HL Deb 07 October 1998 vol 593 cc546-66

(" . In every financial year the Secretary of State shall lay before each House of Parliament a report on the central government financing of each regional development agency and the effect that this has had upon the funding of local authorities and other bodies.").

The noble Lord said: I referred earlier to the list of functions, programmes and policies with which the RDAs will be involved. Given the length of that list, we are entitled to ask the Minister how, and from where, these functions and programmes are to be funded. The noble Baroness said that the RDAs will be funded by grant in aid. It may well be that that is the answer and, given the Government's commitments on public spending, the funding will come from current budgets. The question that concerns me is whether it will affect the funding of local government and other public bodies within the area of the RDA. In Building Partnerships for Prosperity it is stated that RDAs will, for example, contribute to policies and programmes on transport. That will be key to many of their core functions in terms of economic strategies and regeneration.

Let us suppose that within the area of an RDA local authority A has a set of transport programmes and so has local authority B. That is not a difficult scenario; that is exactly how it is. Let us suppose, however, that the centrally appointed RDAs meet in private to consider transport programmes for the region. A's plans are more ambitious than B's and cost twice as much. The RDAs consider that A's plans are of greater regional importance than B's more modest plans, which, although of limited importance regionally, are of great importance locally. There can be only so much money in the pot. The funds are allocated to A. B's funding is reduced and it cannot proceed with its local plans. The question is: without a report to Parliament, without some kind of openness as to how the money is moved around, how are people to know that this has, or has not, happened? Given the involvement of RDAs in many different matters, how their plans are funded and the effect on other authorities and bodies ought to be clear. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

I do not really see the point behind this amendment. It has been pretty clear from the outset that the RDAs will not be financed by money that is shifted away from local authorities. The implication of the amendment is that money will be taken away by central government from local authorities and given to the RDAs.

Let me repeat what has been said many times by my colleagues in another place. The budgets of the RDAs will transfer from programmes they inherit from English Partnerships, from the RDC and from the Government Offices, but not from the local authorities. RDAs will be funded primarily through grant in aid from my department, although some funds will transfer from the DTI and the DfEE. The departments themselves are funded through money voted by Parliament for particular programmes, including now the RDAs. These figures are agreed by Parliament and are made public, so there is little point in requiring an additional report. In no sense does this affect the process of allocation of central government funds to local authorities.

My department produces accounts every year, which are available to Parliament. One part of those will show the grant to the RDAs and another the support to local authorities, and there is no cross-over between the two.

Local authority funding will be distributed, as always, by the Standard Spending Assessment, which is calculated through a formula using, as far as possible, objective measures of the authority's spending need. That formula will not be affected by any money which goes or does not go to RDAs. The only factors relevant to that calculation are population and other social and environmental needs and they will not be affected by the moneys spent by the RDAs. In the particular example raised by the noble Lord in relation to transport plans, clearly there may be transport plans which are funded with help from the RDAs, as there will be transport plans which are funded with help from the private sector and many other partners in local transport. That has nothing to do with the allocation to the RDAs from central government. In other words, there is no trade off between the allocation that Parliament approves for local authorities and the allocation that Parliament approves for the RDAs. Therefore the report which the noble Lord requests would be very thin indeed and the information which he requires is available to Parliament in any case. I therefore ask him to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Bowness

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. I hear the assurances that he has given. It is one of the magics and mysteries of life that so much extra can be done without any increase in the totality of public expenditure. If we have the regional development agencies, we shall note with interest how their expenditure on transport and that of everyone else who is currently spending on transport can be funded without the existing bodies being affected or the total expenditure rising. I shall read carefully what the Minister said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 54 not moved.]

Clause 16 [Provision of information etc. to the Secretary of State]:

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 55:

Page 7, line 26, at end insert ("and any local authority within the area of the agency or which adjoins its boundaries").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 55, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 57 since, except in one very minor respect, they are identical and the point raised by both of them is certainly identical.

In relation to Clause 16, which requires an RDA to provide information, advice and assistance to the Secretary of State, my Amendment No. 55 would require the RDA to extend that same courtesy to every local authority within its boundaries. As regards information, presumably the activities of an RDA are not to be regarded as secret, and it is easy to see why a local authority exercising its statutory duties, especially in its own planning matters, will need to know what its RDA is doing, proposing to do or even just thinking about doing. Advice and assistance speak for themselves, for the same reason.

The difference between this amendment and the one to Clause 17 is that in this one I have added adjoining local authorities as the recipients of the same information, advice and assistance if they should require it. Wherever there is a demarcation line of any kind, there is always a potential anomaly. In local government we have all heard of cases where a borough boundary runs down the centre of a road and where, as a result, those on the odd-numbered side pay more council tax than those with even numbers. In my own case, the boundary of the borough in which I live is just 60 feet up the hill. The only difference, apart from the amount of council tax, is that the pot holes are in a slightly different coloured tarmac. That is why I am Baroness Miller of Hendon and not Baroness Miller of Hampstead!

