§ 3.18 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Whitty.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1 [Establishment]:
Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 1, line 8, after ("Act") insert ("and no other").
§ The noble Baroness said: I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 1 and 68. Since Amendment No. 1 to Clause 1 is, in effect, a consequential amendment to the more substantial Amendment No. 68, I will, with the leave of the Committee, speak first to Amendment No. 68.
§ I felt it necessary to table Amendment No. 68 because I was very disturbed by something said by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, when, as a Minister, she intervened in my speech on Second Reading. I was also disturbed by something the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, did not say when she wound up for the Government in the same debate.
§ I commented on the number and the geography of the proposed regions as set out in the first schedule, both of which I consider unsuitable for the purposes of the Bill. I said that boundaries previously created for and appropriate for bookkeeping, statistical and other purely administrative and bureaucratic purposes had no relevance to economic and industrial affairs. Despite the fact that I prefaced my remarks by saying that, in fairness to the Government, I accepted that they were seeking to avoid delay to their legislative programme, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, intervened to say that the boundaries in the first schedule were set up by the former government. The noble Baroness said that she had been confused by my remarks, so perhaps she had not heard or understood my conciliatory observation that we understood the reasons for using these ready-made boundaries rather than invoking the assistance of the Boundary Commission.
In response to that intervention I pointed out to the noble Baroness, and do so again to the Committee, that.
the boundaries created previously were created for reasons different from those behind this Bill".—[Official Report, 18/5/1998: col. 1342.]
Let me make the position absolutely clear. Although we believe that the proposed boundaries are unsuitable for the purposes of the Bill, we accept that the Government had no alternative, because of the time restraints, but to make use of those set out in Schedule 1.
§ We equally accept that because we believe there was some kind of electoral pact made with the Liberal Democrats before the last general election the Government had no alternative but to use those very same boundaries for the purposes of introducing PR in time for the next elections to the European Parliament. We are not opposing the Government's use of those boundaries for the purposes of the Bill. We are disagreeing but we are not opposing. I hope that that is now clear to the Benches opposite and that there will be no further confusion.
§ We note especially the powers that the Secretary of State is taking under Clause 25 to enable him to modify the boundaries, after consultation, in case of need. It is possible that we on these Benches, together with those near to us, might seek to modify Clause 25. We have tabled amendments.
I turn now to what the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, did not say. I had asked for a specific assurance. After reminding your Lordships that it was the Government's intention to establish regional chambers of government, which I described as the Balkanisation of the country—I apologise for quoting myself—I then said:
We on this side of the House would like to be assured that they"—
are not plotting to establish by the back door a fait accompli as to the boundaries of those regions".—[Official Report, 18/5/1998; col. 1343.]
In reply the noble Baroness said that I had suggested that we were opposed to the boundaries defined in Schedule 1, not that we disagreed with the appropriateness of them for the Bill, totally ignoring my request for an assurance about the regional government boundaries which had nothing to do with regional development agencies. My noble friend Lord Bowness intervened and asked the Minister how she saw the establishment of regional chambers. My noble friend added:
Is she saying that it will be at a sufficiently early stage to use the government office boundaries for those assemblies when they come?".—[Official Report, 18/5/1998; col. 1348.]
The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, replied at col. 1349:
We are committed to more accountable regional government in England but believe that much can be done within the present democratic structure to build up the voice of the regions. It was difficult to tell from comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, whether he was in favour of a fully-fledged, fully accountable, agreed by the Conservative Party, regional form of government in the UK".
What kind of answer is that to a straightforward and simple question? What do the Government say the Conservative Party has agreed to? Certainly not the
Schedule 1 boundaries for the purposes of the jurisdictions of the proposed regional assemblies. I stress the word "assemblies" and not "agencies".
§ A simple ward within a borough council has its boundaries fixed by a local government boundary commission. The borough councils have their boundaries fixed by the local government boundary commission. Parliamentary constituencies have their boundaries fixed by the parliamentary boundary commission. Until the Government decided to test the water with the thin end of the wedge of proportional representation—if I may be permitted to mix a couple of metaphors—the boundaries of the European parliamentary constituencies were similarly fixed by a boundary commission.
§ The Government propose to create a major, unique and entirely novel series of local government units. Why can we not have a clear and unevasive assurance that those assemblies will have their boundaries fixed by the same totally independent and unimpeachable body, the boundary commission, rather than by government fiat? I make no charge at all of potential gerrymandering but I suggest to the Government that they would be well advised to ensure that the question can never arise.
§ I remind the Committee that the criteria by which the various boundary commissions are required to act by law include, so far as they reasonably can, "local ties". I still await to be told what local ties there are between Southampton and Oxford. They are in the same administrative region for the purposes of the Bill but certainly have no place being lumped together in one regional assembly.
§ Amendment No. 1 to Clause 1 is also intended to limit the Schedule 1 boundaries to this Act unless Parliament decides otherwise. Bearing in mind that the Government could set up a shadow boundary commission tomorrow, without waiting for legislation—just as they did in the case of the shadow low pay commission—there is no reason why there should be any delay in the Government's legislative proposals, if indeed they are imminent.
§ I seek a simple, straightforward and—I urge the Minister—uncomplicated answer, not wrapped up in rhetoric, to a simple, straightforward and uncomplicated question. Do the Government commit themselves to the principle that before regional legislatures are brought into being, and before their electors are asked to vote in the proposed referendum, their boundaries will be set by a wholly independent boundary commission?
§ I have given the Minister three answers. "Yes, we do give that pledge", which we would regard as entirely satisfactory; "No, we will not give that pledge", so at least Parliament knows where it stands; or, thirdly, a response by the Minister saying that he or she cannot say what is the Government's policy at this stage—which I would not find too surprising—but that he or she will discuss the matter with me and with my noble friend Lord Bowness before the next stage of the Bill. On that basis we will determine our future attitude to this aspect of the Bill. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Hamwee
While we on these Benches have sympathy with some of the remarks of the noble 441 Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, in a speech delivered at rather break-neck speed, I am not sure whether she was speaking to the first group of amendments or if some of her comments perhaps strayed into the next group.
Let me ask one straightforward question in relation to Amendment No. 1 which proposes that the division specified in the schedule will only apply for the purposes of this Act. Can the Minister confirm that it would not be possible to bind a future parliament—or, indeed, this parliament in future legislation—and that the regions which might apply for any future changes will be dealt with by that future legislation?
§ Lord Whitty
In view of the progress we have seen recently on other Bills, I have no objection to the speed with which the noble Baroness presented her case today. We are slightly in danger of being somewhat premature, not only on the first amendment to this Bill. Most of what the noble Baroness said related to an entirely different Bill which has to be produced.
The first amendment applies to Clause 1, which is about the establishment of RDAs and their geographical areas, and nothing else. Together with Schedule I it defines the English regions for the purposes of RDAs, and nothing else. I am glad that the noble Baroness accepts that it was sensible and expedient to use boundaries which were already there for that purpose.
Neither Clause 1 nor Schedule 1 relates to the establishment of regional assemblies. This Bill is not concerned with making RDAs accountable to regional assemblies in the first place. It is true, as the noble Baroness indicates, that the Government have embarked on an ambitious programme to modernise the constitution and to devolve power. As such I have sympathy for the longer-term view which lies behind these amendments, but not for the reference to Balkanisation, as expressed by the noble Baroness. We see this not as Balkanisation but as the modernisation of our democracy and the decentralisation of power to people in the regions.
It is not for me to say, as the noble Baroness asked me, what we thought the Conservative Party had agreed to. That is a matter for the Benches opposite. However, we made clear our intention that in time the people in the regions of England will have the opportunity to decide whether they wish to move to a more decentralised form of government. But it is at that time, and not now, that there will be a case for putting our RDAs into a regional democratic framework and for considering the boundaries of that democratic framework. In such a framework, the elected representatives would take decisions about what an RDA can do and be accountable for the actions of the RDA. Indeed, that is the framework envisaged in the legislation on Wales, in the legislation before the House on Scotland and what will be in the legislation for London. It is an approach which I personally favour. However, as far as concerns the rest of the English regions, that is not a decision we have to take on this Bill. For the present, the RDAs will be non-departmental public bodies, like so many others, accountable to Ministers and ultimately to Parliament for what they do. 442 The framework of the Bill, including the financial framework on which there are later amendments, reflects that.
