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Baroness Hanham: My Lords, as the amendments relate to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I am astonished that she has not risen to speak. As regards the question of whether those who live in the county and districts should be those entitled to vote in the election, I remain of the same view. We are in a difficult area, but, if we must carry on with this farce, I support the proposal that the only people who should be able to vote are council electors.

The concern that the county and district areas will be overwhelmed by the metropolitan areas relates to the first question, not the second. The question is whether a regional government could be forced on those in county and rural areas by the metropolitan areas, as a result of a vote on the referendum. The second question, drummed up by the Liberal Democrats, does not solve their problem, which they dealt with in Committee. It may respond to the Government's, but it does not respond to theirs. That is one of the reasons why I was very surprised to see the amendments that had been put forward. Those are my observations if we have to go ahead with this charade. I do not think I can add any more.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, perhaps I can help the noble Baroness. For people living in Berwick-upon-Tweed, as I do, if under the original system there

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had been a vote in a regional referendum, then all the people in the unitaries would have voted, and they would not have cared two hoots what reorganisation of government we had had in our area. Now, the people in Berwick-on-Tweed may have two or three options upon which they can personally vote in their area. Nobody in Newcastle is telling them that that is the sort of reorganisation that they have to have in local government.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, for explaining that rather more clearly than I could have done.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting moved Amendments Nos. 19 and 20:

    Page 2, line 37, leave out "subsection (1) is" and insert "subsections (1) and (1A) are"

    Page 3, line 3, at end insert—

"( ) County area must be construed in accordance with section (Local government referendums)."

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 5 [Referendums: frequency]:

Lord Rooker moved Amendment No. 21:

    Page 3, line 9, leave out "This section" and insert "Subsection (2)"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this group of amendments relate to the question of what happens in the event of a successful legal challenge to a local government referendum. Amendments Nos. 21 and 23 relate to Clause 5. Amendment 23 provides that if there were to be a successful challenge about the result of a local government referendum, then the Secretary of State would be able to order a repeat local government referendum to be held. However, a repeat regional referendum would not necessarily have to be held at the same time.

For example, it is possible to envisage a situation where the local government referendum in one county area is successfully challenged—but the overall results of the regional referendum is not in doubt because there is a majority in favour. However, the amendment would not allow a repeat regional referendum without local government referendums at the same time. That is because we believe that if there is a doubt about the outcome of what I will call referendum one, the key referendum, held across the whole region, there must also be doubt about the results of the local government referendums in parts of that region.

Subsections (3B), (3C), and (3F) of Amendment No. 23 ensure that the proposals set out in the Bill regarding local government referendums would apply to any such repeat referendums. Subsection (3D), however, only requires the Electoral Commission to comment on the intelligibility of the referendum question, or on the explanatory material provided for voters if they are different from the versions it commented on when the order for the original referendum was made. Subsection (3E) enables the order for a repeat local government referendum to be

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varied or revoked if the Secretary of State thinks that it is not appropriate for the referendum to be held on the date specified in the order.

Amendment No. 21 is consequential on Amendment No. 23. Amendments Nos. 38 and 40 relate to Clause 10. Together they ensure that the existing Clause 10 provisions also apply to local government referendums. I urge noble Lords to support these important and necessary amendments. They are absolutely fundamental to the changes that have taken place in the Bill. Having moved Amendment No. 21, I will move the other amendments in their appropriate places.

I am trying to save time and not repeat myself. I also want to enable a better understanding of this group of amendments. The implication of what I have said is that issues can be challenged in court. In our debate on Clause 10, the ouster clause, a view was taken that that might not be possible—although I said that it was up to the courts. There is no doubt that this is a complex legal area. We do not believe that the courts will remove themselves from examining serious challenges, but it is true that Clause 10 looks like a blanket ban, as we discussed in Committee. We shall therefore come back at Third Reading with an amendment relating not only to fraud, the subject of our debate in Committee, but to the type of legal challenges that can be made and the type of court which will have jurisdiction and/or a time limit for bringing proceedings.

Given the wider changes that the House has agreed today, it is important to make that point about Clause 10, although we have not yet reached it, on the basis of my comments on other amendments and on court challenges. At Third Reading, I shall put forward a government amendment to Clause 10. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I wish no disrespect to the Minister, but what he read and said in his extemporaneous comments is about as clear as mud. I spent a good deal of the weekend looking over this set of amendments and I intend to send it to the Plain English Campaign. I have never read such legal gobbledegook in my life.

I shall quote from just one paragraph. Subsection (3A) states:

    XIf an order is made under subsection (3B) any reference in this Act to a referendum held in pursuance of an order under section (Local government referendums) (2) or to the order must be construed as a reference to a referendum held in pursuance of an order under subsection (3B) or to the order under that subsection (as the case may be).

I do not know what that means. I read it, re-read it and applied it to the Bill. I am afraid that I did not understand it.

If the Minister is still telling me that the words on the page in Clause 10 state:

    "No court shall entertain any proceedings",

I take it literally that no court shall entertain any proceedings for those purposes. Therefore, when the Minister tables these amendments and says that they invalidate our understanding of Clause 10 and that the

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courts will be able to entertain proceedings of some or all complaints, I need a better explanation than the one he has just given.

The Minister spoke of challenges to the local government elections, but there may also be challenges to the assembly elections. It is not inconceivable that there is a challenge to the part of the referendum relating to soundings or the regional assembly elections. Given that we are told by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, that there are two separate referendums in order to establish answers to the two different questions—albeit that they may take place on the same day—it is possible that either or both will be challenged. They may be challenged in a particular electoral area, or throughout the whole regional area, or co-operatively or separately, but that there may be a challenge is beyond doubt. To date, there have been challenges in local and national government and European elections.

I do not understand what is proposed in the Marshalled List, nor do I understand what the Minister said in his explanation. We are fortunate in having Explanatory Notes to the Bill, but we are unfortunate in having no explanatory notes of these amendments. As regards their knock-on effect to Clause 10, I really do not understand that.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, perhaps I may intervene on that point. There appears to be a fundamental misunderstanding here. Clause 10, the ouster clause, which has appeared in all the other Bills, applies only to referendums. It has nothing to do with the elections of people. The noble Baroness referred to assembly elections, which concern people being elected. First, under election law, there is a normal process for any challenge to election proceedings. Secondly, a separate Bill will come to the House. Thus for the noble Baroness to join up her fair argument and dispute over the ouster clause with the assembly elections has got to be a non starter. The ouster clause is unique to referendums for the reasons I have already explained and the reasons set out by other Ministers when the other Bills were debated.

Results from referendums bring up certain consequences; namely, the setting up of new bodies, the introduction of legislation and so forth. So there is no connection whatever between Clause 10, the ouster clause, and what might happen in the elections to the assembly. This is unique to referendums.

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