HL Deb 14 June 1999 vol 602 cc91-124

House again in Committee on Schedule 2.

[Amendments Nos. 38 to 41 not moved.]

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Failure to attend meetings]:

Baroness Miller of Hendonmoved Amendment No. 42.

Page 4, line 23, leave out ("six") and insert ("three")

The noble Baroness said: I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 42 and 51 which have an identical purpose.

In Clause 6 an assembly member automatically forfeits his place if he fails to attend a meeting of the assembly for six consecutive months. Under Clause 13 the mayor forfeits his office if he fails to attend six consecutive meetings of the assembly. I imagine that the reason for one being based on a period of time and the latter being based on the number of meetings is that there are provisions for calling extraordinary and special meetings.

The principle of forfeiture of office for persistent absence is unobjectionable. Indeed, it is a common provision which applies to company directors in everyday life. I am sure that it is included in the terms of appointment to many quangos. The amendment will reduce the period from six months to three months in one case and from six meetings to three meetings in the other.

In the light of the importance of accountability of the mayor and the enormous amount of power vested in his hands, he should only be allowed to be absent for two consecutive meetings rather than the five proposed in the Bill. Clause 44 does not permit the substitution of the deputy mayor at the assembly meetings, nor would he be able to do so. If Amendment No. 15 had been accepted, to have an elected deputy mayor, not only could the deputy have acted in the mayor's place but also one or other would have been free to go on extended overseas trips to promote London's interests abroad or for other purposes around this country. In the case of an assembly member, to be absent for half a year is, I suggest, wholly excessive. One group of assemblymen represents 14 giant super-constituencies. Who will look after them if their member is away on such a protracted absence? The other assembly members are elected on a party ticket and with only 11 of them in all, and to preserve the democratic balance in the assembly, their absences should be strictly limited.

It was mentioned earlier today that there are insufficient assembly members and that further consideration should be given to the numbers. But, in any event, if an assembly member can have such protracted absences, it really would not be possible for the work to be done. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

The clauses which the noble Baroness is seeking to amend provide for the mayor to be disqualified from office if he fails to attend six consecutive monthly meetings of the assembly and for an assembly member to be so disqualified if he fails to attend any meetings of the assembly during a period of six consecutive months.

Under the provisions of Clause 44(2), the assembly is required to hold monthly meetings which, under the provisions of Clause 37(3), the mayor must attend unless he has a reasonable excuse not to do so. The meetings have been established for the express purpose of allowing the assembly to cross-examine the mayor about his decisions and actions.

The assembly will undoubtedly want to invite the mayor to attend the other meetings it will hold and the mayor will undoubtedly wish to accept such invitations. But the statutory monthly meetings will be the essential core of the mayor's formal relationship with the assembly. Therefore, we believe that any procedures which would result in the disqualification of the mayor for failure to attend meetings of the assembly should be linked to those statutory monthly meetings.

In our view, it is unlikely that the mayor would consciously seek to avoid those meetings. They will be an important opportunity for the mayor to explain his policies, decisions and intended actions.

But the Mayor of London will have other significant duties, the timing of some of which will be determined by others; for example, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, said, travel abroad to promote the economic interests of London and visits to London by people of importance to the future welfare of the capital. In such circumstances, the mayor must be able to absent himself from an assembly meeting. The deputy mayor will stand in for the mayor on those occasions.

However, we recognise that the mayor cannot be allowed to treat the assembly in a wholly cavalier manner. That would be completely unacceptable, not only to us but also to the people of London who will have elected the assembly to ensure that the mayor can be held to account. Therefore, we have provided for the mayor to be disqualified from office if he fails to attend six consecutive monthly meetings.

The noble Baroness has proposed that we should allow for fewer meetings to be missed—only three—before the mayor is disqualified. But that is neither acceptable nor workable. I am sure we can all conceive of circumstances—ill health, a serious accident or a combination of one of those with other circumstances—in which it may be necessary for three or more consecutive meetings of the assembly to be missed. But other than in exceptional circumstances, a mayor who failed to attend six consecutive meetings of the assembly would be pushing his luck, both with the assembly, on which the mayor relies for the delivery of the authority's budget, and with the electorate.

In the circumstances, I hope that the Committee will agree that we have pitched this about right in linking the procedure for disqualification to the statutory monthly meetings and in setting a maximum number of six consecutive meetings which can be missed.

I turn now to Amendment No. 42 which refers to disqualification of assembly members through failure to attend any meetings during a period of six consecutive months. The noble Baroness proposes that that should he reduced to any meetings during a period of three consecutive months.

An assembly member is likely to be busy with the statutory monthly meetings and any committee or sub-committees on which he is required to serve. Clause 6(3) provides that a member will be deemed to have attended a meeting of the assembly if he attended as a member of meetings of committees, sub-committees or as a representative of the assembly or authority at a meeting or a body of any other persons.

Those requirements are in line with those relating to local authority members provided in Section 85 of the Local Government Act 1972. In that Act, as in the provisions of this Bill, a member of a local authority can be disqualified if he fails, throughout a period of six consecutive months., to attend any meeting of that authority.

While we are creating a new style of London governance, there appears to be no special reason which makes it necessary for assembly members to be treated differently from members of a local authority in relation to matters of failures to attend meetings. Therefore, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Tope

I listened to both speeches with great interest. On this occasion, I genuinely approached the matter with an open mind and wanted to be convinced one way or the other by the argument. It is an interesting issue. Like the noble Baroness who has just replied, I hope and believe that it is unlikely that any wise mayor will ignore the assembly for six months or even for three months. But then we legislate for what is unlikely to happen. When we have failed to do so, we have found ourselves in trouble. Therefore, while we hope and believe that it will not happen, we need to cover the eventuality that it may do so.

Therefore, I am persuaded that to reduce it to three consecutive meetings is sensible, given the frequency of the meetings and the work of the mayor and assembly, with the proviso outlined by the Minister that where a reasonable explanation is given for the mayor's absence that will be accepted.

I turn to the provision of absence without reasonable excuse, with which we are all familiar in local government; that is, six months. But as the Government have told us so often, the Greater London assembly is not local government; it is something which is unique and different. We cannot have it all ways. We should not look at this matter in the circumstances of general local government provision but in the particular circumstances about which we are speaking; in other words, the Greater London assembly.

As an assembly, it will meet frequently and, critically, it will be a much smaller body than most district councils and certainly than most major councils. The absence of an assembly member for as long as six months—I would say for as long as three months—will be even more serious than in the case of a larger authority. That member may well have, and indeed should have, important duties. It is quite serious to be absent for such a long period. While I hope and believe it will not happen in the case of the mayor, I am sure that sooner or later it will happen in the case of an assembly member. To allow it to go on for six months for no reason other than it is the norm in local government is not good enough. We need to look at the consequences of such an absence and provide for a shorter period— and three months is proposed here. However, just as in local government, where there is good reason the proviso exists that the member is excused. Where there is not good reason, we should pay attention to it.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

The noble Lord said that in his opinion the comparison with local government is not valid. However, I am sure that the noble Lord will agree that local government provides experience of circumstances in which people may fail to attend. The noble Baroness's amendment proposes that disqualification will occur at the end of the period, as it does in local government. Therefore it is not a matter of judgment. My understanding is that the noble Lord was referring to something not encompassed by the amendment, which provides for the breakpoint—which in the case of local government is automatic disqualification.

Lord Tope

The noble Baroness is one of the people in Committee with whom I would not clash over local government matters, but I am moderately confident that in local government, where prior reason has been given and the council has voted to accept that good reason, an absence may continue. That should, of course, be the case with the Greater London Authority, whatever the period of absence. I do not know whether the amendment provides for that but if not, no doubt that point will be dealt with.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I owe the noble Lord an apology—I was in error. I withdraw my comments.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

I was most grateful for the assistance of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, in clarifying my remarks. The noble Lord said that it would be reasonable to extend the time. We will reconsider the amendment because it might be that we would wish to say that for both the mayor and the assemblyman an absence should be allowed provided the assembly agrees. So disqualification would not be automatic but a person would be unable to extend absences from meetings without anything happening. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Declaration of vacancy in certain cases.]:

8.30 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 43:

Page 5, line 9, at end insert ("or (d) if he has been elected as a London member, resigns from or is expelled from his party or the group on whose behalf he was elected, or transfers his allegiance to another party (or none) or group (or none),")

The noble Baroness said: With this, I will speak also to Amendment No. 44. There is a theory or myth that in first-past-the-post elections, one is voting not for the party but the candidate as an individual. I suppose that a lot has to do with the party to which the individual belongs. Under the system to be used in Greater London, almost half the members of the assembly will owe their places to the fact that they were selected by the party that the voter supported. Such members will be in the assembly because of their position on the list, through whatever machinery the party used for that purpose. No elector will have the choice of voting for or against any individual candidate.