Obviously, a local council or indeed any local authority needs to know what is going on anything from a few feet or more away from its border. Clearly, it will need advice and assistance so that there is no conflict between its own plans and intentions and those of its neighbours. That is what is called "co-ordination".

The Secretary of State and Deputy Prime Minister in his introduction to the White Paper Building Partnerships for Prosperity complained that: For years we have been dogged by a lack of co-ordination in the regions". He went on to speak of the need for, co-ordination of potential sites, of finance, training … transport and power supplies". What closer co-ordination can there be than for one's next-door neighbour to know what is going on before it happens, or for a local council to know the transport requirements to carry workers from A within its area to B in the next adjacent region?

As to Amendment No. 57, all that an RDA is required to do is to send a copy of its annual report to each of the local authorities within its jurisdiction as well as to the Secretary of State. I believe that the purpose of that requirement is blindingly obvious. Elementary courtesy requires that copies of the report should be sent to each of the local authorities in a regional development agency's area. I cannot think of a single reason why there can be objection to it. I look forward with much pleasure to hearing the Minister concede this very small point.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns

I support Amendment No. 55 moved by my noble friend Lady Miller of Hendon. I nearly said "Hampstead". I apologise to my noble friend because, regardless of the colour of the tarmac. I should remember the London borough from which she takes her title.

Amendment No. 56 in my name appears in this place in the list having been ungrouped from its earlier position. This is in the nature of a probing amendment. If Amendment No. 56 did not stand the Secretary of State would be able to determine what information the local authorities could obtain. In theory, they could be starved of essential information. My purpose in tabling the amendment is to understand the intention of the Government in regard to the information that is made available to local authorities when they work with regional development agencies.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

Amendment No. 55 together with Amendment No. 56 from the previous grouping relates to Clause 16 which concerns the provision of information by the RDA to the Secretary of State. This amendment seeks to put local authorities in the same legal position as the Secretary of State. Clause 16 is an important link in the chain of accountability to Ministers and Parliament. The Secretary of State should have access to such advice and information as he or she thinks necessary in order to maintain that accountability. The amendment requires that the RDA should provide such information to local authorities as they require. We intend that local authorities should have such information as is necessary and appropriate to their involvement in the work of the RDA.

It must not be forgotten that local authorities will have an important role in regional chambers which will scrutinise the work of the RDA. We expect RDAs to adhere to the best principles of open government and develop a constructive working relationship with local authorities in their areas. We hope that they and the local authorities can reach agreement between themselves on how information should be provided. It is not appropriate to place local authorities in the same position as the Secretary of State, to whom the RDAs are directly accountable. We have the power under Clause 18 to intervene if necessary but sincerely hope that that will not occur.

Amendment No. 57 relates to the obligation of an RDA to prepare an annual report. As NDPBs RDAs are accountable to Ministers. It is therefore only right that they provide information such as an annual report to the Secretary of State. The amendment seeks to put local authorities in the same position as the Secretary of State and provides that a copy of the RDA's annual report should be sent to each local authority within the area.

This is an unnecessary amendment. The annual reports will be published documents and the Bill provides for copies to be laid before Parliament. We expect RDAs to adhere to the best principles of open government and develop a constructive working relationship with the local authorities in their area. We would therefore expect RDAs as a matter of course to send copies of their annual reports to local authorities in their area. However, local authorities are not in the same position as the Secretary of State in terms of the accountability of RDAs. For that reason it would be wrong to place this requirement on the face of the Bill. While accepting the intention behind the amendment, we cannot accept the amendment itself and ask the noble Baroness to withdraw it.

10.45 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

I thank the Minister for her reply. I hope her confidence that the RDAs will automatically send the reports to the local authorities is not misplaced. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 56 not moved.]

Clause 16 agreed to.

Clause 17 [Annual report]:

[Amendment No. 57 not moved.]

Clause 17 agreed to.

Clause 18 [Regional accountability]:

[Amendment No. 58 not moved.]

Clause 18 agreed to.

Clause 19 [Vesting of land by order]:

Lord Bowness moved Amendment No. 59:

Page 8, line 25, at end insert— ("() Before making an order under subsection (1) the Secretary of State shall consult the local authority or other public body whose land would be vested in a regional development agency by such order.").

The noble Lord said: First, I thank the Minister for writing to me about Clause 19, seeking to clarify some of the provisions. In moving the amendment I shall with permission speak to Amendments Nos. 61, 62 and 64.

Amendments Nos. 59 and 60 go together. It is a simple point. Under Clause 19 the Secretary of State may by order vest land which is currently vested in a local authority or other public body in the regional development agency. It would seem appropriate that there should be a policy and procedure of consultation before that takes place; and that the Secretary of State should be satisfied before he makes an order that the regional development agency is not just putting together land packages with some degree of wish value attached to them but with a real prospect of proposals being carried through.

Having said that, I turn to Amendment No. 61. I hope that the Minister will be able to explain to us why it is appropriate for land of the kind set out in the amendment to be subject to a vesting order. I might ask why such land should be subject to Clause 20, but that is another issue.