Of course, RDAs will be significant bodies in each region and they will have important powers. We feel that they should have regard to the views in the region and give an account of themselves to the region, but their formal accountability will be to the Secretary of State and to Parliament. It is also important to emphasise that it is clear in the drafting of the Bill that the regions are for the purposes of the RDAs only. Many of the underlying concerns expressed by the noble Baroness were on an assumption that the regions would be for other purposes as well. That is not the position in the Bill. If and when regional assemblies are established, there will clearly be a need for new primary legislation to establish them. Parliament will then have the opportunity to consider the extent and the boundaries of the regions proposed in that context. We are not committed to using these precise boundaries for regional assemblies at a later stage.
Amendment No. 1 is aimed at limiting the Bill in the way the Bill is already de facto limited. It reflects a concern that the areas of the RDAs specified in the Bill should not be used as a precedent. They cannot be used as a precedent. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has just said, Parliament cannot tie the hands of future legislators in the way the fear lying behind the amendment suggests. We therefore do not think that the amendment is necessary. It does not pre-empt any future legislation. It is not the Government's intention that it should in any way do so.
The more substantive amendment, Amendment No. 68, relates to the role of the Boundary Commission and requires that in this legislation the Boundary Commission should determine bodies—that is, regional assemblies—which will be set up under entirely different legislation some time hence when that legislation comes before Parliament. The Boundary Commission does, by and large, determine electoral boundaries, but that too is a matter for consideration when that legislation emerges. In considering the Bill, we cannot make a sensible judgment about what the appropriate mechanism for determining future boundaries for future democratic bodies would be.
I trust that I have given sufficient assurance to the noble Baroness that we are not pre-empting future legislation. If we tried to, we could not constitutionally do so. I therefore hope that she will withdraw her amendment.
§ Baroness Miller of Hendon
I accept what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord the Minister said; namely, that there is a fundamental flaw in Amendment No. 68. I certainly should have said that it was a probing amendment. I have listened carefully to the Minister's reply. I understand that he cannot commit himself, which is why I offered three choices and suggested in one of them that he might like to discuss it with me and with my noble friend Lord Bowness. I want to make it clear that, while we agree that these are the boundaries totally appropriate for the Bill because of the time schedule, we did not want it to go without note that 443 we very much hope that when the Government come to the further Bill they will certainly go through the normal procedure of the Boundary Commission. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 3.30 p.m.
Lord Bowness moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 1, line 8, leave out second ("the").
§ The noble Lord said: Perhaps I may take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister on his appointment to his ministerial position in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. In moving the amendment, I hope that the noble Lord and the Committee will allow me to pose some questions to the Government so that we are all aware of the background and the present position against which we are debating the Bill.
§ It is certainly our contention that, rather than empowering the regions and the local authorities within the regions, the Bill is a highly centralising measure giving considerable power to the Secretary of State. As evidence of that, even though the Bill has yet to pass through your Lordships' House, advertisements for members and chief executives of regional development agencies were published some time ago by the Secretary of State. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell the Committee precisely what is the position in that regard, what is the position with regard to the various selection procedures and where they stand in advance of the Bill passing into law.
§ These questions are particularly relevant to this group of amendments since appointments and indeed the advertisements which sought applications must have been made on the assumption that the areas of the RDAs will be precisely as set out in this yet unpassed Bill. Likewise, the amendments about membership may have already been prejudged. It appears, although I should like to think that it is not true, that there is not even a pretence that due consideration will be given to observations or amendments that your Lordships may care to make on these various provisions. But perhaps I will be told that I am wrong in that regard.
§ I turn to the first group of amendments, which seeks to remove the straitjacket of the first schedule. My noble friend Lady Miller of Hendon indicated that we understand and accept the Government's desire to use the existing Government Office boundaries for the purpose of the Bill. However, accepting and understanding does not necessarily mean that we agree. We are well aware that, with one exception, the proposed areas coincide with the areas of the Government Offices for the Regions. I submit that the area chosen by a government as convenient for the delivery of government services is not necessarily the best area for regional initiatives and co-operation. For such things to work, communities need to be working with their neighbours in groupings with which they feel comfortable.444
§ We all know and understand how difficult it is to divide England into regions. There is not an obvious regional grouping. There is not a conscious regional identity in every part of England. Indeed, some areas may see themselves as part of one area for one purpose and part of another area for others. But decisions have to be made if there are to be bodies such as the regional development agencies. I understand and accept that. Clearly, the discussion and argument cannot be allowed to become extended.
§ We have all seen the argument that resulted from the considerations of the Local Government Commission over the make-up of new authorities. It was in an attempt to try to meet the Government's needs to get on with this measure and to find some kind of expedited procedure that time limits and reference to the Boundary Commission are included in the amendment. We have spent considerable time since the Bill was originally presented doing that. The Government may say that if the amendment were passed it would delay the introduction of RDAs until next autumn. I suppose that, if we have already advertised for the members and the chief executives, that is a long wait. But perhaps the time spent between the presentation of the Bill and now would have been better spent on some kind of exercise as envisaged in the amendment.
§ My noble friend Lady Miller has already referred to the suspicions about determining the regions of England for other purposes and I heard and accept the Minister's reply. However, the Government are decreeing that the RDAs follow the model of the Government Offices. If local interests are to have any input they will have no alternative but to form a regional chamber following the boundaries that are suggested in the Bill. Then, lo and behold, if the Government are ever minded to proceed with their proposals for regional assemblies, the mould will have been cast, whatever the Minister may say about the Government's intentions at the present time.
§ All that will happen without there having been any consideration as to whether or not the boundaries set out in this schedule to the Bill best suit the purposes of the Bill or the communities which the bodies we are setting up are supposed to serve. There has been no local input, and no local determination. It is as provided by the Government on the say-so of the Secretary of State, notwithstanding that this Bill is advertised as a great decentralising measure. The Bill does not even provide any real power for review, save only the limited power in Clause 25, to which we shall come later today.
§ I am extremely concerned that unless there is some mechanism whereby boundaries can be determined by reference to the normal traditional methods of deciding which communities are best put together with each other for particular purposes we may find that within the regional development agencies there are areas which do not fit well together, and that cannot be good for the regional development agencies or for the purposes for which the Government seek to set them up. I beg to move.445
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
I should like to follow on from my noble friend, whose views I very much support, I ask the Government to give very careful consideration to the flexibility that will be needed over the years in making adjustments to the composition of some of the regions and their development agencies. I can certainly see that this may well become necessary for the Isle of Wight sooner rather than later. In writing to Mr. Richard Caborn, the Minister's colleague, on the 4th March of this year—a copy of which I sent to his predecessor the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman—I made the point that the Isle of Wight was significantly different from the prosperous mainland counties of south east England.
In an appendix to that letter I gave many examples of those differences, showing that the Isle of Wight is one of the poorest areas of the country and the south east region is one of the richest. The Isle of Wight's GDP per head in March of this year was £6,290, whereas the GDP of the south east region was £10,875. Our unemployment rate at that stage was 10 per cent. and in the south east region it was 5 per cent. These are but two examples showing how extraordinarily different in all sorts of ways our island is from this very wealthy part of England.
Added to that, we have the difficulties of dealing with people on the mainland in administrative matters like development agencies because of our separation from them by sea. If we are to be compared, we need to be compared to the islands of the United Kingdom and not to the mainland of south east England. In corresponding with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor about whether the efficiencies of the magistrates' courts committees of the Isle of Wight and of Hampshire will be improved if those two committees are merged, I am happy to say that the noble and learned Lord said, among other things, that in considering the matter he recognises that the Solent presents a challenge which has to be surmounted. That is a step forward for a government department. Government departments tend to say "We must ignore it" rather than "We must accept it as a challenge and do something about it".
It is this recognition of the challenge, and with it positive steps to make the sorts of adjustments for islands that, for example, Scotland and Canada make, that we are seeking from English departments of state and English regional bodies. Whether they are regional authorities or regional agencies does not matter. It is easy to say all of that, but very much harder for people with mainland mentalities to put into effect over a continuing period of time.
