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Lord Norton of Louth: I shall be brief because many of the points have been made. For the reasons already mentioned, this is an extremely important amendment. There is a qualitative distinction to be drawn between local government and what was proposed in creating the Greater London Authority. The question is not only one of size, which is important in terms of the number of electors, but there is a qualitative point in that, structurally, it is very different. Whatever the terms of the Act, one is not creating something similar to the local government to which we are used. Therefore, the issue needs to be seen in a different light.
Literature and election addresses are circulated post free for three important reasons. The first is to ensure that electors are aware of what candidates propose to do in their name. That is extremely important. The second is that it ensures a level playing field; candidates enjoying the same facilities. That point was made extremely well by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. The third is that it raises awareness of the campaign. That point was made by my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish and it relates to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, as to why it is introduced at this stage.
At Second Reading, I mentioned that evidence shows that campaigning acts as a stimulant to turn-out. If electors are unaware of an election, it is not surprising that they fail to vote. Therefore, the more election literature that is available the better.
A fundamental point which derives from all that is that the distribution of election addresses should not be seen as a benefit to candidates, but rather as a benefit to electors. That is a crucial point and it is central to the health of the political system. Therefore, the question I ask in relation to cost is: what price democracy? If we are going to introduce this form of government, we must accept the consequences in terms of what should flow from it and the relationship between candidates and electors. That is fundamental. This is an important amendment and I hope that the Government, given the arguments that have been advanced, will accept it.
Baroness Hanham: I am conscious of the fact that the number of people who voted in the referendum on the mayor and the London authority was small and there is no evidence that that will improve in the elections on 4th May. There may be a number of reasons for that, but we are politicians and naively imagine that everyone is excited about elections. That is not known to be the case. Many people know nothing about the mayoralty, or the Greater London Authority, or what it amounts to, or why it is being introduced.
The excitement I sense around about me is not intense and there is a great risk that people will not know about the election. We may believe that they will pick up on it from the newspapers and television, but the chances are that they will not. Therefore, if it is believe that this is a good democratic innovation, everything should be done to ensure that the electorate is, first, aware that there is an election, and, secondly, that it knows who are the candidates and what they are standing for.
It is also totally nai ve to imagine that any party, however big, well resourced or replete with gangs of supporters, will be able to deliver all that information to every household. I am well aware of the doorbell problem. If I may say so, it has become much worse since 1989. If we want this election to be a success--and I imagine that this Government do want that because it was their great invention--then there should be a free post to deliver information directly to the doors of those who are going to vote.
Lord McNally: I do not believe there are four noble Lords in any part of this House whom I respect more in terms of elections and electoral organisation than those presently clustered on the Government Front Bench. Between them, they have an immense track
Because we are told constantly that this House is a revising and advisory Chamber, then the service we should offer to the Minister tonight is to tell him, in case he is in any doubt--having listened to the breadth of the speeches--that the gun is loaded. This is not a party political matter. Many around the Committee believe this to be an outrage. To try to equate with local government what will be the biggest election for a single post is absurd. Those of us who have supported the Government in bringing forward a new form of regional government for London and in establishing the unique post of mayor of London are--to put it as mildly as possible--appalled that the Government should have decided to take this course.
One reason why this matter has not been raised before is because, as my noble friend Lord Russell pointed out, no one in his or her wildest nightmares could have imagined that a Labour Government would try to pull a stunt like this. I believe that the Minister should go back and think very hard about this. The whole point and thrust of the Bill is to encourage more people to participate in our democratic procedures. To pull away one of the central props, by refusing a free post, is a grievous mistake. Before they make that mistake, the Government should think hard and change their mind.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I have certainly got the message loud and clear from around the Committee tonight. Clearly this is an honest and open debate, but equally clearly it is a debate that has come rather late in the day. Although noble Lords may not like it, I am surprised that the matter has been raised as late as this.
I should like to go through in more detail all the arguments that have been rehearsed and to set out the Government's position as clearly as possible. Amendment No. 71 would amend Section 91 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 to give each mayoral and assembly constituency candidate in the Greater London Authority election the right to send an election address to every elector or every household in their respective constituencies, post free. It would also allow assembly constituency candidates of a registered political party to refer in their election mailings to candidates on that party's London-wide list. In a sense, taking into account the way in which the amendments have been phrased, that would perhaps act rather unfairly--perhaps in a discriminatory way--against the top-up list. However, that is how it has been set out before us.
First and foremost, this is a local election. It has never been intended to be anything other than that. Section 17 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 makes that absolutely plain. Candidates at local elections do not have free mailshots. Much outrage has been expressed this evening that this is the largest ever election of its kind where there has not been--
Lord Campbell of Alloway: With great respect to the noble Lord--and I thank him for giving way--it is getting late. Can he stop reading his brief and deal with the merits of the argument on the Floor of the Committee?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am dealing with the merits of the argument. I make the point crystal clear. It was said that this is the largest election of its type without a free post. We have had Greater London elections cumulatively with the boroughs; we have had the Greater London Council; before that, we had the LCC. They did not rely on free post. They relied on local activism.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: I hesitate to interrupt at this late stage. There is a tremendous difference. I was fighting elections under the old GLC system. One did not have to cover the whole of London in trying to support a candidate and now one does. That is the difference. I believe it has been said that there will be 5 million voters. How will one get a message to 5 million voters by the old-fashioned methods? I do not believe that it can be done.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The point is the size of the electorate. In order to secure control of the Greater London Council one had to appeal to an electorate city-wide. That was the case and we all understand that. That is the point that I am trying to make here. All those local elections take place without free mailshots. I believe that the point about the precedent issue is very important. Are noble Lords saying that in future, perhaps as the mayoral system develops in other major conurbations, we should make those accessible to free post? If they are, they are signing a very large blank cheque indeed. Is that where they are coming from on this argument?
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