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The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, having been a supporter of an increase in the five years all the way through the Bill, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for accepting the amendment. It is a small step forward. It would have been much nicer to have had 10 years, but seven years is better than five.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am new in this place. We have had Committee stage, we have had Report stage, we are on Third Reading; I will not deviate from the amendments before the House. I gladly accept this amendment on the strength of the arguments made at previous stages. I doubt that we would have accepted 10 years. Seven years is a modest period. It gives almost a guarantee that where there is a "No" vote in a region there will not be any activity for, say, five years because one would have to carry out soundings and so on beforehand. That will give the period of stability for local government which I believe was the kernel of the arguments made by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, when he initially chopped me to pieces.

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As regards the other points, we have, with respect, debated them before. They are not relevant to the amendment and we are at Third Reading.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall ask the Minister a relevant question. The noble Lord has not answered the question in regard to a "Yes" vote. He described it as a deviation. My amendment increases the gap from five years to seven years following a referendum "No" vote, but what happens where there is an extremely narrow "Yes" vote which the Secretary of State regards as insufficient to establish a regional assembly? The Minister has said on a number of occasions that that is feasible and possible because the Bill allows for it to happen. So what will happen following a referendum which does not result in a "No" vote but in a "Yes" vote which is not sufficiently robust to establish a regional assembly? Could the gap be one year, two years, three years, four, five or six years, or would it also be bound by the seven-year gap?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the answer is to be found on page 5 of the Bill. Clause 6(1) states that subsection (2) applies if a referendum is held in a region under Clause 1 and,

    "(b) a majority of the votes cast . . . is against there being an elected assembly for the region".

No further order may be made in relation to that until the end of a period of five years. That five years has now become seven years. Everything else remains as it is.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting moved Amendment No. 9:

    Page 5, line 16, after "held" insert "in a county area"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 are minor technical amendments to remove any doubts that might otherwise exist about the meaning of subsections (4) and (5). Those subsections provide that when the result of a local government referendum has subsequently been ruled invalid, it can be rerun. Obviously, it makes sense to rerun the referendum only in a county area in which the result has been successfully challenged, rather than throughout the region.

I take a practical but, of course, purely hypothetical example. If there were a referendum in the West Midlands and separate proposals were made to the voters in each of the county areas of Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Shropshire and, following referendums, the results in Worcestershire were challenged and held invalid, we might want to rerun the referendum in that county area, but there would be no reason to rerun the referendums in Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Shropshire. We want to avoid any suggestion that, because subsections (4) and (5) both make reference to orders "under section 2(2)", and because that subsection requires a referendum in each county area, we would hold referendums throughout the region again. That would be plainly absurd. Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 ensure

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that, in my hypothetical example, we would need to rerun the referendum only in Worcestershire. I beg to move.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, with reference to the Minister's hypothetical world, one reason why the letter was sent out about the soundings exercise was that there was a possibility that local government review or reform might take place across or including county councils. How many county councils or county areas will be reinvolved in the subsequent referendums, if necessary? If the one in Warwickshire went wrong, what would happen with the neighbouring areas that might be involved with the cross-cutting and cross-thrusting?

This is a difficult technical amendment. Presumably, the rationale behind any local government reform will be that it works across the region, across the counties and district areas in their totality. It seems extraordinary that one could rerun a referendum in one county area.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I took a hypothetical example that made the matter absolutely clear. I see no problem in doing precisely what we argue in the amendment, and my view is shared by my noble friend Lord Rooker.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting moved Amendments Nos. 10 and 11:

    Page 5, line 18, after "held" insert "in that county area"

    Page 5, line 33, at end insert—

"(7A) For the purposes of a referendum held in pursuance of an order under subsection (5) the Secretary of State may by order vary the terms of the statement set out in section 3(4A).
(7B) Before an order under subsection (7A) is laid before Parliament in pursuance of section 29(2) the Secretary of State must consult the Electoral Commission as to the wording of the statement as so varied.
(7C) At the time when the order is so laid the Secretary of State must lay before each House a report stating any views which the Commission have expressed in response to the consultation as to the intelligibility of the statement as so varied."

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 10 [Expenditure]:

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting moved Amendment No. 12:

    Page 7, line 22, at end insert—

"( ) Counting officer includes a person appointed in pursuance of an order under section 2(9) for the purpose of certifying the number of ballot papers or votes cast in a referendum held in pursuance of an order under section 2(2)."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 12 is consequential on the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on Report. It makes it clear that the term "counting officer" includes any person appointed in pursuance of an order under Clause 2(9). That subsection enables a Minister of the Crown to make provision by order,

    "as he thinks appropriate in connection with a",

local referendum.

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Counting officers for the purposes of regional referendums are defined in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000—the PPER Act. Clause 12(5) states that expressions used in Part 1 of the Bill and in Part 7 of the PPER Act have the same meaning. However, local referendums will not fall under the PPER Act. Therefore, the amendment is necessary to ensure that the term "counting officer" used in Clause 10 applies to counting officers for local referendums, so that the necessary expenditure provision can be made. The amendment is essentially a tidying amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 11 [Exclusion of legal proceedings]:

Lord Rooker moved Amendment No. 13:

    Page 7, line 32, at end insert—

"unless the proceedings are brought in accordance with this section.
( ) The proceedings must be brought by a claim for judicial review.
( ) The court must not give permission for the claim unless the claim form is filed before the end of the period of six weeks starting with the certificate date.
( ) The certificate date is—
(a) the date on which a certificate as to the matters mentioned in subsection (1)(a) or (b) is given by the Chief Counting Officer, counting officer or other person mentioned in subsection (1)(b);
(b) if there is more than one such certificate in a referendum the date on which the last such certificate is given."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 13 seems to have been grouped with Amendment No. 14.

We have had several debates on this matter, and I hope that I can now satisfy noble Lords that the ouster clause is worth having and is more understandable with the amendment. The amendment tackles the problem of the clause. It was always a problem that the clause stated that "No court shall entertain", as I would then have to explain to noble Lords how the court could, in fact, entertain. That was very difficult to explain. There is some doubt about whether a challenge would be considered if the clause were left as it stands. We do not want that doubt to exist.

The amendment will make it clear that the courts can consider fraud committed by a third party. I hope that dispels some of the less well-founded doubts of noble Lords. The amendment will ensure that courts can consider any challenge to the certificate of the number of ballot papers or votes cast so long as two simple conditions are met. First, the proceedings must be brought by a claim for judicial review, which means that a challenge must be considered by the High Court. Secondly, the claim must be brought within six weeks of the count being declared.

I said on Report that I would give noble Lords a plain English explanation of the revised clause. I hope that, with this amendment, it makes sense. In short, legal challenges to referendum counts can be brought by way of judicial review within six weeks of the count and on any grounds. I hope that noble Lords accept that the amendment addresses the concerns expressed during the passage of the Bill and that the impact of the amended ouster clause is clear.

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Various periods of time during which a challenge might be allowed have been proposed as we have debated the Bill at its different stages. We need to be able to get on reasonably quickly with establishing an elected assembly when a region has voted in favour. A period of six weeks strikes the right balance between allowing for the challenge and the need to get on with establishing the assembly. The amendment makes clear the terms under which the legal challenge may be brought and makes it clear that the courts could consider a challenge in the case of third-party fraud. It improves the Bill in the way urged by noble Lords. I beg to move.

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