As the assemblyman is there purely as a representative of his party, not in a personal capacity, if he crosses the floor of the assembly he will be depriving his party of one representative chosen by its supporters at the ballot box. In the deviousness of politics, a person could rebel and vote against the party whip without officially resigning from his party—but it is for the party machinery and discipline to deal with such behaviour. That is why the amendment includes a provision for a party member to be expelled.

The proposal would not act to the advantage of any particular political party. Over the years, elected members of every party have crossed the floor, especially in local government. I know cases where that has resulted in control of a council passing from one party to another. With an assembly, where a substantial part of its membership has been selected solely because of their party affiliations, such action will deprive electors of the choice of party that they made at the ballot box, which was the sole criterion for their vote.

What if an independent member of the assembly decided to join a particular party as distinct from supporting it in assembly votes? Electors, having chosen a person to exercise personal discretion should not complain if he or she does so. In truth, I do not believe that independent members will be elected that often.

It is unnecessary to introduce a complicated provision to deal with the remote possibility of an independent being elected, then suddenly seeing the light and joining a party. The proposed provision is simple, as can be seen from the brevity of the amendment's wording. It would not be helpful to introduce an extra refinement to deal with a remote pair of possibilities. I beg to move.

Lord Tope

Amendment No. 44 raises the same important issue as the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, but with a slight difference. I shall listen with interest to how the Government have addressed this important issue. As the noble Baroness said, we could maintain what is probably a fiction—that candidates are elected as individuals. We could argue about the importance of the party label. Here, we are talking about the 11 London members who will be chosen by a party and elected from a party list. In other words, the electorate will be voting not for the individual but a party. Voters will have the right to believe that the people elected represent that party. That is essentially different from the situation in parliamentary and local authority voting, where candidates are elected as individuals, albeit with a party label. In this case, the party will be elected.

Again, we are talking about a small assembly of 25 persons in total, where one change could make a significant difference. I do not mean a difference to the balance of control because the assembly will not be a local authority in that sense, so control will matter less. Most important of all, the member concerned would be exercising a deceit on the electorate, who voted for a party as distinct from a person. We debated earlier the unlikely event of a mayor ignoring the assembly. A change of representation is a much more likely event. Rightly or wrongly, people do change their party allegiance. If a person who has been elected as a Conservative sees the light and decides that he is really a Liberal Democrat—and such things are not unknown—that would be a deceit and different from Parliament and local authorities.

Our amendment differs in an important respect from that of the noble Baroness, but we may be able to debate that later. Amendment No. 43 applies also to someone being expelled from their party. That worries me a little because it would give a party the ability to get rid of a troublesome member chosen by the electorate. The temptation to do that might be too much for some party managers to resist. Our amendment deliberately does not refer to expulsion but to the decision of the assembly member to belong to a particular party or to no party. It will be his or her choice, under whatever duress. I invite the Official Opposition to reflect on that difference, as we will. But both amendments address an important situation that, sooner or later, will arise.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

Before I heard the noble Lord, Lord Tope, I was going to say that our amendment and Amendment No. 44 were very similar but ours was better because it allowed for more eventualities—such as expulsion. Having listened to the noble Lord, it may be that his amendment is better. I need time to reflect. The Minister should understand that both the noble Lord and I feel that it would be dreadful if someone were elected on a party list, not as an individual, then decided to become a member of another party—although I will not use strong words such as "a deceit on the electorate".

It is different when Members of Parliament cross the Floor. Independent MPs are elected as individuals, and presumably electors allow them to use their judgment. I understand that their judgment now is that the Conservative party is better than the Liberal Democrats. I could not help making that observation after the way that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, explained the change-over of crossing the Floor. I thought that we would even out the argument on that point. However, it is a very serious matter if we are to be so involved in a small assembly with just 11 elected members who will be able to criss-cross the Floor in this way.

Lord Whitty

I cannot understand why anyone would leave the Liberal Democrats for the Conservatives or, indeed, vice versa. I am a little torn on this one. After all, I am an old apparatchik and I tend to think that if people leave a party there should be some sanctions. However, on reflection, I think that these proposals are pushing it a bit. There are certain practicalities involved, especially as regards the Liberal Democrats' amendment. In reality, if anyone realises that he will lose his job as an assembly member in such circumstances, he will not resign the party whip; indeed, he will just ignore it. Therefore, it will become a matter of party discipline and it is an issue upon which the party will almost automatically take a view. As I know, partly to my cost, you then get into all sorts of court cases, litigation and in this case presumably employment rights to some extent because we are talking about a paid job.

Therefore. there are real problems involved. But quite apart from the practical problems, there is also an issue of principle. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, is right to say that we are creating a unique body, although it is a relatively small one. Nevertheless, we have had a long-standing convention at all levels that, if people change their allegiance once elected by electorates, they do not automatically have to resign. Of course, there have been one or two honourable exceptions to that in the past 100 years, but not very many, relating to Parliament, local government or indeed the European Parliament. I also believe that that is the case in most other countries. I asked for advice as to whether there was any situation in any country where this applied by law. The general view was no, although someone did indicate that it might apply in North Korea under rather greater sanctions.

It is not long ago that the ballot paper did not give any party affiliation. However, in the past few decades we have put the candidates' affiliation on it. Is that, in essence, any different from saying, "These are the top three Labour candidates", or "These are the top three Conservative candidates", who get on as a result of selection? I do not believe it is that different in principle from us being able to say that a convention which has run for many years in local government, in Westminster and more recently in the European Assembly should apply here.

Once you have elected someone, he will serve his term. He will have been elected under a party label, whether it was by first-past-the-post, by an alternative vote., STV or indeed a list system. In all such cases, simply because someone decides that he is unable to continue to share a party label—and it may well be that the party has changed rather than the person; that does happen—there is no reason why the person should lose the position for which he was voted by the electorate. In any case—and I return to a practical point—the reality is that in those circumstances no one would actually resign the whip. We would be straight into party discipline, and that is a point which the Liberal Democrat Benches were trying to avoid. That, of itself, creates many more complex problems than are addressed by this amendment. Therefore, with those words, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Tope

I bow to the Minister's much greater experience than mine as an old apparatchik. I recognise the difficulties about which he is talking. However, there is an important difference here. The noble Lord made a reference to the fact that someone is elected. The people under discussion are not elected in a personal sense; they are there from a party list to give proportionality between the parties. When they transfer to another party, they automatically upset the proportionality, which has been determined by the number of votes that the party, not the individual, has received. In other words, the Government's intention in this Bill, which we certainly support, of creating proportionality on the assembly would be immediately upset. Because we are talking about such a small number—only 11—it would be upset to a relatively great extent. That is the point we are trying to make. It is not the same as the issue of a Member crossing the Floor in, say, the House of Commons or in a council chamber. Is it not actually altering the intention the Act, as it will be, as regards the election?

I understand only too well that there are practical difficulties and, old or apparatchik or not, we can recognise that fact. However, I ask the Minister to recognise that there is a real issue here and to think about how it can be addressed. Some of us do understand issues of party discipline. I shall be very happy to have discussions on the matter. It is not for me to speak for the other Front Bench, but I suspect that that will also be case for them. In that way we will be able to see how we can address the situation which, I say again, will arise sooner or later. It is a very serious situation. particularly in a small assembly.

8.45 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

I could not agree more with what the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has just said; indeed, there is a great difference between the example given by the Minister and the position that we are discussing whereby people cross the Floor of the House. I should have thought that the Government would be delighted to accept this amendment. I can only speak for my own party, but our list is made up of one member, one vote in London, voting for the list and the order of the list. That is one point. I believe that it was somewhat different in the Minister's party. The list was somehow designated but not by one member, one vote. I am not quite sure how they came to it, but I do not think there was the same democratic choice of the list. Therefore, given that fact, they would be even more upset if one of their list actually moved across the Floor to either the Liberal Democrats or the Conservatives.

The Minister made much of a point that he really did not understand why the Conservatives went to the Liberal Democrats or vice versa. He made the point that sometimes parties change out of all recognition. It may well be that his party is one which has really done so. Indeed, it might have offended some of the voters because they ended up all of a sudden with something completely different from what they believed the party to be.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, suggested that we would be happy to sit round a table and discuss the matter. We would most certainly be happy to do so. I shall withdraw my amendment at this stage, but I think that the Minister should take note of the fact that we consider this to be a very important matter. If people are elected on a list and then decide to cross the Floor, we believe that the voters should have an opportunity to say something about it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 44 not moved.]