Amendment No. 61 to Clause 19 seeks to exclude areas of national park, areas of outstanding natural beauty or land held by the National Trust. I ask the Minister to tell the Committee why a regional development agency should have land currently under the control of those bodies vested in it. For what purposes are those envisaged? I can understand that perhaps in connection with tourism in a region the RDA might seek to have other land added to the land currently held as a national park or by the National Trust or to an area of outstanding natural beauty. But why is it thought necessary for the development agency to wish to take that land? I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

The power to vest land—the point underlying the amendment—is the most efficient way of allowing RDAs to acquire packages of land from existing public sector bodies for development purposes. The Committee may be aware that the same power was given to English Partnerships by the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993. The power belongs to the Secretary of State rather than to the RDA. It is therefore a matter for the Secretary of State to take decisions on the vesting of existing public authority land.

The amendments tabled by the noble Lord seek to add a number of additional safeguards. Amendment No. 59 would require consultation with the body concerned before an order vesting land were made. The existing safeguards seem to us appropriate in these circumstances. The Secretary of State would no doubt take into account the views of the body concerned, but we do not see the point in putting that on the face of the Bill.

Amendment No. 60 deals with the requirement for the Secretary of State to satisfy himself that the RDA had practical proposals for the use of the land to be vested. The Secretary of State would wish to reassure himself on that point, but we do not see the need to include it in the Bill.

The specific point raised by the noble Lord in Amendment No. 61 relates to national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty. I agree with him that it is difficult to envisage circumstances in which such land might be required for an RDA development. Nevertheless, there could be circumstances at the fringe of the land, or in connection with certain pockets of land, where this could arise. However, land required by the RDAs in any circumstances, including vesting, will be subject to the normal planning controls. Therefore, the RDA must prove that any proposed development complies with local plans.

As regards national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, there are additional special provisions already within planning and countryside legislation which protect those areas and there are substantial hurdles to climb. We do not consider that there is need for an additional hurdle here specifically excluding such land. The provisions already exist within planning legislation. I assure your Lordships that the Secretary of State does not regard the National Trust as a public body whose land in particular is inalienable land. It would in any circumstances be vested under Clause 19.

I hope that that deals with the main points raised, in particular the issue of national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. They are unlikely to be affected by this Bill, but safeguards already exist.

Lord Bowness

I am grateful to the Minister for his answers. At this hour, I will consider what he has said and perhaps return to the matter at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 60 to 62 not moved.]

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 63:

Page 9, line 8, at end insert— ("(9A) Where the draft of an order under subsection (1) includes land forming part of a common, open space or fuel or field garden allotment, section 19 of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981 (commons, open spaces etc.) shall apply as if the order under subsection (1) were a compulsory purchase order.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 63, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 65 to 67. They have been sent to me by the Open Spaces Society, to which I am obliged. After I had tabled them I saw an exchange of correspondence between the society and the department. The society suggested that a circular setting out all the policies to be observed in connection with open spaces and similar areas of land would be welcome, involving consultation on the draft. Perhaps the Minister can comment on the possibility of such a circular.

The amendments are a little technical for this time of night and I shall be brief. It should rarely be necessary for an RDA to require the possession of a common or other open space. The concern is that if the RDA does require such an area of land it should not be an easy option—certainly no easier than it is for any other body—to take control. Section 19 of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981, to which reference is made in most of these amendments, relates to compulsory purchase orders and provides that, except in minor cases, the Secretary of State has to certify that he is satisfied that other land will be given in exchange for an area at least equal and equally advantageous to the public and to commoners, or that the land is being acquired to secure its preservation or to improve its management. It is sensible, for such procedures involving careful scrutiny of the transfer of such land would be desirable.

Amendment No. 65 would allow an RDA to acquire land to give in exchange for open space and so on, land which is vested in it under Clause 19 of the Bill.

Amendment No. 66 again refers to Section 19 of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981 and applies where planning permission is for development involving a change of use from command land and so on.

Amendment No. 67 deals with the extinguishment of public rights of way. This amendment suggests that RDAs—which will not have their own planning powers—should not have powers particular to them relating to rights of way. It is important to ensure that powers of extinguishment and diversion of rights of way are not used to the detriment of the public without good cause. The regulations under the Town and Country Planning Act and the Highways Act require named national and regional bodies to be notified of applications. It seems appropriate that the RDAs should be in a similar position and not be given a separate set of powers with a lesser safeguard of public rights. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raised the question of the Government and her circular. At the moment the Government are looking generally at policy and law on compulsory purchase. That is the most comprehensive answer that I am able to give her.

I apologise at this time of the night for having to be fairly comprehensive in my reply. There is very little else that I can do. It would be dangerous for me to abbreviate the legal and technical detail.

These amendments seek to apply the exchange land provisions of Section 19 of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981 to RDAs in certain circumstances. As noble Lords will know, Section 19 of the 1981 Act requires that where common land or other protected land is acquired by compulsory purchase order, and subject to some exceptions, either equally advantageous exchange land must be given or the order will be subjected to special parliamentary procedure.

