Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 440 - 459)

TUESDAY 4 DECEMBER 2001

RT HON NICK RAYNSFORD, MP

  440. I see. Would the written answer include something like whether the Electoral Commission is going to decide the fairness of the question on whether or not we should enter the euro?
  (Mr Raynsford) Our objective is the Electoral Commission as an independent body should determine the wording of referenda questions.

  441. Of all referenda questions?
  (Mr Raynsford) Of referenda relating to national government and, therefore, the European issue.

  442. That would include whether or not we should enter the euro?
  (Mr Raynsford) Yes.

  443. Thank you. The new Funding Limits introduced at the last election, did they make a lot of different to the amount of money spent by political parties?
  (Mr Raynsford) At this stage I could not give you a firm answer on that.

  444. You do not want to reduce the amount of party spending on electoral campaigns?
  (Mr Raynsford) We want to ensure there is a framework in place that does ensure that parties can fulfill their obligations in a fair way and that funds are raised in a way which does not bring political parties or the government into disrepute.

  445. You would look at the situation where the rise in cost almost inevitably means that political parties are more and more dependent on large donors?
  (Mr Raynsford) This is a matter the Electoral Commission will be looking into and we will obviously look closely at their conclusions.

  446. Will you look at the provision to ensure that individuals makes absolutely clear that their names and address on electoral registers are not sold on?
  (Mr Raynsford) There has been a recent judgment in the Robertson case which obviously has a considerable impact on that process. We are considering the judgment and will be responding appropriately in the near future.

  447. We can expect some clear guidelines. We can expect some thought as to how the costs of elections are reduced and we can certainly expect that government will have given considerable thought to the implication of changes that were made?
  (Mr Raynsford) As far as the sale of election registers are concerned we were planning to issue regulations with effect from the compilation of the next register, however the Robertson judgment does impact on that and we want to consider the judgment fully before we announce our intentions.

  448. I see. At some point in the not too far distant future somebody will tell us what is going to happen?
  (Mr Raynsford) Yes.

  449. When are you going to reduce the number of Scottish constituencies?
  (Mr Raynsford) That is not part of my remit.

  450. Who will take that decision?
  (Mr Raynsford) That would not be a matter for me as an English minister.

  451. It will be the United Kingdom Parliament, presumably Britain is still part of the United Kingdom and you would have some view on that matter and would express some view on behalf of the English constituency?
  (Mr Raynsford) I obviously will on behalf of the English constituency as and when any proposals are put forward, but I would not see it as my role to initiate that.

  452. I see. The Sex Discrimination Election Candidate Bill started its passage through Parliament, are you introducing legislation to redress an ethnic balance?
  (Mr Raynsford) We do not plan to introduce legislation, not because we do not regard the issue as important, we regard it as very important, but because there is not the same relatively easy response as there is in the case of gender imbalance, where one can see very clearly if there is an imbalance. Measuring whether there is appropriate representation of sub-sections of the population in particular areas is more complex. What we are trying to do is encourage local authorities to ensure that they are, wherever possible, responding to the needs of different communities and giving opportunities to representatives of different communities to stand and be elected as councillors.

  453. I see. You are not concerned that the new Sex Discrimination Bill is going to change United Kingdom law, although you are still not at all clear as to whether we are enabled under EC legislation to put forward a policy of positive discrimination?
  (Mr Raynsford) We are very satisfied that the proposals contained in the legislation will allow political parties to introduce positive action measures in the United Kingdom that will help to redress the gender imbalance. It will be for the political parties themselves to satisfy themselves that the particular mechanism they adopt is appropriate. We obviously expect them to take legal advice, a point I made frequently during the parliamentary passage.

  454. You are going to take the decision in principle and let everyone else work out the detail.
  (Mr Raynsford) It is permissive legislation which does not require political parties to do anything, it gives them the opportunity to do so. We, obviously being prudent, suggest that they should consider carefully whether the remedy they are proposing is proportionate to the problem and, therefore, whether it is likely to withstand any potential legal challenge.

  455. Presumably your department gave very careful consideration to the European legislation on something so massively important?
  (Mr Raynsford) Yes, indeed

  456. What was your advice?
  (Mr Raynsford) Our conclusion was that the framework we put in place in that legislation was likely to be successful in allowing political parties to ensure the selection of more women candidates without the risk of legal challenge.

  457. "Likely", obviously it would be open to challenge. That is an interpretation.
  (Mr Raynsford) The world is a litigious place and I cannot guarantee the likelihood of there not being a challenge to a specific proposal coming from a political party.

  Mrs Dunwoody: Do you remember the time we used to produce legislation which we assumed was not going to be open to challenge? Never mind, that is a rhetorical question.

Miss McIntosh

  458. There is a problem with the formula and the way that it is currently drafted as regards social services. If I can take North Yorkshire as an example, at the moment the expenditure on social services, particularly for the elderly, is estimated for those living in the county who are destined to reach retirement age of 65 having lived in the county all their lives, my understanding is that the formula does not have regard to those who move into counties like North Yorkshire at retirement age. Why is there particularly a shortfall in certain councils on social services spend on the elderly? Is that something that your department is looking at?
  (Mr Raynsford) There are a number of specific issues relating to the social services budget which have been raised and these are all being considered very carefully as part of the review that will continue through until next year and will form the basis of our proposals for the new social services formula as part of the new framework for grant distribution.

Mrs Dunwoody

  459. Can you not tell us how much money is spent on local government modernisation?
  (Mr Raynsford) I can write and let you have the full detailed figures.


 
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