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Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 182:

(b) must draw up and send to the Secretary of State an outline of the fall-back proposals (referred to in this section as outline fall-back proposals) that they intend to implement if the proposals under section 18 are rejected in a referendum.
(1A) Fall-back proposals are proposals--
(a) for the operation of executive arrangements which do not involve a form of executive for which a referendum is required, or
(b) for the operation of alternative arrangements (within the meaning of section (Alternative arrangements)).
(1B) In drawing up outline fall-back proposals, a local authority must take reasonable steps to consult local government electors, and other interested persons, in the authority's area.
(1C) Outline fall-back proposals must include a timetable with respect to the implementation of detailed fall-back proposals which are based on the outline fall-back proposals in the event that the proposals under section 18 are rejected in a referendum.
(1D) A local authority must send a copy of their outline fall-back proposals to the Secretary of State at the same time that a copy of the proposals under section 18 is sent to him.
(1E) A local authority may not hold a referendum under this section before the end of the period of two months beginning with the date on which a copy of the proposals under section 18 is sent to the Secretary of State.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move.

[Amendments Nos. 182A and 183, as amendments to Amendment No. 182, not moved.]

On Question, Amendment No. 182 agreed to.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved Amendment No. 184:

    Page 9, line 34, at end insert--

("( ) The result of a referendum held under this section shall not be binding on the authority unless more than 40 per cent. of the electorate vote in favour of the change.").

The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 184, 192, 193 and 250 seek to address what should be an extremely important constitutional point; namely, the point at which a vote by an electorate should have the power to force change.

We can all recall that in the Scottish referendum there was a clear answer which nobody had any problems with. It was not the highest of polls, but it was at least reasonable. However, I would suggest that the Welsh referendum, which produced a much narrower result, was less than satisfactory. It resulted in about 25 per cent of the electorate, or thereabouts, having the power to impose their will on the other 75 per cent. One might think that that is not appropriate.

The Bill contains the power for referendums to be held in local authority areas to change the constitutional arrangements within such areas. At Second Reading I asked what would happen on a 12 per cent poll if 7 per cent voted one way and only 5 per cent voted the other; should that really be sufficient to force a change as dramatic as would happen under the Bill as it stands?

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It is worse than that. Let us suppose that only 12 electors voted--seven one way and five the other. One may say that that is ridiculous; it is not. That is what we are permitting. That result would be mandatory on the authority. I wonder about that.

The matter is also dealt with in draft regulations which we did not have when the amendments were tabled. However, they state nothing about voting or the number of votes required to validate a decision by a community. This is perhaps a new departure. However, the regular use of referendums is a new departure in our system. In new Labour we have a new government with many new ideas, and referendums seem to be attractive. They have been used and abused by others in the past. I am not so certain of the matter.

The other place speaks of itself with pride as being the democratic chamber. It is usually elected on a not unreasonable national turn-out. Sometimes it has been as high as 80 per cent. In some constituencies the figure is much lower. On the basis of such turn-out the other place regards itself as having democratic legitimacy.

As the noble Baronesses, Lady Farrington and Lady Hamwee will recognise, in the past it has been the wont of the other place to criticise local government. It has been said that with only a 30 per cent poll, sometimes more sometimes less depending on who and where you are, local government has lacked democratic legitimacy. I wonder about that in the context of what we are doing. That has been a constant theme from national governments for the whole of my career since I entered local government. It seems to me that it does not mean that a local authority is invalid in any way simply because it has a low turn-out at the poll. It could be, and, indeed, in law I believe it would be, taken as being the case. It might be argued that because 70 per cent of the electorate did not vote they were satisfied with what was happening and could not be bothered to turn out; I do not know. When I go down that particular road, I am in danger of destroying my own argument.

The difficulty we face is that there is no guidance or precision in the matter. I wondered whether the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Bill might come to our aid. I regret that it does not. Clause 95 states:

    "Subject to the following provisions of this section, this Part applies to any referendum held throughout ... (a) the United Kingdom; (b) one or more of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; or (c) any region in England specified in Schedule 1 to the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998."

There is no help for us there. We therefore fall back on regulations. I thought as a reasonable shot that, if we are seeking to get a community to commit itself to changing the way things are done, it might be not unreasonable to go for a good general election turnout figure and put in a floor at 40 per cent. That is the effect of Amendments Nos. 184, 192, 193 and 250. They state that, for a referendum to be mandatory upon the authority, half of a good general election turnout should vote in favour. Some may think that that is unreasonably ambitious; I do not.

I look forward with great interest to the Minister's reply. If he is prepared to make concessions which go a considerable way in the direction I have indicated, I

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may finish up a happy man. However, from the pleasant smile I see on his face I suspect that he is not intending to move as far as I would want him to. I beg to move.

Baroness Hanham: Amendments Nos. 220 and 235 stand in my name and are there to support my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith in his argument about referendums. I have taken a rather more jaundiced view of turn-out than he has, particularly in relation to local government. However, that does not undermine the argument he has put forward. I am happy to acknowledge his argument that it should be 40 per cent of a general election turn-out rather than 40 per cent of a local government turn-out.

Through various pieces of legislation which the Government propose, we are desperately trying to engender in the electorate enormous enthusiasm for taking part in elections. Perhaps it is cynicism on my part but, for a number of reasons, I do not believe that the electorate will want to come rushing out to take part in referendums. The most salient is that it is extraordinarily difficult to get across to people's consciousness a one-issue matter, such as this. People like local government when it works and do not like it when it does not. For anything in between they are usually happy to stay at home. I do not believe there is anything in the Bill or in what has happened in the past that will shake that up.

However, if we are putting to them a one-issue matter, it is broader than an election manifesto which covers an enormous number of matters and is just a party vote. To ask for a specific answer is quite different to what has happened before. As my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith stated, it is only reasonable for there to be a threshold which underwrites the fact that the local people want what is proposed and are prepared to turn out and vote for it. They are not content to sit at home and let somebody else do it; they are so enthused and excited about the prospect put before them that they will leave their firesides and the television and come out and vote.

Lord Filkin: I understand, to an extent, why noble Lords suggest that there should be a threshold but we must be extremely cautious about going down that route. An obvious first point is that if there were such threshold turnouts before there was legitimacy, there would not be many local authorities with a mandate to govern in their areas.

Secondly, without labouring the point, many local authorities are resistant to the idea of new forms of political structure. Noble Lords are aware of that from previous discussions. However, the consequence of such a threshold, particularly when we know there is a problem with local democracy and local participation, would be severely to reduce the likelihood of change. That is what is worrying about this proposal. It is in danger of being seen as a covert resistance and defence of the status quo.

We know that there is a problem with local democracy; that the public are not enormously excited about it. Therefore the idea that the public may be the

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resurrection mechanism in that regard is potentially flawed. For 25 per cent of the electorate to turn out in such a referendum would be impressive and be a strong vote of interest by them. In fact, it would be a substantially greater vote of interest than that demonstrated in some local authority elections.

In the summer the Joint Committee considered this matter and did not recommend a threshold for the turn-out. The Government's guidance proposed in the constitution also makes clear that local authorities should attempt to maximise turn-out in terms of their arrangements and the days on which they hold such referendums. There is no good case made to have a threshold. Nevertheless, let us hope that high turn-outs ensue.

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