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Baroness Hamwee: Amendment No. 114 is not in this group but makes a similar point, so it may help if I refer to it. Much of what is referred to here is work that the Boundary Committee could quite properly do. That is the thrust of Amendment No. 114. I hope that the Minister will explain whether there is a distinction between the two approaches.

On Amendment No. 86 and the views of council tax payers, while I would not for a moment suggest that costs are irrelevant, I am not persuaded that they are so relevant as to exclude all other considerations to which the attention of council tax payers might be drawn. Of course, there are differences between us as to the possible value of regional assemblies. However, almost whatever their powers, I am unhappy at costs being singled out.

As for Amendment No. 88, I would not suggest that planning and housing powers were unimportant, but why should we not provide that the attention of business is drawn to economic development issues? We might draw the attention of small businesses to the Small Business Service, for example, which is to remain centralised, as we discussed the other day.

We go along with the Conservatives to some extent, but on parallel tracks rather than the same track.

The Earl of Caithness: Will the Minister confirm something about the soundings exercise? I was grateful to my noble friend Lady Hanham for telling us a bit more about it, as some of us were excluded and are not as up to date as we should like to be. Was it made clear in the soundings exercise that, even if someone wanted to have a referendum about a regional assembly, a consequence would be that county councils, district councils and the two-tier authorities would cease to be? I suspect that many of those who received the soundings exercise were not fully aware of the implications of the Bill.

Lord Rooker: The easiest answer that I can give the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, is "Yes". We dealt with that point in last Thursday's debate. Anyone who has read the document will know that. There may be an argument about the words, but it is there in the soundings document. In the original debate, someone quoted paragraph 20-odd and I quoted paragraph 17. The implications are clear that, with regional assemblies, there will be single-tier local government.

I know that the noble Baronesses are trying to be helpful, but we have just had the introduction to four groups of amendments. If I answer all those, I am not going to get up and do it again when we come to them on the list. I am not stupid. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asks if I will respond to Amendment No. 114. I am quite happy to answer it, but it is way out of order; I do not want to get to Amendment No. 114 and be told, "Oh, we want to come back to this". I want to be helpful, but we are trying to work to an order. I did

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not set the order of these groups. I am happy to do all four groups together—obviously, it is more convenient for me.

Baroness Hanham: Perhaps I should have given the Minister warning. I apologise for that. I merely thought that we might cut down proceedings a tiny bit, and I believed that he would be absolutely thrilled to bits. I have spoken to Amendments Nos. 82 to 88. I have referred only to the list of people to be consulted.

Baroness Hamwee: I want to clear matters up. The points raised under these amendments seemed relevant to Amendment No. 114. I do not intend to come back to it, unless it would be more convenient for the Minister to take it at its place in the Marshalled List. I was trying to dispose of the issue, not to make life more difficult.

Lord Rooker: I am new to this place. I cannot understand why Amendment No. 114 was not grouped with the other amendments. In another place—the sensible place for groupings, although not for scrutiny; good at groupings, not so good at scrutiny—it would have been. I can see that Amendment No. 114 exactly fits with the other amendments. Having got that off my chest, I can move quickly through the amendments, because the answer is almost the same to all of them. The noble Baroness looks far more friendly when she smiles. That is fine; I am much happier facing a smiling face at this time of night.

On Amendments Nos. 82 and 83, the regional arms of the CBI, Institute of Directors and Chambers of Commerce were all sent a copy of the soundings document and pro forma. Any other businesses or business organisations were welcome to put forward their views, and indeed many have, as will be apparent when we give the results of the soundings exercise.

Amendments Nos. 84 and 85 deal with district and county councils. As is known, all the principal local authorities were sent a copy of the soundings document and invited to respond, and they have. We have been actively seeking the views of people across the regions in order to determine the level of interest in holding a referendum.

