To ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether his assessment of the level of interest in holding a referendum on establishing an elected regional assembly will be determined by the assessment of the responses to the Soundings Process; how it will take into account the number and range of individuals and organisations within the region; what public opinion surveys will be (a) commissioned and (I)) considered in making the decision; and how local authorities will be consulted.
The results of the soundings exercise will be a major factor in ascertaining the level of interest in each English region in holding a referendum about establishing an elected regional assembly.
My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister will consider all relevant views, information and evidence drawn to his attention by the soundings exercise when he decides in which region(s) to conduct a local government review. Ultimately, the decision is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister's judgment, for which he will be accountable to Parliament.
No public opinion surveys have been commissioned by the Government about the level of interest in a referendum about an elected assembly. However, we made it clear that the responses of organisations would be strengthened if they could show that they had consulted widely. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has received a number of surveys and opinion polls in response to our soundings exercise. We will consider them alongside other relevant responses and published material, taking into account how robust, reliable and representative they are.
The Government wrote to all principal local authorities on 2 December 2002 inviting them to respond to the soundings exercise. Local authorities were written to again on 8 April 2003 to inform them of amendments made to the Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill in the House of Lords and giving them the opportunity to add to or change their response to the exercise if they so wished.