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Earl Russell: My Lords, does the noble Lord remember that when we discussed the free posts for the mayoral election in 2000, the Government maintained that their position was justified because, although London had more inhabitants than Scotland, this was only a local election? Does that not suggest that the concept of the region is not yet securely embedded in Government minds?

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I am indebted to the noble Earl, who is obviously thinking along similar lines to myself. I said at an earlier stage that sometimes Government language is a little confusing. Some of the phrases that I quoted, which were aimed at explaining what the Government were at, left me in a confused state of mind. I would not wish to suggest that the noble Earl is ever confused, but if it could ever be said of him that he suffers from a confusion of mind, I can only say that he has my full sympathy, because I am suffering from exactly the same disability. I am much obliged to him for his intervention.

I have looked for an explanation of this Bill in all sorts of strange places, including on the Liberal Democrat Benches—although I did not look for one from the noble Earl, Lord Russell. I picked up a quotation from the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, who I am glad to see has returned to his seat. He said: "On these Benches"—a phrase that Liberals tend to use to emphasise their separateness from the rest of us—


I have read those words several times but they shed no light at all on the confusion in my mind. In fact, I felt even more at a loss to understand what the noble Lord really had in mind. If he wishes to intervene, I would be more than grateful.

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Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, the noble Lord referred to the government office. We have one in Yorkshire, in Leeds. Democratising that which is there means that those powers that are dealt with by the government office in Leeds would be further devolved to the regional assembly, which would be based somewhere in Yorkshire. Furthermore, as was indicated in the answer to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, the Government are now saying that further matters will be devolved. That provides some reassurance to those on these Benches, that the process will not stop with government offices, such as the one in Leeds. I also hope that as time goes on, some matters that are currently dealt with by quangos will be dealt with by the region.

We on these Benches are clear about the duty and responsibility of local government and what is appropriate when decisions are appropriately made on a regional basis. That is why, with some misgivings, we are now supporting this Bill.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, it would be churlish on my part if I did not thank the noble Lord for the lucidity of his explanation. It is entirely due to my own deficiencies, but it will take some time before I can digest the meaning that I am sure is hidden in his words.

Before I sit down, I should like to be a little eccentric and refer to the amendment that I have tabled. It is quite a modest affair. When a new organisation is established, surely it is not asking too much to ask what it will do, how much money it will have and how it will get that money. That is the substance of the amendment that I tabled, in the—probably—vain hope that it will help the Government to elucidate their plans. It is not so long since they were in opposition, and they must still retain some shreds of sympathy for those of us who sit on the Opposition Benches and wonder what they are at. The Government are in the proud position of having an opportunity to explain.

I would like to know what powers the regional assemblies will have, what duties they will be under and what funds will support them. That last point is not unimportant. I very much hope that the Minister, who I have always found to be helpful in my exchanges with him, will be able to illuminate us. I thank him most warmly beforehand for what I am sure he will try to do. I beg to move.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, my noble friend has highlighted the complete inadequacy of the provision in Clause 2. Noble Lords will remember that, before the question on the ballot paper, there is to be a statement intended to tell the voter precisely what powers the elected assemblies will have.

Clause 2(2) states:


    "the elected assembly would be responsible for a range of activities currently carried out mainly by central government bodies, including regional economic development".

I shall not be alone in arguing that that statement is hopelessly inadequate and, in many respects, thoroughly misleading. For instance, no one would think from that bland statement that there will be no

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more money for the regions which opt for an elected assembly, and yet we have referred more than once during our deliberations to page 45 of the White Paper, where it is stated quite bluntly at Chapter 5.4 that there will be no inconsistency of treatment between those regions where there is an elected assembly and those regions where there is not. In other words, there will be no more money if you vote for an elected assembly. Why that is not in the bland statement in Clause 2(2) I do not know. I therefore support the spirit of my noble friend's amendment.

