Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: I did not deal with that question because the White Paper sets out in some details the proposed electoral system for the assemblies. We plan to adopt the member system form of proportional representation for assembly elections.

Baroness Blatch: I am sorry to persist, but that is relevant to the amendment. The elections are either direct elections or they are partly direct elections. That should be the Government's answer, not that the public do not understand. We should not patronise the public in this way.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: Our intention is to make our instructions for the electorate as clear as possible. I argued that if the word "directly" is introduced, the electorate will find it confusing. I do not think that that is patronising.

The Earl of Onslow: Are people so stupid that they do not understand the word "directly"? I may have only five O-levels but I understand the word "directly" and I am no more intelligent, clever or better educated

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1493

than the vast majority of the British electorate. Of course they can understand. To patronise them in this way is not very attractive.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: We are proceeding down a cul-de-sac. We are proposing the same language as has been used for Wales, Scotland and the London Assembly.

Baroness Blatch: These are not the same bodies as the London, Welsh or Scottish parliaments.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: Of course they are not the same but the electoral system is the same.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I am not sure whether the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is about to wind up. However, in light of the Minister's remarks, given the second line of the Prime Minister's preface to the White Paper in which he says,


    "It delivers on our Manifesto commitment to provide for directly elected regional assemblies in those regions that want them",

it is a little surprising that the Government should be so infirm of purpose that they refuse an amendment to the Bill which refers to "directly".

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: That is amusing. Things have moved on since the Prime Minister made his introduction. We have taken advice from various sources including the Electoral Commission which is absolutely happy with what we propose.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I do not understand why the Minister makes such a fuss about it. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, put it well when he asked, "Are people stupid?" People are not stupid. The electorate are much wiser and more knowledgeable than politicians think. People know that direct elections mean that they go to a polling booth or have a postal or proxy vote and they put a cross against a name. That is what direct elections mean to the general population.

It could mean something different to the politically aware. For example, it could mean to local authorities—it may make regional assemblies more acceptable to them—that election means any kind of election, direct or indirect. In other words, the local authorities would elect members to the regional assemblies. They would still be elected but they would not have been elected directly by the Government. It sounds like a niggling point but it is very important.

Perhaps I may refer to the Royal Commission on Local Government and my service on the Association of Municipal Corporations' reorganisation of local government committee. It proposed that the provinces should be elected from among the local authorities. So there is a difference. It is understood in political circles. So far as concerns the electorate, "direct elections" mean that they go to the polling stations and put a cross on the ballot paper.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: We are left with the problem that there is no definition of "directly

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1494

elected". We have consulted with expert bodies whose advice is that it would be confusing to use the word when talking about regional assemblies. At the risk of boring noble Lords, I have to repeat that we are proposing exactly the same electoral system for regional assemblies as has been used for the Welsh, Scottish and London assemblies.

Baroness Hanham: Perhaps the Minister will be kind enough to direct my attention to the difference between what is proposed now and paragraph 4.22 on page 38 which states:


    "The Regional Development Agencies will become directly accountable to the relevant elected assembly".

I am not sure of the difference.

Lord Skelmersdale: Before the Minister answers, although I am not a lawyer and have not been trained as a lawyer, I have learned over many years in your Lordships' House that in the absence of a definitions clause the courts take the view that words in Acts of Parliament have their natural meaning. It is obvious that in this instance the natural meaning is right, common sense and direct. I understand that there is no proposal for having indirect elections in these assemblies.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: The noble Lord is right. The meaning was precisely the same for elections for Scotland and England. There was no need for any embellishment. Everyone appears to have understood the situation.

Baroness Blatch: Although Parliament approved those Acts of Parliament there was a great deal of disagreement on the Bill. We had similar debates to our present discussion. Paragraph 4.29 on page 39 states:


    "The assembly will appoint two members to each of the Boards of the local learning and skills councils . . . in its region, one of whom will have a business background, and will be consulted on other appointments".

Whatever the meaning of "directly elected" or "elected", in the area from which I come it is possible to have 25 members without one of them being a business person. How is it possible to make a business person's appointment to the local learning and skills councils if he or she has not been elected, directly or otherwise?

Earl Ferrers: I wish to come to the help of the Minister. Every single speaker has spoken in favour of including the words "directly elected". The Minister is keen to keep to his brief and he has been well advised, but it would not do any harm if he were gracious enough to say, "I will consider it". There is no harm or humiliation in that, and it would be a gesture to the Committee, suggesting that the Minister will at least

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1495

consider what has been said. If, after consideration, he decides that his original view was right, he can stick to it.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: I am grateful for that suggestion, and I accept it.