Clause 8 [Election of member as Mayor]:

[Amendment No. 45 not moved.]

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 [Date of casual vacancies]:

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 46:

Page 6, line 11, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert ("give public notice of any casual vacancy among the Assembly members, and shall also convey such notice in writing to the Greater London returning officer")

The noble Baroness said: Clause 10(2) provides for only the Greater London returning officer to receive official notice of a casual vacancy among the London members. It is true that the succession to an assemblyman will be the next person on the party list, so the notification is a formality. However, I venture to suggest that very few electors will actually scour the obituaries if that should be the unfortunate cause of the vacancy. It is also a regrettable fact that with no constituency element among the London assemblymen, very few of the electors will know who has been replaced or why.

In my long experience as a canvasser in innumerable elections, I can tell the Committee that an amazingly high proportion of electors cannot tell you the name of their MP, let alone the councillor for their own ward. Of course, the public has to be given notice of a vacancy among the constituency members because there is likely to be a by-election. But why is it that when a vacancy occurs among the London members, the Government say that as the replacement is already in place, it is none of anyone's business? Is this not the opposite of open government?

It is not as if we are suggesting that the proper officer of the authority is being told to visit each voter personally and impart the news. All that he needs to do is to place an advertisement in the local press and put up a few posters. Is that not exactly what happens every day already when public notice is to be given on any subject? I do not understand why the Government, have produced such a convoluted dual process in the two paragraphs of this subsection. In just four words less than the Government our amendment makes a simplified all purpose procedure which I recommend to the Committee. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

As the noble Baroness said, her Amendment No. 46 would extend the provisions in Clause 9 of the Bill to include a requirement to give public notice of the occurrence of London member vacancies in addition to constituency member vacancies. Of course it is right that if a vacancy arises in a constituency seat, the proper officer of the authority must give public notice of that vacancy, as required by Clause 9(2)(b). This is because a by-election will fill that vacancy and the public therefore need to be told.

But vacancies in London member seats will not be filled by an election. Where the vacancy is in the seat of a member elected from a party list, the returning officer will be told that a vacancy has occurred and will fill it from the list submitted by the party at the previous ordinary election. No election will be held and therefore public notice is not necessary. However, I accept that it will be important that the public are made aware of who has filled an assembly list vacancy. Given the size of the assembly, this should be achieved simply by virtue of their taking their seat. But formal public notice of those individuals who might fill a future vacancy will in effect have been given at the preceding ordinary election when parties submitted their lists of candidates to the electorate. I hope that in the light of this reassurance the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

I listened with interest when the Minister said that she did not feel the amendment was necessary. On the other hand, I can see no reason why it should be unnecessary. It seems extraordinary that no matter how small or how large our amendments may be, or what Bill they seek to amend, or what we are talking about, the answer from the Government is always no. In all my time at this Dispatch Box on the one occasion that I achieved success it was overturned in the other place. One would think that at some stage the Government would want to encourage us and would give just a little in the hope that we might not divide on a measure that they would consider far more substantive.

Baroness Hamwee

I did not want to interrupt the noble Baroness in full flow. I merely wished to ask the Minister a question before the noble Baroness withdraws the amendment, if that is what she intends to do.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

I shall certainly not withdraw it until the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has had an opportunity to ask her question. We may wish to return to this matter. If the notice comprises a public notice and not an advertisement, we may wish to suggest that it is put on the Internet, for example. However, at this stage I shall sit down and listen quietly to what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has to say.

Baroness Hamwee

I do not think my comments merit that introduction! I am afraid that I cannot immediately recall what notice is to be given after elections. I hope that the Minister can remind us of that. The noble Baroness proposes that the public should be made aware of who are the London members and who is a new London member. If there is any inconsistency as regards notifying the public in the event of the next person on the list filling a casual vacancy, and with regard to what happens after the ordinary elections, one should be able to consider that matter without it being regarded as any great drama or loss of face on the part of the Government.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I am unable to recollect that point. In the light of my previous error with the noble Lord. Lord Tope, I prefer to write to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 [Filling a vacancy in an Assembly constituency]:

[Amendment No. 47 not moved.]

Clause 10 agreed to.

Clause 11 [Filling a vacancy among the London members]

Baroness Miller of Hendonmoved Amendment No. 48:

Page 7, line 20, leave out subsection (2)

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 48 I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 50. Amendment No. 48 is a paving amendment to remove subsection (2) of Clause 11. Amendment No. 50 seeks to add a new subsection at the end of Clause 11. We accept what we believe to be the object of Clause 11, but as drafted it leaves an undesirable gap which needs to be tidied up. The clause as stated in the preamble to subsection (1) applies when a vacancy occurs among the so-called London members. If the vacancy occurs among those whose places derive from one of the party lists, his place is filled by his colleague who is next on the list.

On reflection, I see that there may be a possible theoretical flaw left by the wholesale removal of the entire subsection (2) which would occur if all of the reserves—if I may call them that—from the party lists are used up by the wholesale decimation of the elected members. That is something that we could tidy up at the next stage. The gap that I have just mentioned arises if the assemblyman who causes the gap is one elected not as a member on a party list but as an individual. I accept that in the real world the probability of an individual candidate getting enough votes to secure a place is pretty remote. But on the other hand some celebrity, famous TV journalist, or resurrected Elvis Presley might throw his hat in the ring and get elected. If his place fell vacant, the Bill as drafted provides for it to remain vacant until the next election. This situation could theoretically last for nearly four years. Why is that?

I realise that political parties resent independent candidates getting in and stealing the seat that they believe ought to be rightly theirs. Members on both sides of this Chamber have experienced that indignity over the years. I also realise that by-elections are somewhat inconvenient to organise and are comparatively expensive to run. But no one suggests that if a vacancy occurs in Parliament or in a local council there should not be a by-election. With PR we are, I agree, living in a different world. However, with only 11 London members, the loss of one of them through death or resignation represents a substantial gap, loss of representation and an increased burden of work on his colleagues. If only one independent place falls vacant, our amendment follows the Government's preferred choice and leaves the place empty until the next ordinary election. If somehow two places became vacant—remote though all these possibilities undoubtedly are—the proposed measure provides for the holding of a by-election.

I revert to the problems of expense and inconvenience. We have said that there would be no poll if the event occurred within six months of the ordinary election date. We are not here proposing something that would come into effect often. It may never come into effect. But if there were to be two vacancies among independent assemblymen, it would not be tolerable for there to be a possibility of a long-term 20 per cent vacancy among the London members. This amendment removes that possibility. I beg to move.

9 p.m.

Lord Whitty

The noble Baroness clearly points to a somewhat improbable set of circumstances. They are, nevertheless, circumstances which the legislation would allow to arise. She suggests that where two independents have been elected and two independents resign. die or, for one reason or another, disappear from the assembly, there should be a by-election. Her proposals are different from those we provided for Scotland and Wales, where exactly the same situation could apply.

Improbable though such circumstances may be, one has to assess the cost of running a London-wide election. The assembly can function with vacancies and whereas it is clear who the replacement candidate would be from the party lists, in such circumstances it is not at all clear that a by-election would produce another independent candidate. In practice, the most likely effect of a by-election would be for a member of one of the established parties to win. That would not reflect the original views of the electorate.

There are difficulties in this area. Whatever answer one comes up with creates an anomaly. I am not convinced by the noble Baroness's solution. One can afford an anomaly once but not twice. Were there a large number of independent candidates, one would have to find a mechanism, but I am not sure why it is obvious that because one moves from one vacancy to two, one has to provide for a new election which almost certainly would not result in additional independent members. Therefore the objective of the amendment would not necessarily be achieved.

I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment, in this form at least. I concede that there is a problem and I am happy to have another look at it. I am not sure that I will come up with a solution that is capable of meeting all the various problems that this distinctly improbable situation would cause. I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

Lord Dixon-Smith

Before the Minister sits down, when one is drafting legislation improbabilities as well as probabilities have to be taken into account. In this instance, improbable though it might be that two independent members would be elected under a PR system, it is not inconceivable that notable people might be attractive. We are creating something new and different and Londoners may decide that independent members are attractive. One can conceive of circumstances under which assembly members were undertaking an investigation and two independent members were travelling in the same car. They could be involved in the same accident, with fatal consequences.

