Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill
Lord Stoddart of Swindon (Independent Labour)
Usually, by this stage, one gets some clarification of what a Bill is about. The more I have listened to this discussion, the more bewildered I have become. Normally, the Government lay down a policy of government, including local government, administration and so on. But in this situation the localities will decide what sort of administration they have. We might be left with a situation where the North East has a regional assembly but the rest of the country does not.
I feel sure that the Government are banking on the possibility that, if they can get one region to vote for a regional assembly, there will be a domino effect whereby all the others will say, "if they have an assembly, we must have one as well". But that is by no means certain. So in England—I say England advisedly, because it is England—some regions will have a regional assembly and others will not. I do not know how on earth that will make things better or more democratic.
The Government say that they wish to devolve powers—we do not know which—and that they believe in devolution. On the other hand, they believe in pushing other services to Brussels. They are counter-devolving some things upwards to Brussels at the same time as they want to devolve other things downwards. As far as I can see, there is no joined-up thinking. No wonder local authorities do not know which way they are going. They are bewildered by what is happening and wonder what the Government's policy is.
I fear that, instead of achieving clarity, we will be just as bewildered at the end of the Bill's passage as we were at the start, if not more so.