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Lord Rooker: I say at the outset, and at the risk of repeating myself again—

Baroness Blatch: Is the Minister going to respond to my noble friend?

Lord Rooker: I am summing up.

Baroness Blatch: I wish to speak to the amendment.

Lord Rooker: Well, I am sorry!

Baroness Blatch: I did not want to stop the Minister if he was only intervening as regards my noble friend.

Lord Rooker: No one else was on their feet.

Baroness Blatch: I am sorry. I am only a little one. The Minister should bear in mind that we cannot see each other.

First, I strongly support my noble friend. With a proper determination of boundaries before—

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness but it is important to remember that we are in Committee and that it does not matter whether the Minister speaks or not. If anyone wants to continue the debate after the Minister has spoken, he or she can do so and that will be quite in order.

Baroness Blatch: The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, is absolutely right. I did not want the Minister to think that he was bringing the amendment to a close and then stand up and discuss it. This also gives the Minister an opportunity to respond to everyone who has spoken.

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As I just said, I strongly support my noble friend. The first two groups of amendments are absolutely fundamental. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, used the phrase, "The cart before the horse". That is definitely the case with the Bill.

I hope that the noble Lord will forgive us—it is the stuff of politics in both Chambers to use such an opportunity to test all of the arguments and propositions, whichever government are in power.

Whenever I have listened to government Ministers advocating the development of regional assemblies, they have used the language of bringing democracy to all bodies that operate in the regions. I strongly support the comments of my noble friend Lord Bowness.

I have examined the list relating to the North East. The noble Lord was absolutely right; it merely reflects what is happening in the area. It would be helpful if the Minister told us what on that list will be ceded—that is, in terms of a link with, partnership with, influence over or shared influence together with—and what powers will pass from the National Health Service, the Inland Revenue, the Passport Agency and learning and skills councils. There are two important lists. I suspect that if a regional assembly is established in the North East, many of those bodies will still operate there—some of them will do so autonomously—and some will have links with the regional assembly.

As I read the White Paper, even regional development agencies will remain in being under the regional assemblies arrangement. When Ministers discuss this matter, they refer to all such bodies in the region being brought under some form of democratic control. We probably have a meeting of minds with our Liberal colleagues in this regard. There is a real hungriness—or, to be absolutely grammatically correct, hunger—on the part of most of us to know precisely what the Government have in mind in terms of real powers being ceded and from what source.

My second point involves the difficulty of making sense of the language. The summary to chapter 4 states:


    "Assemblies will be given a range of powers to help them to deliver these strategies. These will include executive functions such as responsibility for resources".

If assemblies will be given money from central government—we know of the tendency of government to tag any moneys that come down from on high—of course they will have responsibility for such resources. With regard to any moneys that they have, they will be held accountable by district auditors, external auditing and public accountability. The summary continues that assemblies will also be given,


    "influence to promote results that will benefit the region".

What exactly does that mean? It is important that the Minister gives those words real meaning when he replies.

An example in chapter 4 is set out in Box 4.1, which is entitled, "Regional strategies for an elected assembly". When one runs through that, one finds it hard to discern a power that will be given to the regions. They will have influence and partnerships

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with other bodies. With transport, for example, there will be powers to "spell out plans". However, the plans will be controlled by national government. They will not have the power to determine: to address congestion, to improve public transport or road links and to ensure that transport systems support sustainable economic growth. They will merely have the power to set out plans.

On housing, Box 4.1 states that the assemblies will have powers to,


    "deal with all aspects of the housing market and social housing in the region".

They will have the power to "deal with" but not to determine. When I asked about the housing that will surround Stansted, I received a letter. The Government will determine that development; there will be no power to determine in a region or at county level. They will have a role in planning and an influence in the local determination once the number of houses has been determined at national level.

On health improvement, Box 4.1 refers to assemblies,


    "setting out a long-term public health strategy, which assemblies will agree with the relevant Regional Directors of Public Health".

How does that dovetail with the 10-year plan of the NHS? The NHS determined the NHS Plan and it has been presented to Parliament. What powers will they have to determine something that is separate, or will they simply have to operate within the plans set out by the NHS?

There are real areas of concern. As noble Lords will know, my particular area is education. The learning and skills councils are regional bodies: there are 47 of them around the country plus a national body. They will continue to operate as learning and skills councils. Will the regional assemblies take on themselves the powers that are currently controlled by the learning and skills councils?

I am extremely concerned about my final point. What will be the consequence in practical terms for the two parliamentary Chambers: the House of Commons and the House of Lords? We already know that when there was devolution to Scotland, we were told on almost a daily basis that we could not ask questions about Scotland because that was a matter for the Scottish Assembly. We are told on Welsh matters that we cannot ask questions about Wales because that is a matter for the Welsh Assembly. We are now told on London matters that we cannot ask questions on London because that is a matter for the Mayor of London.

If the North East gets its assembly, will we find ourselves, as Members in this House, with no influence, knowing that the regional assembly has no real power and that its accountability will be to national government? However, we, as Members of this House or another place, will lose our influence as a United Kingdom Parliament.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch that if the Bill comes to fruition and we have eight regional assemblies plus London, the United Kingdom

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Parliament will be very seriously emasculated constitutionally. The weight of the United Kingdom as an entity, whether with regard to Europe or anywhere else in the world, will be seriously diminished by this approach.

The Minister must forgive us for labouring these points and for sounding so anxious about the answers to some of our questions. However, it is incumbent on him to agree with my noble friend that before people are asked to vote in a referendum, they know what they are voting for, what the powers and functions will be and what the entailed costs will be. All of that information must be put before the electorate and agreed by Parliament so that the electorate can make an informed choice.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 1.29 to 2 p.m. for Judicial Business and to 3 p.m. for Public Business.]

Saville Inquiry

Lord Lamont of Lerwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the cost to date of the Bloody Sunday inquiry.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, the total cost of the inquiry to Government was £104.5 million up to the end of February 2003.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, I make no apology for raising this Question for the third time as every time I raise it the costs have increased. Does the Leader of the House agree that the inquiry should be renamed the "Lawyers' Benevolent Fund" and that the hearings should be moved to the Millennium Dome? How can he justify the fact that one barrister is reported to have been paid over £2 million, others over £400,000 each and those at the end of the gravy train struggle with expenses of just under £1,000 a day? Is it not monstrous that while the Government pay vast sums for the inquiry, the relatives of the victims of the Omagh bombing struggle to find the money to pay their legal fees and are receiving precious little help from the Government?


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