HC Deb 14 January 1998 vol 304 cc372-457

[Relevant document: The First Report of the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, Regional Development Agencies (HC 415).]

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

I must inform the House that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. I should also inform the House that Madam Speaker has decided that the 10-minute limit on speeches will apply today for Back Benchers' speeches.

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

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

One of the commitments that we gave in our manifesto, which the British people overwhelmingly endorsed on 1 May last year, was to address the economic under-performance of the English regions. We promised each English region a strong development agency—agencies that would provide for effective and properly co-ordinated regional economic development, underpin the wider regeneration and enable the English regions to improve their competitiveness.

The Bill provides the means for doing that. The RDAs will play a major part in the future economic success of the United Kingdom. The Bill will give the regions the tools they need.

The success of the United Kingdom in improving its economic performance and its competitiveness depends on the success of all its regions. I can tell the House that, in our regions, there is an overwhelming desire for the opportunity to play a full part in revitalising the nation's economy. We must compete as a nation in the global marketplace, and to do that, all our regions must maximise their potential. That means finding more imaginative ways of tackling the problems they face.

For far too long, the English regions have been disadvantaged compared with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We need to put all the regions in a position to perform at the level of the best. Many of our regions are performing well below the European average, and that is simply not good enough. Out of the 10 English regions, only two marginally come up to the productive average of the European regions.

Since I became Minister for the Regions in May, I have visited the English regions and initiated a dialogue with the regional stakeholders. During my visits, it was evident to me that the regions are working hard to improve regional performance. Unfortunately, however, the previous Government gave them little support, for the Conservatives do not believe in regional autonomy. They centralised power and denied the regions the opportunity to prosper. They drove policy from the centre, as if the rest of the country did not exist. In effect, they put the regions off the map.

The Tories produced programmes that lacked coherence, particularly at the regional level. They consistently ignored the views and advice of those in the regions, who, after all, are best placed to find the solutions to their own problems.

My discussions with people in the regions have shown that now, more then ever, the English regions are looking for a new approach, and for the opportunity to shape their own future.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

Does the Minister agree that the reason why some regions do less well than others is simply that the European Commission will not permit aid to be given to a considerable part of this country? Southend-on-Sea, for example, was put forward for aid on two separate occasions by the previous Government, but both applications were cancelled by a Commissioner. Does not the Minister think that there is some ground for suspicion by hon. Members that the whole business is part of the exercise in regional government that is being pushed all the way by Brussels?

Mr. Caborn

That may be the hon. Gentleman's opinion, but I do not share it—and I do not think that the people in the regions do, either. They want to address the economic weaknesses in the regions.

We are facing a grave problem in this nation. I repeat that only two out of 10 English regions are approaching the average of the European regions in terms of gross domestic product per capita. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the problems revolve around a few grants from the European Community, he under-estimates the real problems facing our English regions.

Our discussions with people in the regions have revealed that, more than ever, they wish to play a role in shaping their future. They have responded enthusiastically to our proposals for regional development agencies. For example, our consultation paper received more than 1,500 responses, which universally supported the case for development agencies in England to match those that have worked so successfully over many years in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Only last week, the UnderSecretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), and I visited the regions again, and we found the same enthusiasm for our White Paper proposals. Therefore, I hope that we will hear no nonsense from Opposition Members who seek to contradict the clear message that we are getting from the people of this country. I have seldom seen a more badly drafted reasoned amendment to a Second Reading than that which appears on today's Order Paper.

The people in the regions understand that RDAs will bring real added value to the United Kingdom's economic performance. They will build on the work that has been done at a regional level by local authorities, regional partners and the Government offices for the regions. For the first time, there will be an organisation in each English region that is strong enough and sufficiently broadly based to make a significant difference. The Bill is part of a radical new agenda for the English regions.

Regional policy is one of the Government's top priorities. One of our first acts when we came to government last May was to start to address the regional economic deficit. More generally, we made it clear that we are determined to bring a new dimension to policy making.

We have five guiding principles for taking forward our regional policies. The first is integration. That is at the heart of our proposals for RDAs. RDAs will bring together at the regional level our policies for jobs, growth and social cohesion. We want RDAs to take an integrated approach to all their work across the regions.

That will be particularly important in the case of rural areas. We want rural affairs to be part of the remit of RDAs, because we recognise that they, and the people who live in the countryside, have particular needs. We believe that those needs will be better addressed as part of an integrated regional approach than as a policy apart. That will avoid marginalising rural areas, as occurred under the previous Administration.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

As to the importance of rural areas in the future of RDAs, will the Minister require even one of the RDAs to be headquartered in a rural area?

Mr. Caborn

The hon. Gentleman misses the point about devolution of power: it is about devolving power to those who will take the decisions in the regions. It is difficult for the centralist former Conservative Government to comprehend that we trust people in the regions to make decisions for themselves—but we shall try to convince Opposition Members.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)

Does the Minister understand that that is precisely what worries hon. Members who represent rural constituencies? We expect those in urban areas to take decisions that favour them, to the detriment of rural areas. If we make positive suggestions for improving the rural dimension of the regional development agencies, will the Minister consider them sympathetically?

Mr. Caborn

The answer is obviously yes. If the Opposition suggest reasoned amendments—I hope that they will not reflect the amendment on today's Order Paper—we shall consider them.

There is tremendous support for RDAs. As I have said, we received 1,500 responses to our consultation paper. The Local Government Association, the National Farmers Union, the Consortium for Rural TECs, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, and Action with Communities in Rural England support the Government's action in bringing the Rural Development Commission into the regional development agencies. All responses to the consultation process have been deposited in the Library; they are on the record. All major organisations that deal with rural affairs support the Government's position on RDAs. We have discussed it with them. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and I were discussing the matter with people in rural areas throughout the country last week.

The second principle is decentralisation. Regional development agencies are an important first step in decentralising decision making to the English regions. The Government offices were a welcome initiative on the part of the previous Administration, and that we acknowledge, but they are simply arms of Government in the regions. The RDAs will be led by regional people; they will be influenced by and take account of regional interests.

The Government are committed to directly elected regional government in the English regions where there is popular demand for it. That remains our intention for the longer term, as we stated in the Labour party manifesto.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

Nobody wants it.

Mr. Caborn

Does the hon. Gentleman want to rise to make his point? If what he says is correct, the regions will not be sanctioning what we have stated to be our intention. Our commitment will be with the will of the people in the regions. I understand that it is difficult for Conservative Members to understand consultation and trusting the people. Those concepts are foreign to them, but the Government believe them to be right.

Mr. Forth

In the context of accountability and the people's wishes, what reassurances can the Minister give local authorities, in the light of clauses 24 and 25, which deal with the designation and transfer of planning powers, that there will not be a move away from elected and accountable planning authorities to a quango dealing with important local planning? Surely that in itself would be enough to give rise to a great deal of apprehension among people in the regions and among Opposition Members.

Mr. Caborn

I shall be dealing with that specific point. However, it is not for the right hon. Gentleman to start lecturing the House about the democratic process and development corporations. If he reads the Bill carefully, he will find that all we have done is take the powers that the previous Administration vested in English Partnerships, and put them into the Bill.

As for planning powers, even English Partnerships, which has never used them, would have to receive the sanction of the Secretary of State. The issue would be decided by the House. That is the area of land use planning that we are talking about.

Mr. Forth

indicated dissent.

Mr. Caborn

The right hon. Gentleman may shake his head, but if he reads the Bill and understands its relationship with English Partnerships, things may become a little clearer to him. As a general principle, I ask him not to lecture us about taking powers from local government.

In the short term, we shall make use of existing democratic structures—voluntary chambers—so that decisions taken by RDAs in the regions reflect regional priorities and are responsive to regional views.

The third principle is regeneration. No one who knows our country—our towns, cities and rural areas—can doubt the continuing need for regeneration. That is not simply physical regeneration, although that is important, but the regeneration of communities, to restore a sense of identity and pride.

Regional development agencies will inherit from Government offices the important role of administering the single regeneration budget challenge fund, or its successor programmes. They will take over the regional regeneration roles of English Partnerships, and the rural regeneration role of the Rural Development Commission. They will thus be well placed to take a coherent view of regeneration at regional level.

Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)

I am delighted that one of the driving forces of RDAs will be the regeneration of inner-city areas. The single regeneration budget will clearly have a role in that. Will my hon. Friend assure me, and those who are striving to bring new investment into inner-city areas, that local partnerships will be formed, and local voices will still be heard? Will he assure me that the SRB will not be driven at regional level, but will meet local needs?

Mr. Caborn

I can give my hon. Friend that absolute assurance. We want to build on the best of the partnerships, but within a strategic framework. It has been made clear to us by all stakeholders in the 1,500 responses that in the past we have been trying to carry out regeneration in a strategic vacuum. There has been no overview. Indeed, money has been wasted that could have been targeted.

My hon. Friend knows the coalfield communities extremely well, and he will be aware of the initiative that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has taken in trying to co-ordinate activities across the areas that have been affected by mine closures. That is one of the areas in which we are trying to take a strategic overview to solve problems. We are trying to achieve that and to bring in partners on a bottom-up process. However, as I said, on regeneration the RDAs will not be able to act alone.

Our fourth and guiding principle is partnership, and it will certainly be a guiding principle of RDAs. There have been some spectacular successes in public-private partnerships in recent years. Co-operation between local authorities, training and enterprise councils, industry, business and voluntary groups has achieved much progress.

We want regional development agencies to build on existing partnerships, and create and foster new alliances too, to make our regions perform better, and to secure better value for money. This will be especially necessary in developing the skills agenda. RDAs will be responsible for developing a regional skills strategy within the regional economic strategy. That will help to ensure that regional economic and labour trends influence decisions about vocational education and training, and provide information to the purchasers and deliverers of education and training in the region.

RDAs will be pivotal in highlighting problems, and co-ordinating efforts to address them, but they will be able to do this successfully only with the involvement and co-operation of regional partners—in particular, the TECs and those involved in further and higher education.

Partnership will be the key to success in tackling the skills agenda. The announcement today by the British Chambers of Commerce clearly shows that we need such organisations to address the skills shortages that it predicts.

Last, but by no means least, is the objective of sustainability. Sustainable development must be a key objective of all our policies. One of the RDAs' five core objectives will be to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development in the United Kingdom. RDAs will need to demonstrate in their strategies what they are doing to contribute to sustainable development, and in encouraging others to do so. They will need to demonstrate in their day-to-day work that they are making a real contribution.

Against that background, a Bill to establish regional development agencies was included in the Queen's Speech. Following a major consultation exercise last summer, we published last month the White Paper "Building Partnerships for Prosperity" which set out a bold agenda for devolving decision making from the centre to new bodies in the regions. Our aim is that these new "agencies for change" in England will match the success of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland agencies.

We will not impose a single blueprint on the English regions. The previous Government tried the prescriptive route, and it did not work; it just created resentment and fruitless competition between the different players. We want to set the scene for an approach that builds on partnership and co-operation. The Bill provides a framework within which we can reflect the particular needs of individual regions, but our core objective is for the agencies to bring together a wide range of functions that are presently carried out by separate and diverse bodies.

The main purpose of RDAs is to address the economic deficit that has bedevilled the English regions for many years. That is the first priority in our regional agenda, and the Bill reflects that. It sets the legislative framework for setting up the agencies as non-departmental public bodies. RDAs will be funded for the most part from public funds, and they will be accountable to Ministers and to Parliament for their actions. It will be the responsibility of Ministers to approve RDA business plans and ensure that they conduct their business with propriety.

We want RDAs to be properly accountable to their regions, too, and the Bill makes provision for that. Consistent with our manifesto, it provides a mechanism for building on the voluntary chambers that local authorities and their regional partners have begun to develop. Specifically, clause 8 enables the Secretary of State to designate a regional chamber as the focus for regional consultation about the work of an RDA. Clause 18 allows the Secretary of State to direct RDAs to give an account of themselves to regional chambers, where they exist.

Voluntary chambers will therefore have a tangible and important role in the work of RDAs, and a real stake in ensuring that their work reflects the needs of the whole region.

I should say a word about London in particular. The Bill provides for a development agency for the capital, but, as the House knows, we aim to have a new strategic authority for London. Subject to the outcome of the London referendum, which we hope will take place in May, the relationship between the new authority and the London RDA will need to reflect the responsibilities of the new authority in London, and of the mayor, for economic development matters.

Our detailed proposals for the London development agency will be set out in the White Paper on London government, which we intend to publish before Easter.

Let me deal briefly with the remaining provisions of the Bill. Part I provides for us to establish the nine regional development agencies whose areas will correspond with those of the Government offices for the regions. The one difference is that there will be one RDA for the north-west, which will include Merseyside.

Clause 2 provides for the membership of the agencies. We envisage appointing 12 members to each board, although we could appoint up to 15. The boards will be business-led; they will also include people with experience and expertise from local government and further and higher education, as well as from trade unions, rural interests and the voluntary sector. The Secretary of State will be required to consult interested parties before making appointments.

The key criterion for membership will be experience relevant to the RDA's purpose. There will be no political fixers. Let me repeat that: the key criterion for membership will be experience relevant to the RDA's purposes.

Clause 4—not the original clause IV!—establishes RDAs as corporate bodies with five key purposes. Those purposes are to further the economic development and regeneration of their areas, to promote business efficiency, investment and competitiveness, to promote employment, to enhance the development and application of skills, and to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. The clause specifically provides that a regional development agency's objectives will apply equally to rural and non-rural areas. That underlines the need for RDAs to take a coherent, integrated approach to their work, and recognises the interdependence of town and country.

RDAs will be specifically required by clause 7 to formulate regional strategies and keep them under review. Our aim is for those strategies to reflect a partnership approach involving all the region's stakeholders—as well as Government—in order to provide, in time, the framework for all relevant decision-making at regional level.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

My hon. Friend will know of the Select Committee report, and, in particular, the concern about how the TECs will fit into the framework. Will he confirm that, as he told us when we were making our inquiries, he hopes that the process will evolve towards a point at which the TECs will be accountable to the new regional set-up?

Mr. Caborn

Yes. I have said very clearly that, under the Bill as it stands, the TECs will be part of the development of the skills strategy. Responsibility for the skills strategy for the regions will rest with the RDAs: that is clear, it is understood, and it was spelled out both in the White Paper and in what I said in my evidence to the Select Committee. The RDAs will be the lead organisations in regard to the skills strategy for their regions. They will also go further: as I said earlier, they will co-ordinate the strategy with further and higher education.

Clause 6 enables Ministers to delegate functions to RDAs—for example, the administration of the single regeneration budget funds. Part I also replicates for RDAs the statutory powers and duties of the Urban Regeneration Agency—for those who do not recognise the name, it is now called English Partnerships—so that RDAs can take on the regional regeneration role of EP, which the last Administration put on the statute book.

We intend all EP's roles and functions to move in due course to the RDAs, which will themselves work in co-operation on issues that are cross-regional, and for which there is advantage in a combined approach. Meanwhile, EP's highly effective national capability and expertise will be retained in order to allow national projects such as the regeneration of the Greenwich peninsula and the coalfields initiative to continue.

Part II provides for the Rural Development Commission and EP to make schemes for transferring property, rights and liabilities to the RDAs. Part III contains general and technical provisions.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

Will my hon. Friend emphasise what I know to be the truth, that the very good staff of English Partnerships, who have been so innovative, will have jobs in the new RDAs? Many hon. Members feel strongly that English Partnerships' staff have made a great contribution to the regions in which they work.

Mr. Caborn

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. Last week, the UnderSecretary of State, and I went around the English regions and met the staff of English Partnerships and the Rural Development Commission. There is obviously uncertainty at a time of change, but they have been reassured—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) want to make a comment?

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk)

There is no uncertainty about what you have done to the Rural Development Commission. You have taken away—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not have responsibility for such matters.

Mr. Yeo

I only wish you did, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The Minister referred to the Rural Development Commission, but the House knows that it has been completely dismembered, because his Department has failed to get a single penny of any other Department's budget into the RDAs. He has had to take away from the highly successful, well-respected Rural Development Commission its rural regeneration budget, which covers more than half its total programme. To add insult to injury, the Secretary of State—who I notice is not present—delivered, in extraordinarily ungracious terms, an unwarranted attack on the outgoing chairman, who resigned in protest at what has happened to his agency.

Mr. Caborn

I invite the hon. Gentleman to get out of London for a change and visit the English regions. He should speak to the staff of the Rural Development Commission, as we did last week. It would be a good idea if you went back to your constituency occasionally.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is important to remind hon. Members to use the correct parliamentary language.

Mr. Caborn

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will go back to his constituency and discuss the matter with members of the Rural Development Commission, as my hon. Friend and I did last week. There is tremendous excitement about the development of a coherent strategy to replace the dog's breakfast that was left by the previous Administration.

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds)

The Rural Development Commission office for East Anglia is located in Bury St. Edmunds, and I spoke on the telephone to managers there this very morning. Although they did not discuss the merits of the Bill in policy terms, they expressed grave concern about their jobs. They are worried, because they have heard nothing about their future, whether it be with the RDA or on the dole. I should be grateful if the Minister would give some comfort to my constituents to whom I spoke this morning.

Mr. Caborn

More than that, I shall inquire immediately as to why those people were not contacted when we made our regional visit. We asked specifically for staff of the Rural Development Commission and English Partnerships to meet us as we went around the country. I shall ensure that they are contacted, and I shall find out why they were not given an invitation to the meetings that were organised last week.

Since we published our White Paper, the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs has carried out an inquiry into RDAs, and its report was published earlier this week. We are grateful for the work that the Committee has done in the short time available. We shall consider its conclusions and recommendations carefully.

That report will provide a useful background to the debate on the Bill. It was difficult for the Committee to complete its work in the short time available, but I hope that, like me, it feels that its inquiry was useful. The report will be helpful to the Government as we take the policy forward.

The debate will continue in the weeks ahead, but, as it gets under way, I stress that no one is more enthusiastic than I am for RDAs, except, perhaps, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions. [Interruption.] Quite honestly, Conservative Members should have paid more attention to what the Labour party was doing in the past few years. That would have been instructive, because they would have realised that my right hon. Friend was the author of a number of documents on regional devolution, and has an honourable record. Indeed, he set up the Millan commission. His record is there for all to see. He is an enthusiast for devolution, and especially for RDAs. He presented the White Paper a few weeks ago, and was questioned by Conservative Members. He gave a full and frank explanation of the Government's position on the devolution of power. The Bill comes out of that White Paper, and was supported in consultations throughout the country.

We must be realistic about what we ask RDAs to do. They will be new bodies, and will have much to do to establish themselves and to develop their work programmes. In time, as their experience develops, there will be scope to extend their role, and the Bill allows us to delegate further functions without the need for additional legislation. For the time being at least, the package that we propose in the Bill strikes the right balance and provides the right critical mass.

The Bill is an important first step in our regional agenda for England. Our vision is for the English regions to grow and prosper alongside Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and within the European Union. For years, we have been dogged by a lack of co-ordination in the regions. Programmes did not work to the same goals, inward investment was lost through lack of co-ordination, and indigenous industries and small and medium-sized firms lost out because of the lack of a regional strategic approach.

The basic purpose of this exercise is to create sustainable growth and to improve our wealth-creating base in the regions: we want to bake a bigger cake. We must deal with the structural and cultural barriers to business success, and address the under-performance of the regions that we inherited from the previous Administration.

The so-called cohesion gap between the best and the rest in Europe is already widening. European monetary union and enlargement towards the east will require our regions to run a lot faster to compete with France, Germany and others.

The Bill will ensure that the United Kingdom has 12 strong development agencies. They will be economic powerhouses, and will work for the success of the whole of the United Kingdom. This country will, for the first time, be firing on all 12 cylinders, not just two.

5.16 pm
Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Regional Development Agencies Bill because it deplores the enormous increase in ministerial power bestowed by this Bill and the accompanying erosion of the role of local authorities and because the Bill fails to reflect the concern expressed by many consultees, including local authorities of all political persuasions, about the lack of regional accountability of RDAs; regrets that policies which have successfully attracted record levels of inward investment into Britain are now being abandoned; fears that the interests of the rural community and the countryside have not been properly taken into account; and calls on the Government to withdraw this Bill until its true long-term plans for the creation of a new and additional tier of government in the form of regional assemblies have been clearly set out in detail for debate by the House and by the public. I shall be brief, given the truncated nature of the debate. I agree with the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning on one issue: the importance and vitality of the regions in England. My constituency is in the west midlands, which has the twin traditions of industrial and commercial power, and the tradition of strong local government going back to the Chamberlains. Those two forces—the strength of industry and commerce and the vital part played by accountable local government—govern my attitude to this proposal.

I need no persuasion of the suspicion in the regions that too much decision making is centred in London. I need no persuasion of the resentment in the regions that too many great national events are staged in London. I was an opponent of the Greenwich dome even before the Minister without Portfolio was put in charge of it. I need no persuasion that the continued development of the regions, such as the west midlands, is crucial.

A belief in the regions and their continued development does not automatically and by definition lead to support for the policy now being proposed by the Government, of which regional development agencies are but one part. For the Government to win support for RDAs, they must establish that the proposed organisations are necessary for the economic development of the regions. More than that, they must explain why those bodies will be unaccountable to the people whom they are supposed to serve. If regional government is their aim, why have the Government not set out their plans clearly? The House and the public have only one part of a picture that goes far beyond economic development.

Mr. Caborn

I remind the right hon. Gentleman of the response from his area to our consultation document. The response was from the West Midlands Regional Economic Consortium and its partners, which include the CBI and chambers of commerce—all the other major actors on the economic stage. It states that the consortium and its partners support the Government's proposals for the introduction of Regional Development Agencies … The West Midlands Regional Economic Consortium and regional partners see the introduction of the RDAs as a major opportunity to strengthen the regional competitive position in the global economy and, with this, address many of the social problems that exist in the West Midlands.

Sir Norman Fowler

The Minister does not believe—and certainly no one in the west midlands believes—that the organisation to which he refers remotely speaks for the west midlands. To suggest otherwise is nonsense. It is elected people such as councillors and hon. Members who speak for the area.

Beyond the issue of regional economic development, which is the Bill's stated purpose, we should recognise what has been achieved over the past 20 years. The Minister skated over that and at the end of his speech spoke about the inward investment that has been lost to this country. Under the previous Conservative Government, there was record inward investment, creating new jobs and new industries and leading to major exports. I shall describe that record not in the words of that Conservative Government, but in the words of the White Paper, which states on page 30: The cumulative value of foreign direct investment into the UK has risen from 28 billion dollars in 1975 to over 344 billion dollars in 1996. The United Kingdom receives the largest share of foreign direct investment in the European Union, including about 40 per cent. of United States and Japanese overseas investment. In manufacturing, foreign direct investment accounts for 18 per cent. of employment, 32 per cent. of capital spending and 40 per cent. of United Kingdom exports. Over the last decade foreign direct investment has not only created over 600,000 jobs but has helped to develop and modernise the industrial base. That is the true record of the previous Conservative Government, and it is in the White Paper.

I shall put it another way. It is estimated that between 1979 and now, 172,000 jobs were created or safeguarded in the west midlands. The figure for the north-west is 92,000 jobs, for the north-east is 84,000 jobs, and for the south-west is nearly 40,000 jobs. In securing foreign inward investment, Britain has not been the laggard in Europe but the European leader, and that investment has brought employment and development to every English region. There is nothing in the record for which Conservatives need to apologise and everything to suggest that the sort of organisation and structure that we set up have been remarkably successful in producing economic development and jobs in the English regions.

Mr. Sheerman

I spoke in Birmingham council house on Thursday, and the uniform picture that I got from local business, from the chamber of commerce and from elected representatives such as those from the European Parliament, the House and local authorities was that the past 18 years had been a disaster not only for the west midlands but for all the English regions. Since 1979, compared with the average in Europe, we have slumped down the competition league as regards the average wealth of our citizens in all the regions that the right hon. Gentleman can name.

