|Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill - continued||House of Commons|
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Clause 18: Isles of Scilly
58. Local government in the Isles of Scilly differs from that elsewhere in England. The Council of the Isles of Scilly is neither a county nor district council, though various provisions have been made for the Council to exercise and perform specified local government functions, some of which are functions exercised elsewhere in England by non-metropolitan county councils or district councils.
59. A local government review and subsequent reorganisation will not affect the local government structure of the Isles of Scilly, which already have a single tier of local government. However, certain functions are performed by Cornwall County Council for the benefit of the Isles of Scilly. Clause 18 enables the Secretary of State to make appropriate provisions for the special case of the Isles of Scilly. Thus in the event of an order implementing changes to Cornwall County Council, for example, provision could be made for functions performed for the benefit of the Isles of Scilly to be performed by one or more successor unitary authorities.
Part 3: Advice of Electoral Commission
60. This Part follows similar provisions to be found in Part 2 of the Greater London Authority (Referendum) Act 1998.
61. In relation to a region where a referendum has been held and where the Secretary of State proposes the establishment of an elected assembly, clause 19 enables the Secretary of State to direct the Electoral Commission to provide advice relating principally to the electoral areas for a regional assembly. The effect of clause 24 is that such advice can be given regardless of whether an enactment is in force enabling the Secretary of State to establish elected regional assemblies.
62. Clause 20 sets out the procedure for the preparation and submission of advice by the Electoral Commission. Clause 21 sets out matters to which the Electoral Commission is to have particular regard when preparing its advice.
63. In considering the need to secure that the numbers of electors in each electoral area are broadly similar, the Electoral Commission is expressly required to take account, where appropriate, of special geographical considerations. A similar provision is to be found, for example, in rule 2 in paragraph 8(1) of Schedule 1 to the Government of Wales Act 1998. This is designed to address problems that could arise if there were no regard, for example, to the fact that an area is sparsely populated. For a rural electoral area to have a similar number of electors to an urban electoral area in the same region, the rural area would need to be much larger. This could make it more difficult for its assembly member to represent the needs of the whole area. So in such a case, the need for effective representation of the rural area could outweigh the need for similarity in numbers of electors between areas.
Part 4: Funding for regional chambers
64. Clause 23 gives the Secretary of State a new power to make grants in respect of the activities of regional chambers. These are the bodies designated as such under section 8 of the RDA Act.
65. This power will be used to fund the chambers, in particular in their role in scrutinising the Regional Development Agencies. It is also intended that grants will cover the chambers' costs in providing advice to the Secretary of State in respect of regional planning guidance prepared by him under section 31(6) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. As stated in the White Paper, it is proposed that all eight regional chambers should carry out this role, in the absence of an elected regional assembly.
66. The power in clause 23 is to make grants for the purposes of the activities of regional chambers, rather than to make grants only to regional chambers. This is because some regional chambers are currently unincorporated associations and in dealing with such organisations it is often simpler to make the grant to an "accountable body" - one single legal entity as opposed to all the members of the association or some of them. In the case of chambers, this might be the regional Local Government Association or a member local authority, against which action could be taken in the event of a breach of the grant conditions.
Part 5: General
Clause 24: Enactment establishing assemblies immaterial
67. Clause 24 ensures that the Secretary of State is able to use his powers under this Bill without there being an enactment conferring on him power to establish an elected regional assembly. So he may, for example, give effect to the recommendations resulting from a local government review because subsection (1)(b) of clause 15, read together with clause 24, allows him to propose to establish an elected regional assembly without yet having the necessary powers to do so.
Clause 27: Orders and regulations
68. Clause 27 requires that the exercise of a power to make orders and regulations in the Bill is to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. This is because it is appropriate that they should be subject to a significant level of Parliamentary scrutiny. This clause also ensures that the hybrid procedure for affirmative resolution instruments does not apply to any orders or regulations or to any provision made under section 129(1) of the PPER Act for referendums held under this Bill (for example, a provision requiring that a vote is to be all-postal for a particular referendum).
FINANCIAL EFFECTS OF THE BILL
69. The cost of a referendum will depend on the population of the region concerned, whether there is a traditional ballot or an all-postal vote, whether a poll is combined with, say, local authority elections on the same day and decisions taken by the Electoral Commission on, for example, financial support for the designated 'yes' and 'no' campaigns. However, based on the cost of around 80 pence per registered elector for local authority mayoral referendums using all-postal ballots, costs may range from about £2 million in the North East, which has the smallest number of electors, to about £6 million in the South East.
70. The cost of a local government review will depend significantly on the number of two-tier (district and county) councils in a region. The Boundary Committee's costs in conducting a review are likely to be in the range £750,000 to £1 million per region. The cost (and any possible longer term savings) of local government restructuring where an elected regional assembly is to be established is difficult to estimate at this stage, without knowing the specific changes to be implemented.
71. Costs relating to the preparation of advice on electoral arrangements by the Electoral Commission should be around £100,000 to £200,000 per region.
72. There will be no extra expenditure on the funding for regional chambers. Funding is already provided under more restrictive existing legislation, and other funding will be transferred from local authorities.
EFFECTS OF THE BILL ON PUBLIC SERVICE MANPOWER
73. Section 128 of the PPER Act requires the Chief Counting Officer for the referendum to appoint a counting officer for each relevant local authority area. It also requires the local authority in such an area to place the services of its officers at the disposal of the counting officer to assist him in discharging his functions. There will also be additional work for the staff of the Electoral Commission, whose Chairman will either be the Chief Counting Officer for a referendum or who will be responsible for appointing another person to that role.
74. The Boundary Committee will need to assign staff to work on the local government reviews. Local authorities in a region subject to a review will need to provide information to the Committee and will also want to give their views on the most appropriate future unitary structure for the region. However, any review is likely to take place over a relatively short period of time - structural reviews carried out by the Local Government Commission for England in the 1990s typically took about a year. Moreover, it may be the case that reviews are held, at one time, only in respect of a limited number of regions. It is not possible at this stage to assess the manpower implications of any subsequent reorganisation.
SUMMARY OF THE REGULATORY APPRAISAL
75. No Regulatory Impact Assessment is needed for this Bill as there will be no direct or indirect regulatory burdens on businesses, charities or the voluntary sector.
76. Clause 25 means that Parts 2 and 4 of the Bill will come into force as soon as the Bill receives Royal Assent:
77. Commencing these provisions on Royal Assent prevents unnecessary delay in starting local government reviews, and ensures that a suitable mechanism for funding of regional chambers is up and running as soon as possible. Ordinarily, provisions of the Bill would only come into force two months after Royal Assent.
78. The other provisions of the Bill will only come into force two months after Royal Assent.
EUROPEAN CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
79. Article 3 of the First Protocol (right to free elections) has, in particular, been considered. It is not considered that Article 3 is engaged since elected regional assemblies will not be "legislatures" within the meaning of this Article and since the Article is expressed to apply in respect of elections and not referendums.
80. Section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998 requires the Minister in charge of a Bill in either House of Parliament to make a statement, before second reading, about the compatibility of the provisions of the Bill with the Convention rights (as defined by section 1 of that Act). The First Secretary of State has made the following statement:
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