I have been told by our Member of Parliament, Dr. Peter Brand, that the chief executive and chairman designate of the proposed South East Regional Development Agency, are indeed doing their best to be helpful. I am delighted to hear that even if, as we have heard earlier, they have been pre-empted in their appointment or prospective appointment. The point is not so much what is going to happen tomorrow, when they are able to say that they are very enthusiastic and will do everything they can and listen to all our 446 arguments as to why we are different, but what it is going to be like in five or 10 years' time. Will this good attitude continue into the foreseeable future?
Our past experience in this area has not been helpful. For example, in the 1970s and 1980s our Isle of Wight district health authority was subordinate to a regional health authority based in Winchester. It built us a new hospital, which was opened in the mid-1980s. It is generally satisfactory inside but its exterior is metal. When it was being designed the local island people concerned questioned this because the whole of the Isle of Wight is vulnerable to sea mists on calm days and to the dampness of the prevailing south westerly winds when it is blowing. The regional health authority rejected such interference in its plan. Indeed, during the building of the hospital it forbade representatives of the Isle of Wight county council and its district health authority from even going to the site and giving any sort of practical advice. Noble Lords who live in the south of England may have seen during this past week pictures on their television screens of this very hospital and its metal cladding on the outside. The metal cladding, after about 15 years from being built, is already severely rusted. Noble Lords may have heard that it will cost several millions of pounds to put right. This is an example of a region not listening to local attitudes and problems. It does not understand the way of life of the people who live on our particular island.
One could go on. There is another aspect which applied to the regional health authority—forgive me for involving it but it is an example of a region and, with respect to the Government, they do not know what a region in England is going to be like because there has never been one. The region also paid very little regard to, and certainly did not take advantage of the fact, that in the run up to the association which people were trying to build in the early 1980s between the social services department of the county council and the health authority (which was a continual problem on the mainland because the boundaries between the health authorities, health districts and the counties were always different) in our case we did not have that problem. There was a great deal to learn about the co-operation between those two authorities, but the regional health authority was not remotely interested and did not recommend taking advantage of this to the Department of Health and, in consequence, a good point was lost.
Another example which is rather closer to the Minister's department is the lack of care in presenting matters concerning islands. This can easily mislead those who are not familiar with them. In their consultation paper Access to the Open Countryside, on pages 7 and 8 the Minister's own department shows, in three separate maps, the Isle of Wight actually connected to the mainland, wiping out most of the Solent which, as I told your Lordships earlier, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor recognises as a challenge. Even if uninformed persons realise that it must be a mistake, that sort of error causes them to think that separation by sea is much less of a problem than it really is and much less of a problem than we endeavour 447 to inform not only regional bodies but central government. This problem is accentuated by people who do not take enough care to understand it.
One cannot rely on English regional bodies always grasping accurately what the island differences really are. Therefore, please let us have the composition of the regions easily and independently altered by the Boundary Commission. It may be best if the Isle of Wight is eventually a region on its own with its own agency, as indeed are very many other islands in United Kingdom waters and in the Commonwealth of similar or even smaller populations.
§ Lord Bridges
These amendments draw attention to the problems created by the Government's decision to use the regions as the basis and centres for the regional offices for the new regions.
On Second Reading, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said:The administrative boundaries of the government office areas are well established for economic purposes".—[Official Report, 18/5/98; col. 1292.]But the purposes then served were quite different from the functions foreseen for these new agencies. The old government offices were chosen to enable the responsibilities of central government, mainly in the Department of Trade and Industry, to be executed in the field. I had frequent contact with those offices in relation to the promotion of exports and inward investment.
§ The jobs performed in those offices were essentially top- down—the tentacles of Whitehall penetrating throughout the country to execute the mission of the government. The sites were chosen on the grounds of administrative convenience. That is quite different from the role of these new agencies which is to promote the progress of a particular region, led by those who know its potential and are ambitious for its progress, working together for that purpose.
§ Therefore, it is important, indeed essential, that the regions should be capable of collaborative endeavours based on common aims for the region as a whole. That is essential if we are to avoid a top-down interventionist activity devised from the centre. The present scheme seems to me to carry such a flavour. Indeed, it brings to mind rather naughtily Lenin's definition of the role of a trade union in a socialist state which he described as a transmission belt conveying power from the centre to the masses. Of course, the Government have no such intention. I share their idea of creating a new locally-driven set of initiatives. That is why the nature of those regions is so important.
§ The part of England which I know best is East Anglia. I live in Suffolk. I have noted with some dismay the boundaries of the proposed "eastern region". That phrase means nothing locally. The Government's region consists of the three core counties of East Anglia—the phrase we normally use—consisting of Norfolk, Suffolk and perhaps Cambridgeshire to which are added in the Government's scheme the counties of Essex, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire and four 448 non-metropolitan districts. I find it difficult to identify many common purposes in an area with such disparate parts.
§ On the other hand, the three East Anglian counties have a good deal in common. They are predominantly rural and agricultural. They have suffered from the vicissitudes of farming, particularly at present, and from insufficient investment in the transport infrastructure. They share also a common economic constraint in being the driest part of England with a water resource inadequate to support a much larger population or major industrial development.
§ I can see that an economic region based on the three counties would make a lot of sense. It would be able to develop common policies based on the interests, views and ambitions which they share. But the other three counties—Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Essex—are quite different in character. West Essex and Hertfordshire are much closer to the metropolis and are greatly affected by being in the Greater London travel-to-work area. Therefore, I find it difficult to see how a region of such diverse characteristics as defined by the Government could develop a common strategy without prodigious efforts in relation to time, energy and tact.
§ There is also the disadvantage that the head office is to be in Bedford where the government office for the eastern region is located. Even the name of its acronym—GOER—has some exotic foreign ring about it. It sounds to me like somewhere in central Hungary. Indeed, contemplating the distances, Bedford is a long way away. It is a bit closer than Budapest, but not much.
I noted in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, the following significant passage. She said:
I am absolutely certain that my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister was right to decide at the outset that we should not be diverted from the main task in hand by disputes endlessly about boundaries"—[Official Report, 18/5/98; col. 1292.]
I take it that the grammar was that of her right honourable friend. I have no wish to be obstructive or to engage in such disputes, but if those agencies are to fulfil the responsibilities set out in the Bill, boundaries are important. After all, we are seeking to encourage the agencies to develop common policies and regional dynamism. Therefore, I consider that the suggestion made in Amendment No. 5 has some merit. I refer to the proposal for work by the Boundary Commission. We know the work of the Boundary Commission. It commands respect. Its decisions are much more likely to be accepted than something simply inserted into the Bill by the Government. Even if the Boundary Commission were to accept a solution like that proposed in the Bill, it would command far more acceptance if that body were the source and authority for the decision.
§ Baroness Hamwee
It is well known that on these Benches, we have considerable concerns about the composition of many of the regions. I have a great deal of sympathy for many of the comments that have been made. With regard to the Isle of Wight, it is ironic that it has difficulty with being part of the south-east region while Bournemouth and Poole, as I understand it, are to go into the south-west but have a considerable wish to 449 be part of the south-east rather than the south-west for those purposes. One can find examples all round the country.
However, there is a clear decision to be made. Are the boundaries to be as near perfect as the Boundary Commission or any other entity can make them before the regional development agencies get going with their important work or should their work be enabled to start, with the possibility, as we would wish to see, of reviewing the boundaries in the future?
We have never felt that the areas which were under the aegis of the government offices were the right areas, although I cannot accept the argument that they were formed for something entirely different for the purposes of this Bill. I have always seen the delivery of services and issues of accountability and democracy as very closely inter-related. The government offices formed by the last government were for the administration of central government. However, central government delivered services just as much as regional government will do in the future and as local government does at present. Therefore, we hear with some interest the comments made in some quarters about the composition of the regions. However, we should wish to see the work of the agencies starting as soon as possible.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Lord Whitty
I am minded to remark that one of my greatest mistakes when I was General Secretary of the Labour Party—and there were many—was to try to change the regional boundaries of the party. My noble friend Lord Dormand will no doubt recall the reaction in the north-east when we tried to subsume it in Yorkshire.
