|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
But the big expense, from which we seem to have moved away, is the cost of reorganisation. Even in the North East, which comprises Durham and Northumberland, that will amount to tens or hundreds of millions of pounds. Such costs must be known to the public at the time.
The Minister said that information would be issued at the time of the referendum. That would be after reorganisation had been considered, so information about the cost would then be available. Will the Minister clarify whether the information issued by the Government or whoever at the time of the referendum would contain figures as well as details of what the assembly would doa matter to which we shall return later? That has not been clarified.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: As I mentioned a moment ago, one of the Government's themes throughout our three-day debate has been that we are anxious to give the electorate as much information as possible. I hope that many people will be consulted about the information and will have the opportunity to have an input. One piece of information will be the costs about which the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, is asking.
I cannot at present say what will be the detailed costs, but I can give the noble Lord an undertaking that part of the package of proposalswhich, as my noble friend Lord Rooker said, will go through the letterbox of everyone throughout the landwill be figures addressing the issue of local government reorganisation raised by the noble Lord in his speech. The noble Lord must understand that at present we can say nothing about the matter prior to a boundary report, so I hope that he will be satisfied with my undertaking and withdraw the amendment.
Lord Waddington: I thank the Minister for giving way again. In his reply to me, was he not saying no more than that on this occasion hope will triumph over experience? We know that public funds have been used to build grandiose structures to house representatives. Is there no hope on this occasion of the Government taking powers to prevent such abuse? That was the burden of my question.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: The answer to that specific question, with which I have sympathy, is that none of us on either side of the House would want great edifices built in whatever part of the land. If I may, I shall take that specific point away and return later with a considered view on it.
Can the Minister assure me that the various matters that we have raised will be included in the consultation booklet? That might save us a bit of time. We now know that the costs of reorganisation and of running a regional assembly will be included in information given to electors before they vote in a referendum. Is that correct?
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: I repeat that we shall provide a great deal of information to the electorate. That proposal has not just popped up out of the bluemy noble friend Lord Rooker has said over the past three days that every elector would receive an information booklet through the door. I have given an undertaking that the pack will include information on the running cost of the assemblies. I cannot go further than that; it would be foolhardy of me to do so. In the same way as the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, has no idea what those costs will be, I do not know either. Noble Lords are on the verge of questioning my good will in what I say to them. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: The noble Lord seems to have confused the question. We are asking for information to be given to your Lordships' House now or at a later stage. I, for one, am in no way reassured by the noble Lord's undertaking that masses of information will pour through everyone's letterbox. Most people do not value much of the information that comes through their letterbox. We seek information in your Lordships' House as soon as possible.
The Earl of Onslow: I wish to comment on that important point. The noble Lord sounds reasonable, but he is waffling. He is not answering very simple questions: whether or not certain things will happen, yes or no. Some of us on this side of the Committee who think that the scheme is pretty crazy anyway are at least, I hope, open to conversion. When we get such waffle from the noble Lord about what is happening, it raises our suspicions. He seems not to know the answers to our questions, and, as a Minister of the Crown, he should do.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: I know when I am waffling; I do not feel that I am doing so now. I am giving the Committee as much information as I can at present. I emphasise once more that we recognise that the cost of running the assemblies is a significant matter. The pack will give voters as much information as possible about the running costs of the assemblies. I cannot go further than that.
I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, picked up the earlier point of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, that, apart from the running costs, his primary interest was the cost of local government reorganisation running up to regional assemblies or their establishment. I thought that noble Lords accepted my point that we cannot begin to approach those figures until we know the results reached by the Boundary Commission. Once we have them, we will do our best to construct the figures that everyone in this House wants.
Lord Hanningfield: We had many questions, to which the Government tried to give some answers. We have had an interesting debate on the amendment. We must accept that some of the figures that we seek are not available now. Our point is that they must be available over the next year before any referendum. We need to know the costs of running the regional assemblies, possible building and setting-up costs, and, particularly, the costs of local government reorganisation, which will dwarf any regional assembly running costs. It is estimated that the reorganisation of local government in EnglandI accept that the noble Lord will say that it will involve only one area to start withinvolving a mixture of reorganisation to create one tier, will be over £2 billion. Unless the Government made available extra money, that amount would have to come out of funds for services such as provision for the elderly and schools. Such figures must be clarified.
I hope that the Government will indicate further where we will go in later stages. Report stage is coming up. I hope that the Minister can indicate more clearly how the Government will inform the public and what information they will give them. We will have to look again at the question to be put to the public in a referendum. I am sure that we will return to all those subjects over the next few weeks. Given that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 45, 46, 48 and 49. Amendment No. 48 is not very applicable because it relates to Amendment No. 26. These amendments would clarify who votes in the referendums. We feel strongly that this is a constitutional issue; therefore, the electorate voting on whether there should be a regional assembly should be that which votes in a parliamentary election. It is an odd thing for a Member of the House of Lords to say because it excludes us from voting in the referendumrather like turkeys voting for Christmas. But, as I said several times, we are establishing constitutional change in England, which should be decided by those who decide on Parliament.
We tabled Amendment No. 48 because, if we were successful in getting a dual question comprising a question on a regional assembly and one on the reorganisation of local government, the people who vote on the local government component should be those who vote in local government elections.
On Amendment No. 49, Clause 3 gives the Secretary of State enormous powers to override the electoral register. Why is the Secretary of State taking so much power to disregard alterations to the register of electors? That could mean that the Secretary of State could refer back to an earlier register for the purposes of the referendum, which might enable people who had moved elsewhere to vote. We tabled Amendment No. 49 to understand why the Secretary of State wants to take such enormous powers. I beg to move.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page