Sir Norman Fowler

It is plain that the hon. Gentleman is totally unaware of what has happened in the west.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Norman Fowler

I should like to reply to the intervention before I give way again.

The characteristic industry in the west midlands is the motor industry, which is experiencing record exports. We turned round companies such as Rover, which were brought to their knees by the last Labour Government because of appalling industrial relations. The hon. Gentleman should speak to people in Derby and in the east midlands about Toyota's investment and to people in the north-east about that of Nissan. The hon. Gentleman shows blind prejudice. More than that, he shows a total ignorance of what has taken place over the past 20 years.

Mr. Sheerman


Sir Norman Fowler

I shall not give way again.

Conservatives do not need to apologise for anything. What was achieved was a remarkable revolution that was recognised by most industrialists in the west midlands to whom the hon. Gentleman has been speaking.

It is anything but clear that the English regions will be improved by the new development agencies. What is there to suggest that there will be an improvement? It is anything but clear that England will be better served by nine competing regional development agencies, each seeking to sell its own region and, of course, comparing unfavourably any competing region. It is anything but clear that the creation of nine new development agencies, each with its bureaucracy of a chairman, a deputy chairman, board members, a chief executive and executive directors and staff, doubtless each with his own office in Brussels, will help England overall to attract new investment.

At its mildest, the case is not proven. We shall carefully monitor the success of the new agencies and compare it with the kind of success that was achieved in the past by bodies such as English Partnerships.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Bill is as much about supporting existing businesses in the regions as it is about attracting new ones? That is why the Bill contains provisions for investment, for the development of property, premises and training. Is he further aware that the CBI in a letter to hon. Members within the past few days states: Second Reading of the Regional Development Agencies Bill takes place next week. This is an issue on which the CBI supports the Government's overall proposals for RDAs believing they can make an important contribution to enhancing the UK's growth and competitiveness. Was the right hon. Gentleman not aware of that statement from the national CBI?

Sir Norman Fowler

I am sorry that the hon. Lady is obviously used to getting her instructions from organisations and not using her own judgment. Hon. Members are here to take an independent view. I shall come to the issue of consultation. The hon. Lady's argument is deeply unattractive. She says that one organisation supports the proposals so all hon. Members should immediately fall in behind that organisation. Of course that is exactly the way that the Labour party has gone, but it is not the way that Conservatives do things.

Mr. Blizzard

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Norman Fowler

No, I will not.

I come directly to the hon. Lady's point. The Government say that the consultation has shown overwhelming public support throughout the country for the agencies. They do not speak just about the CBI. We should be frank on these matters. The consultation was probably the most invisible process of all time. It was based on what was without doubt the flimsiest document that has ever been produced by any Government including this one. The document on which they consulted is precisely four pages long—I could almost read it out now. It was copied at the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, but it left many of those lucky enough to get a copy in some bewilderment.

The hon. Lady referred to the CBI, but Ruth Lea, the head of the policy unit at the Institute of Directors—

Mr. Caborn

It was a qualified response.

Sir Norman Fowler

I see, we can quote only one organisation. I shall read Ruth Lea's response to the consultation as I do not think the Minister ever reads such responses, but only one or two headlines that are drawn to his attention. She said: I ought to say that we did have some difficulty in responding to the document because it was about issues for discussion as opposed to the usual type of consultation document which as you know comprises fairly well focused proposals. In other words, the proposals set out were not remotely focused.

In the end, out of the 40 million people living in the English regions, only 1,500 responded.

Mr. Caborn


Sir Norman Fowler

I shall put my argument and then the Minister can respond.

Very few responses came from members of the public. I suspect that not as many as one person in 1,000 in England knows that there has been a consultation on regional development agencies. The responses have come predominantly from organisations of one sort or another, virtually all of which suffer from one defect. Whatever criticisms they had, in the final analysis—and here the Minister is right—those criticisms would always be qualified, for the very good reason that if RDAs were going to be set up, most of the respondents wanted to sit on the new boards. As the White Paper suggests, many of the responses were no more than collective job applications. I do not decry that. The Government have a massive majority and they will doubtless get their legislation through. The RDAs will be set up and there will be competition to sit around the boards' tables. If it is the only game in town provided by the Government, organisations will not want to be excluded.

Yet even in the muted consultation process, rather more criticisms have been made than is evident in the words of the copy writers who put together the White Paper text. Central to that criticism is the lack of accountability of the new agencies and the erosion of the power of local authorities.

Mr. Caborn

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the IOD. Mr. Tim Melville-Ross came to my office to have a wide discussion—

Sir Norman Fowler

He wants to be on a board.

Mr. Caborn

He does not—he said that he did not want to be on the board. He said that now that the IOD understood what the RDAs were about, it would support the proposal—[Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman wants a note of the meeting, I can make that available to him. It does the Opposition no credit to make disparaging remarks about every major actor on the economic stage and say that they entered consultations in the manner that he suggested. They are responsible organisations that responded positively to a genuine Government consultation process. I do not think that 1,500 responses should be disparaged.

Sir Norman Fowler

I am quoting from the Government's White Paper. On page 49, paragraph 10.6, it says: The consultation process gave rise to many calls for individual interest groups to be represented on the boards of RDAs. It is quite clear that, even with boards much larger than those being proposed, there would always be too few seats to represent all such interest groups separately. Those words are in the Minister's White Paper, just as the words I quoted previously on inward investment were in his White Paper.

I remind the House of what the Prime Minister said when he was Leader of the Opposition: We need to roll back the tide of quangos and to have a revival of proper democratic local government. In Government, the reality is very different. RDAs represent the most powerful quangos ever seen in this country. Board members will be appointed by Ministers—they will be creatures of Whitehall, unaccountable to the

local public. None of the board members will be directly elected. Only a third of the board will be councillors, but—this is an extraordinary provision—they will be able to remain on the board even if they are voted out of office as a direct protest against the action of the RDAs.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Norman Fowler

I will not, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.

It is that lack of accountability that runs through so many of the responses to the consultation process. As the Minister rightly said, the responses are set out. The City of Sunderland council said: The city council would like to point out that when in opposition the Labour party attacked the democratic deficit proposed by the creation of quangos at regional and local levels which were not accountable to local democratically elected local authorities. Sheffield council—the Minister's council—said: It is imperative that RDAs are democratically accountable within their region. Kingston upon Hull council said, on the issue of democratic accountability: It is crucial to the operation of RDAs if they are not to become just another quango.

Mr. Blizzard


Sir Norman Fowler

No, I will not give way.

What should really concern local authorities is that the establishment of RDAs marks the start of a transfer of power away from elected local councils.

Mr. Forth

Including planning.

Sir Norman Fowler

I take my right hon. Friend's point about planning. The Bill contains powers for the Secretary of State and the RDAs together to exercise powers of compulsory purchase and to designate areas that they want developed. That point was put into a letter, on 9 January, to the Department from the chief executive of Bromley council. He referred to sections 24 to 27 relating to designation orders and said: In such circumstances, therefore, planning powers would be handed over to RDAs which are unelected appointed bodies. The House should be concerned about that.

The House should also be concerned about the evidence showing how such powers have already been exercised by the Government. As it happens, that sort of development is being forced through on green-belt land on the edge of Birmingham in my constituency. In precis—I want to return to the issue more fully on another occasion—the existing West Midlands development agency applied for planning permission to develop 150 acres of green-belt land under active farming. It wanted the land for industrial use. In fact, the land is owned by Birmingham city council, which will receive a substantial capital settlement for the site.

The proposal was very hard fought locally. I, among others, appeared before the public inquiry and opposed it. We were faced with legal teams, headed by Queen's Counsel, from the agency and from Birmingham council. Nevertheless, we won our case with the inspector. The report was with the then Department of the Environment on the day the Government took office on 1 May—but by some oversight, the issue was not decided until a week after the House went into recess in August. Then, on a Friday, the Minister announced that the Government had overruled the inspector and that the development of agricultural land for industrial use would go ahead. According to my recollection that has been the only speculative application affecting green-belt land in which an inspector's report has been overruled in recent years.

I therefore tell hon. Members that they need not speculate about what will happen. Given the Government's position, if regional development agencies decide that sites are required in green-belt land for industrial development, nothing will prevent those sites from being developed, for the good reason that the Secretary of State is the final arbiter of those issues.

Mr. Caborn

The powers in the Bill were vested by the previous Administration in English Partnerships, and the Bill simply moves those powers to the regional development agencies. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that, before any action can be taken on land acquisition or an application for compulsory purchase, the matter will have to return to the House via the Secretary of State. It would be wrong to infer that the Bill does not contain that protection.

Sir Norman Fowler

Is it not typical that, although the hon. Gentleman presumably listened to what I said, he absolutely failed to answer the point? The point is—

Mr. Caborn

It is irrelevant.

Sir Norman Fowler

The point is not irrelevant. It shows just what the Government will do. It shows that, even when a public inquiry finds for local people—[Interruption.] The Minister tells me not to get excited, but I do get excited about it. He took one of the most disgraceful actions that I have seen in my 25 years in the House. Therefore, I get excited, and I deplore what he has done. I warn the House and the public that, under the Government, the green belt is not safe from industrial development. If the Minister had the courage, I wonder why he left making his announcement until the first week of August, after the start of the summer recess?

Mr. Caborn

If the shadow Secretary of State wants to raise the issue of a specific green-belt application, he has every right to do so. However, he is doing it in the wrong place. The Government are transferring powers to the RDAs that the previous Administration bestowed on English Partnerships. The point that he is raising cannot be dealt with by the Bill. He is making a spurious and personal constituency point, and he is taking the opportunity to do so from the Opposition Front Bench. This debate is on the Regional Development Agencies Bill, and his point should be made in another debate.

Sir Norman Fowler

The point is not remotely spurious. It establishes a case of a development agency applying; it establishes a case of a council that owns the land; and, above all, it establishes the Government's attitude. As for the Bill, the point undoubtedly establishes that the Government will take no notice of the public, and that Ministers could not care less about accountability to the British public. The Minister has failed completely to answer the case that I have put.

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the point made by the Minister is spurious? Although the powers under the English Partnerships legislation may parallel the powers given in the Bill to the RDAs, the ambit of the English Partnerships powers is completely different from that in the Bill. This Bill, and this Bill alone, applies those powers to every square inch of England.

Sir Norman Fowler

I agree with my right hon. Friend, who has tremendous experience in this subject. In all conscience, I tell him—as I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House will appreciate—that, because of the Minister's lack of response, we will develop the issues further, both in Committee and on the Floor of the House.

Some advocates of development agencies say that all the issues of accountability will be solved once there are either statutory regional chambers or, even better, regional government, but that is not the answer. The better course is not even to establish the RDAs. What is significant is the chronic confusion at the centre of government on the issues.

On 3 July 1997, the Local Government Chroniclereported that the Minister himself was urging councils to lobby the Government for statutory regional chambers to hold the regional development agencies to account. A chief executive who attended a meeting with the Minister was reported as saying:

He is very keen for statutorily based chambers rather than voluntary ones and wants everyone to say this in the consultation. A meeting in September between representatives of the Local Government Association and two members of the No. 10 policy unit revealed that the message from Downing street was slightly different. The No. 10 line was that regional governance was not on the agenda, and that a "minimalist" outcome was desired. In that debate with No. 10, the Minister, for some unaccountable reason, found himself to be the loser. There are therefore no statutory regional chambers, although there are lots of comforting words about trains coming along later.

The position on regional government for England is even more unsatisfactory. The definitive position—if it can be so described—is stated by the Deputy Prime Minister in the introduction to the White Paper. He states:

The Government are committed to move to directly-elected regional Government in England, where there is demand for it, alongside devolution in Scotland and Wales and the creation of the Greater London Authority. But we are not in the business of imposing it. What does that mean? First, it means that no regional government proposals will be made in this parliamentary Session. Therefore, any structure that the House approves today will be unchecked for as long as this Parliament continues. The only promise is that, if the Government remain the Government, they want to introduce regional government on a step-by-step basis.

How can that work? If regional government assemblies are established, they must have powers. Where will those powers come from? If they come from central Government, what will happen in areas where there is no demand for regional government? Will the powers be given to existing local authorities? Despite those inconsistencies, that is the path that the Government have deliberately chosen to take.

In his December interview with The Scotsman, the Minister was quite frank. He said, "We are managing transition." That transition is to regional assemblies and to regional government. Undoubtedly that is fine for those who support an England broken into regional assemblies. However, many more people do not want regional government, prefer a solution based on the existing structure of Westminster and local government, and reject the slide to regional government.

The Bill does not deserve support on its own terms. I do not believe that it will lead to increased inward investment, and there is a real danger that it will lead to a reduction in such investment. The Bill is not an exercise in devolution. It establishes ministerially appointed quangos, which, only a few months ago, the Labour party said were quite unacceptable. Even supporters of regional governance might think twice before supporting the creation of bodies that are unaccountable and show every prospect of being unsuccessful.

I believe even less that the Bill deserves support as part of a step-by-step process to regional government in England. The Government evidently want regional government, but Ministers and No. 10 Downing street know that, if they had a referendum on that proposition, they would lose. The public would reject the proposition. They have therefore come up with a half-baked proposal which is that, at some undefined stage in the future, if they are re-elected, they will introduce legislation that will introduce regional government to some parts of the country but not to others.

The proposals are not policies for the development of the English regions. Constitutionally they are objectionable; economically they do not add up; and I believe that the House should reject them.

5.54 pm
Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)

It is a bit rich for Labour Members to be lectured about taking powers away from local government by the party that emasculated local government over an 18-year period and put it in such a financial straitjacket that it became simply an agent of central Government. The industrial policies of the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) sounded like an awfully tired trail through the failed policies of the 1980s. They reminded me of what Lord Healey used to say when we used to lose elections: the play was a huge success and the audience was a failure. There was an election in 1997 and some of us want to move on.

The Bill will have wide acclaim throughout the northern region. We have been campaigning for a regional development agency for 25 years. When I was chairman of the North of England development council in 1974, it was painfully obvious that we were at a distinct competitive disadvantage compared with the Scots and the Welsh in respect of inward investment.

The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that we are discussing only inward investment. The regional development agencies have a far wider agenda. We are talking about the regeneration of indigenous industry, the stimulation of small business, and regions trying to sharpen their competitive edge as we approach the 21st century when the information age will be upon us. The right hon. Gentleman's speech sounded like a tired tale and that is how it will appear to the entire country.

When I was chair of the NEDC, I learnt a great deal about economic development from the Washington development corporation. At the time, I was one of the lonely individuals in the Labour party who sought the transfer of new town development corporation powers to solve the urban regeneration problems; I was in favour of urban development corporations. In my view, the Tyne and Wear urban development corporation has been a great success. The Government are combining the powers of the existing agencies for inward investment with those of the urban development corporations and locating them on a regional basis.

In the north, we have a successful inward investment agency—the Northern Development Company. It was the successor to the body that I chaired and it has operated for a decade. It was set up on a tripartite basis with equal representation of the trade unions, the local authorities and business. It has enjoyed the support of the entire region throughout a decade of successful operation. It is a little sad that an organisation that was set up on a tripartite basis will be succeeded by an organisation with diluted trade union representation. My colleagues, Joe Mills, Tom Burlison—now in another place—and Bob Howard, the regional secretary of the TUC, worked extremely hard to make the NDC a success. The northern region could have had extra trade union representation, but I would not go to the wall over that.

For the entire 25 years that I have been involved in regional politics, Cumbria has been included in the northern region. I know that this is a sensitive issue—I shall not dwell on it—but we believe that Cumbria should remain in the northern region. We know that it will not happen immediately, but we shall return to the matter because most of the people in Cumbria want to belong to the northern region and not to the north-west, although that is not a universally held view.

I represent 600 sq miles of rural territory. The Rural Development Commission was a very successful organisation and I want to add my compliments to its effectiveness during the 70-odd years of its existence. Factories in Barnard Castle, Middleton in Teesdale, Evenwood, Cockfield and other parts of my constituency would not have existed without the far-sighted policies of the Rural Development Commission.

I hope that my hon. Friends have got it right and that they will ensure that in what will be an urban-dominated body—dominated by urban business people, urban local authority representatives and perhaps even urban academics and trade unionists—the interests of the rural areas will not lose focus.

As my hon. Friend the Minister said, there is a huge opportunity to integrate urban and rural policy. I look forward to that happening and, to that end, consideration might be given to the MAFF presence in our region being beefed up and given a locus in the regional office of the north-east. That would ensure that the Government can put some strong advice from a revamped MAFF into the regional development agencies.

I very much enjoyed reading the report of the Select Committee co-chaired by my hon. Friends the Members for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) and for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). I fully endorse all their recommendations. We are delighted with the regional development agency, but it deserves additional powers. We are also delighted that the Bill enables additional powers to be provided without the need to return to primary legislation.

In particular, I should like to endorse what my hon. Friend the Minister said about training. I do not think that he repeated in the House what he said in evidence to the Select Committee. We are bidding for a model rather like Scottish Enterprise where the training and enterprise councils or local enterprise companies in Scotland are overseen by the development agency which monitors their activities. I would advocate such a model and I hope that my hon. Friend will look favourably it as the policies develop.

It is just as important to co-ordinate the response of further and higher education to regional regeneration. Some universities in the north already make an outstanding contribution in that respect and I hope that they will continue to be encouraged in that role. I am envious of the 30,000 jobs at Cambridge university that resulted from the involvement of higher education in information technology. I hope that institutions in the northern region will enjoy such development over a period of time.

The structures of devolution are of secondary importance. Devolution is about releasing the skills, energies, commitment and creativity of the people of the regions. It has always been wrong that the man or woman in Whitehall knows best. I have held that view in great contempt although it originated from a Labour Cabinet Minister all those years ago. There is a great deal of wisdom in the regions and it is the business of Government to release that skill and talent.

These days, government is not about controlling: it is about enabling, facilitating and empowering. We want the regional development agencies to release all the skill and talent in business, universities, further education, local government and communities and galvanise it so that people themselves can renew their communities and regions. If we succeed in doing that—I dearly hope that we shall—the Bill will be the huge success that my hon. Friend the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister wish and which all Labour Members look forward to.

6 pm

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling)

The Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning and I have at least one thing in common, which he and I may find deeply amazing: we both became Ministers of State at the Department of the Environment shortly after a change of government. In the light of his comments about what he inherited, I mention to him that in 1979 I took a helicopter flight from Tower bridge virtually down to the Thames estuary. The vista from the air, which could never be fully appreciated from the ground, was mile upon mile of dereliction, emptiness and inactivity.

Less than 20 years later, the view from that same helicopter journey is the most staggering visual transformation. It is probably the most staggering transformation that has taken place in any urban area anywhere in western Europe. For that, enormous credit is due to the London Docklands development corporation and the previous Government, who created it.

I mention the London docklands not to make a party political point but to say that as someone who was responsible for the new town development corporations in England for four years, and from my experience in Northern Ireland of the excellent work of the Industrial Development Board there, I need no persuading that the setting up of development corporations and agencies, even on the basis set out in the Bill, is justified and can turn out to be a proven success where they have a limited job to do in a limited area. I am in no doubt about that.

My difficulty with the Bill is the Government's quantum jump from the proposition that it is valid and effective to create such bodies to the proposal that they should be imposed on the whole of the territory of England, which is the effect of the Bill. There may be parts of the regions of England in which hon. Members feel that such bodies are justified. As a Member from a south-east constituency, I feel that development agencies are least justified in the south-east, which for the purposes of the Bill excludes London. It is nonsense to suggest that an organisation that covers the area from my coastal county of Kent to as far west as Oxfordshire and from the Isle of Wight to Milton Keynes has some commonality of development and planning requirements.

Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir John Stanley

I shall not give way, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind, in view of the shortage of time.

The Bill rests on a fundamentally false premise. The Government cannot be justified in taking such powers over the length and breadth of England unless they can demonstrate that the development and planning process was a failure, not only in specified areas but throughout England. I do not believe that that is demonstrable. I can speak only from my constituency and county experience. In my constituency, I have at Kings Hill one of the most important high-tech industrial park developments anywhere in western Europe. That has been achieved entirely without a regional development agency by the normal commercial process and the democratic planning system. I believe that that experience is true of the greater part of England.

The Bill takes enormous powers on the premise that the existing industrial development system and democratic planning process has failed throughout England. I simply do not believe that that premise is sustainable.

I have three specific, deep concerns about the Bill. Previously, where compulsory purchase powers and powers to override the normal democratic elected planning authorities have been taken, as they were in the new towns legislation by the post-war Labour Government and in the urban development corporation legislation by the previous Conservative Government, the bodies involved had a finite life. The bodies set up by the Bill are permanent. It is not justifiable to take such powers for a body which under statute will be permanent.

Let us consider the ambit of the combination of compulsory purchase powers and designated area order-making powers given to the Secretary of State. They are powers of the most enormous geographical width. They extend through the whole of England. Indeed, no other legislation in the post-war period has given such wide powers to the Secretary of State to override and supplant the democratic planning process. That is the reality. The powers are given not merely on a wide geographical basis but with the maximum discretion as to how they can be used.

The House will be aware that in legislation the phrase in the opinion of the Secretary of State should always set the alarm bells going. [Interruption.] I fully acknowledge that the phrase is used by Governments of both parties. Clause 24—the critical clause on designation orders—begins: This section applies to any part of the area of a regional development agency which, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, is suitable for regeneration or development. That is a huge discretionary power—the maximum that can be given by the parliamentary draftsman—and it covers the whole of England. I hope that it is clearly understood by hon. Members on both sides of the House and by people outside that the planning suspension powers, which is what they are, will become available not only in every constituency in England but in any part of every constituency.

My remaining point reinforces what my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) said. The protection given to rural areas is inadequate. I should be much less worried about the Bill if, for example, it were limited to urban areas or urban areas plus so-called brown-land areas. It is not. There is no protection against the use of the powers in rural areas. There is no protection against the use of the powers in the green belt. My right hon. Friend gave an alarming illustration of the use of such powers by the Government. There is no protection from the use of the powers in areas of outstanding natural beauty or national parks. That is not acceptable.

There is a significant omission from the Bill. It is having its Second Reading the day after the conclusion of the Second Reading debate on the Scotland Bill. In that debate, the Government failed—as always—to answer the West Lothian question. Their response is to offer the English part of the United Kingdom the mere sop of regionalism. The Scotland Bill contains reserved powers for the new Scottish Parliament to have exclusive legislative control over the main areas of domestic Scottish legislation. Reciprocal reserved powers should be contained in the Regional Development Agencies Bill so that non-Scottish Members of Parliament at Westminster have equal exclusive control over the same domestic legislation governing England and—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Time is up.

6.10 pm
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I am disappointed to note the sour response of the official Opposition in their amendment and in their speeches so far. If they considered the corrosive effect that the rivalry of the past 50 years between Manchester and Liverpool has had on the north-west, they would appreciate that progress is now being made, partly as a result of the Milian commission, partly because of our manifesto commitment and partly because of the way in which discussions have taken place in recent months. There is now a much greater cohesiveness and willingness to act as a region in the area. That is a major triumph.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning on getting the Bill thus far. I should like to refer briefly to the inquiry held by the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee. The House made it clear when it set up the Modernisation Committee that it wants to improve the way in which it scrutinises legislation. Despite a limited timetable, the Select Committee has tried to look at the Government's proposals. I am grateful to our advisers, Professor Alan Harding, Bob Nicholson and Professor Michael Parkinson for their help, and to all the witnesses who submitted written and oral evidence to the Committee. The Committee itself worked hard for a week to go through that evidence and I believe that we have produced for the House a useful report that will do a lot to inform today's proceedings and the subsequent Standing Committee debates.

It was clear that the Committee was divided on party lines and that it would not be useful for it to look at the principles behind the Bill. Once the Committee had accepted, however, that we were to study the Bill on the basis that it would be introduced come what may, it was surprising to note the unanimity that became evident. We wanted the Bill to do the job well.

