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Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Baroness Hamwee: What more can I do than thank the noble Baroness for that very detailed response, which I shall not attempt to rebut? I shall read it carefully and meanwhile beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Clause 19 agreed to.

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Clause 20 [Acquisition of land]:

[Amendments Nos. 64 and 65 not moved.]

Clause 20 agreed to.

Schedule 5 agreed to.

Clauses 21 and 22 agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 23 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Bowness: The opposition to Clause 23 and to Schedule 6 have been grouped together and your Lordships will no doubt be relieved to hear that since I heard the Minister referring to Schedule 6, which is indeed referred to in Clause 23, I will take the opportunity to read what she said in Hansard to see whether it satisfies our concerns about Clause 23, which means that I shall not be pressing my opposition to Clause 23.

Clause 23 agreed to.

Schedule 6 [Vesting and acquisition of land: supplementary provisions]:

[Amendments Nos. 66 and 67 not moved.]

Schedule 6 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 68 not moved.]

Clause 24 agreed to.

Clause 25 [Power to alter regions]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 69:

Page 12, line 34, leave out ("in the extent of the regions in") and insert ("to").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 69 and to speak also to Amendments Nos. 71 and 73. This grouping also contains Amendment No. 74 in the name of the Minister. The first two of these amendments deal with alterations to the regions that can be made by the Secretary of State at a later date.

The clause as it stands allows an alteration to the extent of the regions but not to their number. My first amendment, No. 69, taken with the deletion of Clause 25(2), would permit an alteration to the number of regions. Clause 25(2) refers to an alteration which might result in a reduction or an increase in the number of regions. It had not occurred to me until this moment that there might be a reduction in the number of regions. Certainly what was in my mind was an increase in their number given the concerns that we have heard about already today with regard to the configuration of several of the regions.

The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, spoke about the Isle of Wight. During that debate I mentioned the irony of the Isle of Wight feeling that it should not be in the south-east region, while people living in the Bournemouth and Poole area, not so very far away across the Solent, which exists in fact if not on maps--

Lord Hacking: Lyme Regis Bay.

Baroness Hamwee: --are concerned about their allocation to the south-west.

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My noble friend Lady Maddock reminded me, when the Minister commented on previous allocations to regions, that within our own party, recognising that difficulty, we have our own region which covers Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, because it does not relate easily to either of the other two large regions. Moreover, we have heard about the south-west, where Cornwall and Devon feel that they have a very different identity from areas further east. I sympathise with that, although I hear from those who are working on the chamber there that that relationship is more settled than with those to the east of the south-east region.

Therefore, while on these Benches we have accepted the sense in going ahead on the basis of the regions as they are currently proposed, reflecting the government offices, we do not believe that it would be right to rule out through this legislation the possibility of future changes. Once the RDAs and the chambers to which they relate are up and running, no doubt they will themselves form views about whether the regions to which they relate are the right regions; whether changes in the boundaries and therefore possible changes to the number of regions by creating extra regions would enable the objective of economic regeneration to be better carried out.

Amendment No. 73 is a reflection of the concern of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. I see that the Minister has tabled his own amendment which is no doubt better drafted and, in the proposed subsection (9), rather more extensive. I am quite happy to support the Minister in his amendment rather than to support the amendment which I have tabled. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Turner of Camden): I must tell the Committee that if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 70 because of pre-emption.

Lord Whitty: Government Amendment No. 74 has the same objective as Amendment No. 73 to which the noble Baroness has just referred. It provides that orders made under Clause 25 are to be subject to the affirmative rather than the negative resolution procedure which is in the draft at present. That is one rather belated example, I admit, of the Government changing their mind. Originally, we took the view that the negative resolution was appropriate. However the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee has invited the Government to consider the case for the affirmative resolution in relation to orders under Clause 25 and we consider that there are good arguments in favour of that approach. Therefore, with this amendment, we propose the affirmative resolution procedure. So we are happy to follow the committee's advice.

