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Functions Of The Local Government Commission

Volume 301: debated on Monday 24 November 1997

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 3, line 15, at beginning insert

'Subject to section (London Electoral Convention) below,'.

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 25, in page 3, line 17, leave out

'and any direction given under it'.
No. 10, in page 3, line 30, at beginning insert
'which the London Electoral Convention recommends and'.
No. 26, in page 3, line 31, at end insert—
'(3) The Commission's report shall be based on the assumption that the elections will be conducted on the "first past the post" system.'
No. 11, in clause 9, page 4, line 29, at end insert
'and with the agreement of the London Electoral Convention'.
New clause 1—London Electoral Convention—
—'Within a month of the coming into force of this Act, the Secretary of State shall appoint, after consultation with representatives of all the political parties represented at local government and parliamentary level in Greater London and with others, a London Electoral Convention, which shall consider and recommend an appropriate proportional electoral system for Greater London, which commands broad consensus.'.

9 pm

This is an important group of amendments because they refer to the electoral process for the Londonwide body. We are keen that the House does not dig itself into a position that produces a sterile and infertile debate, where we all end up with exactly the same view as we held at the beginning.

We have proposed, and are inviting the Committee to accept, that there should be set up to establish the electoral arrangements for London the same sort of body that was set up for Scotland. In Scotland, the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats, initially the Scottish National party, the trade unions, the Churches and other bodies sat down and worked out an electoral system that would in their view obtain the best and widest support. It was not the electoral system in the minds of any of us when we began the process, but ultimately the Scottish Constitutional Convention agreed to it as part of the package. It was worth doing as it meant that there was a common platform in support of the referendum proposals and a Scottish Parliament. As the Committee knows, the result was a majority of about 4:1 in favour of the proposal that Scotland should have its own Parliament.

Wales had no electoral convention or commission and no constitutional convention or commission, and the House remembers the history of proceedings from there on. The proposal for an Assembly for Wales scraped through by the narrowest of majorities. The Government almost lost their proposal, to the dismay of those of us in the House who have long been advocates of a Welsh Parliament, a Welsh Senate or a Welsh Assembly. More important, the people of Wales almost lost the proposal.

We do not want the Londonwide body to stumble and fall on the basis that it does not enjoy a democratic mandate. The truth is that the Greater London council, the body's previous incarnation, had precisely that weakness. The Government of the day, of whatever colour, were able to look across the river to county hall and say, "The body over there does not enjoy a majority of public support from the electorate", and it did not. We are asking the House to agree that, whatever we think about the particular electoral system, there should be a way of arriving at it that obtains maximum agreement.

I have made it clear to Ministers and others that the principle of going through a Green Paper is welcome. At the beginning, it sets out 10 key criteria, the first nine of which are that it should be strategic, democratic, inclusive, effective, small, audible, clear about its role, efficient and influential. I agree with those nine criteria. The 10th is the great new Labour proposal that the new authority should be consensual. I do not think that everyone wants their politics to be consensual; indeed, I do not think that it is possible for our politics to be consensual. I certainly hope that they are not. I am happy for the authority to be collaborative and co-operative, but to suggest that we all have to agree, or that politics in London in future should require a consensus, is nonsense. There will be differences of view. For example, there may be a difference of view over whether London Transport should be publicly or privately owned. There will not be consensus across the political divide on that issue, and I do not think that there should be. I want to ensure—it must be in the interest of the Committee and the House to ensure—that the Londonwide authority reflects the view of the majority of London's citizens as best represented through the democratic process.

I therefore hope that the Committee will agree that we should attempt to deliver an electoral system that meets some fairly clear criteria and also takes into account all the issues in London.

As I have said in every venue in which I have been asked about the matter, Ministers—very reasonably— have made no firm and final proposal. They said that they would consult about the election and franchise methods and about constituencies. I welcome that consultation, although neither my team nor I have yet been able to work out—we have not had time, in one afternoon—what all the consultation responses have said on the issues.

There is, however, widespread support—I am not saying majority support—for a representative form of election. Some hon. Members—including some Labour and Tory Members—are advocates of the traditional first-past-the-post system. For the purposes of this debate, I ask hon. Members to put out of their minds arguments over national Government and a national Parliament and to isolate arguments over local elections to local councils. We are not talking about either of those matters; we are talking about a type of regional government that we have not had before.

I accept that there is no precedent for such a government. Neither the Greater London council nor the Inner London education authority nor the London county council provides an exact precedent. We can therefore start with a clean slate. I ask hon. Members to keep an open mind about the outcome, as I will. I am not one of those people who were born muttering, "single transferable vote". I was not brought up believing that that was a political mantra and a precondition of any of the world's political systems, because it is simply not true. We have to try to find some principles. In all seriousness and optimism, I invite the Committee to reflect on what those principles might be and to agree them.

I ask the Committee to accept, first, that one of those principles should be that the voting system should be fair and give equal weight to all votes, not allowing people in London to feel that their vote does not count as much as the vote of someone else in their part of London.

Secondly—I ask colleagues to reflect on how to implement it—there should be voter choice. In my constituency, Bengali voters, for example, should be able to choose a Bengali candidate. All political parties should allow voters—such as those in the Afro-Caribbean community—to say, "I want someone to represent me who has the same ethnic background."

Voters should be able to choose a candidate on the basis of experience and age. Someone might say, "I want to put at the top of my list a trade unionist". If they are a first-time voter or 18-year-old, they might say, "I want to put a young person at the top of my list." After the general election, the House welcomed some new young hon. Members. I unreservedly welcome them. Two Labour Members are about 25, and that is extremely welcome. I hope that hon. Members realise the benefit of a broad age range in the House.

The Labour party—although it has had to do some slightly funny things to make it happen—has done a better job than the Liberal Democrats or the Conservative party in increasing considerably the number of women Members. I hugely welcome that development, and the House is already better for it. I am convinced that we will be much better off if we have more women in Parliament. Women should know that they will have the opportunity to vote for women, or men for women, if that is what they want. They should have a choice.

As I stand here, I am very conscious of the fact that the political process delivers to Parliament for the elector one type of Labour candidate, one type of Conservative candidate or one type of Liberal Democrat. Electors in my constituency, who might be my supporters but who are African or Bangladeshi, do not have the opportunity to vote for a Liberal Democrat who is African or Bangladeshi, if it so happens that the person who wins in the first-past-the-post selection system in the party is a white Anglo-Saxon. That is an important issue.

The third matter on which I ask the Committee to reflect is a difficult one, and I do not pretend otherwise. We should try to use real electoral boundaries that are natural and sensible. 1 shall not detain the Committee too long, but I want to outline the salient points. The Government propose that the authority should have something like 20 to 30 members. At first sight, that might suggest one member per borough. The weakness of that is that anyone elected would be, in effect, his or her borough's spokesperson. That would be a bad thing because the authority is not that kind of body, which is why we, like the Government, voted against the Conservative proposal that the assembly should comprise a group of London borough leaders. I represent the old boroughs of Southwark and Bermondsey so I come here by definition partly to be the Member of Parliament for those boroughs and to fight their corner—my electorate would expect nothing less. The same is true of all electorates. Thus, to end up with 32 or 33 seats, each representing a local authority area, would be wrong.

Another possible set of boundaries are the European Parliament constituency boundaries. I share what I think is the Government's view, which is that we do not want long and complicated hearings or the redrawing of London maps to break up existing communities but that some of the European boundaries hardly form natural communities. I urge colleagues to consider that we would do well not to take off the shelf, as it were, boundaries that were created for another purpose and which would not serve these proposals well. The obvious example of that is that some of those boundaries extend beyond Greater London. They were not meant to form the basis for a set of Londonwide representatives, so they would be inappropriate in this case.

