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23 Jan 2003 : Column 512continued
Mr. Raynsford: I put to the hon. Gentleman, who has no elected friends in the Chamber at all, to consider the right of Lord Strathclyde, a Member of the unelected House of Lords, to make the following point in a shameful speech last night:
Mrs. Ellman: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the comments that he has just quoted are easy to equate with an Opposition whose Members cannot be bothered to attend this important debate and who, when in government, set up regional Government offices, clearly with the intention of wielding power in the regions without accountability to the people of the regions?
Thinking about the effect of the Conservative amendments, we would have a long debate on regional boundaries under new clause 8 and amendment No. 3. New Clause 8 would insert into the Bill a procedure for creating new regions. It would involve submissions by local authorities and other "relevant interests" on proposed new regions, after which the Electoral Commission would submit another set of proposals to the Secretary of State. Presumably, there would be a consultation, but that is not explicit in the amendment. An order would then have to be made creating new regions.
The Opposition replaced new clause 1 with new clause 8 so that they could include a provision excluding Londoners from the invitation to make proposals for regional boundaries. As I have already suggested, that is nonsense, as it would be open to people outside London to suggest changes to London's boundaries, but Londoners could not even make a proposal that London's boundaries should remain unchangedhow typical of the Opposition's incoherence. The process set out in new clause 8 could take years, given the resource implications for the Electoral Commission and the lengthy consultation that is envisaged. The consultation proposed by the Opposition would be time-consuming, expensive and unproductive. It would also, on the basis of past experience, be divisive and acrimonious, as most boundary disputes are.
That brings me to new clause 6, which was tabled by the Cornish enclave of the Liberal Democrat party. It would enable the Secretary of State by order to define a region for the purposes of the Bill, and would uniquely oblige him to define Cornwall as a regionanother ill thought out proposal. In every other part of the country, the Secretary of State would have freedom to define regions. That curious aspect of the new clause probably explains why the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) did not put his name to it. It gives the Secretary of State extraordinary power to define
Andrew George: The Minister well knows that the new clause is a probing measure as I have spoken to him about it. If the Conservatives had not spent quite as much time debating the management of time we would have had a chance to debate the issue. There are important issues about the size of regions. The Minister knows that it is not the size of the Cornwall region that is problematic, but the fact that it is politically inconvenient for him.
Mr. Raynsford: I accept entirely the strength of feeling in Cornwall about its historical cultural identity. We understand that very muchindeed, we supported the campaign for the recognition of the Cornish language in which the hon. Gentleman was strongly involved. We were happy to accede because it is right for Cornwall's unique cultural heritage to be respected and preserved, but that is a very different proposition from the designation of Cornwall as a region. Regions are an intermediate tier of Government between the national and local level. A significant number of functions are currently discharged at regional level, such as economic development and planning. To be effective, such arrangements must operate on a large enough scale, and must be properly differentiated from the functions of local government, which should continue to be discharged at a local level. That, we believe, is the right way forward for Cornwallto benefit from its membership of the wider south-west region in terms of planning, transportation and economic development, while preserving and enhancing its unique qualities through the work of its local authorities, and in particular through Cornwall county council, whose excellent performance was recently recognised by the comprehensive performance assessment. In response to the new clause proposed by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George), I have to say, in words that will no doubt immediately be recognised by him, na wrav kammenn. That means no way, in Cornish.
Andrew George: I was about to do so, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I said that the Minister had learned well and spoken well, and I am grateful. However, he will ultimately find that there is no way that the people of the Government's south-west zone will accept a region on that basis. He will have to revisit the issue. I urge him not to place a straitjacket around himself from which there is no escape.
I must make progress, as time is very short. New clause 4, although apparently a sensible proposition as the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge proposed it, is unnecessary and unworkable, and appears to be designed, like so many other Opposition amendments, to wreck the Bill. It would make it impossible for the Secretary of State to begin the process of moving towards a referendum for elected regional assemblies if any individual in either of the organisations mentioned, over which the Secretary of State has no control, should, for whatever reason, step outside their powers in the 12 months prior to the moment when the referendum is to be ordered. It is clearly a wrecking proposal.
Amendment No. 26 from the Liberal Democrats would remove the requirement for a local government review to be carried out by the Boundary Committee before an order causing a referendum was made. Rather, the committee will only have had to be directed to prepare to carry out a review. We believe that any local government review of a region should be carried out before a referendum on elected regional assemblies, so that voters are fully informed of the implications of a yes vote for local government in their region.
We also believe strongly that three tiers of government would be too many. It must be a feature of regional government that where people vote for regional government, it should be against a clear understanding that there will be a unified tier of local government, in just the same way as there is in London, Scotland and Wales. That is the precedent. We think that it is right and that it should apply in the English regions, too.
Finally, Government amendment No. 4 is a minor tidying amendment, designed to make it clear that it is by order that an order under clause 1(1) to cause a referendum to be held is varied or revoked. It therefore makes it clear that any order to vary or revoke a clause 1(1) order would also be subject to the provisions in clause 27, and that the affirmative resolution procedure would apply. I ask the House to support amendment No. 4 and to reject the other amendments.
Mr. Hammond: The Minister often speaks of synthetic anger. We have seen a virtuoso display of synthetic anger from the master himself. He speaks of our amendments being wrecking amendments. They would not have been selected and they would not be on the amendment paper if they were wrecking amendments. They are sensible amendments. The Minister refers to the lack of attendance in the Chamber, on all sides. I tell him why there is a lack of attendance in the Chamber: his guillotine meant that hon. Members in all parts of the House saw that they stood no chance of being called in the debate and went off to do better things.
I am disappointed that the Minister has not listened to our arguments and has rejected all proposals to make his own structure more robust and durable, but I cannot say that I am entirely surprised. I will ask my hon.