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Baroness Hamwee: I accept that entirely; nevertheless it must be on the cards that some of the responses must have been, "We would like regional government but on different boundaries". That is all I am attempting to reflect through this amendment.

Lord Rooker: Someone said a little while ago that there was a lot of antagonism out there. I am being antagonised because this morning supporters of the Bill opposed what is very much a delaying tactic in Amendment No. 1. It does not matter how one looks at the wording, the meaning presents exactly the same picture. That leaves me in a very difficult position. I have a set of speaking notes, but the magic ink on the page calls out at me, "Don't bother with this. Go back and read the speech you read out this morning". If I could transpose for Hansard, it would be a great deal

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easier to say "Take out a couple of columns from the morning and stick them in here". That is because the arguments are exactly the same.

What the noble Baroness said as regards what she believed we had said about the longer-term possibilities of looking at boundaries is rather like what another noble Baroness said earlier about people elsewhere in the country making a much bigger issue of this matter than it is, having not read the words. I am not trying to over-sell the product, but to sell it honestly so that I am not "done" by the Office of Fair Trading later for misleading on the policy.

I have to draw the attention of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, to paragraph 6.5 of the White Paper which states,

    "The Government has not completely ruled out in the longer term the possibility of adopting boundaries for regional assemblies that do not follow the existing boundaries".

We recognise that they cannot be set in stone. But we would change them only under exceptional circumstances and in the longer term. We have no current intention of changing the regional boundaries in the short to medium term. People can argue—please don't!—definitions of short, medium and longer term. But it may be that a future government would want to change the Government Office structure for the country for various reasons. That is a possibility. One would look at the mechanism for that. But to build into the Bill the mechanism by which the Liberal Democrats seek to cast doubt about the boundaries leaves a clear implication.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, keeps inviting me to agree with him, but I shall not. He seems to know when the referendums will take place, but I do not. We have made no plans and there have been no public pronouncements whatever. One can argue as much as one likes, but until the Deputy Prime Minister makes an announcement after the soundings, nobody knows, including myself. If there were a referendum; a successful "Yes" vote and an elected regional assembly was set up, then, according to the thinking of the Liberal Democrats, the Government could look at the boundaries and it would be possible to affect the boundaries of the region which had just been created.

There would be a massive degree of confusion built into the legislation by accepting these amendments. If the noble Baroness remotely supports regionally elected assemblies—they are not home rule—I invite her to take what is on offer as set out. I have to tell the noble Baroness that acceptance of the amendments would leave the Bill dead in its tracks. Amendment No. 4 would mean that the order creating the referendum could not be made until the Boundary Committee for England conducted a review of the numbers and boundaries and reported its recommendations. However, there are no powers for

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the Boundary Committee to carry out such a review. I pointed out this morning that it would take four years to cover the whole country.

Lord Greaves: These debates range fairly wide. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, said that the Liberals have always been unsound on home rule for Ireland.

The Earl of Onslow: I said that the party was split over home rule for Northern Ireland. I know my history.

Lord Greaves: The problem was that some of the Liberals were sound and some were not, so the party split rather disastrously. If the Prime Minister in 1885 had has his way Ireland would have been a much better place than it has been.

We regret that we are not talking about home rule. We are quite honest about this. We want to agree with the Conservatives here, but we do not. I return to the fact that we are living in the real world as defined by the Government. We are being offered a limited amount of as yet unspecified power for regional assemblies in unspecified places. I do not know whether any public announcements have been made about where the first referendum will take place. We believe what the department's civil servants brief when they talk to campaigners in the regions; we believe what the spin doctors say and what appears in the press and is not denied. We may be wrong to believe that, but until the Minister or anyone else in the Government tells us that we are wrong, we shall continue to believe that what the Government are saying privately is what they are going to do publicly in due course.

I do not want to discuss Amendment No. 1 again except to say that we did not agree with it because of its content. One can understand why when one looks at it.

The Government are doing everything the wrong way around. They should have started by considering regional boundaries. They could have done so for the past two years but wasted time. The Government ought to decide the first regions where referendums will take place, then consult on them. That is fundamental. If I am accused of special pleading for Cornwall or Cumbria, it makes a change from all the special pleading for Essex—though I do not blame those concerned because everywhere is important.

After deciding which regions are which, the Government ought to produce legislation that sets out the English assemblies' powers, duties and size, and the electoral system. In fact, they could do the two together. Then the legislation and decision to go ahead with referendums ought to follow, so that we— and, more importantly, the voters— know what the Government intend.

It is not clear why the Government are doing everything the wrong way around except that they did the same in Scotland, Wales and Greater London. Certainly there were lengthy discussions in Scotland, with a report and agreement on what would happen

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and how it was to work. That is not the case with the English regions. This debate is rambling on because the public do not know what is on offer. It is difficult to agree on vague proposals—especially when they will be the subject of referendums.

The Government say that the proposed electoral system is identical to those used for Wales, Scotland and Greater London but although they are all additional member systems, they differ in detail—for example, in the proportion of the top-up and the size of the top-up areas. All those things matter. The Minister says that people will know about the electoral system being used. How will they know? This Parliament might change the electoral system between the time of the referendum and establishing an assembly.

The Government should first examine the regions, but it does not have to be a long process. Secondly, the Government should build in a mechanism to change the regional boundaries if it turns out that they are not sensible. Not to do that will put obstacles in the way. People will say, "We might want a regional assembly but we are not going to vote for one in that area. We will vote for one in Cornwall but not in the South West". The Government should look at the options before decisions are made on referendums.

Baroness Hanham: The noble Lord, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and ourselves are moving along more or less the same lines—that there must first be a review of boundaries. What elements of our proposals for Clause 1 do Members of the Liberal Democrat Benches dislike? The noble Baroness suggested that she does not like the equal population size proposal. All the other measures invite proposals from representative bodies. We have also asked the Electoral Commission to table proposals and suggested that boundaries should reflect the identities and interests of local communities. We have further asked the Electoral Commission to publish the proposals. We have even suggested consulting with all the relevant interests, including the local electorate.

Lord Greaves: I set out some of our objections when speaking to Amendment No. 1. The first paragraph of the proposed new clause is a clumsy way to start the process. If the noble Baroness wishes to pursue the matter, perhaps we can discuss it with her before Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 not moved.]

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 7:

    Page 1, line 8, at end insert—

"( ) The boundaries of a region subject to a referendum order under subsection (1) will be specified by the Secretary of State."

The noble Baroness said: This amendment requires the Secretary of State to specify the boundaries, and that proposition returns the Committee to the information that will be available to electors at the time of a referendum. Clause 1 makes no mention of

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what lies within the boundaries of the eight regions that are to be voted on when a referendum is called. We only have Clause 26, which informs us that a region is a region as defined in the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998.

Amendment No. 7 would ensure that the Secretary of State must specify a region's boundaries when he orders a referendum, so that voters are clear about what the region comprises. Amendment No. 143 defines regions in the same way as Clause 26.

I argued earlier that the preferable option was that there should be a comprehensive review of boundaries before any referendums are held. However, if we pursue the general thrust of the present provisions, we can take a rather different stance. While we do not believe in regional units as defined in the 1998 Act for the purposes of an elected region, it is abundantly clear that few electors even know what they are. Amendment No. 7 would require the Government to explain to electors at the time of a referendum what is encompassed by a region's boundaries and where they are defined at the beginning, outside and end. I beg to move.

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