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Lord Morgan: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there are at least two major arguments for the measure? I hope it is in order not merely to address the House twice in rapid succession, but also to startle the Whips twice in rapid succession by supporting the Government. In my case, that is unusual.
First, devolution has come about in Scotland and WalesI do not agree with the comments made about thatbut nothing has been done about England. England has been described as a "black hole" in the constitutional arrangements. The proposals are a natural extension. In the presence of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer, I express the hope that regionalism together with devolution is eventually placed in his department as a way of integrating the constitutional arrangements and making sense of them.
Lord Morgan: Secondly, I believe that the measure will promote greater equality. It brings together civic accountability of liberal democracy and the drive for equality in social democracy. Disparity in wealth, regional strength and economic progress in the different parts of England has been manifest. That is the result of over-centralisation and the lack of administrative and political clout in those areas.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his support. In answering him, I can answer a question I neglected to answer from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. It is intended that this remains a policy issue for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. There is no intention to transfer this policy issue to the Department of Constitutional Affairs.
My noble friend is right that the present situation has not worked, otherwise we would not have the present regional disparities in this country. That is not to say that we want all regions the same, but some lag considerably behind others in economic performance, even though the quality of life and scenery is much better in many of the northern regions.
Earl Russell: My Lords, is the Minister familiar with the view of Professor Vernon Bogdanor that legislative devolution has not been matched by any equivalent degree of financial devolution and that that is one of the main difficulties? Will he give an undertaking that that mistake will not be repeated in regional government? Is he aware that he cannot give that
Is the Minister further aware that proposals for regional government in England go back to the negotiations for Anglo/Scottish union in 1707? Will he confirm that it is not a coincidence that discussions of regional government in England again follow major changes in the Anglo/Scottish relationship?
Lord Rooker: My Lords, the latter point probably has a lot of substance and I look back to the debates in another place on the referendums relating to the devolution Bills introduced in the mid-1970s when I first became a Member there. Devolution to Scotland has raised the issue as regards the North East and the North West because of the economic activity and so forth.
The noble Earl's point about financial devolution is important and serious. However, there is no new money. The tax raising powers are a minor precept on local government and probably the noble Earl and Professor Bogdanor would not say that we are proposing financial devolution. I do not believe that that is figured in the calculations, but I understand the importance of his comments. Scotland has devolution to a minor degree, but, to the best of my knowledge, it has not taken up the opportunity to use it.
Earl Peel: My Lords, the Minister earlier said that he did not want to fall into the trap of pre-empting what he would regard as being an acceptable turnout in percentage terms before a referendum was to be decided. That seems a most extraordinary way of going about determining an issue of such constitutional importance. Will the noble Lord give an indication of how the Government will decide whether a particular percentage is to be regarded as sufficiently high for them to accept the results of a referendum? Will this vary from one part of the country to another? Will it be 12 per cent in one area, 20 per cent in another and 25 per cent in another?
Furthermore, the Minister talked about greater democracy and local accountability, but can he confirm that the average number of voters per regional assembly member will be approximately 250,000four times more than a Member of Parliament? Is that really local accountability and local democracy?
Lord Rooker: My Lords, yes, I can confirm the figures that the noble Earl has given. We are not proposing large assemblies, as we made clear during the passage of the Bill. They will vary between about 25 to 35 in terms of membership. The Greater London Assembly is about that size, but I am not overly familiar with it. Therefore, the electoral system will be a form of PR and the additional-member system, which makes the constituencies large. However, it is dependent on the function. That is the issue. We are not talking about the equivalents of local councillors or Members of Parliament. The functions will be
I cannot help the noble Earl on the turnout. It is obvious I cannot go down that road and give a view about what might be an acceptable turnout based on what might be an acceptable level of victory. We have made it clear that one vote is enough as a majority, but we had these discussions during the passage of the Bill. It would be wrong to give such a figure if only for the fact that it would be misused by those who want to oppose the measure. They would campaign for abstentions, which is a pretty dishonest thing to do in a democracy. Yes, campaign for your views"I am for this", or, "I am against that"but to campaign for an abstention in order to manipulate the outcome is not democratic.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, thank you very much. It is time I had a little consideration in this House. I want to ask the Minister two questions. First, he said that there will be no new money or powers. Will the electorates of the three regions be informed that there will be no new money or powers; that they will be subject to precepts; and that they will not therefore be in the same favourable position as Scotland and Wales? Will he also tell themand I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, will listen to thisthat there is no possibility of "dequangoisation" because there will be no new powers?
Secondly, will he assure me that public money will not be used between now and when the referendums take place on one side of the argument? Will there be grants to both sides of the arguments if and when the referendums take place?
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I should like a little clarity timing. The powers, duties, responsibilities and expectations of these devolved bodies need to be thoroughly known. Those who are campaigning for devolved government want to know exactly what they are able to campaign about. There is no doubt in my mind that those who do not want the devolved assemblies will know what to campaign about. With the vested interests of the counties and the districts, the fears which exist and the greater fears which might be spread, they will know what to say. Therefore, it is most important that the powers, duties, responsibilities and expectations are clearly laid out.
On the other hand, there will be a campaign period for the referendum. I assure the noble Lord that Nick Raynsford, the Minister responsible for local government, will be taking every opportunity to deploy the arguments about what is available in respect of regional assemblies. We will ensure that every household has the required information. That will not be until after we know what the options are. If it is done too early and too far away from the referendum, it will be lost in the ether. On the other hand, I accept the point that if you are against the whole exercise, you can start your campaign wagon rolling tomorrow. However, that is a very negative campaign wagon because those who take that view really will not know what they are opposing, at least until the Boundary Committee gives its options.
Those people who go on television to say "vote no" can be asked the question, "What are you against? You do not even know what is going to happen yet". It is a little like the argument on the EU Treaty, which I said I would not answer. We will not get the EU Treaty until after the inter-governmental conference, which is another reason why I am not answering any questions on it.
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