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Lord Rooker: It is my fault; I am just too open. I was then discussing the role of the commission and why it should not have power to write the question. Its power lies in approving the question and the preamble. If it does not like it and the Government do not want to change it, that is when there would be a hell of a row. However, in this case, it has approved both the question and the preamble, as set out in the Bill.

Baroness Hamwee: My point was that if there was a hell of a row after the Bill, including that question, had been passed that would not help us. However, I have received the assurance that I need and I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 29 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: Before calling Amendments Nos. 30 and 31, I must inform the Committee that there is a mistake in the Bill's line numbering. I should make clear that Amendments Nos. 30 and 31 are to the question within quotation marks.

[Amendments Nos. 30 and 31 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: Before calling Amendment No. 32, I must inform the Committee that if it is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 34 to 43, for reasons of pre-emption.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 32:

The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 34 and 42. Perhaps a little unrealistically, the lead amendment proposes to delete the preamble, because the question should stand or fall on its own and be intelligible without explanation.

I am not wholly confident that voters, seeing a lot of words in front of them, will do more than read the headline question. I do not know whether the Government have undertaken any research on how a

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question with such a preamble would be received. I am sure that there are testing techniques that could assist him in looking at such an issue.

The Minister alluded to the complexity of the preamble. I suggest that not only the Electoral Commission but the Plain English Campaign might have a role in that regard. It is lawyers' language—and I speak as one—to use such phrases as:

    "If an elected assembly is to be established, it is intended that:".

It is not the sort of language that prompts many to read on.

Amendment No. 34, the second amendment in the group, would delete the words in parentheses,

    "in as nearly as may be the following form".

The amendment gives us the opportunity to hear from the Government why they inserted those words. They did so in the House of Commons without any debate on the matter. We may already have the answer in that bullet points are used to present the preamble differently as a result of advice taken. I hope that the Minister can tell the House why those words were inserted and what is in the Government's mind when they say,

    "as nearly as may be".

There are all sorts of different forms that could be similar to that set out in the Bill. What would require the form to be changed?

Amendment No. 42 would permit the Electoral Commission's involvement after the Bill's enactment. We have almost covered that point. If the Minister wishes to add anything, no doubt he will do so. I beg to move Amendment No. 32.

Lord Hanningfield: We on the Conservative Benches do not agree with this amendment. I support the Liberal Democrats in highlighting our discussion on earlier amendments about the need to look again clearly at the referendum question to ensure that the public understand what they are asked to vote on, the intention of the vote, and the information on it that goes out. We have tabled further amendments on that subject. I hope that the Minister will indicate that he and the Government are open to reviewing the matter to ensure that the question is understandable and that people know what they are letting themselves in for.

The Earl of Onslow: Did the Bills providing for referendums in London, Scotland and Wales include such a preamble? I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that the English used is appalling. It is full of all sorts of sub-clauses and unnecessary subjunctives. Is that normal in Bills of this kind?

Baroness Blatch: I hope that my noble friend does not succumb to accept the amendment. First, if the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, were successful in getting rid of the preamble, the question would be almost a confidence trick on the people of England. It is very different from the referendum in Scotland. Scottish voters were asked only two questions: whether they wanted a Parliament and whether they

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wanted it to have tax-raising powers. But they were not at the same time agreeing a massive reorganisation of government below the tier of Parliament.

I argue that the major part of the reorganisation in England is not the imposition of a regional assembly but the complete upheaval of local government. That is pertinent to people and should form part of the question. We have just withdrawn an amendment to that effect.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that the words in parentheses,

    "in as nearly as may be the following form",

give the Government scope to change the wording agreed by the Electoral Commission. I worry about the scope given. There is no definition of what would be,

    "as nearly as may be".

Would it go back to the Electoral Commission for approval?

The Earl of Onslow: I am pleased to say that my noble friend can rest assured: I am just as worried as she is about the consequences of local government reorganisation. We have been round the steeplechase before. There should be a separate referenda amendment. That does not mean that this clause is not sloppily drafted, badly written and probably unclear.

Lord Rooker: I apologise for any confusion that I might have caused in the previous debate. I know that it sounds daft, but I referred to the preamble being in bullet point form, and anybody who has an up-to-date version of the Bill will see a couple of bullet points. I was carrying around the Bill as it was in another place, in which there were no bullet points.

We are not trying to pull a fast one here. I must make that clear. Amendment No. 34 is based on suspicion about the words,

    "in as nearly as may be the following form".

There was no opportunity to explain the purpose of the words in another place. There is no sinister purpose. The words will not allow the wording of the statement to be changed. Subsection (2) goes on to say that the statement,

    "must precede the question on the ballot paper".

It is unfortunate that, in Clause 2, the question is printed at subsection (1) and the preamble is printed at subsection (2). On the ballot paper, it will be the other way round, as is made clear. Subsection (2) says:

    "The following statement . . . must precede the question".

The Earl of Onslow: The noble Lord has just said that the clause is unsatisfactorily printed. By that, does he mean that he will take it away, write it so that we can all understand it and put in back in the Bill in the proper order? That is the logical conclusion of what he said. I know that the Minister listens to what people say and takes it into account. I know that, when he says that something is silly, he means that it is silly. That is the logical conclusion of what he said.

Lord Rooker: No—far from it. If I did that, I would be criticising the parliamentary draftsman. In a clause

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on the referendum question, the question should be put first, and that is what the parliamentary draftsman has done. That is why we have subsection (1), and the preamble is set out in subsection (2). On the ballot paper, they will be set out the other way round, as is clearly stated. The preamble will appear in bullet point form, leading to the question on which the voter is required to give a view. That is the only point that I was making.

The phrase,

    "in as nearly as may be the following form"

is a technical device to ensure that the statement that is to precede the question will contain the bullet points, when it appears on the ballot paper. That is the point. It is to get over a technicality, and we are not pulling a fast one.

As I made clear, the role of the Electoral Commission is to comment on the intelligibility of the issue. The commission suggested that bullet points would improve the structure of the preamble, and we agreed that it would be helpful. It makes sense that, in due course, the ballot paper also reflects the bullet point structure used in the Bill.

Making Amendment No. 42 would mean that the referendum question and the accompanying statement could be,

    "amended by regulation at any time after the Electoral Commission has made a report to the Secretary of State regarding the question and the statement".

Those regulations would be subject to affirmative resolution in both Houses. Under Section 104 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, the commission has a statutory obligation to comment on the intelligibility of UK national and regional referendum questions and of any statement preceding them that are contained in Acts of Parliament. As I said, the Electoral Commission has commented on the question and the statement and is content with the current wording.

However, Amendment No. 42 is unclear as to whether the Electoral Commission would need to be consulted on any amended question that the Secretary of State proposes. In effect, the amendment could mean that the question and statement could be amended after the first region or regions have held referendums, so that the question and statement are different for subsequent regions.

I do not think that that would be a good idea. It would be wrong to circumvent the Electoral Commission, but it would also be wrong if later the basic ground rules were changed for other regions, should there be other regions. We must treat them all equally in this respect, so that Parliament has the opportunity to debate everything before this, the primary legislation, goes through. Therefore, I hope that Members of the Committee feel that they can withdraw their amendment. I hope that the explanation and the words added, but not debated, in another place, are satisfactory.

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