Baroness Hamwee: I am grateful for that acceptance, but I must respond to three points. I should declare an interest, because I regard myself as a directly elected member of the London Assembly—elected through the additional member system on the so-called London-wide list. I distinguish that from a previous position, when, as member of the London Planning Advisory Committee, I was indirectly elected. I had been elected to a London borough, and, as a member of the borough, I was nominated as a member of the London Planning Advisory Committee. I regard my responsibilities as a London-wide directly elected member of the London Assembly—

Baroness Seccombe: I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. Was she not directly elected by her party, rather than by the wider population?

Baroness Hamwee: I would not have become a member of the London Assembly had not the wider population—the electorate—voted for my party. I accept that the systems are different, but the electorate had the opportunity to vote for members who ended up as London-wide list members. I admit that the system is by no means easy for the electorate to follow, which is one of my difficulties with it.

The Earl of Onslow: Before the noble Baroness sits down—

Baroness Hamwee: I am nowhere near sitting down.

The Earl of Onslow: Should the elected hereditary Peers who have spoken declare whether they were directly or indirectly elected?

Baroness Hamwee: I shall leave that question hanging.

My second point is more serious and relates to the amendment more directly. The distinction between the proposals in this Bill and the measures made in relation to London, Wales and Scotland is that, when the referendums took place, no other assembly or body could be confused with the one about to be elected.

Finally, I understand that one must be careful with language and I take the Minister's point about there being no definition of "directly elected". I shall try to resist the temptation to return with such a definition. The preamble, which is intended to be straightforward and non-legalistic, refers to "central government bodies". Is that term defined anywhere? Perhaps we may take this matter forward before the next stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1496

4.15 p.m.

Lord Greaves moved Amendment No. 4:


    Page 1, line 7, at end insert "after the Boundary Committee for England have reviewed the numbers and boundaries of the regions specified in Schedule 1 to the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998 (c. 45) and reported their recommendations to the Secretary of State"

The noble Lord said: I return to the theme of the debate on Amendment No. 1 on regional boundaries. During that debate, we showed that we had considerable sympathy with the case made from the Conservative Front Bench. The boundaries of existing regions are not necessarily the boundaries that would command greatest support from the people in those regions in a referendum, and mechanisms should be available for changes to be made to boundaries.

The amendments offer three different options for consideration, which we believe are more straightforward and workable than the option suggested in Amendment No. 1.

Amendment No. 4 is similar to Amendment No. 1, but simpler. It would require the Boundary Committee for England to review,


    "the numbers and boundaries of the regions specified in Schedule 1 to the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998".

The Minister will say that that would cause delay, which is true. However, in most cases, delays will occur anyway.

There is no suggestion that referendums will be held in the majority of English regions, and it is far from clear from our information that referendums in any English region can be won. There is a general view that a referendum might be won in the North East, but I am far from certain that a referendum would be won in the North West on the basis of existing government proposals. Those who believe that it will be a walkover are living in cloud cuckoo land.

If there is concern about regional boundaries, it would be more sensible for the concern to be aired before the referendums take place. The amendment would allow that to happen.

The other options are less severe. The option set out in Amendment No. 25 would allow a division of a region,


    "into two or more areas",

if the Secretary of State believed that to be sensible.

The amendment would allow Cornwall, for example, to be treated separately from the rest of the South West region. If a referendum for a regional assembly is to be won in the South West, the Cornish question must be treated head-on. People in Cornwall feel strongly about the question, and there is an active campaign for a Cornish assembly, called the Cornish Assembly Campaign. There is little support in Cornwall for a South West Assembly, based on the Bristol-based South West region, of which Cornwall would be part.

What would happen if people voted "Yes" overall in a referendum in the South West region, but there was a substantial "No" vote in Cornwall? Presumably the vote would be known on more than just an aggregate

13 Mar 2003 : Column 1497

basis—it would be known how different areas had voted. What would the democratic legitimacy be for that arrangement? Would it not set in train a series of tensions and problems in Cornwall and the new assembly? So our second option would allow the Secretary of State, where it was sensible, to say, "It is obvious that opinion in that area is that the region should be divided". It would allow referendums to proceed on that basis.

Amendment No. 142 allows the Secretary of State to vary the boundaries of a region before a referendum. So if the Cumbrian question were thought crucial and soundings there suggested that it should be detached from the North West region, the amendment would allow it to stand alone or to be added to the North East. We think that tackling these matters before they become real problems—lancing the boil and getting sensible solutions—is likely to lead to much more sensible regional government in the long run. I beg to move.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page