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Lord Rooker moved Amendment No. 45:


The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 46 to 48 and 51 to 53. Those are essentially consequential amendments to our decision yesterday to allow a second

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referendum on local government reorganisation. I hope that it will not be necessary to labour that point, although I shall do so if required.

Amendment No. 46 signifies a change of policy. I owe the noble Earl, Lord Caithness an apology—I intended to give it to him last night, but the opportunity did not arise. During the course of an exchange yesterday, he asked me about existing unitary authorities having their boundaries changed, when we had clearly said that that was a no-go area. As I was answering him, I thought that the answer that I was giving him could not be right, because of the implications of the second referendum. I did not have an opportunity to refer to my note, which reminded me that I had said something wrong, because we had changed policy.

Amendment No. 46 represents that change of policy. It significantly changes the policy with which we started, because it changes the basis on which any review is conducted. That responds directly to the concern raised by the noble Earl and others—in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Shutt. The Boundary Committee should be allowed to consider the boundaries of existing unitary authorities. Although the Government remain concerned to limit the impact of reviews and continue to believe that there is no general need to review the boundaries of unitary authorities, we are prepared to concede that there may be circumstances in which that makes sense. Indeed, in Committee, we were given an example in which there appeared to be a consensus.

Amendment No. 46 therefore allows the Boundary Committee to consider unitary boundaries with a view to expanding them to take in part of a two-tier area. We propose to amend the guidance that we intend to issue to make it clear to the Boundary Committee that we would expect it to exercise that discretion only when there were pressing reasons to look at unitary boundaries.

We do not intend this relaxation in the parameters of the review to degenerate into a free-for-all, in which every unitary authority bids to expand its boundaries. I shall not name any of them, but there are some close to home. Therefore we want the Boundary Committee to be satisfied that both the unitary authority and the adjoining two-tier authorities are persuaded of the need to adjust the boundaries.

Amendments Nos. 45 and 48 provide for the necessary changes to ensure that the Government are in a position to allow voters at a second referendum to vote on different options for unitary local government. It provides that instead of a simple coming forward with recommendations for the best unitary structure, the Boundary Committee must make recommendations for at least two options in relation to each county area. It will assess the options against the same criteria as it would otherwise have used, and which are provided for in Clause 13(8). It is most important, therefore, that all the options presented in its recommendations must have regard to the interests and identities of local communities and the need to secure effective and convenient local government.

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Amendment No. 48, alongside the amendments moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, establishes a transparent process by which the Secretary of State will proceed once he has received the committee's recommendations. He will have to allow six weeks before laying an order for the second referendum. During that period, he will be receptive to representations as he makes up his mind about the proposals that he will put to voters. Where necessary, he may direct the Boundary Committee to provide him with additional information or advice. He will also be able to reject any of the options and direct the committee either to make different recommendations, or to carry out a further review. If he does so, he will have to wait a further six weeks after receiving any new recommendations before he can make a referendum order.

He will decide which of the committee's recommendations he is going to put to the voters before he makes an order and, in the light of any representations received, whether to modify those recommendations. He will then make an order setting out the options in the form of a question to the voters and seek the Electoral Commission's views on the intelligibility of the question and on the supporting material, as I explained previously in the debate on Amendment No. 17.

The other amendments in this group make minor technical adjustments to the Bill to facilitate the changes that I have just described, which follow from the agreement of the House yesterday on the noble Baroness's amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Rooker moved Amendment No. 46:


    Page 7, line 20, at end insert "unless it has the effect that any part of the area of a relevant local authority becomes part of the area of a local authority which is not a relevant local authority"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 14 [Review procedure]:

Lord Rooker moved Amendments Nos. 47 and 48:


    Page 8, line 21, second column, at beginning insert—


"( ) In subsection (1)(b) omit "under this Part";"
After Clause 14, insert the following new clause—


"BOUNDARY COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATIONS
(1) This section applies in relation to recommendations made by the Boundary Committee in pursuance of section 12(1)(b).
(2) The recommendations must include at least two options for structural change in relation to each county area in the region.
(3) At any time after he receives the recommendations the Secretary of State may—
(a) direct the Boundary Committee to supply him with additional information or advice;
(b) reject one or more of the options.
(4) If the Secretary of State rejects one or more of the options he may direct the Boundary Committee either—
(a) to make different recommendations, or
(b) to carry out a further local government review of the region and to make further recommendations.
(5) If the Secretary of State acts under subsection (4)(b), sections 12(8) to (10), 13(3) to (8), 14 and this section apply for the purposes of the further review and recommendations.