Does the Minister think that two casual vacancies of two independent members for, let us say, three and half years, is preferable to a by-election? A by-election may produce a different result and not return independent members but at least it would not leave the assembly deprived of virtually 10 per cent of its membership. Given the fact that in legislation one has to consider the improbable as well as the probable, this is a potentially significant matter.

Baroness Hamwee

I agree that one must cater for the "what ifs". My noble friend Lord Tope commented that one of the "what ifs" is not likely to be a resurrected Elvis Presley because he does not have the residence qualification. It would be inconsistent if we did not support the amendment or something rather like it, given our concerns about the size of the assembly and the possible loss of two out of the 11 London members. The balance here points to a by-election even if, as the Minister said, it means that the vacancies are filled by members of a political party rather than by individuals. Given the functions of the assembly, it is more important to have people to carry out the scrutiny role than to try to preserve whatever political balance there may have been at the time of the original election.

Of course the scenario is not very likely. We considered putting down an amendment to deal with the loss of one London member in such circumstances. We decided that that was perhaps being a bit over anxious. However, we feel that there should be some mechanism for filling two vacancies.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My noble friend and the noble Baroness have made the point that the Bill, as well as dealing with probable circumstances, should deal also with what the Minister described as improbable circumstances. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that even were Elvis Presley resurrected he would not qualify under the residence provisions of the Act is quite possible.

I have mentioned TV journalists. A situation could arise where perhaps two Martin Bells, or someone of that ilk, were elected as independent members. Or perhaps a well-known member of the Labour Party, who did not obtain his party's endorsement to run, would be elected both as mayor and as an assemblyman. It is an unpleasant scenario but perhaps a situation may arise where two independent members, feeling somewhat threatened by the fact that the rest of the members of the assembly belonged to one party or another. became rather friendly and one day became involved in a car crash. Suddenly there would be no independent members of the assembly. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made the point that in a very small assembly it would be a disaster if that happened and nothing could be done.

The Minister said that that was improbable and unlikely to happen. In that case, there is no reason why the Government should not give way and incorporate the amendment into the Bill. As it will not be called upon, it will not cost anything. The Government could actually agree to the amendment because they are certain that such an occasion would never arise. However, if the Government think it might arise, then all the more reason why they should agree to the amendment. However, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 49 and 50 not moved.]

Clause 11 agreed to.

Clause 12 agreed to.

Clause 13 [Failure to attend meetings]:

[Amendment No. 51 not moved.]

Clause 13 agreed to.

Clause 14 [Declaration of vacancy in certain cases]:

Baroness Miller of Hendonmoved Amendment No. 52:

Page 8, line 15, at end insert ("or (c) is subject to a unanimous vote of no confidence by the Assembly.")

The noble Baroness said: This long and extremely complicated Bill has gone through the detailed scrutiny of the other place. In the course of its passage so far it has been virtually returned to the drawing board by the Government, and it has, like Topsy, "just growed", by no fewer than 85 pages. It is therefore curious that one essential provision is missing.

One assumes that the mayor is deemed to hold office during good behaviour. The Bill does not provide for his dismissal or his removal from office for "grave crimes and misdemeanours". If the Prime Minister were to fall out of favour or indeed the leader of a council, then his party, possibly with the assistance of the other side, could get rid of him by voting him out of office. Of course, the electorate can get rid of the whole party at an election, but that is not what we are talking about here.

The mayor of Greater London is unlike any other mayor of any city in the United Kingdom. Those mayors have largely ceremonial duties, including presiding over the council meetings, with his only real power being a casting vote in the case of an equality of voting. Despite the fact that the Secretary of State is reserving considerable powers to direct the mayor on how he should perform his duties, we are about to invest the mayor of London with enormous executive powers. He will have a budget equivalent to or in excess of that of the entire national budget of some third world countries. He will have substantial powers of patronage. I have no doubt that the person who is elected mayor will conduct himself in a perfectly proper manner. But perhaps he will not, either over a period of time or on a particular occasion. Perhaps he may he guilty of inappropriate conduct—I do not mean in his personal life—but in performance of the heavy duties imposed on him under the Bill.

High Court judges can be removed only by a joint Address to Her Majesty by both Houses of Parliament, but Her Majesty will not be appointing the mayor. The mayor will be elected. It would be grossly improper to have the dismissal effected by the Secretary of State at the request of the assembly. The Secretary of State already has more than enough reserve powers under the Bill, a Bill which seeks to give London an independent mayor, but leaves him subject to the directions of the Secretary of State in many vital areas.

Judging by Amendment No. 53, I believe that the Liberal Democrats agree with us in principle that there should be a power to remove the mayor and that the decision to remove the mayor should be in the hands of the assembly and the assembly alone. Therefore, the difference between us revolves around how many members of the assembly should decide on this drastic step. I accept what will no doubt be a criticism of my amendment that achieving a unanimous vote of no confidence will be extremely difficult. But I believe that the process ought to be difficult because unseating the mayor, elected by a popular vote, would be a very serious matter and should not take place unless it is clear that it is the right and proper step. I know it is possible that some obstinate person could in effect exercise a veto, or that a close friend of the mayor might be reluctant in what could be a secret vote to reveal that he too had voted for dismissal. In either of those cases it would be for them to explain that although the mayor had, for example, shot the leader of the opposition in front of the whole assembly and was locked up in prison awaiting trial, or had cost the taxpayers millions because of some gross act of negligence, they nevertheless voted for him to stay in office. No, I believe that they would act properly, and in a case where it is claimed that the removal of the mayor is both just and necessary, a unanimous vote is essential. I think there are difficulties with a lower percentage but the problem is that this is a very small assembly.

The reality is that it is not difficult to imagine an election in which, under the categories of constituency and party list members combined, one party could acquire an automatic majority sufficient to throw out the mayor. If the mayor happened to be of a different party, their own candidate having failed, then it would be a fairly simple matter to reverse the election results for absolutely no reason but that they did not like the winning candidate. Also, with only a small majority being required, there would be the temptation to launch a series of ill-founded motions, or even just one, which although unlikely to succeed, would undoubtedly fatally undermine the credibility of the mayor and his authority, and would distract him from the performance of his duties. One has only to look at recent events in the United States to see what I mean.

It is essential that in a democracy no office should be a freehold. Equally, if it is a leasehold it should be possible for the representatives of the electors to end the term of an elected official early where there is an exceptionally good reason. I beg to move.

9.15 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee

We share the concern expressed by the noble Baroness about the need to find some mechanism to deal with what would be very extreme circumstances. The experience of the conduct of mayors in the United States, for example, is not wholly happy. I do not mean to imply that every mayor in the United States has been corrupt, but there have been a number of notable and very worrying examples.

However, as the noble Baroness said, we are concerned about the need for unanimity. She mentioned the possibility of a chum of the mayor who is a member of the assembly blocking a vote of no confidence. The example which came to my mind was of a deputy mayor appointed by the mayor and therefore having a rather different personal interest from the rest of the members of the assembly.

We have proposed a two-thirds majority to allow for the odd obsequious and unquestioning supporter. Two-thirds may be a bit too low, but we wanted to examine tonight the possibility of steps being taken to get rid of a mayor who had lost the confidence of the assembly. For the purpose of this debate, I am happy to put it in the terms of the noble Baroness's amendment. It is not actually easy to get a two-thirds majority, I would have thought; certainly not if it were on a straight party line. The mayor would have to have done something pretty outrageous for this circumstance to come about. We have proposed two-thirds because it is a fairly common proportion which is required for constitutional change, but perhaps it is a little on the low side.

The mechanism we have proposed differs in another important respect from that proposed by the Conservatives. In any event, the assembly members would no doubt think pretty hard before passing such a resolution, but we are asking for a sanction on them to make them think that much harder—not only should they not be frivolous but that if they were frivolous it would rebound upon themselves—because our election provides for an outright election. In other words, if the assembly members want to get rid of the mayor they have to be prepared to face the electorate themselves. We believe that a mayor with very considerable powers needs to be subject to careful controls. In many situations I would argue that this is a matter for the electorate but, given the particular powers of the mayor, this is something that deserves particular consideration.

Lord Whitty

The noble Baroness started with the subject of corruption in American mayors and perhaps I should put on record here that the normal disqualification provisions covering the conduct of all local authority members would also apply to the mayor. In other words, the mayor will have to stand down if he has committed an offence that would carry a sentence of three months or more. If they are bankrupt, or disqualified under the Representation of the People Act or disqualified under Section 17 or 18 of the Audit Commission Act, or they are not prepared to attend meetings, the question of a corrupt mayor does not arise. It is really a policy issue that we are referring to now.

