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Division No. 2


Aberdare, L.
Anelay of St Johns, B.
Astor, V.
Astor of Hever, L.
Bell, L.
Blaker, L.
Blatch, B.
Bridgeman, V.
Brittan of Spennithorne, L.
Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L.
Brookeborough, V.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Burnham, L.
Buscombe, B.
Byford, B.
Caithness, E.
Campbell of Alloway, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Cavendish of Furness, L.
Colwyn, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L. [Teller]
Craigavon, V.
Crathorne, L.
Crickhowell, L.
Dean of Harptree, L.
Denham, L.
Dixon-Smith, L.
Elles, B.
Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Feldman, L.
Flather, B.
Fookes, B.
Fowler, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Freeman, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B.
Gilmour of Craigmillar, L.
Glentoran, L.
Goschen, V.
Gray of Contin, L.
Greenway, L.
Griffiths of Fforestfach, L.
Hanham, B.
Hanningfield, L.
Hayhoe, L.
Henley, L.
Higgins, L.
Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.
Hooper, B.
Howe, E.
Howe of Aberavon, L.
Howell of Guildford, L.
Hurd of Westwell, L.
Jellicoe, E.
Jopling, L.
Kimball, L.
King of Bridgwater, L.
Knight of Collingtree, B.
Laing of Dunphail, L.
Lamont of Lerwick, L.
Lindsay, E.
Lucas, L.
Luke, L.
MacGregor of Pulham Market, L.
MacLaurin of Knebworth, L.
Mancroft, L.
Marlesford, L.
Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Monro of Langholm, L.
Monson, L.
Montagu of Beaulieu, L.
Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Moynihan, L.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Newton of Braintree, L.
Noakes, B.
Norton of Louth, L.
O'Cathain, B.
Onslow, E.
Oppenheim-Barnes, B.
Palmer, L.
Park of Monmouth, B.
Parkinson, L.
Peel, E.
Perry of Southwark, B.
Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Powell of Bayswater, L.
Prior, L.
Pym, L.
Quinton, L.
Rawlings, B.
Reay, L.
Rees, L.
Renton, L.
Roberts of Conwy, L.
Rotherwick, L.
St John of Fawsley, L.
Seccombe, B. [Teller]
Selborne, E.
Selsdon, L.
Sharples, B.
Shaw of Northstead, L.
Shrewsbury, E.
Skelmersdale, L.
Stewartby, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Swinfen, L.
Taylor of Warwick, L.
Tebbit, L.
Vivian, L.
Waddington, L.
Weatherill, L.
Wilcox, B.


Acton, L.
Addington, L.
Ahmed, L.
Alli, L.
Alton of Liverpool, L.
Amos, B.
Andrews, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Ashton of Upholland, B.
Barker, B.
Barnett, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L.
Berkeley, L.
Bernstein of Craigweil, L.
Billingham, B.
Blackstone, B.
Boothroyd, B.
Borrie, L.
Brett, L.
Brookman, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L.
Burlison, L.
Campbell-Savours, L.
Carlile of Berriew, L.
Carter, L.
Chan, L.
Chandos, V.
Christopher, L.
Clark of Windermere, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L.
Clement-Jones, L.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L.
Craig of Radley, L.
Crawley, B.
Dahrendorf, L.
David, B.
Davies of Coity, L.
Davies of Oldham, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Desai, L.
Dixon, L.
Dormand of Easington, L.
Elder, L.
Evans of Parkside, L.
Evans of Temple Guiting, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Fyfe of Fairfield, L.
Gale, B.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Golding, B.
Goldsmith, L.
Goodhart, L.
Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Graham of Edmonton, 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.
Hooson, L.
Howells of St. Davids, B.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hoyle, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Janner of Braunstone, L.
Jay of Paddington, B.
Jones, L.
Judd, L.
King of West Bromwich, L.
Lea of Crondall, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Lipsey, L.
Lockwood, B.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller]
MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
Mackie of Benshie, L.
McNally, L.
Maddock, B.
Mason of Barnsley, L.
Merlyn-Rees, L.
Methuen, L.
Milner of Leeds, L.
Mishcon, L.
Mitchell, L.
Morgan, L.
Morris of Aberavon, L.
Newby, L.
Nicol, B.
Northover, B.
Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, L.
Patel of Blackburn, L.
Paul, L.
Pendry, L.
Peston, L.
Phillips of Sudbury, L.
Pitkeathley, B.
Prys-Davies, L.
Radice, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Razzall, L.
Rendell of Babergh, B.
Rennard, L.
Richard, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Rooker, L.
Roper, L.
Russell, E.
Sandberg, L.
Scotland of Asthal, B.
Scott of Needham Market, B.
Sewel, L.
Sharp of Guildford, B.
Sheldon, L.
Shutt of Greetland, L.
Simon, V.
Smith of Clifton, L.
Steel of Aikwood, L.
Stone of Blackheath, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Taverne, L.
Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Thornton, B.
Tope, L.
Tordoff, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Walker of Doncaster, L.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Walmsley, B.
Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
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.