A third possibility would be to take London as a whole and deal with it as one constituency. However, that has some huge weaknesses because it would involve a list system. I accept that if one has been a Liberal for 25 years and has not understood these things, one must have been somewhere else, but there are two ways to proceed. One is to have a party list system, in which case Walworth road or Millbank tower, Cowley street or Smith square decides who gets on the list—or the members decide— and the voters have no choice. The second way is to have a list influenced by the voters—they choose who goes on the list and in what order. Obviously, my party would prefer the latter option if there were to be a list system.

Some element of a list system might be a good idea, but that would have one overriding disadvantage if we were left with a Londonwide constituency. It would mean that people in, say, Hillingdon, Barnet, Havering or Croydon might feel that they were dominated by the central London weighted vote. The old Inner London education authority was always Labour controlled—I am not complaining about that—but it meant that a Tory voter in a Tory constituency in a potentially Tory borough felt, or could have felt, that it was never his authority. I do not want people in Kingston, Croydon, Barnet or Enfield to feel that the new authority is not for them. Whatever the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) feels about the need for the new authority, if that authority is to exist, it is important that he and his voters feel that it is for them. The same goes for the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) and his voters. We must be sensitive to the different communities.

London is a collection of many things. It is a collection of villages, which are real places. It is a collection of local authorities which are not very real but are recent amalgamations. Some of their predecessors were much more real—Clerkenwell, Holborn, Bermondsey, Southwark and Camberwell—but the new boroughs are artificial. However, the county areas are not artificial. Middlesex is not artificial. The Kent part of London still has a Kent postal code. The people of Bromley and Bexley feel themselves to be in Kent. The people of Croydon and Sutton feel that they are in Surrey. Yes, they are in Greater London, but it is the Surrey part of Greater London. The people in the eastern boroughs are proud to live in Essex—and so they should be.

9.15 pm

I hope that we shall consider a system that would allow those communities to speak. They may not have exactly the same size of electorate, but, with a fair electoral system, that does not matter. I do not want to go into detail, but, for example, the Kent part of Greater London could elect three members, the Surrey part could elect six members and the Middlesex part could elect 10 members, if those are the right proportions. The areas do not have to have the same number of constituencies.

I want to ensure that all the ethnic communities also feel that they can own the result of the election. For them to feel part of it, they must be in a constituency big enough to allow them to be represented. If only one person is elected from my constituency—it might be a white man or woman, or a black man or woman—there is only one person to represent everybody in Southwark, North and Bermondsey. If the constituency covered all of the old Surrey part of London, there would be seven, eight or nine members elected. It is likely that those elected representatives would include someone with a Cypriot background, a black person and an Asian representative. There would also probably be a roughly even balance between women and men. That is very important. I do not want anyone to feel that the assembly does not speak for them. I am far more concerned about that than about the political balance, because it is important that everybody owns the place.

Of course it would be nonsense if there were a majority of members—that majority would have come from Labour if the election had been this year—who did not command a majority of support among Londoners. That would not reflect what Londoners wanted. I want secure legislation.

I do not have a prescription or all the answers. My party is not dogmatic about the issue or arrogant about the outcome. In Scotland, the Liberal Democrats negotiated with Labour and others, arriving at an outcome that was different from the place where we all started. We have ended up with a mixed system—some alternative vote and some single transferable vote. That may be what we decide on. I ask the Committee, rather than rushing into what might be the wrong decision, to agree a procedure to take the discussion out of this place so that we can try to reach the maximum agreement on the system. If we can agree on the best system for all of us, we can go out to fight our own corners and the Londonwide body will have the variety, pluralism and benefit of all our voices. I hope that the Committee and the Government will welcome positively a proposal that would give us the best way of arriving at the best electoral system.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) may not have been born muttering "STV", but he was certainly born muttering "proportional representation". Although he slightly wrapped up his message, it is clear from new clause 1 that what he proposes is proportional representation. It will not come as an enormous surprise to the hon. Gentleman that I take a radically different position, which is set out in amendments Nos. 25 and 26 and can be summarised as support for the first-past-the-post system.

I will illustrate my case by referring to what happened in the 1997 general election. It might be thought that the Conservatives would favour a more proportional system because, with the first-past-the-post system, the result was that Labour won 419 seats whereas the Conservatives won 165. On that basis, some Ministers believe that they do not need to bother with the arguments and that hon. Members can take it or leave it.

It is a useful correction to remember that on the basis of pure proportionality, the result of the 1997 election would have been that Labour had 285 seats and the Conservatives 202 seats. Achieving that result under a PR system is anything but easy, however, as has been demonstrated conclusively by the Democratic Audit of the United Kingdom, an organisation run in association with the London school of economics and Birkbeck college. It employed ICM which interviewed 8,500 voters straight after the election and asked them to vote again using the main PR systems that were being advocated.

Under the alternative vote system, Labour would have won 436 seats and the Conservatives would have been down to 110. Rather than making the system fairer or more proportional, as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey claims, that type of PR would make it substantially worse. The same is true of the supplementary vote system, a close cousin of the alternative vote system which is, I gather, used for presidential elections in Sri Lanka.

The same survey showed that with the single transferable vote system, Labour support would be overstated. Our own support would be understated and Liberal Democrat support would be significantly overstated. Doubtless that is why the single transferable vote system is the Liberal Democrats' favoured system.

On the basis of the 1997 election, the only system of PR that would come close to proportionality is the additional member system. If the election had been based on having half elected locally and half elected regionally, there would have been about 300 Labour Members, 200 Conservative Members and just over 100 Liberal Democrat Members.

A different price is paid for that system. Half the representatives—it does not need to be half because the proportion can be different—are elected without constituencies to represent. The direct link goes; it would go almost entirely if we went to an entire list system under which, in effect, the party chooses and controls the candidate. The candidate is answerable to the party and not to the public; I find that entirely objectionable.

For a range of reasons, I strongly support the retention of the first-past-the-post system for London elections. First, I am aware of no overwhelming reason or public demand for a change to proportional representation. The survey to which I referred showed that 41 per cent. were in favour of first past the post, 44 per cent. supported the additional member system and 14 per cent. were undecided, so it was very much even Stevens.

The Government have already promised a referendum on PR in parliamentary elections during this Parliament. That is already pledged. There will then be a full debate and the issues will be explored. I see no case for changing the system in London before that referendum.

Secondly, I am strongly opposed to breaking the link between the elected representative and the public. I do not accept the implicit argument in the Green Paper that London's assemblymen are in effect strategic thinkers. The Green Paper says
"The method of election to the assembly needs to reflect and support the role of assembly members. Assembly members will be required to think and act strategically, looking at London-wide issues and the long-term interests of the capital. We do not think they need to or should duplicate the local representational roles of borough Councillors, MPs and Euro-MPs."
I do not see how a representative can think strategically or in any other political way without being linked to the local community. We do not want assemblymen who are insulated from public opinion. Therefore, we want assemblymen representing the existing boroughs and—if the Government introduce such a system—elected on a first-past-the-post system.

I do not believe that any of the PR systems proposed has a clear advantage over the first-past-the-post system. As the democratic audit shows, a number of the PR systems produce a worse result in terms of proportionality. Others, such as the list system or the partial list system, simply destroy the link with the public and put the party and not the public in the driving seat.

The first-past-the-post system provides certainty. It is easy to understand. It has provided elected Governments that are able to govern—and that can be applied to local government. It has not generally led to coalition deals which the public may not want and which may result in entirely unforeseen policies.

