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Hansard:28 Feb: Column 317 ...
Hansard:28 Feb: Column 317

DETR minister Lord Whitty hinted the government was about to do a U-turn on its refusal to allow a free mailshot for candidates in the London mayoral and assembly elections. He admitted the government was having talks with Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers, whose amendment to the Representation of the People Bill - which would ensure that election addresses would be distributed free with the poll card to the capital's five million electorate - is due to be debated in the lords today.

Responding to Liberal Democrat Lord Clement-Jones, the minister said the government intended the elections would be held on 4 May as planned. It would lay an amended election expenses order before today's debate.

He added: 'If we were trying to fix and fudge the Greater London election, we have not made a very good job of it! Our concern throughout has been that all candidates should have a level

playing field and that the process should not be subject to abuse...

'We are looking to ensure that candidates can get their message across without opening up the process to abuse and vast expenditure. We are in discussion with the other parties on the way in which that can be achieved. I believe that when we consider the Representation of the People Bill tomorrow, all parties will concur that we have found a way out of the difficulty'.

Conservative Lord Pilkington said the lack of a free mailshot would place enormous power in the hands of the party machines. He asked the minister whether he would like to encourage independents to stand for election as mayor, both in London and other cities.

Lord Whitty replied that if he was quoted as encouraging independents to stand, that might be misconstrued at the present time. 'We want anyone who has the requisite number of signatures and who is prepared to run a proper political campaign for the post of mayor to have access to all means of communication with the public. We believe that we shall find a way of doing that which does not lead to the kind of abuse about which I was worried', he added.

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