We stressed that we wanted the work of the training and enterprise councils, business links, the regional assistance areas and that connected with tourism and further and higher education to be co-ordinated in a single strategy. I stress to my hon. Friend the Minister that I hope that such an approach can evolve. He assured the Committee that that is possible. My one reservation is that if the regional bodies are to evolve, they must have high-calibre staff to start with. It is important that they are able to attract the right calibre of staff and that they understand that the process of evolution will take place.

To the doubters on the Opposition Benches, I recommend the evidence that the Select Committee took from Graham Meadows of the European Commission. He emphasised the way in which other regions in Europe were able to compete within the European framework. It is extremely important that we consider the Bill in that context and appreciate that as long as we are part of Europe, Britain must behave in the most effective way when lobbying to get resources from Brussels. The Bill will do a lot to improve that process.

That is all I have to say about the work of the Select Committee; I should like to spend the rest of my brief speech emphasising a few points. Regional chambers are extremely important, but I recognise the concern expressed by Conservative Members about the danger of a democratic deficit. It is important that when those regional chambers are established, the people appointed to them recognise that they must keep in contact with their constituent organisations, particularly the local authorities, and involve them in discussions. The sooner we can move to the establishment of elected bodies to take over from those chambers, the better.

If we have to wait until the next Parliament for those elected bodies, the House should consider whether it should set up regional Select Committees. It would be extremely difficult for the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee to examine what is going on in the nine regions. It would be possible, however, for the House to establish a Select Committee for each region, composed of Members from that area, to look at the rate of progress achieved.

Almost all the bodies that operate in the regions claim that they have a regional strategy, but it is no good having a planning strategy to deal with housing and industrial location and others to deal with transport and training. Those responsibilities should be integrated in one regional strategy.

Conservative Members have also expressed fears about competition. I accept that there may be problems as a result of competition between the nine regions and between Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I do not believe, however, that that poses the major problem—the major problem is achieving regeneration within each region. The amount of footloose industry in the world is fairly limited. Some evidence suggests that although such industry can be attracted to a region by good grants and other influences, it stays for a short period only and never becomes a part of the given region. If we are to succeed in our regions, we must ensure that new business are created within them and that new small business can grow. Their growth should not be restricted by a lack of resources.

The Bill is the engine for the regeneration of our regions. I hope that it will reach the statute book soon and that it will be the first stage in the process leading to effective regional government that releases all the energies and excitement that exist in our regions.

6.16 pm
Mr. Nick Harvey (North Devon)

I welcome the introduction of a Bill to establish regional development agencies. The Liberal Democrat party has long seen the need for them and we welcome the fact that the Government have introduced them in the context of the wider pattern of devolution to the regions. We hope that that will come about as soon as possible, although we respect the fact that it cannot happen immediately.

The need for strong strategic regional economic players must surely be beyond dispute. Many parts of the country are suffering from an economic deficit, as the Minister has said. My part of the country, the far south-west, which is also represented by many of my hon. Friends, suffers from low income levels, high unemployment and other serious economic problems. To date, the arrangements made to deal with those problems have been incapable of providing an answer.

The creation of strong strategic regional bodies must be a welcome development in trying to improve the economic prospects of regions such as the south-west. To date, confusion has been caused by too many players seeking to create economic development. They have duplicated each other's functions and the bureaucracy that supports them. The need to bring all those functions together so that there is one strong player in each region is beyond reasonable doubt.

If the new bodies are to have the ability to meet the ambitious targets that have been set for them they need the resources to do the job and the powers to go with those resources. My party has certain reservations about that. If the new regional bodies are to compete for inward investment and European grants within an increasingly tough global marketplace—more and more parts of the European Community and beyond have established strong economic marketing operations—they need the wherewithal to do so.

I deplore the fact that the RDAs are not to have at their disposal any new funds, but will simply recycle funds that are available through existing schemes, which are inadequate to the task set before them. We would have preferred the prospect of more grant from central Government. When, in the fulness of time, there are democratic assemblies in the regions, which should have their own tax-raising powers and which may determine that it is a political priority that there should be more work on economic development in their region, we want those bodies to be able to set aside additional funds for the RDAs. Given that they are partnerships that include the private sector, we also want RDAs to be able to go out and raise money on their own account. Unless some or all of those solutions are adopted, I seriously question what the RDAs will be able to do.

There are also confusion and contradictions surrounding the whole question of what the RDAs' powers are to be. It makes no sense for central Government, through the Department of Trade and Industry, to retain responsibility for the allocation of regional selective assistance. If RDAs are to be responsible for economic regeneration and given that there is a grant system that aims to help in that process, it makes no sense for RDAs not to be the bodies responsible for allocating those grants. I appreciate that the Minister has had to go out and argue this point with other Departments, but I hope that, as time goes on, the question can be revisited and progress made.

I echo the voices of those who have said that the work of the training and enterprise councils should come under the direction of the RDAs. I welcome the Minister's having said that the RDAs are to have a role in that respect, but if there is to be any sense in the arrangements, they need to have overarching responsibility in commissioning work from the training and enterprise councils and in setting out what they must achieve.

There is a contradiction in central Government Departments holding back certain powers while other bodies—for example, the Rural Development Commission—are expected to hand over theirs. I am concerned that most, if not all, of the new bodies will be dominated by urban interests. The new RDAs will be populated and therefore dominated by urban politicians, urban business men and urban academics and I wonder whether the rural voice can be heard when the organisation that has the experience in expressing rural interests is no longer the channel for those views. I would welcome some clarification from the Minister as to how a voice for rural interests on each of the RDAs is to be guaranteed and enshrined.

The accountability of the new chambers worries me greatly. I appreciate that the assemblies or chambers are not yet in place for accountability to be clearly defined at a regional level, but it is worrying that the new bodies are to be appointed by the Secretary of State and answerable to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State will be answerable to the House for their work, but that does not seem to follow the principle of devolving power and responsibility to the regions. It may not be long before there are directly elected regional assemblies that can govern and supervise the work of the RDAs; but if the interim measure is to be regional chambers of local authority representatives, the Government need to be more assertive in getting those bodies up and running, rather than passively waiting for that to happen. If the RDAs are to have democratic validity from the outset, the chambers need to be up and running from the word go, so that there can be accountability to the regions. Only then can the hopes articulated in the House this afternoon, that economic priorities will no longer be set in Whitehall but in the regions, be given some reality.

I welcome the fact that there are to be local authority representatives on the RDA boards. I hope that the political colour of those local authority representatives will reflect the political balance across the region as a whole and not simply represent the dominant party—whichever it may be—in the region. I note that the Secretary of State is to appoint those representatives rather than inviting the local authorities to elect them. That might result in domination by the Labour party in many areas and by the Liberal Democrats in others. In all cases, we must ensure plurality of political representation on these bodies.

I listened with some amazement as the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) deplored the fact that people would be allowed to remain on the bodies after being voted off local authorities. He is quite right, of course, but I cannot help but remember that, when the Conservatives were in power, after people had been voted off local authorities they were appointed to quangos. In my constituency and in successive elections, one gentlemen was voted off a parish council, a district council and finally a county council; yet after each of his defeats, he was rewarded with yet another quango chairmanship. The right hon. Gentleman was right, but such views sounded a little odd coming from him.

The right hon. Gentleman's point about the planning powers that it is intended the RDAs should have was well made and was taken up by the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malting (Sir J. Stanley). I accept the Minister's point that that simply transfers English Partnerships' powers, but two wrongs do not make a right—English Partnerships should never have had those powers in the first place. We certainly want some qualification of the powers so as to ensure the involvement of local authorities.

My last point is that the boundaries of the new bodies worry me greatly. Existing economic boundaries are the product of central Government statisticians—a matter of convenience for the purposes of accounting and record keeping; they do not in any way, shape or form reflect true communities. To suggest that the south-west is a coherent region stretching from Penzance up to Gloucester and across to Christchurch is absolute nonsense. I welcome the signs from the Government that, as we go forward with this process, the Secretary of State will have the facility to vary the boundaries, but I deplore the fact that the number of regions cannot be increased as the regions in the south are far too big. Sensible and coherent regions can be achieved only if there is the facility, first, to change their boundaries and, secondly, slightly to increase their number.

If we are to embark on a process of developing a regional level of government in this country—a thoroughly good thing, which I entirely welcome and which cannot come soon enough—it will be a disastrous error if the foundations of that regional tier of government are phoney regions that do not reflect communities, cannot win people's loyalties and do not have economic, political or social coherence. I appeal to the Government to keep an open mind on that issue. It is right that the important functions that these bodies are to fulfil should be the priority of our debate—at this stage, we must not get locked into parochial arguments about where lines should be drawn—but there must be the flexibility to allow these issues to be revisited later in a proper and orderly manner.

I welcome the Bill, although we shall seek to make many amendments as it passes through its stages and hope to secure some improvements thereby. We are doing a good thing today and these changes cannot come soon enough.

6.27 pm
Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford, South)

I am saddened, but not surprised, by the Opposition's approach. The regional debate is not new and many of us who have been involved in regional organisations, such as the Yorkshire and Humberside Development Association and the Yorkshire and Humberside Regional Association in my own area, have sought to involve Conservative Members in debates about the regional approach and we have seen some positive contributions. I am therefore sad that, yet again, the Tories have been consistent.

The Tories want to rewrite history. Listening to what they say, one would not believe that they had lost an election; nor, when hearing them speak about how wonderful the Conservative Government were, would one believe that, as a result of their policies, the proportion of GDP supplied by manufacturing in this country went down from 30 per cent. in 1979 to less than 20 per cent. today, or that we are now a net exporter of investment. After their election defeat on 1 May, they have conveniently forgotten their legacy, but many of our communities cannot avoid that legacy in the form of high unemployment and deprivation.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions and his ministerial team on their work and on bringing the Bill to the House today. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend on the work he carried out in opposition in consultation with organisations throughout the country. The Opposition have been carping about many of the leading organisations that have been involved in the consultation. They include organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry, the Trades Union Congress and, particularly, local government, which can see the elements that are needed.

In my area, we need jobs for people and we need to regenerate the communities—there are local, national and regional elements to that. In Bradford, we have to create 1,000 jobs a year just to stand still. We lost 22,000 jobs over a four-year period in the early 1980s, which was devastating to our communities. The Government did not want to do anything about that. They came forward with ideas such as city challenge and the single regeneration budget, but those ideas were piecemeal and left communities competing with each other. There obviously needed to be a regional approach. There have been good practices and good examples of the regional approach elsewhere in Europe, but if we mentioned Europe to the previous Government, they did not want to know.

I was the leader of the council in Bradford when it became the second largest receiver of European grants in the United Kingdom. We considered the regional approaches in other countries such as France, Italy and Germany and realised that when communities in those countries lost their mainline industries, they could recycle and redevelop other industries, but the previous Government did not want to consider that. I believe that that approach is the way forward.

I am concerned that we are talking merely about regional development agencies. I am committed to regional government and I believe that the partnership approach that we shall see between organisations and communities within the regions will help to develop the long-term objective of getting people back to work.

In Yorkshire and Humberside, a regional assembly has recently been set up through local government—I accept that we shall have to get away from the confusion of titles among regional assemblies. The assembly has set out a framework for Yorkshire and Humberside for the next 10 years. It is a positive document which takes account of various organisations across the range.

I am not concerned about lack of accountability. I could not believe it when the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) talked about accountability and tried to set himself up as the champion of local government. His Government, the Conservative Government, over-centralised government and decimated local government's ability to react to local needs. The assembly in Yorkshire is made up of all the organisations that want to contribute to a successful region.

We talk about the comparisons with Scotland and Wales; in Yorkshire, we have a population of 5 million people, a diverse community and a diverse geography in terms of urban and rural settings. We see that the organisations from those communities are able to come together and work together. I do not want to see the situation that occurred under the previous Government when we were competing against each other—Leeds against Bradford, and Leeds against Sheffield—not trying to promote the region's common objective.

National Government should set out the strategic plan and regional government should respond; local government should set forward their objectives. There is unemployment in the United Kingdom and in our regions, but there are skill shortages. Those shortages existed at a time when there should have been investment. The previous Government talked about inward investment; it is important, but so is the establishment and development of existing businesses within our communities.

I want the present Government to talk to people and organisations. I know that they will do so because, unlike the previous Government, they are willing to co-operate and to be accountable. It will have to be an evolutionary process; the Government will talk to organisations and people, and will not be deterred by the political dogma that prevented the previous Government from talking to organisations such as trade unions about how to develop.

Before I entered the House, I was a full-time officer in the printing industry. Towards the end of my time in the industry, printing companies were unable to compete because of regional variations and the problem of lack of support from central Government. The present Government recognise that the Government alone cannot create jobs. It is important that we set up a framework and promote the conditions in which employment can develop. I am sure that the Bill will go a long way towards that.

The organisations that have been consulted have some concerns, but I am sure that they will be met as the Bill progresses through Committee. The involvement of the Labour Government and Ministers over a long period has built up their credibility and trust among those organisations with which the previous Government could not get involved. The CBI, trade unions and local government are happy with the principles behind what we are trying to achieve. I have no doubt that the regional development agencies will benefit our constituents and will prove to be a benefit in the future. I applaud the Government for what they are trying to do.

6.35 pm
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon)

I would be willing to give the new regional development agencies a chance, but I should have preferred it if the Front-Bench team had today answered some of the questions raised when the White Paper was presented. We have had no greater clarification today than we had then on a number of crucial issues.

The organisations will have a substantial competence, a lot of money and a hefty bureaucracy. We therefore need to know precisely how they will function and how they will look after the resources. The first question that has not been answered and which I asked specifically when the White Paper was presented is what the Government intend to do to manage the threat of subsidy wars between the regions, which is a real problem. The problem for England has been the incoherence of the English voice within the British ensemble. People have always spoken for Wales and Scotland with a single voice, but we now have a series of voices apparently competing to represent the English interest, and the present proposals contain a number of dangers.

The first danger is the risk of the fragmentation and dissipation of the programme to attract investment to England, which often leaves confusion in the minds of potential investors. If half a dozen people take the flight to Japan to bid for their regions, does that help or do other people think that we do not have a coherent strategy?

Secondly, the Government have not addressed the perennial problem of Wales and Scotland gazumping for investment. There is no doubt that that problem could get even worse under the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly which will be anxious to prove their virility. Three months ago, the Government said that they would deal with the problem, but as I understand it all we have is a sort of concordat without any idea of how it will work.

Under the previous Government, we had the monstrous situation of £247 million being lobbed in the direction of LG to bribe it into Wales. That resource would be beyond the scope of the English scene nationally, let alone a regional assembly in England. We would not spend that sum on the second coming, even were it to take place in the Dome, although it would be an experience and it would be religious.

There is the risk of subsidy competition and it is likely to get worse. Japan is in stagnation and South Korea is in crisis. A large proportion of our inward investment has come from those two suppliers over recent years, so the problem of the situation in those two countries has to be addressed. When the White Paper was presented, the Deputy Prime Minister acknowledged that that important question needed addressing, but the Front-Bench team have said nothing about that today.

It is clear that the Department of Trade and Industry has won the turf war over the control of direct subsidy because regional selective assistance is to remain with it. But offers of land, infrastructure and training are also important material incentives and we need to know how they will be brought within a framework of fair competition—the level playing field which, I understand, is one of the Government's favourite expressions.

The next big question involves the future of regeneration policy. The fourth round of the SRB is currently being bid for—I think that the bids have to be in soon. But there is a great deal of speculation about the Government toying with the French concept of "Contrat de Ville". It is interesting that the Government should be tempted by that concept just as the French are becoming disenchanted with it. Do the Government intend to move towards a more targeted form of regeneration such as the city challenge model? Do they intend to retain competition? What will the funding be? What is the timing?

If the Government say that regeneration is at the heart of the development agencies, we need to know what that regeneration, which is to be at the heart of the strategy for the regions, is going to be. The Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning is in charge of regeneration as well as regional strategies. It would be helpful if he would tell us what he is planning to do on the regeneration prospectus.

To continue with the same stream of thought, there is a possible link between regeneration, the development agencies and another Government initiative: the education action zones. I applaud the education action zones, but we all recognise that unless regeneration is comprehensive—the Minister repeatedly uses the concept of the comprehensiveness of the approach—and unless that education regeneration takes place in the context of a wider regeneration, it will not work.

Will the education action zones be incorporated within bids for the regeneration budget? Will wider social and economic regeneration take place alongside them to make them work? I asked that question of education Ministers when they presented their White Paper and there was no response whatever. I hope that the Minister is talking to his education colleagues and can explain how things will work.

There is an argument for maintaining English Partnerships to make the important process of land regeneration accountable and to ensure that there is an approximately level playing field. There is an argument for getting rid of English Partnerships, on the ground that those functions are being transferred elsewhere. I find it immensely difficult to see the validity of the present proposal, which is to get rid of the overwhelming majority of the functions of English Partnerships but to maintain it for things such as the millennium dome—which I believe is wittily described in the White Paper as a national asset. English Partnerships is being reduced to an ineffective rump to manage a limited number of programmes. The Minister must make up his mind whether to back it or get rid of it.

Then we have the problem of the representation of regional interests. The White Paper says that the ideal board numbers about 12. The hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey) spoke about the south-west. I have had enough experience of Cornwall to know that Cornwall recognises almost nothing that is this side of the Tamar, so it will be very difficult to link Cornwall with Bristol and rest of the south-west.

My region, Yorkshire and the Humber, will take in Hull, South Yorkshire, and the West Yorkshire conurbations—which are almost over the Lancashire border—and extends into the north of Yorkshire, which borders on Teesside. It will be difficult within a board of 12 to achieve a representation that not merely covers people's different functions and expertise but gives them geographical coverage. We need to know how that will work, especially given the demise of the Rural Development Corporation.

The Minister constantly uses the phrase, "They are going to be business-led". What does it mean to be business-led?

It is important that we explore the relationship between the Government offices and the regional development agencies because the agencies will draw staff from the Government offices, from English Partnerships and from the Rural Development Commission. How many staff will they draw? What is the Minister's concept of the officialdom that will be needed to run the regional development agencies?

I now raise a point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley). The Thames gateway development in the south-east has been crucial. Will the Minister ensure that, within the regional set-up for that part of the world, the specificity of the programmes for the Thames gateway is maintained so that we can maintain the momentum of a remarkable development programme based on common action and co-operation between people?

I am no fan of regional assemblies, but I congratulate the Deputy Prime Minister on creating—however reluctantly—a disjuncture between the creation of the development agencies and the regional assemblies. The idea that everyone is foaming at the mouth to get regional assemblies misreads the popular mood. The number of people who come to my constituency surgery and say, "Mr. Curry, I just wanted to tell you how eagerly I am waiting to have an elected regional assembly" compared with the number of people who come to me with worries about housing benefit or disability benefits is actually rather small.

The problem of accountability remains. If the regional offices are to be partly subsumed and if other currently accountable bodies are to be partly subsumed, we need to know how to get a handle on the regional development agencies. It is a very partial response to give them some sort of partial subordination to nominated bodies—the present assemblies that have set themselves up. Those embryonic shadow assemblies are not adequate regional representatives. I hope that those issues will be seriously explored in Committee. I do not set off from the assumption that this is necessarily a wicked and silly proposal. I concede the argument for trying to get co-ordination, but it is easy to talk about co-ordination and an integrated approach, and to see a structure as answering a problem.

One must be sure that the structure is sufficiently responsive, sufficiently targeted, sufficiently accountable, able to use public money with sufficient responsibility and sufficiently cost-effective to give people the sense that it identifies local needs and can respond to local needs while being able to co-ordinate in a way that the same people do not regard as offensive—for example because of planning strategies, which may have to go against what a community wants. It is a difficult feat to pull off.

I hope that the regional development agencies succeed because I am as anxious about regional development as any hon. Member, but the Minister will help us greatly if in Committee he explains how in practice these bodies will work, so that we can get past some of the high-sounding phrases and into the nitty-gritty of the operations of bodies that will have immense power, immense influence and, one hopes, a large success.

6.44 pm
Mr. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central)

The Opposition's arguments tonight have been extraordinary. The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) criticised the proposals because they did not include training and school education. That is extraordinary, given that the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) criticised the Bill because a stray planning power, given to English Partnerships by the previous Government and never used, is incorporated in the Bill.

What an extraordinary contrast of criticisms: one type of criticism that says that a tiny power that has never been used has been incorporated into the Bill and another type that says that the Bill should have swept up into regional strategies, under the command of a regional development agency, even matters such as school education. It is absurd.

The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon gave the game away when he spoke about gazumping and competition between regions. That began under the previous Government. It all took place behind closed doors and was never rehearsed before the House of Commons. It was never brought under any political control. The Bill will enable those issues to come out into the open and to be dealt with openly and democratically, for the first time.

Perhaps the two most decisive arguments that were made in favour of the Bill were made by the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) when he spoke about inward investment into regions and took the example of Nissan in my region, in the north-east of England. He is right: the north-east of England has been staggeringly successful at attracting inward investment. Nissan's was the first of those major investments. It was a spectacular achievement.

However, those inward investments were occurring in what was—and still is—one of the most disadvantaged regions in Europe and which, with Wales and Northern Ireland, bumps along at the bottom of the table of every social and economic indicator that one could mention, despite those spectacular inward investments. One could not have a better presentation of the case for a regional development strategy that would go wider of these spectacular jewels in the economic crown and really address the disadvantage of people—the dreadful cycle of low opportunities and low hopes that affects many people in regions such as my own.

Inward investment jewels in the crown of the type that the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield mentioned do not by themselves tackle those problems. A wider regional development strategy is needed.

We must address environmental problems that cannot sensitively be dealt with unless they are dealt with regionally. We must develop occupational health dimensions that cannot sensibly be developed unless they are developed regionally.

The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield mentioned that the agencies would be quangos. That is a peculiar argument to hear from the Conservative party. If any party created a massive number of quangos it was the Tory party. The Bill, for the first time, will bring out into the open political and economic processes which have hitherto been hidden. Indeed, it will begin a cull of quangos, because for the first time we shall be able to control the raft of economic development agencies that have been springing up on every side in a chaotic manner. For the first time, too, we shall be able to relate economic work to education and health matters, which are so important to economic success.

The Bill is a bold beginning, and I would have expected no less of the Minister of State and the Deputy Prime Minister. The Bill has great potential—but it is only a beginning. In the Government office for the north-east region of England, the tasks of economic regeneration, modernising the state and renewing democracy cannot be separated: they must be tackled together. The hopes of our people have been lowered by so many decades of systematic disinvestment, both in industry and in the social infrastructure. Aspirations in the area are not nearly as high as they could and should be.

The Bill cannot possibly attempt to solve these problems in their entirety—it does not aspire to do so—but it is at least a beginning. I have a great regard for the Minister of State's talents, but I repeat to him that the Bill must be seen only as a beginning. We must move decisively forward and set up the regional chambers that will facilitate open accountability as between the RDAs and stakeholders in the region.

We must then move beyond that and set a course that will lead, for the regions that want it—not for those that do not—to the possibility of democratically elected regional assemblies. They were part of the democratic renewal project offered by the Government when they came to power. I strongly believe in the idea; I hope that the Minister will assure us that that course is still open to the regions that want to pursue it.

More needs to be done. If we are to have regional development agencies, they must at first be built on current spending allocations by the Government. None of us argues with that. Looking to the future, however, we see two things: first, the need to examine regional spending across the board—health, education and environment programmes, not just economic development programmes. Secondly, we need proper assessments of the needs of the various English regions. Scotland and Wales cannot be exempted from that process—although I know that my Liberal colleague on the Treasury Select Committee, hailing as he does from Scotland, fiercely opposes that idea. I take some comfort, however, from the fact that his colleague, the hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey), who is from England, shares my view, which is that we must scrutinise regional and national needs—including those of Scotland and Wales. I see the hon. Gentleman nodding in agreement with that, a gesture which I shall bring to the attention of the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce), who happens to be the Liberal party's Treasury spokesman. It was once said of the Liberal party that it had two or three hearts that beat as one, although they voted as four or five.