I am encouraged by one of the Minister's statements this afternoon. When one of my hon. Friends suggested that PR was inevitable, the Minister appeared to dissent from that proposition and said that no decision had been made. I welcome that. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will think extremely carefully before introducing election by PR for London. The Conservative party is opposed to PR. We will campaign against it and we believe that the case has not remotely been made for it. We favour the first-past-the-post system.

I support my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), and would like to add to some of the points that he has made. I recognise that I am no longer a London Member. I speak merely from my experience as a Conservative councillor in London for a considerable time. I have resisted the temptation to accept the invitation from the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) to speak as an ethnic minority. In the light of some of the recent rugby matches, it is best if I do not do that.

My memory of London government under the GLC and the ILEA is bitter. It did not matter who was in control, there was conflict at every stage. I am concerned that the Labour Government have produced a proposal tacked on to the wish for a voice for London, and then proceeded to destroy its strength. The proposal for proportional representation is the last nail in that coffin.

We will have a series of levels of potential conflict between the boroughs, the GLA, the mayor, the regional development authority, the Government office for London and the Government. In the middle, we shall have the assembly, which could be elected by proportional representation. The experience in this country and many others, as reflected in the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield, is that we tend to end up with deals—a hung assembly.

We need to ponder extremely carefully and consider seriously supporting the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend. At every move, the Government have undermined the strength of the mayor and the voice for London. They will undermine it even more if we have a hung assembly, which is the natural consequence of a form of proportional representation.

I am deeply concerned that the people of London will vote in a referendum for what they see as a strong voice. What they will get is permanently hung government in London. The proportional representation proposal will ensure that, as is reflected in many nations throughout the world, including the one from which I emigrated, we have strong government destroyed by proportional representation. I fully support my right hon. Friend's amendments.

9.30 pm

Although the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) argue strongly against each other, it was a pleasure to listen to both arguments being so succinctly presented in a dedicated way.

I turn first to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. We are grateful for the tabling of the amendments. As they make clear, and as the speech of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey underlined in a particularly succinct manner, it is his desire to arrive at a consensus—that is essential—behind his call for an electoral convention. He listed in essence three points to which he wished the Committee to give due consideration. The first was a fair-voting system. The second was that, whatever system is devised, it should be inclusive. The third was on the issue of boundaries.

What became apparent in the presentation of the argument of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey was the infinite variety in London—not only a geographic or ethnic variety but one including gender dimensions. It is clearly of the utmost importance that the electoral systems that will be used to elect the mayor and members of the assembly are the most appropriate ones. Both the mayor and the assembly will need to command the support and confidence of the people of London in their infinite variety. More than that, the electoral system selected for the assembly will help to determine the kind of body that emerges.

We want an assembly that can act strategically, consider Londonwide issues, properly represent the wide range of communities across the city, and take decisions that are in the long-term interests of this great capital. The electoral system needs to reflect that, and to ensure that it produces people who are capable of performing the role that will be expected of assembly members.

It is because we recognised the crucial importance of electoral issues in making London's strategic authority effective that a whole chapter of the Green Paper was devoted to the complex issues involved. We asked seven specific questions on electoral issues.

Much reference has been made to the responses that have been received to that Green Paper and they are still being sifted and analysed. I can tell the Committee that they reveal both the significance that respondents attach to these matters and the very wide range of views and opinions that exist in this great metropolis. The Government intend to study all the responses that have been received. There is little point in consultation exercises if close attention is not paid to the opinions expressed, and the Government give a clear commitment to do so.

The proposals will properly be set out in the White Paper that will be published before the referendum next spring. Following a yes vote, the main Bill will be presented in the next Session.

A London electoral convention would not add to that process, and setting it up would be extremely cumbersome and unnecessarily bureaucratic. It is no small matter seeking to consult every political grouping represented in London local authorities, and there is no guarantee that all those diverse groups, and the main parties, could agree on the composition of the convention in time for it to convene, consult, make recommendations, and publish them before a referendum on 7 May. In all probability, the convention would serve to delay the referendum—and progress towards new government for London—by many months, putting at risk substantive legislation next Session.

The Government believe that it would be better to proceed as we have outlined. We will, after taking account of the responses that we have received, take the decision on what electoral systems will be the most appropriate. No doubt whatever we decide will be unwelcome to some, but that would also be the case with an electoral convention. The Government's decisions will form part of the package of proposals that we will put to the people of London in our White Paper, and on which they will be able to vote on 7 May. Of course, as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey will know, in the end it will be for Parliament to establish the authority in the context of the Bill.

A London electoral convention would only complicate and delay the process and would not guarantee that better electoral systems were selected. I hope that, on consideration, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey will see fit to withdraw his amendments. Given the enthusiasm of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues for ensuring that London has the opportunity to scrutinise the proposals fully ahead of the referendum, it would seem odd to delay until after the referendum a decision on an issue that could fundamentally affect the nature and character of the GLA.

The amendments and the argument presented by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey— albeit clearly, succinctly and with the best of intentions— would serve only to delay progress towards democratic citywide government.

I am grateful for the Minister's considered reply, and I understand why she is not accepting the amendments. However, I have never argued for delay—as the Minister will see from Hansard—and my party is at one with the Government. One way to achieve our aims would be to allow the convention to sit past May, but require it to complete its deliberations by the time the substantive legislation was introduced next year. We do not argue that the convention would have finished its work before the referendum in May.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument, but I cannot accept that a convention that extended beyond the referendum would be helpful to the people of London. No greater clarity would be achieved, and confusion would be inevitable. People would think that they were being asked to buy a pig in a poke, and that is not the direction that we believe the new form of government should take. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the people of London have already waited 11 years too long, and anything that would delay the process would surely not find favour with them.

The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield presented his arguments for amendments Nos. 25 and 26 with great clarity and conviction, but I cannot see any great advantage in fettering consideration of the consultation process, or negating the responses that have been received, by legislating as he proposed. It is surely for the people of London to make a judgment on proposed electoral systems in the referendum in May, as part of the package presented to them in the White Paper.

The right hon. Gentleman made much of what he perceived to be the essential link between elector and elected. I agree whole-heartedly with him that that is vital, if a parliamentary constituency is the basis of the link, but we are proposing a new form of local government in which the assembly and the mayor, working together, will have a strategic view of London.

The right hon. Gentleman discounted the idea of a strategic view, but Londoners do not live exclusively in their own parliamentary constituency or local authority area they may have homes in one part of London and work or attend an educational establishment in another. They can bewail the failures that they perceive across London as a whole. It does a disservice to Londoners to present them as concerned exclusively about local issues in their city. There has been a strong response to the idea of restoring a democratic voice for the whole of London, because Londoners have a sense of being part of the city as a whole.

We are still considering responses to the Green Paper. We have made it clear that proposals for electoral systems for the authority will be fully covered in the White Paper, and that is what the people of London will be asked to vote on. We believe that that is the correct order to follow.

The Bill makes clear the areas in which directions from the Secretary of State may be necessary. Those directions will be guided by the provisions in the White Paper and by the timetable necessary to ensure that recommendations are available in time for the substantive legislation establishing the GLA.

Given the passion and conviction that informed the contributions of both the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey and the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield, it is somewhat unlikely that they will respond to my request to withdraw the amendments, but I hope that they will give that request fair consideration.

I acknowledge that the Green Paper provided in a short space a helpful summary of the key arguments for different electoral systems, but it is opaque about where the Government are heading, and we want to introduce a process that will lead to greater transparency.

It is perhaps unhelpful to approach the question as the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) did, by calculating which party would do best out of which system; that is not the spirit of our approach. We should consider how to improve the legitimacy of the new body. The old Greater London council had a chequered history: as the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir P. Beresford) pointed out, it was often associated with great bitterness.

