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Lord Dixon: One was the County Councils Network/ICM poll and the other was the Durham County Council consultation. The one to which I referred earlier, by the way, was published in the Newcastle Journal.
Lord Hanningfield: Having been involved in that poll, I point out that one needs to see the whole poll before quoting any part of it. That is the same with any poll. In the poll, people were not against having a referendum. When one asked whether or not they wanted a region, the cost of the region or what the region would be in terms of area, the percentages went down. It might be appropriate to quote the whole poll rather than just parts of it.
My noble friend Lord Dixon discussed the Maastricht Treaty and I must respond. If only the Conservative government had listened to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, and myself during that debate and not voted againstand persuaded others to vote againstthe amendment that we had tabled to have a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty, how different things would look now. We would probably not have this Bill before us.
However, we all know that the sinner who repenteth has a place in Heaven. Perhaps the sinners are repenting and understanding exactly what powers were given away through the Maastricht Treaty and what more powers will be given away shortly if the Convention on the Future of Europe has its way. I shall return to that in a moment.
The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, referred to the corrupt octopus in Brussels. Frankly, that is a telling description. It is corrupt and we all know that for the past six years it has not been able to get its accounts agreed by the auditors. Corruption is going on. Estimates of the level of corruption range from £2 billion to £6 billion a year. If that is not corruption, I do not know what is.
The noble Lord raised a question about the taxation powers of regional assemblies. Presumably, the intention is not that the regional authorities should have tax-raising powersI believe that the White Paper says this. Presumably, they will have precepting powers and local authorities need to watch their finances if some of them will be filched by regional authorities. I seek the Minister's view on that. If they are not to have tax-raising powers, they would be inferior to Scotland, which is close to the North East. The fact that they would consider themselves to be inferior, as Wales is now doing, would mean that they would press for tax-raising powers. If they are to be significant regional entities, they probably need tax-raising powers. However, that is an argument for another day.
Lord Rooker: At the risk of making a rod for my own back and giving my noble friend indigestion over lunch, those bodies will have the powers to precept local authorities although they will not be able to change the business rate.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: Well, yes. The Minister knows perfectly well that I believe that it is completely outrageous that central government should distribute the business rate. That should be returned to local authorities. If that were done, they would have more independence than they currently have. Indeed, I go furtherI do not want to develop this point too farand believe that we should also give local authorities tax-raising powers. I should like them to be able to introduce a local income tax, but that is another issue.
The noble Baroness pointed outthe noble Lord, Lord Greaves, also touched on thisthat this House and another place have no part to play in relation to a large number of issues in which they used to play a
That brings me back to Europe. We always seem to get back to Europe these days, whatever we are discussing, because the tentacles are spread so far and wide. On the regional map in Brussels, England is not mentioned.
Lord Rooker: I have seen this mapI went to get a copy of itand "England" is clearly stated on it. I was worried about what my noble friend said. I will show him a copy of the map, which I have with me. It is a European Commission map and it contains Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and all the regions. Overprinted on themit is true that one needs 20:20 vision and one's Varilux spectacles must be very clean"England" is clearly stated.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: The Minister has seen a different map from that which I have seen, which has not got "England" on it. Perhaps the pressure that some people have applied reminded the European Commission that there is a place called England and a people who live here, and whose ancestors have lived here for a very long time. I am not one of themI was born in Wales. They are proud of England and believe that it has a great history and hope that it has a great future. Unfortunately, that is somewhat doubtful.
The Minister and others accuse us of harping on about Europe and the European dimensionbut there is a European dimension to the question, and it is ongoing. Yesterday, there was a meeting of the Standing Committee on the convention in another place, where we discussed the eighth progress report from United Kingdom representatives. Unfortunately, it had to be terminated prematurely because of the large number of Divisions in the House of Commons.
The European convention is clearly considering the matter of regions, including whether regions should have the ability to appeal to the European Court of Justice if they feel threatened or that the national government have treated them badly or illegally. There is a European dimension to the question, therefore. I hope that the Minister will read that report, because he will see that there is great interest in Europe as to how our regions can be broken down.
Lord Kirkhill: When the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, reads the Official Report tomorrow, he should bear in mind, in relation to his earlier remarks, that Clause 1 of the Scotland Act 1998 states that there shall be a Scottish Parliament. There is a huge distinction
Baroness Blatch: Before we go on with that point, I return to the map that the Minister says he has seen. That map shows Scotland, which has a parliament, and Wales, which has an assembly. Does it show London? We do not know what the nature of the creature is. At an earlier stage, the Minister said that it was neither a parliament, as in Scotland, nor an assembly, as in Wales, nor a government, as in Londonit is different. So what is it?
Lord Rooker: I want to address one point before I wind up the debatesorry, before I answer this part of the debate. I must correct myself, before the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, intervenes. I was perhaps equivocal in response to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, on the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill. I want to get that point out of the way, so that it does not create a diversion later. That Bill gives the authority to pay the regional planning bodies, but it is not dependent on their being elected regional assemblies. That was my main point. The regional planning bodies can be elected or not elected under that Bill; it is not relevant to the Bill that we are debating. It is simply a mechanism for paying the bodies for doing some work.
The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, the explicit grant of legal personality to the Union would have the advantage of clarity and simplicity. But if the European Union were to have its legal personality recognised in the European treaties, it could only be on the basis that the distinct arrangements for the common foreign and security policy and aspects of justice and home affairs were fully safeguarded, along with the existing arrangements for representation in international
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