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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I am sorry to be a nuisance but my noble friend the Ministertogether with two otherscaused me a lot of nuisance in another place in respect of the 1977 Finance Bill, so I will take a little revenge.
This is possibly the last time that I will be able to raise a point about regional boundaries, which are of concern in relation to the European Union. My noble friend has not yet been able to convince me and others that there is not a connection. The map of the European Union shows eight regions in what we think of as England but England itself is not mentioned. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are mentioned as nations but not England. People have got the idea, rightly or wrongly, that England is being phased outthat there will be no such place as England. Forty six million people in England think that they are English. It should be made absolutely clear that regionalisation has nothing to do with eliminating England and the English.
The reason for my suspicion is that a few years ago, when Labour was in opposition, I listened to an interview on "The World at One" with Robin Cook when he was questioned about devolution and a Parliament for Scotland. The interviewer said, "That's all very well, Mr Cook, but what about England?" "England isn't a nation," came the reply, "It's only a collection of regions". That has remained with me ever since. There seems to be a view among some people that England can be divided into a group of regions so that it loses its nationhood, whereas the other countries of the United Kingdom keep theirs.
I hope that the Minister will understand why there is such great concern among so many people about the Bill. They believe that the tentacles of the octopus of the European Unionas the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, calls itare about to engulf and
I hope that I have put my remarks in a way that the Minister understands. I hope that many people who are worried on that basis will feel that their concerns have been mentioned and discussed in the place where they should be: Parliament. I hope that the Minister will not brush the matter aside and treat it with jollity, as so often happens, because it is a serious matter that is exercising the minds of many people who, we should not forget, are electors in this country.
Lord Hylton: I apologise for having been unable to attend Second Reading. I speak as one of the few Committee Members who lives in the south-west region. While that region as defined in the White Paper may be moderately suitable for the administrative purposes of central government regional offices, I cannot see that it makes any sense in terms of elected assemblies or better democratic control over the numerous quangos and institutions that presently escape from local government and are inadequately accountable to the national Parliament.
To have a region extending from Cheltenham via Swindon, Salisbury and Bournemouth down to Land's End is nonsense. There is no community of interest or regional identity in that elongated string of counties. I hope that the Government will think seriously about the matter long before we reach any referendum.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: When the Minister referred me to the White Paper on our last amendment he encouraged me to refresh my mind on what it says about the involvement of the European Union. I appreciate that he is unable to answer my questions now, but I look forward to it on a later part of the Bill. It seems appropriate at this stage in our deliberations to place on the record a couple of quotes from the White Paper, bearing in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said.
The Earl of Onslow: Will the Minister help me? The Chancellor of the Exchequer wrote in an article in The Times the other day that we need to repatriate all EU regional funding. I have no difficulty in completely agreeing with him. How does that affect the Bill? If they are not going to be funded from Brussels, what is the need for the regions in the first place?
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: In order to help the Minister with my noble friend's rather difficult question, he can get off the hook by pointing out to his right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that there is no hope of repatriating regional funds to this country. It would require unanimity among all the member states. As we are large contributors it is simply not on the agenda. I do not know why the Chancellor bothered to mention the matter.
Baroness Seccombe: At Second Reading I mentioned the disappearance of England. Speaking to groups of people who feel as strongly as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, I have been horrified. I support his comment that we forget people at our peril. There are 48 millionI believe he saidelectors in this country who feel strongly that the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly have given their people something, but England gets nothing; only division into regions.
Lord Rooker: I stick to what I said this morning but I will answer the amendment. Amendment No. 7 is interesting. I do not want to be cheap by saying that it is a consequence of a new clause that was withdrawn, although I see that a coalition of interests is forming on the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Benches. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, opened up a great pit into which the Liberal Democrats are clearly going to jump on Report.
Lord Rooker: No, I believe that the maps are right. No one is arguing that the maps are wrong. On such detail, I cannot tell the noble Lord off the top of my head how many unitaries there are in each region. I accept the expertise of the noble Lordthat is one of the beauties of this place: if he says that there are four unitaries, there are four unitaries and there is a mistake. That does not alter the fact that the boundaries have been designated; they are blocks of county councils, are they not? That is how the regions are formed. No boundary crosses through the middle of a county council, so far as I am aware. They are the building blocks for the regionsthe counties. They have been designated by the Secretary of State.
In the spirit of wishing to make progressI assume that someone does; I certainly doI say that the spirit of Amendment No. 7 has been met by the Secretary of State, who has nothing further to do. When the referendum comes, the same will apply as applies to every election in this country. I cannot discuss parish councils because I have no experience of them, but in ward, council and parliamentary elections, people swear blind afterwards that they have voted for you, but you know that they are not in your constituency. Others say, "I did not know that I lived in this ward until a polling card came through the door". I hate to mention the European parliamentary elections, which operate on a regional basis, but the same issue arises.
We will publish full information about the powers and duties of the regions if and when we go for a referendum. I assure Members of the Committee that because not the whole country will be involvedI believe that I can safely say thatthe region or regions in which there are referendums will certainly know that there is an election. The spirit of Amendment No. 7 has been met absolutely and completely by my right honourable friend.
Baroness Blatch: I do not understand; perhaps I may press the Minister further. I believe that he has fallen into the hole created by my noble friend Lord Waddington. My noble friend said forcefullyI believe that it pleased the Ministerthat when the Minister says something, he means it; that is what is going to happen and we all know it. The noble Lord said what the shape of the Bill will be when it has completed its passage through Parliament. If the Bill is unchanged in any way, and if Amendment No. 1or Amendment No. 4 of the Liberalsis not agreed to, everything that the Minister said is absolutely right. However, we are at the start of a process in this House. It is always possible that the Bill will be rather different when it goes to another place. That is a possibility because we are part of the parliamentary process. If that is the case, Amendment No. 7 comes into its own.
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