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Lord Rooker: Perhaps I may finish the answer to the noble Lord's third question before he rises to speak. I have said that the elected assemblies will have the power to raise taxes. Chapter 5 of the White Paper explains that they will be able to raise a precept on the council tax. However, that has absolutely nothing whatever to do with the European Union, which is the central point I want to make. That is made quite clear in Chapter 5 of the White Paper and there is no secret about it.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I am sure that either it was a slip of the tongue on the part of the noble Lord or a mistake on his briefing paper, but I referred to paragraph 4.31 of the White Paper, not paragraph 4.18, with which I am not familiar. That paragraph does not appear to address the points I sought to put to the noble Lord. It would be helpful if he could confirm that the Government do intend to stick to what is set out in paragraph 4.31.
Lord Rooker: I fully admit my mistake. The noble Lord is quite right. My note of his speech mentions paragraph 4.31, but my official note refers to paragraph 4.18. No doubt in due course I shall be able to give the noble Lord a fuller answer. However, I can confirm that he did ask about paragraph 4.31 because that is what I wrote down at the time, and that was the paragraph I read.
Perhaps I may turn to the central points of Amendment No. 25A, which seeks to prevent any referendum being ordered until the Secretary of State has published the results of an independent inquiry into the constitution and practice of the effects of regional government on the UK Parliament. There is a simple answer here which no one in our earlier debates mentioned. Noble Lords already have independent advice on the constitutional effects of the Bill. The Constitution Select Committee of the House of Lords published its report on 12th February, but I do not think that any Member of the Committee referred to that during our earlier discussions.
While it is true that the committee noted a number of constitutional implications, it did not highlight any particular effect on the UK Parliament. More widely, on 15th January the committee reported on devolution and inter-institutional relations in the UK, to which last week the Government published their response. In some ways, therefore, while I do not in any way denigrate the importance attached to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, it could be held that this is really a delaying move. The effects on the constitution are already available to noble Lords. The matter has been looked at. We submit that the establishment of regional assemblies will not diminish the role of Parliament.
Parliament and central government will remain responsible for UK-wide matters: defence, foreign policy, European policy, relations with international bodies and taxation. Parliament will retain responsibility for the areas of England-wide importance: the National Health Service and schools. Finally, Parliament will continue to be responsible for primary and secondary legislation for the English regions. So the UK will remain a parliamentary democracy with the Westminster Parliament absolutely supreme.
I repeat once more: there is no Speaker in this House and so there are no rules. It is 10 times easier to raise an issue here than in another place. For myself, I think we ought to change that to bring about a little precision, thus enabling Ministers to provide better answers. The answers would be better if the questions were more orderly than is sometimes the case. My experience is that Members of both Houses, with a few minutes' thought, can raise any issue they wish. Over the years, many of my troublesome friends have found it quite easy to do that. Empowering the English regions will not mean a break-up of England or the United Kingdom.
It is difficult to quantify the way in which individuals will make use of the tool of an assembly. If established, assemblies will give a distinct political voice to the regions of this country and a say in the regional decisions that matter to them. I accept that that will depend on individuals and the leadership given by the people elected to such assemblies.
Assemblies will mean that some of the issues that are now decided at Westminster will be decided in the regions. That is the whole point of the exercise and I make no apology for it. But if noble Lords are saying that it would be best if all these matters were still dealt with in London, I can assure them that, whatever I may have hinted I thought about the Bill, I have no problem whatever in dismissing the idea that it is a good thing that all decisions should be made in London. It is not a good thing; it is a bad thing. As many decisions as possible should be made far away from London and near to the people affected by them. If that is at regional level or local council level, so much the better. We will be a better, more mature democracy for it.
It will also put Ministers under greater scrutiny in exercising the devolution of power. A lot more thought will have to be given to the policy structure when decisions are devolved in that way. An independent inquiry would not add to our knowledge. We are confident that once the people chooseif they choosethey will be best placed to take those decisions in those areas. The policy is about choice.
I have with mealthough I cannot show it to the Committeea copy of the said map. I have checked it. It is a genuine EU map of states and regions. I can assure the Committee that the word "England" appears on the map, as does the word "London". I hope that that puts to rest, once and for all, the matter raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch.
The Earl of Onslow: Will not the EU have direct contact with the regional headquarters under the new octarchy produced by Ethelred the Unready's successor? If it by-passes London, will that not have constitutional implications?
Lord Rooker: Not really. I have made it clear, repeatedly, that the regional assemblies will have no new powers and no new money in that respect. It is not a question of by-passing London. I have said that central government will remain responsible for negotiations on the total amount of EU spending, and there will be issues of matched funding which will have to involve London; we will be copied into them. We are not talking about home rule for the regions. Those at
The Earl of Onslow: Is the noble Lord saying that the EU will go to the regions and London will still interfere? That seems to impose a new wedge of bureaucracy. London will take the action and no decisions will be passed down. Is that what the Minister has just told me?
Lord Rooker: Although they are not completely analogous, we have examples in the Welsh Assembly and the Greater London Authority. Although they are at a lesser level than the Scottish Parliament, which has the power to pass its own primary legislation, no one has ever come forward with examples of where the EU has by-passed London and London has been ignorant or interfered in a gross way. I grant the fact that the Welsh Assembly and the Greater London Authority are not very old, but all our evidence to date is that those structures, which were approved by Parliament, seem to be working extremely well. There is no reason why they should not work in the English regions.
How many of the regions have already established offices in Brussels? I believe that a number have done so. One of the risks of this exercise is that there will be more and more traffic between the regions and Brussels. Regional committees will visit Brussels to try and screw out of the EU a greater share of regional funds than other regions expect to get. There will be war between the regions in their fight to get a better deal out of Brussels. Not only will this create a lot of bad blood; it will create a new bureaucracy such as we have never had before. We never had to have offices in Brussels until this mad idea of regional government raised its head. How many regions have already established offices in Brussels and what is it already costing us?
Lord Rooker: I will find out. If there is an answer I shall give it to the noble Lord and to the Committee. I do not know about the regions, but I have a recollection that one or two cities have opened offices in Brussels. This is not a new issue. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, confirms that.
People are arguing, "We want them to know about what we have got to offer. We want to share in this enterprise. We want to make sure that decisions are not taken in Brussels based on ignorance of what our city has got to offer". I do not see a problem with that.
I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. I got the paragraph number wrong. The Government intend to implement paragraph 4.31, which relates to the question he first asked.
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