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The Earl of Caithness: The Minister is absolutely right to say that the maps have been put forward in the White Paper. However, as my noble friend Lady Hanham said, there are very few people outside this Chamber and outside local government who have actually read it. My question to the Minister is: how is the Secretary of State going to make certain that all those who are involved in a referendum know the full extent of the boundary and of what will happen?
I return to the boundary of the South East area, which I know well. How will the Secretary of State ensure that the people who vote in the boundary area know that the South East region goes right round to Margate? That question relates to this amendment.
While I am on my feet, will the Minister at some stage answer my question about functions in relation to Amendment No. 2, to which he has not yet replied? That is crucial to our future consideration of the Bill. Perhaps he could do so some time later today.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: Is the Minister going to reply to orperhaps I should put it this wayis he able to reply to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, and myself about the implications of the Bill in relation to the European Union?
Lord Rooker: I apologise to noble Lords. It may be my fault, but I am working from this publication, Your Region, Your Choice, which was published recently and provided to all known people who received the White Paper. It contained some updates and took account of the reorganisation of local government in May 2002 and the change of responsibilities in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. An opportunity was also taken to correct a misprint. The document that I am looking at does not have the figures quoted by the noble Lord, although the original publication does. However, I am assured that the maps are all correct. Thank heaven for that.
I turn to the points raised by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. We said that we will issue a statement to voters before the referendum that will set out the points that I have already mentioned. At the risk of repeating myself, they will include the powers and how the assembly will work. We will also make clear in that statement the boundaries of the region. There will not be any misapprehension about that important point.
I turn to the point of principle raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I do not wish to fall foul of that. Everything that I say about the Bill is predicated on the basis that we are a Parliament and can change the Bill. That is what scrutiny is all about; I absolutely accept that. I go so far as to say that although the soundings exercise closed on 3rd March, the fact is that this House will spend several days giving viewsparty views and individual views. I do not know whether another place will do likewise; it depends on what happens here. I assure noble Lords that those views
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: Do I take it that because the Minister has not replied to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, and myself, he is unwilling to give any answer to them, or does not wish to do so?
Lord Rooker: No. I rest my case on what I said and my references to the White Paper. I cannot go beyond what is in the White Paper regarding any of the questions that were raised about the council of the regions, the Chancellor's articlewhich I have not readthe European Union or regional offices. Either something is in the White Paper or the Government have not yet pronounced on it. If we do so in due course, we shall let the House know.
Baroness Hanham: I thank the Minister for his various replies. I refer to Clause 1, which is about the order that must be laid by the Secretary of State in order to cause a referendum. My amendment refers to that order. The amendment is all about the information that is available to the public at any given time. We keep on assuming that the electorate are in a fever about the Bill and are listening with bated breath all of the time to what we are saying. I have a more cynical disposition; that is, I believe that the electorate do not know about this and that it will never do them any harm to give them as much information as they need.
My amendment would not do what the Minister suggested. It states that within the orders that we know the Secretary of State must produce he must delineate the boundaries of the regions. I do not mind whether that is for the first or the umpteenth time, whether that involves an amendment of the boundaries, as my noble friend Lord Hanningfield said, or whether it involves those boundaries that are already in the White Paper or the White Paper as amended by the latest publication. When people vote in a referendum, the regions in which they live must be known. When the Secretary of State lays the provisions for that referendum, he should ensure that those boundaries are stated. That is what the amendment would do.
Baroness Hamwee: I am sorry to intervene at this point. I accept that the noble Baroness has tabled an amendment to Clause 26. Although I by no means decry the points that she made about information being available, is it not the case that Clause 26 specifies the regions in the same words as were presented to Parliament by the Deputy Prime
Baroness Hanham: He has not done that yet, and he has not specified the boundaries of the regions. Where are the pictures, maps and people? I believe they are necessary, and I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 11, 16 and 19. Amendment No. 16, which is the main amendment in the group, would delete Clause 1(5), which contains the condition that the Boundary Committee for England must have made recommendations under Section 12 on reviewing the local government structure.
These are by no means the totality of our amendments on local government and restructuring. I appreciate that Amendment No. 16 cannot make sense without taking out Clause 12 as well. I hope that the Minister will not rely on that technical point.
We want to decouple the establishment of regional government from consideration of the proper structure of local government. Regional government and local government are linkedand both are linked with national government, although we have heard no proposals to alter the structure of that.
The passion that was expressed on Second Reading about the restructuring of local government tended to be caused by the proposed loss of the counties. As we have just heard, the counties are the building blocks of the regionsbuilding blocks that are then to be taken away from the building, which is a new concept.
There is also passion for districts, where there is local information, local knowledge, and, not to put too fine a point on it, local gut instinct about what is right for the district. We have heard a lot of noise from the Government about it not being appropriate for there to be more than two tiers of governmentother than central government. I am resisting the temptation to talk about two tiers of local government, because regional government is not local government. However, we have heard no real explanation of the merit of the proposal, or even of the thinking that underpins it, other than that no one will stand for it. I beg to move.
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