I grant that Amendments Nos. 86 and 87 are slightly different in that they deal with consideration of,

    "the views of council tax payers in the region after having first published for their consideration a statement of the likely costs of a regional assembly in their area",


    "the views of voluntary sector bodies in the region".

We have the White Paper. I am not arguing that masses of voters have read it; they have not. However, the National Council of Voluntary Organisations was among those sent a copy of the soundings document, which it then distributed among its members. Moreover, any individual or organisation was welcome to put forward views.

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Amendment No. 86 would require the Secretary of State to publish, for the consideration of council tax payers, a statement of the likely costs of a regional assembly. Chapter 5 of the White Paper is the best information available and I really cannot go beyond it.

Amendment No. 88 would require the Secretary of State, for the purposes of considering the level of interest in each region in holding a referendum, to consider the level of interest of organisations charged or concerned with housing or planning matters. All organisations were welcome to put forward their views. We sent a copy of the sounding document and pro forma to the regional sustainability round tables asking for their views. The existing regional chambers were also sent a copy of the document. They will be responsible, by the time that elected assemblies, if approved, are up and running, for the regional planning powers that we propose to give to the regional assemblies.

As I said, Amendment No. 114 would basically mean that the Boundary Committee was statutorily required to consult members of the public. I think that that is the main difference. The consultation requirements with which the Boundary Committee will have to comply are set out in Section 15 of the Local Government Act 1992 and applied with modifications for the purposes of local government reviews by virtue of Clause 14. They are the same requirements that would apply to other structural and boundary reviews carried out by the Electoral Commission as the body responsible for such reviews since the commission was established under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

The Boundary Committee is also required to have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State. In the draft guidance on which we consulted, Members of the Committee will see that the Government suggest who the interested parties might be. Chapter 6 of the draft guidance also spells out who should be consulted and how such consultation may be achieved. It includes a recommendation that the Boundary Committee write to all the principal local authorities, to all Members of Parliament in the region and to other representative organisations. It also suggests that the Boundary Committee publish advertisements in one or more local newspapers and takes such other steps as seem necessary to provide suitable publicity. I hope that the Committee will be reassured by those arrangements and the list of organisations to be consulted already included in the guidance.

That is a potted version. I know that there is criticism of the fact that we sent out 1,100 copies of the document. However, we have certainly covered all the organisations and sectors proposed in these amendments. So we are not simply interested in their views, we have actively canvassed their views. And they have responded. In due course, we will know what they said.

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10.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: Will the Minister throw some light on the Constitution Committee report? Mr Raynsford was asked about the Durham survey and the report pointed out that a large number of people in that area knew nothing of the soundings and were not aware of the coming of regional assemblies. Mr Raynsford said on 6th February,

    "and we have recently been giving some attention as to whether we ought to be giving greater publicity to the soundings exercise".

Was that followed up, and what extra action was taken following the promise that more thought would be given to providing greater publicity to the soundings exercise before it was completed on 3rd March?

Lord Rooker: That is a worthwhile question to which I do not have an answer. If I am given one as regards what action Nick Raynsford took subsequently, I shall inform the Committee of it before we end our discussion on the Bill tonight.

Baroness Hanham: I am grateful to the Minister for his comprehensive reply. Indeed, it seems from what he said that most of the bodies and the people concerned have been approached. However, none of that was necessary, and indeed, none of it should have taken place. The Bill is not yet an Act but all of Clause 12 has been carried out in advance of the Bill being considered in either House. We are now faced with having to ask a whole host of questions. Although the Minister says that the soundings exercise will continue until the Bill is finally passed, the soundings exercise document does not say that. That stated that the soundings exercise would be finished by 3rd March. But, as I have said before, that was just about the same time as this Bill came into this Chamber. So, the amendments that we have tabled and the questions that we have asked have all been pre-empted. It is just as well that all the relevant bodies appear to have been approached because there is nothing this Chamber can do about the matter. It is a fait accompli.

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