Annex A: Summary of Bill |
The Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill was published
on 14 November 2002. It takes forward the Government's commitment
to establish elected regional assemblies in the English regions
(outside London) that want them.
Part 1 provides, amongst
other things the Secretary of State with the power to order referendums
to be held on whether a region should have an elected assembly
(clause 1), sets out the question to be asked (clause 2) and defines
those eligible to vote (clause 3). It also provides, for example,
a power for the Electoral Commission to encourage voting and,
in the absence of designated "yes" or "no"
campaigns, the Commission with the power to raise voters' awareness
of the arguments for and against an elected assembly.
Part 2 provides the mechanism
for local government reviews to be conducted by the Boundary Committee
for England and for their implementation by the Secretary of State.
Clause 1 requires such a review of a region before a referendum
is held there. The Committee would seek to determine the best
unitary structure of local government for those parts of a region
that currently have both county and district councils. The changes
could go ahead if, but only if, following a referendum, it was
proposed to establish an elected assembly.
Part 3 requires the Government
to seek the Electoral Commission's advice on electoral matters
for an elected regional assembly, where a referendum has been
held and where the Government proposes to establish an assembly.
It also sets out the procedure for obtaining that advice and how
the Commission is to go about formulating it.
Part 4 provides a power
for the Government to pay grant to regional chambers.
Part 5 contains provisions
as to commencement, the definition of "region", orders
and regulations and expenditure.
Labour Party's manifesto commitment said elected regional assemblies
would be introduced in regions where the people demonstrated
in referendums that they wanted them.
White Paper, Your Region, Your Choice, published on 9 May
2002, put the flesh on that commitment by outlining the Government's
plans to take soundings in each region and on the level of interest
in holding a referendum. The 'soundings' exercise was launched
before Christmas. A copy of the soundings exercise document is
· No decisions
on first referendums have yet been taken. But interest is likely
to vary and the Government's expectation is that referendums will
be held in one, two or three regions at the first opportunity.
The level of interest will be the primary factor in deciding whether
to hold a referendum.
Government believes that if there is little interest in a particular
region in holding a referendum, it would not make sense to undergo
the expense and distraction of a local government review of the
region (which is a precondition to holding a referendum), or the
cost of a referendum.
which did not hold referendums in the 'first wave' would be able
to hold them in the future. A region which had a "no"
vote in a referendum would have an opportunity to hold another
referendum after five years.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT REORGANISATION
Committee Stage, both Opposition Parties argued that there should
be two questions on the referendum ballot paper, one on
whether people wanted an elected assembly, the other on the local
government changes. The Government is not proposing a separate
referendum question on local government reorganisations. No previous
local government reorganisation has been subject to a vote by
those affected. It believes that it is right that the people in
the regions are allowed to vote for the whole package. The preamble
in Clause 2 explains that, where it is proposed to establish an
elected regional assembly, it is also intended that local government
should be reorganised into a single tier in those parts of the
region that currently have both county and district councils.
· In 'two-tier'
local authority areas, regional government would add a third tier
of elected government below the national level. The Government
believes this is one tier too many.
removal of one tier of local government is an integral part of
the regional assembly package. This would not be the case if a
review and any reorganisation were to take place afterwards.
Voters will know the implications for local government of opting
for a regional assembly when they vote at a referendum.
· In 1994
the previous Government established the Government Offices of
the Regions (GOs) comprising staff from the Department of Environment,
Department of Transport, Education & Employment, and the Department
of Trade & Industry.
· In 1998
the then Merseyside and north-west regions were amalgamated to
pave the way for the RDAs to be established. More recently, following
publication of a Cabinet Office report, Reaching Out, staff have
also joined the GOs from the Home Office, Department of Culture,
Media and Sport and other Departments.
· A key
aim of elected regional assemblies is to draw together
the work of other regional bodies. A significant number of these
regional bodies, including the Government Offices, Regional Development
Agencies and other parts of central government, operate to these
boundaries. And these regions appear to be a reasonable size,
in terms of population, geography and economic weight, to justify
the creation of an elected assembly. The Government's aim is that
regional assemblies are, above all, strategic. That means ensuring
that the spatial and demographic size of the regions enable them
to adequately perform such a role.
Government believes that to enter a debate on regional boundaries
would generate a lot of argument, but with no obvious prospect
that more practicable or more widely acceptable boundaries would