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Lord Hanningfield: The amendment only highlights the whole problem of what we are talking about. Until the Government spell out what regional assemblies will do and what their powers and functions might be, we are talking in a vacuum about regional government. As we have said several times in Committee, we need the Government to publish—perhaps initially in draft form so that we can comment on it, but then fully so that we can debate it in both Houses of Parliament—an Act of Parliament that sets out the powers and responsibilities of regional government.

The noble Baroness has put forward a long list of quangos that are in the Government's paper on regions. We all agree that those quangos would be rather better if they were democratically controlled rather than appointed bodies controlled by people who did not have any democratic accountability. For our part, we would not want to see some of the quangos going to large regional government. Many of them could be dealt with much better by local authorities. For example, the Small Business Service is fairly local. One does not need a large regional government for it; a local authority would do. Therefore, I do not agree that everything should go to a regional assembly, but the issue will add to the problem.

Until the Government spell out in an Act of Parliament what the powers and functions of regional government will be, we will continue to debate the issues without clarity as to what we should be doing.

The Earl of Caithness: I merely take up a small point mentioned by my noble friend. He said that there would be a problem until the Government spelled out in an Act of Parliament exactly what there would be. The trouble is that the referendum will already have taken place before we get the Act of Parliament. When we seek to alter that Act, the Minister will turn round and say, "Oh no, you can't alter the Act of Parliament

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because this is what people voted for in the referendum". My noble friend is not going to get what he wants; we have to get in earlier.

Baroness Blatch: I absolutely agree with that point. That is what makes the Bill so important. As I said earlier—much earlier—the Bill will trigger a great deal of executive action over which Parliament will have no say. The conditions that will apply when people come to make the decision are only "maybe or maybe not"; we have not had assurances that there will be a draft Bill before them. The Scottish people certainly made their decision without the detail before them, as did the Welsh people; that was also the case with London government. At the moment, I have no high hopes that a draft Bill will contain all the detail that will allow people to understand the issues.

I take issue with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about learning and skills councils. Under some decisions, they could disappear altogether. Learning and skills councils are second-guessing organisations and their functions should reside with county councils, which previously had those functions and were doing a good job. I say to the noble Baroness that the tensions that grew up as a result of the way in which the learning and skills councils operate were very real. They fund sixth forms. A head teacher can be forgiven for being confused; instead of funding coming from one stream, it now comes from learning and skills councils for sixth-formers and from the Government through local government for the rest of the school. Although the school is a single entity, it has to deal with two different bodies.

We also know that learning and skills councils are starting to discuss cuts in sixth-form funding. That makes running a school extremely difficult. A third problem arose in my area, where we have an outstanding music school in Huntingdon. Outside school hours, it serves the needs of adults and children, some of whom are as young as two or three and who are taught the violin by the Suzuki method. It is now likely to close because—would you believe it—the learning and skills council was set up only to deal with people who are 16-plus and by law cannot fund anyone below that age. There is a mixture of adults and children in that establishment, so it will probably go to the wall because of an unforeseen lacuna in the legislation. I argue not that learning and skills councils should be absorbed into the regional assembly but, frankly, that they should disappear altogether.

It is terribly easy simply to put out the list and say that those bodies should form part of the regional assembly. We need a much longer and more detailed debate about the nature of each of the bodies, whether they should exist at all, and where their functions properly reside. A good number of them will be in local and/or district and/or unitary authorities. Simply to include them in this way and say that they should form part of regional assemblies is much too simplistic.

Lord Rooker: I will stick to the spirit of what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, proposed when she

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said that she did not want to go into much detail and that she knew that there were other Bills to come. However, she proceeded to go into an enormous amount of detail.

I have repeated in this House what Nick Raynsford said in another place during the passage of the Bill; that is, that information will be available to people in the regions before they vote in the referendum, as will a statement from the Government, based on the White Paper, setting out what powers the elected regional assembly would have.

Noble Lords have heard me say several times that we intend to bring forward another Bill to establish the elected regional assemblies when parliamentary time allows and after there has been a "Yes" vote in at least one region. That Bill will include detailed provisions about the statutory functions of elected assemblies. There is no doubt that both Houses of Parliament will want the Bill to be scrutinised properly. I am not going to anticipate those detailed discussions now; nor can I accept that the paving legislation should do so.

The amendments are wholly inappropriate for this Bill. I know that I am going to get my hands slapped by the noble Baroness, who says, "This is so important. We need to know everything before we start". Life is not like that. We have a set of procedures to go through—I spelt them out in detail earlier.

This level of detail should not be included in the Bill. Before people vote, they will know that level of detail in relation to elected assemblies. I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendment to a Division.

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: I shall not press my amendment tonight.

I am chastised for going into too much detail, but I could have gone into a great deal more. There is a point of principle about the nature of quangos which it is right to address as part of the paving legislation. I am wholly with the noble Baroness on the need for a full Act. We have not had a satisfactory rationale from the Government as to why quangos and public bodies should be left with central government, but I can see that I shall not get such a rationale at this stage.

The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, suggested that two particular services would be better dealt with by local government. I do not necessarily disagree with them. Someone may recall who set up the Small Business Service—I do not remember whether it was this Government or the previous Conservative government. Having a regional assembly with proper powers would enable the regional assembly to devolve some matters to local government. We on these Benches would be enthusiastic about that. However, no amendment will be perfect or sufficiently extensive, and had I produced one that was longer than the Bill itself, someone would probably have commented.

The learning and skills councils are certainly a difficult issue, and I am aware of the problems highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I was concentrating on the connection between skills

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training and economic development. I wholly appreciate the difficulties that have arisen from the issue of continuity of education in skills training from 14 to 19. There are matters to be debated in that regard, but I named those bodies because the White Paper promotes economic development as central to the proposals for regional government. We should have skills training in whatever form—the more local the better, but better regional than national. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 38 and 39 not moved.]

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 39A:

    Page 2, line 36, at end insert—

"It is not proposed to establish an elected regional assembly in any region until at least three regions have voted in favour of the establishment of such assemblies in referenda conducted pursuant to section 1 of the Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Act 2003."

The noble Lord said: The amendment is designed to test and reconsider the constitutional area of setting up the regions. I doubt that we want to reopen the debate about the constitutional effect on England that took us an hour and a half earlier today. However, whatever the Minister says, setting up regional government will cause a big constitutional change. It affects both this Parliament and local government. In a previous debate, we discussed whether regional government was "big local government"—we do not want to go into that again, either. However, these changes will involve a massive reorganisation of local government, including moving to a unitary system in England. Therefore, there should be a sufficient test of public opinion; people should be asked whether they want to go down that route.

We have been told over many years that Members of Parliament in the North East desperately want regional government, and that is why the Bill is before us and why there will be regional elections, although that may be only media speculation. That is the favoured area for regional government, because it adjoins Scotland and people around Newcastle want it. We do not think that that would be sufficient. I know that the Minister will deny that it is only for the North East, the North West or Yorkshire and Humberside. However, we believe that there should be a sufficient test of the feeling for regional government in England. There should be sufficient support for such change before we start to dismember the current system and replace it with different systems across the country.

We tabled the amendment because we feel that at least three potential regions should vote in favour of regions before even one of them is set up. It is a constitutional issue and we think that the issue should be pursued. We feel that without the legitimacy bestowed by such a test, it would be wrong to set up one region while perhaps leaving the rest of the country as it is. We want to test the popular support for regional government in England. I beg to move.

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