The noble Baroness also referred to the United States. I think that the recent history of impeachment processes there is not a very good model for us to follow here. It is conceivable that a vindictive assembly might take action against a mayor, even attempting to get a two-thirds majority—possibly not a unanimous majority, I concede, but nevertheless a two-thirds majority. Even in the improbable circumstances that we have been asked to consider in relation to the Bill, it is not improbable that a totally non-party candidate could win as mayor. That is a conceivable circumstance. The party establishments collectively might well have a view on that. Yet he or she would have had the endorsement of Londoners and a direct election. The flaw in these amendments is that the assembly's mandate is assumed to be superior to that of the mayor. Yet, if anything, the mayor's personal mandate will be more direct and substantial.

Under the Liberal Democrat amendment, if there were a vote we should also have to engage in an election for the assembly. It is a "nuclear deterrent" type of power. But again—as we are asked to consider improbable scenarios—if it happened, it would possibly happen almost immediately after one election where the programme of the incoming non-party mayor might be rejected by the assembly. Would the assembly be justified in removing the mayor? In what circumstances exactly would the assembly be justified in doing so, given that corruption, criminal offences and offences covered by local government legislation are already provided for? It seems to me that the noble Baroness's normal instinct applies here. This is a matter for the people, not for the assembly, whose members are elected on a parallel ticket for a different job from that of the mayor. I do not think that it could be justifiable if on every occasion—taking the two-thirds majority target, as the assembly must have a two-thirds majority—the assembly was able to ask London to vote again for a mayor.

I have a fundamental objection to this proposal. It is a matter for the people, not for the assembly. It is a misreading of the relative role of the assembly and the mayor. I do not think there is any precedent of one group of elected officials being able to vote out another, different elected official. Admittedly, we are in new and uncharted waters. But this proposal muddies the waters of the division of functions. It provides the possibility of dangerous and damaging conflict within the new Greater London Authority and we should reject it. I feel strongly about this matter. I hope that the noble Baroness will reconsider.

Lord Dixon-Smith

We are of course in the business of considering improbabilities. I accept that perhaps we should not take too much notice of the experience in America where there have been one or two extraordinary mayors. I am also aware that there was an extraordinary mayor in a part of France which I still visit with great regularity because it is an area that I love. He finally had to make a hasty retreat—I believe it was to Mexico, but it might have been Argentina. When finally he returned, he received a considerable gaol sentence.

I accept that in the case of corrupt practice the law should normally take its course. One believes and hopes that the principle of a man being considered innocent until he is proved guilty is appropriate. But let us suppose, because we are considering improbabilities, that the case was flagrant. The course of justice grinds exceedingly fine and smoothly, but it grinds exceedingly slowly. With clever lawyers, it could take a considerable time to bring a case to court, and even longer to obtain a conviction in a case where matters were well known.

It may be said that it is unlikely that all these probabilities would come together. But the truth is that, unlikely though they may be, they may happen and we need to consider them in the course of the passage of this Bill. I believe that my noble friend's amendment has validity and merits serious consideration by the Government.

Lord Tope

Can the Minister tell the Committee of any other political leader in any sphere of government anywhere in the United Kingdom who cannot be removed from office by one means or another? That is what we are talking about in the case of this mayor. I cannot think of any other example. I hope that this is an unlikely situation, but if it arises it is probable that Parliament will have to legislate again with all the difficulties that that entails. We all hope that that course of action will never arise or that it will be embarked upon only in the most extreme circumstances, but that is the kind of eventuality to which we must give consideration.

I very much share the point of principle enunciated by the Minister. The mayor is elected by the electors of London and ideally should, if necessary, be removed by them. There are clear and obvious practical difficulties in achieving that with an electorate of 5 million. What would be a significant number on a petition? How would it be organised, and so on? The practical difficulties would, frankly, make that an impossible event. We need to devise a system that gets as near as possible to that principle, which is the purpose of the amendment. We do not simply say that the mayor should be voted out of office by two-thirds or four-fifths of the assembly, or whatever figure we choose, but that the assembly in taking that very serious decision must also put itself to the test of the London electorate.

If the assembly does not believe that it has a very good case to argue it will in effect be voting itself out of office. We believe that in practical terms that is the nearest we can get to putting the removal of the mayor to the test of the London electorate. It is highly probable that the ensuing election for the mayor and assembly would be fought on those very issues. That would satisfy the principle, which I accept, enunciated by the Minister. The matter would then be put to the test of the people who elected the mayor in the first place. They would either confirm the decision of the assembly, and presumably elect a different mayor, or do the reverse. If there is a better way of doing it we are, happy to hear it and discuss it.

Our amendment seeks to meet the important principle that the Minister enunciated but also recognises that, improbable though it may be, this situation can arise, and if and when it does it will be an extremely difficult one for London and the Government. This is the stage at which we should address it. We should determine now how to deal with it while the matter is still theoretical and before it becomes a really difficult practical problem. We shall probably not get very much further with this matter tonight, but I strongly urge the Government to consider how it should be dealt with and to give serious consideration to the amendment moved by my noble friend.

Baroness Hamwee

Before the Minister responds, perhaps I may add one word. He suggested the possibility of an independent mayor who was disliked by the members of the assembly who combined to oust him or her. I believe that that was the thrust of his comment. Our amendment is designed to make assembly members think extremely hard about doing anything so frivolous or silly. That notional independent mayor no doubt would have been elected on the basis of a manifesto. Clearly, nothing like the Salisbury convention would apply within the Greater London Authority, but the effect of having to put the respective manifestos to the electorate again more or less meets the point. The Minister said that that would be the nuclear option. It is absolutely intended to be the nuclear option.

9.30 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

I am concerned about what occurs when the unexpected happens. Someone will have to take a decision as to how to handle the difficulty. As the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said, if a mayor has committed a heinous offence such matters take a long time to go through the courts. The finger would be pointed at the Secretary of State to do something about it. At that point the Secretary of State becomes embroiled in an extremely uncomfortable political decision. I should have thought that one of the lessons we have learned in the recent past is how uncomfortable the position of a Secretary of State can be when he or she is faced with combining a judicial and political role.

Lord Whitty

The political situation would be extremely uncomfortable for everyone, improbable or not. If we are discussing improbabilities, it is conceivable that it might be in the political interests of two thirds of the majority. They could easily enhance their vote and get rid of the mayor they did not like. Noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches should consider the deeply destabilising effect this power would have on the positive and constructive operation of the assembly and the authority.

I am even more alarmed by what the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, suggested. In effect he says that the assembly should have the power to pre-judge t he courts. I was concerned about the blurring of the division of powers between the assembly and the mayor. The noble Lord takes us into far more dangerous territory where the elected assembly in London takes over the powers of the judiciary. Noble Lords must hesitate over that. I believe that the American experience, not only in recent cases but more generally over the past 150 years of American history, demonstrates that the power will be used for political rather than objective purposes.

In the circumstances of the noble Lord's experience in France, it would be absolutely clear that the mayor had failed to attend six consecutive monthly meetings in his time in Mexico and would be disqualified by an entirely different provision.

Before we return to the issue—it is clear that Members of the Committee wish to return to it—noble Lords should consider the implications of their proposal.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

The Minister said how dreadful it would be if the assembly became caught up in criticising or trying to dismiss the judiciary. I remind the noble Lord that in the Scotland Bill the Government have precisely that provision. The Scottish Parliament could dismiss Scottish judges. As a result of arguments in this House, the Government placed the tribunal as a buffer between the Scottish Parliament and the Government. On behalf of the Government, the Minister is arguing from the other direction than that which he argued on the Scotland Bill, as he will see if he reads Hansard on that issue.

I understand the point he makes. I am concerned about both amendments. I can envisage extremely tricky circumstances. Perhaps the Minister will consider in what circumstances Clause 14 allows the appropriate officer of the authority to declare the office to be vacant, and discuss with his officials and lawyers whether the list under Clause 14(a) and (b) needs expanding to include some other circumstance so that the matter can be dealt with in that way. The circumstances envisaged by both Front Benches could easily arise and must be dealt with somehow. That is just a suggestion—I know that Members on the other side of the Committee are not meant to make suggestions which help the Government—but I am tempted to believe that there may be another way. The Minister should consider what the Government did about the Scotland Bill.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

I thank my noble friend for mentioning that the Government are arguing differently from a similar provision in the Scotland Bill. I take issue with my noble friend in her statement that the Opposition are not supposed to be helpful to the Government. I believe that all of our amendments would be helpful to them if they were accepted. But of course I am well aware that the Government do not like to accept them because of the "It was not invented here" syndrome. Undoubtedly, if they had thought of it it would have been in the Bill.