The amendments apply these provisions in two circumstances. First, they would be applied by Amendment No. 63 when an order is made under Clause 19 transferring common land or other protected land to an agency. Secondly, they would be applied by Amendment No. 66 if the agency wishes to develop land in accordance with planning permission, and the development is a change of use which was envisaged when the agency acquired the land. The provisions of Section 19 of the 1981 Act may already have applied if the land was originally acquired by a local authority by compulsory purchase.

The result of these amendments could therefore be to invoke the special parliamentary procedure on three occasions in relation to the same piece of land. First, on compulsory purchase by the local authority; secondly, on transfer to the RDA by order under Clause 19; and thirdly, on the RDA wishing to commence development of the land.

Amendment No. 65 is consequential on Amendment No. 63. It enables an RDA to acquire land to be given in exchange for common or other protected land transferred to the RDA by order under Clause 19. I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me if I point out that the amendments do not contain an equivalent provision for the RDA to buy land to be given in exchange for common land to be developed, as would be required by Amendment No. 66.

Where land is transferred to an RDA under Clause 19, the order is subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. So there will be an opportunity to debate the order in any event. If it were to include common land, your Lordships would be able to make your views known. I have to say that I do not think it sensible to impose the possibility of special parliamentary procedure on top of that procedure.

Paragraph 4 of Schedule 6 enables an RDA to develop its land in accordance with planning permission, notwithstanding statutory provisions which would otherwise have prevented development. It is similar to Section 241 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which gives the same power to local authorities. The RDA will, of course, have to apply for and obtain planning permission in the normal way. In the event that it wishes to develop common or other protected land, it will be for the local planning authority to consider whether the development should be permitted.

It cannot be sensible to apply an exchange land or special parliamentary procedure on top of a well-understood process which enables local people to make their views known. That would be my view even if I thought that the exchange land procedure in Section 19 of the 1981 Act would work well in this situation, which in fact is doubtful. In whom, for example, would the exchange land be vested?

The overall aim of the amendments is to ensure that, where practicable, common land and other protected land is not developed unless it is replaced by other land. I am not unsympathetic to that aim, but it must be balanced against the objective of enabling efficient land assembly and development by the RDAs. I believe that both local authorities in carrying out their planning functions, and RDAs in undertaking development, can be expected to be sensitive to the views of local people where common or other protected land is involved. I believe that the amendments are unnecessary and undesirable and would hinder the RDAs in their development role. The prospect of two special parliamentary procedures in relation to the same piece of land would daunt anyone.

Amendment No. 67 would introduce new procedures for exercising the Secretary of State's powers in respect of public paths over land belonging to RDAs. The procedures would be based, with amendments, on the ones currently used by local authorities to administer public path orders under Schedule 14 to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Applying Schedule 14 procedures as they stand to powers exercised by the Secretary of State would be impossible, because they prescribe in detail the duties of local authorities when making and confirming public path orders and set out the circumstances in which authorities must refer orders to the Secretary of State for confirmation.

This Bill contains provisions for public path orders which only the Secretary of State may make and confirm. There is no role for a local authority. The procedures in Schedule 6 to the Bill for handling such orders, therefore, apply only to the Secretary of State. They closely resemble the statutory provisions in existing legislation conferring similar powers and duties on the Secretary of State with respect to land owned by English Partnerships.

I acknowledge that the amendment seeks to address this difficulty by providing for adaptations to Schedule 14 to the Town and Country Planning Act so that it can apply to orders made and confirmed by the Secretary of State. But it has failed to describe either the basis for, or the extent of, those adaptations. So on its own it cannot achieve its intended purpose, and a further amendment would be needed before it could have effect.

Removing the references to local authority duties and other irrelevancies from Schedule 14 would be a complex task. Even if it were practicable, the exercise would result in instructions for Secretary of State orders similar to those already in the Bill—so there would be hardly any benefit from the adaptations.

Furthermore, even if the amendment could be made to work, it would require the creation of regulations to define the Secretary of State's order-making procedures. This extra burden of secondary legislation would be pointless, as the Bill already contains a simple procedure with adequate safeguards for the public interest.

Schedule 6 to the Bill contains a range of measures for ensuring that the order-making procedure is carried out fairly. For instance, it requires the publication of orders and notice of the proposals to be given to the proper authorities. There is also provision for objections to be made and for the Secretary of State to offer an objector a hearing by an independent person appointed for that purpose; and he would have the power, if necessary, to hold a public inquiry, which may be attended by anyone with an interest in the proposals.

We cannot accept the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, given that it cannot be made to work without further amendment and would in any event require secondary legislation before it could take effect. And I assure your Lordships that the Bill already offers satisfactory measures for ensuring that public path orders over RDAs' land may be made by the Secretary of State in a fair and open manner.

In asking the noble Baroness whether she would consider withdrawing the amendment, I hope that the detail into which I have gone tonight—and sadly detained your Lordships with—may have led to a shortening of the procedure on Report.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Baroness Hamwee

What more can I do than thank the noble Baroness for that very detailed response, which I shall not attempt to rebut? I shall read it carefully and meanwhile beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 19 agreed to.

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Clause 20 [Acquisition of land]:

[Amendments Nos. 64 and 65 not moved.]

