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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. We are trying the patience of the Minister and I know that he is trying to finish his points. Just now, he made an interesting statement about how people in Manchester or Liverpool would want decisions to be made not in London but in their part of the world. Can he give one example of a decision that would be made in Manchester or Liverpool—not by a county council or a unitary authority in that area—that would previously have been made in London?

Lord Rooker: Yes, my Lords: housing. We are regionalising housing. The decisions that would have been made in the Housing Corporation and the centre in London will not be made there. That is set out in the sustainable plan published a few weeks ago. That is one example which meets the criteria to which the noble Baroness referred. If she asks me to give another example, I shall have a job to find one. I should have to take advice on that. However, it so happens that I know that housing is one example that fits the criteria.

The noble Lord, Lord Shutt, who attended the all-party meeting, also made the point—

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords—

Lord Rooker: My Lords, perhaps I may answer the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, and I shall then give way to the noble Earl. The noble Lord, Lord Shutt, asked whether there would be any fewer quangos. The answer is probably "no". The legislation would not lead to the abolition of quangos. The strength of the provisions would lie in how the quangos were arranged and managed and were democratically accountable to the people sent by the electorate.

The noble Lord also asked whether there would be more than one Bill—the implication being a Bill for each region. The answer is "no". Once a referendum has taken place in an area—if it takes place and is successful—then a Bill will be brought forward to the House for that region. But that Bill would be triggered

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later. A Bill for every region would not be required. The noble Earl spoke next but clearly he wants to intervene.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I apologise because I love listening to the noble Lord; it is a great pleasure to do so. Can he explain how housing will be devolved? At present, central government imposes housing targets, which most of the regions do not want. Will the regions be able to say, "We don't want them"? No, they will not. Therefore, I believe that this will still be a central government issue.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, there really is no time to go into the detail, but it is clearly set out. I am not speaking off the cuff, it is set out in the sustainable plan published on 4th February. It makes absolutely clear the substantial changes we propose for regionalising decisions made on housing.

I regret that the noble Earl lost me slightly. My education was not that good in that I was just an engineer. I understand his points and the one about the Euro-connection. We are not seeking or offering to break up the United Kingdom or England. The Bill is not a precursor to that. Therefore, those who claim it is are saying that there is more to regional government than we propose. I must knock that on the head so that false expectations are not raised.

My noble friend Lord Woolmer spoke about the need for more information before the Bill is enacted. He made the point about the White Paper making bold claims regarding our proposals. He asked about the two-tiers argument. The simple argument is that it may not be logical but it is political. I do not believe that anyone could stand up in this House and honestly say, "Well, if you'd gone down this road we would have refrained from complaining about your introduction of an extra tier of government and more bureaucracy". The CBI and every party would be after us to say, "You are just initiating more elections, adding more tiers and burdening the voters". We will not do that. So the reason we do not want that extra tier may not be logical, but political.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, the Minister says that every party will be after the Government. Does he exempt us from that accusation?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the Liberal Democrats are not a national party like others. They are different in some parts of the country from others. Even I know that. I am speaking in the round. We would have been open to an accusation of imposing an extra tier of government. We are not prepared to be put in the dock for that. That is the reason why we shall not opt for three tiers.

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, spoke about the powers of a mouse. If we are to have the definition of a mouse—as opposed to a lion breaking up the UK into

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fully-fledged regional government, which we do not propose—we plead guilty. Nevertheless, it is a beginning.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I said earlier that even the boundaries could be open to review at a subsequent date. That would not be before the referendum. We want to stick to existing boundaries otherwise it would cause a massive upheaval. We have no secret agenda or plan, but it is not set in stone that this will always be the case.

We do not have this kind of structure now. Therefore, we want to start at a very modest level—25 to 30 people—with a modest set of devolved powers and to democratise those existing powers already being used in the regions.

Earl Russell: My Lords, perhaps I may offer some comfort to the Minister. The point he is attempting to make is one which people have been trying to explain to the English since 1604. If he does not succeed, he is in good company.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I take that as a tribute. I thank the noble Earl. This is not sleight of hand. I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, said that.

Lord Bowness: It was, my Lords.

Lord Rooker: Yes, my Lords, it was. This is not sleight of hand. I hope that I am making the matter clear, but the noble Lord also stressed the need for clarity on the powers in a Bill or draft Bill—as I said, the theme throughout the debate was the need for information up-front. He also asked—I can give a positive answer to this—whether the chambers will go if there are elected regional assemblies. Yes. There would be no justification for the chambers; they would be superfluous.

My noble friend Lord Dixon made the point, which is fair enough, that an elected regional assembly for his region could make a contribution to finding local solutions to local problems and regional solutions to regional problems. It is not the be-all and end-all, but my noble friend also made the point about requiring better information and a draft Bill. I fully accept his point about the Barnett formula. Fairly, he drew attention to other matters relating to Scotland and Wales. We may end up with elected regional assemblies in only two or three regions. I do not know; it is the voters' choice. If it happens to be in those regions that adjoin Scotland, so be it, the people will have chosen; the Government will not have imposed it on them. That point is not unimportant.

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I intervened in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, to make the point that we are not proposing that regional assemblies should create armies.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I let the Minister off when he said that the last time, but not even the European Union would be as stupid as that.

Lord Rooker: But, my Lords, the noble Lord saw fit to raise the issue in his speech, along with a lot of other scare stories. Nevertheless, he had a point to make and it has been heard. I must say that I do not think that the referendums will impinge on the peace that has been created since the Second World War—another road down which the noble Lord travelled. He asked me about Euro-constituency boundaries. At present, I understand that regional government boundaries are in any case coterminous with European Parliament boundaries. As far as I know, there is no cross-over; they were used last time.

The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, speaks with massive experience of local government, which I respect. He gave a fair example when he said that Essex has a bigger population than a certain number of US states—I cannot remember how many.

Lord Hanningfield: Twelve, my Lords.

Lord Rooker: Well, my Lords, it is not an unimportant point to make that each state in America gets two Senators, whether it is smaller than Essex or, like California, with a population of 50 million. That is the most powerful second Chamber in the world, with 100 members, but it is not based on a proportion of the electorate; there are two Senators per state. We would not invent that system today; we would not propose that in this House—oh, no, there must be equality of the vote. Nevertheless, that is a good example.

The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield also asked, "All for three regions?" I would say that if it ends up being all for three regions, so what, if that is the people's choice? He made a point about voter turnout; I wish that we could do more about that as well. I hope that good, vigorous debates in this place about the reality of life outside—to which we are just as attached as are Members of another place—and on the structure of government, from our experience, will set the debate alight.

I fully admit that I have kept my big mouth shut on reform of this place, but in my short experience here—less than two years—I have been under much tougher scrutiny as a Minister in this House than I ever was in the four years from 1997 to 2001 in the other House. I make a rod for my own back, but that is the reality. I could cite example after example from the past 18 months. So I hope that I treat the House as being important because of the experience that is here, and that we can set the debate alight so that people do not

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go around saying, "We did not know what was happening. We did not understand what were the consequences of the Bill".

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