Boundaries are always an extremely delicate matter. The boundaries that we have proposed here cannot be ideal for all circumstances. They will provoke some resentment. But they are boundaries which already exist.
Perhaps I may begin by correcting something which the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, said and trying to clear up a slight misunderstanding on another point which was made. First, the RDA boundaries are precisely those of the government offices now because Merseyside has already, as a government office, been incorporated into the North West.
It is true that we have started advertising for members of the boards of the RDAs and have appointed a chairman designate for those boards. But in no sense, apart from the chairs, have we made any definitive decisions. We shall not be making any appointments of other board members on the basis of these boundaries or any other aspect of the functions of the RDAs. We are not, therefore, pre-empting parliamentary scrutiny in this House and possibly again in another place before we make any such appointments. We have started that process because it is sensible to do so, but it will take some time to go through what is now required for such public appointments. We shall be considering those applications, but no appointment apart from the chairs will be made. I thought I should clarify that point.
The substance of this debate is whether we have chosen the right boundaries for the RDA purpose, though we have spilt over slightly into the earlier debate 450 from time to time. I am glad that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bridges, recognises that there is a difference between the past Leninist approach of the former government in terms of "top-down" use of government offices as the arms of Whitehall and the regional development agencies concept which is very much a regionally-based initiative. But in both cases they relate, to a large extent, to the same economic and industrial infrastructure and the same questions of administrative convenience. Nothing is ideal, but the administrative convenience of the government offices does not seem to us to provoke any reasons for changing the boundaries of the RDAs at this point.
The boundaries of the government offices have been accepted by previous governments and by this one. They are also based on local authority boundaries which themselves, by and large, reflect historic identities. People in the regions, particularly business people, are familiar with the areas involved. We think it makes sense at this point to base the RDAs on them.
We are not suggesting that they are immutable. Indeed, as the noble Lord has indicated, Clause 25 provides a means of changing them. As a result of listening to the opinions of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee we have proposed that any changes would be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny by affirmative resolution. So we are providing for some change in future.
It is also important to recognise that we do not regard these boundaries as being Chinese walls. We expect RDAs to co-operate with each other in addressing issues which extend across their boundaries as the government offices and regional partners already do. In particular there is co-operation for example, on the Thames Gateway between three of the regions designated in the Bill and co-operation between at least two and sometimes three or four regions on trans-Pennine issues.
So there are means of co-operation across boundaries. To have a further review at this stage would not, in our view, be in anybody's interest, least of all those regional stakeholders, businesses and others, who are already working together in the shadow regions where they have traditionally found it less than easy to do so. The imminence of the RDAs has led to a substantial amount of co-operation.
The process of a further review would, in our judgment, place an unnecessary strain on those relationships which are still in the process of being developed and would fuel old disagreements and new rivalries within those regions. Any delay would, in our view, jeopardise the goodwill that has already been shown so positively to the Government's proposals on RDAs.
Amendments Nos. 2 to 5 and the deletion of Schedule 1, as proposed by the noble Lord, would place the decisions on the boundaries in the hands of the Boundary Commission. We do not consider that to be appropriate. Although I take very much the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about the appropriateness of the Boundary Commission for reviewing electoral constituencies, we are not involved with electoral 451 constituencies or bodies of democratic accountability here; we are dealing with development agencies and the administrative areas of those development agencies. It would not be appropriate, given the expertise and the system of working that the Boundary Commission has adopted in the past, to apply it to this area.
We understand that some of the concerns behind this proposition relate to the presumption discussed on the earlier amendments that we were using the same boundaries for future purposes. I hope I have made clear my assurances on that.
Moreover, passing responsibility to the Boundary Commission, even if it were appropriate, would lead to yet a further delay. The Boundary Commission does a thorough job, but it takes a long time. It would not be appropriate, and I think would be most unwelcome in those regions which have greeted with such enthusiasm the proposals for RDAs and positively responded to the opportunity that RDAs will give their regions.
There is a specific point in Amendment No. 4 which concerns Clause 1(3). That subsection provides that:Any reference in Schedule 1 to a local government or administrative area is to that area as it is for the time being".That subsection therefore ensures that when a local government administrative area is changed, the change will automatically follow through to an RDA area. The amendment would stop such changes carrying through to changes to RDA boundaries. That, surely, is not sensible.
§ Points have been raised in relation to particular regional problems. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, spoke eloquently about the Isle of Wight. I recognise the correspondence he referred to from my honourable friend, the Minister for Regions, Regeneration and Planning, Mr. Dick Caborn. Clearly, there is an important role for the RDA in attracting investment for the whole of the south east region and that must include the Isle of Wight.
§ We have made it clear that RDAs take an integrated approach to their work. They take account of all parts of the region. One of the intentions behind the RDA is to spread prosperity across the region and not to concentrate it solely in a few areas of that region. In our view the Isle of Wight will be a prime beneficiary of that approach rather than missing out, as the noble Lord seemed to say in some of his remarks. It is important that rural and urban areas, fringe and central areas of the region are treated equally and with due respect in terms of the development and regeneration task of the agencies.
§ In relation to the hints the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, gave of the constitutional position of the Isle of Wight, I think that is probably a little beyond the scope of the Bill. I am not sure whether he is suggesting that it should have equivalent status to the Isle of Man, Jersey or whatever. As I understand it, as a unitary authority it has similar status already to Orkney and Shetland. But I think that is probably beyond us today. I do assure the noble Lord that the economic 452 development of the region as a whole, of which the Isle of Wight is an important part, would be the responsibility of the RDA for that region.
§ He also referred, I regret to say, to a map produced by my department. I can only grovellingly apologise to the noble Lord for this utterly deplorable geographical error. I am assured that it is due to "technical problems". It says here— "low resolution of the maps and slight printing inconsistencies". I hope the noble Lord takes that to heart. I am also assured that larger versions of that very same map show the Isle of Wight clearly to be separated from the mainland.
§ Lord Whitty
So far as it is within my gift I shall try to ensure that such a grievous error does not happen again. I apologise to the citizens of the Isle of Wight.
Members of the Committee also raised the question of East Anglia. Clearly the boundaries of East Anglia have been a matter of dispute from Saxon times onwards. It is by no means definite that the headquarters of the regional development agency would be in Bedford, which incidentally tends to regard itself as an eastern town and historically has had great ties with the rest of East Anglia. For example, the main part of the government offices in East Anglia are in Cambridge, which was recognised as being in one of the central counties of East Anglia.
There will be difficulties with boundary areas. But if we tell the people in the metropolitan parts of Essex and Hertfordshire that they are part of London, they will not treat those comments kindly. I suspect that they would much rather be regarded as part and parcel of East Anglia, even if there are disparate interests within East Anglia. Clearly there are more urbanised and more rural areas, but the development of industry across East Anglia in recent years has been remarkable. It is no longer solely or even primarily composed of agricultural counties, even in Norfolk and Suffolk.
We believe that the area we designated has a reasonable coherence and is able to be treated as a whole. Again, I reiterate that certain points—for example the Thames Gateway, the Essex part of the eastern region—would probably co-operate with London rather than with the south-eastern region.
I hope that what I conveyed is not absolutism. These boundaries are not ideal and perfect for all times. We have a means of changing them. They do not pre-empt any other boundaries. They are the most sensible suggestion with which we can come forward within the timescale set for the RDAs. A lot of people, businesses and local authorities in the regions are expecting us to deliver. Further delay on the lines suggested by the amendment would not be sensible and I ask the noble Lord to withdraw it.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I suppose one cannot be surprised and disappointed at the same time. I am disappointed in his response. The 453 speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, and my noble friend Lord Mottistone, eloquently indicated the difficulties of drawing boundaries.
I acknowledge the boundaries but I do not feel that the Minister has given to the Committee a satisfactory explanation—other than as a matter of administrative convenience—as to why the regional development agencies which exist to serve local communities and to develop local economies should automatically follow the government offices' boundaries themselves. Indeed, it was interesting that the Minister, when he talked of the impending RDAs—I may not quote him precisely—brought rivalries together; difficulties that already existed. The fact that one acknowledges that those kinds of rivalries and differences are being forced together by virtue of this Bill into one specific area of operation indicates that those areas are not correct. They are not necessarily the groups and communities that will work naturally and closely together.