Clause 20 agreed to.

Schedule 5 agreed to.

Clauses 21 and 22 agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 23 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Bowness

The opposition to Clause 23 and to Schedule 6 have been grouped together and your Lordships will no doubt be relieved to hear that since I heard the Minister referring to Schedule 6, which is indeed referred to in Clause 23, I will take the opportunity to read what she said in Hansard to see whether it satisfies our concerns about Clause 23, which means that I shall not be pressing my opposition to Clause 23.

Clause 23 agreed to.

Schedule 6 [Vesting and acquisition of land: supplementary provisions]:

[Amendments Nos. 66 and 67 not moved.]

Schedule 6 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 68 not moved.]

Clause 24 agreed to.

Clause 25 [Power to alter regions]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 69:

Page 12, line 34, leave out ("in the extent of the regions in") and insert ("to").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 69 and to speak also to Amendments Nos. 71 and 73. This grouping also contains Amendment No. 74 in the name of the Minister. The first two of these amendments deal with alterations to the regions that can be made by the Secretary of State at a later date.

The clause as it stands allows an alteration to the extent of the regions but not to their number. My first amendment, No. 69, taken with the deletion of Clause 25(2), would permit an alteration to the number of regions. Clause 25(2) refers to an alteration which might result in a reduction or an increase in the number of regions. It had not occurred to me until this moment that there might be a reduction in the number of regions. Certainly what was in my mind was an increase in their number given the concerns that we have heard about already today with regard to the configuration of several of the regions.

The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, spoke about the Isle of Wight. During that debate I mentioned the irony of the Isle of Wight feeling that it should not be in the south-east region, while people living in the Bournemouth and Poole area, not so very far away across the Solent, which exists in fact if not on maps—

Lord Hacking

Lyme Regis Bay.

Baroness Hamwee

—are concerned about their allocation to the south-west.

My noble friend Lady Maddock reminded me, when the Minister commented on previous allocations to regions, that within our own party, recognising that difficulty, we have our own region which covers Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, because it does not relate easily to either of the other two large regions. Moreover, we have heard about the south-west, where Cornwall and Devon feel that they have a very different identity from areas further east. I sympathise with that, although I hear from those who are working on the chamber there that that relationship is more settled than with those to the east of the south-east region.

Therefore, while on these Benches we have accepted the sense in going ahead on the basis of the regions as they are currently proposed, reflecting the government offices, we do not believe that it would be right to rule out through this legislation the possibility of future changes. Once the RDAs and the chambers to which they relate are up and running, no doubt they will themselves form views about whether the regions to which they relate are the right regions; whether changes in the boundaries and therefore possible changes to the number of regions by creating extra regions would enable the objective of economic regeneration to be better carried out.

Amendment No. 73 is a reflection of the concern of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. I see that the Minister has tabled his own amendment which is no doubt better drafted and, in the proposed subsection (9), rather more extensive. I am quite happy to support the Minister in his amendment rather than to support the amendment which I have tabled. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Turner of Camden)

I must tell the Committee that if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 70 because of pre-emption.

Lord Whitty

Government Amendment No. 74 has the same objective as Amendment No. 73 to which the noble Baroness has just referred. It provides that orders made under Clause 25 are to be subject to the affirmative rather than the negative resolution procedure which is in the draft at present. That is one rather belated example, I admit, of the Government changing their mind. Originally, we took the view that the negative resolution was appropriate. However the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee has invited the Government to consider the case for the affirmative resolution in relation to orders under Clause 25 and we consider that there are good arguments in favour of that approach. Therefore, with this amendment, we propose the affirmative resolution procedure. So we are happy to follow the committee's advice.

The reason it differs slightly from the amendment of the noble Baroness is that the change from the negative resolution procedure will apply in relation to an order which affects the area of particular authorities. There is, therefore, a danger of inadvertently invoking the special procedures which attach to hybrid instruments in this Chamber. The amendment, therefore, goes beyond Amendment No. 73 and contains an additional subsection disapplying those special procedures.

Members of the Committee will doubtless be familiar with the fact that equivalent procedures were introduced in the Local Government Act 1992 and in the Police Act 1996. I hope that the Committee can therefore accept that amendment when we come to move it formally.

I shall just say a few words about the other two amendments to which the noble Baroness referred. I doubt that the noble Baroness really wishes to see the situation into which Amendment No. 69 could lead us. It would have the effect of allowing the Secretary of State to make changes to the regions beyond what we intend. For example, it would be open to him to divide one region into two and then to delete another while still keeping the total number of regions at nine. This would mean that certain parts of England were not covered by an RDA. I doubt that that is the intention of the noble Baroness.

Amendment No. 71 does indeed allow the Secretary of State to alter the number of regions, so I think there is a disagreement between us on this. We would not wish to see this Bill allow for a change in the number of regions, although we would obviously wish to be able to allow the Secretary of State some flexibility on the boundaries of those regions. I would therefore oppose Amendments Nos. 69 and 71 and hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw them.

11.15 p.m.