We need the new authority to be legitimate and grounded in public opinion, and to engender popular support and a sense of ownership. The first requirement for that is that it should be representative. I remind the Committee what happened in the last two GLC elections. The striking results are reminders of the dangers of simply reproducing the national first-past-the-post system.

In 1977, for example, the Labour party had a bad year and won only 32 per cent. of the votes, getting roughly the same number of seats, but the Conservatives won 70 per cent. of the seats with only 52 per cent. of the votes. Such a result could easily be reproduced in a bad mid-term poll for the Government.

The 1981 result, which I think brought the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) to national prominence, saw the Labour party achieve only 41 per cent. of the vote, but it won a majority—54 per cent.—of the seats. It was the palace revolution that followed which changed the face of London. It was fundamentally unrepresentative.

9.45 pm

The problem with unrepresentative local government— the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield missed this point—is that the lack of representative government inherent in the first-past-the-post system, combined with low turnout, produces appalling anomalies in local government. In my adult life, I have lived in two local authority areas, both of which illustrate in different ways the problem of the first-past-the-post system creating vast majorities for parties.

I served for some years on Glasgow city council, a privilege that I shared with you, Mr. Martin. Glasgow has many positive things to its credit, but 80 years of virtual one-party rule has hardly helped the city to provide representative and credible government. I now live in another one-party state, although, as it is Liberal Democrat controlled, I think that it is more competent and popular than others. However, it is clearly unrepresentative, and it is unsatisfactory that the borough has had virtually no Labour representation for much of the past two decades. It is unsatisfactory that turnouts of 40 per cent. in local elections, combined with narrow majorities, produce overwhelming results.

The argument applies not only to the assembly but to the formula for electing the mayor. It is not inconceivable that we could get three or four admirable candidates in the mayoral election, who each attract broadly the same number of votes. If the traditional pattern of local government election turnout is reproduced, the mayor could be elected with the support of barely 10 to 15 per cent. of the population. That would be profoundly unsatisfactory.

In considering the options, we must address two issues that were briefly mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). First, we need geographical balance. It would be appalling if we reproduced the problem that existed throughout the history of the GLC, of an inner London dominated by Labour representatives against suburbs dominated by Conservatives, with the city polarised and resentment about the levels of rates and services. We want a system with better geographical balance.

The second objective is better ethnic balance. Only four of 74 London Members are from ethnic minorities. It is a credit to the Labour party that it has brought us this far forward. We and the Conservatives do not have any. About 16 would be more appropriate, given the ethnic distribution. I am arguing not for politically correct quotas but for a system that allows a choice of candidates.

We have our own formulation—large multi-member constituencies and candidate selection—but that is not the issue. We are not arguing for a particular approach, but for a process that allows consideration of representative government, with large constituencies that allow partnerships and cross-party alliances to develop.

To help the Government, we have chosen in the amendment the language used in the Cook-Maclennan process, through which we are trying achieve at national level a more representative system of government. That has opened up the possibility of dialogue between our parties on this subject. We are trying to reproduce the same spirit of consensus at London level.

The issues touched on by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) are well known to us. Not only are they part and parcel of the Liberal Democrat ethos, but clearly they are valid in their own right. He presented them clearly and succinctly, and touched on many of the issues raised by his hon. Friend the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes).

Without in any way wishing to discount the argument of the hon. Member for Twickenham, the central point is the legitimacy of the system. Our Green Paper set out a section containing all the issues touched on tonight. We are now saying to the people of London, "We have asked you to consider our proposals. You have responded to us, and we are now in the process of considering your responses." Without genuinely giving those responses the due respect and consideration that they deserve, the legitimacy—which is essential as we move to a modern form of government—would be flawed. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 33, Noes 298.

Division No. 96]

[9.50 pm

AYES

Allan, RichardHancock, Mike
Ballard, Mrs JackieHarris, Dr Evan
Berth, Rt Hon A JHughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Brake, TomKirkwood, Archy
Brand, Dr PeterMichie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Moore, Michael
Burnett, JohnÖpik, Lembit
Burstow, PaulRendel, David
Cable, Dr VincentRussell, Bob (Colchester)
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)Stunell, Andrew
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Chaytor, DavidTyler, Paul
Chidgey, DavidWallace, James
Cotter, BrianWebb, Steve
Dafis, CynogWillis, Phil
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Foster, Don (Bath)

Tellers for the Ayes:

George, Andrew (St Ives)

Mr. Adrian Sanders and

Gorrie, Donald

Mr. David Heath.

NOES

Abbott, Ms DianeBell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Ainger, NickBennett, Andrew F
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Benton, Joe
Alexander, DouglasBermingham, Gerald
Allan, RichardBetts, Clive
Allen, GrahamBoateng, Paul
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Armstrong, Ms HilaryBrinton, Mrs Helen
Ashton, JoeBuck, Ms Karen
Ballard, Mrs JackieBurden, Richard
Barnes, HarryBurgon, Colin
Bayley, HughButler, Mrs Christine
Beard, NigelByers, Stephen
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretCaborn, Richard
Begg, Miss AnneCampbell, Alan (Tynemouth)

Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Grocott, Bruce
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Hain, Peter
Campbell-Savours, DaleHall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Cann, JamieHamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Casale, RogerHanson, David
Cawsey, IanHeal, Mrs Sylvia
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Healey, John
Chaytor, DavidHenderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)Hepburn, Stephen
Clark, Dr Lynda(Edinburgh Pentlands)Heppell, John
Hesford, Stephen
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Hill, Keith
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)Hinchliffe, David
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Hodge, Ms Margaret
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)Hoey, Kate
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Home Robertson, John
Clelland, DavidHoon, Geoffrey
Clwyd, AnnHope, Phil
Coaker, VernonHopkins, Kelvin
Coffey, Ms AnnHowarth, Alan (Newport E)
Coleman, IainHowarth, George (Knowsley N)
Colman, TonyHowells, Dr Kim
Connarty, MichaelHughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cooper, YvetteHumble, Mrs Joan
Corbyn, JeremyHurst, Alan
Corston, Ms JeanHutton, John
Cousins, JimIddon, Dr Brian
Cox, TomIllsley, Eric
Crausby, DavidIngram, Adam
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Cryer, John (Homchurch)Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Cunliffe, LawrenceJenkins, Brian
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Dalyell, TamJohnson, Miss Melanie(Welwyn Hatfield)
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Darvill, KeithJones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Davidson, IanJones, Ms Jenny(Wolverh'ton SW)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Dawson, HiltonJones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Dean, Mrs JanetJones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Denham, JohnKeeble, Ms Sally
Dismore, AndrewKeen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Dobbin, JimKeen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Donohoe, Brian HKelly, Ms Ruth
Doran, FrankKemp, Fraser
Dowd, JimKidney, David
Drew, DavidKilfoyle, Peter
Drown, Ms JuliaKing, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethLadyman, Dr Stephen
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)Laxton, Bob
Edwards, HuwLepper, David
Efford, CliveLeslie, Christopher
Ellman, Mrs LouiseLevitt, Tom
Ennis, JeffLewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Fatchett, DerekLiddell, Mrs Helen
Field, Rt Hon FrankLinton, Martin
Fisher, MarkLivingstone, Ken
Fitzsimons, LornaLock, David
Flint, CarolineMcAllion, John
Foster, Rt Hon DerekMcAvoy, Thomas
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)McCabe, Steve
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)McCafferty, Ms Chris
Galbraith, SamMcDonagh, Siobhain
Galloway, GeorgeMacdonald, Calum
Gardiner, BarryMcFall, John
Gerrard, NeilMclsaac, Shona
Gibson, Dr IanMcKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Godsiff, RogerMackinlay, Andrew
Golding, Mrs LlinMcLeish, Henry
Gordon, Mrs EileenMcNulty, Tony
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)MacShane, Denis
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Mactaggart, Fiona