7 Apr 2003 : Column 55

6.2 p.m.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 5:

    Page 1, line 10, leave out "two" and insert "three"

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment is grouped with Amendments Nos. 6 and 8. We are now going to talk about the soundings. We have had a number of statements from Ministers about the soundings. We know that in a very short time now we shall at least hear the result of the soundings. Whether we shall hear it area by area, or only from the area that the Secretary of State selects for having a referendum, we do not know—and there is a great deal that we do not know. We also do not know what the Secretary of State will regard as a level of interest. One

7 Apr 2003 : Column 56

could have a level of interest as low as 1 per cent, which in a region that has eight million voters could be considered rather a lot of people, but would still only be 1 per cent. In an area that has only 2½ million people, the 1 per cent would be fewer in number. Whether that would constitute a level of interest, I do not know. There is no definition of a level of interest.

The Secretary of State must reasonably expect that a referendum in a region would yield a "Yes" vote before he calls a referendum. That is the purpose of the amendment. He ought to have at least a feeling that, on the basis of the evidence collected, the likelihood would be that if a referendum were called it would receive support. The Minister may argue against that, but the Secretary of State could not say that there is a level of interest as defined by him for a referendum to be called—and incur all the expenditure that goes with it—without any understanding as to whether there would be a reasonable outcome.

Nobody is asking the Secretary of State to predict the outcome. Nobody is asking him to back only a sure-run thing. However, there really ought to be, on the basis of the evidence, at least a fighting chance that an election could be won. The Government might argue that the whole point of a referendum is to test public opinion. In that case, why bother about a level of interest? Why not test public opinion in all eight areas? We know that they cannot all be done at once, because the Government say that that is not possible—it would overburden the Boundary Committee and all those people who have to be involved with reorganisation of local government. Therefore, it is only likely to be one, two or at the most three. If that is the case, will the Government tell us not only the level of interest in the particular region or regions that are going to be selected, but what the level of interest is in all of the regions at the same time? They have all now been sounded. It would be helpful if the Minister could say whether there has been any increase in the number of responses from 4,000, which we were told of at the Committee stage. If one is talking about 4,000 responses from the whole of the country, then one really has to question what constitutes a level of interest in any region.

Calling a referendum triggers an extremely costly process—we have heard that almost to the point of tedium. That is not a personal criticism of the Minister, but he does have to keep repeating it, because we have to keep pressing the point. We have heard time and time again that the process is going to take a long time—that there could not be a referendum until next autumn. Whether it will be a particular date in the autumn, I do not know. It could be in September, October or November. It will not be at Christmas, because we have just been told that that would not be a good time. That means that this Bill could be passed in May, June or July, and still allow a referendum to take place in the autumn. We also know that the earliest possibility of a regional assembly being set up is 2006.

So we know that it is a long drawn-out process, and will be very expensive. We know that the costs at this stage cannot be precise, because they will depend upon

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the level of upheaval in local authorities. We certainly know today from the Government, with Liberal Democrat support, that there will be a second option of local government reorganisation. We know that it goes hand in hand with regional assemblies, since the Liberal Democrats have supported the Government, and is now a fait accompli. Therefore, we know that there will be reorganisation. That will involve either abolition of county councils and keeping all the districts, or abolition of county councils and a serious merging of a number of districts, or abolition of the districts and turning the counties into unitary authorities.

We know that there will be major upheaval in those areas that vote for a regional assembly and that it is a long and costly process. We also know that there will be much anxiety in those areas among people for their jobs and their futures. There will be a great deal of campaigning on both sides. It will not be simply on party political lines. It will be town and country; it will be council versus council; and it will be councillor versus councillor.

The Bill should provide an assurance that the Secretary of State will not call for a regional assembly referendum in an area where the evidence does not justify the enormous expenditure that will be incurred by the Boundary Committee, the desk exercise of drawing up the required options—and we now know that there will be at least two, possibly three or more—for local government reorganisation, and the referendum itself. That is important. We do not know in what format we are going to be told. We do not know whether there will simply be a statement to both Houses of Parliament. We do not know if there will be a ritzy glitzy presentation somewhere in the country, where Ministers will meet with the public and have a staged announcement. We have heard a rumour—and I confess that is all it is—that there is to be a major announcement in the North East in a very short time. Whatever it is—and I make no judgment—it would be helpful to know what format the notification will be. Will it be by statement? Will it be by something more formal to both Houses of Parliament? Will it be announced to Parliament before anybody else? Will it affect all eight regions of the country? Will we know region by region what the level of interest is? I believe that the level of interest should be such that there is more than a probability that it is for a referendum for a regional assembly. I beg to move.

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