We shall address the question of what should be in Clause 2(2) in later amendments, but we should not lose sight of what my noble friend said. As it stands, the Bill is quiet inadequate and does not begin to tell the prospective voter what on earth these assemblies will be about.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, began his speech with an apology. It certainly caused me no inconvenience that he spoke at the wrong time to the wrong debate. I thought it amusing. As the noble Lord said, it is such a rare occurrence for a Member of Your Lordships' House to move quickly that I found it a good moment.

I am sorry that the noble Lord does not understand the Government's policy. He said that he has done a great deal of research but it is obvious that the one document he clearly has not read—although his noble friend Lord Waddington has—is the White Paper which, at this early stage in the process, answers in detail many of the questions the noble Lord has raised. I do not believe that at the Report stage we should go over again many of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, raised in Committee.

It is the Government's intention that there should be clarity and transparency in this process. I see that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is nodding in agreement and smiling.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am not.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, there is no hidden agenda. We are at an early stage in the process. We want everyone—including, most importantly, the voters—to understand the regional assemblies, their powers and their structures. That is why—and my noble friend Lord Rooker and I have made this point on a number of occasions—we propose to publish detailed information about the new assemblies prior to every referendum, if there is to be one. We have made this commitment on a number of occasions and we will stand by it. I repeat, we will give the electorate full information about the powers and functions of, and everything else related to, the regional assemblies.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I did not intervene in the debate because, as the Minister quite rightly said, I did not want to go over old ground that has been covered in Committee. I am sure that the House wishes to get on. But I should like an answer to

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one question. The Minister and his noble friend Lord Rooker have said several times that regional government, regional authorities, regional assemblies will not mean more powers being taken from local government. If that is so, why do the Government want precepting powers in the Bill? If local governance is not going to be pushed upwards to the regional authorities, it is quite wrong that rate payers should be saddled with paying the costs for services which are rightly national or regional. I hope the Minister will be able to answer that question. I am sure that the House will be interested.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I am attempting to explain the Government's position and commitment to communication in relation to the regional assemblies. By "communication" I mean explaining to people what the regional assemblies are for and how we propose to deal with them. I shall deal later with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, the Minister will not forget it though, will he?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, how can I forget it?

The powers, functions and funding arrangements will be outlined in a Bill that your Lordships will have every opportunity to debate at enormous length. The Bill will be introduced into Parliament once at least one region has voted in favour of a regional assembly. This will ensure that parliamentary time is not wasted and follows the precedent set with the establishment of the Greater London Authority, the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales.

Importantly, we said in Committee that we would do our best to publish a draft Bill to establish elected regional assemblies before the first referendum or referendums. That important commitment still stands. We shall publish a draft Bill containing the information needed before a referendum. We shall discuss the more specific amendments relating to this issue when we come to them.

I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, that there is no hidden agenda. We are not bringing forward ideas that we are not prepared to stand by in public. We are at the early stage of the process. The document Your Region, Your Choice contains a great deal of information. Members of the House have said, "Fine, but it does not contain enough information". We agree. That is why it is important not only to publish a draft Bill—we shall do our best to do so—but to publish enormously detailed notes for voters and the general public so that they have an understanding of what is happening. That will go a long way towards answering the legitimate questions that have been asked.

As to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, about the funding of the assemblies, as well as the programme expenditure for which they are responsible, regional assemblies will receive a general

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grant from central government to meet most of their direct running costs. However, we believe that the people in any region with an elected assembly should make some contribution towards its running costs, whether or not an assembly raises additional money in the region for programme expenditure.

The level of general grant will be set to take account of this contribution. We also believe that an assembly should be able to raise some extra money within the region if it believes that that is desirable—for example, to increase funding for economic development—and likely to be supported by the region's voters.

We shall expect council tax payers in any region with an elected assembly to contribute the equivalent of around 5 pence per week for a Band D council tax payer. A regional assembly may have plans, will need additional moneys to realise those plans and will get that from the precept on council tax payers.

I hope that I have answered the points that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, raised. Most importantly, though, I very much hope that—


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