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Amendment No. 25 seeks to set the overall limit on the total permitted spending by all participants campaigning for or against elected assemblies. Let us be absolutely clear that we are not here talking about candidates but about campaigns for or against an elected assembly.
The noble Baroness wants a ceiling of £1 million and cited the rough basis for that figure. I shall not quite quibble with it because, from her point of view, there is some logic to it. As my noble friend Lord Evans explained in Committee, that approach is at odds with the one taken by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Schedule 14(2) to that Act allows for an order to be made setting limits on expenditure incurred by individual permitted participantseither by themselves or on their behalf. It envisages that that might be done by setting limits for different categories of permitted participantas has already been done in respect of UK-wide referendums.
Moreover, my noble friend explained at length that the amendment would result in an unworkable solution in terms of both timing for setting individual limits and enforcement of the limits. I will not repeat those reasons now as they are on record from the Committee stage.
Schedule 14(2) to the 2000 Act contains a provision to set different limits in relation to referendums held in parts of the UK. My right honourable friend Nick Raynsford, Minister of State with responsibilities for local government, wrote to Sam Younger, chair of the Electoral Commission, seeking its views on whether different limits should apply for regional referendumsand if so, what they should be and why. The commission has not yet undertaken detailed work on appropriate levels for regional referendums but has suggested that its officials work with those of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which we think is a sensible way forward.
I assure your Lordships that we shall look carefully at the whole issuethis is new territoryand seek to work very closely with the Electoral Commission. In light of that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will be satisfied. I repeat my commitment to contact her before Third Reading if I have more up-to-date information.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I am very grateful for the Minister's reply and for the correspondence that has ensued through the course of the Bill. The Minister has sought to keep us up to date. Even though my noble friend Lord Caithness was absent, at least there was an intention to keep him informed. We all appreciate that courtesy, so I wanted to place our thanks on record.
I do not propose to pursue the amendment. I want only to leave on record that one aspect of the campaign must not be overwhelmed by another simply because extra money is available from different sources. There must be some way of ensuring equality in giving the right to spend to a certain limit but no further. If the Minister agrees, perhaps he will ensure that aspect is discussed with the Electoral Commission, so that both parties are on a level playing field as far as money is concerned. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 26, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 28, 34, 58 and 60. These amendments are all consequential on there now being local government referendums. Amendment No. 26 enables the regional referendum poll to be combined with the polls for local government referendums.
Subsection (6) of Amendment No. 12 moved yesterday by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, required that the two referendums must be held on the same date. It makes sense to enable the polls to be combined, to reduce bureaucracy and duplication of effortwhich would be the case if the polls had to be run in parallel. Under the amended Clause 6, it would also still be possible to combine these polls with other polls for local or general elections or for local mayoral referendums.
Amendment No. 28 amends Clause 7. It simply ensures that the Electoral Commission can encourage voting in relation to regional referendums and local government referendums. Amendment No. 34 amends Clause 9. It ensures that a Minister of the Crown can make provisions for the payment by the Electoral Commission of charges and expenses in connection with both types of referendum.
Amendment No. 58 amends Clause 28. It ensures that Parliament can provide for any expenditure of a Minister of the Crown in connection with regional referendums and local government referendums. Amendment No. 60 amends the Long Title so that it reflects the holding of referendums about options for implementing the recommendations of local government reviews.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 35 and 41. In moving her amendment for a second referendum question, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, explained that her amendment provided for the Secretary of State, by order, to make provision in connection with the holding of the second referendums. She explained that such a power was needed because the options which will be put to voters in two-tier areas will vary from region to region, and because we would need time work out, in each case, the best arrangements for the new local referendums. Nevertheless, before making such an order, it is important that the Electoral Commission should be consulted. Amendment No. 41 provides for this by making suitable provision in Clause 11 of the Bill.
Amendments Nos. 27 and 35 are consequential amendments, which tidy up the Bill, so that the various obligations on the Secretary of State to consult the Electoral Commission are all set out in one place. Noble Lords will recall that such requirements exist in relation to the Secretary of State's order-making powers under Clause 6XCombination of polls"and Clause 9XExpenditure". Amendments Nos. 27 and 35 remove the separate requirements from those clauses and brigade them together in Clause 11. I emphasise, however, that the amendments in no way diminish the obligations on the Secretary of State to consult the Electoral Commission.
It is not unreasonable to believe that a similar imbalance may carry on when the Bill becomes law and campaigning and the use of public money becomes legitimate. The amendment would make it clear that the Electoral Commission must be entirely impartial as it encourages voting in the referendum.
There are people in the North East who believe that the playing field is not level. I know that the Minister will say, with every good intention, that there is no intention that anything other than a level playing field should prevail. However, given that people are uncertain and losing confidence, it is important to have a requirement on the Electoral Commission that can be seen to be a legal requirement as well as one of good intent.
The Electoral Commission is an independent body with a sensitive role; it will not be the first time that it has engaged in such a role. It would be very easy to influence the outcome of the referendum as it works to boost voter turnout. Anything that can be done to boost voter turnout is important, and it is important to make the commission's role in that clear. I have every confidence in the commission and in the Minister, when he tells us of the Government's intentions for it to remain neutral. The amendment provides the legislative back-up to justify its neutrality in this context, giving more confidence to local people in the process. I beg to move.
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