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Baroness Hanham: My Lords, yesterday my noble friend Lord Peyton referred to my "terrifying glance". I hope that by now he has decided that I am less of a Rottweiler. I am delighted that he has returned to this tack today in his eloquent fashion. One of the most important aspects of the Bill is what information will be available to voters about the proposed role of regional assemblies before the election takes place.
We discussed at great length whether a regional assemblies Bill should have been produced before this Bill. We now have a commitment from the Government that a draft Bill will be published if possible. I hope that we will yet have a commitment that it will be produced. It has taken us hours to unpick what the regional assemblies will amount to. Had that information been available at an earlier stage we could have saved a great deal of time.
The voters must know before they start to decide how they are going to vote in a referendum what regional assemblies are going to do; what their responsibilities will be; and where they will fit constitutionally within the system. We have heard from the Minister that
Those are at least four of the main elements of information that we require. We have also discussed other information which the Minister has indicated will be available to voters in advance. I hope that the Minister will give us the reassurance we seek that all the information we have asked for will be made available to voters prior to any order for a referendum.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, the importance of information cannot be exaggerated. We have debated it before and I believe the Minister agrees and will remind us of the different roles of the Government, the Electoral Commission and the participants campaigning on both sides. To take up the last comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham: is the list complete? The costs are mentioned, but they are one side of a debit/credit account. One is going over a line about information into political argument for and against regional assemblies and the cost benefit analysis of a strategic regional tier and improved decision making closer to where the implications will be felt. Can the list be complete in legislation? I am sure that the Electoral Commission will want to draw many matters to voters' attention.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, there is a saying by Raymond Chandler that if you are writing a thriller and are in doubt as to what should happen next, you should always have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand. The Minister has been admirable in his response to our debates throughout Committee and Report stages, but when confronted with Raymond Chandler's problem he has a habit of falling back on the White Paper.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that my exchange with the noble Lord, Lord Evans, on the Prime Minister's and the Deputy Prime Minister's reference to regionally elected assemblies was a try-on. I should have realised that Ministers like the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister are above having their forewords and prefaces checked by civil servants to make sure that they are not speaking nonsense from which the Government have to resile at a later stage.
The Minister may not always be with us, as I have remarked previously. His confidence that everyone will know exactly on what they are voting in a referendum would not necessarily be sustained if another Minister were in charge of the proceedings at the time we arrived at them. I strongly support the amendment.
I take issue with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on one point. The Government are not starving public services of money. I shall not recite what happened to public services in the 1980s and 1990s, but the modest amount of public expenditure involved here does not starve public services of money. I have no doubt that my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will produce tomorrow some more up-to-date figures on the vast legitimate expenditure on public services. The noble Baroness need not worry on that score.
As I have repeatedly saidand I am happy to confirm it again todaythe Government intend to publish a summary of our proposals for elected assemblies prior to any referendums. I have given a commitment that the Government will do their bestwill do their damnedestto publish a draft Bill before the first referendums.
The amendment would require the information to be circulated before the order was made, rather than before the referendums, which substantiates the fact that it is a delaying tactic. We must publish our statement before the 28-day period in which publication of material is restricted, but do so close enough to the referendum so that it is fresh in people's minds. The order can be made many weeks before the referendum, so to publish this or similar information would not be productive for the electorate.
I am going to fall back on the White Paper, on which the Bill is based. This is only the paving Bill. The answer to many of the questions posed in many of the debates during the Bill's passage will be found in the main Bill. However, we will not have the main Bill unless there is a "Yes" vote in a referendum. If potential voters want to know about our proposals sooner, it is Recess reading for the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, of the White Paper. The noble Lord need not be frightened off by the large publication as there is a 12-page summary document. I recommend that it can be read on the Tube on the way home and will give him the most up-to-date information that he can require in order to make a judgment and keep his promise to say nothing else today.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, the short answer is that they will be powers from Ministers and not from local government because the statutory functions of local government are not changing. Yes, Ministers will lose some powers as a result of this. There is no question about that. It would not be possible for the assemblies to have the power to vary among their budget heads unless the powers came from Ministers. It is the only place the powers can come from.
From a statutory point of view, the powers will come from the main Bill. But they will come from Ministers, who will lose powers as a result of the elected regional assemblies. We are happy to do that because we believe in devolving some of the decision making from the centre. It is being taken away from Ministers.
I apologise to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, because I earlier asked colleagues whether he had been sent an Answer to his Question. I was reliably informed that it had been delivered this morning. That is being checked now. I shall not apologise two days running for DEFRA because the situation is quite unacceptable, but I was assured that the Answer was delivered to him this morning. I am hoping that that Answer, or even a copy of it, can be placed in his hands while he is in the Chamber.
I apologise if I did not answer the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. He asked about the costs of the review if there is a "No" vote in the referendum. It will be up to individual local authorities to decide how much they want to spend putting evidence to the Boundary Committee. Obviously there is an expenditure there. It will be up to them also whether they are for or against an elected assembly. There is no policy on this; it is up to local authorities. The consequence is that local authorities will make their own decisions on spend and will have to stand by the result of the referendum, whatever that is. Whether they are for or against the referendum, they will put their views to the Boundary Committee in respect of local government changes. We do not intend to underwrite any potentially excessive expenditure by local authorities
Lord Waddington: My Lords, surely the Minister is wrong to suggest that it is a voluntary matter for the local authorities. Let us take the case of Cheshire where the county council has stated firmly, as has Lancashire, that it is completely against a referendum. If as a result of the sounding exercise the Secretary of State decides that there will be a referendum and
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