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Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, the Minister will be satisfied when this House in its wisdom passes

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the new Competition Bill. One of the advantages of the new Bill is that we will be able to look to cases in which abuse is occurring, bring the right investigation and, if the case is proved, the correct retribution. The current system is not efficient in doing that, which is why the Competition Bill is so important to us.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the bottom line is that it should be clear to consumers that they are buying the prestige goods they believe they are buying or that they are buying them at a lower price? The muddle that has arisen as a result of trying to create a level playing field is making the position much more difficult. Whatever the outcome, it must be easily assimilable by those at the buying end.

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I recognise that consumers' rights are of paramount importance. That is clear and the Government will always try to protect them. But there are two sets of rights; the value and quality of the goods and the service that is received. We must look to that balance.

We do not have a muddle in Europe. We now have the largest block of consumers in the world potentially able to have the same prices in any area of the marketplace. That is also true of the United States. The issue is whether we should negotiate bilaterally to make that so between the two markets. As noble Lords will understand, that is a more complex negotiation.

Lord Razzell: My Lords--

Noble Lords: Next Question!

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, I think that after 25 minutes we must move on.

The Royal Tournament

3.12 p.m.

Lord Chalfont asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have for the future of the Royal Tournament.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, we have concluded that the Royal Tournament in its current form will end on a high note in 1999 but that a flagship Armed Forces event will continue in the future. For the year 2000, this will be a special occasion to mark the services' contribution to the millennium celebrations. The nature of events for 2001 and beyond will be the subject of further work on timing, location and format.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Perhaps I may declare an indirect interest in that I wrote the history of the Royal Tournament in its centenary year. Is the Minister aware that the event has been held for the past 120 years and that it celebrates, as was originally intended, the skill at arms

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of the Armed Forces? It has since passed into the tradition of all three services. Can he assure the House that after the year 2000 the Royal Tournament will continue to celebrate those skills and traditions and will not become just another trendy event?

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on writing the history of the tournament. Indeed, I know the high regard in which it is held. The truth is that finances and attendances have shown a steady decline. I assure the noble Lord that this is not an end but a new beginning. Consultations are taking place and there is every indication that there will be a part for pageantry and a part for the traditions of the services. We aim to have a high-tech event which represents the work of the Armed Forces and, which, we hope, will appeal not to a declining, but to an expanding, audience which includes those who desire to become recruits to the services.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I much enjoyed the hospitality which I received at the Royal Tournament this year when it was very noticeable that there was a large number of fighter aircraft hanging from the roof? Has he read today's Evening Standard which seems to believe that those are the only aircraft in the Royal Air Force? Can he comment on that story and on whether the RAF is as badly off as it seems?

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, that question is far removed from the Question I am asked, so I shall not comment upon it or the suggestion that there is a shortage of aircraft. We should be saying that the Royal Air Force provides service that is admired by people not only in this country but all over the world.

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and speak for the reserves. Will he bear in mind the position of the reserves at the Royal Tournament--the Royal Naval Reserve, the Territorial Army and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force--and assure us that they will be in a prominent position in 2001, if there are any left by then?

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, discussions will continue. There will be a Royal Tournament next year and afterwards a special event for the millennium. The tournament will then combine what is modern in the forces but will also take into account the previous pageantry and ceremonial events.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, on more than one occasion I have been involved in reviewing the need for a Royal Tournament and have always arrived at the view that it provided not only excellent publicity for the three services but also support for the benevolent funds which derive considerable sums of money from it. Does the Minister agree that his inability to confirm that there will be a Royal Tournament beyond the year 2000 leaves everyone concerned about this good form of publicity for the Armed Forces, which is much better than what appears in today's Evening Standard?

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I take into account the concerns expressed. We have no intention of not having

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an event. We want an event that is modern and retains all that is best. I hope that the charities will discuss the matter with the MoD because I appreciate that they have benefited from it. We are not aiming to end the tournament but to give it a new beginning which will attract a very wide audience.

Regional Development Agencies Bill

3.18 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Whitty.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Establishment]:

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 8, after ("Act") insert ("and no other").

The noble Baroness said: I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 1 and 68. Since Amendment No. 1 to Clause 1 is, in effect, a consequential amendment to the more substantial Amendment No. 68, I will, with the leave of the Committee, speak first to Amendment No. 68.

I felt it necessary to table Amendment No. 68 because I was very disturbed by something said by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, when, as a Minister, she intervened in my speech on Second Reading. I was also disturbed by something the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, did not say when she wound up for the Government in the same debate.

I commented on the number and the geography of the proposed regions as set out in the first schedule, both of which I consider unsuitable for the purposes of the Bill. I said that boundaries previously created for and appropriate for bookkeeping, statistical and other purely administrative and bureaucratic purposes had no relevance to economic and industrial affairs. Despite the fact that I prefaced my remarks by saying that, in fairness to the Government, I accepted that they were seeking to avoid delay to their legislative programme, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, intervened to say that the boundaries in the first schedule were set up by the former government. The noble Baroness said that she had been confused by my remarks, so perhaps she had not heard or understood my conciliatory observation that we understood the reasons for using these ready-made boundaries rather than invoking the assistance of the Boundary Commission.