One of the great advantages that Scotland and Wales have enjoyed—I do not seek to deny it to them; I want it for every English region, too—is a block allocation capable of being switched around to meet regional priorities. I hope that the Minister can offer us some hope of the Government's moving in that direction. Once we have achieved regional chambers and are closer to democratic assemblies, we should have block allocations which stakeholders and democratic regional assemblies can move around to suit regional priorities.

My one last hope—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. Time is up.

6.54 pm
Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden)

My particular concern relates to rural interests. It is well illustrated by the geographical position of my constituency, which consists mainly of green belt land sandwiched between the urban centres of Birmingham and Coventry. Under the Government's proposals, it would fall into the west midlands regional development agency area. Although the RDA contains other rural areas such as those in Warwickshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire, and Hereford and Worcestershire, no one would deny that the vast majority of the population live in urban areas; and it is not clear from the White Paper how the Government can guarantee that rural areas such as Meriden will receive the attention and priority that they require from the RDA.

Even if a duty were placed on the Secretary of State to put rural appointees on the board of the RDA, they would be unlikely to constitute anything more than a minority voice in an urban-dominated region.

Allow me to illustrate the type of problem that my constituents anticipate from the new powers granted to the RDAs. Among the functions envisaged for them is the administration of the single regeneration budget. Until now, Meriden has benefited from substantial sums from that budget for the areas of deprivation in the north of the borough of Solihull. But those funds might be regarded from the standpoint of a different set of priorities in the west midlands region; the needs of inner-city Birmingham or Coventry might be regarded as more pressing, and the sheer size of the proposed RDAs will make it more difficult to accord priority to small pockets of deprivation in apparently sound semi-rural areas.

The role of the local authority—in my case, Solihull metropolitan borough council—has been vital in ensuring that regeneration resources are most effectively targeted.

If it is undermined or overshadowed by its big brother, Birmingham city council, the refinement of accurate targeting of resources may be lost.

We have already seen that in other policy areas such as health. I know that health falls outside the remit of the RDA, but the problem is illustrative. Average health indices for the whole borough apparently show a high prevalence of good health, and the funding formula is calculated accordingly, but that disguises the fact that beneath the average figures are significant areas of poor health to which far more resources need to be directed.

A further risk involved in the functions to be attributed to the new RDAs concerns transport, planning and housing, areas in which the RDAs are to play a special consultative and advisory role. What my constituents most fear is that the rural voice will be drowned out on the RDA, and that that will result in a further erosion of the green belt by urban encroachment. That has already happened with the expansion of Birmingham international airport, the national exhibition centre and the Birmingham business park—all built on green belt land in my constituency. That reinforces the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) about the Padmore industrial development. It is the idea of that sort of decision being taken away from the local planning authority which we most fear. All these developments were justified on the ground of regional economic development, but they brought extra pressures to bear on the countryside, especially in the form of traffic congestion and demand for housing. That tension reveals how difficult it is on a regional basis to resolve the urban/rural balance. There are inherent tensions in the main purposes of the RDAs that may not be resolved to the benefit of rural areas.

There is a specific concern in my constituency about the provision in clause 20 for the RDAs to be given full powers of compulsory purchase of land. My constituency has seen many bad examples of the present compulsory purchase order system. People's homes have been blighted by the motorway and the airport expansion. The Bill may not be the right place to try to sort out the compulsory purchase order system, but paragraph (1) of schedule 5 would permit the Secretary of State to confirm part of the land in a compulsory order and to postpone consideration of whether to confirm the compulsory acquisition of the rest of the land. That would lead to confusion and controversy over which bits of land were blighted by the development.

Another illustration of the "poor cousin" position of the rural areas in the new RDAs concerns the aim to promote employment and enhance the development and application of skills. In an urban context, it is easier to provide training facilities and subsequent employment opportunities, as those are often to hand, whereas in more remote rural areas there are often no training facilities at all, and transport systems are often inadequate to help people living in the countryside to get to training centres or jobs. The unit cost of providing training for rural inhabitants is much higher, and they are often discriminated against when decisions are taken in a wider regional context.

The White Paper states that the RDAs will take on the regeneration programmes of the Rural Development Commission. I seek an assurance from the Secretary of State that the expertise and initiative of the RDC will not be lost as its functions and property are absorbed into other public bodies. Over several years, the RDC conducted work of great value to the rural economy, which it would be a tragedy to lose. Can the Secretary of State assure Parliament that rural areas will receive the same level of resource in future as they did through the RDC?

My constituents fear that the creation of the regional development agencies will lead to the federalisation of the United Kingdom and ultimately to a Europe of the regions. When that risk was discussed by the West Midlands Economic Consortium, of which I am a member, representatives of all parties saw the danger of the region's losing the structural funding that it now receives from the European Union. As Europe is enlarged, our region may no longer qualify for structural support, as there will be other regions with greater needs.

Can we be assured by the Secretary of State that the Government will approach such negotiations as a nation state with real clout and voting power in a greater Europe? Subsidiarity should ensure that decision making will take place at the appropriate level. The strategic advantage of speaking for a population of 58 million and reserving the right to allocate funds secured on its behalf should not be traded for the delivery of an ill-conceived manifesto pledge to deliver regional government, which would undermine the national interest.

7.2 pm

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan)

I start in the name of Allah, who is the most beneficent and the most merciful. I have taken the opportunity to prefix my maiden speech in the traditional Muslim custom by starting in the name of God. This, I believe, is a testament to the fact that Britain is now a multicultural and multi-religious society, of which we are all members.

I begin by paying tribute to the late Jimmy Dunnachie, the former Member of Parliament for Glasgow, Pollok, which includes a substantial part of my new constituency. Jimmy Dunnachie tragically passed away at the beginning of September 1997. He was a popular and well-respected Member of Parliament and will be sadly missed in Glasgow.

I am extremely grateful to the people of Govan for the privilege and honour that they have conferred on me by electing me as their Member of Parliament. They have subsequently stood by me through some difficult times.

Govan is a rainbow state representing Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, Chinese, Africans and Caribbeans, who include professionals, academics, the self-employed, employees and employers. Some would say that the political spectrum in Govan is perhaps too awash with colour. We have right-wingers, old lefties, Blairites, liberals, communists, Militant, nationalists, and even the odd Tory can be seen early on a Sunday morning.

The early beginnings of Govan were as a centre of Christianity. During the mid-1800s, Govan grew to become a burgh and by the end of the century had developed into one of the world's industrial powerhouses. Between the war years, heavy engineering industries and the Clydeside shipyards continued to employ thousands of men and women. However, after the second world war the decline of shipbuilding and the consequent reduction in heavy engineering took their toll, and the economy of greater Govan went into decline.

For that reason, my constituents were disappointed by the recent decision of the Secretary of State for Defence not to site the royal yacht Britannia on the River Clyde, which is its natural home.

I hope that the future of shipbuilding on the Clyde and the problems faced by Kvaerner Shipbuilding at Govan Cross will be addressed satisfactorily by our Government.

It is interesting to note that even in its darkest days, Govan produced and nurtured people of the highest calibre. Bruce Milian, a successful politician who represented the people of Govan with dedication and diligence, became the Secretary of State for Scotland during the late 1970s and later became the second European Commissioner.

Alex Ferguson, the manager of Manchester United, is one of the greatest football managers in the world. He is leading British football in Europe and we wish him and Manchester United every success.

Who in the labour movement could ever forget the world's first work-in, orchestrated by Jimmy Airlie and Jimmy Reid, whose speech inspired the shipyard workers on the Clyde to stand up for their right to work?

Those individuals are well known, but the real heroes are the people of Govan, who have faced the challenges of a steady decline with dignity and passion. Those are the people whom I am proud to represent.

The people of Govan and Glasgow were delighted by the recent decision of the Millennium Commission and the Glasgow development agency to award a grant of more than £50 million towards Scotland's first national science park in my constituency. A further £19 million for the park still requires final approval from the European Commission in Brussels, but I am confident that approval will be granted and that the development can be concluded before the millennium. I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and hon. Members will take the opportunity to visit the centre when it is up and running.

The national science park is a perfect example of the role that development agencies can play in attracting inward investment. Development agencies, in conjunction with local government and the private sector in Scotland, have played an extremely important role in tackling economic and social decay.

In Glasgow, for example, Scottish Enterprise and the Glasgow development agency, in partnership with Glasgow city council, Strathclyde regional council and Govan Initiative Ltd., have been successful in tackling the economic and social problems that the city experiences. The regeneration of the merchant city, the development of the Scottish exhibition centre, the Burrell gallery, the royal concert hall and the Kelvin hall all demonstrate the huge difference that development agencies have made in Glasgow, so much so that Glasgow is seen as a prime example of urban regeneration, and only last week was described by The Big Issue as the coolest city in Britain. That is why I believe that the Bill is an important element in the process of democratic renewal and local empowerment.

I believe that the success of our Government will be measured simply by the real actions that we initiate to combat poverty. My constituents look to the Government to deliver practical, real-life solutions. Unemployment in Govan, which stands at 14 per cent., is still far too high. Until last May, too many people had no hope of employment. Too many of our young people are involved in drug misuse and too many leave school without the right skills. Many people are still forced to live in intolerable housing conditions, while many pensioners must still make a choice between heating and food—especially during the cold winter months.

One development that has increased the level of poverty is low pay. The introduction of a national minimum wage is vital if we are to ensure that that level of poverty does not continue. Other countries, not least the United States, have shown that a reasonably set minimum wage helps to improve economic performance and productivity.

My constituents are also expecting significant progress in housing. The Scottish people rely more on public sector housing than those in the rest of Britain. More resources should be made available for building and, in particular, for renovating houses. Renovation is important, as merely concentrating on building further housing will shift attention away from areas such as Govan where demand for housing can be met adequately only by regenerating and renovating the existing stock.

Education is another area which is of great concern to the people of Govan. The schools in Govan do a tremendous job under severe financial pressures, but they need further support from the Government. The July Budget, which gave £2.3 billion for school repairs and raising literacy and numeracy standards, was greatly welcomed in my constituency.

An issue that has come to concern me increasingly over the years, and one which I hear about repeatedly from the Muslim community and her friends in Britain is the growth of Islamaphobia. The Runnymede Trust's report "Islamaphobia, a challenge for us all" is an excellent insight into that prejudice, and I trust that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will take on board the recommendations made in that report.

I should like to draw the attention of hon. Members and of the Government to the poor representation of ethnic minorities—including the total exclusion of Muslims—in the House of Lords. I trust that our Government will change that unacceptable situation.

I look forward to making my own contribution by working fully with the Labour Government and by realising our vision of a new Britain where power and resources are in the hands of the many and not the few.

7.12 pm
Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds)

In speaking in support of the Opposition amendment, I draw particular attention to the way in which the logic of the Bill discriminates against rural areas. I shall address particularly the way in which it fatally undermines rural economic development and regeneration.

I acknowledge the speeches made so far—particularly that of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sarwar), which I am sure hon. Members found very interesting.

The details of the Bill are very concerning. I think that I speak for all Opposition Members when I say that the legislation compounds the injury felt by rural constituency interests. The Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and

Planning—who is not in his place at present—has a cavalier disregard for the green belt in England, which he describes as being up for grabs. The Government have certainly caused a great deal of concern in my constituency—one has only to read the local newspapers in Suffolk to see how much concern exists.

In addition, there is concern about the way in which the Government have handled the issue of beef on the bone and the continuing problems associated with BSE. There is further concern about the Government's refusal to seek adequate compensation for the revaluation of the green pound, and about the disgraceful way in which the United Kingdom presidency of the European Union has not been used to introduce common agricultural policy reforms, which Labour promised during the general election campaign to deliver.

If one seeks details of why the Bill is bad, one need look no further than the Rural Development Commission and what has been done to it. That commission is responsible in two ways for regeneration and redevelopment in rural areas. First, its budget of half the national total of £44 million is directed to specific projects. Its other function is national advisory and research work.

The Bill contains no safeguards that guarantee that both halves of the £44 million budget will go to rural areas and be devoted to rural regeneration and redevelopment when the commission is eventually subsumed into the RDAs' budget. I hope that the Minister will give specific assurances to those hon. Members with rural interests about the destination of that £44 million after the Bill is passed—which we may assume will occur. We look forward to her comments in that regard.

It is hardly surprising that the chairman of the Rural Development Commission resigned when he saw the contents of the Bill. It is also little wonder that he is not the only one to have problems with the legislation. Fears have been expressed also by the Consortium of Rural TECs, the National Farmers Union, the Country Landowners Association and many others. Such groups have welcomed minor parts of the Government's rural policy, but reject the details of the Bill.

The hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) smirks, as is his wont. If he took the time to read the representations from the bodies that I have mentioned, he would know that they are concerned about the way in which rural areas and their interests are downgraded by the Bill and the way in which it is drafted.

It is little wonder that such groups say quite openly that the structure—the quango nature—of the RDAs will tend towards urban dominance of those bodies. We know why that is so. The political logic behind the RDAs' structure as proposed by the Bill is perfectly clear. The most visible deprivation occurs in towns that are more populous. Therefore, it is obvious that politicians who serve on RDAs will be more likely to listen to the clamour from urban areas simply because such areas are more populous. The Bill does nothing to protect rural interests against the political logic of a tendency for urban areas to get a bigger share of the action, as my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) pointed out.

The Rural Development Commission was a dedicated body, with a long and distinguished history since its establishment in 1909. It was able to work at grassroots level to identify the fairly small pockets of privation that often go unnoticed in rural areas. That is why the body was so effective. This Bill destroys that organisation's specific remit. Nothing in it suggests to the Opposition that RDAs will be able to re-create that function and that bespoke approach to alleviating poverty in rural areas, which is not always obvious.

The assurances we seek in respect of the £44 million budget must be delivered. In particular, the Minister must say what will happen to half of that budget as it relates to advisory and research work. We are told that the money is now part of the Treasury's comprehensive spending review. Those of us who know what that means realise that it is a kind of fiscal Bermuda triangle. I do not think that we shall see that money again.

We must understand what will happen to the individuals in the Rural Development Commission, who are in limbo. They do not know what will happen to the commission's national advisory work. The work is still there, but it has not been tackled. We do not know what will happen.

I wish to correct the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning—the hon. Gentleman is not in his place—on a comment that he alleged that I had made. I did not say that my constituents in the RDC office at Bury St. Edmunds had not been consulted. The Minister misinterpreted what I said. I said that they did not know whether they would have a job in a few months' time. The question is not whether they have been consulted but whether they will have a job.

I seek an answer to that question. My constituents will be grateful to receive an honest and straightforward reply, and I hope that that will be forthcoming when the Under-Secretary of State responds to the debate. Alternatively, the answer can come in written form after the end of the debate.

There are specific concerns about the lack of safeguards in the Bill. First, why does paragraph 4.22 of the White Paper make it clear that there should be rural representation, specifically on the RDA boards, when the Bill does not spell out that commitment? Surely the Bill should place an obligation on the Secretary of State to have rural interest representatives on the boards. Will the Under-Secretary please take up that point?

I ask the Minister also to explain why clause 7, which deals with the strategy of the RDAs, makes no specific reference to rural strategic interests. Let us have that in the Bill if the Government want to allay fears in rural areas about whether a strategic approach to rural matters will be observed and followed by the new RDAs.

I end by referring to the other fears of my constituents and the local media. It is all very well for Labour Members and Ministers to say that the CBI and this, that and the other body support the Bill. I can tell the House that a grassroots, non-partisan newspaper such as the East Anglian Daily Times, a not insignificant regional newspaper but not a partisan one, had a leader yesterday in which it described the structure set out in the Bill as bureaucratic nonsense. It accused the structure of duplication, of breaking up the United Kingdom and, furthermore, of being nonsense.

In what sense does anyone in the historic part of East Anglia believe that he or she has anything in common with Thurrock, Woburn and Peterborough, which are also in the relevant area? Why do so many people in my constituency, of no political persuasion, think that we have a dog's breakfast of a Bill and a concept?

Let us acknowledge that the Government are trying to create a false consciousness and a false regional identity that simply does not exist. It is for those reasons that I support the Opposition amendment, and will be doing so in the Lobby tonight.

7.22 pm
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

It is a great pleasure to be able to speak in the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sarwar) on his maiden speech, to which the House listened with great attention. It was a multi-faceted contribution. My hon. Friend was generous in his remarks about his predecessors. His pride in his constituency shone through.

I am excited about the debate because I have been interested and involved for a long time in trying to make our country more competitive. The situation in most of the regions is dire. As my hon. Friend the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning said in his opening remarks, only two of the United Kingdom regions are above the European Union average in terms of the quality of life that our constituents enjoy. That is pretty disgraceful.

Interestingly enough, the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), who had such a leading role in former Conservative Governments, could only crow about securing inward investment. What a sorry situation he left us in when we consider the average quality of life of our individual constituents in the various regions. That is not only because of the relative economic decline of our country and our failure to compete but because of the way in which misguided policies over 18 years destroyed the independent base of our regions.

Consider the way in which Conservative Governments changed the basis of the utilities. The electricity, water and many other utilities lost the bedrock of being independent organisations based in the regions. That has all gone. Most of the electricity companies are owned by the Americans, and water companies are owned by the French. Some of us are lucky that our local companies retain an allegiance to development in the region but many of the companies have much less of a commitment to the region than did the former public utilities.

Look at the way in which Conservative Governments allowed building societies to move into the private sector. They are now footloose financial institutions with little commitment to those places that grew them, invested in them and developed them over 120 years.

The basis of independent companies—large employers—in the regions with their headquarters in the regions has diminished dramatically over the past 18 years. We need the regional development agencies to try to turn back some of the dreadful things that have happened.

Who are the major players in most constituencies today? The major employers in my constituency and in many others that include the towns and cities of our country are the local university or universities, the hospital and health trust and the local authority. There are few large employers left in our constituencies and in the regions. That is partly due to the nature and industrial structure of modern Britain and of the global economy, but much of it is down to accelerated decline, and that is the responsibility of 18 years of a Conservative Government who did not, strangely enough, understand the need to be competitive.

It was interesting to listen to the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield, who had been a Cabinet Minister for so long. The only straw to which he could clutch was inward investment. The right hon. Gentleman argued that we were up there as the best in Europe as the home for the most inward investment. I give him that, but that is why he focused on inward investment. However, Conservative Governments failed to initiate the regeneration of our industries within our country, using the talents and skills of our people. That is what they failed to do over 18 years of Conservative rule. They failed to grow successfully the companies that we needed to create the good life, the quality of life that we in this place are elected to try to secure through governmental policies. Those Conservative Governments failed for 18 years.

The RDAs have the possibility of focusing upon and bringing together the tremendous efforts that are being made in every region that I visit in the United Kingdom. I meet people of tremendous ability in the private sector. Many of them are running their own businesses and are prepared to go that extra mile and to give up extra time to try to do something about improving the local regional economy.

I meet people who give of their time without charge. They are highly qualified people, including leading business people. When I talk to them, they say uniformly that they need a regional development agency. They say, "We are all doing very good things" but our effort is not properly focused. The strategic role of an RDA would be invaluable. That is the voice of people with whom Opposition Members have ceased to engage in conversation. I am talking of leading industrialists, entrepreneurs, people who are engaging in successful wealth creation in our towns and cities. They are excellent people. There are also the leading lights in local government and those who run our training and enterprise councils and universities.

The universities are key players. In looking to the future in considering where we create our wealth, we have underrated the universities. That is my one little criticism. We must bring in the universities and give them a powerful role. They have enormous potential for creating growth, development and enterprise and yet we have not begun tapping into that skill, knowledge and innovative base. There should not be just a token university representative on the RDAs. They should take on the university role. In Yorkshire and Humber, we have nine universities, which are crucial for the future of our economic development.

If hon. Members want to know about the success of the Conservative Government, the IBM consultancy report— "The True State of Britain's Manufacturing Industry"—with the London business school, said that, after 14 years of Conservative Government, only 1 to 1.5 per cent. of British companies were world class. There were 38 per cent. which, with a superhuman effort, could become so. One had to start praying for the rest.

We do not have enough world-class companies in this country. We have to tackle that, not by expecting some

wonderful Japanese or Korean company to settle in our region. To compete we have to grow innovative, enterprising small and medium enterprises.

Seventy five per cent. of people who leave school today will work in small and medium enterprises—not ICI, Zeneca or BP, not the giants, not Rover, not the large companies, but for small, innovative companies. We have to grow them at a great rate. The regional development agencies will have the capacity to lead and focus that fight.

I like the Bill because it is enabling. If some regions do not want to move as fast as others, so be it, but if some of our regions want to run fast and hard, let us be allowed to do so. That is right. Our regions are diverse and different, and some of the less cohesive regions will run faster than those that traditionally see themselves as much more coherent, so there will be very real change there.

I also like the Bill because it will allow for growth. It is organic. Of course training and enterprise councils, business links, the universities and other sectors will have to be more absorbed into the RDA as time goes on.

We must also ensure that the democratic deficit is made up. There is one small gap in the measure: a parliamentary Select Committee system tailored for regional development and the regions. It is no secret that Labour Members have constituency weeks. There is a great, untapped potential for hon. Members to be involved in this great enterprise of regional development through a regional Select Committee that will close the democratic loop and be very valuable.

I entreat my hon. Friends on the Front Bench to be aware of that. It is a campaign that we on the Government Benches will run. I hope that Opposition Members will join us to ensure that we get such a Select Committee system.

We have the opportunity in the Bill to get it right. It is so important to get it right because the future well-being of our people in this country depends on realising the opportunity—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. Time is up.

7.32 pm
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent)

I should, perhaps, begin by noting that it can never be easy to make a maiden speech, and to have done so under the difficulties that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sarwar) is currently enduring is a tremendous additional effort. I learned more about Govan in 10 minutes than I could have imagined. I am sure that the House will feel that, if the difficulties are cleared away, the people of Govan will be represented by someone who is very knowledgeable about their interests.

The excitement of office after so long is very understandable. I sometimes feel that the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning, who moved the Bill, is like a traveller in an antique land: he is so thrilled with what he sees that he describes it in immortal prose in the White Paper. Who can fail to respond to insights such as: England's regions contain areas of cultural and historical significance as well as of natural beauty, or The regional economies are the building blocks of a prosperous economy. With insights such as that, it is rather churlish in a way to doubt the contents of the Bill, but I remind the Minister of what travellers in antique lands encounter:

Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. For our current traveller, the names on the legs of this edifice might well be Redcliffe-Maud on one and Banham on the other. One of the great temptations for all reforming Governments is to imagine that, if one simply changes the boundaries of local government, one will somehow set free the talents of the nation. Neither Redcliffe-Maud nor Banham, set up by Governments to modernise Britain, produced changes that have made any serious long-term difference. The people of England, as report after report has shown, feel neither loyalty to, nor interest in, arbitrary groupings created by Governments for administrative convenience.

I remember when I was a civil servant in the Scottish Office—indeed, working with Bruce Millan—that Kilbrandon, the Scottish equivalent of Redcliffe-Maud, recommended, with perfect logic, that the banks of a river should be in the same local authority, but the people of Fife rose as one man, or woman, and rejected it. The result was that two of Scotland's great rivers remained with one bank in one local authority and one bank in the other.

It is no good the Government, trying to pretend that economic success can be achieved by the creation of new and artificial regions. The Government are obsessed with the German model of regional government. They cited it in support of their Scotland Bill, and no doubt they will cite it in support of this one. Why can they not understand that the German regions are older than Germany's central Government, and are not its creation? German Governments exercise powers given up to them, not the other way round.

Page 15 of the White Paper contained a revealing map of gross domestic product per head in the European Union. What it shows is an impressive concentration of the successful areas—coloured grey or black—in the heart of Europe. The only areas in the United Kingdom that compare are the two nearest the mainland, yet the Government quote the success of the Welsh and Scottish development agencies as the model for their new RDAs. If they are so successful, why are their regions not grey on the map as well?

