Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill
Lord Rooker (Minister of State (Regeneration and Regional Development), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister; Labour)
My Lords, I cannot answer the noble Baroness's question because no decisions have yet been made. However, I shall base my response on past experience. As my noble friend Lord Evans said when moving earlier amendments, essentially we want the referendums to take place on the same day and in the same polling booth. We do not know the degree of the questions or of the options on the local government referendum—at least two choices, possibly more—or, indeed, how they will be set out and deployed in the length of a ballot paper.
As is normal, I suspect that it may involve two separate ballot papers, one being a different colour to the other to make clear that difference. They may be put in the same ballot box and then separated later, or placed in separate boxes. I simply do not know. It may be wholly impractical to put all the information on one paper because we would not know the exact layout of the local government options. This is a matter for consideration. The layout must be clear to voters.
As regards the regional referendum, this will clearly be a case of whether the voter is in favour, or not in favour, of the proposal. With the local government referendum, it follows from the whole thrust and the pattern—does it not?—that there will be two or more options from which to choose. It is up to the elector which option, if any, he or she chooses. I cannot envisage how there could conceivably be any other way forward. There will be two or more options, one of which must be chosen if people so wish. Alternatively, they could abstain.
I have just been given some further information. I shall read out the advice in this briefing note, in the knowledge that what I have just said may be completely contradictory. On the question of whether there will be two ballot papers or one, I am advised that either approach is possible. I think I said that. My briefing goes on to say that we are discussing the matter further with the Electoral Commission—good! As for which approach is appropriate, I am advised that that may depend on the number and length of the local government options. Indeed, that is what I just said. Clearly, further work is required on the matter.
By and large, the answers are self-evident. It depends to a certain extent on the nature of the options for local government; in other words, how many there are in a particular area. They will vary. It is a county-wide, local referendum, which may be different in the same region. Such considerations are a matter for the Electoral Commission. People must be able to understand the information supplied.