McWalter, TonyShaw, Jonathan
Mahon, Mrs AliceSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Mallaber, JudySimpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Mandelson, PeterSingh, Marsha
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)Skinner, Dennis
Marshall-Andrews, RobertSmith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Martlew, EricSmith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Maxton, John
Meale, AlanSmith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Merron, GillianSmith, John (Glamorgan)
Michael, AlunSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)Snape, Peter
Milbum, AlanSoley, Clive
Miller, AndrewSouthworth, Ms Helen
Moonie, Dr LewisSquire, Ms Rachel
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Morley, ElliotSteinberg, Gerry
Mountford, KaliStevenson, George
Mudie, GeorgeStewart, Ian (Ecdes)
Mullin, ChrisStinchcombe, Paul
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)Stoate, Dr Howard
Naysmith, Dr DougStraw, Rt Hon Jack
Norris, DanStringer, Graham
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)Stuart, Ms Gisela
Öpik, LembitSutcliffe, Gerry
Osborne, Ms SandraTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann(Dewsbury)
Palmer, Dr Nick
Pearson, IanTaylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Pendry, TomTaylor, David (NW Leics)
Pickthall, ColinThomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Pike, Peter LTimms, Stephen
Plaskitt, JamesTipping, Paddy
Pollard, KerryTodd, Mark
Pond, ChrisTouhig, Don
Pope, GregTrickett, Jon Truswell, Paul
Pound, StephenTurner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Powell, Sir RaymondTurner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Primarolo, DawnWalley, Ms Joan
Prosser, GwynWard, Ms Claire
Purchase, KenWareing, Robert N
Quin, Ms JoyceWatts, David
Quinn, LawrieWhite, Brian
Rapson, SydWhitehead, Dr Alan
Raynsford, NickWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N)Willis, Phil
Rogers, AllanWinnick, David
Rooker, JeffWise, Audrey
Rooney, TerryWood, Mike
Rowlands, TedWorthington, Tony
Roy, FrankWray, James
Ruddock, Ms JoanWright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Ryan, Ms JoanWyatt, Derek
Salter, Martin
Savidge, Malcolm

Tellers for the Noes:

Sawford, Phil

Jane Kennedy and

Sedgemore, Brian

Mr. David Jamieson.

Question accordingly negatived.

It being after Ten o 'clock, THE CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report progress and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report progress.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business),

That, at this day's sitting, the Greater London Authority (Referendum) Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.— [Mr. McFall.]

Question agreed to.

Again considered in Committee.

Amendment proposed: No. 26, in clause 7, page 3, line 31, at end insert—

'(3) The Commission's report shall be based on the assumption that the elections will be conducted on the "first past the post" system.'.— [Sir Norman Fowler.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The committee divided: Ayes 120, Noes 327.

Division No. 97]

[10.4 pm

AYES

Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Arbuthnot, JamesLansley, Andrew
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Leigh, Edward
Baldry, TonyLetwin, Oliver
Bercow, JohnLewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Beresford, Sir PaulLidington, David
Blunt, CrispinLilley, Rt Hon Peter
Body, Sir RichardLloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Boswell, TimLoughton, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Brady, GrahamMacKay, Andrew
Brazier, JulianMaclean, Rt Hon David
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterMcLoughlin, Patrick
Browning, Mrs AngelaMadel, Sir David
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Malins, Humfrey
Burns, SimonMaples, John
Butterfill, JohnMaude, Rt Hon Francis
Cash, WilliamMay, Mrs Theresa
Clappison, JamesMoss, Malcolm
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)Nicholls, Patrick
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth(Rushcliffe)Ottaway, Richard
Page, Richard
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyPaice, James
Cran, JamesPaterson, Owen
Day, StephenPickles, Eric
Dorrell, Rt Hon StephenPrior, David
Duncan, AlanRandall, John
Duncan Smith, IainRedwood, Rt Hon John
Evans, NigelRobertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Fabricant, MichaelRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Fallon, MichaelRuffley, David
Flight, HowardSt Aubyn, Nick
Forth, Rt Hon EricSayeed, Jonathan
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanShephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Fraser, ChristopherShepherd, Richard
Gale, RogerSimpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Garnier, EdwardSpelman, Mrs Caroline
Gibb, NickSpicer, Sir Michael
Gill, ChristopherSteen, Anthony
Gillan, Mrs CherylStreeter, Gary
Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir AlastairSwayne, Desmond
Gray, JamesSyms, Robert
Green, DamianTapsell, Sir Peter
Greenway, JohnTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Grieve, DominicTaylor, Sir Teddy
Hague, Rt Hon WilliamTownend, John
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchieTredinnick, David
Hammond, PhilipTrend, Michael
Hawkins, NickTyrie, Andrew
Hayes, JohnViggers, Peter
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon DavidWalter, Robert
Horam, JohnWhitney, Sir Raymond
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelWhittingdale, John
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)Wilkinson, John
Hunter, AndrewWilletts, David
Jack, Rt Hon MichaelWilshire, David
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Jenkin, BernardWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Johnson Smith,Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Key, Robert

Tellers for the Ayes:

King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)

Mr. Oliver Heald and

Kirkbride, Miss Julie

Mr. Nigel Waterson.

NOES

Abbott, Ms DianeCunliffe, Lawrence
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Ainger, NickDalyell, Tarn
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Alexander, DouglasDarvill, Keith
Allan, RichardDavey, Edward (Kingston)
Allen, GrahamDavey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Davidson, Ian
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Armstrong, Ms HilaryDavis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Ashton, JoeDawson, Hilton
Ballard, Mrs JackieDean, Mrs Janet
Barnes, HarryDenham, John
Bayley, HughDismore, Andrew
Beard, NigelDobbin, Jim
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretDonohoe, Brian H
Begg, Miss AnneDoran, Frank
Berth, Rt Hon A JDowd, Jim
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)Drew, David
Benn, Rt Hon TonyDrown, Ms Julia
Bennett, Andrew FDunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Benton, JoeEagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Bermingham, GeraldEagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Boateng, PaulEdwards, Huw
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Efford, Clive
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Ellman, Mrs Louise
Brake, TomEnnis, Jeff
Brand, Dr PeterFatchett, Derek
Brinton, Mrs HelenField, Rt Hon Frank
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Fisher, Mark
Buck, Ms KarenFitzsimons, Lorna
Burden, RichardFlint, Caroline
Burgon, ColinFoster, Rt Hon Derek
Burnett, JohnFoster, Don (Bath)
Burstow, PaulFoster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Butler, Mrs ChristineFoster, Michael J (Worcester)
Byers, StephenGalbraith, Sam
Cable, Dr VincentGalloway, George
Cabom, RichardGardiner, Barry
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)George, Andrew (St Ives)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Gerrard, Neil
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)Gibson, Dr Ian
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Godsiff, Roger
Campbell-Savours, DaleGolding, Mrs Llin
Cann, JamieGordon, Mrs Eileen
Casale, RogerGorrie, Donald
Cawsey, IanGriffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Chaytor, DavidGrocott, Bruce
Chidgey, DavidHain, Peter
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Hancock, Mike
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Hanson, David
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)Harris, Dr Evan
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)Healey, John
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Clelland, DavidHenderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Clwyd, AnnHepburn, Stephen
Coaker, VernonHeppell, John
Coffey, Ms AnnHesford, Stephen
Coleman, IainHewitt, Ms Patricia
Connarty, MichaelHill, Keith
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Hinchliffe, David
Cooper, YvetteHodge, Ms Margaret
Corbyn, JeremyHoey, Kate
Corston, Ms JeanHome Robertson, John
Cotter, BrianHoon, Geoffrey
Cousins, JimHope, Phil
Cox, TomHopkins, Kelvin
Crausby, DavidHowarth, Alan (Newport E)
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Cryer, John (Homchurch)Howells, Dr Kim

Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)Moriey, Elliot
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Mountford, Kali
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)Mudie, George
Humble, Mrs JoanMullin, Chris
Hurst, AlanMurphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hutton, JohnNaysmith, Dr Doug
Iddon, Dr BrianNorris, Dan
Illsley, EricO'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Ingram, AdamÖpik, Lembit
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)Osborne, Ms Sandra
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)Palmer, Dr Nick
Jenkins, BrianPearson, Ian
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)Pendry, Tom
Johnson, Miss Melanie(Welwyn Hatfield)Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Plaskitt, James
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)Pollard, Kerry
Jones, Ms Jenny(Wolverh'ton SW)Pond, Chris
Pope, Greg
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)Pound, Stephen
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)Powell, Sir Raymond
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Keeble, Ms SallyPrentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)Primarolo, Dawn
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)Prosser, Gwyn
Kelly, Ms RuthPurchase, Ken
Kemp, FraserQuin, Ms Joyce
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)Quinn, Lawrie
Kidney, DavidRapson, Syd
Kilfoyle, PeterRaynsford, Nick
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Kirkwood, ArchyReid, Dr John (Hamilton N)
Ladyman, Dr StephenRendel, David
Lawrence, Ms JackieRogers, Allan
Laxton, BobRooker, Jeff
Lepper, DavidRooney, Terry
Leslie, ChristopherRowlands, Ted
Levitt, TomRoy, Frank
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)Ruddock, Ms Joan
Liddell, Mrs HelenRussell, Bob (Colchester)
Linton, MartinRussell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Livingstone, KenRyan, Ms Joan
Lock, DavidSalter, Martin
McAllion, JohnSanders, Adrian
McAvoy, ThomasSavidge, Malcolm
McCabe, SteveSawford, Phil
McCafferty, Ms ChrisSedgemore, Brian
McDonagh, SiobhainShaw, Jonathan
Macdonald, CalumSimpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
McFall, JohnSingh, Marsha
Mclsaac, ShonaSkinner, Dennis
McKenna, Mrs RosemarySmith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Mackinlay, AndrewSmith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
McLeish, Henry
McNulty, TonySmith, Jacqui (Redditch)
MacShane, DenisSmith, John (Glamorgan)
Mactaggart, FionaSmith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
McWalter, TonySnape, Peter
Mahon, Mrs AliceSoley, Clive
Mallaber, JudySouthworth, Ms Helen
Mandelson, PeterSquire, Ms Rachel
Marek, Dr JohnStarkey, Dr Phyllis
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)Steinberg, Gerry
Marshall-Andrews, RobertStevenson, George
Martlew, EricStewart, Ian (Eccles)
Maxton, JohnStinchcombe, Paul
Meale, AlanStoate, Dr Howard
Merron, GillianStraw, Rt Hon Jack
Michael, AlunStringer, Graham
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)Stuart, Ms Gisela
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)Stunell, Andrew
Milbum, AlanSutcliffe, Gerry
Miller, AndrewTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann(Dewsbury)
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Moore, MichaelTaylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)Taylor, David (NWLeics)

Taylor, Matthew (Truro)Webb, Steve
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)White, Brian
Timms, StephenWhitehead, Dr Alan
Tipping, PaddyWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Todd, MarkWilliams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Touhig, DonWillis, Phil
Trickett, JonWinnick, David
Truswell, PaulWise, Audrey
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)Wood, Mike
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)Worthington, Tony
Twigg, Derek (Halton)Wray, James
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Tyler, PaulWright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Wallace, JamesWyatt, Derek
Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Ms Claire

Tellers for the Noes:

Wareing, Robert N

Mr. David Jamieson and

Watts, David

Mr. Clive Betts.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Even a casual perusal of the clause would lead the Committee to conclude that it is either a bit of a tease or deliberately obscure. The very first word of the clause, "If, leaves us in some doubt about the Government's intentions. We might expect their intentions to be somewhat clearer at this stage, the Green Paper notwithstanding. [Interruption.] We are immediately confronted with the possibility that— [Interruption.]

Order. Only one Member should be addressing the Chamber. We cannot have conversations in the Chamber.

We are left with the possibility that the Secretary of State may direct the Local Government Commission, or he may not. I assume that it is plausible that the Secretary of State may not give such a direction, in which case would we be entitled to make certain assumptions about the way in which the matter would proceed? Presumably, given the indication we have already had of the sort of numbers involved in the assembly, it would not be unreasonable to assume one member per borough. That is a straightforward and workable assumption. From that would flow the further assumption that it would be one member per borough elected on a first-past-the-post system, which would be clear and well understood by Londoners. It would be a straightforward approach.

Matters then become more complicated because, as I read the clause—the Minister will clarify this in due course—if the Secretary of State were to decide to give a direction to the Local Government Commission, that would lead to the provisions in subsection (l)(a). I am genuinely intrigued because that ties the Secretary of State's hands and, therefore, those of the Local Government Commission. It refers to "showing the electoral areas"—that is plural—
"into which it recommends that Greater London should be divided".
That appears to preclude the possibility of London being one area for the purpose of the election. One distinct possibility being considered by those who are more in favour of proportional representation than I am is that London would be a single area with a single list from which the electorate could choose its members, but the clause clearly says "areas". That is quite a strong hint from the Government that they are precluding the possibility of one approach that could be taken under a system of proportional representation.

I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say, but that seems an odd approach if the Government genuinely have an open mind. If they decide not to go down the straightforward route that I would prefer of one member per borough, first past the post—which is easily understood, something to which Londoners could readily relate, and would give the size of assembly that the Government have said that they would prefer—surely the Secretary of State would want to direct the commission to look at a number of other ways of organising the election. But there is the problem of the wording as one of the ways that could be pursued will not be allowed, if I read the Bill correctly. Of course, we all know that it is hazardous for an hon. Member to read and interpret a Bill, but we must do it to elucidate the Government's intentions.

The clause then refers—it is now more logical—to the number of areas and members and directs the commission to state
"the name by which it recommends that each such electoral area should be known."
As I have already said, if we stuck to the straightforward traditional approach, that would not be a requirement because the areas would be the familiar boroughs. That would be elegant and straightforward. If we give some artificial name to areas, we must immediately ask what sort of relationship voters in London would feel they had with the areas cobbled together by the commission under the direction of the Secretary of State.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the position is even more difficult? As I have tried to point out in interventions and in a brief speech, there could be more confusion. If the areas chosen are not coterminous with the boroughs, there will be difficulties with representation and even greater difficulties with discussion and argument between the two tiers of the boroughs and the assembly and the relationship between the representatives of the assembly and the areas that the boroughs partially cover.

My hon. Friend is right. There is potential confusion from the attempt to group boroughs into the sort of areas that underlie the wording in the clause. Presumably, one of the options hinted at in the clause, if I read it correctly, is that the electoral areas could be the existing European Parliament constituencies, which gives the possibility of 10 areas for London. We are then in a little difficulty: would the number of members of the assembly divide neatly by 10 or would there be variable numbers per area? Would there be sufficient members in each of the 10 areas to give meaning to anything other than a first-past-the-post system?

If my hon. Friend is right and the number of members will not be divisible by 10, and if a system other than first past the post is used, how will electors be able to get rid of someone elected to the assembly who they feel has let them down?