I believe that in matters of economic development, which will be a vital part of the operation of those organisations, to be able to work with one's neighbours is important. It is working with one's neighbours which will overcome political differences that may exist. By and large local governments will get along with their neighbours, whatever the political persuasion of those various authorities. However, when we put together in one grouping disparate interests and rivalries, trouble will come.
It is extremely unfortunate that we will have to rely on review after a number of years of operation—and a great deal of cost in unscrambling what we have done by virtue of this Bill—rather than seeking within a time limit to establish reasonable boundaries for regional development agencies covering reasonable communities of interest.
I am grateful to the Minister for the clarification which he gave in relation to the present position regarding the agencies and the chairman. I cannot accept all that he said. I shall consider it further. It may be that we shall wish to return to this at a later stage of the Bill. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 3 to 5 not moved.]
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Schedule 1 agreed to.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Clause 2 [Constitution]:
§ Lord Bowness moved Amendment No. 6:
§ Page 1. line 17, at end insert ("and the Secretary of State shall include in his appointments to each agency persons who hold office as elected councillors for local authorities within the area of the agency.").
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment to Clause 2 is one which we consider to be extremely important. In moving Amendment No. 6 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 8.454
In the preface to the consultation paper Local Democracy and Community Leadership, the following fine words are found:
[The Government's] agenda is the review of local democratic government, leading local communities and serving local people. We want councils to gain a new democratic legitimacy. We want them to follow new ways of working and to adopt new disciplines. We want councils, renewed in this way, to have the new powers they need to lead their communities".
The first thing we do to achieve that is to create powerful regional bodies with powers to intervene in a whole range of different functions previously the preserve of local government. What is more, we will not even put on the face of the Bill local government's right to representation on those new bodies. The right to representation rests with the Secretary of State. Even if the Secretary of State appoints members of local government to the board, it will not be the choice of the local authorities in the area; it will be centrally determined.
§ How many local government members are about to be appointed? I do not know whether the Minister is able to tell the Committee. We heard something of the processes which have been going on while the House was waiting to debate this Committee stage. Local government is the democratic element in its specific area. The different authorities within the area of an RDA are the democratic element for the area as a whole. Even with the current levels of turnout at elections, they can claim to be the most democratic institutions in an area. Certainly they will be more democratic than a regional development agency established, directed and guided by ministerial powers.
§ In my view, it is right that that quality should be realised by ensuring that local government representation is a matter of right, not patronage. Indeed, I should like to see the minimum number of members as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. Perhaps I am not so ambitious in my wishes in this matter; I am prepared to accept that to impose overall numbers may impose difficulties. I should like to see the members appointed by local government within the area.
§ The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Graham, is included in the grouping with Amendment No. 2. While I am on my feet, perhaps I may deal with the question of the second part of his amendment which I believe many people would support; namely, that the retention of membership of the regional development agencies by those who are originally appointed as local government members to represent local government on the regional development agency boards, should cease if they cease to be local government members.
§ I understand that the Minister may tell us this afternoon that people will be appointed for their particular expertise. However, I suggest that it is a question of picking local government members for the particular expertise that they can bring, while also representing the interests of local government on an RDA. For the reasons I indicated in speaking to Amendment No. 16, local government is different from all the other interests which people will seek to have represented on an RDA. Local government members are 455 particularly important because they provide a democratic element. It is nonsense to suggest that as a result of elections those people who have been appointed to an RDA in a particular area to represent the interests of local government might cease, for whatever reason, to be members of local government and yet remain members of an RDA, occupying places, however informally allocated, that the Secretary of State is reserving for local government.
§ I urge the Government to include in the Bill the right of local government to be represented. I support the proposal that those local government representatives remain members of an RDA only while they remain in office or within a reasonable time limit of their ceasing to be local government representatives. I beg to move.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
Before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether he will comment on the composition of those bodies which were dissolved as recently as three or four months ago. I am referring to the urban development corporations which, as the noble Lord will know, were part of the flagship scheme of the previous government. There is no question about the fact that they did some excellent work. In some ways they resemble the RDAs; for example, in helping to develop the areas concerned. I was a member of the Teesside Urban Development Corporation which faced problems of dereliction and lack of jobs.
In view of the noble Lord's eloquence about the need to have local government representatives, I must point out that there were no direct local government representatives on urban development corporations in those days. If the noble Lord is saying that that situation would be good now, I should have thought that it would have been good for the past 11 years. During that period members of local authorities served on such bodies although they were not appointed as elected councillors. If I understood the noble Lord correctly, that was the essence of his point. Would he like to comment on that?
It is interesting, sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, to be asked to answer questions. I do not feel particularly obliged to reply on behalf of the previous government, of which I was not a member. Suffice it to say that time moves on. We are discussing this Government's proposals. I have heard and read of their proposals to recognise and restore local government to its rightful place, as they see it, to ensure that it has its place in the sun, to strengthen it and to build on it. In view of the comments made about UDCs in the past by members of the Labour Party, and in view of what they are now saying about local government, I presume that we have no difficulty in agreeing on the merits of my amendment.
§ The Earl of Lytton
What I have to say will not help the noble Lord, Lord Bowness. In my current capacity as president of the Sussex Association of Local Councils—which interest I declare—I know well that there is some concern that the interests of local councils, such as parish councils and town councils, which are nearest to the community, are in the process of possibly 456 being sidelined by the demands of local authorities, at county and district level. I have very good relations with county and district authorities, so I would not wish to put their noses out of joint.
I believe that there is a degree of special pleading here because the Government will be faced with a large number of competing claims from both those who come from elected authorities and those who represent sectoral interests, including possibly county wildlife societies and people with other such special interests. The lobbying that will be done on all sides will create some confusion. I sense that it would be dangerous for local authorities—the same may apply to parishes—to have two bites of the cherry in terms of the regional development agency structure. If there are to be facilities for local authority councillors (coming from their elected and, it should be said, often party political backgrounds) to have a special place on the RDAs, I for one would be concerned by that because the RDAs should not be susceptible to the normal local authority mould. I believe that it should have a different nature. It seems to me that it is being set up to promote the purposes of economic activity and, as the Minister said earlier, in some way to rectify the imbalances that have occurred across the regions. I understand that.
It seems that me that the RDAs should be free of the sort of things that occur with a somewhat politicised local authority structure. I should have thought that if any body within the elected structure, from the tiers of local government, had a claim to a place on an RDA, the parish and town councils might have a better claim, being constitutionally apolitical.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
I am glad that I have waited my turn because we have heard two valuable contributions which demonstrate the wealth and depth of experience of local government possessed by Members of this House.
I rise to speak in support of Amendment No. 8 which stands in my name. I have two prime interests in this matter, one of which I must declare. All my life I have worked for the co-operative movement. That interest is recorded in the Register. I say that now because we have always claimed that we are a democratic organisation. We believe in direct democracy and elections. I have a wealth of experience in the co-operative movement of committee structures, where individuals represent their society at sectional, regional and national level. So I speak with that experience as well as from that gained in local government.
It is now some years since I had the proud privilege of being the leader of a London borough council. Presently, along with many other Members of the House, I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. The debate is illuminated not merely by what we read in briefs sent to us but also by our gut reactions to many of the situations that we come across.
457 I am puzzled by the resistance that the Government have shown to the concept of a person being appointed to a board because he is a member of a local authority. I know that it will be argued that he or she is not a representative nor a delegate but a free man or woman. Nevertheless, that person would not have been appointed if he or she had not been a member of a local authority. I am puzzled about why the Government are not prepared to try to be kinder to what I think is the basic democratic concept.
When we consider what has happened during the past year, we see that the Government brought forward a Bill under the last Queen's Speech and here we are now, virtually in time for the next one. Much water has flowed under the bridge since that time. The Local Government Association in doing its job has written to its member associations. I have with me part of a letter from the association which is called a "guidance note". I shall read a section of it to Members of the Committee for the sake of the record. It says:Authorities should also note that the LGA will be challenging the proposal in the White Paper that councillor board members will not be expected to resign if they lose their electoral mandate …. Authorities should, however, ensure that members nominated to RDA boards are aware of the LGA's policy that councillor hoard members should resign in these circumstances. They may wish to seek a commitment from such members complying with the policy".