The Minister will have gleaned that the Opposition believe that there must be a way of dealing with a mayor who is totally out of order. I notice that he was concerned because my noble friend said that perhaps the assembly should deal with the situation before the courts do. I accept that the concept is difficult to take on board, but when the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, spoke to her amendment the response was, "We have all the regulations in place and if he is disqualified this will happen. and if that happens this can happen, and so on, and we can deal with it. There really is not such a problem". There is a problem and the issue is how to find a solution.

The two Opposition Front Benches have suggested that the assembly should be able to get rid of the mayor, but they differ in the percentage. I take the Minister's point, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that if the mayor is voted into office by the citizens of London there should be no other way of removing him from office. I am sure that the Minister will be aware that in the other place we introduced a recall petition. We suggested that 1 million signatures should be presented to the Secretary of State stating that those people were no longer happy with the position for the following reasons. Before we put forward the present suggestion, we had the idea that the mayor could be removed for gross misbehaviour or whatever by the decision of the two Houses of Parliament. We have put forward many ideas, but clearly we have not yet come up with the answer.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tope; the Minister said that we need to think about the matter and we are doing so because we want to find a mechanism. However, I believe that the Minister should accept the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, because it is down to the Government to think about the matter, too, because they have produced the idea. As there is a flaw in it, it is down to the officials and the Minister together to put forward a solution. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 14 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 53 not moved.]

Clauses 15 to 17 agreed to.

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Clause 18 [Cost of holding the first ordinary elections]:

Baroness Miller of Hendonmoved Amendment No. 54:

Page 9, line 41, leave out ("determined by the Secretary of State") and insert ("authorised by the Representation of the People Act 1983")

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 54, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 55. The expenses of the first ordinary Greater London election for the mayor and the assembly will be borne by the Consolidated Fund because, as the assembly will not until afterwards exist, it will not have any money of its own.

In future the funding of ordinary and by-elections will follow the normal procedure for local elections. Clause 18, as drawn, is objectionable on two grounds. First, it leaves it to the Secretary of State to decide what may be spent. That is another example of the control that the Secretary of State is trying to exercise over the Greater London Authority which the Government claimed would be a truly independent organisation and a model of decentralisation. Local government should be less constrained by central government

they proclaimed in their manifesto.

We have a simple, tried and tested, universally accepted method for working out what election expenses are permissible both for candidates and officials. Why change it? Why give this additional power to the Secretary of State? If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

There is another element of uncertainty. Clause 18(2) states that the returning officer may not recover more than the maximum amount authorised by the Secretary of State and even then only for the purposes determined by him under Clause 18(1)(b). How will the returning officer know what these two undetermined items will be unless the Secretary of State announces them in advance of the commencement of the election process before the very first day?

The Bill imposes no obligation on the Secretary of State to do that. Once again, use of the established statutory procedure and guidelines would resolve that problem. I believe that in this case we should simply let the Act say that the existing laws of England apply to the election. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I am afraid I am still rather unclear as to the intended purpose of the amendments. On the face of it, they seek to remove from the Secretary of State the ability to determine the categories of expenditure which returning officers may seek to recover in respect of the first ordinary elections, and instead to specify that recoverable expenditure should be only that expressly authorised by the Representation of the People Act 1983.

Returning officers' recoverable expenses are specified either in respect of parliamentary elections, in an order made by the Secretary of State under Section 29(3) of the 1983 Act, or at local elections by the responsible council by virtue of Section 36 of that Act.

The amendments could not apply the provisions described in the orders made under Section 29(3) to the authority because the order-making power relates only to parliamentary elections. However, the clause as presently drafted confers similar power on the Secretary of State in respect of the first ordinary elections as that described at Section 29(3).

The power at Section 36 of the 1983 Act provides that a returning officer at a local election is entitled to recover all his expenses which are properly incurred, subject only to any scale which the relevant council may have set. As the scales are not specified in the 1983 Act, these amendments would, as they stand, have nothing on which to bite.

I stress that Clause 18 relates only to expenditure in respect of the first ordinary elections which will be organised centrally and paid for out of the Consolidated Fund. Since authority elections will be treated as local government elections for the purposes of the RPA, in future years the cost of those elections will be met from the authority's budget and the provisions of Section 36 RPA will apply. I therefore feel that it is reasonable to ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

I am not certain how reasonable or otherwise it is to ask me to withdraw the amendment. However, I shall certainly read carefully what the Minister said. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 55 not moved.]

Clause 18 agreed to.

9.45 p.m.

Clause 19 [Qualification to be the Mayor or an Assembly member.]

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domermoved Amendment No. 56.

Page 10, line 29, leave out ("21") and insert ("18")

The noble Baroness said: I rise to speak to the amendment tabled in the name of my noble friend Lady Hamwee. For several years now there has been support cross-party for reducing the age at which people can stand for election from 21 to 18. At one time or another, each party seems to have supported the idea and yet successive governments have totally failed at every opportunity to introduce it. It is a matter of great regret to me that the Local Government Bill, going through this House at present, does not seem to be addressing the matter either.

As was said earlier, this Bill seeks a different type of assembly and gives us an opportunity to offer young people the chance to become candidates at the age of 18. It is extraordinary that we leave young people in such limbo. To a large extent, at 16 they become adults. Lots of the benefits of being a child are removed from them and lots of the responsibilities of being young adults are placed upon them. However, many of us probably feel that 18 is a reasonable age to accept that they reach majority. But, having reached that majority when they are expected to support themselves, to go out and get a job, when they can marry and be responsible for raising children, for deciding where to send those children to school and so forth, they are still not allowed to represent their own peer group.

The assembly is expected to a take a long-term view, otherwise there would not be much point in it. The London boroughs can do most of the short-term work, though they take a long-term view in some things. But the assembly is expected to take a much longer-term view; it will prepare strategies for the long term. We only need to look at some of the subjects it will be addressing to see that the long-term effect is what will count; for instance, health, biodiversity, transport and so forth. And those who need a voice on that assembly, among others, are those who in 10 years' time can be expected to have children; those who in 20 years' time will have the families using the cycle routes, the transport and the sports and cultural facilities; and those who expect to have grandchildren in 30 or 40 years' time. That is a long-term view.

It might be said that three years does not make a big difference. But it does, in two ways. First, the candidate's birthday would need to fall in the right place. It may be that he or she would be 24 before being able to stand for the assembly because the elections took place just before their 21st birthday. Secondly, it sends out the regrettable message that we are not interested in hearing the voice of young people and it is a sop to say that we are only interested in hearing them in a consultative capacity.

If we believe young people are adult at 18—and in law they are—we should be willing to accept them as candidates at 18. It is no surprise to learn that the turnout of young people at every election is so poor. They cannot vote for one of their peers; they do not hear their voice in any council chamber in the land. It would be of enormous regret if once again in this assembly their voice is not heard as of right. London is a Mecca for young people; it offers them a huge amount. It also presents enormous problems for them. There are likely to be only one or two people in an assembly of this size who will truly be regarded as young. Given the tone that they could bring to the assembly, their long-;term view and the fact that they understand what it is to be young in a way that hose of us who are 30, 40 or 50 cannot, it is extremely important that the Government take this opportunity to reduce the age of candidates to 18. I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

We do not support the amendment. The minimum age for a Member of Parliament is 21, and we think that it should be left at that. We are not talking about someone being a local councillor. The Minister and the Front Bench of the Liberal Democrats said that the reason they did not wish to accept our amendment proposing a member from each borough making up the assembly was because people should not decide matters from a parochial point of view but from a strategic point of view. The constituencies, whether of London members or constituency members, are extremely large, and there is a responsibility to represent a large number of people and to take a strategic view. We feel that the age of I8 is too young for that important role.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

The issue of lowering the age at which one can stand for a position raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, was debated in another place. On that occasion the Minister for Transport in London made clear that the Government have an open mind on this issue. The Minister re-stated the Government's position that there is a difference in terms of capacity and suitability between what is required to be a voter and what is required to be a representative, and that the case for a reduction of the age at which a person can stand for election has not been fully made.

The Home Office working party on electoral procedures chaired by George Howarth, the Minister responsible for such matters, is reviewing a wide range of electoral practices. This issue properly falls to that working party. It would be inappropriate to legislate in the Bill on the age at which a person may stand for election. Electoral law should be consistent across the board.