That is a valid and searching question—it is typical of my hon. Friend—but it is not one which I feel obliged to answer as I am not defending such a method of election. The Committee must explore the possibilities that lie within clause 7.

It is striking that there is almost infinite cause for confusion and very little hope of clarity emerging from the process described in the clause. Perhaps Ministers have some as yet unrevealed desire and well worked-out plan up their sleeve—having undergone the sham process of issuing a Green Paper—but they will not say. Perhaps they will say to the commission, "This is what we want to do." If so, Ministers might do us all a favour, shortening events considerably—I am trying to be helpful—by telling us what is in their minds, short-circuiting all the anguish that I am going through right now.

Worse than Ministers having a well thought-out, predetermined plan would be if—heaven forfend—they had not a clue of what they would do about electoral arrangements and were groping through a fog of confusion, hoping that the Local Government Commission will get them off the hook. That would not do.

Depending on the nature of the directions given by the Secretary of State on whether my analysis of that key word "areas", in the plural, ties the commission's hands— as I suggest that it will—and on whether it is likely that the number of assembly members that Ministers have suggested they would prefer fits in with the number of European constituencies, or with some other formulation that I have not yet been able to devise myself, we shall have in London under the proposals a satisfactory system that makes sense to Londoners and induces them to vote, providing some accountability and identifiability of electors with representatives, or we shall not.

I wonder whether my right hon. Friend is proceeding on the basis that the commission, under the direction that it will be given, is to divide the total number of members into the electoral areas? What if Ministers plan to have an additional member election system for the assembly, by which a number of assembly members will be elected on an all-London basis while others will be elected on a constituency basis? How will the commission interpret the Government's intentions when the direction in the Bill seems simply to assume that the total number of members will be divided into the number of electoral areas?

Undoubtedly, we shall shortly receive an answer to that question—although, if I were my hon. Friend, I would not hold my breath.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) has led me very neatly to the next subsection, which provides that the direction will specify both the number of electoral areas and the total number of members. Such a direction will leave to the hapless commission the job of making sense of the electoral system that will be devised—which must make sense not only in representative terms, by representing the people of London, but in the nature of the assembly itself. He has very perceptively asked whether one can make sense of an alternative member system, for example, in a system consisting of such a relatively small assembly and a relatively small number of members.

There is a real danger that Ministers have painted themselves into a corner by having predetermined a smallish assembly for an area as enormous as London.

By the by, is it not interesting that Scotland, which has fewer people than Greater London, will be given an assembly with, from memory, 170 members? That size of assembly is deemed necessary properly to represent the people of Scotland; yet it is thought that Londoners—with the huge variety of views and circumstances in London— will be represented properly by a very small assembly. That question has not yet been answered.

I take my right hon. Friend's point about the Government painting themselves into a corner but, as he pointed out, the clause begins with the little word "If, and the Bill later states that if the Government do not like the report, they can throw it back and start again.

Indeed; I am sure that when we come to clause 8 we shall want to explore that point in some depth. Like my hon. Friend, I have been intrigued by what might happen between the draft report being published and the report achieving its final form. However, if I were to be tempted to deal prematurely with that clause, I suspect that you, Mr. Martin, might take a dim view of that, and I do not want to incur your wrath at this early stage in the proceedings.

I want to give colleagues the chance to express their views, but I hope that I have raised sufficient legitimate questions on the clause to show that we need much more clarity from the Government—it is not an unreasonable request—before we decide how to vote. Otherwise, the Government will effectively be expecting us to sign a blank cheque for them, and that is something which I should be very reluctant to do at this early stage.

10.30 pm

We support the clause. Logically, if one sets up a body to examine boundaries, one has to give it a brief and require it to do certain things. It seems to us that the clause sets out just what the body has to do—it must consider electoral areas and the number of people to be elected, it has to suggest a name for the electoral areas, and so on.

The clause is logical and keeps all the options open. If the Government make a terrible mistake and come up with a ghastly and completely unrepresentative electoral system, for which I shall condemn them for ever, terrible things will happen to them but, more important, the clause still allows them to deal with the situation and to have another system.

It is no secret to Ministers and certainly not to you, Mr. Martin, that I and my colleagues sought to table an amendment to change the body in question in clause 7 from the Local Government Commission for England to the Boundary Commission for England. I raise the matter only because I was told that although it was a perfectly proper subject for debate, the long title of the Bill would first need to have been amended in that way. I just want to flag up the fact that it is more appropriate that the issue is considered by the boundary commission than by the Local Government Commission because we are not debating local government.

The Minister for Transport in London may not have realised it, but at one point she mentioned power to local government, and other hon. Members occasionally did the same. Let us be politically corrected when we have made mistakes, because we are talking not about local government but about regional government. Therefore, the Local Government Commission is being given a job that it has not traditionally been asked to do. I accept that we do not have a regional boundary commission at the moment, but it would have been better for the issue to be considered by the Boundary Commission for England.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Boundary Commission for England is the proper body to deal with such matters in that it can hold hearings and has the expertise to adjust boundaries? The Local Government Commission is set up to deal with the nuts and bolts of how local government works and should have nothing to do with deciding electoral areas.

I accept those points. Whatever the difference between the hon. Gentleman's views and mine, I am troubled that we are remitting this particular task to this particular body. My colleagues and I would certainly have been happier if the task had gone to the Boundary Commission for England because it effectively relates to parliamentary constituencies.

I should be grateful for an explanation of why it cannot go to the boundary commission, if indeed it cannot. I should like to hear the arguments so that I can be persuaded. If there are no strong arguments, I should be grateful if Ministers would reflect on the possibility of amendments in the other place to allow the relevant body to be the Boundary Commission for England.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly on the clause, which has several flaws. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has referred to some. I had the opportunity to interrupt him briefly on one significant flaw which needs a response from the Minister. No decision appears to have been taken on the electoral system, but the power that the Secretary of State seeks under the clause would not leave scope for places on the assembly to be set aside if there were an additional member system. That option is being precluded, just as the drafting of the clause may have precluded the further option—although not one that I advocate—of treating the whole of London as one constituency.

There are three further problems with the clause. The first was referred to in the previous debate: it would be better if the clause made it clear that we were operating on the basis of first past the post. I shall not revisit those arguments in detail, but it behoves us to remember that democracy is not simply about proportionality, but about accountability, representativeness and the efficiency with which the will of the electorate is converted into political action by a legislature. On all those counts, a first-past-the-post system has a great deal to commend it.

The second problem is that nowhere does the clause— or those following it that govern the manner in which the Secretary of State is to exercise the powers—refer to the opportunity to refer such directions back to Parliament. We are legislating for the Secretary of State, with the subsequent action of the Local Government Commission, to determine a key part of our constitution: the manner in which the first of the regional bodies in England—it may be the only one—is to be elected. When we discuss the legislation on Scotland and Wales, I imagine that we shall debate the manner of election in some detail.

The arrangements for London are to be taken out of the hands of Parliament and handed over to the Secretary of State, operating with the advice of the Local Government Commission. As I read the Bill, not only can the Secretary of State make directions, but if he does not like the answer he can send it back for a different one. Clause 10 would allow the Secretary of State to require the Local Government Commission to take certain matters into account and to be guided by him on how it should respond on those matters. Great discretion is being handed over to the Secretary of State on the key issue of the electoral system.

My third problem relates to timing. Ministers have referred to consultation and the responses to the Green Paper that was issued some time ago. Several questions have been asked about the electoral system, covering the boundaries of the electoral areas and the manner in which elections are to take place. We do not know the character of the responses and what analysis Ministers have made of how to respond. We know that there were only 1,200 responses. The former Secretary of State for the Environment, my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), has reminded me that more than 10,000 responses from Londoners were received in the 1994 consultation exercise. None the less, those 1,200 views were made in response to the Green Paper and they should be taken into account. That is why we are debating the clause and the manner in which it is to be interpreted by the Secretary of State.