The map suggests that it is national, not regional, policies that need to be overhauled. If Scotland has done better than many expected, is it not likely to be due at least as much to its extraordinary success in getting 50 per cent. of women graduates as to the operation of a development agency?

I start from a thoroughly sceptical position on the proposed agencies. I believe that their creation is driven by Labour's desire to balkanise England and dilute the risk that England will, in time, reject new Labour. We all know that, to guard against that day, the Government have insisted on giving no proper answer to the West Lothian question.

Let us look at the Bill. In my region we have Kent, the Isle of Wight, Portsmouth, Milton Keynes and Oxfordshire. We do not, of course, have London, yet all our main travel routes go to London. A huge percentage of our population commutes daily to London. We do not commute to Portsmouth or Oxford. Moreover, in my county we have made alliances, very profitably, across the channel. That is where our other centre lies. So why do we want this hybrid, artificial, incoherent region? We do not.

Regions will enhance the way in which we are governed. We know that, because the White Paper says so. They will modernise Britain and decentralise decision making. That is claptrap. In February 1997, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), now Prime Minister, said: We need to roll back the tide of quangos and to have a revival of proper democratic local government."—[Official Report, 20 February 1997; Vol. 290, c. 1076.] He then sets up the most powerful quango that he can devise, to be run by business leaders appointed by Government. Three or four local councillors will be added, but to ensure that they have no genuine local accountability, they will stay on the quango even if the electorate chucks them out. He then gives those quangos a host of powers. We have heard a great deal about the compulsory purchase powers in clause 20, for instance, and I will not say more about those just now; but they are pretty horrendous.

Who will be the business men and women? Will they genuinely be locally based? Most locally based companies consume too much of their people's time to allow for such service—but, if they are nationally or internationally based, why should they care especially about their region? Will those people be paid? If so, how much; and if not, will they be able to give the region the priority it requires?

In these bodies will be subsumed the powers and duties of the Development Commission. That is typical of the present Government, who claim to care about rural areas, but then destroy the only body that really focused on them.

It is interesting that, despite the determination to create an integrated policy to regenerate the regions, the proposal for the regional development agencies leaves out the national health service. We heard earlier how important it is for the health of the locality to be included. The NHS is a huge employer, a huge landowner and a massive purchaser, yet it remains wholly under the hand of central Government. I suppose I should be glad about that, however: otherwise, after the RDAs have got into their stride, the House would have very little to do.

The Bill is a further step in the downgrading of the House. Rather than establishing artificial, unwanted, unrecognisable regional assemblies, we should try to build up the position of an English Parliament. It is here in the House of Commons that English issues should be debated and resolved. The cranes across the street are now beginning to build a new office for the United Kingdom Parliament; but it is one of the truths of history that organisations only secure the premises they need in order to function effectively when they no longer have a function to perform.

7.41 pm
Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton)

I am pleased that the Bill is before the House. I fully support it. As one who represents a constituency in the Yorkshire and Humberside region, I believe that the Bill will genuinely benefit that region; moreover, it is a further demonstration that the Labour Government are keeping promises that they made to the electorate in May. This was one of the promises in the manifesto, and I am glad that we are keeping it. Another pleasing feature of the Bill is that it will remove many of the quangos that were the hallmark of the most recent Tory Government. Under the Tories, we saw the introduction of a "new magistracy" of appointees who sat as members of public bodies, spent taxpayers' money and made decisions—often in private—that should properly have been the preserve of elected local politicians.

Elected councillors have been removed from bodies on which they used to sit as of right. Under the Tories, quangos spent more than £60 billion—about 20 per cent. of total public expenditure, and far in excess of what was allocated to local government in England and Wales in revenue support grant. Unelected people were spending more money than elected bodies throughout England and Wales. We must provide safeguards in the legislation: we must ensure that we do not set up further quangos, and that we adopt a democratic approach to RDAs.

Taking evidence on RDAs, the Select Committee—of which I am a member—obtained views from many interested bodies. We took evidence for a week, and interesting contributions were made. We would have liked to consult other organisations, but sadly, because of pressure of time, we did not have the opportunity to do so. I am sure, however, that those who wish to speak and to table amendments will have an opportunity to do so in Committee.

Decision making will be a significant factor in the RDAs' operation. The Confederation of British Industry—which supports the Bill—wants them to report to a Cabinet Committee whose members would be drawn from the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the Department for Education and Employment, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Treasury. The CBI suggests that RDAs should take account of the views of the partners in their regions, and involve them in the decision-making process. Clearly, the CBI has its views about how the RDAs should operate, but who the partners will be, and how they will be involved in decision making, will have to be considered by the Standing Committee. The local government representatives who gave evidence to the Select Committee consider that the aim in establishing the board should be to achieve a geographical coverage by business as well as the local government sector.

The appointment of the chairperson gave rise to concern, but it is now agreed that the chairperson should be the best person for the job, and should not come from a particular sector.

A significant aspect introduced to the discussions by the local authorities was the question of regional chambers. Such chambers now exist in many areas, having been set up with the encouragement of the Minister of State and paid for by local government. The regional chamber is the highest level of the new regional machinery. It will be in the best interests of the RDAs to work within the wider framework prepared by the regional chambers and their partners. In the Yorkshire region, all local authorities are represented on the regional chamber, and other organisations—including voluntary organisations—have an interest, and contribute to the

chamber's work. Given the wide-ranging responsibilities of the boards for strategy and strategic co-ordination, it must be agreed that those responsibilities are set within the chamber's strategic framework—that its work should contribute significantly to the strategic operations of the board.

It is clear that the various roles should be defined in a way that prevents duplication and overlap with the regional chambers. If we do not get that right, we shall rightly be accused of generating additional bureaucracy and a lack of clear "value added". In Committee, it must be made abundantly clear that there will be no duplication, and that we will reduce bureaucracy wherever possible.

Local government says that regional chambers should be consulted, should endorse operational plans and should receive mid-year and annual reports. The work of the RDAs must be scrutinised, and the regional chambers are the most appropriate bodies to do that, given their involvement and their responsibilities in the regions.

The Yorkshire and Humberside region contains four sub-regions: South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, North Yorkshire and Humberside. A fair political balance in the operation of the RDAs can be achieved only within the local government sector. Without a fair and honest balance of representation, we could have a turf war, which would not be to anyone's benefit.

The paper submitted by the British chambers of commerce to the Select Committee welcomed the creation of RDAs, and in particular the proposals for the regional skills agenda. It said that the Government should have gone further than the proposed role for RDAs in monitoring training and enterprise councils. It suggested that the responsibilities of the TECs and the resources channelled into them should be transferred to RDAs.

I support the view of the British Chambers of Commerce, given my experience of the Wakefield TEC. TECs have been operating in the Yorkshire and Humberside region for 10 years, but there is still a shortage of skilled labour. They have failed my constituents and many people in the Yorkshire and Humberside region.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member's time is up.

7.51 pm
Mr. Brian Cotter (Weston-super-Mare)

May I begin by joining my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey) in his expression of support for the concept of the Bill. As he said, the Liberal Democrats, in broad principle, welcome the Government's proposal to create regional development agencies. We have long argued for a more devolved system of government. However, our view is tempered by several serious reservations about the Bill.

Many hon. Members would agree that strategic and sustainable economic regeneration through the regions is the key to a prosperous future for us all. However, attention must be paid to the detail of the Bill to ensure that real economic regeneration is achieved.

Regional development agencies can make an important contribution to United Kingdom growth and competitiveness. They should be business-led organisations which work closely with local government. They should intrinsically act as vital catalysts to regional development and investment.

The United Kingdom has lost out in the past decade owing to regional weakness. We have lost out within the European Union because of the deficiency of strong and properly resourced regions to which EU development funds can be routed and which are capable of raising matching funds.

The long-term success of RDAs depends on adequate funding and on their ability to pursue private finance. The Government's proposals have failed in that important respect. The relevant clause should be reconsidered, because it seems to allow only temporary borrowing in the form of an overdraft, and then only to a limited extent.

As the Bill stands, the agencies will be prevented from having access to all the functions and funding that they should have. That will be a waste of public resources, and the Government should expand the scheme further.

The Government seem to have missed a golden opportunity, in that it would make sense for the RDAs to be involved in the process of establishing a regional minimum wage. It seems logical that such an approach could deal with many of the concerns of small businesses.

The Government's proposals should be bold and daring, with much more consideration given to long-term strategy. As the Liberal Democrat spokesman on small businesses, I have a particular interest in the creation of RDAs. One of the declared primary purposes of the agencies is to help small and medium-sized enterprises. The future for all small firms is local, regional, national and even global. The emphasis on very large business organisations has rightly been reduced in recent times. Increasingly, more and more SMEs are contributing to our national competitiveness.

There is little doubt that initiative and innovation are to be found in small firms in great quantities, but many promising business plans founder due to lack of resources and support. I hope that the RDAs will deal with that problem.

Several hon. Members have mentioned the role of training and enterprise councils and business links. In the past, there has been an inordinate amount of duplication and unnecessary bureaucracy, and money has been wasted. The Department for Education and Employment will still run TECs, and the Department of Trade and Industry will still have control over economic development grants. Reference was made earlier to the system of local enterprise companies in Scotland, which should also be considered. It is my experience that many businesses are unaware of TECs and business links, so I hope that the RDA will address that problem.

The system for economic regeneration requires clarification and simplicity to maximise efficiency and to provide businesses with the first-class support that they deserve. That is why the Liberal Democrats support the one-stop approach.

Business links and TECs are driven by national Government programmes and targets. Conflicts will inevitably arise between RDAs and business links and TECs, which will create weaknesses in regional economic development and regeneration programmes that reflect regional needs. The Government's proposals do not fully take into account the vast differences between the regions. Regional diversity must be recognised.

As the Confederation of British Industry pointed out in its briefing on the Bill, staffing is a key issue. It said:

RDAs must have high calibre boards and chief executives. Remuneration must be competitive to attract individuals from the private sector. During the first years of establishment … there will be a particularly large workload in bringing together the regional partners and establishing RDA leadership. The big problem with the Bill is the lack of accountability. Too much power will be in the hands of the Secretary of State. The role of the regional chambers should be strengthened, so as to hold the RDAs to account. At the moment, the voluntary aspect of this proposal is most unsatisfactory. The Liberal Democrats believe that it should be statutory. The Local Government Association made that very point. It said: As bodies appointed by Ministers, they"— the RDAs need to be accountable at a regional level to ensure they are able to respond to regional needs. Business organisations agree with that point. The association went on to say:

As bodies that will be business-led, it is vital that they are held to account by a broad range of regional interests to ensure real coherence with strategies and programmes elsewhere in the region. Consultation is insufficient. Regional interests are paramount, and unnecessary interference by central Government should be avoided at all costs. I hope that the Secretary of State will heed my comments, which will be repeated by my colleagues and me as the Bill proceeds. We agree in principle with the establishment of RDAs, but my points need to be addressed.

7.59 pm
Mr. Ian Pearson (Dudley, South)

The establishment of regional development agencies in England is long overdue. As a former chief executive of a regional economic development company and a current non-executive director of Greater London Enterprise, I warmly welcome the Bill, which commands widespread support among economic development professionals. In the west midlands it has the full and enthusiastic backing of local authorities, the CBI, chambers of commerce, the TUC, further and higher education institutions and the voluntary sector.

There is a growing realisation that regions throughout Europe are competing against each other not just to attract inward investment, but to increase the capability of the business base and expand its capacity. Large towns and cities are increasingly becoming magnets for industries and industrial sectors and are developing strategies that focus on developing industrial and service sector clusters and increasing specialisation.

In the 21st century, the ability to innovate, the quality of the skills base and the quality and capacity of the infrastructure that links them will be the keys to economic success locally, regionally and nationally. It is vital for RDAs to be an effective tool to make sure that our regions are capable of competing throughout Europe and further afield. It is important for them to take a leading role in developing visions for their regions and formulating effective regional economic development strategies that set out a viable framework for economic development and regeneration. The RDAs must address such issues as the rivalry between towns and cities within regions and should recognise the need to balance economic development and rural and urban priorities.

We are starting from behind. We are late in developing regional development agencies, and the figures that have been given about income per head of population show that we are lagging behind. The west midlands competes head to head with Baden-Württemberg in Germany and Emilia Romagna in Italy, especially in the automotive sector. In the European prosperity league, Baden-Württemburg is ninth and Emilia Romagna is 11 th, but the west midlands is a lowly 56th.

My home town of Dudley is twinned with Bremen in Germany; there are good reasons for that. They share similar characteristics, not the least of which is an excellent brewing industry—Becks in Germany and Batham's in my constituency. However, Dudley's living standard is 75 per cent. below that of Bremen. That shows how far we have to go to ensure that the fruits of economic prosperity do not just trickle down but are seen to benefit people in Dudley and the west midlands as a whole.

We have a great deal to learn from regional development agencies in Europe. The GOMs in Belgium; centres such as StorstrÖms business centre in Denmark; the Spanish development agencies; and not just the German model but some of the Italian experiences should be considered. They have been at the game for longer than us and have been effective in arguing with the European Commission for resources. They seem to be able to get European programmes that many of us in the west midlands and further afield would like to have.

The west midlands, like the areas of many hon. Members who have spoken, would have preferred a single vote of resources and to have training and enterprise council budgets and regional selective assistance within the direct ambit of the RDAs. We in the west midlands certainly intend that the West Midlands development agency, which is one of the existing regional development agencies that are funded by the Department of Trade and Industry, should be folded into the new RDA. The Bill does not make provision for such regional development organisations, but I trust that there will be flexibility so that if regions decide that that is an effective way to proceed, they will be allowed to go ahead.

I have two brief points about the Bill's detail. Encouragingly, the White Paper refers to the RDAs taking the lead in developing regional strategies. However, that is not in the Bill. RDAs have a responsibility to develop strategies to meet the purpose for which they were set up, but the Bill does not give them a clear leadership role. It would be useful for the Bill to do that.

Secondly, clause 5 places restrictions on the operations of RDA powers and states that the Secretary of State's approval is required if an RDA wants to provide financial assistance to companies or to dispose of land at anything other than best value. It also places a restriction on the provision of housing. It is not difficult to imagine circumstances in which it might be entirely sensible and appropriate within the new state aid rules to provide financial assistance to companies. By the same token, disposing of land at less than best value could play an important part in an economic development package. Similarly, there are many mixed urban regeneration projects in which, as part of the package, it might make sense for RDAs to become involved in building new houses.

I do not know why the restrictions are needed in the Bill and we should consider taking account of these matters in clause 31, which provides for guidance and directions by the Secretary of State. We are needlessly restricting the powers of regional development agencies.

I welcome the fact that the single regeneration budget challenge fund will be part of the responsibilities of RDAs. I hope that there will be permission to take an axe to the labyrinthine bureaucracy that surrounds the programme. That is vital, and I am sure that RDAs can get better value for money out of the SRB than can be had at the moment.

The capability and calibre of the people who will be attracted to the RDA boards and those who will staff and run them will be crucial to their success. I want a strong, agile and effective regional development agency and it is essential to secure high quality board involvement. We are at risk of not attracting people of sufficient calibre. I do not want RDAs to be seen as relatively weak and therefore capable of attracting only second-rate managers from business to their boards. I am encouraged by the prospect of RDAs because they can provide enormous benefits and it is important to recruit the most able people. It is proposed that staff will be transferred from offices in the regions and from English Partnerships to the RDAs. I have many friends who work for English Partnerships and who work in Government offices. However, there will need to be an injection of new blood into the running of regional development agencies if they are to have the sort of culture and ambition necessary effectively to fulfil their remit.

RDAs have a tremendous potential. They can play an absolutely crucial role in increasing economic prosperity and promoting social cohesion in the west midlands and across the United Kingdom.

8.10 pm
Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

Almost the first line of the explanatory and financial memorandum to the Bill reads: Clause 1 and Schedule 1 provide for England to be split into nine areas. Has there ever been a more grim and solemn line in a Bill? That is the effect and, to some extent, the purpose of the Bill.

If the new Welsh and Scottish institutions need to be balanced with the rest of the United Kingdom, the way to do so is to balance them with English institutions, not to split England into nine artificial regions. England is a nation with at least as much history and culture as Wales and Scotland. It should not be belittled and split asunder in ways that Labour Members would not have permitted in Wales or Scotland.

It is also clear, as we have heard from hon. Members on both sides of the House, that the proposed regions simply do not command the loyalty, assent or even the comprehension of many of the people who are supposed to live in them. The hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey), who spoke for the Liberal Democrats, said that the south-western region was absurd. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) said that the south-east region was absurd. The right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) said that he was not in favour of the present borders of the northern region and argued that Cumbria should be absorbed into the Newcastle-dominated area. As he is not a Cumbrian Member of Parliament, whereas I am, I can assure him that a large number of people in Cumbria do not wish to be run from Tyneside for any purposes whatsoever. However, he demonstrated—yet again—as hon. Members on both sides of the House have, that the proposed regions do not command widespread public consent.

My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) gave another reason why splitting England into regions is dangerous and absurd. She said that the agenda behind the Bill is to split England—otherwise one of the strongest inherent nation states in Europe—into bite-sized chunks, each less able to resist the impulse of a centralising Brussels bureaucracy. It is precisely because the United Kingdom has been a strong, united, unitary state that we have been able to survive all the challenges of the 20th century, not least external challenges from Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. We should be very careful before we split up the United Kingdom and, within that, split up England.

Yet another reason why the Bill is so absurd is that it harks back to the 1960s and 1970s. We heard from Labour Members about the importance of economic development and economic growth. Who would argue with that? However, they sound like old 1960s and 1970s politicians when they say, "How do we get economic growth? We will set up a committee, establish a new set of bureaucracies and produce a new strategy, and in that way we will generate wealth." Old Labour used to believe that the man in Whitehall knew best; new Labour believes that the bureaucrat in Newcastle or Manchester knows best. Most people recognise that no bureaucrat knows best and that the most successful and dynamic economies are not those with huge swathes of bureaucracy and extra tiers of government, but those that minimise them.

The White Paper contains an extremely misleading map at the front, which attempts to show that the UK is an exceedingly unsuccessful economy compared with the rest of Europe. The Labour party is schizophrenic. The Prime Minister lectures Europe that the UK is cool Britannia. He lectures Europe that it should learn from us on a whole range of issues, not least the need for labour market flexibility. He lectures that the United Kingdom represents the future for Europe because we have overcome many of the economic challenges that the rest of Europe still needs to overcome. Yet time and again in the debate we have heard Labour Members saying that the UK is the worst performing economy on a whole range of measures. That is patently absurd.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), who has left his place, said that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) was clutching at straws when he referred to inward investment—that, somehow, inward investment did not matter much. I had thought that that was the primary purpose of the Prime Minister's trip to Tokyo. The hon. Gentleman ignored the fact that of the 20 top companies in Europe, more than half are in the UK. He also ignored the fact that comparative employment rates, based on the map in the front of the White Paper, show that the UK is performing a great deal better than almost anywhere else on that map. That is a further demonstration of the flaw in the economic strategy behind the Government's approach—the idea that by setting up a new committee, bringing together some more bureaucrats, creating a new agency and putting up taxes to pay for it all will create wealth.

Who are the dynamic wealth creators who will transform the performance of our regional economies? The Bill tells us who they are—representatives from local government, from education and from trades unions. Only socialists could believe that a collection of some shop stewards, some National Union of Teachers members and some clapped-out councillors will suddenly produce a dynamic new economy. If the idea were not so sad, it would be hilarious.

We also heard from hon. Members on both sides of the House about the importance of rural areas. The Minister, who is chuntering away to himself, has dismissed the arguments on rural areas, but I ask him to pass on two concerns to the Minister who is to reply to the debate. Can we have an assurance that those who are appointed to the RDA governing boards as rural representatives will be genuinely rural people with their roots in rural areas? We are not interested in people who happen to have a holiday home in a rural area, where they spend a little time. We want people who were born and brought up on farms or who spend a large proportion of their lives in rural areas and villages. [Laughter.] Labour Members are laughing, but we need rural representatives who have genuine rural roots.

I hope that the Minister will take seriously the point that I made, when I intervened in his speech, about the symbolic importance, if nothing else, of ensuring that at least one RDA has its headquarters in a rural area. Frankly, out of sight is out of mind. If every RDA is headquartered in an urban area, urban areas will be first and foremost on their agenda.

We have heard a great deal from Labour Members and, to some extent, from Liberal Democrats, about their wish for training and enterprise councils to be brought under the operation of RDAs. I very strongly counsel the Minister against that. I hope that he will say firmly and clearly that the undertaking given in the last Parliament by the Labour Opposition, that they would not tamper with the structure, independence, financial autonomy or role of TECs, will be upheld.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield was instrumental in creating TECs. In fact, to a large extent they were his idea and I pay tribute to him for that. I had the great honour of serving as a special adviser to my right hon. Friend's successor, the present shadow Foreign Secretary—my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard)—and it was during his time at the Employment Department that most of the TECs were established.

The House will know that the essence of the success of TECs has been that the whole of their governing boards have been chief executives of businesses. Time and again, chief executives of businesses have said that they would take part in the operation of TECs only if they did not have to deal with all those people who, in the past, have stopped them achieving all that they have wanted to achieve for the local economies—in particular, local councillors, teachers and others, who are precisely those who will be put above them in the RDAs that will represent the absurd regions.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre)


Mr. Collins

I do not have time to give way.

The Bill is bad because it splits up England; it represents a clapped-out, dated and archaic theory of how to generate wealth and economic growth and, above all, it threatens the success of genuinely local, genuinely business-led, successful organisations—the TECs. For all those reasons, it should be rejected.

8.19 pm
Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this debate—a debate which is vital for the economic future of my constituency and of the Teesside region. I unreservedly welcome the central thrust of the Bill, although I should like to ask one or two questions about some of its provisions. The people of Teesside and of the north-east will also welcome it.

The Bill is necessary. Over the years, and especially in the past 18 years, the people of Teesside have suffered greatly from the Tory party's boom and bust policies. Many thousands of jobs were lost in the steel and chemical industries, and people on the Tees saw the end of shipbuilding. The wider local economy, which depended on the good health of Teesside's core industries, collapsed.

In 1977, the Cleveland county area was one of the more prosperous regions of the United Kingdom. It was third in the GDP per head table in the UK, behind only Greater London and Berkshire. By 1987, it was 34th. In 1989, according to the Royal Bank of Scotland's index of prosperity, it was the 61st poorest of the UK's 63 counties and regions.

The north-east's regional economy was the wider economic casualty of Thatcherite restructuring. Proportionately, the northern region lost more of its manufacturing base in the late 1970s and 1980s than any other UK region. In Teesside, we lost about 67,000 jobs in two to three years. Such facts show the necessity of the Bill and of the other important legislation that is now being steered through the House—to ensure that we have a coherent approach to development and a welcome concentration on policies that are in tune with what the people want, rather than with what the Tory party thought was good for them. It is because of such attitudes that the north will soon have a regional development agency.

My hon. Friend the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning will not need to be reminded that the north-east was in the vanguard of the movement for proper development agencies. The new RDAs will mean that, at long last, our demands will finally be met for a regionally based voice and a regionally controlled tool to ensure the creation and nurturing of sustainable development policies.

The northern region did not only demand RDAs; in the early 1980s, the north-east anticipated such agencies by establishing the Northern Development Company. That was a unique agency, based on a tripartite partnership between the region's local authorities, private business and trade unions. It has worked very hard to promote inward investment opportunities, to build good and lasting supply chain networks and to facilitate indigenous business growth across the region.

In recent years, the NDC's work has meant that much of the inward investment from the Pacific rim and elsewhere has located and prospered in the north-east. The names of those inward investors is a roll-call of the world's leading-edge companies: Fujitsu, Siemens, Samsung and, in my constituency, Caterpillar. The NDC's success shows that, from April 1999, the north-east is well placed to have the first fully fledged RDA. We will, after all, only be building on what we have already achieved.

