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Lord Hanningfield: The Minister keeps repeating that statement. Certainly I should be content if the four referendums were carried out in the four areas where the majority of the population live in rural districts. What concerns us particularly is that in the areas we are discussing, particularly Yorkshire, Humberside, the North West and the North East, the rural areas can be dominated by the urban vote. Therefore, the people in those rural areas will not be given a fair say. I do not think that anyone is proposing elections in the east of England or the South East of England where there would be a massive majority against a regional assembly anyway as things stand at the moment. We are trying to defend the rights of people in places such as Northumberland, Cheshire, Cumbria and Durham, which seem to be ignored in the Government's proposals.

Baroness Hanham: I am not satisfied with the Minister's response and I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.

24 Mar 2003 : Column 499

5.14 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 50) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 83; Not-Contents, 152.

Division No. 1


Allenby of Megiddo, V.
Anelay of St Johns, B.
Astor, V.
Astor of Hever, L.
Biffen, L.
Blaker, L.
Blatch, B.
Bowness, L.
Bridgeman, V.
Brookeborough, V.
Buscombe, B.
Byford, B.
Caithness, E.
Carlisle of Bucklow, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Cavendish of Furness, L.
Chalfont, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L. [Teller]
Craig of Radley, L.
Craigavon, V.
Darcy de Knayth, B.
Dean of Harptree, L.
Denham, L.
Dixon-Smith, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Elton, L.
Fookes, B.
Fowler, L.
Freeman, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B.
Geddes, L.
Gray of Contin, L.
Hanham, B.
Hanningfield, L.
Hayhoe, L.
Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.
Hogg, B.
Howe, E.
Howe of Aberavon, L.
Howell of Guildford, L.
Jellicoe, E.
Jenkin of Roding, L.
Jopling, L.
King of Bridgwater, L.
Laird, L.
Lindsay, E.
Listowel, E.
Luke, L.
Lyell, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L.
MacGregor of Pulham Market, L.
Marlesford, L.
Marsh, L.
Monro of Langholm, L.
Montrose, D.
Moynihan, L.
Noakes, B.
O'Cathain, B.
Park of Monmouth, B.
Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Peel, E.
Perry of Southwark, B.
Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Plumb, L.
Rawlings, B.
Rees, L.
Roberts of Conwy, L.
Rogan, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Sandwich, E.
Seccombe, B. [Teller]
Sharples, B.
Shaw of Northstead, L.
Skelmersdale, L.
Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Stewartby, L.
Swinfen, L.
Vivian, L.
Waddington, L.
Wakeham, L.
Weatherill, L.
Wilcox, B.
Willoughby de Broke, L.


Acton, L.
Ahmed, L.
Amos, B.
Andrews, B.
Ashton of Upholland, B.
Bach, L.
Barker, B.
Bassam of Brighton, L.
Berkeley, L.
Bernstein of Craigweil, L.
Blackstone, B.
Boothroyd, B.
Bradshaw, L.
Bragg, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Brookman, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L.
Bruce of Donington, L.
Burlison, L.
Campbell-Savours, L.
Carter, L.
Chan, L.
Christopher, L.
Clark of Windermere, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L.
Clement-Jones, L.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Cohen of Pimlico, B.
Crawley, B.
Davies of Coity, L.
Davies of Oldham, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Desai, L.
Dholakia, L.
Dixon, L.
Dormand of Easington, L.
Elder, L.
Evans of Parkside, L.
Evans of Temple Guiting, L.
Evans of Watford, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Falkland, V.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Fearn, L.
Filkin, L.
Fyfe of Fairfield, L.
Gale, B.
Gavron, L.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Golding, B.
Goldsmith, L.
Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Goudie, B.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Greaves, L.
Gregson, L.
Grocott, L. [Teller]
Hamwee, B.
Hardy of Wath, L.
Harris of Haringey, L.
Harris of Richmond, B.
Harrison, L.
Haskel, L.
Hayman, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Holme of Cheltenham, L.
Hooson, L.
Howarth of Breckland, B.
Howells of St. Davids, B.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hoyle, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. (Lord Chancellor)
Jacobs, L.
Jeger, B.
Jones, L.
Jordan, L.
King of West Bromwich, L.
Levy, L.
Lipsey, L.
Lockwood, B.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller]
MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
Maclennan of Rogart, L.
McNally, L.
Maddock, B.
Mar and Kellie, E.
Mason of Barnsley, L.
Massey of Darwen, B.
Merlyn-Rees, L.
Methuen, L.
Michie of Gallanach, B.
Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.
Milner of Leeds, L.
Mishcon, L.
Mitchell, L.
Morgan, L.
Morris of Aberavon, L.
Morris of Manchester, L.
Newby, L.
Northover, B.
Orme, L.
Parekh, L.
Patel of Blackburn, L.
Paul, L.
Perry of Walton, L.
Phillips of Sudbury, L.
Pitkeathley, B.
Plant of Highfield, L.
Prys-Davies, L.
Puttnam, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Rendell of Babergh, B.
Richard, L.
Richardson of Calow, B.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Rooker, L.
Roper, L.
Russell-Johnston, L.
Sandberg, L.
Scotland of Asthal, B.
Scott of Needham Market, B.
Sharp of Guildford, B.
Sheldon, L.
Shutt of Greetland, L.
Simon, V.
Stallard, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Thornton, B.
Tomlinson, L.
Tordoff, L.
Turnberg, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Walker of Doncaster, L.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Walmsley, B.
Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Whitaker, B.
Whitty, L.
Wilkins, B.
Williams of Crosby, B.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Williams of Mostyn, L. (Lord Privy Seal)
Woolmer of Leeds, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