There are significant deficiencies in the clause which ought to be considered on Report or in another place so that we can make the legislation more acceptable.

I would not have spoken on the clause if I had not been inspired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who gave us a most eloquent explanation of its inadequacies. Some thought needs to be given to whether the Local Government Commission should be involved, as the Government suggest, or whether the boundary commission should be involved, as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) suggests.

I believe that on this occasion the Government are right and that the Local Government Commission, rather than the boundary commission, should be involved. Throughout the debate, there has been discussion on whether we are dealing with regional or with local government. I believe that we are dealing with some form of super-local government and not with regional government. If the new system is to work well, it must operate with the consent of the boroughs and in co-operation with them.

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity of giving evidence to the Local Government Commission and I have seen it working in various parts of the United Kingdom. It brings a local perspective to devising the size of electoral divisions, the boundaries and the number of representatives within a ward. I was very impressed by the way in which the commission would look carefully at the size of local communities and try to group them.

Should a strategic authority differ from conventional local government? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst suggested, it seems from clause 7(2) that it might be possible to have just one local government division. Alternatively, we might consider the boundaries of European Parliament constituencies or borough boundaries.

I understand that there is a desire to break the constituency and ward links, and to look at London as a whole strategically. It is suggested that, if constituency and ward links are broken, we shall get better government. I do not believe that that will happen. A political class will be created that is impervious to criticism from the public. There is no way in which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst said, electors will be able to remove members of the assembly who have failed. They will be cushioned from that and they will be able to live with any decisions that they care to make. Therefore, they can make decisions that upset people's rights in respect of property or individual liberty and a responsive democracy can do nothing about it.

A very small return—a mere 1,200 who responded out of a population larger than that of Scotland or Wales— was concerned about the way in which elections should be conducted. It is usually assumed that we elect people to be responsible to us and not to disappear into an obscure authority that cannot respond. If the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey is correct in saying that we are moving to a new system of regional government, we have reached a key point in our devolving constitution and we have to get it right now. We have to lay down clear guidance about the elections.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, as it is unlikely that I shall have the chance to speak. Does he agree that the bottom line is that, if we discourage the electorate from voting, the system will have failed?

My hon. Friend makes a very perceptive point. It is possible that the electors can achieve nothing by voting, as they will not be able to remove unpopular members of the strategic authority. That will erode confidence in the process of democracy generally and the strength of the strategic authority.

To avoid dividing the Committee, the Minister will have to respond in detail to all the points raised.

10.45 pm

I did not expect to participate in the debate, but I am delighted to make a short, succinct speech. We are considering far-reaching, fundamental reforms. The House relies on democracy. If we discourage people from voting because the system is unappealing in one way or another, we shall do democracy in Britain no favours whatever.

I should like to comment on two issues: the system of proportional representation envisaged in the clause and whether the Local Government Commission or the boundary commission should decide the electoral areas.

I cannot understand the rush for proportional representation in the Scottish Assembly, the Welsh Assembly and in Europe. No doubt we shall have a referendum on whether we should have proportional representation for Westminster elections. Proportional representation does not produce fair votes; it simply encourages minorities. If the level pavement party managed to get enough votes in the London election, it would be represented on the London assembly. I make that suggestion in jest, but it would be a one-issue party, when everyone on both sides of the Chamber should be concerned with the promotion of London. Unless we promote London to the wider world, what on earth is the point of the Bill? We are about promoting the excellence of London for tourism and trade and for the benefit of the general standard of living for the people of London. What on earth does encouraging minorities do for that?

I have only a few minutes left to speak—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Obviously Labour Members are not enjoying my speech very much and that is because it hurts.

As we have to decide whether the boundary commission or the Local Government Commission should decide the electoral areas, let me remind my hon. Friend that sitting in the Chamber is a former member of the Local Government Commission, a potential candidate for the London mayor. I wonder whether we could tempt her to say which would be best— the Local Government Commission or the boundary commission.

My hon. Friend raises a very good point. One wonders whether the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) will be acting the part of Elizabeth I, the Lord Mayor of London or whoever she might be when she stands for the post. My hon. Friend leads me down paths of temptation down which I should not be led.

The issue is whether we should use the Local Government Commission or the boundary commission. I attended the local boundary commission hearing when it was trying to pronounce on the Gloucestershire constituency boundaries. That hearing was conducted by an eminent lawyer. People from all interested parties in Gloucestershire gave views. That is the right forum in which to pronounce on boundaries—whether they be constituencies in London or wards that make up electoral areas in London.

I ask the Minister to treat the issue seriously. I hope that he will respond to it in detail, when I allow him to get to his feet. The Local Government Commission is concerned with the ethics and working of local government and how it should organise its administrative processes rather than the individual boundaries of wards or constituencies.

I trust that the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) is not disappointed that it is a she and not a he who rises to respond.

The speech of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), in support of the clause, was in the main complete. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] I regret that he is not in his place. [HON. MEMBERS: "Here he is."] Just in time. He questioned whether the proposals in clause 7 should be best vested in the Local Government Commission and argued for such functions to be vested in the boundary commission. I well understood his argument.

There is disagreement between the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey and the Government over the definition that the GLA is regional government.

We regard it as citywide government. Therefore, we believe that it is more appropriate that the Local Government Commission should engage in the functions, should it be necessary. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the whole basis of the clause is entirely dependent on the people of London voting yes in the referendum.

The hon. Lady was right; I made it into the Chamber just on time. I am interested in, but slightly concerned by, the comment—which is right in itself—that she has just made. The GLA would be citywide government. My understanding of Labour party policy is that the GLA is also regional government and was intended to be the first of a series of regional governments. If the hon. Lady is now saying that the GLA will not be regional government, her right hon. and hon. Friends and other Members will be surprised to hear it.

I can only repeat that it has always been our presentation, representation, perception and indeed commitment that the GLA represents citywide government. The hon. Gentleman may be confusing two issues. Clearly the Government have considered the possibility of regional government. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are engaged in consultation on the regional development agencies. I repeat that it is our perception that the people of London will be best served—if they vote yes in the referendum—by the Local Government Commission.

The contributions from the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), and the hon. Members for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) and for Cotswold were obfuscatory to the extent that, if mine were a less charitable nature, I would think that it was deliberate. However, I have a charitable nature and I am prepared to believe that the obfuscatory nature of their contributions was because they simply do not understand clause 7. It may be helpful to the Committee if I define the purpose of the clause.

Clause 7 confers new functions on the Local Government Commission for England, requiring it—at the direction of the Secretary of State—to prepare a report in respect of electoral areas for any elected assembly established after the referendum. That is an important point. The powers given to the Secretary of State under the clause to direct the commission will not be used—I emphasise that point—until there has been an affirmative vote in the referendum, by which stage the Government will have published a White Paper setting out direct proposals. We will make clear our proposals for the election method and the constituencies.

Clause 7 requires the commission, at the direction of the Secretary of State, to prepare a report recommending the electoral areas into which Greater London should be divided for the purpose of electing the members of any assembly established following the referendum, the number of members who should be elected for each electoral area and the name by which each electoral area should be known. It also requires that any direction made by the Secretary of State must specify the total number of electoral areas and the total number of members for which the recommendations in the Commission's report must provide. That is a sensible provision which is designed to speed the process of establishing the GLA after an affirmative vote in the referendum. Conservative Members have made no case and offered no argument for its removal.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.