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Baroness Blatch: We all live in the real world. In my part of the real world, this is part of the parliamentary process. We are in no doubt about the Government's intentions. Knowing how open the Minister is with Parliament, I have no doubt that he will remind us that at the end of the day the people will decide whether to have regional government. The Bill is set up for the people to decide.

We know that if we lie down now—in a parliamentary sense—and simply accept these boundaries as de facto because they are what the Government want, we will be remiss in our duty. This part of the process is to try to persuade the Government that there is a real issue. Whether or not the Government intend to have regional government only in the North East and one or two other areas, whether there is to be a referendum and whether the answer is yes or no in any part of the country, once the boundaries are set and the Bill is passed by Parliament, people will be able to vote only on the boundaries set in the Bill. This is our opportunity to say at the outset that the boundaries should be properly revisited, taking into account all the points made.

I am also cognisant of what the Liberal Democrats have said. On Second Reading, they made it clear that, irrespective of whether they get changes to achieve the kind of regional government they want, if the Government insist and powers are ceded upward from local government to regional assemblies rather than downward from national government, with all of local

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government being reorganised, at the end of the day the Liberal Democrats so want regional government that they will still vote for the Bill. We are more principled than that. We will fight for Liberals, Conservatives and Labour Party members outside this Chamber to get the point sorted out by Parliament ahead of action being taken and referendums being held.

Lord Greaves: I am grateful that the noble Baroness will come out fighting for us all. We look forward to seeing that. The question of powers comes up later. We all agree that the Bill is unsatisfactory in that it does not deal with powers. We shall discuss amendments on that subject later.

There is clearly an important point to be made about boundaries. Other amendments, some of which we have tabled, deal with the issue in a better way.

The criteria laid out in paragraph (c)(i) and (ii) of the amendment simply do not meet the provisions of the Bill. Paragraph (c)(ii) refers to,

    "the need to reflect the identities and interests of local communities".

I agree with that proposition, but if there is to be a review of regional areas and regional boundaries, there clearly has to be as part of that review a consideration of whether there is a regional identity, whether there are regional interests and where those regional identities and interests lie. That ought to be a fundamental consideration. It is indicative of the approach taken in the amendment by the Conservatives that they do not even think that that is worth including.

The suggestion that the criterion of "approximately equal population size" is a fundamental criterion is nonsense. Cornwall is a case in point. If there is to be a review of boundaries, there is clearly a case—whether it is right or wrong—for saying that Cornwall should be a region in its own right. A large number of people would argue that case. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, argued that case from the Conservative Benches at Second Reading. That view clearly clashes with what is set out in the amendment regarding a uniform size. On that ground alone we find it impossible to support the amendment.

Baroness Rendell of Babergh: The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, referred to Cornwall. Cornwall may be a major example of dissent from the proposed regions. Some 10 per cent of its population has signified objection to being part of the South West—an area which would include Swindon and Gloucester. Cornwall has its own language, which is very much on the increase, a unique terrain and a coastline probably distinguished above all others in the United Kingdom. Only a referendum will show, but Cornwall will not easily submit to inclusion in a vast area along with fellow constituents with whom the Cornish consider they have nothing in common.

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12.15 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, was brave enough and well informed enough to introduce the European dimension into the debate, as some of us did at Second Reading. The noble Lord could not see, of course, that his erstwhile noble friend on the Front Bench, the Minister, treated his intervention with, I was going to say silent mirth but I am afraid it has become the sort of statutory ridicule with which any of us are greeted who try to recognise the influence that the European Union is having on nearly all our affairs. This Bill is no exception.

At Second Reading I think that I got the Minister to confirm, in a somewhat coy way, that the boundaries proposed—I am sure he will correct me if I am wrong—for the English regions are, indeed, the same boundaries which have been drawn for the European constituencies. That means that they were agreed in Brussels and that they receive so-called European aid, which is not, of course, as the noble Lord—

Lord Bowness: I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way, but perhaps he can help me. I thought that I heard him say that the boundaries of the European constituencies were agreed in Brussels. I thought that there was great argument in this House and elsewhere when we settled the boundaries of the European constituencies.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: They are the boundaries of the European constituencies and they send Members to the European so-called Parliament. They are, as I understand it—the Minister appeared to confirm this at Second Reading—the boundaries which we are considering today. In fact, the Minister said:

    "At present, I understand that regional government boundaries are in any case coterminous with European Parliament boundaries. As far as I know, there is no cross-over; they were used last time".—[Official Report, 20/2/03; col. 1334.]

It is a usual European trick to say, "Well, it is there anyway. It was used last time and so there cannot be anything wrong with it".

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: Does the noble Lord agree that the boundaries as they are currently drawn exist only because his party when in government created them for administrative purposes? Has he not observed that other organisations have therefore reorganised their boundaries in order to be coterminous, and that the decision to create regional parliamentary constituencies for the European Parliament was taken as a matter of convenience as they already existed? This Bill follows on from that.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I do not know whether the noble Baroness was present, but I thought that we had already covered that point. I do not think that the noble Baroness or anyone on her Benches could accuse me of going along with anything done by my party in

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the European context. I am grateful for her intervention but I am entirely innocent of the accusation that she seeks to make.

Before the helpful intervention of my noble friend Lord Bowness I said that the regions already receive European so-called aid. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, reminded the Committee briefly—but I shall do it again—that there is no such thing as EU aid. We get back only about £1 from every £2 that we send to the corrupt filter in Brussels. That so-called aid is always spent in this country on projects which are designed to improve the image of the corrupt octopus in Brussels and not necessarily on projects which we would back here.

As I say, at Second Reading the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and, indeed, my noble friend Lord Bowness tried to dismiss the genuine fears that many of us have that what we are witnessing in this Bill is in fact the beginning of the great project of the Europe of the regions. In that regard I say to the Minister that he did not answer the main question that I put to him at Second Reading, and this may be as good an opportunity as any to put it to him again. If we Eurosceptics were scaremongering, would he come to the Dispatch Box with his hand on his heart and give an unequivocal assurance on behalf of Her Majesty's Government that the regionalisation envisaged in the Bill will never, and could never—and I mean never—lead to the kind of dominance by Brussels and the European Union which I described in my Second Reading speech and with which I do not need to trouble the Committee again now? I was given no such assurance from the Minister on that matter. It would be helpful to have such an assurance today.

But there is a positive aspect to the amendment which I should have thought the Minister might be willing to accept. If the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, myself and others are just scaremongering and these regions and the boundaries of these regions have nothing to do with the European project of the Europe of the regions, then surely it would allay our fears and much of the resistance that the proposal is meeting in the country if the Minister were to accept the amendment which might result in boundaries different from those of the European Union constituencies. I do not say that it would kill completely the project of the corrupt octopus in Brussels, but it might go some way towards messing it up. Therefore, for that reason, I support the amendment.

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