§ As I understand it, the Minister invited the LGA during the past year to submit names. In turn, the latter has invited each of its regions to submit such names, being careful not just to nominate four—indeed, sometimes it is five, six, seven or eight. The Minister will then have a broad list by which the names of men and women who carry the confidence of the local authorities in the region are put before him. I accept that the final choice will be made by the Minister. But, quite frankly, when you look at the qualifications and the credentials of a local councillor, I do not think that they can be bettered. First, the councillor needs to know his constituency—that is, his ward. He needs to be aware of the problems and needs to be involved in major decisions inside his group, inside his council and inside the regional structure. He also needs to be familiar with the problems of the local community, both economically and socially, and needs to be sensitive to the fact that if he does not do well he will lose his seat.
§ As someone who has lost his seat at any level you may care to think of—but starting with a local council—I respect the fact that, in a democracy, the latter sometimes works in a funny way. But that is our democracy: you stand or fall by the will of the people. In my view, if the people in a region decide for whatever reason that a man or woman who carries the confidence of his or her political group, and of the non-political council, who was endorsed by the Minister and became a member of the board, has subsequently failed to carry the confidence of the constituency, that ought not to be tolerated.458
I am heartened by the Minister's remarks in another place, and I should like my noble friend the Minister to endorse what his colleague, Mr. Caborn, said in Standing Committee E on 29th January. During the course of answering points that had been raised, he said:
First, members of the board are not delegates; they are there for their own skills and as of right. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon"—
that is, Mr. Curry—
will know that although the UDCs had local authority members on their boards, they were not delegates. The local authorities decided that if their representatives lost their seats they should retire from the hoards".
The Minister went on to say:
However, if local authorities wanted to use the same structures, and that had all-party support, that would be acceptable to the Government. If people resigned after an election, we would appoint from a list that we would hope to receive from local authorities".— [Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee E, 29/1/98; col. 69.]
I wonder whether I am making heavy weather of the issue. My understanding of those words, as they apply to any region where there is an all-party agreement, is as follows. If any of the nominees which the Minister appointed to the boards ceased to be a member of a local authority, he or she would be asked to resign and, thereafter, the Minister would consult with the local authorities as regards the nomination of further names.
If that is the position as regards the Minister's response on 29th January, then much of my anxiety will be gone. However, the LGA has also said something else about which I believe Members of the Committee should be aware. It has said:
Experience with the Committee of the Regions is that democratic legitimacy is weakened if members are not required to resign if they lose their elected mandate. There is all-party support in local government to amend the Bill to make resignation automatic if local government RDA board members lose their mandate".
§ I understand that the Minister and his colleagues took great care over many months to put together a Bill which, I say now, has my support. It has my backing because it is doing what I want to see happen in each region—that is, economic regeneration to redress the economic deficit which exists. Indeed, that has my full support. However, I have just one request to make which does not affect the structure; indeed, it is in response to what local people want. They want local councillors. If my noble friend the Minister and his colleagues can look again at the possibility that, in this instance, there is room for some adjustment, I shall be most grateful.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Wade of Chorlton
I intervene briefly to say that I agreed with the previous government when they did not automatically have local government people on the development associations. I also agree with this Government that local government members should not automatically and by right be members of the development agencies. In fact, I believe that the relationship between local government and the development agencies will be better if there is no automatic right for members of local government to 459 serve on those boards. People should be on such boards to fulfil the obligations of the area rather than serving as nominated people from local government.
Local authorities in the areas are already structuring themselves so that they will be able to work closely with the development agencies in the best interests of their local activities while considering how they will comply with the objectives of the regions. It will be better if the Government's proposals in the Bill are those which are implemented rather than those proposed in the amendments.
§ Baroness Hamwee
We support the thrust of these amendments, especially those tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. As the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, said, he has not been so ambitious as his amendment could require only two members of local authorities to be on the boards. In particular, we support the proposal that a member who has been appointed in that capacity—the noble Lord would state either he or she, but we have not yet seen any females being appointed to the boards of the agencies; indeed, all the chairs appointed have been men—will have other attributes and will bring not just a representation of loyalty, and so on, to his or her particular area.
I understand the dangers inherent in a very parochial connection. But he or she will bring a feeling of the ethos of local government and the strains on local government, together with local government aspirations. That will be most valuable. I do not believe it to be right that a member appointed in that capacity should continue to serve after ceasing, for whatever reason, to be a local councillor. I do not believe that the public would have sympathy with such a person continuing to serve on the board.
Until I heard the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, I had no particular views on the matter. However, having heard what he said, I am now convinced that the amendment is entirely wrong. Let us take the case of someone who is a representative of a particular local authority and serving on a regional body. A proposal could be put forward regarding his particular council, together with a counter-proposal from another area. That person would have the difficult task of balancing his natural loyalty to his area with his impartial duty to the region.
Let us assume that this particular councillor surmounts his difficulties and actually makes the right judgment by voting for the proposal, which is not the one favouring his council. The result is that the electorate, who are less understanding of the situation, throw him out. Therefore not only does he lose his council seat but he also loses his place on the region because he has exercised honest judgment rather than local bias.
§ Lord Islwyn
When I was in the other place as the Member of Parliament for Newport a situation arose in which an elderly alderman was appointed to a water authority but subsequently failed to gain re-election to the council. However, he refused to resign from the 460 water authority. He came to see me to explain his position as his colleagues on the council were rather insistent that he should resign. This kind of situation has been a longstanding problem. Why should the argument advanced by my noble friend apply only to local authority members of such a regional authority? If a trade union representative on a regional body fails to get elected by the members of his union, should he resign from the authority? This could apply equally to an employer's representative or an environmental agency representative. I fail to see why the concept advanced by my noble friend should apply only to local authority members.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Whitty
My noble friend Lord Islwyn perhaps puts his finger on the issue. We are trying to reconcile two different principles, that of democratic representation and that of expertise. In that sense we do not expect anything different from members of a board with a local authority background than from anyone else. However, we intend to make it clear that people with a local authority background will have a major role to play on these boards. Local authorities are vital to the success of the boards. Relationships between the boards and local authorities will be vital to the success of their operation. For those reasons we have indicated that we shall appoint a significant number of local authority members to be members of the RDA boards who have the appropriate expertise and background, which includes of course background in local government.
As has been indicated, in the White Paper we stated that four out of the 12 seats that we propose for each board should in practice come from local government. That is what we intend to do. However, Amendment No. 6 seeks to make it a requirement that appointments to boards should include elected councillors. I shall deal shortly with the question of councillors who lose their seats. Given the commitment we have given in the White Paper, I hope this general requirement we are discussing will not be insisted upon. As I said, we shall appoint members from local government to the boards. The amendment of my noble friend Lord Graham seeks to specify on the face of the Bill that four members should be councillors. As we gave this commitment in the White Paper, and in the light of the assurances I have given today, I hope that this amendment will not be considered necessary. The legislation, as drafted, provides a measure of flexibility about the overall size of boards. As I said, in the White Paper we indicated a figure of four out of 12. We believe that in practice the flexibility would be limited if we could not in certain circumstances in the future reduce the size of the boards and at the same time keep the number of councillors in the proportion that we believe is right. We believe that we should not be locked into that structure.
I consider this as only a theoretical possibility. I suspect that there will be enormous pressure to increase the size of the boards rather than to reduce them. Nevertheless, we should not tie ourselves to a figure of four councillors irrespective of the size of the boards. 461 I assure the House again that our commitment is to establish a board of 12 members with four members drawn from local government.
The second part of Amendment No. 8 of my noble friend Lord Graham provides that councillors on an RDA board should be required to resign on losing their local authority seat. This matter is also mentioned in a subsequent amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. I understand some of the points that have been made in this regard. However, other points of view have also been put forward. As the Committee foresaw, my first point is that members of the RDA boards will not in a strict sense be representatives, whether from local government backgrounds, whether they represent employers, trade unions, academic life or any other area of expertise. This applies as much to other members of the boards as it does to the local authority members. The board members are not appointed to represent, to protect or to advance the interests of particular groups. They should act together for the benefit of the region as a whole and to deliver the RDA's agenda for the region. That will be made quite clear in the terms of their appointment. For this reason I cannot accept that local authority members who lose their council seats would in all circumstances necessarily lose their ability to represent local government interests on an RDA board and to reflect the needs of the board as a whole.
