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Baroness Blatch: Does the noble Lord accept that what he has just said causes huge anxiety? We have tried to make sense of the White Paper. The Government are not able to give details of what the relevant phrases in the White Paper mean. When I spoke on the amendment earlier I referred to certain words in the White Paper and asked what they meant. The Minister simply tells us to wait for the referendum, which is possibly a year or more awayI do not blame him as, clearly, the matter also involves the department and the Deputy Prime Ministerdepending on when the Deputy Prime Minister comes to Parliament to say that there will be a referendum in a particular part of the country. However, we want to know what pages 58 to 62 of the document mean and what the powers comprise.
The Minister has not yet referred to the point that we raised this morning with regard to the power that he mentioned on Second Reading; that is, a power to the assembly from national government, which turned out on reflection not to be a power. Is he able to give us examples of powers that will be transferred from central government to regional assemblies? I refer to powers and not to parts to play in the process or influence on it or a duty to promote the results of it. Will the Minister tell us what the words mean? It is important that we understand that. If the Government cannot tell us that until a referendum takes place, we are travelling blind with the Bill.
The Earl of Caithness: In the hope that if I intervene the Fifth Cavalry might come to the help of the Minister, I hope that he will consider answering my question about our being able to debate functions before they are put to a referendum, and whether we can alter them before such a referendum takes place.
Lord Rooker: I repeat that we are dealing with a Bill that paves the way for the referendum. The referendum is well over 12 months away at the earliest. I am asked to dissect the White Paper in detail. Amendment No. 5 requires us to publish a draft Bill before we proceed with the referendum. Frankly, if I accept the amendmentwhich I cannot do for the reasons I have explainedI suspect that Members of the Committee would then ask what would be in the draft Bill and I would still be in the same position. The Committee will have to wait until it is available as we are talking about a matter that is more than 12 months away.
I cannot give precise detailed answers to all of the questions that have been asked as regards relations between the assemblies and Brussels and the Council of the Regions. I refer to Chapter 8 of the document. That is as far as we have gone publicly. I have nothing further to add. I do not have to wait for the cavalry. I have nothing further to say about Chapter 8. Before the electorate vote whether or not to have an elected regional assembly, we shall be in a position to address the powers and responsibilities that we are discussing at least in summary form and, at best, in a draft Bill. As I said, I have not ruled out a draft Bill. It is purely a question of not committing to a certain timetable so far in advance. I cannot give that commitment.
Baroness Hanham: I thank the Minister for that response. He is in some difficulty here as I do not think that anyone has thought through how the public will be advised on the matter. My heart goes out to the Minister as I believe that he is struggling where he should not have to.
At the moment the Government are relying on the population having read the White Paper. If the Government think that people have read the White Paper, they are living in Cloud-cuckoo-land. No one reads White Papers except politicians and a few other people who need to know something about them. Therefore, the Government cannot rely on that. The Government cannot rely on the White Paper anyway as the White Paper does not spell out in detail what regional assemblies will do or what their powers and structures will be.
We have learnt today that a regional assembly is not a local authority. Therefore, it must be something else. But the situation vis-a-vis regional assemblies is not the same as that which pertains in Scotland, Wales or London. We need to know what a regional assembly is
I appreciate that this is meant to be paving legislation but it requires people to know what the matter is all about. I do not think that it is good enough simply to say rather airily that the relevant details will be made known before the referendum takes place. If they are as clear as the text of the White Paper, no one will understand them. As I said before, this matter needs to be discussed by Parliament. The powers and structures need to be scrutinised by Parliament to enable Members to determine what they will involve before they are voted upon by the electorate. I have referred to a pig in a poke. I say again that the electorate are being sold a pig in a poke if they are not given a proper account of what they are voting for.
Recently I visited the north of England. What is being said there about what regional assemblies will do bears absolutely no relation to what the Minister said today. High flown views are being expressed about how the assemblies will act and about all the wonderful things that they will do. That is happening because there is a vacuum and it will continue as long as that vacuum persists.
I shall withdraw the amendment today but I advise the Minister that I shall return to the matter as it constitutes a serious part of the paving Bill. To expect the country, or any part of it, even to vote whether it wants a regional assembly when it does not know what a regional assembly will do is thoroughly dishonest. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 3, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 30. With Amendment No. 3 we come to the second line of the text. I think I can promise the Committee that this debate will be shorter than those on the previous groups of amendments, possibly even the shortest on the whole Bill.
I propose that the assemblies be referred to not just as elected assemblies but as directly elected assemblies. I propose that phrase also in the question to be posed to the electorate under Clause 2.
At present there are bodies that are known as assemblies. Strictly they are regional chambers established under the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998, but I believe that all of them now refer to themselves as assemblies. They may not be the best known bodies in their regions although they are not unknown by any means. Their role may well adopt a higher profile as the debate continues. It is best to avoid as much confusion as possible. As we have said, there is enough confusion already without adding to it. I seek to avoid the possibility of those who oppose the
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: In speaking to the amendment, I shall try to be as brief as the noble Baroness. The amendment seeks to clarify that the regional assemblies will be directly elected. I assure noble Lords that that is the Government's clear intention. I understand the argument that it might be helpful to make it clearer in the referendum question and preamble that the assemblies will be directly elected. But the issue is not as simple as putting in a single word. I understand that nowhere in electoral law is "direct election" specifically defined. More importantly, I am not convinced how helpful it would be in practice to voters in the polling booth. I think that all voters understand what an elected assembly means but would the meaning of "directly elected" be clear to them? I fear that the amendment raises more questions than answers. I believe that it would be better to explain clearly in our statement before the referendum the intended voting system. Therefore, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment and not to move Amendment No. 30.
Baroness Blatch: The White Paper suggests a list system. Are the Government able to say "directly elected"? Some people will be directly elected and others will be elected as top-up members among the party. It is not that the population would not understand but that the Government do not intend that there should be wholly direct elections.
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