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Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I will indeed draw my right honourable friend's attention to the book. It is important in this context to ensure that we give our children all that they need to understand and deal with the plethora of advertising, particularly at Christmas time. It is important that children are able to understand what this is about and to make reasoned and sensible judgments. I do not believe that this is about banning things; I believe it is about giving them the kind of ammunition they need to make the decisions for themselves, based on an understanding about health and about what advertising seeks to do. If we could do that, we should equip them well for life.

7 Apr 2003 : Column 12

European Parliament (Representation) Bill

3.6 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, on behalf of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Clause 14 [The Gibraltar register]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 1:

    Page 8, line 6, after "Assembly" insert "of Gibraltar"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 17 [Regulations relating to sections 14 to 16]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 2:

    Page 9, line 22, leave out "this section" and insert "section 16"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move this amendment formally and the other amendments in the group.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, although the Minister seeks to move all the amendments formally, just to prove that I have read the amendments with great care, I should like to express my serious concerns about Amendment No. 3. It suggests that Clause 14 contains a definition of the words "the European electoral registration officer". It does not. It states that the holder of one particular office—namely, the—

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will give way. The Question before the House is Whether Amendment No. 2 shall be agreed to? The noble Lord wishes to speak to Amendment No. 3.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, the Minister did say that he was moving all the amendments formally.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I must put the Question in any case: it is Whether Amendment No. 2 shall be agreed to?

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I am sorry for being out of order. The Bill states that the Clerk to the House of Assembly shall be the European electoral registration officer. That is not a definition of what the European electoral registration officer is. It is saying that the holder of one office—namely, the Clerk to the House of Assembly—is also the holder of a different office, that of European electoral registration officer. It seems to me, therefore, that the appropriate wording would have been not "within the meaning of", as in the amendment, but "as specified by". The Minister will be glad, however, to know that I do not intend to press this issue to a Division.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I apologise for the fact that I was not in my place when the amendment was first called. But I understand that the noble Lord from the Liberal Front Bench has spoken to the amendment and I take it that I am entitled to do the same.

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I have wondered quite often why this Bill is in front of us without getting a clear answer either from my own resources or from Ministers. On reading through the three days of Committee stage, I came to the conclusion—I have made this point before—that gobbledy and gook have met together and made the language incomprehensible. In my view, my noble friend Lord Waddington asked the key question which has not yet been answered; namely, that the assemblies, if and when they happen, will have no new funds and no new powers from either central government—

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, we are not on that Bill yet.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I am sorry. I thought that we were discussing Amendment No. 2.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I think that the noble Lord believes that we are on the next item of business.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I beg the pardon of the noble Baroness. I have been caught before, unfortunately, by an unexpected speed with which your Lordships handle certain business. I was very confused on that occasion and my fear that I had made the same mistake again led me to make a mistake of a different kind. I apologise. I await my turn.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I guess that I ought to apologise to your Lordships' House. I thought, and the notes that I had been given indicated, that there was very little controversy this afternoon associated with this Bill. For that reason, I took a liberty in moving the amendments formally. I shall address Amendment No. 3 because the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, has raised it. My apologies to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, for exercising him in the way in which he was exercising his knowledge about a Bill which we were not discussing.

Amendment No. 3 looks at Clause 14. This was amended in Grand Committee to replace the early arrangements for appointing the European electoral registration officer for Gibraltar with a simple statement that the Clerk to the House of Assembly for Gibraltar should be the electoral registration officer for Gibraltar. The reference in Clause 20 in the new Section 6(5)(b) of the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002 to the ERO appointed under Clause 14 of the Bill is, therefore, no longer appropriate. It is for that reason that Amendment No. 3 replaces it with a more suitable reference.

I hope that that answers the point made by the noble Lord. If not, I shall follow up his point happily outside the Chamber. All the amendments in this group are essentially simple, technical and have been uncontroversially argued through. I think that they were looked for and to be welcomed this afternoon.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

7 Apr 2003 : Column 14

Clause 20 [Returning officers]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 3:

    Page 11, line 2, leave out "appointed under" and insert "(within the meaning of"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 23 [Jurisdiction of courts]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 4:

    Page 12, line 9, at beginning insert "Without prejudice to the generality of the power under which it is made,"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 28 [Short title, extent and commencement]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 5:

    Page 14, line 11, leave out "22" and insert "24"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I thank the Minister and the Liberal Democrats for their co-operation. The Bill is very good news for the people of Gibraltar. We wish it well.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I echo that support for the Bill. We are very glad to see that Gibraltar will now get the vote in the European elections.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill

3.14 p.m.

Report received.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 1:

    Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause—

The purpose of this Bill is to provide voters with a choice as to the establishment of regional assemblies in their region and as to options for change in the organisation of local government."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 1, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 12 with which it is grouped. It will be fairly obvious to noble Lords that the two amendments have been drafted by different hands. Amendment No. 1 is far less detailed—indeed, I may say far less refined—but it enables me to explain the approach of these Benches at this stage.

At the previous stage, we made it clear that we had considerable problems with the Bill. I want to be clear with noble Lords that we have discussed with Ministers and found a way which, if the House agrees, will take forward the possibility of regional government in a way which we, certainly, regard as far more appropriate.

7 Apr 2003 : Column 15

I should also like noble Lords to be clear as to why. The Minister has made it plain that if we had pressed for every change that we wanted, including—indeed, in particular—the retention of two-tier local government in regions which opt for regional government, Her Majesty's Government would have resisted that approach. That would have meant that the Bill, the first step towards regional government, would have been lost or that the Parliament Act would have been applied and we should have had the Bill in its original form which, as I have said, is not one which we regarded with any great enthusiasm.

