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Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to the Minister for at least understanding the point of my amendment. However, whilst he thinks its words would create a perverse effect, I think that his explanation is somewhat perverse. It says:


We know that if it can do anything it thinks would be "necessary or expedient", it could encourage people to vote—perhaps if the outcome was perceived as a foregone conclusion, and it was just encouraging other people who were perhaps apathetic or even anti or pro, depending on which bias was being talked about. That does seem to be a course open to the Electoral Commission, quite within the remit of Clause 7. There is no reference to balance or neutrality. There is only a reference saying that the commission may do,


    "anything they think necessary or expedient for the purposes of encouraging voting".

My words—and I will look at them again—


    "provided that anything they undertake to encourage voting does not disproportionately favour one of the possible referendum outcomes to the detriment of the other"

mean that the commission should not become involved in persuading people to vote for or against anything. The business is not to do that. However, the Minister is saying that my words would allow them to do just that.

Lord Rooker: No, the whole purpose and power of Clause 7 is for the commission to encourage voting, not to encourage the outcome. The outcome is irrelevant to the commission. That is not its function. To encourage the voting is not the same as to encourage the outcome. One would recognise the elephant on the doorstep. If the commission stepped out of line, there would be trouble, because it is easy to see what encourages voting as opposed to what encourages the outcome. There is no power in this clause for it to seek to encourage the outcome.

Baroness Blatch: Even taking that into account, I think that we both want the same thing. We both want to encourage people to come out and vote, and to take part in the democratic process. We do not believe it is the job of the Electoral Commission to do anything other than persuade people to vote. It could be that if

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a part of a region is showing little interest in voting, but may vote predominantly one way or another, there is a fine line on how it would be perceived, if the Electoral Commission took "any measure necessary". Clause 7 is free-standing in that the Electoral Commission has a great deal of scope for taking any measures it thinks necessary and expedient.

I will dwell again on what the noble Lord has said. We are not saying different things—we both know what we want, which is the same thing. We are talking about means to an end and to reduce any scope for creating a perception of bias or actual bias. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.45 p.m.

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [Provision of information to voters]:

[Amendments Nos. 63 to 65 not moved.]

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 66:


    Page 4, line 18, at end insert—


"( ) The information to be provided under subsection (2) shall include a statement by the Secretary of State with regard to which powers (if any) would be transferred from local government to the assembly."

The noble Baroness said: In tabling Amendment No. 66, I slightly extend a point we have discussed. I hope that the Minister can give the Committee an assurance that in the information to be provided, to which we have referred extensively, the powers to be transferred from local government to the assembly—if there are any, and we hope that there will not be—will be specifically mentioned. I beg to move—and I have done so in under one minute.

Lord Hanningfield: I support the amendment. It seeks to enlarge on what the regional assemblies will do. Several times in Committee we have been promised that we will know before too long—that there will be a draft Bill or some literature setting out the powers of regional assemblies. I hope that the amendment will draw out some of the proposals.

Lord Rooker: Sorry, there is nothing to draw out. The give-away in the amendment is in the last few words about,


    "which powers (if any) would be transferred from local government to the assembly".

The Government do not intend to transfer any powers from local government to elected assemblies, so we do not need the amendment.

Baroness Blatch: We have had this debate before and it is important that we are given clarification of the point. It is said that no powers whatever are passing from local government to the assembly, and we take that on face value. However, some powers, such as housing—the only example we have been given in this Chamber—are to be transferred to the assembly. Given that district and borough councils are

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concerned and that some aspect of housing is the function of county councils, how on earth can regional assemblies have an influence in and responsibility for housing matters if that is not to come from local authorities?

Lord Rooker: No statutory powers which local authorities currently have in respect of housing are to be transferred to the elected assembly. That is the long and short of the matter. On other matters we are trying to look at policy on a regional basis and we have made that clear in the sustainable communities plan. They are not dependent on this Bill, nor on the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill. They are related to the internal structuring of government with the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships and the way in which HIP allocations are dealt with so that we can look regionally at the strategy for housing. But no statutory powers on housing are being transferred from local authorities. No powers are being transferred from local authorities to the regional assemblies.

The noble Baroness might ask what it is all worth. That is for others to ask and answer, as I have repeatedly made clear. There will be no new powers, no new money and no new tiers.

Baroness Blatch: I shall take the noble Lord straight back to Second Reading and earlier debates on the Bill. I asked whether he could name a power which would transfer to the regional assemblies which was free-standing, which was not now held by another body and which the regional assemblies would have. The noble Lord said that he could do so immediately, and named housing. But district councils have the responsibility for housing, as do county councils under their planning functions, until they lose them.

I am looking at Box 4.l on page 37 of the White Paper. Sustainable development is referred to in Box 4.1 on page 36 of the White Paper. If you go to Kent County Council, for example, and to some of the other county councils around the country, they will tell you that they have responsibilities for sustainable development. So what will be the role of the regional assemblies in that regard?

If you go to some of the larger county councils, you will find that they also have responsibility for economic development. Skills and employment are matters for county councils, the learning and skills councils and the sector schools councils, so what is the role of the regional assemblies? What is the relationship between spatial planning and the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill which will shortly be before the House? What particular role will the assemblies play in transport? Waste management is definitely a matter for county councils and for some district councils. As regards health improvement, how will the regional authorities dovetail in with the 10-year plan for the National Health Service? The responsibility for culture, including tourism, belongs in other bodies, as does the issue of biodiversity.

What will these bodies do? Regional development agencies, sector schools councils, learning and skills councils, regional offices, county councils and district

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councils all have a role now and we are told that they will all still exist once the regional assemblies are established. So, although this looks like a rather inoffensive, small amendment, it is actually very important. What will these assemblies do?

We all have respect for the Minister, but for him to simply say to us, "That is for you to determine" is no answer. At the end of the line, if people vote for them, the Bill will trigger the establishment of regional assemblies. If the Minister cannot tell Parliament what they will do— what they will stand for and what will be their powers and functions—how on earth will the public make sense of it?

Lord Rooker: The noble Baroness is introducing red herrings. Box 4.1 states:


    "An elected regional assembly will be responsible for regional strategies dealing with the following issues".

It does not refer to "service delivery"; it does not refer to "statutory functions"; it refers to "regional strategies". We have made it abundantly clear from day one that that is what the White Paper is all about and that is what we have said.

I gave an honest answer at Second Reading in regard to housing. There will be a housing function carried out at regional level, but the existing statutory functions held by local authorities will remain with them. This relates to the internal workings of government and the way in which the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships operate. They are nothing to do with local authorities. They are central government delivery units, if you like—quangos in other words. It concerns the way in which central government seeks to allocate funds, particularly in regard to the housing investment programme, on a regional basis.

But it will still be for the local authorities to carry out their statutory functions. Housing will become a regional issue but not in terms of the delivery of the statutory functions of local authorities. There is a difference, but it is not covered by the amendment.


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