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Baroness Hamwee: To add to what my noble friend said, the asymmetric nature of the proposal does not trouble me—as it obviously did not trouble those drafting the amendment.

However, I wonder what faith people would have in politics if they turned out to vote in their region, voted in a majority "Yes" vote, but nothing happened because two other regions did not also vote "Yes" by a majority. Indeed, I wonder whether that proposal would skew the outcome. It would certainly skew the turnout, because someone might think, "My cousin Betty in Pendle says that the North West does not want an assembly, so it will not happen, because there will not be three. And it is raining, so I will stay at home in Skipton and watch the new series on television". That is a likely reaction to the proposal in the amendment.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, instanced the position in Spain. I respectfully suggest to him that the history of Spain is entirely different from that of this country. The history

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of a country impinges on the present. The local government structure in this country has evolved—if I can put it that way—from being a collection of kingdoms, which were first united by William the Conqueror and, to an even greater extent, by Edward VII. The tradition of government in this country has therefore come from the shires and towns. That is what we are left with; that is what we have.

The Deputy Prime Minister is an expert on the matter. He toured the country to discover whether regional government was desirable and possible. He came to the conclusion that it was. He has been selling the idea for many years but, unfortunately—this is my theory—many people would not buy it. Because a lot of people would not buy it, he feels that it is impossible for Parliament to impose a regional system on the country, which has county loyalties above all and, sometimes, even town loyalties.

We therefore have the Bill as a ruse, as has been mentioned, to create a domino effect. The most likely area votes first, and then others say, "We must have that as well. They have an elected assembly; we must have one too". Then one goes throughout the country and gets a vote in every part of England for regional assemblies. I do not think that it will happen that way, because, let us make no mistake, people are fond of their shires. Even our cricket teams, for example, are based on counties, not regions. There is no regional loyalty—not even in the North East. The nearest we come to it is in Yorkshire. We all know that people in parts of Yorkshire are very loyal to Yorkshire.

The North East is the favoured area because people there have seen what has happened in Scotland. They say, "Look what has happened in Scotland. They have their own Parliament". Of course, the North East will not have its own Parliament, nor its own tax-raising powers, as Scotland has. What is more, as we already know—we have been told it time and time again—the North East will not be favoured as Scotland is in the Barnett formula. It would be different if we were to alter the Barnett formula. But, in spite of the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, said that the formula should be ended, it is to be continued. That is why people in the North East feel that they would do better if they had a regional assembly. It simply will not happen.

I do not agree with the regions, as noble Lords know. But, if the Government were confident about their policy and that regional assemblies were a good thing, they would have a properly structured Bill for regions throughout the country. It is nonsense to suggest that this is the proper way forward. I do not think that it will work. Frankly, I do not know whether this amendment would help much; it would probably complicate matters even more. But perhaps that is a good thing. I would like to consider the matter further.

Lord Rooker: At the risk of winding anyone up, this is the cheekiest amendment that we have dealt with—the brass neck in proposing to slap down the variety and mishmash that is England. Long may that

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mishmash continue; we do not want all of England to be the same. This amendment seeks to make all of it the same. The whole thrust of it is cheeky.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in his 12-minute speech, made some brilliant arguments against the amendment but spoke for so long that I have forgotten them, so I cannot use them. It is a bit rich to demand that three or more regions vote in favour of a regional assembly. It is a wrecking amendment that seeks to drive England to be uniform. The underlying thrust is that everywhere must be the same. We do not want England to be the same; we want to embrace its variety. We argue about the boundaries, but all of the country is not the same; therefore, people should have a choice. The idea that people in one or two regions could stop people elsewhere effectively exercising their choice undermines the democratic credentials of noble Lords.

The amendment is unworthy—I am getting even stronger now. It is cheeky and unworthy to come up with it. I could go through a long list, playing off one region against another, but I shall not fall into that trap. We should celebrate the mishmash of England. I realise that around 83 or 84 per cent of the UK's population live in England. The United Kingdom is unbalanced—long may that continue. But it is wrong in principle to seek to drive the system to be the same for everybody. Noble Lords should think better of it. I cannot believe that, even if its supporters thought that they would obtain a majority, they would seriously seek to include it in the Bill. I challenge them to say that, even if they thought that there was majority support for the amendment, they would not press it. I certainly hope that they do not.

Baroness Hanham: Before the Minister sits down, the corollary of his argument about mishmash and uniformity is that, beneath the regional tier, one does nothing—one does not form uniformity below the tier of government.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Rooker: We are not seeking uniformity—no, no, no. In some regions, there will be unitary districts or, maybe, unitary counties. It will not be the same in every region. Some districts that are single tier may join or overlap because of the boundary review. The Boundary Committee will not come up with the same pattern for every region; I am absolutely certain of that.

Baroness Blatch: If they are unitary authorities, they will be the same. Whether merged districts or county councils, they will have exactly the same functions and will be uniform unitary authorities, unless something new that we do not know about is happening and powers are to be moved around all over the place. They will be unitary authorities with unitary powers, and they will have uniform powers throughout the land.

Lord Rooker: As I said, they will be unitary, but they will not be the same, in the way that the noble Baroness

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puts it. A unitary county is not the same as a unitary district. Other districts will be considered. It will not be the same pattern in every region. By definition, the regions are different, but "No new tiers" is the mantra, and we are sticking to it.

Even at this late stage, I challenge noble Lords opposite to say whether, if they got the votes, they would seriously put this amendment on the statute book.

Lord Hanningfield: I am sad that I had to be the one who proposed this cheeky and unworthy amendment, as the Minister called it. This one fell to my turn.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, referred to two bad examples, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, said, Spain is about the worst possible example of the variation of regions. There is great unhappiness in Spain. One knows only too well what is happening in the Basque area, and Catalonia sees itself as being divorced from the rest of the country. I do not want to see us doing the same thing in England, making one part separate from the rest.

I agree with the Minister that one does not want everything to be the same. One of the great virtues of England is that Cornwall is enormously different from Cumbria. Everywhere should be different. The suggested system of eight regions is more uniform than the system that we have. I like the diversity of the current system. I have been in local government since I was about 20, and the fact that there have been metropolitan areas, county areas, district areas and London boroughs has added to the spice of life in local government. I would rather see that continue than have one unitary system in the country.

I return to our earlier point. This is a constitutional issue. It is changing the system. There are no natural regions in this country. As the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, said, we have counties and large metropolitan areas, and there are no natural regions. In many other countries, there are, for historical reasons, natural regions. We have what we have—large counties and small counties. Disturbing that is a big constitutional issue. That is why we proposed the amendment. We should ensure that a substantial number of people in England want to see regional government, not just in one area. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. Why should the North East be a guinea pig? Why should Northumberland suffer?

Lord Greaves: The answer to the question, which the noble Lord might like to consider, is that it wishes to be a guinea pig.

Lord Hanningfield: I doubt that Northumberland and Durham wish to be guinea pigs. In fact, I know that Northumberland does not. The people whom I know there are not very supportive of the concept. I have been to several meetings with people from Durham. They are busy trying to make a unitary county out of Durham county. There is a lot of

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unhappiness. I doubt that all the people in that area wish it to be a guinea pig, even if there is a majority on the question of a referendum.

The proposed developments for England lead us into a minefield. I must say to the Minister that we would have the gall to put the provision into the statute book, if we had the votes, so I shall test the opinion of the House.

7.19 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 39A) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 19; Not-Contents, 53.

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