HC Deb 01 April 1998 vol 309 cc1356-7 9.30 pm
Angela Eagle

I beg to move amendment No. 25, in page 19, line 7, leave out 'including' and insert—

'(3A) the provision which may be made under subsection (3) includes—

  1. (a) provision changing the name of a public body which acquires functions by virtue of provision made under subsection (l)(a) or (b), and
  2. (b)'.

This amendment will provide a specific power to allow a change of name for the body that will take over the residual functions of the Rural Development Commission following the transfer of its regeneration functions to the regional development agencies. As announced last Friday, the Countryside Commission and the Rural Development Commission will merge. The new body will play a central role in the Government's policy of developing a sustainable, living countryside while recognising the interdependence of urban and rural areas. It will, therefore, pursue an integrated approach in giving advice to Government, local authorities, regional development agencies and others about all such matters in order to ensure that they produce integrated, well-thought-out solutions to the problems raised in developing a living countryside. It will secure a rural dimension to wider policies and will be for the benefit of all who live or work in rural areas and visit or value the countryside. It will take forward countrywide initiatives to meet the economic and social needs of people living and working there.

The new merged body's national advisory function will continue to be independent and based on expertise and experience. We said in our White Paper that we are committed to ensuring an effective focus at national level for expertise, information and advice about rural matters, which will assist regional development agencies and local and national organisations in their work. We are now putting that into effect. Both commissions support the concept of a new merged organisation and are working together with the aim of developing and integrating their complementary strengths.

The countrywide initiatives and promotion work will be centred on building local and regional partnerships and delivering real benefits to the countryside and local and rural communities, as well as providing for the needs of visitors. A new name for this merged body will be needed in order to reflect the fact that it will inherit some responsibilities from its predecessors, but it will also have a fresh mandate. The able and dedicated staff of both the Countryside Commission and the Rural Development Commission will form the core of the new body—just as those staff transferring to the regional development agencies, with responsibility for the rural regeneration programme, will be a valuable asset to those bodies.

The commissioners of both organisations have wide-ranging expertise, and we hope that many of them will be prepared to make that available to the new organisation. A new name will signal a fresh start and provide a collective identity that will help to advance good working relationships. We are considering what the new name should be in order to reflect the new integrated responsibilities.

Mr. Yeo

The Opposition wish the new merged organisation every success, but I seek several assurances from the Minister—if she is unable to provide them now, I hope that she will write to me as soon as possible. The press release issued last Friday by her Department— part of which she repeated in her speech—contains a paragraph which states: The new organisation will take on the Countryside and Rural Development Commissions' existing programmes and commitments, other than those that it has already been announced are to be transferred to the Regional Development Agencies. Can the Minister provide an assurance that the combined budget of the Countryside Commission and the Rural Development Commission will continue to be spent in rural areas? I appreciate that part of it will be spent by the regional development agencies because some of the functions have been transferred. However, can the Minister assure us that the balance of the budget will continue to be spent in rural areas for the benefit of the objectives that have been listed?

Angela Eagle

The idea of the merger is not to reduce the amount of money that is available to rural areas, but to increase the effectiveness with which that money is spent. However, I should be happy to set that out more formally by writing to the hon. Gentleman.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 13, in page 19, line 7, after 'transfer', insert 'to another public body'.—[Mr. Robert Ainsworth.]

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