Lord Bowness

I should like to speak to Amendment No. 71 which is in my name and grouped with Amendment No. 69. It concerns the subsection to Clause 25 which provides that alterations can be made by an order but that no alterations can result in a reduction or increase in the number of regions set out in the schedule.

I believe that that is really a most extraordinary provision. We were asked earlier this evening to take these regions as a starting point. We have been asked in many amendments to accept that certain things should not be on the face of the Bill because the Government have certain intentions and because there will be guidance.

The Bill is littered with provisions which leave the Secretary of State a free agent in matters relating to RDAs. Appointments to it are virtually unfettered by any provisions on the face of the Bill. He can make all manner of delegations from his own powers without answering to anyone; he can give guidance and directions at will; he can decide whether a body will be recognised as a regional chamber; he determines the financial duties; he can summon information, advice and assistance at will. These organisations are his children and will do his will. Why, therefore, is the number of RDAs to be set in stone on the face of the Bill? Why enshrine this in primary legislation? Can the Government see no circumstances in which the number should be increased or decreased?

It is, I would submit, entirely possible that after a period of working together the local partners might decide that changes are needed. I understand that the Bill is about devolution to local partners and local people. It may be that the changes are not ones that can adequately be met by just a variation of the boundaries. Yes, an area might want to go it alone; certain areas might decide that they ought to divide. Of course, for the purposes of the discussion on this Bill I am not suggesting that the Secretary of State should have no role at all in determining the area of an RDA, but I have to say that I am suspicious of a provision that in effect denies the possibility of even one merger or split.

My noble friend Lady Miller referred to Second Reading when we asked how these proposals fitted into the proposals in the Labour Party manifesto for directly-elected assemblies. Having forced the area of an RDA upon various localities it is almost inevitable that in order to play a constructive role, indeed to be included—and we have heard that it is happening tonight—regional chambers will be formed and have been formed. Whether or not they will be approved remains to be seen, but they are being formed in the areas now proposed. I hope that the Government are not going to say that that justifies their decision on the boundaries. It really is a question of Hobson's choice. Are the Government going to say that the regions are the natural areas for regional assemblies? I believe that it is too important a subject to have the number and area of English regions, if those were to come about, imposed through the back door through this strangely inflexible provision within this Bill.

If, as I hope, Ministers say that this has got nothing to do with regional assemblies, then there is no case at all for keeping the provision within the Bill. The White Paper states that, regional structures must be based firmly on partnership with each local or regional interest being able to contribute effectively towards an integrated and coherent strategic programme which commands general support". The Government should recognise that just possibly the areas may not prove to be right, either in extent or numbers, and the legislation should provide for that to be remedied. If the Government cannot agree to that, then we are entitled to contemplate that there may be a different motive behind the provision. At the appropriate time I shall seek to move this amendment.

Baroness Hamwee

I thank the Minister for his comments. I believe what he was saying in relation to Clause 25 and the number of regions amounted to, "This will not be because we say it will not be", about which I am rather sad. However, with regard to Amendment No. 69, I understand the point that he makes on the drafting. It was not what I intended and it would be wrong to pursue that amendment. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 70 not moved.]

Lord Bowness moved Amendment No. 71:

Page 12, line 36, leave out subsection (2).

The noble Lord said: I have spoken to this amendment already. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty

I need to respond at this point to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness. The objection that we have to re-opening the question of the number of regions as distinct from relatively minor changes to the boundaries of those regions is that we believe that, in order for the development agencies to work, people must believe that they will be, broadly speaking, permanent areas. Otherwise we will have the local authorities, various business groups and other interests within those regions constantly pursuing the Secretary of State to exercise his discretion to create, for example, a regional development agency for the Isle of Wight, for Devon and Cornwall, Poole Harbour and Bournemouth. As a recent Dorset man I recall that Bournemouth has been in Dorset for some considerable time and we intend to keep it that way. One has different views about Bournemouth, but geographically and economically we wish to keep it in Dorset.

If we were to re-open the question of the number of regions, it would lead to local pressure groups trying to alter what has begun to be a constructive dialogue to make the RDAs work. Clearly, if this were a hidden agenda to create a regional assembly it would not be a very effective one. It requires primary legislation to set up regional assemblies in the sense the noble Lord means, and indeed as the Government intend at some stage in the future. That primary legislation could easily alter this primary legislation in order to make RDA areas fit an alternative structure for regional assembles. That point, therefore, is a red herring. The point is that the Government want to maintain that number of regions. They believe that that puts pressure on people to co-operate. That co-operation is beginning. If we remove that constraint some of that co-operation may be lost and that would not be to the benefit of the purposes of the Bill or the future development of many of our regions.

Baroness Hamwee

The Minister seems to anticipate the response that might be needed if representations were made from different areas about changes to the regions. I do not think that it is proposed under the amendment that anybody other than the Secretary of State will be in a position to promote an order. I can understand that the Minister would like to keep down the amount of correspondence, but I am not sure whether that is a good argument for ruling out the use of secondary legislation in order to consider changes for which there is public demand. I do not think that any noble Lord is necessarily saying that that demand should be met in the next year or so, but to rule out the use of this order-making provision entirely suggests a lack of willingness on the part of the Secretary of State to listen to the arguments in the future, which I am sure is not what the Government really intend.

