HL Deb 23 February 1993 vol 543 cc82-4

2.47 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether consideration is being given to establishing elected regional councils.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Strathclyde)

My Lords, no.

Lord Dormand of Essington

My Lords, is not the establishing of elected regional councils long overdue? Does the Minister agree that there is strong feeling for, and attachment to, our regions? Does he further agree that some services are naturally fitted for regions? Perhaps most important of all, would not the establishment of elected regional councils lead to effective decentralisation from central government, which is something we are constantly told is one of the main aims of the Government?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I cannot see any reason for promoting a second tier of government that can only be more expensive and bureaucratic and take away from the rights of individuals.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many areas in the country are already subject to two levels of elected authorities? Would it not be nonsense to create a third?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, my noble friend puts the case rather better than I did.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, speaking for a party that has to my certain knowledge believed in elected regional government since 1964, there are many areas at present covered by quangos where there is no recourse to the electorate whatever? Would not many of those functions be better placed in the hands of elected regional government than left to the whim of patronage?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I still do not recognise that a significant case has been made. Perhaps the fact that the noble Lord has been saying that since 1964 and his party has still not succeeded in any great electoral achievement indicates that his case is not made.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that regional councils have existed and have been elected in Scotland since county councils were abolished there in 1975. Is he aware that they are by no means universally popular?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, my noble friend is quite correct. But the regional councils in Scotland are performing a rather different function from that suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, would not the establishment of these elected councils assist two important aspects of the Maastricht Treaty for which the Government have not opted? First, there is the establishment of the committee of regions and, secondly, the proposal in the treaty that deliberation shall be taken to the lowest possible level, close to communities and citizens.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I am all for decisions being taken locally and at their lowest common denominator. That is why we promote the rights of individuals rather than those of local authorities. As regards the European Community, there are many examples where local authorities voluntarily work together in partnership to further their cause with the European Community. Surely that is the right way to go.

Lord Clark of Kempston

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the abolition of the GLC has resulted in quite a saving in public expenditure?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, my noble friend is quite correct in saying that the abolition of the GLC —although it was perhaps not a very good example of regional government—has certainly resulted in a substantial saving for the ratepayers of London.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that since the GLC was abolished the people of London are very much worse off than they were before?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, in 1984 we estimated that about £100 million of long—term savings every year would result from the abolition of the GLC.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that in our relatively small country the great majority of people relate either to the city in which they live or to a county? Does he further agree that the idea of adding another level of government to the many we already have would result in too many? Is he aware that we look forward to the formation—on the organic basis on which the government have decided to work —of unitary authorities to which people will be able to relate? Equally, does my noble friend believe that perhaps there is a case for the representatives of central government in the regions to have a slightly higher profile so that people feel that they have a better channel with central government at official rather than at political level?

Lord Stratnclyde

My Lords, we are encouraging central government to set up posts in regional government and to work together as a conduit for dealings with local people. My noble friend is absolutely correct when he says that in a country of our size it really is not worth going down the route of regional councils.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, is the Minister aware that when I last counted there were about 20 quangos in East Anglia spending public money but accountable to no one? Does that not suggest that we already have regional government in this country, but that what we do not have but need is regional democracy?

Lord Strathclyde

No, my Lords. The noble Baroness will know perfectly well that quangos are there as an arm of Parliament and are accountable to Ministers and to Parliament.

Lord Morris

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it would be rather fun if we had regional, unelected councils; namely, regional Houses of Lords?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I believe that one House of Lords is more than enough.