Examination of Witness (Questions 240
TUESDAY 4 DECEMBER 2001
240. What evidence is there from the ordinary
man and woman in the street?
(Mr Raynsford) This will be one of the issues that
will be tested in the referendum which is why the Government have
been absolutely clear that there must be endorsement through a
referendum of all the electors if this is to proceed, but I have
to say that it is not only the people with a vested interest who
I have met. I have met people with very different points of view,
but I have to say that I have noticed in the northern regions
of the country a greater appetite for regional assemblies than
I have in other regions of the country.
241. If you do not define how many people constitutes
an adequate response, you could get an extremely low turnout which
just happened to produce a yes rather than a no result and you
are telling us you would go ahead on that basis?
(Mr Raynsford) No, that is one of the issues that
will be covered in the White Paper, but I did point out the equal
and opposite problems that flow from setting an arbitrary threshold
which can result in the democratic wish of people being frustrated
because they did not meet that threshold, even though there was
a clear majority in favour of that option.
242. So you are telling us that there will be
a threshold but that you are now wrestling with the problems of
what would be the appropriate threshold.
(Mr Raynsford) No, I am not saying that there will
be a threshold at all. The issue of whether there will be a threshold
is one of the issues that will be covered in the White Paper.
We did not have a threshold for Scotland, Wales or Greater London,
so that might be seen as a precedent. We do not have a threshold
for election to this House, even though some members are elected,
particularly in by-elections, on very, very low percentages. I
think that is something that has to be borne in mind.
Sir Paul Beresford
243. Will the referendum be a one-off in each
region or will there be repeats until such time as you have achieved
(Mr Raynsford) There is no purpose in that sense other
than to give each region of the country the opportunity, if it
so wishes, to have a referendum on this subject. That will involve
a trigger mechanism, as I have mentioned, and that clearly will
have to be considered and will be considered in the White Paper,
but it will depend on the region voting in favour of it. If there
is a vote against, there will then obviously need to be some terms
limiting opportunities for repeat votes which would be unnecessary
or counterproductive in terms of time and effort and again we
will consider in the White Paper whether there should be a limitation
244. In that case, what about a referendum the
(Mr Raynsford) The objective will be to establish
the opportunity for regional assemblies where people wish to have
it. If they do not wish to have it, they will vote against in
the referendum and there will not be a regional assembly.
245. What happens if, say, after three years,
the people want to get rid of it? They will not have the chance.
(Mr Raynsford) That is the consequence of voting for
a structure and people will be aware of that when they cast their
vote in the same way as in Scotland and Wales when they voted
for having a parliament or assembly, they were aware that that
was the consequence.
246. Is there going to be a referendum in every
(Mr Raynsford) Referendums will be held where the
region indicates through an appropriate trigger mechanism which
will be covered in the White Paper.
247. Through a referendum?
(Mr Raynsford) My difficulty, as you will know, is
that, until the White Paper is published, I cannot obviously give
248. So there will not automatically be one
in each region?
(Mr Raynsford) There will not necessarily be a referendum
in each region, no, because if there is not a triggering of the
wish for a referendum, no referendum will be held. A referendum
will be held where people locally, through the appropriate trigger
mechanism that we establish in the White Paper, indicate a wish
to have a referendum.
249. In terms of boundaries, are they going
to be, as per the RDA boundaries, any changes to be considered?
(Mr Raynsford) This is another controversial issue
which will be covered in the White Paper. There is a strong presumption
in favour of working within existing boundaries because the consequences
of opening up the issue of whether boundaries should be changed
is clearly a very controversial one. When I was in Cumbria recently,
there were some people who were strong advocates of Cumbria remaining
associated with the north-west and others who felt that part of
Cumbria might more appropriately lie with the north-east. The
conclusion that I came to from my discussions was that the northern
part of Cumbria probably felt more comfortable with the north-east
and the southern part broadly more comfortable with the north-west.
250. So what was your solution, Minister?
(Mr Raynsford) I had no solution but our White Paper
will set out the framework in which we intend to proceed.
Mrs Dunwoody: As to that, we will think of it
in the future!
251. There are a number of problems, are there
(Mr Raynsford) Yes.
252. Devon and Cornwall think they are in a
different country let alone region.
(Mr Raynsford) Exactly.
253. And I have in mind Sheffield where the
regional boundary goes slap bang through a travel to work area
which is not the most sensible way for a region to approach planning,
(Mr Raynsford) I agree that there are inevitably anomalies
and the south-east is probably the greatest of all where there
are very real questions as to what does constitute a viable region
in the south-east. However, as I indicated, the opening up of
these questions is a veritable Pandora's Box which could entirely
divert energy and attention from the main issue into a great deal
of squabbling which would be reminiscent of the activities of
the Banham years in terms of local government reorganisation.
254. That is something that I was very much
involved in and there was confusion at the time which emanated
from lack of direction through central government.
(Mr Raynsford) Exactly.
255. And that certainly did not give me any
encouragement that we have changed our tactics.
(Mr Raynsford) I have indicated that this issue will
be covered in the White Paper but, as you would expect, I am not
free to reveal the contents of that White Paper before it is published.
Mrs Dunwoody: Even if you knew what they were!
256. From what you are saying, we can obviously
assume that we are going to have regional government in some parts
of England and not in others.
(Mr Raynsford) Yes.
257. That is almost an inevitable consequence.
So effectively we are going to have the West Lothian question
with knobs on.
(Mr Raynsford) No, there will be regional government
in all regions but whether it is regional government through an
elected regional assembly will depend on the decision of the regions
through a referendum, so there will need to beand this
is one of the other crucial issues for our White Paperarrangements
to ensure that Government's relations with those regions that
do not opt for regional assemblies do not disadvantage those regions
in terms of access to the resources and the support which regions
can rightly expect from the Government, but there will be a different
relationship where there is an elected regional assembly.
258. So there will be questions in future when
ministers come to the House to answer questions or make statements
or whatever they do where they are speaking for some of the English
regions but, in other cases, those regions will be dealing with
matters themselves and ministers will not actually have responsibility.
(Mr Raynsford) That is one of the slightly messy consequences
of a programme of devolution and of course that applies equally
in relation to Wales and Scotland.
259. It is going to be messy because you will
have a minister in one department, an English department, with
differing responsibilities for different parts of the country.
(Mr Raynsford) I know that the bureaucrat would produce
an ideally structured pattern which was consistent in every region.
Sadly, that does not actually relate to the wishes and aspirations
of the people of our islands who have made it very clear that
they wish to enjoy a measure of devolution in Scotland and Wales
and we are extending that opportunity to English regions.