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Local Authority Elections: Voting System

Volume 597: debated on Wednesday 10 February 1999

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3 p.m.

What plans they have for the introduction of a new voting system for local authority elections.

My Lords, the Government's plans are in our recent White Paper. We do not propose to change the local government voting system other than the possible introduction of the supplementary vote for the election of directly elected mayors.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that somewhat disappointing reply. Is the noble Baroness aware that when the Nolan Committee considered standards in local government it found that, irrespective of political persuasion, abuses were by and large associated with an excessive degree of one-party dominance.

Against that background, would not one of the best ways to improve standards in local government be to introduce some form of proportional voting, as the Government have done for the new Parliament of Scotland, the Welsh Assembly and now the European Union elections?

My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord will wish to join me in paying tribute to the large number of councillors and officers who do excellent work in majority as well as minority authorities. However, it is true that we have studied carefully the issue of possible corruption in local government. For that reason we shall publish soon a draft Bill which will include a new ethical framework which we hope to achieve following consultation, including consultation with the Local Government Association.

In one authority where corruption was found to have occurred, the fear of losing majority control led to the corruption.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that many people would welcome the Answer she gave to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, in particular as, contrary to what the noble Lord seemed to suggest, all forms of proportional representation tend to lead to an increase in power for the party apparat at the expense of the individual voter? That applies as much to local government as to national elections.

My Lords, as always, the noble Viscount makes an interesting point. As he knows, for example, with regard to the European parliamentary elections, the Government's position is that different systems may be appropriate for different types of election. However, on behalf of the Government, I welcome his support for the position we take on local government.

My Lords, when considering systems of proportional representation, will the Minister take into account the background to the Question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson? It may he less to do with the purity of democracy but more about seeking to increase Liberal Democrat representation on local authorities. Will my noble friend also take into account the behaviour on the doorstep of Liberal Democrat councillors which bodes ill for the integrity of councils in which there are more of them?

My Lords, my noble friend has in mind a specific experience. It is my experience in local government that candidates and councillors in all parties behave with scrupulous integrity on the doorstep when they seek support. Occasionally other types of people become involved despite the careful scrutiny of the political parties. I should not like to hazard a guess or to demonstrate any personal bias by attributing percentages to the different parties.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many independent members are still elected to local authorities? That is an advantage which the Government should do their best to maintain. Proportional representation would prevent it.

My Lords, some systems of proportional representation fully allow the local electorate to choose freely to support an independent candidate in local elections. When I was chair of the Association of County Councils for England and Wales, a wide range of views was held by independent candidates from the Principality. In some cases they fully reflected the views of their local communities.

My Lords, it is politically naïve to believe that a change in voting system will prevent people who are intent on operating corrupt practices from being elected. Can proportional representation distinguish between an individual who will be corrupt and someone who will be pure?

My Lords, my noble friend is right. No political system of election can do that. But we believe that a new ethical framework, which will implement the policy that after a single strike of misbehaviour one is out, is to be welcomed by all parties.