Headlines: May 14th, 2003

There are only two days left for comments to be made on the idea of holding referendums in England to decide if there should be regional assemblies. The government’s consultation exercise began in December and ministers have asked for responses by Friday.So far more than six thousand individuals and organisations have made representations about the proposals, reflecting the wider opinions of people in their regions. The level of perceived interest in a referendum will be the main factor taken into consideration by the Secretary of State in deciding which region or regions will hold the votes first.

The Local Government and Regions Minister, Nick Raynsford, said the level of response so far had been encouraging and showed there was a real debate going on in the regions about assembly government. The Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Act received Royal Assent last week and Mr. Raynsford said the path was now clear to move towards referendums in those regions that wanted them.

“We want as many responses as possible to reach us by Friday so that we can get on with working out which regions are interested in having a referendum. This is an important issue,” he added. Mr. Raynsford said that elected assemblies would give people in a region a distinct political voice  and a real say over local decisions. The regions, he said, had the opportunity to say what was best for them and that was why the soundings exercise was so important.

A decision from the Deputy Prime Minister on which regions will be first to stage a vote is expected shortly after the close of this phase of the consultations, with the referendaums then being able to take place during the lifetime of the current Parliament. Anyone still wanting to join the consultations can respond via the web site of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister – www.odpm.gov.uk   – or by e-mail to referenduminterest@odpm.gov.uk . Responses received during the first phase of the consultation exercise, which ended in early March, are still valid  but those who made them have been contacted and offered a chance to resubmit their views.