|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
I honestly have more faith in the electorate and what they know than some speakers tonight. It is true that not everyone takes an interest every day in the minutiae of tax and government. Perhaps after Wednesday they might take a bit more interest for a few days. That is not a leakI do not know anything. People are interested in what they are interested in. When someone says, "Oh, it's too complicated. The people"meaning those who are not as clever as usXdon't understand", I say, "Hang onI can't fill in a football pools coupon or read a knitting pattern". There are millions out there who can, because they want tobecause they are interested.
These days, thanks partly to the efforts of the Conservative government as a consequence of bringing in the poll tax, councils are forced to explain in a much more clear and identifiable way how the money is raised and where it is spent than they ever were in the past. Frankly, they get better at it every year in terms of what they send to the electorate. Most of it might not be read, but it is made available to the publicto the taxpayers. If they are interested, they will read it.
Most of the ignorance that I have found about such matters is from some of the clever-clog journalists in this place. I remember someoneI shall not name him, because that would be unfairwho wrote a long piece during the poll tax row about the fact that council tenants did not pay rates, and so did not understand it. That is a classic example of gross ignorance. Someone simply made an assumption that was, of course, utterly wrong. He thought that he knew better, and that those outside this place did not understand what was going on.
It is very nice to see an attempt to place my words in the Marshalled List. The last time I had an amendment stuck in a piece of legislation was 1977, and I am not looking to replay that. I am very flattered, because the pointno new powers, no new moneyis finally being conceded in principle.
I freely admit that I have deliberately sought not to overplay the role of the regional assemblies. No one can accuse me of overplaying that. On the other hand, it would be quite unfair if it were thought that I were downplaying their role. It is not as though they will not have any powers. They will take powers from central government, its agencies and quangos, and will have responsibilities in some key areas, such as housing, jobs, planning and transport. Elected assemblies will bring decision-making under closer democratic control and offer the regions a distinct political voice. That is a very important aspect of the package.
The preamble which sets out the responsibilities of the assembly is more informative than Amendment No. 14. As I have repeatedly said, before any referendum, the Government will issue a statement setting out our proposals for elected regional assemblies. I am not able to give the details of the contents of that statement, but as I have repeatedly said, people will not go into the polling booth without knowing what they are voting for and, more to the point, the consequences of what they are voting for.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister will oblige the Liberal Democrats by incorporating in an amendment at Third Reading a clear statement that there will be no question of the delegation of powers to regional assemblies from local authorities. As the Liberal Democrats have said that that is their policy, perhapsif the Minister would be kind enough to table an amendment to that effectthey will for once follow their opinions with their votes.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, this is where we part company with our colleagues. As I have also made clear, we have no plans to take statutory powers from local authorities and to give them to the regional assemblies. That is the Government's policy. That is the position. We do not need to include that in the Bill because it is something that we do not intend to do. We have made it clear that we are not taking powers from local authorities and giving them to the regional assemblies. We have already had debates about that and I am happy for the opportunity to make it even more abundantly clear.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, absolutely nothing in the Bill prevents that. Those powers could come from anywhere. The Minister said, "No new powers", but the Government have been equivocal about it. They said, "We said no new powers, but of course they will have powers to do " and Y". The Liberal Democrats have said that they want new powers. The noble Lord, Lord Shutt, wants to give them lots more new powers. As my noble friend Lord Waddington said, the Government seem to agree absolutely that no powers whatever will be taken from local government and given to the regional assemblies. The Liberal Democrats seem to agree with that. If that is so, point me to the part of the Bill that prevents the regional
Lord Rooker: My Lords, none of the statutory housing powers held by local authorities will go to the regional assemblies. I have already made that clear. There is no authority to do it. It is government policy that that will not happen. The point is that the assembly cannot take the powers. The assembly will not have the statutory authority to take powers from local government. As has been made quite clear in the legal definitions affecting these bodies, local authorities' statutory powers belong to local government.
Basically those statutory powers cannot be removed from local government unless this House and another place agree to remove them. That is the point. The elected regional assemblies will have no power of their own to take powers from local government. I cannot spell it out any clearer than that. The Government have no policy to change that. Let there be no doubt about that, either in local government or in this House, between the various parties. The statutory powers of local government will remain with local governmentand I hope that that note does not say the opposite.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, I am sorry to ask the Minister to give way again, but he must surely understand our concern about this matter. Certain powers have already been taken away from local government and given to the regions; namely, planning powers. Surely the Minister can understand how much happier we should bethe Bill contains various provisions allowing, for instance, for statements on the ballot paper as to what will happen if people vote "Yes"if he could be a little more forthcoming and say that in some way or other the Government will state plainly that there will be no more transfer of powers from local authorities to the regions such as the Government have already carried out in the case of planning. We are surely entitled to that.
Lord Rooker: Yes, my Lords, but I have answered this point at least three times. The changes in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill before another place have nothing whatever to do with elected regional assemblies. Those changes will take place if this Bill disappears tomorrow and is not brought back. It is not a consequence of this Bill. This Bill relates to regional referendums; it is not about the powers of the regional assemblies. There will be another Bill for that.
Planning is a fair example to raise, but the context is totally wrong. The question has been raised of assemblies taking powers from local government. That cannot happen; they have no power to do so. It is not our intention that local government will lose statutory powers. It can lose statutory powers only as a result of an Act of Parliament. In a way, the planning Bill is a good example, but it is not dependent on this Bill. The
Lord Waddington: My Lords, that will not wash. What the Minister is really saying is that, as a result of the transference of powers through the planning Bill, if this Bill completes its passage, the regional assemblies will actually have control of planning.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, the point is that it has nothing to do with elected regional assemblies. One assumes that if one or two regions hold a referendum we shall be in a position, implicit in the Bill, where some regions may have an elected regional assembly and others will be without an assembly, so there will be differences in that respect; but planning powers will go to the assembly, elected or unelected. It has nothing to do with the Bill. If this Bill were not before Parliament the powers would still be transferred.
That is true in some respects; where there is an unelected element, in relation to some of the decisions that would normally come across Ministers' desksmany Members on the Benches opposite have been Ministers and know some of the minutiae that come before themMinisters would still be accountable to Parliament, and rightly so. Ministers would still have to agree those decisions. But the planning Bill has nothing to do with this Bill. Under the planning Bill, the powers will change, in the modest way proposed in that Bill, whether or not there is an elected regional assembly. So it is not a fair example to useand there is not another one.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page