Letter from the Deputy Prime Minister,
the Rt Hon. John Prescott MP, to Lord Norton of Louth, Chairman
of the Constitution Committee
REGIONAL ASSEMBLIES (PREPARATIONS) BILL
I am writing to you to draw your attention to the
Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill, which was taken through
its House of Commons Committee stage before Christmas and had
its Report and Third Reading in the House of Commons on 23 January.
It is due to be introduced into the House of Lords in the week
commencing 27 January.
The Bill and its Explanatory Notes are enclosed.
A short summary of the Bill is at annex A.
The Bill paves the way for the establishment of elected
regional assemblies, in accordance with policies set out in the
White Paper, Your Region, Your Choice: Revitalising the English
Regions. Once established, elected assemblies will be responsible
for setting priorities, delivering regional strategies, allocating
funding, economic development, skills and employment, spatial
planning, housing, transport, environmental protection, tourism,
culture, sport and public health. Assemblies will be based on
the existing administrative boundaries used by the Government
Offices of the Regions and Regional Development Agencies. They
will have between 25 and 35 members, including a leader and a
cabinet of up to six members chosen by, and wholly accountable
to, the full assembly. The voting system will be the Additional
Member System form of proportional representation, which is also
used for the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales
and the Greater London Authority.
The purpose of the current Bill is to allow the Government
to call referendums on the establishment of elected regional assemblies,
and to ask the Boundary Committee for England to carry out structure
reviews of two-tier local government in those regions where a
referendum is to be held. In introducing the Bill, we are following
the precedents of the Bills setting up the Scottish Executive,
the National Assembly for Wales and the Greater London Authority.
As in those cases, the Government set out the policy in a White
Paper and has introduced legislation to enable referendums to
be held. Where the people in the regions vote in favour of directly
elected assemblies, we will take the first opportunity to introduce
legislation to create them.
Clauses 1-4 of the Bill were considered to be of
'first class constitutional importance' and so the Committee stage
of these clauses was taken on the Floor of the House of Commons.
(The other 25 clauses and the schedule were taken in Standing
Committee.) We consider that the Bill has a number of constitutional
implications, either directly or in the way that it prepares the
ground for elected regional assemblies, and we thought you would
find it helpful if we were to set these out. They are:
(a) Although the constitutional principle is
now enshrined in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums
Act 2000, this Bill makes specific provision for regional referendums.
Not all English regions will have a referendum at the same time.
The Bill also contains the referendum question and preamble, which
we are amending to take account of Electoral Commission comments.
As a consequence, the Bill implies a potentially asymmetric model
of regional government: that is, regional assemblies will not
necessarily be established at the same time across England;
(b) The Bill makes provision for the Government's
intention that there should be a single tier of local government
in a region where an elected assembly has been established;
(c) The Bill gives an additional statutory status
to regional boundaries. The existing English regions are defined
in the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998. They form the boundaries
of the Government Offices of the Regions, the regional chambers
and other regional bodies, including Government agencies.
More detail on the Government's position on (a) to
(c) is at annex B.
Clearly, it will be for you and your Committee to
decide the extent to which you wish to examine this Bill. Nick
Raynsford would be very happy to meet you to discuss the Bill
before you decide the scope of any inquiry or during the course
of an inquiry.
Copies of this letter go to the Chief Whips and Leaders
of both Houses.
23 January 2003