HC Deb 29 July 1997 vol 299 cc130-1
2. Mr. Sheerman

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what plans he has to involve a comprehensive range of expertise in developing his proposals for a regional development strategy. [9347]

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. John Prescott)

We are conducting wide-ranging consultation with all the main stakeholders nationally and in the regions on our proposals for regional development agencies involving stakeholders.

Mr. Sheerman

I congratulate my right hon. Friend. I know of his long interest and campaigning zeal for regional development since the early 1980s. Will he take great care to make sure that all the stakeholders are involved? If the regional development strategy seems to be in the ownership of local authorities, we shall lose enormous expertise from the private sector, co-operatives and—very importantly—the universities. I hope that all the stakeholders will be at the forefront of implementing the policy and making sure that it works.

Mr. Prescott

I very much agree with my hon. Friend about those matters, which we are discussing with all the parties that he has mentioned. We would need public-private partnership operations to be reflected in the development associations and agencies, as they have been in Scotland and Wales—another successful innovation of a previous Labour Government.

Mr. Dafis

Will the Secretary of State tell us something about the Government's proposals in relation to integrating environmental policy into regional development policy? Does he have proposals, for example, at regional level to build on local Agenda 21s so that we have regional sustainable development strategies? How does he envisage that linking with the development of regional government in England?

Mr. Prescott

We very much support what the hon. Gentleman has said. Indeed, it is reflected in today's announcement of proposals for the Greater London authority, which see a strategic role for the environment in London as much as in any other region. It is important that sustainable development means that economic and environmental considerations are taken together, which is often to the benefit of the prosperity of the regions involved.

Mr. Blizzard

May I say how much businesses and local authorities in East Anglia are looking forward to the establishment of a regional development agency? When my right hon. Friend considers the siting of the agency's headquarters, will he consider the economic impact that it could have, and consider siting it in the less prosperous parts of the region rather than in parts which always seem to be used by the Government for offices?

Mr. Prescott

I have never had any doubt that every region wanted a development agency. The tours in which my hon. Friend the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning has been involved have convinced us all the more of that. I recall that, before the previous Government came to power, they proposed in their manifesto to abolish the Welsh and Scottish agencies. They chose not to do so as soon as they saw the very valuable work done by the agencies.

With regard to the second point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard), we must be very careful, in the name of decentralisation, not to centralise in the regions themselves. That applies as much to the development agency as it does to political accountability. We are very sensitive to that.

Sir Norman Fowler

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the welcome for regional development agencies about which the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) talked is not remotely shared around the country? Is it not a fact that the new regional development agencies will not only have exceptionally wide powers, from acquisition of land to financing of business, but that every member of the boards of the RDAs will be appointed by the Secretary of State? Rather than reducing the power of quangos, as he often claims, is he not in the process of creating one of the most powerful new quangos that the country has ever seen?

Mr. Prescott

It is a bit of a cheek for any Opposition Member to talk about the role of quangos, since they created many thousands of them—involving billions of pounds—which were not accountable to the ordinary electorate. We intend to make our agencies accountable. Today's statement on London showed that. When we have completed the consultation and the White Paper is published, the right hon. Gentleman will see—if he waits—the conclusions of those discussions. He belonged to a Government who did not believe in a directly elected mayor. I see that they have changed their position in opposition. Perhaps he will change with the consultation.

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