The Committee will note that the working party was adjourned until the local Scottish, Welsh and European elections were completed, and it is unlikely to have the opportunity to meet for more than one or two sessions before the Summer Recess. It is doubtful, therefore, that the working party will be in a position to take up this issue in the current Session. However, as I have stressed, the Government do not have a closed mind on this point, and I am sure that my Home Office colleague will listen carefully to any representations which the noble Baroness may wish to make to that working party. In those circumstances. I hope that she will withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

I thank the Minister for her reply, which holds out a little hope. However, I am aware that the working party has been looking at this matter for some time. On the last occasion that the matter was considered all those who spoke supported the reduction of the age of candidates to 18, with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, who made a small point about financial responsibility. All the other contributors were agreed that there was huge merit in consistency.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, made the point that it is important for the minimum age to be consistent with that for MPs. The argument is that if we believe people are adult at 18, we should be consistent and give them all of the rights that go with being an adult at 18. I do not believe that people acquire a huge amount of wisdom that enables them to turn from a voter to a candidate in three years. One will either have the energy, enthusiasm and intelligence to be a good candidate at the age of 18, when one is an adult, or one may never have it. A great deal of experience is gained with age, but not necessarily outlook, intelligence and an ability to represent people. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn

Baroness Miller of Hendonmoved Amendment No. 57:

Page 10, line 34, after ("occupied") insert ("and continues to occupy")

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 58 and 59. They all relate to Clause 19(4), which deals with the personal connection of the mayor and assembly members with Greater London. Any person who wishes to be candidate for either office and, if elected, to continue to be either the mayor or an assembly member must meet any one of the four criteria in Clause 19(4).

Clauses 7(a) and 14(a) declare the offices of assemblyman and mayor respectively vacant if the person ceases to be qualified. Paragraph (a) of Clause 19(4) states that on the relevant day he is, and from that day continues to he, a local government elector for Greater London".

I repeat those important words: and from that day, continues to be";

that is, continues throughout his term of office. Paragraphs (b), (c) and (d) respectively require him during the whole of the preceding 12 months to have occupied as owner or tenant land or premises in Greater London or to have had his principal or only place of work in Greater London or to have resided in Greater London. The requirement to have occupied land, or worked, or to have resided in Greater London is entirely appropriate and necessary. But it is a strange anomaly that a person has to continue to be a local government elector for the whole of his term of office but need not continue to have one of the other three relevant qualifications for one minute after the declaration of the poll.

I simply do not understand the reason for this discrepancy. It seems to be nothing but an invitation to carpetbaggers to parachute in, or to be parachuted in by his party hierarchy; acquire one of the three qualifications for 12 months; get himself elected; and then take off again—and yet retain the office that he has acquired. Our amendment ensures that all four of the alternative qualifications follow the identical standards and have the same value. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

Despite what the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, has said, these amendments would appear to be unnecessary. The subsections of Clause 19 which she described require a candidate to satisfy at least one of the four conditions to which she referred. These conditions are consistent with the conditions imposed in other local elections, including London borough elections.

I remain unconvinced by the arguments that I have heard so far that the elections to the Greater London Authority should be considered differently. The personal circumstances of candidates may change during their periods of office in such a way as to make it impossible for them to reside within the boundaries of Greater London. For example, there may be family responsibilities which would cause somebody to live just over the boundaries in one of the adjacent county areas, perhaps because of responsibility for elderly parents or other family commitments. That would mean that they could not register to vote, but it does not mean that they could not continue to carry out their responsibilities and duties either as mayor or as an assembly member.

The candidate elected as mayor will certainly be expected to be doing a full-time job, and this will also be so for assembly members. They will all be paid salaries. Even if it is expected that their GLA duties are their only or principal work, they will continue to be qualified by the provisions of Clause 19(4)(c). From the example I have given, I hope the noble Baroness will understand that the amendment she proposes may have effects that I am quite sure she did not intend. I am sure that in those circumstances she will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

There is not much validity in the argument that the Minister just made. If it is all right for the person to move a little outside the Greater London area provided that he resides or works there during the time that the proceedings are started, I do not understand why the candidate must, as it states in Clause 19(2)(a), on the relevant day … and from that day, continues to be, a local government elector for Greater London". It seems extraordinary that somebody who wishes to be a mayor or assemblyman can be there one day but not the next day after the election.

I shall read carefully the Minister's comments and withdraw the amendment. I suggest, however, that the noble Lord the Minister also reflects. We will read the debate carefully. It would be helpful if Ministers read it carefully and sometimes were prepared to meet us half way.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My noble friend always does.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

I am sure that the noble Baroness and the Minister do so but somewhere along the line, it would be rather nice if we could understand the reasoning. It does not make all that much sense to me. I beg to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 58 and 59 not moved.]

Clause 19 agreed to.

Clause 20 [Disqualification from being the Mayor or an Assembly member]:

[Amendments Nos. 60 and 61 not moved.]

10 p.m.

Miller of Hendonmoved Amendment No. 62:

Page 11, line 35, at end insert ("; or (f) he holds a politically restricted post (as defined in Part I of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989) under any local authority (as similarly defined) whose area, or part of it, lies within Greater London.")

The noble Baroness said: Part I of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 disqualifies a person from becoming, whether by election or otherwise, or remaining a member of a local authority if he holds a politically restricted post with that or any other local authority in Great Britain. That provision was enacted as a result of the recommendations of the Widdecombe inquiry into the conduct of local authority business.

Clause 2 of the 1989 Act defines a politically restrictive post under eight headings. I am sure that the Minister and other Members of the Committee do not require me to read them. The purpose of that provision is to safeguard against twin-tracking—that is, persons working for one council and holding elected office with another. As Section 1(2) of the 1989 Act excludes a person holding a restricted post even from becoming a Member of Parliament, there is every reason for it applying to the mayor and members of the assembly. Consistency should be the key. There is no reason for the mayor and members of the assembly being an elite group to whom the law of the land does not apply equally with members of other local authorities. I beg to move.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

In the context of this new authority, I wonder whether there is some merit in allowing persons holding politically sensitive offices to stand—albeit that if they were elected, they would have to resign those offices. Has the noble Baroness considered that possibility or does she believe that such persons should neither stand nor be elected and serve while holding a politically sensitive office?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, that I certainly listen most carefully to everything said and consider it. If I do not understand fully the points raised, I assure the noble Baroness that I discuss them carefully with my noble friend the Minister and officials.

Amendment No. 62 would prevent holders of politically restricted posts in any of the London boroughs from being elected to or remaining as mayor or an assembly member. Clause 57(1) already specifies that the GLA will be treated as a local authority for the purposes of Sections 1 to 3 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, which are the provisions covering politically restricted posts in local authorities.

Section 1(1) of the 1989 Act states: A person shall be disqualified from becoming (whether by election or otherwise) or remaining a member of a local authority if he holds a politically restrictive post under that local authority or any other local authority in Great Britain". Subsequently, any person holding a politically restricted post in a London borough would already be prohibited from being elected or serving as mayor or an assembly member. Indeed, the prohibition actually extends to holders of politically restricted posts in local authorities outside Greater London. That is the normal local government regime. In those circumstances, I am sure that the noble Baroness will be happy to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

The Minister is absolutely right. I shall be delighted to withdraw my amendment. I should like to assure the noble Baroness that I certainly was not trying to impugn that she, or any other Minister for that matter, did not read everything carefully and did not consider it. It is simply that we are always being asked to look at such matters again. I just thought it was my turn to put another little spoke in the wheel. I beg leave to withdraw—

Baroness Hamwee

Before the noble Baroness withdraws her amendment, perhaps she could answer my noble friend's question.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

I actually nodded my head in assent to the noble Baroness when she made her second suggestion to indicate that that was exactly what I did mean. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 63 to 65 not moved.]

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clauses 21 and 22 agreed to.

Clause 23 [Declaration of acceptance of offer]:

[Amendment No. 66 not moved.]

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 67:

Page 13, line 1, leave out ("two months") and insert ("forty two days")

The noble Baroness said: The purpose of this amendment is to reduce the period of acceptance of office by the mayor and assembly members from two months to 42 days. If the election is held on 4th May in the year 2000, it makes the difference between 17th June and 4th July: that is about 19 days. Personally—and I emphasise that—I do not understand why anyone should need to sign an acceptance of offer of office after an election when he has signed a nomination form and has fought an election campaign which obviously indicates that he wants that position. However, it seems to have been ever thus. Until the system is changed, we will have to carry on with written acceptances and time limits.