We sometimes speak rather loosely of RDA board members representing particular viewpoints. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, fell into this trap. By that we mean that they have particular areas of experience and expertise which they can contribute to the RDA board rather than represent a viewpoint, as it were. Experience of local government is absolutely central to the RDA board's function but members do not represent local government in the strict sense of the word.
We shall look for people with a local government background who will have expertise in the development and planning areas. Similarly, we shall look for people from the business sector who can also offer experience of other sectors; for example the voluntary sector. We aim to appoint boards of just 12 members, including the Chair. To get the balance right it is more or less essential that members should have a breadth as well as a depth of background experience. Therefore, I cannot accept that the experience of serving as a local authority member would be wiped out overnight by an election defeat. A recently defeated former councillor will not suddenly become unaware of what local authorities are, what they do, or of their approach to regional economic development. Of course the councillor in question in any case may well bring broader experience to the RDA board than simply his or her local authority experience. That would be unaffected by a change in elected status.
However, I deliberately refer to a recently defeated councillor. I accept that to be fully relevant experience has to be current, or at least fairly recent. It is a matter of judgment how quickly it fades, but nevertheless it does fade. If, for example, an RDA board member still has several months to serve, and has made a strong contribution to the RDA's work, and is, for example, its main source of expertise on rural matters, I do not 462 believe it would serve anyone's interests to oblige him to stand down from membership just because he has lost his council seat.
On the other hand, it is possible in our democratic process—as George Brown said, democracy occasionally "democks"—that all four local authority members on an RDA board could lose their seats. All of them may still have three years of their appointments to serve. In that case we would need to review the situation to see what we could do to ensure that the RDA board continued to have some current experience from local government. Depending on the circumstances we could invite the four members concerned to put their RDA places at the Secretary of State's disposal. We might make additional compensatory appointments because, after all, we are allowed by the Bill to increase the size of a board up to 15 members. My noble friend Lord Graham referred to the situation where the local government association in the region brings at least moral pressure to bear on the members concerned to resign. Clearly Ministers would accept their resignations in those circumstances. Or, in consultation with the RDA and local authorities, we might look for other ways of ensuring that the board continues to benefit from current local government experience. We are therefore dealing with situations ranging from that in which there is a member with particular expertise in the board context who has only a few months to run before his mandate runs out, to that where people have two and a half years to run, all of whom are defeated. It is not sensible to place on the face of the Bill an absolute requirement that all those members in all the circumstances I have described should resign the minute they are defeated.
I take note of the concerns expressed by the Local Government Association and individual local authorities and in this Chamber. We will consider those concerns carefully. However, I hope that, at least at this stage, noble Lords will not push us into accepting the absolute requirement that is implied by both of these amendments, indirectly by the first and directly by the second part of my noble friend's amendment.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
Before the noble Lord sits down, I am heartened by the flexibility and the range of options offered to meet my point. I shall certainly not press Amendment No. 8. However, I beg the noble Lord to understand that the persons who will be appointed to represent local authorities will be there only because they are at the time members of a local authority. Yes, there is a range of qualifications. But the key qualification is that they are nominated by local government in their region—in which case, if that peg falls, the matter is worthy of deeper consideration than merely looking at a timescale.
§ Lord Whitty
I recognise that important qualification for the job. On the other hand, that is not an absolute situation either. Neither the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, nor the noble Lord himself suggested that people should resign if the local authority that has originally nominated them changes political control. That introduces an entirely different argument. If they were totally 463 representative of the particular authority which had first put their names forward, that would be the logic of the situation. I do not believe that anyone is pressing us to accept that. I shall take account of my noble friend's comments and we shall consider these matters. As my honourable friend Dick Caborn indicated, to accept such situations would require Ministers to react to particular circumstances. These amendments are drafted in absolute terms and that would not help the representation of local authorities in the RDA process.
I thank the Minister for his observations on the amendments. We shall certainly return to the question of resignation with Amendment No. 12, to be moved by my noble friend Lady Miller. I regret the response to proposed Amendment No. 6. It is not expressed in absolute terms. It merely asks that,the Secretary of State shall include in his appointments to each agency persons who hold office as elected councillors for local authorities within the area of the agency".That is not prescriptive. It would not take up a set number of appointments. It leaves great flexibility for the Secretary of State in regard to the numbers. However, it recognises the particular and special place of local government.
Some Members of this place have sought to draw parallels between my proposal and what happened under the UDCs and the previous government. As I have said, I am not responsible for answering for the previous government. However, matters have moved on, in the sense that local government of all political persuasions has become much more receptive to working in partnership with the private sector and other sectors. Economic development is to be found in local authorities across the country. The UDCs were set up at a time when there was a singular lack of activity. The position is now quite different. My amendment seeks that the particular and special place of local government—whose prerogatives are in many ways threatened by this Bill—should be recognised. In their White Paper, Building Partnerships for Prosperity, the Government recognised, and should recognise this afternoon by accepting this amendment, the special case for local government.
Chapter 10, on the structure and accountability of RDAs, states at paragraph 10.6:
We expect to draw members from"—
and a number of different interests are listed, including local authorities. Paragraph 10.7, however, under the heading, "Local Representation", states in the Secretary of State's own words:
An exception to this approach arises in relation to local government. We intend that, while RDAs will be ultimately accountable to Ministers, they should be responsive to the communities which they serve. For RDAs, we consider that this requires a clear, predetermined level of involvement of local government on their boards as well as a mechanism through which the RDA should consult regional groupings of local authorities and others".
I ask the Committee to make clear on the face of the Bill the,
predetermined level of involvement of local government
by making it clear that among those members appointed to the boards of RDAs shall be members of local government. I seek the opinion of the Committee on that point.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 6) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 81; Not-Contents, 98.465
|Division No. 1|
|Addington, L.||Linklater of Butterstone, B.|
|Aldington, L.||Ludford, B.|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Lyell, L.|
|Bath, M.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||McNair, L.|
|Berners, B.||McNally, L.|
|Biffen, L.||Maddock, B.|
|Bowness, L.||Mar and Kellie, E.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Middleton, L.|
|Burnham, L. [Teller.]||Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.|
|Caldecote, V.||Miller of Hendon, B.|
|Calverley, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Coleridge, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Mottistone, L.|
|Dean of Harptree, L.||Mountevans, L.|
|Dholakia, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Dixon-Smith, L.||Napier and Ettrick, L.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Newby, L.|
|Ely, Bp.||Nicholson of Winterbourne, B.|
|Falkland, V.||Noel-Buxton, L.|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L.||O'Cathain, B.|
|Gainford, L.||Park of Monmouth, B.|
|Geddes, L.||Platt of Writtle, B.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Grey, E.||Rees, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Roberts of Conwy, L.|
|Hamwee, B.||Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Russell, E.|
|Harrowby, E.||Seccombe, B. [Teller.]|
|Hayhoe, L.||Smith of Clifton, L.|
|Hereford, Bp.||Steel of Aikwood, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Stewartby, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Jopling, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Kenyon, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Kintore, E.||Thomas of Gresford, L.|
|Knutsford, V.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Leigh, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Lindsay, E.||Waddington, L.|
|Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Wakefield, Bp.|
|Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Bruce of Donington, L.|
|Amos, B.||Burlison, L.|
|Archer of Sandwell, L.||Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.|
|Bach, L.||Carnarvon, E.|
|Barnett, L.||Carter, L. [Teller.]|
|Bassam of Brighton, L.||Charteris of Amisfield, L.|
|Blease, L.||Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.|
|Bledisloe, V.||Clinton-Davis, L.|
|Borrie, L.||Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.|
|Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.||David, B.|
|Davies of Coity, L.||Lytton, E.|
|Davies of Oldham, L.||McConnell, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]|
|Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.||Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.|
|Desai, L.||Mallalieu, B.|
|Dixon, L.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Donoughue, L.||Mason of Barnsley, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Evans of Parkside, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Falconer of Thoroton, L.||Molyneaux of Killead, L.|
|Farrington of Ribbleton, B.||Monkswell, L.|
|Fitt, L.||Montague of Oxford, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Morris of Castle Morris, L.|
|Gordon of Strathblane, L.||Morris of Manchester, L.|
|Goudie, B.||Murray of Epping Forest, L.|
|Gould of Potternewton, B.||Nicol, B.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Orme, L.|
|Grantchester, L.||Pitkeathley, B.|
|Grenfell, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Hardie, L.||Ramsay of Cartvale, B.|
|Haskel, L.||Rendell of Babergh, B.|
|Hayman, B.||Richard, L.|
|Headfort, M.||Scotland of Asthal, B.|
|Hilton of Eggardon, B.||Serota, B.|
|Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.||Sewel, L.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Shepherd, L.|
|Hoyle, L.||Simon, V.|
|Hughes, L.||Simon of Highbury, L.|
|Hughes of Woodside, L.||Smith of Gilmorehill, B.|
|Hunt of Kings Heath, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.]||Strabolgi, L.|
|Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Islwyn, L.||Thornton, B.|
|Jay of Paddington, B. [Lord Privy Seal.]||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Judd, L.||Walker of Doncaster, L.|
|Kennet, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Lockwood, B.||Whitty, L.|
|Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Longford, E.||Williams of Mostyn, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Baroness Anelay of St. Johns moved Amendment No. 7:
Page 1, line 17, at end insert—
("() At least one member appointed under subsection (1) shall have direct experience in rural matters.").
