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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, what arrangements are being made, if any, to combine the

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call centres for the ambulance service, the fire service and police, as has been suggested? Is that proposal going forward?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I do not know the answer, but the matter does not have anything to do with call centres for BT. It is to do with the emergency services—

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, it is to do with 999.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: Yes, my Lords, but it is not to do with the BT part of the matter, which is handling calls to the emergency services.

Lord Addington: My Lords, will the Minister give us the assurance that the person one speaks to when one phones 999 will have a good knowledge of the locality from which one is phoning, and of the local accent? Someone from South Wales might struggle with a Northumbrian accent, for instance.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, there is a code of practice between the PTOs and the emergency services on how such calls should be handled. I do not believe that they are handled on a local basis. The call is routed to the first free operator, and that operator may be in another part of the country, so calls do not necessarily go to the locality. That is judged to be the best and speediest way to handle them. There is a forum for such issues, but that is believed to be the best route.

Lord McNally: My Lords, although the idea of dialling 999 is deeply embedded in our culture and history, does the service keep track of modern technologies? For example, has there been any study of being able to text, e-mail or use other new technologies to summon assistance?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I do not know whether any research of that kind is being done. I will make inquiries and let the noble Lord know what is in train.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, is the Minister aware that lots of people, including several whom I know, have phoned 999 for the police when someone has been in their home and been told that they are in a queue? Will he give that the attention that it needs?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, does the noble Baroness's question relate to the police or to the telephone operating service? If it is to the latter, then clearly I would appreciate examples being given so that the matter can be investigated. If it concerns the police, then obviously it is an issue that the police themselves need to investigate.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that what matters is not necessarily where the call is answered but the response times of the

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emergency service? Can he say what tracking is done to ensure that those who dial 999, for whatever reason, receive the attention that they require?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I have not done any tracking but, as I said, there is a code which covers the matter. Presumably, if people have any sense that the system is not operating correctly, they should make the appropriate complaint.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, is the Minister aware that huge numbers of calls are made following accidents? For example, 1,000 calls can be made in connection with one accident. More than anything else, the police would be assisted if calls were divided between the urgent and the less urgent. Is progress being made on the realisation of a 555 number for less urgent calls so that the public divide their calls between the two?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, as I understand it, the Question concerns whether calls are being dealt with in New Delhi. I believe that I have answered that. Further questions on the exact way that calls are handled in all situations are outside the scope of the Question.


3.1 p.m.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, with the leave of the House, at a convenient time after 3.30 p.m. my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House will repeat a Statement on Iraq and the European Council.

London Local Authorities and Transport for London Bill [HL]

Read a third time, and passed, and sent to the Commons.

Corruption: Committee

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the Commons message of 11th March be now considered, and that a committee of seven Lords be appointed to join with the committee appointed by the Commons, to consider and report on any draft Corruption Bill presented to both Houses by a Minister of the Crown;

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the Lords following be named of the committee:

L. Bernstein of Craigweil,

L. Campbell-Savours,

L. Carlisle of Bucklow,

B. Scott of Needham Market,

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L. Slynn of Hadley,

L. Waddington,

B. Whitaker;

That the committee have power to agree with the Commons in the appointment of a chairman;

That the committee have leave to report from time to time;

That the committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

That the committee have power to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom;

That the reports of the committee from time to time shall be printed, notwithstanding any adjournment of the House;

That the committee do report no later than four months after the presentation of any such draft Bill;

And that the committee do meet with the committee appointed by the Commons today at half-past four o'clock in Committee Room 3A.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to; and a message was ordered to be sent to the Commons to acquaint them therewith.

Voting Age (Reduction to 16) Bill [HL]

Read a third time, and passed, and sent to the Commons.

Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill

3.2 p.m.

The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Rooker.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 2 [Referendum question]:

Lord Greaves moved Amendment No. 40:

    Page 2, line 36, at end insert—

"( ) In those parts of the region that currently have both county and district councils the following additional question shall be asked—
"Do you agree with the proposal to reorganise the county and district councils in your area into a single unitary tier of local government?"."

The noble Lord said: With Amendment No. 40, at the beginning of our third day in Committee, we return to a question that we have already discussed at considerable length, and therefore I shall be brief. In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 47 in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hamwee.

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In Amendment No. 40, we suggest that the matter of the referendum for a regional assembly in a region can be tackled in another way. The amendment proposes a second question, which asks simply whether people agree that, in addition to having a regional assembly, their local government should be reorganised on a unitary basis in their area.

Amendment No. 47 concerns a slightly different, but related, issue. It states:

    "Where there is a proposal to reorganise local government in any electoral area, only persons entitled to vote at the election of councillors for such area shall be entitled to vote on such a proposal".

This has two parts to it, the more minor being that anyone who is not entitled to vote in local elections in an area would not be able to vote. The more important part would exclude from the vote all electors who do not live in the area to be reorganised. Therefore, the amendment would tackle the problem, which we discussed at some length, of people in areas such as Tyneside and Wearside, which are already unitary, being able to vote on whether the counties of Northumberland and Durham in the North East, for example, should be unitary. The same applies to all the other regions.

It seems to us to be a fundamental matter of democratic competence that the people responsible for deciding what kind of local government structure they have should be the local government electors for that area. We shall no doubt debate this matter again and again as the Bill goes through its various stages in your Lordships' House. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch: We have already discussed the whole business of decoupling, and it seems to me that this is another variation of that. However, we are absolutely at one with Members on the Liberal Democrat Benches in that we regard these two issues as quite distinct. One concerns the matter of regional assemblies and whether people believe that they should have them, and the other concerns whether people want wholesale reorganisation of their local authorities.

In considering the eight areas, we know that no one single area would not undergo a fairly major upheaval of local government if they answered "Yes" to the question of a referendum—or, rather, if the Secretary of State decided that there should be a referendum. In answer to that, I believe that the Minister used the word "mantra". I read much of what the Minister in another place said on the issue. The Government's argument is, "We don't want another tier of government".

It is possible that when local people understand—again, I use the Minister's words—that the "price to pay" for regional assemblies is that their local government arrangements must undergo major upheaval, then it will become a very different argument. People will understand that by saying "Yes" to the simple question of a referendum, they will be giving way to upheaval in local government.

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I read very carefully the Constitution Committee report on this matter, and I read it even more carefully when it was brought to our notice by the Minister. I believe that that is something he may regret by the end of the debate. The Constitution Committee was also concerned about this issue. I believe that there is at least an argument for saying that, in order for people truly to have a choice about regional government, they should truly have a view about how it should be arranged within their area. They should not have to take as read that an answer to one question indicates an answer to another.

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