24 Mar 2003 : Column 500

5.25 p.m.

Clause 4 [Referendum period]:

Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 51:

    Page 3, line 10, at end insert—

"( ) In determining the referendum period the Secretary of State must take advice from the Electoral Commission on the amount of time that should be allowed."

24 Mar 2003 : Column 501

The noble Baroness said: The clause deals with the referendum period, for the purposes of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. It states that,

    "the Secretary of State must by order determine the referendum period for a referendum held in pursuance of an order under section 1".

The referendum period is a significant window that must be defined. It will have an impact on matters such as the recording of election expenses and the publication of election material during the period. Yet the Government are allowed free reign to decide on the period of a referendum, in line with the 2000 Act.

The 2000 Act does not set a technical referendum period. It sets a timetable for designating assistance to the campaigns and arrangements for the date of the poll. The likely outcome is a period of 10 weeks. However, I emphasise that there is no set period. It is vital that the referendum period be correctly set. For that reason, it is important that there is some check on the power that can be wielded by the Secretary of State in setting the referendum period, or at least a minimum or maximum level.

There is a danger—I put it no higher—that a Minister might push through a referendum quickly, which would stifle debate or prolong a campaign in the hope of allowing the "Yes" promoters to prevail on the electorate. The preferable option is a campaign of reasonable length, long enough to get information to the voters and set by an independent body with expertise in electoral matters. For that purpose, we propose that the Electoral Commission is such a suitable body. I beg to move.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: As the noble Baroness says, the PPER Act does not expressly set out a period. Taken together, the official "Yes" and "No" campaigns and the date of the poll add up to a minimum period of 10 weeks. The Government's intention would be to set that 10 weeks as the period for a referendum on whether to establish an elected regional assembly.

We would of course discuss and be guided by the commission on the practical implications of the referendum period that we propose, given its role in the running of referendums. I hope that what I have said has reassured the noble Baroness and that she will withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Blatch: Will the Minister help us with the procedure? Will he give us some idea of the expected time? I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, suggested that the work of the Boundary Committee would take about a year, but in some areas of the country it may work faster or slower. Is a minimum time expected for that exercise to take place?

Is there a minimum time between the completion of the Boundary Committee's work and when a referendum could be expected? We have already seen that the Minister is in great haste to get the Bill through, and we have suspicions on this matter. If an area of the country is designated and the work is undergone by the Boundary Committee in haste, with

24 Mar 2003 : Column 502

the referendum held in almost equal indecent haste, is there any safeguard about the length of time for which consideration has to be taken of the conclusions of the Boundary Committee? Will there at least be some consultation with local people before matters are fixed in a referendum?

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