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Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, will the Minister give way? He makes much of the fact that there is a particular intention in the Government's mind. If he casts his mind back to our first day in Committee, he will recall an argument between myself and his noble friend Lord Evans of Temple Guiting about the word "directly" in the phrase "directly elected regional assemblies". I quoted the Prime Minister's introduction to the White Paper to him. I could have turned the page and quoted the Deputy Prime Minister's foreword. Both referred to "directly elected regional assemblies". In responding, his noble friend Lord Evans said:
Lord Rooker: My Lords, that is a red herring. As was made clear at the time, nowhere in our law does the term "directly elected" figure. That was the answer. The argument was whether members were directly
However, we cannot have it two ways. The White Paper says that there will be no new powerswe accept that that is precisely rightand no new money. I accept, as the Minister says, that regional assemblies may be able to generate money from within their budgets, but, as it stands, there is no new money. The status quo will remain. The Minister may now be wishing that the Bill had been in draft form before we started on this. It would have saved him an awful lot of time and hassle.
However, that did not happen, so we are still picking away at what people who are going to vote are likely to ask. Before they vote they will want to know what on earth these regional assemblies are going to do and where on earth the money will come from in order to do it. To have that on the face of the Bill would be realistic. Certainly, it would be the Rookerism that I expected to see there.
Presumably, that is local government as reorganised. It is not local government as it is now because that would not make sense. The functions and powers of local government will have to be reorganised. We do not know how that is being done and we have not had any information on that at allalthough I think that the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would ensure that there was information about that as well. I think that we must hope that that is what will count.
It is abundantly clear from listening to their aspirations that the Liberal Democrats, in particular, do not accept that there will be no new powers from anywhere. That is what the Minister said, but the Liberal Democrats do not accept that. Not only have they caused us today to have a great raft of amendments which are now on the table but unsupported, but they also have a completely skewed idea of what regional assemblies will be about. All their arguments today seem to have been made under a completely false flag.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. Does she understand and accept that we take a degree of comfort from the Written Answer given to her noble friend Lord Caithness as far as additional powers are concerned?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, you may indeed. But those powers will have to come from somewhere if, indeed, they come. However, that is not exactly what is said in these words. I still believe that those words are prophetic; that they should be there; and that they give an outline to the whole of the proposals that are before us on whether a referendum is held on regional assemblies. Whether a referendum is successful on regional assemblies will depend, to a large extent, on what people understand those regional assemblies are going to do. As we have said, the Minister is always straightforward. I am prepared to accept what he saysthat there will be no new powers and no new money. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, having accepted the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, providing for a second referendum question, there are certain changes that we need to make to the Bill. First, we need to provide that both questions appear on the face of the Bill and that the text of the questions and preambles reflects the new reality that, in some parts of a region, voters will be faced with two questions. Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 do that.
The questions are, of course, inter-linked. It is important that voters understand that and, in voting for or against a regional assembly, or for a particular form of unitary local government, that they know the implications of voting in the way they do.
Amendment No. 16 changes the preamble to the first question on regional assemblies. It makes it clear, in particular, to voters in areas that already have unitary local government, that voters in other parts of the region are being asked a separate question about local government structure. It also makes it clear to those in two-tier areas that there is a second question.
Amendment No. 17 provides for that second question. It cannot do so in detail, as the options on which people will be asked to vote cannot be known until after the Boundary Committee has completed a local government review of the region. But it does provide for the form of the questionquite simply, that voters should be asked which of a number of options they prefer. It also provides a preamble which makes it clear that voters' choice of unitary structure will matter only if there is a "Yes" vote on the first
If those amendments are accepted by the House tonight, we shall write formally to the Electoral Commission about the questions and preambles. We shall listen carefully to their views and to the views expressed in the House tonight and, if necessary, we shall come forward with amendments at Third Reading to ensure that the questions for regional and local government referendums held under these provisions are clear and intelligible.
As I have already said, what we cannot do on the face of the Bill is to set out in detail the options with which voters will be faced in the second question. Amendment No. 17 therefore provides the Secretary of State with an order-making power, so that the detailed text of the options can be approved by Parliament before the referendum. It is highly likely, depending on the complexity of the reorganisation options, that we shall wantindeed, shall needto make available to voters at the time that they vote a certain amount of supporting material so that they can make sense of the options they are voting on. That is not material on the conduct of the referendum, which will be provided for separately. Instead, we are talking about material relating to unitary options that we might need to make available to voters along with their postal ballots and at polling stations; for example, maps showing the various options.
So the orders that we lay before Parliament will contain the text which will appear on the ballot paper and will detail the supporting material that will be available. Before laying such orders, we shall consult the Electoral Commission about its views on the intelligibility of the options to be inserted in the question and on the supporting material. We shall let Parliament know the views of the commission at the same time as we lay the order. These amendments are essential to the second referendum question. I beg to move.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the Minister has just said that the Electoral Commission will be given the question and the preambles in order to decide whether they are sufficiently clear for a voter to understand. He also said that the supporting material would be submitted. If the supporting material is in such an advanced state, would it be possible for noble Lords to see it before Third Reading, or before the Bill completes its passage through Parliament? If what we hear is right, that there is likely to be an announcement about the soundings and about the first, second or even third parts of the country that are likely to have a referendum on the basis of the evidence so far, that must mean that the supporting material is in a fit state to be seen. Can we see some copies of that?
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