HC Deb 03 February 1998 vol 305 cc831-2
7. Mr. Beith

How many members of the north-east rural development agency board will be chosen for their ability to contribute a strong rural perspective. [24894]

The Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning (Mr. Richard Caborn)

Our White Paper "Building Partnerships for Prosperity" made it clear that, outside London, each RDA board will include at least one member who can contribute a strong rural perspective.

Mr. Beith

Does the Minister realise that there is a distinct jobs crisis in more remote rural parts of the northern region and that it cannot be addressed by measures—necessary as they are—to deal with urban problems in the region? The crisis is made much worse by what is happening in our farming and fishing industries and by the effect of the strong pound on export industries. Does he recognise that it is vital that we have people on the RDA who have some experience of trying to earn a living in the countryside, if we are to ensure that we have measures that will address its problems?

Mr. Caborn

We take on board the right hon. Gentleman's concerns. That is what the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions and I have been doing in discussions throughout the rural areas. I think that there is now a consensus that we need to bring together both the urban and rural areas to find solutions to these problems. We are applying the single regeneration budget through the RDA and the right hon. Gentleman will know that, in that way, it plays a major role in assisting rural regeneration. For far too long, rural areas have been left out in the cold. We are going to be bring them in and have a comprehensive approach to regeneration in both rural and urban areas.

Mr. Sheerman

Will my hon. Friend ensure that he has a structure for attracting candidates to the north-east RDA board that is flexible enough to include interested people who are in the midst of their career, not just the retired and people who are overcommitted? Will he be flexible in trying to attract entrepreneurs, academics and people who can give a little less time than the three days that I believe are predicted?

Mr. Caborn

As my hon. Friend knows, we have clearly said that we want to broaden as much as possible the selection process. I again invite hon. Members to send to my Department names that they believe should be considered for the posts of chairman, deputy chairman or member of the board. We will be more than willing to accept those. We will make the process as transparent as possible and it will be in line with Nolan. We want dynamic people—whom we can attract from the regions—to drive the agenda that is laid out in the White Paper.

Mr. Chope

The process is anything but transparent. In Committee this morning, the Minister and his colleagues rejected an Opposition amendment which would provide for consultation with rural interests before appointments are made to regional development agencies. That rejection shows that the Government are engaged in a betrayal of rural interests.

Mr. Caborn

What a load of claptrap, and this morning we heard it all in the Committee of which the hon. Gentleman is not even a member. We gave comprehensive answers. As the White Paper clearly states, we are addressing rural and urban concerns with equal power. This morning's Opposition amendments were negative.