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(6) For the purposes of subsection (5) it is immaterial whether the Secretary of State has considered any of the matters in section 12(5).
(7) County area must be construed in accordance with section (Local government referendums)(3)."

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 15 [Implementation of recommendations]:

Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 49:


    Page 8, line 45, at end insert—


"( ) a majority of those voting in each district and county area voted in favour of an elected regional assembly,"

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment refers to the first referendum question: should there be an elected regional assembly for such and such a region? We have been concerned throughout this Bill that the county and district areas might be overwhelmed in a referendum on a regional government. The disparity between the numbers in the counties and districts against those in the large metropolitan areas might mean that even if they voted 100 per cent no, it could have no effect on what would be their own future and their being subjected to a local government review. Those would be the areas where it was carried out. It is not about whether they have a review, or what sort of local government they want. It is on the question of whether they believe that they want regional government at all.

This amendment would ensure that where a referendum took place the returning officer had to ensure that in the vote there was a majority of those voting in the county and the district areas in favour of regional government before he could declare that referendum a success—if other parts of the region voted in favour. It is a simple amendment, but it is not simple in its aim. It seeks to make sure that those county and country areas are not engulfed by the metropolitan areas. We have looked during this Bill at some of the disparities of numbers that are apparent in the White Paper. I beg to move.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, I attach the greatest importance to this amendment. I referred earlier to a letter written by the chief executive of the North West Regional Assembly to the clerk to Lancashire County Council. In that letter, dated 17th March, the chief executive said:


    XLancashire County Council will be aware of the high level of public interest in the North West region, with regard to a referendum on elected regional government."

The chief executive certainly does not lack effrontery, because when he wrote that letter, he must have known that Lancashire County Council had issued a statement saying that all parties on the council were against a referendum on regional government.

That letter and the remarks of the chief executive highlight the absurdity of the present situation. There is a real risk of the Secretary of State resolving that there should be a referendum in the North West, although Lancashire and Cheshire are against it and Cumbria is at the best ambivalent. That is happening simply because noises in favour are emanating from the North West Regional Assembly, reflecting some support in the Merseyside and Manchester conurbations. There is real

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risk of a referendum resulting in a yes vote in favour of a regional assembly, simply because of the overwhelming voting power coming from the conurbations of Merseyside and Manchester, and in spite of the fact that the people in Cheshire, Lancashire and Cumbria have voted almost overwhelmingly against.

Why should the people of those counties be saddled with a regional assembly in the North West because of a big vote in favour in the conurbations but minimal support throughout the rest of the region? It would be a travesty of justice, and a travesty of democracy if the council tax payers of Lancashire, Cheshire and Cumbria were saddled with the cost of this completely pointless elected assembly and had to pay the salaries of members of an assembly who we now know would have precisely nothing worthwhile to do. No doubt they would find work, because work is always found for idle hands. No doubt they would find some justification for their existence. It would be a travesty of justice and democracy if the people of Lancashire had to pay for that frolic. I commend the amendment to the Minister.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, as I understand it, "each" in this context is a synonym for "every". It seems that that is not being denied. I wanted to be clear about that in case I was going down the wrong road. If I am right, as I appear to be, any one district or county area would have a veto on the decision of the whole region. The amendment suggests that there should not be a regional referendum, but referendums in each district—and each county area, although I do not think that would be necessary, because there would be results from the districts anyway.

That is nothing like any way in which we have ever voted before and I do not think that it is how we should go about it. Under these proposals, if any single small part of Wales or Scotland or a London borough had voted against the new constitutional arrangements, they would not have happened. It might be quite hard to elect MPs under such a system. If one ward voted against, what would happen to the MP? I shall not go down that route, because it is not quite equivalent.

Making such a provision for referendums goes to the root of what regional referendums are about in a way that we cannot accept. It would mean that there would not be a regional referendum.


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