In response to that intervention I pointed out to the noble Baroness, and do so again to the Committee, that,

    "the boundaries created previously were created for reasons different from those behind this Bill".--[Official Report, 18/5/1998; col. 1342.]

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Let me make the position absolutely clear. Although we believe that the proposed boundaries are unsuitable for the purposes of the Bill, we accept that the Government had no alternative, because of the time restraints, but to make use of those set out in Schedule 1.

We equally accept that because we believe there was some kind of electoral pact made with the Liberal Democrats before the last general election the Government had no alternative but to use those very same boundaries for the purposes of introducing PR in time for the next elections to the European Parliament. We are not opposing the Government's use of those boundaries for the purposes of the Bill. We are disagreeing but we are not opposing. I hope that that is now clear to the Benches opposite and that there will be no further confusion.

We note especially the powers that the Secretary of State is taking under Clause 25 to enable him to modify the boundaries, after consultation, in case of need. It is possible that we on these Benches, together with those near to us, might seek to modify Clause 25. We have tabled amendments.

I turn now to what the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, did not say. I had asked for a specific assurance. After reminding your Lordships that it was the Government's intention to establish regional chambers of government, which I described as the Balkanisation of the country--I apologise for quoting myself--I then said:

    "We on this side of the House would like to be assured that they"--
the Government--

    "are not plotting to establish by the back door a fait accompli as to the boundaries of those regions".--[Official Report, 18/5/1998; col. 1343.]

In reply the noble Baroness said that I had suggested that we were opposed to the boundaries defined in Schedule 1, not that we disagreed with the appropriateness of them for the Bill, totally ignoring my request for an assurance about the regional government boundaries which had nothing to do with regional development agencies. My noble friend Lord Bowness intervened and asked the Minister how she saw the establishment of regional chambers. My noble friend added:

    "Is she saying that it will be at a sufficiently early stage to use the government office boundaries for those assemblies when they come?".--[Official Report, 18/5/1998; col. 1348.]

The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, replied at col. 1349:

    "We are committed to more accountable regional government in England but believe that much can be done within the present democratic structure to build up the voice of the regions. It was difficult to tell from comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, whether he was in favour of a fully-fledged, fully accountable, agreed by the Conservative Party, regional form of government in the UK".
What kind of answer is that to a straightforward and simple question? What do the Government say the Conservative Party has agreed to? Certainly not the

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Schedule 1 boundaries for the purposes of the jurisdictions of the proposed regional assemblies. I stress the word "assemblies" and not "agencies".

A simple ward within a borough council has its boundaries fixed by a local government boundary commission. The borough councils have their boundaries fixed by the local government boundary commission. Parliamentary constituencies have their boundaries fixed by the parliamentary boundary commission. Until the Government decided to test the water with the thin end of the wedge of proportional representation--if I may be permitted to mix a couple of metaphors--the boundaries of the European parliamentary constituencies were similarly fixed by a boundary commission.

The Government propose to create a major, unique and entirely novel series of local government units. Why can we not have a clear and unevasive assurance that those assemblies will have their boundaries fixed by the same totally independent and unimpeachable body, the boundary commission, rather than by government fiat? I make no charge at all of potential gerrymandering but I suggest to the Government that they would be well advised to ensure that the question can never arise.

I remind the Committee that the criteria by which the various boundary commissions are required to act by law include, so far as they reasonably can, "local ties". I still await to be told what local ties there are between Southampton and Oxford. They are in the same administrative region for the purposes of the Bill but certainly have no place being lumped together in one regional assembly.

Amendment No. 1 to Clause 1 is also intended to limit the Schedule 1 boundaries to this Act unless Parliament decides otherwise. Bearing in mind that the Government could set up a shadow boundary commission tomorrow, without waiting for legislation--just as they did in the case of the shadow low pay commission--there is no reason why there should be any delay in the Government's legislative proposals, if indeed they are imminent.

I seek a simple, straightforward and--I urge the Minister--uncomplicated answer, not wrapped up in rhetoric, to a simple, straightforward and uncomplicated question. Do the Government commit themselves to the principle that before regional legislatures are brought into being, and before their electors are asked to vote in the proposed referendum, their boundaries will be set by a wholly independent boundary commission?

I have given the Minister three answers. "Yes, we do give that pledge", which we would regard as entirely satisfactory; "No, we will not give that pledge", so at least Parliament knows where it stands; or, thirdly, a response by the Minister saying that he or she cannot say what is the Government's policy at this stage--which I would not find too surprising--but that he or she will discuss the matter with me and with my noble friend Lord Bowness before the next stage of the Bill. On that basis we will determine our future attitude to this aspect of the Bill. I beg to move.

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