up as one but rather more nervous about their reaction if it is opened up so that people are allowed to see and comment on the constituent parts. I regret that the Government cannot contemplate the possibility of a second thought either after the referendum or in this House this afternoon.
Lord Rea: My Lords, as one of the few Members on these Benches who supported this amendment initially it is right that I should say a few words this afternoon. I agree with my noble friend that clearly the manifesto promised a referendum on the combined package, but as a member of the Labour Party I do not recall contributing to that decision. Many other Londoners would very much like to have back their elected assembly but a significant number are not convinced that a directly elected mayor is desirable. I remain to be convinced that the benefits of such a new institution in London will outweigh the dangers. As the noble Baroness has said, the Government have been accused of not trusting Londoners. I believe that they would be shown to have greater trust of Londoners by allowing the two-question version to stand.
One anxiety expressed by my honourable friend Nick Raynsford in another place was the danger that if we have two questions we might land up with an elected mayor without an assembly. I think that that would be unlikely, but I believe that it is the outcome that some Members of the Opposition Benches would like to see. I agree that that is a danger that we want to avoid. However, that could have been dealt with easily by asking first, "Do you want an elected assembly or not?" and then asking the second question to be answered only if the answer to the first question is, "Yes". But I realise that on this occasion the Government are steam-rollering ahead with this, and that it will be clearly ridiculous to try to get in the way, because this time we will be completely squashed.
That must say one of two things. Either it says, "This Bill is unamendable, because it is our will", or it says, "We disagree because we disagree because we disagree". Neither of those is particularly persuasive.
I shall have been here 10 years next month. During that time I have noticed the reasons given by another place becoming slowly more perfunctory. It is a sliding process in which last May does not seem to have caused so much as a blip. It is something which causes me some regret. It also raises--this is the serious point that I want to make--the attitude of government to a revising Chamber. I say that without prejudice to any decision on what form such a revising Chamber might ultimately take.
All governments say that they want a revising Chamber, but all governments do not like it when they get it. The trouble with a revising Chamber is that it is no good unless you have it when you do not like it, because if you only have it when you do like it, in effect, you do not have a revising Chamber at all.
Government, it seems to me, is an animal of remarkable political consistency no matter in which party colours it may temporarily be clothed. All governments believe that they have well thought out and carefully considered proposals; all governments believe that altering those will open a Pandora's Box of confusion; and all governments believe, although they are not always as honest about it as the Minister was today--I thank her for that--that the bones of the proposal are not up for consideration. That is an attitude which calls in question the uses of a revising Chamber.
I should like to ask the Minister--I hope that notice of the question has reached her--how many times the Government have had amendments carried against them in this House; how many of those amendments they have accepted; how many they have reversed; and in how many of them they have reached a compromise. I hope that the reply to those questions will not offend against the law of averages.
In the previous Parliament Mr. Frank Field--as my memory is not perfect, I believe that I must be paraphrasing--said that, if the Lords should so much as find a grammatical error in an Act of Parliament, a junior Whip would rise to move, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment". I hope that Mr. Field was wrong.
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