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Lord Greaves: What the Minister said is not an accurate rendering of what I said, which was that if regional assemblies were doing genuinely useful jobs and spending on useful things such as the local transport infrastructure, which the noble Baroness said would not be allowed under the plans, some increase in spending might not be a bad thing.

Lord Rooker: I withdraw what I just said with sincere apologies. I am trying to cause some division between the Liberal Democrats and the Tories because too much coalition work has taken place today. I do not have any further information, although I take on board the quite reasonable questions which have been asked about finance. At certain stages more information will be available. I do not suppose that there will ever be a stage when it will be possible to set out everything because it is a fairly drawn-out process. We are going through a Parliament in order to set up the assemblies. No one is forecasting that if there is a yes vote in a referendum an assembly would be set up in this Parliament. Indeed, the opposite is the case. This is not something which is going to happen

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overnight. Therefore, I do not suppose that there will ever be a point in time when there will be a snapshot of all the costs. But certainly there can be a running commentary on what the issues are costing, with the best estimates available. It is wholly reasonable to have that provided to Parliament let alone to the electorate.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: Before the noble Lord sits down perhaps I may ask a question. I was out of the Chamber for a little while. Have we had any mention of the costs which will be incurred by the elected representatives? There will be 25 of them. If they are to be paid, together with administrative expenses and travelling expenses, the costs will be at least £100,000, which makes a total of £2.5 million. Has any estimate been made of these costs? Were they mentioned while I was out of the Chamber? I shall be very much obliged if the noble Lord can give me a reply on that.

Lord Rooker: There must have been within the global figure of an average of £20 million for running the assembly. I cannot find anything specific in Chapter 5 about the costs of the assembly persons, if I may be politically correct for the moment. I dare not call them councillors after the previous questions about local government. They will not be councillors but assembly persons. I hope that they will not be called that but that is the only name I can think of to get me off the hook at the moment.

I do not know the cost, but the overall estimate of the assemblies is about £20 million net. I gave a figure of £25 million, but £5 million is to be offset from other changes. Nevertheless, as the Bill progresses and it turns into the referendum, further information will be available to answer the very precise question which the noble Lord asked.

The Earl of Caithness: I take it from the Minister's reply that the answer to the question from my noble friend Lady Blatch is that the costs, even if there is a no vote, will be born by local government as it exists at the moment, but that the Ministry will see whether it can make it more equitable?

Lord Rooker: That is a fair way of putting it because I am not able to give a precise answer to that reasonable question. Some continuing costs are normal local government expenditure, whatever the outcome. I expect to have more information at a future date, but cannot promise to provide it next week in Committee.

Baroness Blatch: We are grateful and look forward to receiving that information at the next stage of the Bill. The Minister's comments will frustrate our local government colleagues throughout the country, when he says that local authorities will meet Boundary Commission costs as part of normal expenditure. All local authorities have to find an extra 1 per cent for their staff when the new national insurance contributions come onstream, meet inflationary pay

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awards and face enormous financial pressures relating to the requirements placed on them for new social security services.

In addition, the Bill to overcome bed blocking will mean local authorities incurring even more expenditure. The Secretary of State for Education and Skills has taken a direct power, which he plans to use this year, to make compulsory passporting of funding down to schools—irrespective of whether or not the amount of grant covers that passported money.

There is little scope for local authorities to access additional money to meet extra costs. That is especially true in the case of local authorities who say "No" to a referendum and who will be miffed and disappointed if they then have to meet the costs of the boundary commissioner and the review exercise. Nevertheless, the Minister has been as helpful as he can at this stage, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 10 to 14 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 15:

    Page 1, line 12, at end insert—

"(4A) The fourth condition is that the Secretary of State has concluded on the basis of evidence available to him that there is substantial support from the business community, regional chambers, local authorities, cultural and voluntary sector and local electors within the region for the holding of such a referendum and such evidence has been laid before both Houses of Parliament."

The noble Baroness said: With this, I will speak also to Amendments Nos. 22 and 23. Together they seek a guarantee that consideration by the Secretary of State of the level of interest in a region for holding a referendum will be a formal, thorough and in-depth process—and that there is some evidence to show that was the case.

Specifically, there must be wide consultation with the interested parties—including business, the cultural and voluntary sectors, local government and the wider community. Once the consultation process is complete, the Secretary of State must justify his decision to hold a referendum—this is most important—by placing the evidence that he has gathered before both Houses.

There is no mention in the Bill of the procedures that the Secretary of State must observe to determine the level of interest in any region. The amendments will safeguard all those directly affected by giving them the opportunity to have their voices heard prior to the decision to hold a referendum. The Secretary of State will be required to take time to consider the opinions of interested parties in every individual region. By ensuring that evidence is laid before Parliament, there can be no shortcuts by the Secretary of State so that false or subjective assumptions or prejudices determine the final decision rather than an open process of wide consultation.

The soundings exercise has been a secretive business. Although the Minister may rightly say that everyone knew about it, people and organisations in

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the business and voluntary sectors were not aware of that exercise and had no input. The noble Lord offered a fulsome apology to noble Lords who were not alerted to the soundings and so were unable to become involved. We only knew of it when the Bill was presented for its First Reading.

This important part of the Bill concerns the process that will trigger all the expenditure to which the last group of amendments referred and that part of the work of the Boundaries Commission which establishes an expensive review. Some parts of the country will be particularly aggrieved when, having not expressed an interest in regional assemblies, they will nevertheless incur costs. As the soundings committee is the starting point, the Deputy Prime Minister owes it to both Houses to know the scientific basis on which he makes his decisions. I beg to move.

7.15 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness: It is crucial to know what has been done by the soundings committee and where it has been. Remote hill areas of the North East and North West may not contain many votes, but it is crucial that their residents, whose livelihoods are vitally important, are consulted. I am sure that the Minister instinctively will want to publish all the material in question, but perhaps he will confirm that will be done in full.

The Earl of Onslow: There is a tendency among all British Governments—I do not exonerate my colleagues on the Front Bench when they were in office, because they were just as bad—to keep things secret. We are the only people who pass a freedom of information Act that allows one to find out absolutely nothing.

There can be no harm in the Government publishing as much information as they can on who they have consulted. It will only add strength to the Government's case if they show that they consulted widely and conclusively with all interests. Even though the re-creation of a heptarchy is a peculiarly stupid idea, if the Government want to make it agreeable or even possibly convert me, they should make absolutely clear who they consult, why they consult, when they consult and how they consult. That will do no one any harm but much good to the body politic and the doctrine of secrecy in this country.

Baroness Hanham: At present, the Secretary of State alone will carry responsibility for deciding the outcome of the soundings exercise. The criteria have been blurred, so it is hard to know the basis. The websites are not much more helpful.

It seems to us that sole burden should be shared by Parliament knowing the basis on which the Secretary of State is proposing to unleash a Boundary Committee review. I hope that the Minister agrees and, if not today, will return with the news that the Secretary of State will publish the evidence on which he makes his decisions region by region—not a broad overview but what the soundings have produced, what questions have been asked and who has been

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consulted. It is important that all the interests that the amendment lists, who will make up a fair part of a community, have the opportunity to say whether they would consider voting—which presumably will be the basis on which the Secretary of State will judge the level of interest.

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