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Lord Rooker: I shall do my best to answer the noble Lord's perfectly reasonable questions. Clause 3 sets out the franchise of those entitled to vote in a referendum on the establishment of an elected assembly. The basic rule is that the person entitled to vote from the date of the referendum is entitled to vote at a local government election for any area within the region concerned. That can be modified. Amendment No. 45 would replace that provision with the parliamentary franchise.

Noble Lords are talking up the situation and claiming that great constitutional change is occurring in the country. It is a technical adjustment of democratic accountability and scrutiny.

A noble Lord: Oh!

Lord Rooker: Oh, yes, yes. Let me put it this way: the changes are not as important as setting up the Scottish Parliament with primary legislation powers or establishing the National Assembly for Wales with secondary powers. Yet the local government franchise, not the parliamentary franchise, was used for those bodies. There could be no more massive constitutional change than the devolution of primary legislative powers from Westminster to Edinburgh, yet the local government franchise applied in that case. Let us not talk it up way beyond what it is and make a mountain out of a molehill.

It is important that Members of your Lordships' House should participate in the elections. I cannot see why the Committee would rule out allowing Members of your Lordships' House to vote in an English regional referendum, even though it was OK for them to vote in the referendums in Scotland and Wales and in the elections to the Greater London Assembly. We should maintain a degree of consistency.

I have some sympathy with the reasoning behind Amendment No. 46. However, as I said, there should be a common approach to all sub-national referendums, which is what, effectively, a regional referendum is. In local government and parliamentary elections, we recognise that those who are resident in a place have, to a greater or lesser degree, an interest in and an attachment to the area that is worthy of

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representation. Those who have a residence in a region, even if it is a second home, will still have an interest in how the region is run.

Amendment No. 48 suggests that only people living in two-tier areas should be able to vote for a future local government structure. I have already made it clear that we do not believe in a separate question on local government restructuring. It would not be useful to go down that road again. Amendment No. 44 is consequential.

Amendment No. 49 has a degree of substance, so I shall give a slightly longer explanation. As we said, Clause 3 sets out the entitlement. It is intended that the franchise will be the same as for local government elections. Amendment No. 49 would remove subsections (2) and (3). There is no sinister motive underlying those subsections. They are there so that the basic rule in Clause 3(1) can be made to correspond to the provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1983, in particular, Section 13B. Those provisions require certain alterations to the register of local government electors to be ignored after the final nomination day for the purpose of a local government election. The section also covers other elections but not referendums. The final nomination day is the last day on which nomination papers may be delivered to the returning officer for the purpose of the election. For local government elections, that is the 19th day before the day of the election, according to election rules.

I shall give an example that shows why we need subsections (2) and (3). Without those subsections, there would be no mechanism for setting a cut-off date for registration for referendums, which is administratively necessary. Furthermore, there might be a combination of a referendum with a local government election. In that situation, it is sensible that there should be no disparity between those who can vote in the referendum and those who can vote in the local government election. Otherwise, running a combined poll would be a problem.

Subsections (2) and (3) also have precedents. For example, there is similar provision in Sections 3(2) and 4(2) of the Greater London Authority (Referendum) Act 1998 and Section 45 of the Local Government Act 2000. The Committee will be aware that the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform did not comment adversely on the provisions. I assure the Committee that the procedure for making such regulations will be subject to affirmative resolution in both Houses.

The Earl of Onslow: I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will not press the amendment. This is a serious constitutional issue—I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on that point—and it could

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be argued that only Members of your Lordships' House should be allowed to vote on the issue and not anybody else.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): Hear, hear.

The Earl of Onslow: However, as that is probably not going to happen, in spite of the vocal approval expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, from the Government Front Bench, I hope that we will all be allowed to vote. After all, voting early and voting often is a good idea. There is nothing wrong with that. We should trust the people, including your Lordships.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I cannot resist the temptation to get to my feet again. I have great respect for the noble Lord, but he takes advantage of slower-moving older people such as myself. He said that we should not talk it up into a big constitutional issue, but I should be delighted to hear him do a thorough job of talking the issue down into an unimportant, mundane non-constitutional issue.

At the moment, I am so misguided as to fear far-reaching consequences. I would be grateful to the noble Lord if he could dislodge my suspicions. Those are firmly implanted, having been well sown by my noble friend Lady Blatch—I could wish for no greater authority—and by my noble friend Lord Waddington, who, with his considerable eloquence and experience, has gone a long way to convince me that it is not as simple an issue as the noble Lord would have me believe.

Baroness Blatch: The Minister was provocative in telling us that it is not a constitutional issue and that those of us who think it is are wrong. We are in good company on the issue. The Select Committee on the Constitution said:

    "We considered that the bill raised significant constitutional issues which we wish to explore further".

It also referred to certain areas of concern:

    "the asymmetrical model of regional government which the bill implies...; the proposal to hold referendums at different times in different regions; the criteria which would have to be met to trigger a referendum in a particular region; public participation in consultation, and the provision of information to voters before a referendum; the lack of a turnout threshold in any referendum; the potential for changing boundaries and the independence and powers of the Boundary Committee; and the funding of Regional Assemblies and their independence from central government".

The committee recommended:

    "We draw these matters to the attention of the House as raising questions of principle about principal parts of the constitution".

If that is not a good recommendation from the Select Committee, I do not know what is.

The integrity of England as a country is at stake. The integrity of Scotland is intact because Scotland has its own Parliament. Wales has its own Assembly. We have already started to break up England by establishing London government. Almost certainly,

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we will lose our historic counties because of the regional assemblies, and there is a real constitutional issue in the Bill.

As I said, when the Bill is passed by Parliament it will trigger a great deal of executive action, none of which needs to be approved by Parliament. The implications for the future of England in the United Kingdom as a whole makes the time that we spend on the Bill very important.

Lord Rooker: I do not disagree with that last point. The time spent on the Bill is useful. I do not wish to burden the House by going back to the Select Committee report to which I referred last week. However, as far as I am aware, we can satisfy the Committee on the issues that are raised.

If there were a major issue about the franchise, it would have been dealt with when the Scottish Parliament, the Greater London Authority and the Welsh Assembly were set up. I cannot accept that the Bill is of major constitutional importance in the sense that that phrase has been used in the past three days. The precedent is there in the other bodies. I have already said that, whatever anyone might claim for them, the English regional assemblies will not be as important in the constitutional framework as the bodies in Scotland and Wales, which pass secondary and primary legislation.

I have said, "No new money. No new powers. No new tier of government". The Bill is a technical adjustment, a reform of democratic accountability. It will not destroy England or obliterate it, which is the preposterous claim made by the Opposition. Nothing could be further from the purpose of the Bill.

Lord Hanningfield: I thank the noble Lord for those replies. The Government can take it that there is much unease—particularly about the way the questions will be answered. There is a theme running through all the amendments about the question that is asked, and who votes for it. I am sure that we will come back to these issues at Report and later stages.

I wish to go back to subsection (2) of my Amendment No. 49. The Minister gave a detailed explanation of why that was there. It still gives the Secretary of State enormous powers—not just for these referendums, but for other ways of disregarding electoral registers. Although he gave a detailed explanation, which we shall see when it is written up, I am sure that we shall want to look at it again. I do not see why the Secretary of State should have such wide powers which would apply to other elections. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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