Select Committee on Constitution Fourth Report


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.

Annex B

REFERENDUMS

·  The Labour Party's manifesto commitment said elected regional assemblies would be introduced in regions where the people demonstrated in referendums that they wanted them.

·  The 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 enclosed.

·  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.

·  The 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.

·  Regions 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

·  During 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.

·  The 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.

REGIONAL BOUNDARIES

·  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.

·  The 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 result.


 
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