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Lord Greaves: The Minister said that the boundary review recommendations did not have to be accepted by the Government but did have to be put to the people in the referendum. There seems to be some conflict there.
Lord Rooker: The proposals for the boundary reviewthe Government's view of what is planned for the boundarieswill be put to people at the referendum. The Boundary Committee will be asked to come up with the best available form of single-tier government. In the main, the Government would probably accept that as the default, but the provision is such that the Secretary of State will have to take a view on what comes to him from the boundary review. I am making that distinction because many of the amendments refer to the results of the boundary review.
Lord Rooker: I shall in a moment, because I can see the question coming. The question that should be asked in the House during scrutiny should not be about the possible recommendation from the Boundary Committee but what the Government will do with that recommendation. In the mainin most
Baroness Blatch: The Minister will know about the relevant point better than I do, as it was a point that exercised the Select Committee. There is no scope whatever for a voter to have a view about the Boundary Committee review of local government. The only question they are asked is, "Do you want a regional assembly?" One goes with the other, without any form of modification whatever.
Lord Rooker: The noble Baroness has got it absolutely right. One is the price of the other, and that is what people must weigh in the balance. If they do not like the implications for local government and that, to them, is the most important aspect of their community and their lives, they would vote "No". They would seek to prevent from happening the local government changes that are part and parcel of the elected regional assembly.
I do not know which regions will be chosen. I cannot know that, because I have not seen the soundings, but people seem fairly certain about which regions will have a referendum. There are eight regions, four of which have a much greater population in the two-tier areas than in the single-tier areas and four of which have a much greater population in the single-tier areas than in the two-tier areas. It just so happens that it is four regions to four. Of course, noble Lords only talk about one set of four and not the other. In other parts of the country, an overwhelming percentage of the populationup to 88 per cent in one caselive in two-tier authorities. If they thought that maintaining that structure was more important than gaining a regional assembly, they would vote "No". That is the price of the package and people will have to make that judgment. As long as they are given all the information and are made aware of the implications of their vote, our electorate and citizenry are sufficiently mature to make that judgment.
Lord Hanningfield: I thank the Minister for those comments. I share the view of other noble Lords that the Minister has been fair in most of his responses. However, I am very disappointed with parts of his last response. Several noble Lords are members of local government and know what providing services in local government is all about. Local government reorganisation seems to be spoken of lightly, almost as a purely paper exercise. However, problems often arise not from implementing reorganisation but from talking about it. The Minister said that people can vote against creating a region if they do not like the reorganisation, but he has missed the point. We will have spent a year talking about reorganisation. It is that year of discussion that will cause disturbance and affect services.
Before coming to the Committee this morning I had a meeting in Essex, where each day we support about 20,000 disabled and elderly people in their homes. We are desperately short of care workers, but we were examining how we might improve the services for those people. If there were a reorganisation, the staff who work for the local authority would be worried about their jobs. We do not want a year of that. I was therefore disappointed by our discussion because we have missed the point. Discussion of reorganisation is just as bad as reorganisation. If there is a referendum in the North East at the end of next year, there will be a year of disturbance in Northumberland, for example, in which services are not provided properly and the elderly and school children suffer. The Minister clearly has not been in local government. If he had, he would understand that. He talked so lightly about reorganisation.
Such consequences are why other countries do not reorganise. The United States has had a stable system since independence. It has about six tiers of government from the Senate downwards. France has introduced regionalism, but it did not disturb the underlying structure. It wants to provide services. We talk so lightly of reorganisation without realising what it will do to the services that we provide. That is why we who are also elected councillors want to try to provide decent services. That is what it is about. So I was very disappointed by those comments.
The Minister said that the issue was totally political. It should not be totally political, but about the services that we provide. If the Government want regional government, I see no harm at all in having sufficient underlying tiers to provide decent local government.
The government review will take some time. I should like a little more clarity on that. I think that the Minister said that the final decision on reorganisation will be taken by the Secretary of State rather than in the boundary review. Perhaps he will confirm that. That is slightly worrying as well. If we go through all the processes of a boundary review but the Secretary of State does not make the change, there will be even greater disturbance.
Lord Rooker: We have not changed the rules. The same arrangements have applied in every review, including the parliamentary review. They may have been changed once by a Home Secretary. I want to be clear about this. I do not want anyone to accuse me of not explaining the consequences. In the past few days, noble Lords have concentrated almost exclusively on the results of the boundary review. Although those results are very important, the ballot paper will reflect what the Government do with those results. I honestly thought that I should draw attention to that fact, but there is nothing new about it. The Secretary of State will express his view after the Boundary Committee reports to him in due course.
Lord Hanningfield: That causes me even more consternation about the uncertainty of the whole process. However, I was pleased to hear the Minister say that he wanted the ballot paper to set out clearly
The Minister mentioned the four more rural regions. Those areas will require even more reorganisation. As I said, there is great concern about the prospect of a year's reorganisation in the East of England or in the South East in order to destroy the districts or the counties. Much more reorganisation will be required in more rural areas than in urban ones.
I was pleased to hear that the Liberal Democrats support this type of amendment. I agree that the wording should perhaps be tightened up a little and be a little more self-explanatory. I think that we will return to this type of amendment at Report stage. I think that the amendment will be pursued, although I shall not press it today. I was pleased to hear the Minister's comments on Amendment No. 31. He did not give all the answers that we seek, but we can return to the issue when we discuss the exact wording for the referendum. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Gould of Potternewton): Before I call Amendment No. 28, I have to inform your Lordships that if Amendment No. 28 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 29 to 43 for reasons of pre-emption.
The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 28 is grouped with Amendment No. 33, which stands in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. Amendment No. 28 offers another approach to skinning this cat of a question. In this amendment, we want to explore the proposal that the Electoral Commission should determine the question. At this point, I shall talk about "a question" but noble Lords will understand that, in our view, two would be much clearer.
Of course, I accept that the issue of the yes/no answer is political but, now that we have an Electoral Commission, it seems to us that the presentation of the question is squarely within its competence. In fact, our amendment covers both the question and the preamble. It does so because the clearer the question, the less detailed and complex the preamble may be. I deliberately put them that way round.
That is the simple proposition, but I hope that at this stage the Minister can tell the Committee what advice the Electoral Commission has given thus far on the presentation of the question and the preamble, which we shall debate in more detail shortly. I hope that,
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