Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 240 - 259)



  240. What evidence is there from the ordinary man and woman in the street?
  (Mr Raynsford) This will be one of the issues that will be tested in the referendum which is why the Government have been absolutely clear that there must be endorsement through a referendum of all the electors if this is to proceed, but I have to say that it is not only the people with a vested interest who I have met. I have met people with very different points of view, but I have to say that I have noticed in the northern regions of the country a greater appetite for regional assemblies than I have in other regions of the country.

Mrs Dunwoody

  241. If you do not define how many people constitutes an adequate response, you could get an extremely low turnout which just happened to produce a yes rather than a no result and you are telling us you would go ahead on that basis?
  (Mr Raynsford) No, that is one of the issues that will be covered in the White Paper, but I did point out the equal and opposite problems that flow from setting an arbitrary threshold which can result in the democratic wish of people being frustrated because they did not meet that threshold, even though there was a clear majority in favour of that option.


  242. So you are telling us that there will be a threshold but that you are now wrestling with the problems of what would be the appropriate threshold.
  (Mr Raynsford) No, I am not saying that there will be a threshold at all. The issue of whether there will be a threshold is one of the issues that will be covered in the White Paper. We did not have a threshold for Scotland, Wales or Greater London, so that might be seen as a precedent. We do not have a threshold for election to this House, even though some members are elected, particularly in by-elections, on very, very low percentages. I think that is something that has to be borne in mind.

Sir Paul Beresford

  243. Will the referendum be a one-off in each region or will there be repeats until such time as you have achieved your target?
  (Mr Raynsford) There is no purpose in that sense other than to give each region of the country the opportunity, if it so wishes, to have a referendum on this subject. That will involve a trigger mechanism, as I have mentioned, and that clearly will have to be considered and will be considered in the White Paper, but it will depend on the region voting in favour of it. If there is a vote against, there will then obviously need to be some terms limiting opportunities for repeat votes which would be unnecessary or counterproductive in terms of time and effort and again we will consider in the White Paper whether there should be a limitation on subsequent—

  244. In that case, what about a referendum the other way?
  (Mr Raynsford) The objective will be to establish the opportunity for regional assemblies where people wish to have it. If they do not wish to have it, they will vote against in the referendum and there will not be a regional assembly.


  245. What happens if, say, after three years, the people want to get rid of it? They will not have the chance.
  (Mr Raynsford) That is the consequence of voting for a structure and people will be aware of that when they cast their vote in the same way as in Scotland and Wales when they voted for having a parliament or assembly, they were aware that that was the consequence.

Mr Betts

  246. Is there going to be a referendum in every region?
  (Mr Raynsford) Referendums will be held where the region indicates through an appropriate trigger mechanism which will be covered in the White Paper.

  247. Through a referendum?
  (Mr Raynsford) My difficulty, as you will know, is that, until the White Paper is published, I cannot obviously give definitive answers.

  248. So there will not automatically be one in each region?
  (Mr Raynsford) There will not necessarily be a referendum in each region, no, because if there is not a triggering of the wish for a referendum, no referendum will be held. A referendum will be held where people locally, through the appropriate trigger mechanism that we establish in the White Paper, indicate a wish to have a referendum.

  249. In terms of boundaries, are they going to be, as per the RDA boundaries, any changes to be considered?
  (Mr Raynsford) This is another controversial issue which will be covered in the White Paper. There is a strong presumption in favour of working within existing boundaries because the consequences of opening up the issue of whether boundaries should be changed is clearly a very controversial one. When I was in Cumbria recently, there were some people who were strong advocates of Cumbria remaining associated with the north-west and others who felt that part of Cumbria might more appropriately lie with the north-east. The conclusion that I came to from my discussions was that the northern part of Cumbria probably felt more comfortable with the north-east and the southern part broadly more comfortable with the north-west.

Mrs Dunwoody

  250. So what was your solution, Minister?
  (Mr Raynsford) I had no solution but our White Paper will set out the framework in which we intend to proceed.

  Mrs Dunwoody: As to that, we will think of it in the future!

Mr Betts

  251. There are a number of problems, are there not?
  (Mr Raynsford) Yes.

  252. Devon and Cornwall think they are in a different country let alone region.
  (Mr Raynsford) Exactly.

  253. And I have in mind Sheffield where the regional boundary goes slap bang through a travel to work area which is not the most sensible way for a region to approach planning, is it?
  (Mr Raynsford) I agree that there are inevitably anomalies and the south-east is probably the greatest of all where there are very real questions as to what does constitute a viable region in the south-east. However, as I indicated, the opening up of these questions is a veritable Pandora's Box which could entirely divert energy and attention from the main issue into a great deal of squabbling which would be reminiscent of the activities of the Banham years in terms of local government reorganisation.

Mr Cummings

  254. That is something that I was very much involved in and there was confusion at the time which emanated from lack of direction through central government.
  (Mr Raynsford) Exactly.

  255. And that certainly did not give me any encouragement that we have changed our tactics.
  (Mr Raynsford) I have indicated that this issue will be covered in the White Paper but, as you would expect, I am not free to reveal the contents of that White Paper before it is published.

  Mrs Dunwoody: Even if you knew what they were!

Mr Betts

  256. From what you are saying, we can obviously assume that we are going to have regional government in some parts of England and not in others.
  (Mr Raynsford) Yes.

  257. That is almost an inevitable consequence. So effectively we are going to have the West Lothian question with knobs on.
  (Mr Raynsford) No, there will be regional government in all regions but whether it is regional government through an elected regional assembly will depend on the decision of the regions through a referendum, so there will need to be—and this is one of the other crucial issues for our White Paper—arrangements to ensure that Government's relations with those regions that do not opt for regional assemblies do not disadvantage those regions in terms of access to the resources and the support which regions can rightly expect from the Government, but there will be a different relationship where there is an elected regional assembly.

  258. So there will be questions in future when ministers come to the House to answer questions or make statements or whatever they do where they are speaking for some of the English regions but, in other cases, those regions will be dealing with matters themselves and ministers will not actually have responsibility.
  (Mr Raynsford) That is one of the slightly messy consequences of a programme of devolution and of course that applies equally in relation to Wales and Scotland.

  259. It is going to be messy because you will have a minister in one department, an English department, with differing responsibilities for different parts of the country.
  (Mr Raynsford) I know that the bureaucrat would produce an ideally structured pattern which was consistent in every region. Sadly, that does not actually relate to the wishes and aspirations of the people of our islands who have made it very clear that they wish to enjoy a measure of devolution in Scotland and Wales and we are extending that opportunity to English regions.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 24 May 2002