Although we are geared up and ready to establish our new agency, we should ask one or two questions. There are specific concerns, particularly in the north-east, that have to be answered in this debate. We have to ensure, first, that each agency is allowed maximum autonomy in determining regional economic policy, because what may be right for Middlesbrough may not be right for Manchester, and vice versa. We must particularly ensure the growth, technological competence and diversification of our indigenous industries. Perhaps we should give those objectives far more weight, rather than merely compete to win the perceived goal that may lie at the end of the inward investment rainbow.

There is a need for well-developed and robust regional economic strategies that deal with the need for both economic and social regeneration. Those strategies must take account also of sectoral strength and not be afraid to take robust long-term decisions to encourage high technology and inward investment. We have to ensure that there is a correct balance between the pressing need for urban revitalisation and the equally pressing demands of deprived rural areas.

As an hon. Member who represents a partly rural constituency—Conservative Members have been talking about such constituencies throughout this debate—comprising former ironstone mining villages where unemployment has been a fact of life for far too long, I shall need particular reassurance that those demands will be met. I shall be very interested to hear my hon. Friend the Minister's comments on that matter.

I note that the RDA will subsume the work of the Rural Development Commission, and I do not dissent from that objective. I note also, however, that the Bill states explicitly that one of the RDA's core functions will be to promote rural regeneration and that at least one RDA board member must have specific knowledge and expertise in rural development issues.

The Cleveland area will have to know very soon whether the RDA will continue with the vital socially based work of the RDC. In our village communities, this work—based on initiatives such as providing volunteer-run nursery provision, local collective projects based on housing needs, and conservation and environmental activities with a specific rural remit—fits somewhat uncomfortably in the RDA's proposed portfolio.

Such activities underpin and complement the economic development work being done by the borough council and by other bodies. I should very much like my hon. Friend the Minister properly to reassure my constituents that the machinery for continuing those activities—within the ring-fenced boundaries of an RDA area that still has the highest unemployment of any such area in England and Wales—will be established with proper and democratic funding channels.

I should like also to be assured by my hon. Friend that there are proper safeguards for European funding arrangements. My constituency has been the beneficiary of many projects backed by structural and social funds, which have been accessed by a variety of organisations and agencies. All those agencies have experienced problems with the previous Government's cherry picking and ruthless top slicing of European funds for their own pet schemes.

It is proposed that RDAs should distribute European funds. I welcome that, but I should like to be reassured that the funds will still be handled fairly and that arrangements will be made to prevent RDAs replicating those previous top-slicing practices.

I commend the Bill. Its success will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and my hon. Friend the Minister will gain a place in the United Kingdom's history books and a special place in the heart of the people of the north-east.

8.28 pm
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) said that Labour Members have had a somewhat schizophrenic approach to this debate, sometimes talking about the great success of the English regions and sometimes talking about their enormous poverty and failure. That schizophrenia has been highlighted by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East (Dr. Kumar).

In the past 10 to 15 years, inward investment has helped to create the important success enjoyed especially by the north-east. There is a telling contrast between the years in which the north-east's old industries declined and its recent development of new and successful industries. I know that from personal experience in the north-west in the years before prosperity spread to the north-east. The Conservative party and the previous Government can be justly proud not only of the inward investment that put Britain at the top of the league table for inward investment, but of the enormously successful regeneration of some of our great cities. Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle are fine cities with a proud history and a great heritage and they are once again prosperous places where people love to live and work.

How do we take forward that success? That is a challenge which the new Government must face. I do not know whether it will be taken forward by a new breed of centrally appointed quangos. Nor do I believe that it can be taken forward by additional bureaucracy and the mistaken extrapolation of some of the successful enterprises of the previous Government to a new regional level. Although TECs and development corporations have achieved a great deal and have been effective in certain areas, that does not mean that a similar exercise will succeed at a regional level or, still less, across the whole of England. We risk developing a new generation of quangos too far removed from reality, too far away from any particular town or city and certainly too far removed from democratic control, as they will have no direct relationship with the elected local authorities.

We are told that local business men will be appointed to the boards. Local to where? In the north-west, will they be local to Liverpool, Manchester or Carlisle? It makes an important difference. The introduction of a new regional tier is a misguided attempt at economic planning over very large areas.

It may be appropriate to introduce a regional body for the north-east, where there has been a long-standing call for such a body and which has a far greater regional identity than most parts of England, but it is an absurd suggestion for the north-west. The north-west is not one region, but three or more. The previous Government recognised that by creating separate Government offices for Merseyside and for the rest of the north-west, but even that overestimated the extent to which the north-west can be coalesced into particular regional groupings. Merseyside and Liverpool, the Manchester area, the area north of Manchester and Cumbria all have completely different natures. There is a completely different feel to them and I see no logic in treating them as a single region.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) remarked on the wasteful competition that could be introduced between regions which may be competing for inward investment or companies to move into their areas. I shall focus on some of the difficulties that could arise within the regions. What planning and distribution of effort and benefit might there be within a region such as the north-west? Would a regional development agency have a role to perform in deciding what should go to Liverpool, Manchester or elsewhere? On what criteria would those decisions be based? The distribution of income, European grants, investment and the effort of marketing a region may differ greatly between urban and rural areas, but there are equally broad differences between the cities of Manchester and Liverpool and between those two great cities and the rest of the north-west.

Cumbria may be a special case. My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale said that in his constituency there was no clamour to be ruled from Newcastle. I can understand that, but nor is there any great desire to be tied to Manchester or Liverpool. Cumbria is a distinct area with its own interests and a far more rural heritage. There is no logic or sense in tying the north-west together under one regional development agency.

All that leads to a more important conclusion. If it is wrong to have a regional development agency for the north-west because the region has no collective identity, there must never be any suggestion of a new tier of regional government. If an RDA for the north-west is absurd, an elected assembly for the north-west is even more so. Nor is there any demand for it. Although I doubt that an RDA for the north-west will achieve very much for my constituents or the region, I very much hope that we will not have a further costly and unnecessary level of bureaucracy through the establishment of a regional chamber for the north-west.

8.35 pm
Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central)

My hon. Friend the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning has a personal commitment to developing an economic strategy for the English regions. I join my hon. Friends in congratulating him on introducing the Bill in the first Session of this Parliament. Like myself, the Minister represents a South Yorkshire constituency and the Bill will bring many benefits to our region.

At present, Britain is the only member of the European Union without regional decision making. In 1975, the Labour Government established development agencies in Scotland and Wales and the improved economic performance of those countries shows what can be achieved by development agencies. Even in the most severe days of Thatcherism there was no real effort to disband them. So in many senses the Bill is unfinished business from the 1975 Labour Government.

Recently, I visited Japan and spoke to business men who were considering locating factories in Britain. It was obvious that the Welsh Development Agency and Scottish Enterprise played a key role in shouting for their areas. I hope that hon. Members representing Scottish and Welsh constituencies will not mind my saying that my own area of South Yorkshire has just as much potential, but, without the resources of a development agency, finds it difficult to achieve the same profile with potential inward investors. That is why one of the strong messages from my region as a result of the consultation process carried out by my hon. Friend the Minister was that inward investment and the marketing of a region should be a core function of the regional development agency.

It is extraordinary that the Opposition's amendment states that the Bill will reduce inward investment when all the evidence is absolutely to the contrary. As other Labour Members have said, the Bill is not only about inward investment. Every region requires the tools to develop the potential of its indigenous economy. I believe that the Bill will be one of the key ways in which the Government can achieve their aim of full employment.

My region, Yorkshire and the Humber, has seen massive industrial and structural change in the past 20 years. South Yorkshire now achieves just 75 per cent. of the average European Union gross domestic product. That makes it eligible under current European laws for objective 1 status—the highest level of financial assistance available from the EU. As I am sure my hon. Friend the Minister is aware, there is concern that the change that is being considered by the EU may make areas such as South Yorkshire ineligible for objective 1 status. I wonder whether in her reply the UnderSecretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle) will assure me that the Government will do everything possible, especially during the United Kingdom presidency, to ensure that areas such as South Yorkshire can continue to achieve objective 1 status.

One of the major problems that will need to be tackled by the regional development agencies, and which is reflected in South Yorkshire's eligibility for objective 1 status is long-term unemployment. That is why I particularly welcome the fact that RDAs will be expected to develop a skills agenda within their regional economic strategies.

Huge industrial changes have occurred in my area, which means that the nature of work has changed. For example, in its heyday the rail engineering industry used to employ 5,000 people in Doncaster. Now it employs just a few hundred. British Rail Engineering Ltd. used to run a training school in conjunction with the local college which was recognised throughout Britain for the high level of skills training that it provided. That training supplied a skilled work force not only for Doncaster but for the whole of Yorkshire. I visited one of the plants of what remains of BREL the other week. Out of a work force of a few hundred, there were no apprentices. People can no longer rely on training for one industry and staying with one company for the whole of their working life. Technical advances mean that skills need constantly updating.

Yet employers complain that there is a skills shortage while unskilled and unemployed people lack opportunities for retraining and developing higher level skills. That problem has been highlighted today by the Association of British Chambers of Commerce. In any region, numerous organisations have responsibility for education and training. The problem is that there is often duplication of effort and lack of co-ordination in matching skills requirements to training. The RDAs will be able to provide a coherent strategic framework for skills development at regional level and bring together all the organisations that have responsibility for vocational training and education. That will enable a skills strategy to be drawn up to match training provision with skills required.

We are already seeing some move towards co-ordination of education and training organisations under the new deal proposals. Structures are being established to bring them together. Could the Minister comment on what role her Department could play in highlighting lessons that can be learnt from the success stories of the new deal? Certainly, the skills agenda will have to cater for those people who have been unemployed long term and those who have the lowest level of skills if the stated aims of reducing poverty and social exclusion are to be achieved.

In my constituency there are pockets of unemployment, some three times the national average, alongside fairly affluent areas. In the areas of unemployment, some 40 per cent. of people have been unemployed for more than a year. That is why it is extremely important to ensure that strategies for economic development link with skills strategies. Can the Minister tell us what types of powers will be granted to RDAs to ensure that economic strategies relieve local unemployment and improve local skills and prevent the importation of work forces, as has sometimes occurred under previous regeneration programmes?

One of the most positive developments to flow from the regional debate maintained by my hon. Friend the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning and my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has been the coming together of local authorities and others in regional assemblies. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) said, the regional assembly for Yorkshire and Humberside has carried out excellent work with other partners in the region and is drawing up a strategic framework for Yorkshire and Humberside for the next 10 years.

The assembly also hopes to be an integral part of the new regional chamber. There is a desire, however, as reflected in the report of the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs on RDAs, that regional government should be established as soon as possible. Perhaps the Under-Secretary can give us an idea of when the Government hope to be able to introduce it.

The establishment of the RDAs will bring considerable benefits to my area. It has great potential, but all its possibilities can be realised only within the framework of strategic regional planning. The Bill will enable that long-awaited strategic planning to take place at last.

8.44 pm
Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

It is always a pleasure to listen to such debates because there always comes a point, particularly when listening to Labour Members, when one arrives at the reason for the introduction of legislation. The hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton) finally gave us the answer—the Bill has been introduced to complete unfinished business from the Labour Government of 1975.

That thought had already occurred to me. I started work as a civil servant at the Department of Trade and Industry and I was introduced into a division called Industrial Planning. My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) said that the Bill represented the resuscitation of planning, in this case on a regional scale. I had the same feeling when the hon. Lady talked about the 1970s.

I have the same feeling about regional development grants because I worked in the branch that gave £110 million to Sullom Voe, and for what? The money was spent on a project that went ahead in any case. We abolished such grants.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) spoke about what the Conservative Government did to help the Thames corridor, Docklands and places such as Corby, which has been subject to long-term competitive decline. Because of the Conservative Government's efforts, an enormous amount of inward investment was attracted to those areas, although that was not the sole improvement introduced by our Government. The hon. Members for Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East (Dr. Kumar) and for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) suggested that inward investment was the only saving grace of the previous Conservative Government, but that Government encouraged a great deal of indigenous activity that occurred alongside such investment, such as sub-contracting. Such efforts are part of the means of securing inward investment.

As time is short, I should like to talk about inward investment, not because I consider it is the only aspect worth mentioning, but because it reveals what is at the heart of one of the problems associated with the Bill. I am afraid that the Bill is a case of "not proven". In the introduction to the Government's White Paper, the Deputy Prime Minister offered a far from comprehensive and exhaustive set of reasons for why an inward investment project might come to the United Kingdom. He spoke about the co-ordination of potential sites, finance, training and services such as transport and power supplies. That begs the question about what causes inward investment to be awarded to United Kingdom projects.

I remember standing next to the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in 1984 when he signed the heads of agreement with Nissan. Many factors contributed to that deal. Let us consider how many of them will be changed in substance by the establishment of regional development agencies, which will replace existing structures and arrangements.

Let us consider regional selective assistance. Will it be provided by the RDAs and eventually determined by them? No. It will be determined by Government Departments as it has been in the past. As for the infrastructure, which we know is always important to the prospect of inward investment, will it be provided by the RDAs? No, in large part it will be provided at the behest of the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions through its borrowing approvals. It will also be provided by county and other local authorities in accordance with their local plans.

Is the planning framework that will determine which areas or zones are to be available for industrial or business use to be determined by the regional development agency? No it is not. As now, such decisions will be made under planning legislation—at least I hope they will, although there is some speculation to the contrary. They will essentially be the product of strategic planning guidance leading to structure plans and planning decisions via a democratic framework inside local government.

Is the training framework to be delivered by the regional development agency? No, it is not, because training and enterprise councils will remain outside the RDAs. Having created TECs, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) initiated, it would be a retrograde step for them now to be subordinated to a Government-controlled quango. That would run contrary to the principle of business-led skills and training that was always at the heart of TECs, so RDAs will not be delivering training. The hon. Member for Doncaster, Central says that the RDA can cause a region's training and education bodies to come together and talk to each other. That might not happen in Yorkshire, but in my part of the world training and education bodies already talk to one another and it does not require a regional development agency to make that happen.

There is a case for co-ordination in these matters and, although much of that co-ordination already takes place, there have been gaps. Members of Parliament representing the south-west have talked about what used to be called the Devon and Cornwall development company and we have heard about the Northern development company. In Scotland and Wales, bodies have been established that were designed specifically for the purposes of attracting inward investment and bringing together and co-ordinating activity to sustain inward investment projects.

In the east of England, there was a lack of such a body, although there was no lack of interest in inward investment. The hon. Member for Huddersfield talked about the importance of universities as a stimulus to development, but no part of the country is more aware than Cambridge of how a university can be a focus for investment. Our problem in East Anglia is not the availability of investment, but the availability of land for development. Sometimes, we have development projects that are not willing to travel an extra 10 or 15 miles and locate in a more distant and peripheral location, rather than in the specific location that they find desirable because of its proximity to markets, high-technology and infrastructure. Therefore, there was a case for looking at the regional mechanisms whereby infrastructure could be created and sites packaged so as to take the large amounts of inward investment wanting to come to East Anglia in support of the Cambridge phenomenon and spread that phenomenon to a greater extent.

The East of England Inward Investment Agency was created and I was interested to read the evidence of that agency. It said that it was happy with the prospect of a regional development agency; but it was happy because the RDA would, in effect, subcontract to the existing agency the business of co-ordinating a relationship with inward investment projects. Therefore, as we examine inward investment projects and consider what functions must be carried out in relation to them, we find that they are already being carried out by existing bodies, which were created for perfectly good reasons in different places and which are perfectly capable of co-ordinating with each other.

It is interesting to consider what caused all those bodies to tell Ministers that they thought that RDAs were a good idea. I would say first that Ministers should not believe their own propaganda. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield made it clear that those who responded to the consultation exercise were collectively making job applications, but I would put it another way: just because people are kow-towing to him, the emperor should not conclude that he is wearing clothes. During the debate on the Greater London Authority (Referendum) Bill, the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) talked about the prospect of the terracotta army and people are responding to the prospect of RDAs in the same way. They know that the Bill will be passed and that RDAs will come into being and they do not want to be on the wrong side—but that does not mean that the emperor has clothes. It is our job, when the emperor does not have clothes, to expose the nakedness of the Government's intentions.

Our attitude is not negative to the legislation or to regional development activity. Our party supported the Welsh Development Agency, the Invest in Britain Bureau, Locate in Scotland, and the urban development corporations. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing said so clearly, we have understood the case for focused activity where there is a defined need and we can add value.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) mentioned the letter from the Confederation of British Industry. Later in that letter, the CBI said: the key test for RDAs will be whether they add value. That is exactly my point: will they add value? I submit that the evidence so far suggests that they will not, and that the legislation is merely a stalking horse for regional government by Labour authorities, who will be able to point to a body with growing powers and say that it should be made more democratic—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat.

8.55 pm
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

Regional development agencies will breathe new life into the regions of England. They will provide a focus for integrated development, investing in companies and in skills training and retraining, developing appropriate property and sites, and supporting commerce and industry. They will do that to support and develop existing business as well as attracting new business.

I am an enthusiast for regional development agencies, because I have seen at first hand what they can do. Between 1981 and 1997, I was leader of Lancashire county council, and from 1982 I was the unpaid vice chairman and director of Lancashire Enterprises, the economic development company set up by the council in that year. It was set up originally as a company limited by guarantee, but following hostile legislation from the Conservative Government, in the form of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, a plc was formed as well, with the county council-controlled company owning around 19.9 per cent. of the equity, the maximum allowed, to enable it to continue to operate effectively.

Over those years, I saw what Lancashire Enterprises, working as an economic development agency with the public and private sectors, could achieve. I saw thousands of jobs saved at Leyland Trucks after the collapse of Leyland DAF; defence diversification in partnership with British Aerospace; regeneration of the Leeds-Liverpool canal; inner-city regeneration at Whitecross in Lancaster; the setting up of 10 investment funds with the private sector, some of which—including the Rosebud fund, which raised £5 of private finance for every £1 of public finance invested—were particularly concerned with the needs of small businesses; more than £30 million of European funding coming directly to Lancashire businesses; support for hundreds of small and medium enterprises; and the setting up of a co-operative development agency.

In all, the company directly supported about 26,000 jobs, 24,000 training places and the building up of £40 million of public assets. It operated as an investment-led rather than a grant-giving agency.

In the north-west, there is widespread support for a regional development agency. That support comes from public, private and voluntary sector stakeholders throughout the region: stakeholders who have been working together on a regional basis for the past six years, through the North-West Regional Association and the North-West Partnership. They include local government; the Confederation of British Industry; the chambers of commerce; the business leadership team; Co-operative Enterprises North-West; the North-West Trades Union Congress; higher education; and training and enterprise councils.

All those stakeholders, working together, do not accept that it is right for the north-west to have a low gross domestic product per head. They do not accept that it is acceptable for the north-west to have a low rate of company formation and new company survival. They do not accept the record of poor inward investment to the north-west and they are extremely worried about reports of skill shortages in all sectors—including shortages of operatives, professionals and management.

All those stakeholders want to work with a regional development agency that can focus on developing the strengths of the region, an agency that can help the region to restructure from its industrial past to a new industrial future with regeneration. Those stakeholders want an agency to help manufacturing industry, to develop our strong science base and strong vehicle manufacturing base, to support the new industries in media and in culture, to build on the base of high technology and to ensure that the vast array of knowledge in our institutions of higher and further education is used and developed commercially to the maximum.

The regional development agency should continue working on technology transfer with such major companies as British Aerospace and British Nuclear Fuels, ensuring that the vast reservoir of skills and knowledge in major companies is used not only within those companies but, with the support of those companies, to support additional companies and enterprises.

Regeneration is taking place in the north-west. In my constituency, a great deal is happening, and much is happening locally with local people in local communities. However, the strength of a regional development agency is that it can act sometimes as a prime mover, sometimes as a partner, sometimes as an organisation putting together packages of public and private sector support to help individual companies or sectors of industry. A regional development agency is there to react when a problem arises and to anticipate problems in the regional economy.

One reason why there is such strong support for a north-west development agency throughout the north-west is that for six years, all the stakeholders that I have mentioned—in the public, private and voluntary sectors—working together, have developed an economic strategy that not only deals with the north-west region as a whole but identifies the specific needs of each part of the region. Although the north-west as a whole has major needs, including transport and environmental needs, there are also many differing needs in the Manchester area, the Lancashire area, Merseyside, Cumbria and Cheshire. The work that has been done in the past six years by all the stakeholders together has shown that it is possible to have an effective regional strategy that takes into account the specific needs of different parts of the region.

During the past six years, that strategy has developed into action. A major transport study has just been published based on the work that was done. A private sector-led working party is working now on regional innovation, ready for a regional development agency. A working party on social exclusion is about to report. The work that has taken place during the past six years with the North-West Regional Association and the North-West Partnership has shown how influence can be exerted.

There have been some specific achievements, such as the establishment of a north-west office in Brussels, bringing additional funding, and the creation of a network of technology centres, which are already starting to operate around the north-west—but how much more could be done with a regional development agency. The existing structure has influence and is starting to have effect, but we really need an executive authority working as the regional development agency. The White Paper and the Bill refer to the importance of a regional chamber. I believe that that is an essential part of the programme for a regional development agency.

In the work that has been done in the north-west with the North-West Partnership and the North-West Regional Association, we have demonstrated the very important role that a regional chamber can play. Therefore, it is extremely important that the Minister uses his powers to ensure that the regional development agency links with the proposed regional chambers.

We in the north-west are far advanced. Now we need to develop the regional chambers, based on current structures. Stakeholders have already said how they think they should operate, so there will be an interplay between those in the region—elected members, other stakeholders—and the RDA.

The proposal for RDAs has widespread national support. It has the support of the Local Government Association, representing local government across the country; of the private sector and the voluntary sector; and of the trade union movement. This is an excellent Bill, part of the process of revitalising the regions and of devolution. I support it and I urge the Minister—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady must resume her seat.

9.5 pm

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)

I begin by declaring an interest as an adviser to the Rural Development Commission before I was elected to the House, and as a recently appointed member of my regional Country Landowners Association committee.

Having listened to the debate, I think that the Government are living in a fool's paradise. I wish that Labour Members were right in all their noble hopes and their aspirations for these regional development agencies, but the road to hell—on this occasion, perhaps, the electronic super-highway to hell—is paved with good intentions. I honestly believe that Labour hopes and aspirations are seriously misplaced. Although I wish that they were right, it is impossible to legislate for economic growth at 3 per cent. and inflation at less than 2 per cent. The real world is a messy and complicated place which cannot be resolved by simplistic, bureaucratic structures of the kind the Government seek to impose on the country.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) made much of the fact that there has been support from outside bodies, but my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) spoke of the danger of the emperor believing that he had clothes just because people kow-towed to him. I urge the Minister and the Labour party to listen to what is really being said to the Government in the consultation period, because it is much more complicated than they believe. I am reminded of the words of Simon and Garfunkel in "The Boxer"—possibly an appropriate song for the Deputy Prime Minister: A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest". Listen to what the National Farmers Union says in its letter to hon. Members about the RDAs: There has been much concern in rural areas that the RDAs will be unduly biased towards urban concerns, and that the legitimate interests of the rural areas may be overlooked or sidelined. That is hardly a robust statement of support.

It is true that the CLA, in its letter to Members, generally welcomed the Bill, but it went on to say: The CLA highlights outstanding concerns for rural communities and businesses which must be addressed in this Bill, its implementation and the day to day activities of the RDAs". The Deputy Prime Minister made some highly regrettable remarks about the Rural Development Commission in his statement about the Bill to the House. Indeed, I wrote to him asking for an apology for what he had said about Lord Shuttleworth, but no such apology has been forthcoming. In any case, the CLA said: The Government must demonstrate at Second Reading and beyond that the RDAs will be at least as committed as the RDC to these programmes"— of rural regeneration— and that the effect on rural areas will be a benefit, not a loss. No such demonstration has been made today, and I am more concerned than ever about the negative impact that the RDAs will have on the rural areas of England.

