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House of Lords

Tuesday, 15th July 2003.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.

Regional Assemblies: Referendums

Lord Renton of Mount Harry asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What criteria they used in making their decision to hold local referendums on whether to establish three regional assemblies in England.

The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker): My Lords, the Deputy Prime Minister announced on 16th June the three regions which will proceed towards referendums. He published a summary of the information, evidence and views which he considered in reaching his decision. That summary has been placed in the Library of the House. No further soundings will be taken during this Parliament.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, the noble Lord tells us exactly what is in the summary that was put forward and published. However, he did not mention that, on the same day, the Deputy Prime Minister said that he was satisfied that,

    "an overwhelming case has been made for the three northern areas to hold a referendum".—[Official Report, Commons, 16/6/03; col. 31.]

In Yorkshire and Humberside, only 833 individuals out of 5 million wrote to support a local referendum. Is that the Minister's criterion for an outstanding case? If so, what about the more than 1 million people who wrote to the Daily Mail to say that they would like to have a referendum on the EU Convention? Is that not a much more substantial "outstanding case"? If he were to agree to have a referendum on the EU Convention, he would have my support as a pro- European, because it would give an opportunity for airing the powers and responsibilities of the enlarged EU that is very badly needed.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, what I always remember about the Daily Mail when people quote it at me is how it was described in the other place in the late 1970s as "the Forgers' Gazette" for the stories that it published.

Compared to the five regions that did not express a positive opinion about having a referendum, the three regions that expressed a majority opinion did so overwhelmingly. There is no doubt about that. If one takes the West Midlands, hardly anyone was interested, but—

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Rooker: My Lords, that is absolutely true. It is set out in the documents that are in the Library. By the

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way, we estimate that 53,591 people were involved in the soundings exercise, so noble Lords should not dismiss it so lightly.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, do the Government have any views now, having taken the soundings in all the areas? The noble Lord mentioned the five areas that are not going forward at this stage. Have the Government changed their views about whether they need to look at boundary changes in those areas? When they announced the areas, they said that the timetable for the boundary review for local government changes was very tight. Can the Minister assure us that, if that proves difficult, he will keep the House informed?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, we will certainly keep the House informed. The timetable is tight, and has been published. We shall have draft submissions for the boundary review by around December, so there will be full consultation on that. I think that there is a date in September by which local authorities and others put their views in to the Boundary Committee, but there will be full consultation. We have every reason to believe that the Boundary Committee has the resources to deal with the three regions, bearing in mind the extra work that this House added to it; for example, for single-tier government in the two-tier areas. However, if there is any slippage, we shall certainly keep the House informed.

As far as the boundaries are concerned, notwithstanding what was said in debate on the Bill, the Government have no plans to redraw the boundaries at present.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the information on which he appears to rely is wholly selective? Would not the Government be prepared to reconsider the letter that they put in the Library of the House?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I agree: I am selecting the information that I am using in answering the Question. No one challenged the figure that we gave in a parliamentary Answer in the other place about the number of people involved. The fact of the matter, which cannot be denied, is that of the respondents to the soundings exercise—it was not done in secret; this House made sure of that—53 per cent of respondents in the North East, 56 per cent of respondents in the North West, and 72 per cent of respondents in Yorkshire and the Humber all said that they wanted a referendum. In all the other regions, the majority was the other way round.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, during the proceedings on the Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Act we discussed when there would be a draft Bill on the powers and responsibilities of the regional assemblies. Can the Minister give us any assurance that that Bill is going to

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be available in draft form to this House before any referendum takes place, and, if so, on what sort of time-scale?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I repeat what we said; namely, that we will use our best endeavours to try to get a draft Bill. We expect that we can have a draft Bill available. However, I also think that the view was that we would not have the time for draft Bill scrutiny through the parliamentary process—the implication of a draft Bill being that it would normally go through that scrutiny process. If the referendums are planned for next autumn, that would not be possible. The plan was to have a Bill setting out the powers, responsibilities and finances of the elected regional assemblies before the referendum takes place, as well as the document that will go through the letter-box of every door in each area explaining the powers, functions and purposes involved.

The fact still remains that there is no new money, no new powers and no new tiers of government. That is why we are taking the step to make sure that unitary government is tied into the regional assemblies.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I do not want to continue trading statistics with the Minister. However, is it not a fact that, according to the Government's own statistics that they issued, in answer to their request for responses to the paper on regional government there were 713 replies of which 72 per cent were opposed to change with only 7 per cent being in favour? Is not the question of regional parliaments or assemblies a bee in the bonnet of the Deputy Prime Minister that is being pursued at very considerable future expense to the local taxpayer?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, with all due respect, I do not recognise the figure quoted by the noble Lord. I think that the figure of 72 per cent for Yorkshire and Humber, which I have with me, was the example that the noble Lord gave in his first supplementary question. In that region, 11 out of 14 authorities that responded are in favour; in the North West, 22 out of 31 local authorities that responded are in favour, and in the North East 17 out of 19 local authorities that responded are in favour—all elected local authorities.

NHS: Continuing Care

2.42 p.m.

Baroness Greengross asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect to publish updated guidance on the National Health Service's obligations to provide continuing care following the health ombudsman's report published in February 2003.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): My Lords, the NHS is making good progress on setting agreed

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continuing care criteria for each strategic health authority area. Over 80 per cent of strategic health authorities have done this and the rest are due to follow suit. They know that, from October, when the Community Care (Delayed Discharges etc.) Act 2003 is implemented, all older people must be assessed for continuing care before discharge from hospital. SHAs are now investigating individual cases for recompense for financial injustices back to 1996. We do not want to slow progress through the prospect of new guidance, but we will review the case for it after the summer.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and look forward to the impact of the Community Care (Delayed Discharges etc.) Act so that more people should be entitled to receive help with their health needs after they leave hospital. However, since the health ombudsman's report, we have had continuing confusion rather than continuing care. In the Minister's view, what is the difference between the higher band nursing care and continuing care? Is he aware of any other authorities that, like Berkshire, are retaining client moneys in a separate account until the dispute with the strategic health authority over eligibility criteria is resolved?

Lord Warner: My Lords, I understand the noble Baroness's concerns. However, as I tried to imply in my Answer, we have responded to the six main recommendations of the ombudsman. As I said, the majority of SHAs now have agreed new continuing care criteria. We have agreed with the recommendation to recompense for financial injustice. We have agreed to check that legal advice has been taken by each SHA to ascertain whether their criteria were compliant with the Coughlan case judgment, and to ensure that legal advice has been taken to support the new criteria. I think that we have tried to take all the necessary steps to ensure that there is consistency in different parts of the country commensurate with allowing people to make individual assessments on individual cases.

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