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Lord Dixon: Does the noble Baroness accept that campaigning is taking place on both sides? There is a campaign against a regional assembly in the North East and there is a campaign for one. There are two sides.

Baroness Blatch: I know that. Such has been the intensity of the "Yes" campaign in the North East that it has driven-up "No" campaign activity. But the "No" campaign has no recourse to, and no authority to use, public funding. It has to campaign privately and it must raise its own funding. A number of noble Lords have equated it to European elections where, if you want to oppose something, you have to find your own funding; if you want to support it, you have recourse to public funds. That is the point I am making about the one-sided nature of the system. My next point would have been that the "No" campaigns do not have access to public funds.

As to the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, I do not know whether bodies are overstepping the line in terms of legality. My amendment seeks to address that issue. It seeks to ensure that, before making an order, the Secretary of State should satisfy himself that there has been no illicit activity.

The Minister quite rightly pointed out that there are remedies for deciding whether or not moneys have been spent properly—that is, legally—through the district auditor and through the Public Accounts Committee. I am not arguing against that. But if the Public Accounts Committee or the district auditor were to find that there had been wrong-doing, there still would be no obligation on the Secretary of State to take that into account when determining whether or not an order should be made. But, if wrongdoing has been established by the district auditor—and I know that the district auditor is being asked to look into expenditure in the North East—that should indicate to the Secretary of State that the procedure has been unfair and has created an unlevel playing field.

The Minister pointed out, again quite rightly, the distinction between the regional development agencies and the chambers. It is true that they are different and that the regional development agencies gain their authority directly from primary legislation, but it is not true to say that the chambers are not statutory bodies. They are established under, and derive their powers from, the Regional Development Agencies Act, as my noble friend Lord Waddington pointed out. They receive public moneys, are accountable to the Public Accounts Committee and to Parliament, and have direct formal and informal links to the regional development agencies. So that is not an argument against the amendment.

20 Mar 2003 : Column 362

The Minister referred to bodies in the South East and the South West being in Conservative hands. I hope that I will never be accused of talking about this Bill from a party political point of view. I regard it as being so constitutionally important that it overrides and subordinates totally the issue of party politics. I do not care whether the Conservative Party, the Labour Party or whoever controls these bodies; my concern is the constitutional arrangements of this country. If members of the public are to be invited to express a view on whether or not they want a regional assembly in their area, public money should not be spent by bodies with a vested interest on campaigning for a "Yes" vote while those without all the information necessary to make a decision are left to their own devices to create an opposition body.

The amendment seeks to ensure that, if there has been one-sided activity by bodies with a vested interest in a "Yes" vote—and if that activity has created a distortion— the Secretary of State should be obliged to make a judgment on that issue before making an order under Clause 12. I commend the amendment and wish to test the opinion of the Committee.

Lord Elliott of Morpeth: The Minister is quite right to say that the bishops can speak for themselves. For the record, just over a year ago the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham raised the subject of regional government in a debate. I took part in that debate. I disagreed with the right reverend Prelate, but he did speak for himself.

12.38 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 24) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 86; Not-Contents, 114.