We have long been enthusiastic on these Benches for regional government where it is wanted. We are aware that here our policy differs sharply from that of the Conservatives, although I have absolutely no doubt that they, too, are anxious to improve the Bill. In some cases, improvement to the Bill in their terms would not be quite the same as our terms. However, I accept that we have expressed similar thinking on some amendments.

We differ from Her Majesty's Government, in particular, in that we do not regard the reorganisation of local government as appropriately dealt with as part of the introduction of regional government. We still regard it as a separate issue. However, we are clear, and the Minister was clear with the House at the previous stage, that No. 10 has set strict constraints on what it is possible to do regarding local government—the number of tiers or, as I have often said, perhaps tediously, spheres. It is important to take forward the prospect of regional government and to build on past co-operation between these Benches and the Labour Party—Her Majesty's Government—on matters of constitutional reform.

The simple aim in Amendment No. 12 is to give people living in two-tier areas a say about local government structure. Therefore, we propose two questions—technically, as noble Lords will see, two ballots. Residents in those areas will be asked a second contemporaneous question and will be given a choice between at least two options for local government in their area. All the options will be for unitary government. It is clear that the retention of two-tier government could not be achieved.

That means that only those affected will be entitled to vote. Therefore, the big conurbations cannot dictate to other areas the form of local government in their area if regional government goes ahead. I accept that voters in urban areas, which are now unitary, could impose a change by the outcome of the question regarding regional assemblies. But which change will be a matter of local choice. For the first time ever local people will have a vote with regard to their form of local government.

There are three additional points, some of which we shall cover later in more detail. It is appropriate to refer briefly to them as they are part of our overall approach. The Government have agreed that the boundaries of existing unitary authorities can be considered by the Boundary Committee for England if

7 Apr 2003 : Column 16

those councils wish them to be considered. That will mean that possible nonsenses, to which some of your Lordships referred at the previous stage, can be avoided.

I turn to the publication of a draft powers Bill before the first referendum. I am assured that the Government will do their best to have a Bill published with a view to pre-legislative scrutiny. I understand that the Government by definition cannot foresee the unforeseeable—for instance, urgent matters coming out of nowhere that may take up parliamentary counsel's time—but I have no doubt of the Government's good faith in this matter.

There is confirmation that the White Paper is not the final word on powers to be devolved. On 25th March the Minister gave a helpful answer to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, confirming that,

    "the Government are keen further to decentralise responsibility for policy and delivery where this will improve regional outcomes. There are likely to be further proposals for the decentralisation of responsibilities to elected regional assemblies as time goes on".—[Official Report, 25/3/03; col. WA 67.]

I believe that the answer referred to paragraph 4(5) of the White Paper. Last time we were all exercised in trying to hunt down that point. Indeed, the Minister responsible for local government has confirmed that after some years' experience of the Greater London Authority, its powers will be reviewed and it would be logical for such a review to consider the powers of regional assemblies also.

Turning to how Clause 12 will work, subsections (1) and (2) require that if there is a referendum about establishing an elected assembly, there must also be a referendum in each county area, the second referendum being about the government options for unitary local government in the county area. Subsections (3) and (4) define a county area, which in the main will be the existing area of a county council—of course containing districts—but recognising that some of the proposed options for single-tier authorities may mean reorganisation across county boundaries. In that case the clause provides that all county areas affected may be combined into a single county area for the purposes of the referendum and voters in that combined area will vote on a common referendum on the local government structure.

Subsection (5) requires the government options to be based on recommendations by the Boundary Committee for England and must include, as I have said, at least two different unitary options. The Government propose an amendment to insert a new clause requiring the Boundary Committee's recommendations to contain two or more options. These amendments, taken together, mean that options put to voters will be based, as we have already discussed, on an independent review. As part of that review people will be able to make their case for a particular structure.

Subsection (6) means that wherever there is a referendum about whether to establish an elected assembly, the local government options have to be put

7 Apr 2003 : Column 17

to voters on the same day. In practice that may mean a single ballot paper, but that is not a matter that we need to consider now.

Subsection (7) prevents the Secretary of State from making an order to hold the referendum until six weeks after he has the Boundary Committee's recommendations, in order to give an opportunity for people to make representations about the recommendations.

Subsection (8) gives the Secretary of State, with Parliament's approval, the power to vary an order for a referendum about local government, independently on an order for a referendum on an elected assembly—for example, to make minor corrections to the description of the options for a county area—but he cannot revoke an order for a local referendum without also revoking the order for the regional referendum. In other words, the Secretary of State cannot cancel a local government referendum while a regional one is taking place.

Subsection (9) allows the Secretary of State to make an order about local government referendums, setting the rules, the way in which the options are set out and other matters. An order-making power is needed because the options, of course, will vary from region to region. Compared with putting the arrangements on the face of the Bill, it provides a little more time to work out the best arrangements for local referendums. Subsection (10) includes lists of specific matters for the order.

I do not intend to press the "purpose" clause—Amendment No. 1—which was described to me late last week as "post-modern", unless the Minister thinks that this is very classical and something that would benefit the Bill. In due course, I shall move Amendment No. 12 as a significant strengthening of the Bill. It may not be regional government as we on the Liberal Democrat Benches would have chosen, but it is much improved from what was on offer two weeks ago. I am most grateful to the Minister for the work that he and his officials have undertaken to enable us to arrive at this point. I beg to move.

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