The reason it differs slightly from the amendment of the noble Baroness is that the change from the negative resolution procedure will apply in relation to an order which affects the area of particular authorities. There is, therefore, a danger of inadvertently invoking the special procedures which attach to hybrid instruments in this Chamber. The amendment, therefore, goes beyond Amendment No. 73 and contains an additional subsection disapplying those special procedures.

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Members of the Committee will doubtless be familiar with the fact that equivalent procedures were introduced in the Local Government Act 1992 and in the Police Act 1996. I hope that the Committee can therefore accept that amendment when we come to move it formally.

I shall just say a few words about the other two amendments to which the noble Baroness referred. I doubt that the noble Baroness really wishes to see the situation into which Amendment No. 69 could lead us. It would have the effect of allowing the Secretary of State to make changes to the regions beyond what we intend. For example, it would be open to him to divide one region into two and then to delete another while still keeping the total number of regions at nine. This would mean that certain parts of England were not covered by an RDA. I doubt that that is the intention of the noble Baroness.

Amendment No. 71 does indeed allow the Secretary of State to alter the number of regions, so I think there is a disagreement between us on this. We would not wish to see this Bill allow for a change in the number of regions, although we would obviously wish to be able to allow the Secretary of State some flexibility on the boundaries of those regions. I would therefore oppose Amendments Nos. 69 and 71 and hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw them.

11.15 p.m.

Lord Bowness: I should like to speak to Amendment No. 71 which is in my name and grouped with Amendment No. 69. It concerns the subsection to Clause 25 which provides that alterations can be made by an order but that no alterations can result in a reduction or increase in the number of regions set out in the schedule.

I believe that that is really a most extraordinary provision. We were asked earlier this evening to take these regions as a starting point. We have been asked in many amendments to accept that certain things should not be on the face of the Bill because the Government have certain intentions and because there will be guidance.

The Bill is littered with provisions which leave the Secretary of State a free agent in matters relating to RDAs. Appointments to it are virtually unfettered by any provisions on the face of the Bill. He can make all manner of delegations from his own powers without answering to anyone; he can give guidance and directions at will; he can decide whether a body will be recognised as a regional chamber; he determines the financial duties; he can summon information, advice and assistance at will. These organisations are his children and will do his will. Why, therefore, is the number of RDAs to be set in stone on the face of the Bill? Why enshrine this in primary legislation? Can the Government see no circumstances in which the number should be increased or decreased?

It is, I would submit, entirely possible that after a period of working together the local partners might decide that changes are needed. I understand that the Bill is about devolution to local partners and local people. It may be that the changes are not ones that can

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adequately be met by just a variation of the boundaries. Yes, an area might want to go it alone; certain areas might decide that they ought to divide. Of course, for the purposes of the discussion on this Bill I am not suggesting that the Secretary of State should have no role at all in determining the area of an RDA, but I have to say that I am suspicious of a provision that in effect denies the possibility of even one merger or split.

My noble friend Lady Miller referred to Second Reading when we asked how these proposals fitted into the proposals in the Labour Party manifesto for directly-elected assemblies. Having forced the area of an RDA upon various localities it is almost inevitable that in order to play a constructive role, indeed to be included--and we have heard that it is happening tonight--regional chambers will be formed and have been formed. Whether or not they will be approved remains to be seen, but they are being formed in the areas now proposed. I hope that the Government are not going to say that that justifies their decision on the boundaries. It really is a question of Hobson's choice. Are the Government going to say that the regions are the natural areas for regional assemblies? I believe that it is too important a subject to have the number and area of English regions, if those were to come about, imposed through the back door through this strangely inflexible provision within this Bill.

If, as I hope, Ministers say that this has got nothing to do with regional assemblies, then there is no case at all for keeping the provision within the Bill. The White Paper states that,

    "regional structures must be based firmly on partnership with each local or regional interest being able to contribute effectively towards an integrated and coherent strategic programme which commands general support".
The Government should recognise that just possibly the areas may not prove to be right, either in extent or numbers, and the legislation should provide for that to be remedied. If the Government cannot agree to that, then we are entitled to contemplate that there may be a different motive behind the provision. At the appropriate time I shall seek to move this amendment.

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