Listen to the rest of the CLA's letter: The Government should be pressed … the Government must confirm … the Government should be pressed … if these powers are to he justified … the Government should be pressed"— hardly a ringing endorsement from an outside body, and I suspect that other representations that the Government have received are in the same terms, if they will only listen to them with an open mind, not the closed mind that they have exhibited so far.

The rural question is at the heart of the fundamental flaw in the Bill. The Bill may be fabulous for Birmingham, the west midlands, Dudley and the black country. If I represented those urban areas, I might well be arguing for the Bill myself, because it would offer me the opportunity to draw resources from rural areas into the urban heartland. But what about the rural question? I was grateful to the Minister when I intervened in his opening speech. He said that if specific ideas were proposed to improve the situation for the rural areas under the Bill, the Government would listen to them. Let me put forward four specific issues now. I appreciate that in the short winding-up speeches tonight, there will be no opportunity to reply to them in detail, so may I have a response in writing from the Minister on these four specific points?

First, clause 4 could be significantly strengthened in line with the commitment to the rural areas that the Government have expressed in the past, to make it clear that that commitment is not just words, but reality. A strengthening of the commitment in clause 4(2) would do much to reassure me that that was the case.

Secondly, membership of the RDA boards has been discussed extensively in the debate, and rightly so. How can the relatively small boards covering such large areas represent such a diversity of economic activity, special interests and the counties and authorities that comprise the regions? Each RDA board must include at least one rural member. That could be specified in the Bill, and would be a useful step forward.

Thirdly, what about the important work that the RDC has done in identifying rural needs, monitoring them and reporting back to the Department of the Environment, now the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions? It would be extremely helpful if the Government could say specifically how the RDAs will be expected to assess rural needs, and to monitor and report on rural conditions and on what they have done each year to address those rural needs. Will needy rural areas continue to be determined nationally on the advice of the RDC, if it still exists—we are waiting to hear whether it will or not—or by its successor body, or will that be left to individual RDAs to decide? If so, I fear for those rural areas.

Fourthly, what about funding? We have heard a lot about the desperate attempt to claw money into the RDAs from various pots around Whitehall. Will the funds transferred from the RDC for rural regeneration be ring-fenced for rural regeneration within the RDAs? If not, why not? Those are the issues which the Government must address if they are to reassure my constituents that the RDAs will not act against the interests of rural areas.

In addition, the Bill raises a series of worrying issues, such as the regional chamber concept, which makes matters worse for the rural areas. We have a very effective chamber of commerce in Hereford and Worcester, which was developed out of the TEC and merged with the local chamber, and is doing a first-rate job for the local economy.

Am I seriously hearing from the Treasury Bench that the Government want to merge such rural chambers into some super-regional chamber, where again the rural interest will be subsumed in the urban heartland of the regional chamber? The concept of a regional chamber is fundamentally flawed. Are we to have regional chambers, and local chambers as well? If so, no business men will serve on the local chambers, because they will constantly be overridden by the regional chambers. No business man worth his salt would serve on the local chamber. Again, the rural chambers will suffer.

Why, for heaven's sake, are the Government playing into the hands of the European Union's federal ambitions for Europe? A leaflet published two years ago by the European Commission was entitled "The west midlands—a region of the European Union." With respect, the west midlands—a concept which is useful in planning terms—has no historic or cultural tradition and no relevance to the people of Worcestershire. If it exists at all, it is a region not of the European Union, but of the United Kingdom.

Do the Government not understand that the Bill sidelines this place? It gives more power to Brussels, and it takes power away from Parliament and hands it to the placemen whom the Secretary of State will appoint to the RDAs.

Look at the duplication that already exists. Wychavon district council in my constituency has an economic regeneration function. Worcestershire county council has an economic section. The Government will still have the Department of Trade -and Industry and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to decide some of the most important issues. Four tiers will be concerned with economic development and regeneration in my area. Where is the sense in that? It is just bureaucrats making jobs for bureaucrats and doing nothing for business.

Poor old Worcestershire is caught between the Government's "economic powerhouse for Wales"—to use the words in the White Paper—and the grandiose ambitions of Birmingham. Worcestershire does not belong to the west midlands or to anything else—it is sui generis: of its own. In that sense, it is rather like Gloucestershire next door. Perhaps the Government should consider being more flexible about the number of RDAs—after all, the Bill will pass and we will have these wretched things. Perhaps we should have a mid-west RDA, rather than a south-west or a west midlands RDA; it could take proper account of the interests of essentially rural counties such as Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire.

I accept the strictures from Labour Members about our attitude to local government. Perhaps the former Conservative Government made some mistakes in that area in the past 18 years; perhaps we did not do enough. However, if Labour Members were really concerned about helping local communities to develop their economic infrastructure, they would have given the powers to county councils. Instead of doing that, the Government plan to impose them on RDAs that will do nothing except create a few jobs for bureaucrats. I wish the Bill every failure.

9.15 pm
Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Rothwell)

We have only to contrast the last two speeches—the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) denied the existence of the regions and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) pointed to the many achievements of Lancashire Enterprise and the great difference that it has made to the economy of Lancashire—to appreciate the balance of debate in the Chamber today.

After 18 years of Conservative government, whose economic mismanagement did so much to create the present disparity of income between the different English regions and which ensured that any initiatives to redress that at local government level were either frustrated or, in the case of metropolitan counties, abolished outright, it is a relief to have before us a Bill that vests some responsibility and some authority in the regions to tackle their economic development needs.

There is much that is very welcome in the Bill and in the White Paper, "Building Partnerships for Prosperity"—not least the RDAs' responsibility for drawing up a strategy for economic development that serves every region and is both economically and environmentally sustainable. I also look forward to a significant role for RDAs in the transport White Paper and to the leading role that RDAs have been promised under a new system of allocating EU structural funds from 2000.

However, I am concerned to ensure that RDAs are given sufficient flexibility and empowerment to make their economic strategy work to best effect. I am particularly concerned about that in the context of Scottish and Welsh devolution, which I strongly support. I fear that, in the context of a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly, the Bill may not go far enough to prevent England and its regions from falling further behind the Scots and the Welsh in promoting economic development.

A great deal has been said today about inward investment. I spent a number of years as the chair of the Yorkshire and Humberside regional development association, which had responsibility for inward investment. Regional selective assistance will remain the preserve of Whitehall and its offices in the regions, while the role of the RDAs will be to provide advice to the President of the Board of Trade to ensure that regional economic strategy is taken into account when support for individual companies is being considered. That will not be the position in Scotland and Wales.

Personal experience in seeking and securing Japanese investment in Yorkshire and Humberside tells me that, when faced with Scottish Enterprise or a Welsh Development Agency that is able to take decisions in house or an English RDA that must go to the Department of Trade and Industry for approval for any incentive packages, Japanese business men or other potential investors might prefer to deal with those parts of the United Kingdom that are directly empowered to act. We are committed to providing a level playing field for inward investment. I hope that there will be clear answers about how we shall achieve that aim in the context of the Bill and those powers granted by other legislation.

I am concerned about the way in which regional skills are developed, and I support the comments about training and enterprise councils and about RDAs and higher education matters. I am also concerned that Treasury restraint on regional development agencies may be responsible for some disparity of powers. As the YHDA was very successful in securing a large amount of private sector investment, has any thought been given to the way in which. RDAs might acquire private investment? In those circumstances, the way in which the Treasury dealt with their expenditure might mean that they would be less dependent on the public sector borrowing requirement.

I welcome the proposal that RDA boards will draw in all the regional stakeholders, including local councillors. I would not want local government figures to dominate RDAs or to exercise control over their work, but it is important that there is some regional accountability. I believe strongly, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside, that the regional chambers must represent all stakeholders and that ultimately we must give responsibility to directly elected regional assemblies.

It is important to ensure that the needs of the regions are being properly met by both direct access and by the accountability of the democratically elected representatives of the regions and their distinct parts. More needs to be done to build on the good work of the Northern regional assembly, the parallel organisations that exist in the north-west, and, more lately, the Yorkshire and Humberside regional assembly. It is important that they are more than bodies that are merely listened to. I hope that the time will come when they have greater significance, or when their successors have greater significance.

If we deny RDAs adequate power by giving them insufficient control over regional development purse strings, they may not be seen to be successful. If we give them power without responsibility, they may fail to be the efficient and rational promoters of economic development that we would wish. If that were to happen, the cause of regional accountability would be set back, along with our hopes of securing genuine democratisation of the regions.

The best policy must surely be to give RDAs the opportunity at least to secure powers that are adequate to their brief, including some of the jealously guarded powers of the Department of Trade and Industry. We must make them accountable to the regional chambers but not their playthings. That will help to ensure that the chambers serve as a bridgehead to directly elected regional assemblies.

9.22 pm
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

It is an irony that the debate should follow two days of consideration of the Scotland Bill. That measure was accurately described by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who has been in his place for most of this debate about English matters. The hon. Gentleman described the Scotland Bill in a devastating indictment of the devolution cause as the paving Bill for the dissolution of the United Kingdom. —[Official Report, 12 January 1998; Vol. 95, c. 85.] I agree with him entirely.

The essential hallmark of the Government's programme is a raft of policies that are designed to break up the United Kingdom. Devolution, regional government and closer integration with Europe all lead inexorably to that destination. At its core is Scottish devolution.

I have three key objections to the Bill. The first is that it is irrelevant to the needs of England. Secondly, it is ill considered. It substantially extends the power of central Government to control powerful regional quangos and it threatens the currently democratically elected councils. Thirdly, and perhaps most important, it significantly increases the prospect of European federalism by dividing England into bite-sized chunks for European federalism to be swallowed up by Brussels.

I shall briefly deal with each of the issues that I have mentioned.

Mr. Caborn

It is only an RDA Bill.

Mr. Howarth

The Minister says from a sedentary position that it is only an RDA Bill, but it confers on him and his colleagues in the Government substantial powers of patronage, and paves the way for further organisations, such as elected regional assemblies, which will be the instruments of the break-up of the Kingdom.

The Bill's principal purpose is to give a spurious legitimacy to the transfer of powers exercised by Westminster to Edinburgh. Proposals that England should suffer the same affliction arising out of Scottish devolution are not new. As the hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton) said earlier, that was part of the agenda of the last Labour Government, who, in 1976, issued a Green Paper, "Devolution: the English Dimension", which considered the implications for England of Scottish and Welsh devolution and suggested a number of options for devolution in England. None of the options was pursued, but, as she rightly pointed out, the Bill is picking up a 1970s agenda.

Today, there remains no enthusiasm for devolution in England, save, as has been suggested, in some parts of the north of England. I do not have constituents beating a path to my door in Aldershot, saying, "What we must have, Mr. Howarth, is a regional assembly for Aldershot and the south-east." It is not an issue for them. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) made the point that there is already substantial voluntary activity between the public and private sector to promote the cause for that particular region, so there is no necessity to have an RDA for that purpose.

While some in the north may be in favour, I can tell the Minister that my own county council in Hampshire has declared its outright hostility to the outline proposals for regional government in England that the Bill foreshadows; many others have expressed grave reservations about the proposals, although these are not included in the White Paper, of course. The British chambers of commerce; those representing rural interests; even Labour councils concerned at the democratic deficit resulting from the massive extension of "quangoland" created by the Bill: they have all made it clear that they have reservations. Indeed, the Local Government Association has expressed reservations about the Bill.

There has been an extraordinary rewriting of history by the Government, as though nothing happened in the 18 years of Conservative government, during which we saw the most massive investment in industrial and manufacturing jobs in the United Kingdom, including, for example, Honda, Nissan and Toyota. None of those required an RDA to bring them to the United Kingdom. What brought them here were the policies pursued by central Government for labour market flexibility, control of inflation and for good infrastructure and the best communications in the world. [Interruption.]

The Minister says, "What about Scotland?" I am pointing out that much of that great investment in this country came here notwithstanding the fact that there was no development agency. That brings me to my second point about the Bill's intrinsic defects.

Although the Government's real agenda is to create directly elected regional assemblies, they cannot do so in the Bill because they have no mandate for that. In the absence of such a mandate, they plan to create a series of massive quangos giving Ministers vast powers of patronage.

Recognising that interest in regional government is largely confined to the north of England, and that there is outright hostility elsewhere, the Deputy Prime Minister intends to create a patchwork of constitutional confusion throughout England. Parts of the north will have regional assemblies, the south will have no truck with it, and the south-west will be locked in permanent argument about which side of the Tamar the Assembly is to be located—assuming that they can agree that one is in their interests.

The forerunners of regional assemblies will add a further expensive tier of bureaucracy to this country. We face the prospect of powers going to these authorities. None of those powers will come from central Government, but they will have to come from somewhere—from local authorities, which are already working responsibly in this area.

Hampshire county council has made the point that it is working voluntarily with other organisations to achieve some of the strategic objectives that the Bill seeks to formalise under the RDAs. For example, it is co-operating with organisations such as Serplan, and recently the south-east regional forum. Hampshire county council says that the establishment by the Government of additional bodies to replace that activity would be both unnecessary and expensive. I agree with the county about that.

Let me return to the third point that I raised. I believe that, whether by design—I do not know whether it is by design—or by inadvertence or, indeed, by incompetence, these proposals will give heart to those who want the sovereignty of these islands to be diminished, and the United Kingdom to be consumed by a federal European structure. My hon. Friend the Member for MidWorcestershire (Mr. Luff) referred to a document. This is a serious issue, and I do not believe that the people of England realise what is happening.

The people do not realise that this Parliament will be dominated by constitutional change—and one of the constitutional changes will be the Bill, which will split up the United Kingdom into chunks that are convenient for the administrative purposes of the European Union. Only Christopher Booker, in The Sunday Telegraph, has made that point, but it poses a real danger to the people of Britain, and the Bill represents the key to that danger.

9.30 pm
Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk)

We have had an excellent debate, in which hon. Members from all quarters have raised many questions. I hope that, in the time available, the Minister will answer some of them.

The debate was, in my view, marred only by the extraordinary and rather churlish refusal by some Labour Members to acknowledge the superb economic inheritance that the present Government have enjoyed, uniquely among post-war Administrations. It made it clear that this is a Bill for which there is little public demand and no rational case. It is a Bill which creates nine new quangos that are unlikely to attract a single pound of new investment. It is a Bill which—as the Chairman of the Select Committee, who is not present now, and the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) both recognised—conspicuously fails to make those quangos accountable. It is a Bill which—as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) just pointed out—massively increases the powers of the Secretary of State and the role of central Government, and erodes the powers of local authorities. It is a Bill which reflects the Government's continuing hostility to the countryside.

It is also a Bill which—as my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) and other Conservative Members pointed out—has been presented solely because the Government remain totally unable to answer the East Lothian question. [HON. MEMBERS: "West Lothian."] All right, the West Lothian question, but I prefer East Lothian, myself.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) explained, this is a Bill which creates regions whose boundaries have no logical basis. It is a Bill whose premises ignore the recent history of investment growth in England's regions, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) so knowledgeably demonstrated.

This Government have inherited the control of a country which is enjoying record levels of inward investment. One might think, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," but this Government are very uncomfortable when they see an unrivalled success story that stems solely and directly from Conservative policies, so they decide to meddle. They are, after all, the Government who sent the hon. Member for Coventry, NorthWest (Mr. Robinson) to abolish personal equity plans and tax-exempt special savings accounts—and it is the right hon. Member for Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), whom I welcome to the debate, who is now ending the policies that have made our country the envy of the European Union because of our ability to attract inward investment at a greater rate than any other European country.

For a decade, this country has enjoyed new investment at a rate of £200 million a week. As my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) asked so powerfully, how and why do the Government think that the nine new quangos will increase new investment? By how much will our record share of foreign investment increase as a result of the creation of regional development agencies? How, indeed, will the Government prevent the kind of damaging competition between the individual RDAs that was described so clearly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry)?

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have stressed the lack of accountability of the proposed RDAs, and that is one of the most serious weaknesses of the Bill. The only reference to parliamentary scrutiny is in clause 17, which requires the Secretary of State to lay each RDA's annual report before the House. What will that document contain? The Bill states that the report will contain

such information as the Secretary of State may specify by directions to the agency". There we have it. The Government, who have often boasted of their commitment to greater openness, are establishing nine new, unaccountable bodies which will wield considerable powers and control significant budgets, and are apparently intended to achieve great things. That same Government have decided that all that Parliament can be told about those bodies is what the Secretary of State decides it is safe to disclose. Clause 17 makes the Minister without Portfolio's approach to the running of the millennium dome look like a shining example of transparency.

The use to which regional development agencies put their compulsory purchase powers, the dangers of which were trenchantly exposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley), will be described to the House of Commons only in terms specified by the Secretary of State.

Sadly, these quangos will be no more accountable to the regions. Clause 18, which is hilariously entitled "Regional accountability", says that if there is a regional chamber, the Secretary of State can specify, through directions, what information the RDA can give it. If that chamber asks any questions, the Secretary of State will specify in what manner the agencies will answer them. The Secretary of State will even specify where RDAs should hold their public meetings. He will give guidance and direction about how those meetings are to be conducted.

Is that what the Secretary of State meant—I am not sure where he has just gone—when he wrote in his introduction to the White Paper that the Government were elected to democratise decision making? Is it what he meant when he claimed:

We believe that these tasks cannot all be directed from London"? Will the Minister tell us whether she agrees with the views of the North Durham Labour party in its response to the consultation document? It said:

We believe that the mechanisms of accountability proposed in the Consultation Document are palpably inadequate". The truth is that the Bill involves a huge increase in the powers of the Secretary of State. Although the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning said that the Government trusted the people, clause 2 gives the Secretary of State the sole power to appoint the regional development agency boards. Clause 7 enables the Secretary of State alone to dictate the strategies that RDAs should follow. Clause 8 allows the Secretary of State alone to decide whom the regional development agencies should consult. Clauses 9 to 13 give the Secretary of State total financial control over the RDAs, even to the point of telling them how they should keep their books—and so on throughout every part of the Bill.

A great deal of the parliamentary draftsmen's time could have been saved if the Bill had been cut to a single clause saying that the Secretary of State shall have the power to establish and run RDAs as he sees fit without the tedious inconvenience of informing Parliament of what he is doing.

Furthermore, the Bill shows how comprehensively the Secretary of State and his ministerial team were routed in the interdepartmental war inside Whitehall. His colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry must be laughing up their sleeves. They conceded nothing: not a single power, nor a penny of their budget. Even regional selective assistance remains under DTI control.

More serious than that is the fact that some of the powers that the Secretary of State will exercise—or will tell the RDAs how to exercise—will have been seized directly from local authorities. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing said, they include planning powers, which is a flagrant breach of the commitment in the White Paper published only weeks before the Bill. It said that planning would remain clearly under local democratic control, so that is another promise which Labour has broken.

In response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning tried to claim that the planning powers proposed for the regional development agencies are no different from those currently exercised by English Partnerships. Will the Under-Secretary confirm in her winding-up speech that section 159 of the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993 severely circumscribes the kind of land over which English Partnerships may exercise those powers? Will she amend the Bill so that it contains similar limits on regional development agencies, and will she admit that the Minister of State was misleading the House when he claimed that the powers to be given to RDAs were the same as those that were already exercised? [Interruption.]

Will the Minister also confirm that the press have been invited to the Department for a private briefing tomorrow afternoon on planning issues? Will that briefing cover the use of planning powers by regional development agencies?

Mr. Bennett

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Opposition spokesman to accuse my hon. Friend the Minister of misleading the House?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

To my hearing, he did it indirectly and not in an infamous way, so I let it pass.

Mr. Yeo

I shall now turn to another of the Bill's glaring weaknesses—the relationship of RDAs to rural communities, an issue eloquently highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman).

As the Secretary of State was unable to persuade any other Department to contribute a penny to the RDA budgets, he plundered the budgets of an agency that is under his direct control. His attack on the Rural Development Commission provoked the resignation of its chairman, my noble Friend Lord Shuttleworth. As my hon. Friend the Member for MidWorcestershire (Mr. Luff) said, the Secretary of State literally added insult to injury by his extraordinarily ungracious slur on the work of my noble Friend.

I welcome the fact that the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) at least paid tribute in his speech to the work of the Rural Development Commission. Unfortunately, it is the right hon. Gentleman's party which has effectively dismembered that commission. It has seized the commission's rural regeneration programme, which constitutes more than half the commission's budget, and that renders the RDC rump scarcely viable.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) rightly raised the concern about how the cash that was taken from the RDC will be used. Will the Minister confirm that that money from the RDC budget will go back into rural areas, and will not be diverted into towns?

The White Paper states that the regional development agency boards will have 12 members, although the Bill provides for up to 15. The White Paper says: each RDA Board will include at least one member who can contribute a strong rural perspective,". That is an extraordinary insight into the Government's attitude to the countryside. Never mind that one person in five lives there and that four fifths of the land area is rural: in the Government's mind, a token board member is sufficient to discharge their responsibilities to the rural community.

In its response to the consultation paper, the Consortium of Rural TECs stated:

There are concerns that the Regional Development Agency model may increase the focus on inner cities and fail to address the needs of the communities in the rural areas. There are widespread fears that the RDAs will be urban-based bodies that will focus on urban issues. Like many of my hon. Friends, I represent a rural seat. I live in a small village, and the fear in that rural community is that RDAs are another plank in the Government's strategy to urbanise Britain, first through the planning system, and secondly by starving the rural areas of resources by changes to the revenue support grant and in other ways. Thirdly, they will change the character of the countryside by banning traditional recreations.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield said when he opened for the Opposition, the Government have a longer-term agenda. Behind a smokescreen of claims that they favour decentralisation and want bodies that are accountable to the regions, they are conducting an exercise whose long-term aim seems to be to increase ministerial control, expand quangos, empower bureaucrats and undermine local government.

The Government's plans for the eventual creation of regional assemblies remain hazy, perhaps because they have not yet decided how those bodies will fit into what remains of this United Kingdom after the Labour party, pursuing its own narrow party political interests, has finished trying to smash the Union. Perhaps it is waiting to see whether the European Union evolves into a Europe of regions rather than a Europe of nation states. Whatever the reason, the confusion, the secrecy and the deceit that characterise the way in which the Government are edging towards regional assemblies should be ended forthwith.

This is a bad Bill. It implements a mistaken policy; it inhibits rather than encourages investment; it increases the power of Ministers; it reduces the accountability of Government; it cuts back on the role of local authorities—in short, it has nothing to recommend it. I commend the Opposition amendment, and I invite the House to reject the Bill.

9.44 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Angela Eagle)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sarwar) on his maiden speech. I agree with him when he abhors racial prejudice and the development of Islamaphobia. I also agree with his desire to ensure that ethnic minorities are treated equally and given a fair chance.

This has been an interesting debate, but there has not been a consensus across the Floor on what the Bill is about. Indeed, I wonder whether Tory Members live in the same world as the rest of us. It has been an interesting spectacle. The Tory militants now occupy the Front Bench as well as parts of the Back Benches. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) was quite hysterical—he made Baroness Thatcher look like a wet liberal. He and the hon. Members for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley), for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) and for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) demonstrated a Eurosceptical paranoia of epic proportions, putting all sorts of connotations on the Bill—[Interruption.] How could I forget the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth)? I shall put him in with the rest of them. They were joined—worryingly for the future of the Tory party, but it has to resolve its own difficulties—by the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) and, as ever, the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo).

We should contrast the hysterical meanderings of those hon. Members with the extremely interesting and thoughtful speech by the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), who brings a great deal of expertise to these matters—[Interruption.] I am sorry to embarrass the right hon. Gentleman, but his contribution was thoughtful and full of the expertise he has gained from being in office. It is a problem for the Tory party that, in the extreme party that it has become, the right hon. Gentleman is unable to take a seat on the Front Bench. I hope that the Opposition will allow him his voice and that he will serve on the Standing Committee, so that we can have some constructive discussions.

