HC Deb 03 March 1998 vol 307 cc841-2
5. Mrs. Spelman

What representations he has received from local authorities over the accountability of regional development agencies. [30625]

Mr. Caborn

We received a number of representations from local government about the accountability of regional development agencies. RDAs will be non-departmental public bodies; as such, they will be accountable to Ministers. They will also be required to consult the designated regional chamber, and account for their activities to the chamber.

Mrs. Spelman

Will the Minister assure the House that the new regional development agencies will not remove powers from local government, especially the planning powers envisaged in clauses that were withdrawn in consideration in Committee of the Regional Development Agencies Bill?

Mr. Caborn

The hon. Lady knows that, in Committee, we said that we should look at certain clauses and come back to the House on Report.

Mr. Blizzard

Will not people judge the accountability of a regional development agency by how successful it is in tackling a region's problems? For example, in Lowestoft in my constituency, where unemployment is 9.2 per cent., against a regional average of 3.6 per cent., people are looking forward to the RDA tackling the disparity, which was left unattended for 18 years by the Conservative party. Will my hon. Friend confirm that addressing such disparities will be one of the priorities of RDAs?

Mr. Caborn

My hon. Friend is right. Apart from the Opposition, everybody accepts that there is a need to address the serious structural weaknesses in our eight English regions. To that extent, all the major stakeholders involved in the RDAs will address the issues and will try to bring more employment back to those regions than ever before.

Mr. Yeo

As the Minister will appoint every single member of the RDA boards and will also choose the organisations that are to be designated as the regional chamber, is there not clearly a serious lack of accountability in the structure proposed? Against that background, is it not absolutely extraordinary that every one of the Opposition amendments, which would have required the Minister to consult local authorities about the activities of RDAs, were voted down by the Government?

Mr. Caborn

The Opposition should be the last people to start lecturing the Government about quangos and accountability. We well know that the Conservatives took more powers from local authorities than any other Government in history. We want no lectures from the Opposition on this issue.

Madam Speaker

Mr. Boswell.

Mr. Boswell

Number seven, Madam Speaker.

Mr. Prescott

I think that it is number eight. At least I am right on this one.

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