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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the arrangements sound fairly complicated, especially if the options for local government are to be spelt out precisely. For example, in a large region many changes may be made to the boundaries of district as well as county councils. It will not simply be that " is abolished and Y is instituted. Many other changes would need to be understood. First, will those arrangements be approved by an order before Parliament? Will there be an order before Parliament to ascertain whether there will be separate ballot papers and what will be on them? Secondly, will the advice of the Electoral Commission be sought in terms of approving the arrangements?
Did the Minister really mean that the regional assembly vote is straightforward: that one is either for it or against it? During the previous debate, the noble Lord rightly made this point: that there is a link between whether one wants a regional assembly; and the price for having that regional assembly. There is a link between the two votes; one is linked with the other. The answer to a regional assembly vote could be "Yes" because one of the options is satisfactory, or "No" because the arrangements are not satisfactory. Simply being for or against a regional assembly is not entirely without complication. There is a link with the other question.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, we have the advantage of the first question in the Bill. That is a straightforward "Yes" or "No". The consequences will now be made clearer because of the second referendum. The alternative originally was to have a "Yes" or "No" and, in publications produced by the Government and others, to spell out that the consequences of having an elected regional assembly is single tier local government. In order to give a greater choice of options for the form of single tier local government, the situation is necessarily more complex.
The noble Baroness asks whether there will be an order. As we discussed yesterday, the order will be subject to the affirmative resolution including the text of the options to appear on the ballot paper and any extra information such as maps. The Electoral Commission's views will be sought and put before the House with the order. All these matters will come back to Parliament.
In order to make a rod for my own back I shall give an example. I had it ready to use yesterday but there was not a suitable time. I believe that it would be useful to have it on the record. I want to be as open as possible. I asked for an example of a region where there were some complicated optionsperhaps across a county boundary. I have chosen a region where I understand that the chamber has specifically requested not to be part of the first tranche. Whatever the soundingsI do not know what they arethe regional chamber of the West Midlands has said that it does not want a referendum; it does not want to be in the first tranche. I do not wish to refer to the two areas which we have always debated because I have to give examples of how the local structure might be joined together and it might mislead.
I hope that the example I give will help. Noble Lords may chastise me, saying that it was not helpful and it would have been better not to have known about it. The example is purely hypothetical. It does not mean that the West Midlands will be among the first regions to hold a referendum. I have stated that the chamber has asked that it should not be. Nor shall I say anything about the unitary structure of the West Midlands. That would be a matter for the Boundary Committee if it were asked to do a review of local government.
Let us suppose that following a review there is a set of recommendations for Worcestershire; that is, the area currently comprising of the district councils of Malvern Hills, Worcester, Wychavon, Wyre Forest, Bromsgrove and Redditch. The recommendations involve two options: the first for a single unitary authority based on the current county boundary; the second for two unitary authorities, one comprising the current districts of Malvern Hills, Worcester and Wychavon and another comprising the districts of Wyre Forest, Bromsgrove and Redditch. In this case, Worcestershire would be treated as the county area and voters in that area would vote for which of the two options they preferred. In similar circumstances, there would be separate votes also in Warwickshire, Shropshire and Staffordshire, the other county council areas of the West Midlands. I simply take the county of Worcestershire as an option.
Let us look at an alternative scenario in which two options are on the tablea single county unitary for Worcestershire and a two-unitary solutionbut where the two-unitary solution included the creation of an authority which crossed the county line and took in part or all of the area of the district of Stratford-on-Avon which is currently part of Warwickshire. There would also be other options on the table for Warwickshire in order to take account of that. The county area in this case would be the combined areas of Worcestershire
That is an example where the Boundary Committee may put forward an option which crosses a county boundary in the same region. We are not talking about regional boundaries. The option would be in the two-county area as opposed to the single county area and would be accompanied by maps and visuals. I hope that that is helpful to the House. It is intended to be so.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, with the leave of the House and before the noble Lord sits down, I found worrying one remark by the Minister. He said that he cited the region because the regional chambers had said that they did not wish to be in the first tranche. He said also that that does not mean that it will not be in the first trancheso it was not a good reason. That singles out the region in a worrying way. Had other regions known that, they may have been wise enough to have said, "We don't want to be in the first tranche either".
Lord Rooker: My Lords, the noble Baroness reads far too much into it. I asked officials yesterday morning for an example which would flesh out how the system would work. I asked specifically not to be given an example from the north-west or north-east region because we would have to give hypothetical details about which district might join with which in two areas which have been debated constantly since Second Reading. I asked for an area on which there has been no debate. As far as I know, there has been no hypothetical issues with regard to the West Midlands. Yorkshire and Humberside have been mentioned.
I read in the Birmingham PostI have had no correspondence with the chamberthat it had said, "We do not want to be part of the first tranche". It is a matter for the Deputy Prime Minister whether he follows that judgment depending on the soundings. I have no knowledge of the soundings. It is no good giving an example of invented names from a county which does not exist. One has to give examples of real places in order to explain how the system may work in one circumstance or another. I fail to see how one could give examples of other than real places. The example is purely hypothetical. It is based on an ad hoc arrangement. The Boundary Committee could put forward an entirely different arrangement. That is up to the Boundary Committee, not me or my officials.
I asked for an example of a scenario where the county line might be crossed. The county area has to be defined. It is a county council if it is within the one county. However, the Boundary Committee has flexibility to make sensible arrangements for single tier local government. It may say that in certain areas it is a good idea to cross a county boundary. What would be the consequences of that for people having a referendum on the local government issue? Please do
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall not read too much into it. The noble Lord has been extremely helpful. However, my noble friend Lady Seccombe may be put out by the remark that there was no mention of the West Midlands. My noble friend mentioned it in some detail in her Second Reading speech as did other noble Lords.
"(4A) Subsection (4B) applies if the Secretary of State makes an order under section (Local government referendums)(2) to cause a referendum to be held about the government's proposals for the structure of local government.
(4B) The Electoral Commission may take such steps as they think appropriate to provide for persons entitled to vote in the referendum such information as the Commission think is likely to promote awareness among those persons about the arguments relating to the options in those proposals."
Page 4, line 38, leave out "section 1" and insert "this Part"
Page 5, line 7, leave out subsection (3).