Lord Bowness

I thank the Minister for his reply. I agree entirely with the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I am disappointed by the Minister's response, and particularly that the amendment should be rejected on the basis that the present proposals have been canvassed and considerable "pressure"—I think that that was the word used—put on people to reach local arrangements, with the view taken being, "We don't want changes being advocated by local pressure groups". All that in a piece of legislation which is about to empower the regions and local communities!

The notion that somehow or other, without primary legislation, one cannot divide the area of an RDA, which in the foreseeable future may be shown not to be working properly, is extraordinary, particularly when there are so many matters that we believe are fundamental but which the Government have refused to put on the face of the Bill. With the greatest respect, I must advise the Minister that I believe that his response is unsatisfactory and I seek the opinion of the Committee.

11.27 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 71) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 13; Not-Contents, 34.

Division No. 3
Anelay of St. Johns, B. [Teller.] Craigavon, V.
Attlee, F. Dean of Harptree, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Hamwee, B.
Bowness, L. Luke, L.
Burnham, L. [Teller.] Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Carlisle, E. Maddock, B.
Miller of Hendon, B.
Alli, L. Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Amos, B. [Teller.] Hollis of Heigham, B.
Bach, L. Hoyle, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Berkeley, L. Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Carter, L. [Teller.]
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Lockwood, B.
David, B. Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B. Mallalieu, B.
Donoughue, L. Monkswell, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Nicol, B.
Gordon of Strathblane, L. Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Simon, V.
Grenfell, L. Thornton, B.
Hacking, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Hardie, L. Whitty, L.
Young of Old Scone, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

11.34 p.m.

[Amendments Nos. 72 and 73 not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 74:

Page 13, line 20, leave out from ("instrument") to end of line 21 and insert— ("(8) No order shall be made under this section unless a draft of it has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament. (9) An order under this section which would, apart from this subsection. be treated for the purposes of the standing orders of either House of Parliament as a hybrid instrument shall proceed in that House as if it were not such an instrument.").

The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 25, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 26 agreed to.

Clause 27 [General power to give guidance and directions]:

Lord Bowness moved Amendment No. 75:

Page 13, line 43, leave out from ("guidance") to end of line I on page 14.

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 75, I shall speak briefly also to Amendments Nos. 76 and 77. This is an attempt, no doubt doomed, to try to give a measure of local freedom to what we perceive to be flawed bodies, the regional development agencies. This measure is heralded as one devolving power to the regions and to the local level, but is it really necessary to have a set of provisions which enable the Secretary of State to control the agencies' every move? I ask the Committee to consider this provision. Not content with taking a statutory power to give guidance, the Secretary of State wants to be able to direct, and what directions! He may require the agency, to exercise its functions in any manner specified in the directions". The Secretary of State may as well have a direct representative on the board with a power of direction or veto. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

We seem to have spent much time this evening debating two opposing views being put forward from the Opposition Benches; namely, that more measures should be imposed in terms of powers to direct, control and determine from the centre, or, on the other hand, that the whole measure is totally riddled with direction and control from the centre. Will the Opposition please let us know when they have decided which their policy is?

Lord Bowness

It is late but the position is quite clear. The amendments that we have sought to put on the face of the Bill specifying particular provisions seek to achieve some local accountability and some protection for local authorities in particular. The measures we have opposed are those which enable the Secretary of State to dictate and to direct everything from the centre.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

As the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, said, the hour is late and no doubt he is sad that he cannot be in Bournemouth this evening.

Amendments Nos. 75 and 76 taken together would remove the general power in the Bill for the Secretary of State to be able to issue directions to RDAs. I had wondered whether the amendments were tabled to probe the Government's approach to issuing directions because I cannot believe that the Opposition would actually want to remove this general power from the Bill. On the one hand, the Opposition object to the establishment of RDAs, which they see as quangos, and yet on the other they want to take away any powers the Secretary of State may have to control their activities in an accountable way.

RDAs are being established as non-government public bodies, NDPBs. As such, they are accountable to Ministers, and through them to Parliament. The Committee will be aware that in setting up agencies and NDPBs, it is standard practice for the respective Bill to include a power for the Secretaries of State to be able to give directions to the body concerned. The party opposite has included such provisions in many Bills, including the Bill setting up English Partnerships. This legislation is no different. We would expect to have to use the power only exceptionally. We expect RDAs to develop sensible and appropriate policies and working methods. However, we live in an uncertain world and I cannot say hand on heart that we shall never have to direct an RDA to do something. The power is there as a precaution. I hope the Committee will agree that it is a sensible reserve power for us to take and reject these amendments.

Amendment No. 77 seeks to remove the clarification in Clause 27 that directions to an agency may be of a general or particular nature. We cannot agree to this amendment. Directions are very much a tool of last resort. We expect RDAs to take account of the views of partners and stakeholders as they go about their day-to-day business. We will issue guidance on various issues to help them in their work. If we have to issue a direction—and we hope that we never have to—we shall need the flexibility to be able to issue general directions rather than a series of particular ones. I therefore ask the noble Lord not to press his amendment.