The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield could not decide whether the Bill was the end of democracy as we know it or a damp squib. He asked why the RDAs were not accountable, while also saying that we had gone too far in creating them. He cannot have it both ways. The Bill is essentially evolutionary. It is not the final say on regional government; it is the beginning of what we hope will be an evolutionary process that will lead to the creation of regional government that will make our regional economies more focused strategically and more able to act efficiently, thereby giving to the people of the regions the higher living standards that this Government believe they deserve.

The right hon. Gentleman read out a long list of figures for inward investment, but failed to mention that the Bill is about the English regions. Most of the figures that he quoted included Scotland and Wales. The issue is not only about inward investment, important though that is; it is about creating a structure that allows us to foster our own local businesses so that we can be more dependent on our own resources and have a flexible economy that can react to the economic cycles that occur in a global economy.

The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield talked so much about the remarkable revolution of the Conservatives' 18 years in office that I wondered why they suffered a landslide loss in the general election and face a 178-seat Labour majority in the House. They enjoyed the worst electoral result since 1906, and the worst performance in seats since 1832. If that is a remarkable revolution, let us hope that there are more of them, particularly when we get round to holding the next general election.

A difficult part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was when he said that the 1,500 responses to our consultation process—which was genuine, despite his scepticism—agreed with the Government views because they were merely collective job applications. That comment is more revealing of his thought process than it is of the way in which people responded to a genuine consultation process. The comment displayed unbelievable cynicism.

The right hon. Gentleman seemed to say that the Institute of Directors was somehow against the Bill. On 25 November, my hon. Friend the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning met Tim Melville-Ross, of the I0D. The minutes state that, at the end of the meeting, Mr. Melville-Ross was much more reassured by the Minister's explanation of the rationale for the RDAs"— and that He would reflect this accordingly at the meeting of his regional chairmen on 26 November, and would write a positive piece in a forthcoming issue of Director magazine. Therefore, the IOD—with many of the other organisations that we consulted, which is something that the previous Government rarely did when in power—approves of what we are trying to do in the Bill.

We have heard some interesting speeches. What struck me about many of them was the breadth of experience of the regions displayed by many of the hon. Members—not only Labour Members but Liberal Members—who spoke. Their speeches demonstrated what is already known by those of us who bother to go out into the regions and talk to people: the Bill will create a strategic focus in making progress on the regional agenda.

Conservative Members seem to think that the United Kingdom's economic performance is acceptable because two of the current 10 regions are close to the European average gross domestic product per head, but the Government are not satisfied with that performance. The Bill is about baking a bigger cake so that we can better distribute and increase prosperity. It is evolutionary legislation that will create partnerships, to ensure that we can effectively accomplish those goals.

Mr. Yeo

Will the hon. Lady confirm that the figures for regional GDP per head in the White Paper are extremely misleading, because they relate to 1993? Since 1993, the United Kingdom has enjoyed four years of outstanding economic growth, in which national GDP growth has been substantially above the EU average, has beaten every other major European country and has been substantially above the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average. If up-to-date figures had been used in the White Paper, the picture would have been completely different.

Angela Eagle

The hon. Gentleman again displays his complacency. The Government are not as complacent about what is happening in the economy as the previous Government were in their 18 years in power. If anything, we believe that the position is getting worse. We know that we have to create efficient regional economies, so that we can react to increasing competition in the global market. The Bill is intended to accomplish those objectives.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) welcomed the Bill and was kind enough to say a few words about the report of the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee. The Government welcome the Select Committee's report and the work that it did in producing it so quickly. We shall respond in due course to the individual points in the conclusion of the report.

We recognise the democratic deficit argument, but the Bill is evolutionary. It is the first stage and, with the consent of those at regional level, we hope to pursue the accountability argument and, where the regional electorate wants it, create directly elected chambers. In the meantime, it is quite right that the RDAs should be accountable directly to Ministers for the money that they spend. Ministers will ensure that RDAs are involved in the shadow regional chambers that are being formed in every English region so that we can ensure that the partnership that is the key to making the idea work develops.

I should mention the rural dimension, as there has been much scaremongering about the alleged urban bias of RDAs. It relates to the old language about urban domination, but RDAs are about partnership and building co-operation—creating a strategy at regional level that will ensure that the needs of all the communities involved are taken account of, planned for and met. I reject the idea that rural areas will be dominated by urban areas when, in many cases, their needs are pretty similar and can often be met in a strategic way. We are not creating RDAs so that rural areas will be dominated by urban areas. Opposition Members who fear that or go around talking about it are simply scaremongering. Quite rightly, there will be a strong rural dimension to all the economic work that we undertake.

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds is one of the main perpetrators of the rural alarm myth that has been much quoted by Conservative Members. The hon. Gentleman failed to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan on his maiden speech. He then did not wait to hear the whole of the next speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman). When the hon. Gentleman observes the courtesies of the House, I shall give him the courtesy of a reply to his questions.

The Bill is evolutionary. It is the beginning of a process for which the English regions have waited a very long time. My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton) made an eloquent case for RDAs. I can assure her that we are taking a very robust approach to the negotiations on European structural funds and that we shall do our best for her area, but she must also recognise that they are tough negotiations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) made an extremely eloquent speech demonstrating her wide understanding and experience of these complex issues, and showed what a difference development agencies can make. I recognised her descriptions of what was happening in my own area much more than I recognised those by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West, who did not seem to be living in the same region.

RDAs will bring positive added value at regional level. They will have an executive role in administering the single regeneration budget challenge fund and they will take over the regional regeneration role of English Partnerships and the rural regeneration role of the Rural Development Commission. They will ensure better value for money for the public sector funds that we invest in the regions.

A key objective of the Government is to ensure that the best use is made of existing programmes and resources. RDAs will provide the means of securing better value for money for existing spending by taking a more focused approach to delivering services, improving output and enhancing job opportunities, and it is with a great deal of pride that I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 148, Noes 388.

Division No. 127] [9.59 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Gibb, Nick
Amess, David Gill, Christopher
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Arbuthnot, James Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Baldry, Tony Gray, James
Bercow, John Green, Damian
Beresford, Sir Paul Greenway, John
Blunt, Crispin Grieve, Dominic
Body, Sir Richard Gummer, Rt Hon John
Boswell, Tim Hague, Rt Hon William
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Hammond, Philip
Brady, Graham Hawkins, Nick
Brazier, Julian Hayes, John
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Browning, Mrs Angela Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Horam, John
Burns, Simon Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Butterfill, John Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Cash, William Hunter, Andrew
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Chope, Christopher Jenkin, Bernard
Clappison, James Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Key, Robert
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Collins, Tim Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Cran, James Lansley, Andrew
Curry, Rt Hon David Leigh, Edward
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Letwin, Oliver
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Lidington, David
Duncan, Alan Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Evans, Nigel Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Faber, David Luff, Peter
Fabricant, Michael Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Fallon, Michael MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Flight, Howard McIntosh, Miss Anne
Forth, Rt Hon Eric MacKay, Andrew
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Maclean, Rt Hon David
Fox, Dr Liam McLoughlin, Patrick
Fraser, Christopher Madel, Sir David
Gale, Roger Malins, Humfrey
Garnier, Edward Maples, John
Mates, Michael Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Maude, Rt Hon Francis Steen, Anthony
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian Streeter, Gary
May, Mrs Theresa Swayne, Desmond
Moss, Malcolm Syms, Robert
Nicholls, Patrick Tapsell, Sir Peter
Norman, Archie Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Ottaway, Richard Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Page, Richard Taylor, Sir Teddy
Paice, James Tredinnick, David
Paterson, Owen Trend, Michael
Pickles, Eric Tyrie, Andrew
Prior, David Viggers, Peter
Randall, John Walter,Robert
Redwood, Rt Hon John Wardle, Charles
Robathan, Andrew Waterson, Nigel
Robertson, Laurence (Tewkbry) Wells, Bowen
Roe, Mrs Marion(Broxbourne) Whittingdale, John
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham) Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Ruffley, David Wilkinson, John
St, Aubyn, Nick Willetts, David
Sayeed, Jonathan Wilshire, David
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Shepherd, Richard Woodward, Shaun
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk) Yeo, Tim
Soames, Nicholas Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Spelman, Mrs Caroline Tellers for the Ayes:
Spicer, Sir Michael Mr. Stephen Day and
Spring, Richard Mr. Oliver Heald.
Abbott, Ms Diane Burden, Richard
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Burgon, Colin
Ainger, Nick Burnett, John
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Burstow, Paul
Alexander, Douglas Butler, Mrs Christine
Allan, Richard Byers, Stephen
Allen, Graham Caborn, Richard
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)
Atherton, Ms Candy Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Austin, John Canavan, Dennis
Ballard, Mrs Jackie Caplin, Ivor
Banks, Tony Caton, Martin
Barnes, Harry Cawsey, Ian
Barren, Kevin Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Battle, John Chaytor, David
Bayley, Hugh Chidgey, David
Beard, Nigel Chisholm, Malcolm
Begg, Miss Anne Church, Ms Judith
Beggs, Roy Clapham, Michael
Beith, Rt Hon A J Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Bennett, Andrew F
Benton, Joe Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Bermingham, Gerald Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Berry, Roger Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Best, Harold Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Betts, Clive Clelland, David
Blackman, Liz Clwyd, Ann
Blears, Ms Hazel Coaker, Vernon
Blizzard, Bob Coffey, Ms Ann
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Cohen, Harry
Boateng, Paul Colman, Tony
Borrow, David Connarty, Michael
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Corbyn, Jeremy
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Corston, Ms Jean
Bradshaw, Ben Cotter, Brian
Brand, Dr Peter Cousins, Jim
Breed, Colin Cox, Tom
Brinton, Mrs Helen Crausby, David
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Browne, Desmond Cummings, John
Buck, Ms Karen Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Dafis, Cynog Hope, Phil
Dalyell, Tam Hopkins, Kelvin
Darvill, Keith Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Howells, Dr Kim
Davidson, Ian Hoyle, Lindsay
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly) Humble, Mrs Joan
Dawson, Hilton Hurst, Alan
Dean, Mrs Janet Hutton, John
Denham, John Iddon, Dr Brian
Dewar, Rt Hon Donald Illsley, Eric
Dismore, Andrew Ingram, Adam
Dobbin, Jim Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Donohoe, Brian H Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Doran, Frank Jenkins, Brian
Dowd, Jim Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Drown, Ms Julia Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Edwards, Huw Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Efford, Clive Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Ellman, Mrs Louise Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Ennis, Jeff Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Fearn, Ronnie
Field, Rt Hon Frank Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Fisher, Mark Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Fitzpatrick, Jim Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Fitzsimons, Lorna Jowell, Ms Tessa
Flint, Caroline Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Flynn, Paul Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Follett, Barbara Keetch, Paul
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Kelly, Ms Ruth
Foster, Don (Bath) Kemp, Fraser
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Khabra, Piara S
Foulkes, George Kidney, David
Fyfe, Maria Kilfoyle, Peter
Galbraith, Sam King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Gapes, Mike Kingham, Ms Tess
George, Andrew (St Ives) Kirkwood, Archy
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Kumar, Dr Ashok
Gerrard, Neil Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Gibson, Dr Ian Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Laxton, Bob
Goggins, Paul Lepper, David
Golding, Mrs Llin Leslie, Christopher
Gordon, Mrs Eileen Levitt, Tom
Grant, Bernie Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Liddell, Mrs Helen
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Linton, Martin
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Livsey, Richard
Grocott, Bruce Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Gunnell, John Llwyd, Elfyn
Hain, Peter Lock, David
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Love, Andrew
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) McAllion, John
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) McAvoy, Thomas
Hanson, David McCabe, Steve
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet McCafferty, Ms Chris
Harris, Dr Evan McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
Harvey, Nick McDonagh, Siobhain
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Macdonald, Calum
Healey, John McDonnell, John
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) McFall, John
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) McGuire, Mrs Anne
Heppell, John McIsaac, Shona
Hesford, Stephen McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Hewitt, Ms Patricia Mackinlay, Andrew
Hill, Keith McLeish, Henry
Hinchliffe, David Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Hodge, Ms Margaret McNamara, Kevin
Hoey, Kate McNulty, Tony
Home Robertson, John MacShane, Denis
Hoon, Geoffrey Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
McWilliam, John Ryan, Ms Joan
Maginnis, Ken Salter, Martin
Mahon, Mrs Alice Sanders, Adrian
Mallaber, Judy Sarwar, Mohammad
Mandelson, Peter Savidge, Malcolm
Marek, Dr John Sawford, Phil
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Sedgemore, Brian
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Shaw, Jonathan
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Sheerman, Barry
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Martlew, Eric Shipley, Ms Debra
Maxton, John Short, Rt Hon Clare
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Singh, Marsha
Meale, Alan Skinner, Dennis
Merron, Gillian Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Michael, Alun Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Milburn, Alan Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Miller, Andrew Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Moffatt, Laura Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Moonie, Dr Lewis Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Moran, Ms Margaret Soley, Clive
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Southworth, Ms Helen
Morley, Elliot Spellar, John
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Squire, Ms Rachel
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Steinberg, Gerry
Mountford, Kali Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie Stinchcombe, Paul
Mudie, George Stoate, Dr Howard
Mullin, Chris Stott, Roger
Murphy, Denis(Wansbeck)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Murphy, Paul (Torfaen) Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Naysmith, Dr Doug Stringer, Graham
Oaten, Mark Stuart, Ms Gisela
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Stunell, Andrew
O'Hara, Eddie Sutcliffe, Gerry
O'Neill, Martin Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Öpik, Lembit
Organ, Mrs Diana Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Osborne, Ms Sandra Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Palmer, Dr Nick Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Pearson, Ian Temple-Morris, Peter
Pendry, Tom Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Perham, Ms Linda Thompson, William
Pickthall, Colin Timms, Stephen
Pike, Peter L Tipping, Paddy
Plaskitt, James Todd, Mark
Pond, Chris Tonge, Dr Jenny
Pope, Greg Touhig, Don
Pound, Stephen Trickett, Jon
Powell, Sir Raymond Truswell, Paul
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Turner, Desmond (Kemptown)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Prescott, Rt Hon John Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Primarolo, Dawn Tyler, Paul
Prosser, Gwyn Vaz, Keith
Purchase, Ken Vis, Dr Rudi
Quinn, Lawrie Wareing, Robert N
Radice, Giles Watts, David
Rammell, Bill Webb, Steve
Rapson, Syd White, Brian
Raynsford, Nick Whitehead, Dr Alan
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Wicks, Malcolm
Rendel, David Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Robertson, Rt Hon George(Hamilton S)
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW) Willis, Phil
Rooney, Terry Wills, Michael
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Winnick, David
Ross, William (E Lond'y) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Rowlands, Ted Wise, Audrey
Roy, Frank Wood, Mike
Ruane, Chris Woolas, Phil
Ruddock, Ms Joan Worthington, Tony
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Wray, James
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth) Tellers for the Noes:
Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock) Mr. Kevin Hughes and
Wyatt, Derek Mr.David Jamieson.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 62 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading):—

The House divided: Ayes 383, Noes 147.

division No.128] [10.15pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Church, Ms Judith
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Clapham, Michael
Ainger, Nick Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Alexander, Douglas
Allan, Richard Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Allen, Graham Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Atherton, Ms Candy Clelland, David
Austin, John Clwyd, Ann
Ballard, Mrs Jackie Coaker, Vernon
Banks, Tony Coffey, Ms Ann
Barnes, Harry Cohen, Harry
Barron, Kevin Colman, Tony
Battle, John Connarty, Michael
Bayley, Hugh Corbyn, Jeremy
Beard, Nigel Corston, Ms Jean
Begg, Miss Anne Cotter, Brian
Beggs, Roy Cousins, Jim
Beith, Rt Hon A J Cox, Tom
Bennett, Andrew F Crausby, David
Benton, Joe Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Bermingham, Gerald Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Berry, Roger Cummings, John
Best, Harold Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Betts, Clive Dalyell, Tam
Blackman, Liz Darvill, Keith
Blears, Ms Hazel Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Blizzard, Bob Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Davidson, Ian
Boateng, Paul Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Borrow, David Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Dawson, Hilton
Bradshaw, Ben Dean, Mrs Janet
Brand, Dr Peter Denham, John
Breed, Colin Dewar, Rt Hon Donald
Brinton, Mrs Helen Dismore, Andrew
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Dobbin, Jim
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Donohoe, Brian H
Browne, Desmond Doran, Frank
Buck, Ms Karen Dowd, Jim
Burden, Richard Drown, Ms Julia
Burgon, Colin Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Burnett, John Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Burstow, Paul Edwards, Huw
Butler, Mrs Christine Efford, Clive
Byers, Stephen Ellman, Mrs Louise
Caborn, Richard Ennis, Jeff
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Fearn, Ronnie
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife) Field, Rt Hon Frank
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Fisher, Mark
Canavan, Dennis Fitzpatrick, Jim
Caplin, Ivor Fitzsimons, Lorna
Caton, Martin Flint, Caroline
Cawsey, Ian Flynn, Paul
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Follett, Barbara
Chaytor, David Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Chidgey, David Foster, Don (Bath)
Chisholm, Malcolm Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Foulkes, George Kingham, Ms Tess
Fyfe, Maria Kirkwood, Archy
Galbraith, Sam Kumar, Dr Ashok
Gapes, Mike Ladyman, Dr Stephen
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Gerrard, Neil Laxton, Bob
Gibson, Dr Ian Lepper, David
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Leslie, Christopher
Goggins, Paul Levitt, Tom
Golding, Mrs Llin Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Gordon, Mrs Eileen Liddell, Mrs Helen
Grant, Bernie Linton, Martin
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Livsey, Richard
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Llwyd, Elfyn
Grocott, Bruce Lock, David
Gunnell, John Love, Andrew
Hain, Peter McAllion, John
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) McAvoy, Thomas
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) McCabe, Steve
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) McCafferty, Ms Chris
Hanson, David McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet McDonagh, Siobhain
Harris, Dr Evan Macdonald, Calum
Harvey, Nick McDonnell, John
Heal, Mrs Sylvia McFall, John
Healey, John McGuire, Mrs Anne
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) McIsaac, Shona
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Heppell, John Mackinlay, Andrew
Hesford, Stephen McLeish, Henry
Hewitt, Ms Patricia Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Hill, Keith McNamara, Kevin
Hinchliffe, David McNulty, Tony
Hodge, Ms Margaret MacShane, Denis
Hoey, Kate Mactaggart, Fiona
Home Robertson, John McWalter, Tony
Hoon, Geoffrey McWilliam, John
Hope, Phil Maginnis, Ken
Hopkins, Kelvin Mahon, Mrs Alice
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Mallaber, Judy
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Mandelson, Peter
Howells, Dr Kim Marek, Dr John
Hoyle, Lindsay Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Humble, Mrs Joan Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hurst, Alan Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hutton, John Martlew, Eric
Iddon, Dr Brian Maxton, John
Illsley, Eric Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Ingram, Adam Meale, Alan
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Merron, Gillian
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Michael, Alun
Jenkins, Brian Milburn, Alan
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Miller, Andrew
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Moffatt, Laura
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Moran, Ms Margaret
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark) Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Morley, Elliot
Jones, Ms Jenny(Wolverh'ton SW) Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Mountford, Kali
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Mudie, George
Jowell, Ms Tessa Mullin, Chris
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Keetch, Paul Murphy, Paul (Torfaen)
Kelly, Ms Ruth Naysmith, Dr Doug
Kemp, Fraser Oaten, Mark
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Khabra, Piara S O'Hara, Eddie
Kidney, David O'Neill, Martin
Kilfoyle, Peter Öpik, Lembit
Organ, Mrs Diana Southworth, Ms Helen
Osborne, Ms Sandra Spellar, John
Palmer, Dr Nick Squire, Ms Rachel
Pearson, Ian Steinberg, Gerry
Pendry, Tom Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Perham, Ms Linda Stinchcombe, Paul
Pickthall, Colin Stoate, Dr Howard
Pike, Peter L Stott, Roger
Plaskitt, James Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Pond, Chris Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Pope, Greg Stringer, Graham
Pound, Stephen Stuart, Ms Gisela
Powell, Sir Raymond Stunell, Andrew
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Sutcliffe, Gerry
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Prescott, Rt Hon John
Primarolo, Dawn Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Prosser, Gwyn Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Purchase, Ken Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Quinn, Lawrie Temple-Morris, Peter
Radice Giles Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Rammell, Bill Thompson, William
Rapson, Syd Timms, Stephen
Raynsford, Nick Tipping, Paddy
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Todd, Mark
Rendel, David Tonge, Dr Jenny
Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S) Touhig, Don
Trickett, Jon
Robinson, Geoffrey (Covtry NW) Truswell, Paul
Rooney, Terry Turner, Desmond (Kemptown)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Ross, William (E Lond'y) Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Rowlands, Ted Tyler, Paul
Roy, Frank Vaz, Keith
Ruane, Chris Vis, Dr Rudi
Ruddock, Ms Joan Wareing, Robert N
Russell, Bob(Colchester) Watts, David
Russell, Ms Christine(Chester) Webb, Steve
White, Brian
Ryan, Ms Joan Whitehead, Dr Alan
Salter, Martin Wicks, Malcolm
Sanders, Adrian Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Sarwar, Mohammad
Savidge, Malcolm Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Sawford, Phil Willis, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian Willis, Michael
Shaw, Jonathan Winnick, David
Sheerman, Barry Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Wise, Audrey
Shipley, Ms Debra Wood, Mike
Short, Rt Hon Clare Woolas, Phil
Singh, Marsha Worthington, Tony
Skinner, Dennis Wray, James
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S) Wyatt, Derek
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Tellers for the Ayes:
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Mr. Kevin Hughes and
Soley, Clive Mr. David Jamieson.
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Brady, Graham
Amess, David Brazier, Julian
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Arbuthnot, James Browning, Mrs Angela
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Baldry, Tony Burns, Simon
Bercow, John Butterfill, John
Beresford, Sir Paul Cash, William
Blunt, Crispin Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)
Body, Sir Richard
Boswell, Tim Chope, Christopher
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Clappison, James
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Clark Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Maclean, Rt Hon David
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) McLoughlin, Patrick
Madel, Sir David
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Malins, Humfrey
Collins, Tim Maples, John
Cran, James Mates, Michael
Curry, Rt Hon David Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen May, Mrs Theresa
Duncan, Alan Moss, Malcolm
Evans, Nigel Nicholls, Patrick
Faber, David Norman, Archie
Fabricant, Michael Ottaway, Richard
Fallon, Michael Page, Richard
Flight, Howard Paice, James
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Paterson, Owen
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Pickles, Eric
Fox, Dr Liam Prior, David
Fraser, Christopher Randall, John
Gale, Roger Redwood, Rt Hon John
Garnier, Edward Robathan, Andrew
Gibb, Nick Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Gill, Christopher Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair Ruffley, David
Gorman, Mrs Teresa St Aubyn, Nick
Gray, James Sayeed, Jonathan
Green, Damian Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Greenway, John Shepherd, Richard
Grieve, Dominic Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Soames, Nicholas
Hague, Rt Hon William Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Spicer, Sir Michael
Hammond, Philip Spring, Richard
Hawkins, Nick Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Hayes, John Steen, Anthony
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Streeter, Gary
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Swayne, Desmond
Horam, John Syms, Robert
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Tapsell, Sir Peter
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Hunter, Andrew Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Taylor, Sir Teddy
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Tredinnick, David
Jenkin, Bernard Trend, Michael
Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Tyrie, Andrew
Viggers, Peter
Key, Robert Walter, Robert
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Wardle, Charles
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Waterson, Nigel
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Wells, Bowen
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Whittingdale, John
Lansley, Andrew Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Leigh, Edward Wilkinson, John
Letwin, Oliver Willetts, David
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Wilshire, David
Lidington, David Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Woodward, Shaun
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Yeo, Tim
Luff, Peter Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Tellers for the Noes:
McIntosh, Miss Anne Mr. Stephen Day and
MacKay, Andrew Mr. Oliver Heald.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63(Committal of Bills).