HC Deb 15 March 2004 vol 419 cc61-2W
Mr. Jenkin

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what representations he has received from the Electoral Commission concerning the publication of information by the Government during the period prior to the referendums on the proposed elected regional assemblies. [159825]

Mr. Raynsford

Sam Younger, Chairman of the Electoral Commission, wrote to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in January about the timing of the Government's information campaign about elected regional assemblies. He suggested that the Government's information campaign should stop once the referendum period begins.

In my reply, I have pointed out that during the course of the Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister undertook to deliver a leaflet providing information about the referendum issues to every household in the regions affected. It is not feasible for us to print or deliver that leaflet before the referendums have been called and the date of those referendums is settled. This commitment to Parliament could not be honoured if Mr. Younger's suggestion was followed.

Section 125 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) requires the Government to stop providing information 28 days before the close of poll. However, we intend these referendums to be conducted by all-postal ballot, which means that voters will receive their ballot papers, and be able to vote, up to three weeks before close of poll. We have therefore indicated to the Chairman of the Electoral Commission our intention to stop our information campaign 28 days before the first day that ballot papers can be dispatched. This complies with both the letter and the spirit of the PPERA and enables our commitment to Parliament to be honoured.

Mr. Jenkin

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what steps he is taking to ensure that arguments(a) in favour of and (b) against elected regional assemblies will be put to the public at the regional hearings he is conducting in the next two months. [159829]

Mr. Raynsford

The regional hearings are to enable Ministers to hear views from members of the public, and others, about the proposed powers of elected regional assemblies. They are not about presenting arguments in favour of or against elected assemblies. However, representatives from both the yes and no campaigns have been invited to attend the hearings as they are key stakeholders in the regions.

Ann Winterton

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether the proposed Government grants of £780 million for the North West Region, £350 million for the North East Region and £570 million for Yorkshire and the Humber Region are subject to financial restraints for allocation and use; and by whom they are controlled. [160755]

Mr. Raynsford

The finance powers of elected regional assemblies were set out in Chapter 5 of the White Paper "Your Region, Your Choice: Revitalising the English Regions" (Cm. 5511).

The Government want to give elected regional assemblies the maximum flexibility over how they spend the money allocated to them. It would constrain an assembly unduly if grants were to be ear-marked by central Government for specific purposes. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister therefore proposes to give regional assemblies a single block grant with freedom to spend money as they judge best.

In return, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will expect each assembly to help achieve in their region a small number of targets agreed with the Government and relevant to an assembly's responsibilities. Some additional money will be available to reward elected assemblies which achieve or exceed the targets.