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House of Lords

Thursday, 13th March 2003.

The House met at eleven of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Derby.

Prevention of Driving under the Influence of Drugs Bill [HL]

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make it an offence to drive a motor vehicle while under the influence of a controlled drug; to provide powers for police officers to undertake roadside drug tests on drivers; to provide that statistics of drug-related road accidents and deaths are collected and collated; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.—(Lord Dixon-Smith.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

Business of the House: Standing Order 47

11.5 a.m.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, on behalf of my noble and learned friend Lord Williams of Mostyn, I beg to move the first Motion standing in his name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That Standing Order 47 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Monday 17th March to allow the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill to be taken through all its remaining stages.—(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Business of the House: Debate, 17th March

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, on behalf of my noble and learned friend I beg to move the second Motion standing in his name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of the Lord Goodhart set down for Monday 17th March shall be limited to three hours.—(Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Health (Wales) Bill

11.6 a.m.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:

Clause 1, Schedule 1, Clause 2, Schedule 2, Clauses 3 to 7, Schedules 3 and 4, Clauses 8 to 10.—(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill

11.7 a.m.

The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Rooker.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Baroness Hanham moved Amendment No. 1:

    Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause—

(1) Before making any order under this Act the Secretary of State shall—
(a) invite all local authorities in England to submit to him proposals for the creation of regions for the purposes of this Act;
(b) invite such other persons and bodies as appear to him to represent relevant interests throughout England to submit to him proposals for the creation of regions for the purposes of this Act;
(c) upon receipt of submissions in response to paragraphs (a) and (b) invite the Electoral Commission to comment on the submissions and to make proposals to the Secretary of State for the creation of regions for the purposes of this Act having regard to—
(i) the desirability of all regions being, in so far as is compatible with sub-paragraph (ii), of approximately equal population size; and
(ii) the need to reflect the identities and interests of local communities;
(d) publish the proposals made to him by the Electoral Commission under paragraph (c); and
(e) make an order creating regions for the purposes of this Act, having regard to the proposals published under paragraph (d).

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(2) For the purposes of this section "relevant interests" means professional bodies, trades unions, voluntary organisations, faith groups, political parties, business organisations and community organisations.
(3) For the purposes of subsection (1)(a) and (b), the Secretary of State shall set out a timetable for the giving of responses to him."

The noble Baroness said: The Bill seeks to facilitate the establishment of eight regional assemblies within England by defining the process by which referenda will be held. One of the mainstay arguments that the Government have used when trying to persuade us that regional government is a positive step forward is that England has prominent regional differences and that decentralising a degree of power from central government to elected regional assemblies will allow policy to be tailored to the differing needs of those in different areas. So we are told that public services will meet local needs and people will no longer feel that Whitehall dictates all.

However, if the Government have their heart set on the establishment of regional assemblies, which would be a fundamental constitutional change and involve a major reorganisation of local government, it is irresponsible and democratically untenable that a preliminary review of those boundaries is not carried out first. Amendments Nos. 1 and 10 make such a review the primary requirement preceding the calling of a referendum.

I am sure Members of the Committee will recall the heartfelt concerns of a number of noble Lords at Second Reading who felt little allegiance to the regions to which they had been assigned with little or no regard. As presently constituted the regions are huge, the boundaries unnatural and arbitrarily drawn. My noble friend Lady Seccombe pointed out that living in Warwickshire she has within a 10-mile radius of her home the West Midlands, the East Midlands, the South East and the South West regions. Regional identity should not be swept under the carpet in the interests of utility, which is what we feel the Government are doing.

From the White Paper it is clear that the Government believe that a debate on the composition of the regions and their definitions would be a waste of time. That is a somewhat dismissive view of an area of significant constitutional change. However, the Government have, without consultation, decided to stick with the administrative boundaries used by the Government Offices for the Regions and the regional development agencies—regions that have no coherence or points of community identity.

Clause 26 of the Bill makes it clear that the references to regions in the Bill are those defined in the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998. There are various views of how those regions came about, but since they were created for administrative rather than electoral purposes, they are unlikely to have been the subject of the degree of consultation that we propose in Amendment No. 1.

In the White Paper the Government say that they have not,

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    "completely ruled out in the longer term the possibility of adopting boundaries for regional assemblies that do not follow the existing boundaries".

But that is simply fanciful. Why refuse to review the system of boundaries at this stage in advance of the re-organisation of the local government substructure—a matter to which we shall return at a later stage—if there is even the smallest chance that at some time in the future those boundaries will be altered? That undermines the validity of a referendum—a result obtained on the basis of the boundaries as put forward at the moment. Surely it would be more regular, constitutionally and democratically, to sort out all the above details before asking people to vote for the proposals.

The boundaries of the proposed regions do not even square with people's perceptions. The number of people who do not know which region they supposedly live in is but one manifestation of the difficulty. A Mori poll in the North West region revealed that only 28 per cent could identify the region in which they lived, 12 per cent named entirely the wrong region and 60 per cent had simply no idea which region they lived in. The artificial North West region stretches from Crewe in Cheshire to Carlisle in Cumbria. Like many other regions, it has rural and metropolitan communities with different needs and characteristics. Cheshire has more affinity with the Midlands. Staffordshire and Cumbria are far apart. Cumbria might better be placed in the North East. The artificial—

Lord Rooker: I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness as she gives us a historical breakdown of the regional boundaries, but anyone would think that the present Government set them. The boundaries that she fundamentally attacks now were set by the previous Conservative government. I do not understand the purpose of this part of her speech.

Baroness Hanham: It is abundantly clear. I said that, where the regions are formed, they have the regional development agency boundaries. I also said that it was unclear where they were originally formed. Historically, they go back to 1948. But this Government accept them as the boundaries. We argue that, for the purposes of an electoral system rather than an administrative one, they are completely inappropriate because they do not relate to communities or local identities. This amendment suggests that the Government provide, construct and look at smaller regions that have an identity.

To conclude my earlier remarks, there are disparities not only in the make-up of the regions but in the population. The North East region has a population of around 2.5 million whereas the South East region has a population of 8.5 million. There is very little credibility. It will be difficult to construct constituencies and to ensure that there is any regional identity unless the population has a say in the matter.

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11.15 a.m.

Lord Tordoff: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. The situation will be made more difficult if she persists in believing that Cheshire looked towards the Midlands. It looks towards Manchester and Liverpool—I speak as Lord Tordoff of Knutsford, which is in the good county of Cheshire. There is no question that Knutsford looks north, north-west and north-east, not south.

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