Report (5th Day)

Part of Localism Bill – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 10th October 2011.

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Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat 7:00 pm, 10th October 2011

My Lords, in moving Amendment 195ZAZN, a relatively short number compared with some we have just had, I shall speak to 17 others in this group, some of which are even shorter. The purpose of these amendments is to make the Bill itself even shorter, which I think would benefit the people of this country generally.

The first amendment removes Clause 42, which is the duty to hold local referendums-a duty to hold a local referendum under ordinary local election rules if a petition received by a council signed by at least 5 per cent of the electors in a ward, a county division, or the whole authority, is received. If passed, the result of the referendum would be advisory on the authority. The first amendment removes this duty from the Bill; the other 17 amendments in the group remove the remaining 17 clauses in this chapter of the Bill, which set out how the referendum procedures would operate and how the referendums would take place.

The reasons why I would like to do this were fairly fully set out when I spoke at Second Reading and described this part of the Bill as "nonsense", and in the discussions we had in Committee. It is a provision which is over the top. It would be very expensive in relation to its value, which would simply be advisory referendums, and if combined with a local election, it has the potential to distort that election. If it is free-standing, then it carries the whole costs of a local election. It is open to abuse by extreme groups; as I said in Committee, in my own ward, in Waterside in Pendle, less than 200 names would be required, and the last time I stood for election the BNP got more than 300 votes. It would also be open to people demanding large numbers of referendums on all kinds of things that the council would find it extremely difficult to refuse to hold.

There is the question of planning: the Government removed planning applications from the scope of this chapter, but not the plan-making process, where it really is superfluous to a process which already has provisions for public participation.

Councils already have the powers to hold referendums when they want to do so, and as I have already said, if passed, the referendums would only be advisory anyway. Councils could simply ignore them, and the whole thing would be a waste of money.

The Bill retains provisions for referendums in various specific cases, such as elected mayors, what the Government call excessive council tax increases, and neighbourhood plans. While I have views on those referendums I am not trying here to remove those provisions, but merely to remove the provisions for advisory local referendums in Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Bill. I beg to move.