The period of two months for both the mayor and assembly members to accept office is far too long. We propose that the period should be reduced to a maximum of 42 days. That is what applies elsewhere in local government where the period is the same—42 days. That is calculated from the 35 days for lodging a declaration of election expenses, plus the seven days. Incidentally, the same 35- day period for filing election expenses also applies in the case of Westminster and European parliamentary election expenses, although in those cases no acceptance of office is required.

In the interests of consistency, which I am having to urge elsewhere in our debates on the Bill, I believe that the Government should find it easy to accept this amendment. I can remember when I received a letter asking me whether I would be prepared to accept a life peerage and come to your Lordships' House. My reply, saying in effect, "Not 'arf", was virtually on the way to a letter box before the postman who delivered the letter had left the street. I believe that the honour of being elected mayor is such that he will have his acceptance letter in his pocket ready for the declaration. Therefore, 19 days fewer than the proposed two months will not inconvenience the new mayor or assemblymen. I hope that the Government will find it possible to accept this very small amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

The noble Baroness described most clearly how this clause requires both the mayor and assembly members to make a declaration of acceptance of office before they proceed to act in their respective positions. As she said, this declaration must be made within two months from the day of the election. I am slightly puzzled as to why this particular period of reduction from two months to 42 days is being proposed. As the noble Baroness is aware, the period of two months is strictly in line with Section 83 of the Local Government Act 1972 and therefore in those circumstances could be argued to be logical and appropriate.

However, what we propose for London is, of course, a new style of local governance, but I think it is only fair that it be subject to the same rules of election that apply to local government, where that is possible. There appears to be no special imperative unique to London which makes it necessary for the mayor and assembly members to be subject to different rules which require an earlier formal declaration than is necessary elsewhere. Like the noble Baroness, I am confident that successful candidates will be only too willing to make prompt declarations of acceptance. However, I shall undertake to read carefully and to consider the points raised by the noble Baroness. In the light of that response I hope that the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

I am most grateful to the Minister for smiling at me when she said that she would read carefully what I have said. I hope that the Government will take some notice of my comments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 68 not moved.]

Clause 23 agreed to.

Baroness Miller of Hendonmoved Amendment No. 69: After Clause 23, insert the following new clause—


(" .—(1) At the end of the eleventh year after the first Assembly is elected the Mayor shall arrange for a referendum to he held to take place at any time within the ensuing six months.

(2) The persons entitled to vote in such referendum shall be the persons entitled to vote in any local election in Greater London at that date.

(3) The questions to be asked at such referendum shall be—

  1. (a) Are you satisfied with the present structure of the Greater London Authority consisting of a Mayor and an elected Assembly of twenty five members, none of whom represent an actual single borough? YES/NO
  2. (b) Would you prefer the Assembly to consist of thirty three members, each one representing a single one of the thirty two London boroughs together with the Common Council of the City of London? YES/NO

(4) The Mayor shall transmit the result of the referendum to the Secretary of State and to both Houses of Parliament.

(5) Each Parliament being sovereign and one Parliament being unable to bind a later one, the Secretary of State shall not be bound by the result of the referendum.

(6) The Secretary of State may by order authorise (hut not require) the Mayor to include further questions in the referendum if so requested by the Mayor.")

The noble Baroness said: This amendment is, by its novel nature, a probing amendment. It is similar to what is called a sunset clause, but unlike a true sunset clause it does not automatically make an enactment expire after a given date. Although it is an historic fact that the Conservative Party was opposed to the restoration of a modified Greater London Council in the guise of the greater London authority, we have of course accepted the democratic decision of the London electorate who voted for it in a referendum. All we seek to do is to be constructive with regard to this Bill. We shall be equally constructive with regard to the running of the authority and of the assembly once they come into operation. I emphasise that point because I do not want it to be said that this probing amendment of mine could in any way be considered a wrecking amendment, which it certainly is not.

However, when the referendum was held, we objected to the loaded double question which did not allow the voter to choose a mayor with executive powers without an assembly, or to choose an assembly without the mayor. We also objected to the constitution of the assembly which we have attempted to alter both here and in the other place. However, I am sure that this is not the occasion and certainly not the hour to refight old battles. If the Government feel able to accept this amendment—or any on similar lines—there will be a clear two-and-three-quarter terms (that is, 11 years) for the voters to make up their mind whether they like the form of the assembly. It will also allow for the 10 years of the hypothecation of the taxes, as the Secretary of State said in the other place.

The point about the proposed new clause is that neither Parliament nor the Secretary of State would be bound by the result of the referendum. It would be "for information only", as it were. To anticipate a possible riposte from the Minister, of course I expect there to be another Conservative government long before the 11-year period mentioned in the proposed new clause. However, I cannot speak as to their future policy and programme. As a small cog in the wheel I can deal only with the situation as it is today.

In a speech to the London Chambers of Commerce on 3rd June the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said, I think the idea of regulations with an expiry date is an attractive one. There may be a case for sunset clauses in new regulation".

I refer to the doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility—unlike my own pronouncements, presumably this is government policy. I remember when I was appointed to the Front Bench opposite I was warned to he careful of what I said. I could always correct a minor factual error but a serious slip of the tongue could in effect be an announcement of new government policy. I was always petrified when I had to answer questions in case I made such a slip of the tongue.

If regulations need to be considered for a possible use by date, the same can possibly be said for some Acts of Parliament, especially when they are based on a piece of public opinion which is notoriously fickle and can change in the course of 11 years. As I said before, the two questions I mentioned were joined together and therefore one did not have a choice in the referendum to say which part of the measure one liked. Only afterwards could we say from these Benches that we liked the mayor; and from the Liberal Democrat Benches that they liked the assembly. Such is democracy that we ended up with both.

I and my noble friends will be extremely interested to hear what the Government have to say about how confident they are that the form of assembly they propose to impose on London—a point not covered in the referendum—will stand the test of time I beg to move.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Whitty

Like my noble friend Lady Farrington I always consider deeply and give great reverence to points made in your Lordships' House before we reach the next stage. On this amendment, I cannot offer any hope of reconsideration of the clause.

The Committee will know that I rarely make cheap political points. However, I am tempted to do so. I shall just remind the Committee that 13 or 14 years ago the previous government, in the face of massive Opposition in London and without any talk of a referendum, completely demolished the structure of local government. That is why we are here today attempting to reconstruct a new system of local government that will take us into the 21st century. The Opposition now have the cheek to say to us that the nevi structure is on probation and that after 11 years we will have to reconsider it, come what may.

As a second order point, the noble Baroness should look at the wording of her amendment, particularly if she objects to the "loaded double question" as she referred to the terms of the referendum that was carried out. Setting a double question for London rather demonstrated the wisdom of the Government. What will happen under the noble Baroness's referendum if the electors of London answer "no" and "no" to the two questions? Where would that leave us? The assembly would be abolished and nothing would be left in its place.

I do not see why we should not have subsequent questions about an assembly of 40 members, PR in various forms, as we have discussed earlier, arid so on. Of course we recognise that future governments—I do not entirely exclude the possibility of a future Conservative government, even within this period; I am probably off message for saying so—may consider that this system of government for London has not worked and it will certainly be within the wisdom of that future government to put that proposition to a referendum. We are trying to establish a whole new system of government for London; to create a strategic authority for the 21st century which will address the problems that have failed to be addressed over the past 14 years. For the Opposition to then say "You are only there for 11 years; many of the problems will take 20 years to sort out" is stretching a sunset clause into a direct imposition of an immediate move to midnight.

It is not sensible to incorporate the amendment into an Act of Parliament. It constrains future Parliaments and future governments to a degree to which we normally object in this House. The noble Baroness should reconsider and withdraw the amendment. Should she come back with it, I am afraid she will receive little sympathy from these Benches.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

The noble Lord will not be surprised that I am not too worried that there is little sympathy for my amendment. That is nothing very strange. It is possible that we may reconsider the wording and, if it is not practicable, we may consider another way of doing it.

I cannot remember the Minister's exact words but I think the implication was that it was a slight cheek on my part to move the amendment, given that we got rid of the GLC without a referendum. We did not have a referendum because it was very clearly stated in our election manifesto and we won the election with a substantial majority.

Lord Tope

No, you did not.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

Yes, we did. We won anyway. At this time of night it would appear that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and I are no longer in agreement.

However, as I said, this is a probing amendment. I shall look carefully at what the Minister said. I am heartened by the fact that the Minister does not want to accept the amendment, because if the assembly proves to be as wonderful as the Government believe it will be I should have thought that they would be delighted for it to have a new view from the public on one of their successes. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 24 agreed to.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

House adjourned at twenty minutes past ten o'clock.