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Lord Greaves: The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, issued various challenges to us, so I believe I am justified in replying to some of them. Debate on the first amendment is always broad-ranging. Some of the issues raised relate to the amendment; others relate to other countries. We have just heard the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, talk about Scotland, to which this Bill does not refer. He put his finger on a very important point. There is no regional assembly meeting in Inverness. There is no such body. There is a local government body, the Highlands and Islands Council. It may well be far too large for the area it covers. People have to travel from Thurso to Inverness to vote, and then go back again. That may all be truealthough it is in Scotland, not in England. However, it illustrates a very important part of the case we are putting forward. Various broad questions have been discussed. Are the new regional assemblies, which essentially are going to be big local authorities taking most of their powersinsofar as they have powersupward from local authorities? Are they going to be genuine regional bodies which take over the powers of the very large number of unelected and often only remotely accountable bodiesquangoswhich exist in the regions at the moment? Are they going to involve devolution of powers from Westminster, as happened in Scotland and, to a lesser degree, in Wales?
Lord Waddington: I do not understand why the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is so worried. There is no question about it at all. If there was a question, it has been answered by the Minister. He plainly said:
Lord Waddington: I must ask the noble Lord to give way again. The Governmentquite wronglyhave decided to go ahead without first presenting a Bill which defines the powers of the new assemblies. We can only go on what government spokesmen say. They have said that there will be no new powers. It is ridiculous to assume that something entirely different
Lord Greaves: The Government have told us what they want to happen and what they think will happen. That may be different from what actually happens in the real world. We only have to go back to the Greater London Authority Bill. When it left Parliament, it was in a very different state from when it came to Parliament. It still may not have been perfect or ideal. It may not have been what the Liberal Democrats would have produced. Nevertheless, the Act that was finally passed was very different from the Bill that was first presented to Parliament. That is not unusual. I hope that the Conservatives will join with us in significantly improving legislation which in due course will set up regional government. We will find out whether that happens.
However, this amendment is not really about powers at all. It is about regional boundaries. I want to turn to that question. It is always easy to ridicule a particular proposal for a territorial areawhether administrative or governmentalby looking at places on the periphery and saying they have far more in common with people who live just over the border than they have with the core or main part of their area. That always applies whether it is a region, a local community or whatever it happens to be. It is in the very nature of territorial areas and boundaries. At Mow Cop in the south of Cheshire, the county boundary with Staffordshire runs along the hilltop next to the folly and the quarries. That does not mean that the boundary at Mow Cop between Staffordshire and Cheshire is stupid. It may be that the whole of that boundary should be redrawn locally, and all of it put into one area or the other. The fact that people living next door to each other in Mow Cop are now in the present counties is not an argument for saying that those counties are somehow wrong and should be abolished.
It is always the case that if lines are drawn on maps, then some places near or on those boundaries will have more in common with people just the other side than they have with the main centre of the area, the region, the local authority, the country, or whatever it happens to be.
Lord Bowness: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I have heard no one suggest that it is the peripheries that are the problem. There are many major problems about proceeding with the regions, as they have been established administratively as government offices. It is about sizewhich indeed raises the question of how many should be set up. It is not about peripheries. Controversially, one could ask whether London should be a free-standing region in its own right, or part of another region. It is no good quoting other capital cities in Europe, because they are smaller. Those arguments are not the subject of this amendment, but they are much bigger than just the issue of people who live on the margins. No one has suggested that that is the issue.
Lord Greaves: I agree with the noble Lord. I was about to make that point. I was replying to most of the criticism of the boundaries of the regions made by his colleagues. They have talked about places in Gloucestershire that are in the same region as Land's End but are nearer to Birmingham. That is a question of periphery and the margins. I live almost on the boundary of Lancashire and Yorkshire, which will be the boundary between the North West and the Yorkshire region. Some of the places near to where I live were moved out of Yorkshire into Lancashire in the 1974 local government reorganisation. There may be arguments that places like that should be moved into one area or another, but that is a peripheral issue. It is inevitable in any carve-up of an area into territories. It is not a serious argument to be entertained.
The noble Lord, Lord Bowness, has, however, identified the serious possibility of dispute over whether larger areas should be detached from regions and made into separate regions of their own or moved from one region to another. The obvious area of dispute in the North West, to which I think the noble Lord referred, is Cumbria. There is an argument as to whether Cumbria is a sensible area. Some say that it is unified by the Lake District, which is in the middle of it, and that it would be silly to split the Lake District between different areas. However, the affinity of people in south Cumbria is certainly to the North West. There is no doubt that Barrow-in-Furness and the south lakeland areas such as Milnthorpe and Kendal are in the North West. The only doubt is whether north Cumbrianorth Cumberland, as it wascovering the Carlisle and Penrith area and perhaps the west coast around Workington is actually in the North East. These are peripheral areas that will always be difficult to put into a region. The geographical reality is that anyone who lives in Workington is, by definition, a long way from anywhere.
There is an argument for having a major debate about the issue. It is a matter of judgment as to whether such a debate, which would take a long time, should be allowed to hold up the Government's plan to go ahead not with regionalisation of the whole countrynobody is suggesting thatbut with giving some regions the ability to have a referendum.
I do not think that the Bill will be applied to the whole country. In some areas, regional boundaries are disputed. The whole of the South East is perhaps the greatest example. There is no consensus on what the regions are and how they fit. Another important question arises over Cornwall. Should it be a separate region on its own, because of its identity and its distance from everywhere else? These are major issues.
Lord Greaves: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for spelling that out. I think we are in the real world. We have to look at the Bill in those terms, considering what is going to happen, not some airy-fairy principles about what may occur at some distant future time. It is interesting to hear a Conservative Front Bench spokesperson argue about long-term principles. I thought that was what they always accused us of doing instead of living in the real world. I think we are living in the real world on this matter. We are told that we have to listen to what the Government are proposing. They are clearly considering going ahead with referendums in a limited number of regions. The three regions they are clearly considering in the foreseeable future are the North East, Yorkshire and the North West. For all the peripheral problems here and there, there is no fundamental disagreement that if we have regions in this country, those three exist and have an identity. Pretty well anyone can sit down with a map and draw the rough boundaries.
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