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Lord Rooker: My Lords, there is a fundamental misconception in what the noble Lord says. There will be no elected regional assemblies unless the people choose to have them. The assemblies will not be foisted upon them. Thus far, we have spent nine hours, give or take an hour, on Clause 1 of the Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill. The new aspect raised by the noble Lord would make our debates even more scintillating than they have been so far, and I hope that he will join us later today.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, will the noble Lord give the House more detail of exactly what, in the view of the Secretary of State, will constitute "evidence", either of support or otherwise? Given that the exact powers and functions of the assemblies have not yet been decided, will he at least take on board that it is rather difficult to judge the level of support?
Lord Waddington: My Lords, the noble Lord is by now well aware that the North West Regional Assembly, while campaigning illegally to become an elected body, has been asserting, contrary to fact, that a wide body of opinion is in favour of an elected regional assembly in the North West. Will he ensure that the statements of such self-serving bodies are not taken into account in the soundings exercise but are put in the dustbin where they belong?
Lord Rooker: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister will take these matters into account and make a judgment as to whether there should be a referendumthat is, whether a boundary review should take place first as that will take a considerable amount of timeonly after the paving Bill has received Royal Assent. The factors involved in the soundings review relate to the referendum and not to the assembly itself, as we have made clear repeatedly. When my right honourable friend makes a judgment, he will give to Parliament the evidence and the facts on which he bases that judgment.
Lord Morgan: My Lords, will my noble friend observe the support expressed by many Conservative councillors on Buckinghamshire County Council for the Government's proposals? That may suggest that Conservatives in southern England are not quite so resistant to change as some of the speeches in the debate on the Bill suggest.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am just the Minister who is presenting to this House the Bill that has already been through another place. It is not possible to know every nuance of the battles that are clearly going on around the country in relation to the Bill. However, the conclusion to be drawn from this morning's debate is that there is so much interest in the matter that people cannot rightly claim no one knows about the proposal.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, the White Paper, Your Region, Your Choice, made the position clear. There is no unity in the country on this matter. The regions are different and therefore the regions should have the choice. The Bill simply facilitates the opportunity for that. That is what the soundings exercise is all about. A decision will be made in due course and will be presented to Parliament for approval.
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, does the Minister share the view that, if we have such a great desire to hold referendums, we should involve the people and that, similarly, we should exercise the same view in relation to elections to this House?
Lord Rooker: My Lords, at present, as one of the newest Members of this House, I am staggered that I am on the receiving end of all these manifestos for an election which I thought had nothing to do with me. Therefore, I shall certainly not go down that road.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): My Lords, this is currently a matter for the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group. The UK is not a member of that group. Its members will meet in May and we understand that their discussions will include Pakistan. We believe it is important that the Commonwealth stays closely engaged with Pakistan throughout its transition to democracy and that it helps to sustain the process with technical and other forms of assistance. We are providing help and remain committed to supporting Pakistan's development over the long term.
Lord Ahmed: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her reply. Is she aware that Pakistani people recently elected many thousands of women as councillorsmore than 33 per cent of the total? Is she aware that Pakistan has elected more women as parliamentarians than about 147 other countries? In fact, in that respect Pakistan now ranks thirty-third out of 180 countries. Now that the Senate elections have taken place, is my noble friend satisfied that the process of restoring democracy has been completed, and will Her Majesty's Government help Pakistan to fight poverty and illiteracy?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, of course, we welcome the holding of multi-party elections in Pakistan. The system of having reserved seats for women has meant that there are now a number of women councillors and women in the National Assembly and other parts of the legislature. Although the election process was completed with the holding of the Senate elections last month, it is now the joint responsibility of the new Government, the political parties and parliamentarians to ensure that Pakistan's progress towards democracy is sustained. There are concerns that the Parliament has met infrequently since being established.
My noble friend also asked me about support with respect to illiteracy. We have a development programme, whose focus is on three areas: creating the economic conditions for the reduction of poverty; improving health outcomes; and improving educational outcomes. I believe that that tackles my noble friend's point.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, apart from the progress that Pakistan has made in the restoration of democratic institutions and in enhancing the rights of women, does the noble Baroness agree that it has also made considerable progress in combating corruption and in rural development, as the World Bank has acknowledged? In those circumstances, even though we are not a member of CMAG, does the noble Baroness believe that the Government could exercise their influence with members of the Commonwealth who are part of CMAG so as to restore Commonwealth membership to Pakistan at a date earlier than that of the CHOGM in December?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, as I said in my initial reply, CMAG will meet in May. It will then make a decision, which will be referred to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. It is highly unlikely that it will convene again before the meeting in December, and I believe that we should await the outcome of CMAG's discussions in May. As the noble Lord will know, we were members of CMAG until we left at the last Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that Pakistan has made progress in other areas, including in rural development and in tackling corruption.
Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Lord is right that people from Pakistan have made outstanding contributions in many areas. I agree with the point about cricket, although that has not been reflected in the recent World Cup.
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