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As all Members of the Committee know, I have been in local government a long while. I live nowhere near Northumberland, but it is far too big to be a unitary county under these proposals. It will be destroyed as a county council and will have to be split up into unitaries, which would still be very large. Services will be disrupted and chaotic in some places.
The most important thing we do in local government is to provide services for people, care for the elderly, support schools, run libraries, repair potholes, collect waste, and so on. All those services will be tremendously disrupted for a long while and in some areas destroyed. The Minister referred to services in saying that regional assemblies were not there to run services. We will be creating something that does not run services but destroys them in the process.
Will the Minister comment on that? The Government should reconsider this issue. If they are to continue with the idea of regional assemblies while decent services are provided, two-tier local government must continue to exist.
Lord Rooker: I deliberately avoided commenting on the noble Lord's point. It does no good to start commenting on individual local authorities, whether I know them or not. That would be to prejudge the issue. The boundary review will be the place for that, if it happens, subject to the soundings. It is not for Ministers to second guess at the Dispatch Box. With respect, the same applies to Opposition Members. All we would be doing is to send out the wrong signals based on no evidence whatever. The independent Boundary Committee will assess the issue and take account of all those factorswhich may be valid. I am not knocking the validity of the noble Lord's comments. However, I think that it would be quite wrong in considering this Bill to start discussing the potential effects on individual local authorities. The effects may bear no relation whatever to the result of the boundary review.
Baroness Hamwee: In an earlier response the noble Lord used the term "secondary" in referring to the local government review. Does he mean "second" in the sense of sequence of events or "secondary" as in less important? I think that he meant the former.
Lord Rooker: The potential local government changes to single-tier authorities are a consequence of the attempt to have elected regional assemblies. In other words, we have not brought forward a Bill to reform local government. To that extent, it is a second-order issue. I am not saying that it is not important, but it is not the prime purpose. The prime purpose is to establish elected regional assemblies. If we had wanted
Baroness Hanham: While we are on the subject of carving up local government as a second tier, I wonder whether the Minister will comment on the size of local authorities. I know that he will say that that is a matter for the Boundary Committee. However, perhaps he would consider any of the examples of the regions delineated in the White Paper. He may seek to join districts or shires together to make a unitary authority, but half of them do not even involve even numbers. One region may have 55 shires, seven counties and 12 unitaries, and another six counties, 36 districts and nine unitaries. We have talked about it being a hotch-potch and a melee. It looks as though there will have to be far more work in one or two of the regions than simply to combine two districts, for example, into a unitary. Many different decisions will have to be made about boundaries and definitions. It seems that all of that will cause a great deal more trouble than the Government envisage.
Lord Rooker: We have not envisaged it because, as I said, it will be down to the Boundary Committee to do that. I think that mish-mash was the word that we used. It is the variety in which a thousand flowers bloom. It is the variety of England, and long may it continue. It is not all the same. We are not saying that it is all the same and we do not want it to be. The consequence of a high level of interest in a referendum will be an assessment of the local government to create single-tier authorities. How that is done is entirely a matter for the Boundary Committee. It is no good our trying to second guess. It is clear that the committee has a job to do which will not be the same in every region. All the facts and figures in the White Paper show that each region is entirely different from the others.
Baroness Blatch: In his response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who was talking about whether this was in fact secondary, the noble Lord reminded us, as he has done throughout our debates, that this is a referendum about regional assemblies and that local government review is just a consequence. On page 9 of the Select Committee on the Constitution report, not only the chairman but the whole committee made it clear that they were concerned about a particular constitutional point. The chairman said:
Lord Rooker: The noble Baroness is making an issue of something that does not exist. Nothing that Nick Raynsford said in that regard contradicts what I have said. The prime purpose of the Bill is elected regional assemblies. The consequence of that, the second order effectbig though it is, as I acceptis single-tier local government. The purpose of the Bill is not single-tier local government. The purpose of the Bill is not to abolish England or the county councils. The purpose of the Bill is elected regional assemblies. The consequence of thatthe second order effectis single-tier local government. But that is not the Bill's prime purpose. It is no good trying to make it something that it is not.
Lord Hanningfield: I thank the Minister for those comments. Next week we shall have the Second Reading of the Local Government Bill which is designed mainly to improve local government. However, local government reorganisation will help to destroy local government. So one week we are talking of destroying local government and the next week of trying to improve it. According to the recent comprehensive reforms assessment, small unitary authorities established in the 1990s have not performed very well and yet here we are talking about possibly setting up many more. We consider most of the responses totally unsatisfactory as regards tiers of local government, whether single or two-tier; regional boundaries; size of unitary authorities and boundaries of unitary authorities. I shall withdraw the amendment, but we shall have to return to these issues at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment No. 109, which seeks to leave out subsection (4) of Clause 13, is consequential, if it is possible to be consequential but come first. Amendment No. 111 seeks to leave out paragraph (a) of subsection (5) of Clause 13. It seeks to remove the restriction on the Boundary Committee regarding areas which are not the areas of county councils or district councils. The Minister referred to examples given on an earlier day of Committee stage when we talked about the Lancashire coast and Blackpool. On that occasion I omitted to suggest that he have a word with his noble friend Lady Farrington of Ribbleton who I believe would be likely to endorse the comments that we made about the nonsense of not at least considering the boundaries of Blackpool when dealing with Fylde and Wyre.
Amendment No. 126B seeks to amend Clause 18. That clause provides that the Scilly Isles are not a relevant authority. I do not understand why they are not a relevant authority for the purposes of Clause 12(5)(a) which states that the Secretary of State may consider,
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