Local Government Bill [H.L.]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:51 pm on 6th December 1999.

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Photo of Lord Lipsey Lord Lipsey Labour 7:51 pm, 6th December 1999

I hope that my noble friend will find the rest of the speech as much to his taste. However, on the basis of a conversation I had with him the other day, I am not sure he will.

I want to turn to elected mayors--a concept for which I have long had considerable enthusiasm--and particularly to the system of election. The Government have opted for a good system for the election of the mayor; it is the supplementary vote system such as is being used for the election of the mayor of London. It is good because, broadly, it ensures that a mayor will have a mandate. Voters will have a second choice as well as a first choice and therefore in almost every case a mayor will have the support of a majority of those who bothered to vote in his or her area. That is a good system and much better than the system used to elect Members at the other end of this building. Out of 659 Members of Parliament, 312 were elected only by a minority of voters in their constituency--but we shall let that pass.

Incidentally, it is not the best system. I should prefer the system which ensures that everyone is elected with a majority; that is the alternative vote. I see the noble Baroness nodding encouragingly so perhaps I might be more encouraging. The correct technical term for that system--I mastered such terms as a member of the Jenkins Commission--is a single transferable vote in a single member constituency. I am pleased to have the support of the Benches opposite and no doubt we shall consider the issue further in Committee.

However, there is a larger flaw. In the London election, the mayor will be chosen by a supplementary vote, but the assembly which stands behind him is elected on a more proportional system; a reformed electoral system. There is nothing in the Bill which will change the make-up of the councils which stand behind elected mayors.

When one considers the anomalies of the present system, it is scary. In Wandsworth, which is a Conservative borough, in the 1998 election the Conservative share of the vote was 52.7 per cent and they won 50 out of 61 seats. In Newham, which is a Labour borough, Labour's share of the vote was 57.3 per cent and they won all 60 seats. Labour controlled Croydon is not Labour controlled in terms of voters, because 46.9 per cent of the electorate voted for the Conservatives and 38.5 per cent for Labour. But Labour have a majority of seven seats there.

That is not a party prejudice; it is a rotten electoral system having rotten results. I believe that this House should take the opportunity to seek to improve the Bill. I hope that the Government are becoming more open minded about that prospect.

I am sorry now to turn to a matter of unnatural practices; indeed, unnatural acts. They are the Acts of 1986 and 1988, which put Section 28 on the statute book. I respond to the sincerity of the speeches made predominantly from the other side of the House in favour of Section 28. I understand the strong human emotions which they reflect. I cannot say the same in every case about how well informed the speakers are. I heard the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, who unfortunately has not been able to stay to hear the other side of the argument, saying that there was no homosexuality among animals. The Canadian biologist, Brian Bagemihi, has recently produced a book, entitled Biological Exuberance, which is all about homosexuality in animals. I am told that it shows practices rather kinkier than most human beings get up to and that it is illustrated. Anyone wanting to have a quick look to prove the falsehood of that case can do so.

There is another regard in which I find the arguments, although sincere, naive. There are always exceptions, but the notion that there was any widespread campaign anywhere in state schools to promote homosexuality is truly bizarre. If there are any schools where homosexuality is promoted, it is the single-sex boarding schools favoured by so many people for the education of their young men. Even so, that does not have much effect because basically people are born with their sexuality.

Although that idea was put forward in all sincerity, it was not adopted by the government of the time in all sincerity; not at all. I talked to Ministers at the time in private and there was no doubt as to what they were really up to. It was a little sop before the 1987 general election to the closet homophobes of the golf club bar and the regimental dinner. That is what it was truly about.

I am in politics. I know that one does things to please one's supporters from time to time and that one should be forgiving. But unfortunately, although the Bill achieved nothing concrete--of that I am absolutely sure--the result was worse. This was not a victimless crime. The victims of the clause were millions of perfectly normal homosexual people who found that the legislature of this country--their country--had determined to stigmatise their lifestyle, to whip up popular prejudice and to make them feel less at ease with themselves. Anyone who talks to friends who are members of that community know that that is so and that the wound goes deep.

Therefore, of all the many things of which I hope to be proud during this Government's term, I am proudest of all that that clause is now to be wiped from the statute Book by the Government, of whom I am a supporter.