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Lord Woolmer of Leeds: I oppose the amendment, although I assure Members of the Committee that there will be many times during our proceedings when I shall be critical, as I would like to see many changes in the Bill. On this occasion, however, I oppose the proposal. I declare an interest in that I am the director of two businesses involved in the development world and consultant to a number of others.
The amendment says that Part 1 should not come into force unless there is an elected regional assembly. A number of the speeches seemed to indicate that that was a wrecking move, because if there were no elected regional assembly, there would be no Part 1. The question is, what is Part 1 trying to achieve? There is a need for a regional spatial strategy on a statutory basis. Such a strategy should be drawn up by a body that has its heart and soul in the development of that region. Regions vary considerably across the country, and solely leaving everything to regional guidance from central government has failed in the past, and continues to fail, to do justice to the regional variety and dynamics of the regions throughout England.
In my view, we need a regional spatial strategy that is based as firmly as possible within each region. I would much prefer that to be a body that is part of and responsible to a directly elected assembly. If, on the other hand, people from different regions decide that they do not want a directly elected assembly, that does not in my view diminish one jot the fact that we need strong regional strategies. It is best if they are drawn up, taken through and led by elected bodies but, if they are not, we still need such regional strategies.
The amendment, as I read it, says that if there is no directly elected assembly, no regional spatial strategy will be drawn up by people largely or entirely drawn from the individual regions. That would be a great loss. In my own region of Yorkshire and Humber, it is not simply a matter of county councilsas much as I admire and respect the role of the local county council in North Yorkshire. It is a great mix of large cities, all-purpose authorities, county councils, district councils and so on. That does not result in a coherent, strong regional policyand nor will it, in my view.
Therefore, I oppose the amendment, which is a wrecking amendment in some parts, and expresses a desire to put one's credentials on the line in respect of directly elected assemblies. I would love to see them throughout the regions, and certainly in my own region. In the absence of that, the amendment would effectively wreck putting a regional spatial strategy on a statutory basis, drawn up by and driven by people
Lord Greaves: I support my noble friend's amendment, and I do so from a slightly different point of view, although I agree with everything that she said. I also agree with one thing that the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said. He said that there was a danger that under the Government's proposals for the regional assemblies, for which it is intended that we shall have referendums in three northern regions this autumn, the regional assemblies would be an "expensive waste of time".
I take a diametrically opposite view of regional government to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, as I believe very strongly in effective, strong regional government based essentially on devolution of powers from the highly centralised state based in Whitehall and Westminster. However, my concern about the Government's proposals for regional assemblies is that they will be weak, will not have anything to do, will be expensive for what they do and that they are basically taking powers upwards from local government rather than devolving them from London. That is a concern, and a concern held by many people in my region of the north-west. I wish that concern was not there.
The amendment gets to the heart of one issue. If the people in the north-west, and in Yorkshire, are to be persuaded to vote for the Government's regional assemblies later this year, there will have to be seen to be a clear difference between what happens when there is a regional assembly and what happens when there is none. Merely having an elected body of probably quite well paid politicians who are not seen to do very much will not be a difference that people will appreciate.
People will have to see reasons why there should be an assembly. I have tabled Amendment No. 10, which does a similar thing to this amendment but in a less drastic way. This amendment says that, when one has a regional assembly, the position is quite different, because the region will have something important to do, and that when one does not have a regional assembly, it will not. That is a basic issue that the Government will have to think very hard about across all sorts of policy areas in the next few months. We are discussing planning here, so we will talk about planning.
I remember vividly that during the Committee stage of the Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill, the Minister kept repeating a mantra: "no more powers, no more money". I believe that there ought to be more powers where there is an elected regional assembly. In this case, the regional spatial strategies will not simply consist in taking over what exists at the moment in terms of regional planning guidance at regional level, but will take powers upwards from local government in the form of the structure plan powers. Not only the county councils but the unitary authorities will be involved, such as the area of Leeds which the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, represents very well in a general sort of way. Leeds will lose powers to the new regional
The democratic arguments apply, but so do the practical arguments. I do not believe that the Government will persuade people in the north-west to vote for their regional assembly, unless it has an important series of jobs to be done. We can address the planning issue here by passing my noble friend's amendment.
Lord Lucas: I support the amendment and the remarks of my noble friend Lord Ullswater. I take heart when I listen to the Prime Minister talking about the introduction of democracy to Iraq. I wish that he would bring that same sentiment closer to home and be as fond of democracy in the United Kingdom and this Chamber. However, democracy is a dirty word as regards application in this country. What is important is to pass powers upwards: to have things dictated by people who are sufficiently expert and broad in their vision to take decisions which, in the Government's view, need to be taken without bothering to consult people too much.
It may well seem to people who do not live in Norfolk that during the 50 years or so while we wait for global warming to transform it into a marina it would be a good idea to build a few wind farms there. One cannot impose such decisions on people and maintain a respect for and agreement to government. Governments depend on our agreeing to be bound by the strictures that Government put on us and to feel that it is government with our consent. Things that happen locally require decisions to be taken locally or we shall lose the feeling of consent.
It is a problem for the police. They have lost their local presence. They have lost the local policeman. Therefore, the police are alien to us. When they stop us for some minor offence they are not our police but the state's police. That is not constructive. It leads to a gradual diminution of people's enthusiasm for involvement with the state, with public processes, and a commitment to the way in which they are governed. If we allow this sort of thing to continue, it will have great consequences. The only way to stop it continuing is to deal with each of its minor appearances. We are here talking about imposing things on people which need not be imposed. We can gain consent locally albeit a little more slowly and with a little more trouble. Some areas may say no and create difficulties. But it is important to involve people and obtain their consent.
Lord Haskins: I declare an interest as chairman of the Campaign for Yorkshire Devolution. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, that natural loyalties and communities of interest are strong and flourishing in Yorkshire. I point him towards the front page of today's Financial Times which shows the underperformance of all our great provincial cities of Britain compared with the equivalent great provincial cities of Europeand if we had had the same report on the great provincial cities of the United States, alas, we should have seen the same thing. The difference between those countries and ourselves is that they have elaborate regional democracies in place and we do not.
The objective of the campaign is to raise the democratic process by assuming substantial powers away from Whitehall. If that does not happen, we shall have failed in our efforts. Secondly, it is to call to account the unelected quangosI am a member of one or twoabout which the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, is understandably concerned. The only way to call them to account, if we have any regional structure, is to have regional democracy alongside us. We have to tackle the bureaucracy which, rightly, worries most of us, particularly around Whitehall. The purpose of such devolution is to undermine that bureaucracy and the second guessing which takes place. The basis for that regional democracy is a strong alliance between the county councils and the regional democracies, to strengthen the local authorities in their role in our modern government.
I believe, therefore, that the Government's proposals in this respect work best when devolved government is in place. I hope that Yorkshire will, not for the first time, show an example to the rest of the country in the referendum later in the year and that lessons will be learned from the success of devolution in Yorkshire so that the poor people of the east of England will be encouraged to follow with great enthusiasm in the years to come.
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