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Lord Rooker: My Lords, I do not know what vote and what debate has taken place in Cheshire County Council to substantiate that. But that is not the point. Local authorities provide evidence and service committees, public inquiries, planning appeals and parliamentary boundary reviews. It is part and parcel of the function of local government. They decide how they want to present their case and they control the costs. It is not a matter that the Government should underwrite.

If there is a "No" vote—

Lord Waddington: My Lords, I am sorry to come back—

Noble Lords: No!

Lord Waddington: My Lords, no, let me put my question first. Surely, it is plainly inaccurate to say that the local authority controls the cost. The local authority is obliged to service the Boundary Committee once the Minister has said that there is to be a boundary review. There is nothing voluntary about it. Those costs are incurred directly as a result of the decision of the Secretary of State that there should be a referendum and therefore there has to be a boundary review.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, is out of order in making a second speech—indeed, a third speech—without asking the leave of the House. This is Report stage. If he has questions to ask the Minister, he must ask them after the Minister has finished. I have checked the Companion and that is the rule.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I do not know all the rules, but the fact is that I cannot alter the answer. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, does not like the answer, but I cannot give it any other way. The local authorities are in charge of the costs of what they do as regards the boundary review. They decide how strong a case they will make, the costs of the briefs and what they will do in terms of submissions. That is wholly within their control and it is not a matter for the Government.

I hope that this is taken on board because it will happen whatever Minister is around at the time. The Government will issue a statement about the powers and the options for local government reorganisation. This amendment does not provide for everything in any event. The local government options are important but the statement proposed by the amendment would include costs incurred by the Boundary Committee.

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Those costs will be known, but what is the relevance of the costs of the Boundary Committee to whether voters want an elected assembly?

It may be interesting to have the information, but that factor will not weigh upon whether the voter votes for an elected assembly. The money will have been spent anyway and having the information will not mean that the voter can vote to stop the expenditure. He cannot change the decision. Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, the costs have been incurred and the money spent. I cannot therefore see the relevance of having them.

I would not nit-pick over everything. Not every situation is contained in the amendment and I suspect that by the time the amendment was tabled the Government's proposal to accept the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, yesterday would not have been known. The menu could therefore have been extended.

I can assure the House that all reasonable information required to allow voters to make an informed, mature choice as to whether they want to vote for an elected regional assembly will be made available. It will be based on the powers and functions of the assembly, its size, consequences of local government reorganisation and so forth. Perhaps not all the necessary consequences of costs will be included, but certainly it will include what will happen to the local government in their area.

Along with what the assembly will do, and its powers, those are the matters that voters will want to know about before they decide whether they want a new structure—a new political animal, if you like. Voters will want us to keep our eye on the ball and address the main issues so that they can make informed choices. They will not want to be driven down the road of decision-making with 20-odd paragraphs detailing what the Boundary Committee may have spent on cups of tea or cakes and biscuits. All that is totally irrelevant and demeans the value of holding a referendum on such an important issue. I hope, therefore, that the amendment will not be pressed.

The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, perhaps I may thank the Minister for having kicked enough people to enable me to receive the reply that I have been seeking. It has taken since 17th March for the department to regurgitate four paragraphs from the White Paper, which tell me nothing.

However, when it comes to powers, one other paragraph in the reply may interest noble Lords. Discussions have been held with regard to flood defence arrangements. I can tell your Lordships that those powers are not to be transferred to the regional assemblies.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, in responding to this amendment the noble Lord said that the one thing the

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Government are not doing is starving public services of money. I invite the Minister to talk to headteachers up and down the land.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, let me complete my remarks. The Government have talked about a "headline" sum of money exceeding, it is true, the rate of inflation that has been made available to education. What they have not taken into account is the cost of the 1 per cent increase in national insurance contributions, the massive additional sums employers are being forced to contribute to pensions for teachers, the incremental drift that is in place as a result of policies introduced by this Government, and new burdens on local government. None of those costs has been taken into account. I believe that noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches may agree with that point. No doubt they, too, have been hearing from schools right across the country, as I have done. If any more money is to be made available other than to provide a neutral effect to implement these policies, then that would come from public services.

The noble Lord said that the main purpose of the amendment was to introduce delay. If giving information to the people who require it and if giving that information at the outset of the exercise so that they are in a position to understand the nature of the animal for which they are going to have to make sacrifices is regarded as a delaying tactic, then that is his view. As he has done on a number of occasions already, the noble Lord will admit that once it has been determined that a region shall hold a referendum for a regional assembly, the exercise to be undergone will be long, painful and expensive. People need to know for what it is that they are going through all that. If they do not have that information at the beginning of the exercise, then it would be a confidence trick not to give it to them until the point at which they are about to vote.

My noble friends Lord Peyton and Lord Caithness have been extremely patient. They have talked about powers and responsibilities on a number of occasions. I can tell the Minister that we have read and re-read the summary document and every single word of the White Paper. I turn to that document in my effort to seek answers. I do so because the one thing that these documents do not give us are answers to the questions that we have asked relentlessly throughout our debates on the Bill and will continue to ask until it has passed through this House.

I have mentioned previously paragraph 3 of the summary to Chapter 4, which states that:

    XAssemblies will be given a range of powers to help them to deliver these strategies".

We have made the specific point: give examples of actual powers that will be passed down from national government to the regions; powers that are freestanding to do things and to determine them.

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However, qualifications are added to that statement. Box 4.1 in Chapter 4 states that,

    Xskills and employment—which will set out how an assembly and its partners will improve the skills of the workforce and ensure that everybody has access to job opportunities".

That is a function of the county councils, the learning and skills councils, the sector skills councils, the national Learning and Skills Council, the national council for sector skills and some local authorities—not including job centres and so forth. What specific power will the new assembly be given? Will it have the power to second-guess, or perhaps the power to make all those bodies do its bidding? What will be the powers?

I turn to transport. Box 4.1 states,

    Xtransport—which will spell out plans to address congestion, improve public transport and road links, and ensure that the transport system supports sustainable economic growth".

That is a function of the county councils and, where they have the appropriate responsibilities, the unitary authorities. Will the new assemblies second-guess those bodies, will they take powers from them or will they do something else?

In regard to waste management, Box 4.1 states,

    Xwaste—which will set targets and indicators for regional waste management capacity and disposal, including for the recycling and recovery of waste".

Waste management is a county council and a unitary authority function. It is not a national function; it is a local government function.

I turn now to housing. Members on the Liberal Democrat Benches find this amusing, although they are supposed to care about local government. Box 4.1 states,

    Xhousing—which will deal with all aspects of the housing market and social housing in the region".

That is a function of district councils and, in part, a function of county councils—as well as, of course, unitary authorities where they exist.

My final example is health improvement, on which Box 4.1 states,

    Xhealth improvement—setting out a long-term public health strategy, which assemblies will agree with the relevant Regional Directors of Public Health".

There is already in place a long-term strategy for health matters throughout the regions of the country. What form is the new strategy to take? Furthermore, we have in place the primary care trusts and the regional strategic authorities. What will their functions be if the new regional assemblies are going to second-guess them? What powers will the regional assemblies be given in respect of this area?

Those voting for this amendment will be voting for information to be made available before an order is made so that, throughout the reorganisation exercise, the nature of the regional assembly, its powers, functions and predicted costs will be made known.

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That guarantee will be put on to the face of the Bill which will require the Deputy Prime Minister and/or his replacement to honour that commitment.

Those who vote against the amendment will be denying any guarantee that such information will be made available to the people who really matter; the people in the regions.

3.57 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 24) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 114; Not-Contents, 164.

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