Lord Bowness

I thank the Minister for her reply. As they say, we shall have to wait and see. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 76 and 77 not moved.]

Clause 27 agreed to.

Clauses 28 to 32 agreed to.

Schedule 7 agreed to.

Clauses 33 and 34 agreed to.

Schedule 8 agreed to.

Clause 35 [Powers in relation to the Commission]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 78:

Page 16, line 6, at end insert— ("() make provision conferring on the Commission functions with respect to the provision of services of any description to regional development agencies,").

The noble Lord said: I shall also speak to Amendment No. 80.

These amendments deal with the question of the RDAs taking over specific functions from existing bodies. We intend that the RDAs will be operational in April 1999. That is an ambitious timescale. They will have a lot on their plate and will need to continue to deliver the services that are currently being delivered by existing bodies as well as breaking all the new ground we have discussed today on regional strategies.

For example, in IT the complex network systems which English Partnerships and the RDC currently operate will be crucial to the continued successful delivery of the programmes when they pass through RDAs in April. To avoid jeopardising those, we intend to leave the systems intact, with continued support to be provided by an IT unit within EP comprising the expert staff from that organisation and those from the RDC, which is due to be wound up. In the long term the RDAs may consider carefully their own long-term IT strategies, but that is not a quick job. For the present we need those services, and English Partnerships will be able to provide them under these provisions. These amendments will therefore ensure that the RDAs can benefit from the systems in the RDC and English Partnerships during a transitional period. I commend the amendment to the Committee.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns moved Amendment No. 79:

Page 16, line 12, at end insert ("but in the event of the termination of the exercise by the Commission of its research and advisory functions, these shall be transferred to such other national public body as the Secretary of State may prescribe,").

The noble Baroness said: Like some of my noble friends, I might prefer to be in a different place on this occasion, indeed at the Bournemouth conference showing my support for the leadership. On this occasion I have drawn the short straw in moving the last but one amendment this evening.

Clause 35 contains provisions for the Secretary of State's powers in relation to the RDC. Subsection (1)(c) gives the Secretary of State the power to terminate the RDC's right to exercise any or all of its functions. It is late and I suddenly realise that I have fallen into the same trap as the Minister in referring to its initials rather than the organisation itself.

In March, the Government announced their decision to merge the Countryside Commission and the Rural Development Commission. One assumes that the merger is intended to encourage a more integrated approach to rural policy, as was announced at the time. However, if such an approach is to be effectively pursued, the national research and advisory functions of the Rural Development Commission will be of great importance. The commission has been the only organisation providing detailed national information on what is going on in rural areas and its work has been considered extremely valuable. It is feared that, without that research and advice, national government and the regional development agencies will not be in a position to make informed decisions on issues that affect rural areas. The Bill enables the Government to preserve these services, but it does not guarantee their future on the face of the Bill. I believe that it is very important that they continue on a national basis and do not become fragmented.

My amendment has been put down at this stage as a probing amendment to find out from the Government their intention with regard to these services and to inquire what kind of assurance the Committee may have that the services will continue. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

Clause 35 empowers the Secretary of State to transfer functions, property, rights, liabilities and staff from the RDC to other public bodies and to wind up the RDC. On 27th March my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister announced the merger of the RDC with the Countryside Commission. The resultant merged body will be a new champion for rural England. The RDC's existing research and advisory work will be equally important in this new body. One of its main purposes will be to give advice to government on how to include a rural dimension in wider policies and also to give advice to local authorities, RDAs and others to ensure that well thought through, integrated solutions to the problems raised in developing a living countryside are produced.

Amendment No. 79 would have the effect of requiring the transfer of the RDC's research and advisory functions to a national public body prescribed by the Secretary of State should the exercise of them be terminated. The purpose behind this would appear to be to ensure that the research and advisory functions of the RDC are not terminated or overlooked, as the noble Baroness said in moving the amendment. The White Paper set out our commitment to ensuring an effective focus at national level for expertise, information and advice on rural matters which will assist RDAs and other local and national organisations.

The merger of the two bodies will ensure a future for this. Indeed, we expect the remit of the new merged body to set out its role as a centre of expertise and research on the countryside and rural issues. This will be achieved through the effective use of experienced staff. I therefore ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns

I thank the Minister for her reply. I understand and appreciate her expression of expectation that the national advisory and research functions will be transferred. I should like to consider this matter further, not just because of the late hour but also because there are concerns in organisations outwith this House as to whether or not the Government's expectation can realistically be accepted and carried forward without the amendment which I have moved being on the face of the Bill. But, at this stage of the evening, I seek leave of the House to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 35, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 36 agreed to.

Schedule 9 agreed to.

Clause 37 [Powers in relation to the Agency]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 80:

Page 17, line 12, at end insert— ("() make provision conferring on the Agency functions with respect to the provision of services of any description to regional development agencies,").

The noble Lord said: I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 37, as amended, agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 81: Before Clause 38, insert the following new clause—