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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness but it is important to remember that we are in Committee and that it does not matter whether the Minister speaks or not. If anyone wants to continue the debate after the Minister has spoken, he or she can do so and that will be quite in order.
Baroness Blatch: The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, is absolutely right. I did not want the Minister to think that he was bringing the amendment to a close and then stand up and discuss it. This also gives the Minister an opportunity to respond to everyone who has spoken.
As I just said, I strongly support my noble friend. The first two groups of amendments are absolutely fundamental. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, used the phrase, "The cart before the horse". That is definitely the case with the Bill.
Whenever I have listened to government Ministers advocating the development of regional assemblies, they have used the language of bringing democracy to all bodies that operate in the regions. I strongly support the comments of my noble friend Lord Bowness.
I have examined the list relating to the North East. The noble Lord was absolutely right; it merely reflects what is happening in the area. It would be helpful if the Minister told us what on that list will be cededthat is, in terms of a link with, partnership with, influence over or shared influence together withand what powers will pass from the National Health Service, the Inland Revenue, the Passport Agency and learning and skills councils. There are two important lists. I suspect that if a regional assembly is established in the North East, many of those bodies will still operate theresome of them will do so autonomouslyand some will have links with the regional assembly.
As I read the White Paper, even regional development agencies will remain in being under the regional assemblies arrangement. When Ministers discuss this matter, they refer to all such bodies in the region being brought under some form of democratic control. We probably have a meeting of minds with our Liberal colleagues in this regard. There is a real hungrinessor, to be absolutely grammatically correct, hungeron the part of most of us to know precisely what the Government have in mind in terms of real powers being ceded and from what source.
An example in chapter 4 is set out in Box 4.1, which is entitled, "Regional strategies for an elected assembly". When one runs through that, one finds it hard to discern a power that will be given to the regions. They will have influence and partnerships
There are real areas of concern. As noble Lords will know, my particular area is education. The learning and skills councils are regional bodies: there are 47 of them around the country plus a national body. They will continue to operate as learning and skills councils. Will the regional assemblies take on themselves the powers that are currently controlled by the learning and skills councils?
I am extremely concerned about my final point. What will be the consequence in practical terms for the two parliamentary Chambers: the House of Commons and the House of Lords? We already know that when there was devolution to Scotland, we were told on almost a daily basis that we could not ask questions about Scotland because that was a matter for the Scottish Assembly. We are told on Welsh matters that we cannot ask questions about Wales because that is a matter for the Welsh Assembly. We are now told on London matters that we cannot ask questions on London because that is a matter for the Mayor of London.
If the North East gets its assembly, will we find ourselves, as Members in this House, with no influence, knowing that the regional assembly has no real power and that its accountability will be to national government? However, we, as Members of this House or another place, will lose our influence as a United Kingdom Parliament.
The Minister must forgive us for labouring these points and for sounding so anxious about the answers to some of our questions. However, it is incumbent on him to agree with my noble friend that before people are asked to vote in a referendum, they know what they are voting for, what the powers and functions will be and what the entailed costs will be. All of that information must be put before the electorate and agreed by Parliament so that the electorate can make an informed choice.
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, I make no apology for raising this Question for the third time as every time I raise it the costs have increased. Does the Leader of the House agree that the inquiry should be renamed the "Lawyers' Benevolent Fund" and that the hearings should be moved to the Millennium Dome? How can he justify the fact that one barrister is reported to have been paid over £2 million, others over £400,000 each and those at the end of the gravy train struggle with expenses of just under £1,000 a day? Is it not monstrous that while the Government pay vast sums for the inquiry, the relatives of the victims of the Omagh bombing struggle to find the money to pay their legal fees and are receiving precious little help from the Government?
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