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Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: A new face at the Dispatch Box. We are all agreed that the referendum is advisory. It is important that the Committee should know that the Electoral Commission has read this clause and has signalled that it is content with it.

Baroness Blatch: I thought that the referendum was a vote as to whether one should or should not have a regional assembly, not that it was advisory. Will people vote and then leave it to a third party to decide whether or not there should be a regional assembly? My understanding is that when you are asked to vote, you vote "Yes" or "No" and there is a majority one way or the other. An assembly will then be established if there is a "Yes" vote, and not established if there is a "No" vote.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: The referendum will be advisory only. As we have said, the Secretary of State will decide after the referendum whether or not there should be an elected regional assembly.

The Earl of Onslow: So we go through the palaver of passing this Bill; there is a referendum; and then the Secretary of State says—I almost used the favourite spherical word of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee—that he is going to pay no attention

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whatever to the result. In other words, for the sake of pure argument, there can be a referendum; 95 per cent of the people in a region turn out; 60 per cent say either yea or nay; then the Secretary of State says, "Because this is a referendum, it is advisory. I am going to ignore the result and do what I wanted to do anyway". That is a pretty odd way to run a referendum.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: If the Secretary of State were to act like that, he would be irrational. I think that we ought to bring this discussion into the real world. If a clear majority vote for—

The Earl of Onslow: Can or cannot the Secretary of State say, "I disagree with the referendum result"? If the answer is yes, it is advisory. That means that he can ignore it at will, and at any level.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: The intention is for the Minister to be guided by the referendum results. If people vote "Yes", we intend to establish an assembly. If people vote "No", we intend not to. However, there is the obvious point that a further Bill is required to provide powers to establish assemblies.

The Earl of Onslow: That does not help at all. The Secretary of State can, therefore, say that he is going to ignore the result of a referendum. I am sorry to hammer this point home. It seems quite an important one.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: It is a very important point, but the sentence that I read out a moment ago is crystal clear. The Government's intention is to be guided by the referendum result. If people vote "Yes", we intend to establish an assembly; if they vote "No", we intend not to.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: Perhaps I may put another scenario to the noble Lord. It is important that we understand that Parliament is supreme. It is. Let us suppose that, in 2005, a referendum is held under a Labour government saying yes to a regional assembly; then, a few months later, there is a general election at which a Conservative government, not committed to regional assemblies, are elected. Is the noble Lord suggesting that the new government should be bound by a referendum instituted by the previous government? That is why Parliament is supreme.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: Parliament is supreme. Perhaps I may return to the amendment and, if necessary, return to the points that we are discussing now.

When the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, spoke initially he made a very good point; namely, that by including the word "help" we are allowing the electorate to contribute to making a decision. That is a good and inclusive thing to project to the electorate. I do not have difficulty with the inclusion of the word "help". In a democracy, it is rather a good word to have in this sentence. I really do not think that it moves away from the principle that the Secretary of State will decide,

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after considering a referendum result, whether to establish a regional assembly. So I do not have the problem with the word "help" that the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, has. I find it rather a helpful word.

Lord Hanningfield: There have already been some amendments on the preamble. The more we go on, the more confused we become. We were trying to make it clearer to the electorate that, as the Bill stands, they will not be deciding whether there will be a regional assembly. As the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said, Parliament is currently paramount, but once the Bill reaches the statute book—if it does—the Secretary of State will probably be more paramount than Parliament because he has enormous powers under the Bill to establish a region or whatever he wants to do. That is really what we object to, and we think the preamble should make it clear what people are voting for.

The White Paper is called Your Region, Your Choice. As I said on Second Reading, it should be "Your Region, the Secretary of State's Choice". We should make it clear in Committee that the preamble is very unsatisfactory. I and most of my noble friends would prefer that if people voted yes, the referendum would take place, and if they voted no, it would not. If that is not going to happen, the electorate should know that the referendum is advisory and not in any way binding on the Secretary of State who has all the powers if the Bill becomes law. I shall withdraw the amendment, but I am sure we will come back to the preamble later in the Bill's proceedings. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 36:

    Page 2, line 27, leave out "an" and insert "a directly"

The noble Baroness said: I must admit that it was a slip on the keyboard that did not group this amendment with others when we were dealing with the groupings for last week. However, I move it simply to see whether the Minister has been able to give further thought to the inclusion of "directly", which we discussed then. He may still be burning the midnight oil, pondering over the issue. I beg to move.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: We are back to the word "directly". I have not been burning the midnight oil, I am afraid, but I hope that officials have. I made a commitment last week that we would consider the amendment further. That stands. So, having been given this re-reassurance, I hope the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: I needed no re-reassurance.