Division No. 2

CONTENTS

Aberdare, L.
Ackner, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V.
Anelay of St Johns, B.
Astor, V.
Blatch, B.
Bowness, L.
Bridgeman, V.
Bridges, L.
Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Burnham, L.
Buscombe, B.
Byford, B.
Caithness, E.
Campbell of Alloway, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Cope of Berkeley, L. [Teller]
Cox, B.
Crathorne, L.
Dean of Harptree, L.
Denham, L.
Dixon-Smith, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Elton, L.
Ferrers, E.
Flather, B.
Fowler, L.
Freeman, L.
Geddes, L.
Glenarthur, L.
Glentoran, L.
Hanham, B.
Hanningfield, L.
Higgins, L.
Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.
Hooper, B.
Howe, E.
Howe of Aberavon, L.
Howell of Guildford, L.
Hurd of Westwell, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L.
Jopling, L.
Kimball, L.
King of Bridgwater, L.
Knight of Collingtree, B.
Laing of Dunphail, L.
Laming, L.
Lane of Horsell, L.
Luke, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L.
Macfarlane of Bearsden, L.
Marsh, L.
Masham of Ilton, B.
Miller of Hendon, B.
Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Naseby, L.
Noakes, B.
Northbourne, L.
Norton of Louth, L.
Palmer, L.
Park of Monmouth, B.
Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Peel, E.
Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
Rawlings, B.
Roberts of Conwy, L.
Saatchi, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Seccombe, B. [Teller]
Sharples, B.
Shaw of Northstead, L.
Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Stewartby, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Strathclyde, L.
Trumpington, B.
Waddington, L.
Wade of Chorlton, L.
Wakeham, L.
Weatherill, L.
Wilcox, B.
Williamson of Horton, L.

NOT-CONTENTS

Acton, L.
Addington, L.
Ahmed, L.
Alton of Liverpool, L.
Andrews, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Ashton of Upholland, B.
Bach, L.
Bernstein of Craigweil, L.
Billingham, B.
Blackstone, B.
Boothroyd, B.
Boston of Faversham, L.
Bragg, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Brookman, L.
Burlison, L.
Campbell-Savours, L.
Carter, L.
Christopher, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Cohen of Pimlico, B.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L.
Craig of Radley, L.
Crawley, B.
Currie of Marylebone, L.
Dahrendorf, L.
David, B.
Davies of Oldham, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Dholakia, L.
Dixon, L.
Dubs, L.
Elder, L.
Evans of Temple Guiting, L.
Falkland, V.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Finlay of Llandaff, B.
Fitt, L.
Fyfe of Fairfield, L.
Gale, B.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Gladwin of Clee, L.
Goldsmith, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Greaves, L.
Grocott, L. [Teller]
Hamwee, B.
Hardy of Wath, L.
Harris of Richmond, B.
Harrison, L.
Haskel, L.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.
Hoyle, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Jay of Paddington, B.
Jeger, B.
Judd, L.
Kirkhill, L.
Lea of Crondall, L.
Lipsey, L.
Livsey of Talgarth, L.
Lockwood, B.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller]
MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Maclennan of Rogart, L.
McNally, L.
Mar and Kellie, E.
Massey of Darwen, B.
Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.
Mitchell, L.
Morgan, L.
Morris of Aberavon, L.
Morris of Manchester, L.
Patel of Blackburn, L.
Pendry, L.
Pitkeathley, B.
Plant of Highfield, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Redesdale, L.
Rennard, L.
Richard, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Rooker, L.
Roper, L.
Sandberg, L.
Scotland of Asthal, B.
Scott of Needham Market, B.
Sewel, L.
Sheldon, L.
Shutt of Greetland, L.
Simon, V.
Strabolgi, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Temple-Morris, L.
Thomas of Gresford, L.
Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Tomlinson, L.
Tordoff, L.
Turnberg, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Whitaker, B.
Whitty, L.
Williams of Crosby, B.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Williams of Mostyn, L. (Lord Privy Seal)

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

20 Mar 2003 : Column 364

12.47 p.m.

[Amendment No. 25 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 25A:


    Page 2, line 15, at end insert—


"( ) No order shall be made under subsection (1) until the Secretary of State has published the results of an independent inquiry into the constitutional and practical effects of regional government on the United Kingdom parliament."

The noble Baroness said: I repeat my point about the haste with which we are being pressured to complete the Bill. In a sense it underlies what I consider to be the very serious constitutional point addressed by my amendment.

We know that the Government would like nothing better than to have a regional assembly up and running in the shortest possible time: that means the Bill completing its passage by 8th May; an announcement then being made—as we all believe will happen—that the North East has expressed an interest in having a regional assembly; the Boundary Committee then getting on with its work; and a regional assembly being up and running within a year to 18 months.


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