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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble Lord appears to have left the topic of costs, but would he comment on the cost of abolition? Taking, for example, the South West, there are 55 districts or seven county councils, most of whom would not be able to work in the one place where the regional assembly is to be set up.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I apologise. I skirted round that matter. I said that it is too early to give the cost of re-organisation. I did not give a figure as I have no figures on that at all. I was giving a summary of some of the costs that we can estimate.
Another matter I should make clear is in relation to the soundings document. I asked where it had been sent. A problem with membership of this House is that noble Lords do not represent anyone. The Government cannot say, "That Peer may have represented somewhere in the past when in another place, but now he or she may live hundreds of miles away". Therefore the distribution list for the soundings document consisted of Members of Parliament in another place, the English regions, the MEPs for the English regions and the principal local authorities in the regions. That is a grand total of 800 out of a distribution of 1,100. The rest went to local government, the TUC, the CBI, chambers of commerce, RDAs, the regional chambers, the English regional network, the Round Tables, constitutional conventions, the Local Government Conference, various committees, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, tourist boards and so on.
There is a problem, but the distribution was not conducted in secret. It was known that a package of documents was published: both the draft information to the Boundary Committee and the soundings document.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, it seems to me that when the legislation comes before the House it may be deemed to be of interest to Members of the House. I certainly was unaware until someone found it for me that there was a paper about the sounding exercise. The House may need to consider more closely the information made available to it.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I apologise unreservedly because people who speak for a party or a group in this place are known to have a function as Front-Benchers. Therefore, they should have been forwarded the documents. That clearly is an error.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I was the only Member of the House who went to the meeting arranged by Mr Raynsford and to which he brought the documents for their Lordships to take away. I have them here because I went to the meeting.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I do not know about that. I know that there was a meeting of all-party Peers and I was told that the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, was the only person who attended. If there have been other errors I shall have them investigated.
A theme in the 22 speeches of those in support of the Bill and those against its conceptI do not believe that I am exaggeratingwas a desire for more information at the point of decision making. Whether it is a draft Bill or more detailed information to the electorate and to the Houses at the time of a referendum, it is clear that people must know what they are voting for and the consequences of that for their local government structure as well as for the regional structure. We must be absolutely clear about that.
During the course of the debate I believe that the penny has dropped that there is no new money. If anyone is supporting the Bill in the hope that there will be more money, do not bother; stick with the status quo. If that is your only reason for supporting the Bill, I repeat that there is no extra money. That has been made abundantly clear.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, the Minister mentioned the question of testing public opinion as to whether there should be a referendum. He did not go on to answer the question asked, which was whether all the people, even those who expressed opposition to
I shall briefly go through some of the points made by noble Lords. It is impossible to deal with all 22 speeches, and I do not want to take too much of the time of the House. I certainly do not want to use Parkinson's law and speak till half-past seven.
It is clear from what the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said that there are some questions about the sounding exercise, and I have no doubt that we can debate them in Committee. It is good that we are having the debate now. The sounding exercise has taken place over three months. The more publicity there is the better. We do not want the issue to be closed off, with people not knowing about it. Some judgments have to be made from the various regions, but they will not be made until the Secretary of State has the necessary powers, which means once Parliament has approved the Bill.
Many people, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, have said, "Yes, we support the Bill, but". The theme of some speeches has been that the Bill does not go far enough. That is because we are presenting what is in the White Paper. We are not presenting regional government or a fully fledged equivalent of what is in Scotland. No one is making that claim. The provisions are much more akin to what happens in London.
The regional assemblies are not service delivery bodies. Let us be absolutely clear about what they are. I am not talking the issue down; I am simply setting out the facts, as it is important that I do so. They are not service delivery operations, so people must not vote or push for them in the expectation that they are something other than what is set out in the Bill or was said in the White Paper. We have been abundantly clear about that.
The noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, made a point about Norfolk. I cannot go over the detail in winding up, but an area the size of the East of England would have something like 16 elected members if there were 25 in total. Norfolk has a sixth of the population, so it is inconceivable that it would not have representation. In Committee, I could give some detailed figures or assessments of that, but it would not be deprived of representation. True, that representation would not reflect the population. I do not deny that, thinking about the issue raised on centres of population. The noble Lord was fearful that there would be no one representing what is currently the county of Norfolk.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I cannot make a judgment on that. I was simply making the point that Norfolk would not be unrepresented, even by a small number of people. The way the electoral system is being looked at would satisfy that, I hope.
My noble friend Lady Gould made the pointshe made it for me in a wayabout expectations being raised. It is wrong if people raise expectations about what is outwith the White Paper. We are promoting what was in the White Paper. In effect, the Bill is a paving Bill for the referendums and for the possible starting-up of elected regional assembles. We do not want to mislead people. On the other hand, of course, regionalism in the way my noble friend put it draws in much wider sections of society than the present arrangements enable us to do.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, gave us a series of lessons from the past, but I have to be careful about answering him. The last time that I answered one of his vitriolic attacks on the Government was two days before the last Budget, and no one woke up to what I said about the Treasury until just after the Budget. That caused a little bit of inconvenience in the Home Office at the time. I went a little too far. I said "every good idea"; I probably should have said "many", "most" or something like that.
The noble Lord is right: we should learn lessons from the past when we go in for such changes. In the forthcoming period and during the passage of the Bill, I hope that we will be able to show that we have done that. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, also supported that point. The powers obviously do not go far enough. She said that they were "okaybut". I thank her for her support. Nevertheless, attempts will be made to strengthen the Bill. I accept that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, raised the question of Cornwall. I fully accept her point. I have been to Cornwall only a few times on holiday. I drew attention to the fact that the regions are government regions. There is one example that I always give to people. I have never measured the distance, but about 40 miles south of the centre of Birmingham is the small town of Chipping Camden, which is in Gloucestershire. It cannot be much more than 40 miles from Birmingham, but it is in the same region as Land's End. That is the reality. The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, made the same point, giving examples of boundaries where she lives in Warwickshire. It is a difficulty; I do not deny that.
The noble Lord, Lord Smith, raised the question of the complexities of the institutions in the regions. It is true that they are incredibly complex. He made the point fairly that at present London, and not Manchester or Liverpool, makes the decisions for the North West. That is the reality, and clearly one has to work on that issue. We do not want such decisions to be made in London because we do not accept that Whitehall and Westminster know best. We want to
The noble Lord, Lord Elliott, made the point about the RDA in the North East being a big success. I am very glad to hear that. I do not know how the noble Lord voted during the passage of the RDA Bill, but that is something that we tried to do because we wanted to reach outit was a better way for our regions. We believed that the regional development agencies would be a good idea. They are very new instruments. No one is in a position to say whether they have been a roaring success or an abject failure. But everyone can find good things that the RDAs have been able to do for their regions. That is an excellent point. I make no claim beyond that. Quite rightly, the noble Lord said that the North East is in the vanguard; others will say that that is not quite the case.
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