Baroness Blatch: Before the noble Baroness withdraws her amendment, what is the reassurance? What exactly is the Minister saying? We had a long discussion about what "directly" meant, and it is not consistent with the Bill. It is not a directly elected assembly. What assurance is the Minister giving?

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Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: The assurance—I said re-reassurance because I have given it to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, twice—is that we will consider the discussion that we had last week on "directly" in front of "elected assemblies" and will come back to the House with our full recommendation.

Baroness Blatch: I offer a fulsome apology to the Minister. I had not realised that the question was still being considered. I thought he was confirming an assurance I had not heard about.

Baroness Hamwee: The noble Baroness may recall that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, came into the Chamber and offered some advice during the debate. I needed no further assurance; I had no doubt the matter was being considered. I simply hoped that we might take one issue off the Marshalled List for Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 37:

    Page 2, line 32, after "development;" insert—

"the functions of the organisations listed in the schedule below which are exercised in the region shall be transferred to the elected assembly and the powers of such organisations for the region shall be abolished;"

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 37, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 39.

I accept that the amendments complicate the preamble and that I have been arguing for more simplicity. I wanted to ensure that we did not fall foul of the Bill by being outside the Long Title. I hope it will be apparent, at this hour of the evening, that I would like to probe the issue of powers. I am not proposing to go in detail through each activity and function of all the organisations listed in the amendment, and I hope the Minister's approach will be similar.

The White Paper describes each region in the relevant appendix rather like a tourist brochure, giving an indicative list of the public bodies active in the North East. On Second Reading, in reply to my noble friend Lord Shutt, who asked whether there would be any fewer quangos, the Minister said:

    "The answer is probably 'no'. The legislation would not lead to the abolition of quangos. The strength of the provisions would lie in how the quangos were arranged and managed and were democratically accountable to the people sent by the electorate".—[Official Report, 20/2/03; col. 1331.]

By definition, quangos are not democratically accountable. Our approach is to bring them clearly within the aegis of democratically accountable new regional assemblies.

Page 80 of the White Paper says that many of these organisations are accountable to central government. It goes on to talk about central government operating

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locally. I am not wholly clear about the Government's approach to accountability. If we accept having central government programmes operating locally with quangos accountable to central government, the objective of having those quangos accountable through the regional tier will not be achieved.

The government offices alone administer much of the regional programme. They are not going to be abolished. No doubt there are issues of costs. On this point it would be an unnecessary diversion to talk about the recipe for added costs that could be dealt with, but the Government seem to be going out of their way to fail to deal with. In any event, there is a cost of democracy and the cost-benefit analysis and balance suggests very strongly to me that a regional accountability mechanism is worth a great deal.

The most important issue is the effectiveness of the work undertaken by the various organisations. The White Paper tells us:

    "Elected Assemblies will improve the quality of life for people in their regions, particularly by improving regional economic performance".

It also says:

    "Assemblies will be given a lead role in developing strategies to achieve this".

However, when we look further to issues such as transport, we find that the elected assemblies' responsibilities for transport strategy will include,

    "advising central government"—

that is not being responsible for transport strategy; it is an advisory role—

    "on the allocation of funding for local transport, including consistency of local bids with regional policies and priorities".

Assemblies will also have,

    "powers to make proposals to the Highways Agency and the Strategic Rail Authority".

That is not strategic responsibility in the terms in which the chapter introducing all this seems to imply. It is an input into central government decisions. A regional input is good, but it does not amount to what could be achieved, which could take forward the development of the regions significantly. The White Paper tells us on page 34 that assemblies will improve "regional economic performance". However, the regional development agencies will remain operationally independent. The new assemblies can appoint to the boards, but there are constraints and criteria to be met with regard to those whom the assembly can appoint.

The White Paper states that the assembly will provide funding from the block grant and will have maximum flexibility in allocating resources. I accept that there has been some movement as to how detailed the designation of the government grant is, but I do not believe that the words will accord with the experience of anyone in the Chamber who deals with economic regeneration as to flexibility in allocating resources.

I am not going to go through the whole list, but I want to refer particularly to learning and skills councils. They are central to good economic

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performance. The skills of the workforce are the building block of good economic performance. The White Paper says so as well, stating:

    "Developing the skills of the workforce plays a vital role in economic development".

It goes on to tell us that:

    "Elected assemblies will assume responsibility for drawing up and organising Frameworks for Regional Employment and Skills Action (FRESAs), which will set out the key priorities of the region in respect of skills development and improving employment opportunities".

Why the separation? Why the responsibility for drawing up a central government programme? Might not a regional assembly see better than the Government what is appropriate for its own region?

We do not see that approach as the right way to go about achieving good strategic regional government. I fear that it demonstrates a mindset, which is that the proposals do not amount to real devolution. I beg to move.

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