The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 7, I shall, with the permission of the House, speak also to Amendment No. 9. I approach this with some trepidation, having heard the arguments over the previous amendment. Amendment No. 7 would ensure that at least one member of the RDA had direct experience of rural matters. I am simply asking the Government to give effect to the undertaking which they gave in the White Paper at paragraph 4.22 that:
each RDA Board will include at least one member who can contribute a strong rural perspective".
Despite that undertaking, there is at present nothing on the face of the Bill to guarantee that that will happen. If we must have RDAs and all the extra bureaucracy that I fear they will of necessity impose upon us, let us at least make that bureaucracy work as effectively and, above all, as equitably as possible. My Amendments Nos. 7 and 9 attempt to achieve that in respect of all who live in communities in rural areas.
I note that the response to the consultation paper by the Consortium of Rural TECs stated that:
There are concerns that the RDA model may increase the focus on inner cities and fail to address the needs of the communities in rural areas. There are fears that RDAs will in practice be urban-based bodies and will focus on urban issues".
§ It is vital that the creation of RDAs should not lead to the marginalisation of rural areas in decision-making on such vital matters as economic support, housing, transport and associated services. There is a very real danger that the particular needs of rural areas may not be appreciated and therefore will go unmet.
§ During the passage of the Bill through another place the Government spoke of their commitment to the countryside and its prosperity. By my modest amendment I am giving the Government an opportunity to demonstrate their understanding and commitment to the countryside.
§ I feel that rural areas would benefit from the appointment of at least one member with direct experience in rural matters. Bearing in mind the discussion that the Committee has just heard on the previous grouping of amendments, I stress that I am not arguing in favour of having a rural representative. I understand that those who are appointed to the board should not consider themselves as either delegates or representatives; they must act for the benefit of the whole region. But it is important that specific knowledge of, and expertise in, rural matters is available to every board. I note that in the brief circulated to your Lordships today the CPRE has signalled its support for my amendment.
§ I am not proposing a principle that is new to advisory or executive-appointed groups. There are already many organisations accountable to government whose constitution states that there must be a member who is appointed after consultation with specific groups on the basis that that member will bring the expertise vested within the group to the decision-making of the appointed body. The most notable example that comes to mind is that of the position enjoyed by the trades unions. The Women's National Commission, upon which in the past I have served as a representative of the Conservative Women's Committee, is comprised of 50 people who advise the Government on the impact of legislation upon women. Of those 50 members, five must be appointed after consultation with the trades unions. As to the Social Security Advisory Committee, one out of the 12 members must be appointed only after consultation with the trade unions. I could go on but the Committee is aware that the public appointments handbook is one-and-a-half inches thick and I shall not test noble Lords' patience too far by continuing to quote from it.
§ In all these cases, the trade union appointee is expected not to represent the trade union or to act as a delegate on specific issues but to bring his expertise to bear on the decisions made by the appointed body. My experience as a non-trade union member on both the bodies I have cited is that the trade union members have brought their expertise without rancour or partiality to the decision-making process. I believe that if a person with direct experience of rural matters were appointed 467 to the board he could bring his special expertise to the decision-making process without acting as either a representative or delegate.
§ The Minister in another place argued that one of the reasons why the Government should not keep to the commitment in the White Paper by putting it on the face of the Bill was that the amendment would require the London RDA to have a board member with a strong rural perspective. The Minister said that that was not the Government's intention. I regret it if it is not the intention of the Government so to appoint someone to the London board. I do not accept that that would be a relevant argument for rejecting my amendment if the intention is to try to exclude London. After all, every RDA will have a different composition in terms of blend and rural interests. London, like all regions, is different. But I argue that it is still relevant to have a member of the London board with direct experience of rural matters because, as a region, London has an impact upon the surrounding rural areas as green belt meets countryside. I grew up in just such an area. I was very much an urban-minded suburban person who lived only 100 yards from the nearest farmland. I am sure that any area such as that would benefit in its decision-making from the participation of someone with direct experience of rural matters.
§ I began by saying that Amendment No. 7 was modest. I hope that the Committee will agree with that. I recognise that I could have been more ambitious. I am aware that some of my noble friends would have liked me to be more ambitious and propose that more than one member should be appointed from those with direct experience of rural matters. But I have decided to remain modest in my proposal today by simply asking the Government to do what they said they would do but have not yet done.
§ I should like to speak far more briefly to Amendment No. 9, which is grouped with Amendment No. 7. Subsection (3) of Clause 2 requires the Secretary of State to consult relevant interested parties before making appointments to the RDA, bearing in mind the need to reflect an appropriate balance of regional interests in the composition of the boards. Amendment No. 9 would require the Secretary of State to consult individuals and organisations representative of the economic, social and environmental concerns of local communities in rural areas before making an appointment to the board.
§ As it stands, the subsection provides that the Secretary of State shall consult local authorities, employers and employees but no other groups are as yet specifically mentioned. The Secretary of State is directed simply to consult anybody else whom he considers to be appropriate. I believe it is essential that there should be a provision on the face of the Bill for the Secretary of State to consult among those other groups whom he considers to be appropriate—people who have special knowledge of the needs of communities in rural areas—before committing himself to making appointments to the boards. I believe that Amendment No. 7 is modest and Amendment No. 9 even more so. I beg to move.468
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
These amendments cover a fairly wide range of rural and green matters and border on Amendment No. 16 in the name of my noble friend Lady Hamwee, with which the Committee will deal a little later. Probably every Member of the Committee agrees that it is important that the rural identity is recognised and looked after. In this country we have a very strong rural identity. The fact that at the moment it feels rather neglected, as we saw from the Countryside March, or is extremely poor, as we recognise from the falling prices of pork and lamb and from seeing small farmers go bankrupt literally month by month, means that we must do our very best to ensure that the Bill gives full voice to the countryside.
Last Friday and Saturday I visited the Northumberland national park. That area is bordered by large conurbations, one of them Newcastle, with enormous areas of extremely attractive wilderness and marginal farming land where excellent farmers try to scratch a living from holdings that are not succeeding in the present climate. The great temptation of regional authorities, dominated as they are bound to be by the great conurbations, will be to neglect these rural areas. It is important that we give them the best possible representation.
The Government have argued, first, that rural representation of a high order goes without saying and, secondly, that to write it into the Bill tends to sideline or "ghettoise" it and relieves other members of the authority of their responsibility for it. I do not believe that the second argument has much merit, but I look forward with very great interest to the response of the Government. I hope that the Government regard this as tremendously important. Whether or not we support these amendments will depend upon the assurances that the Government give that the countryside will be looked after.
§ The Lord Bishop of Hereford
I rise to support these amendments, in particular Amendment No. 7. I echo all that has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, because there is a real threat to deeply rural areas which form part of a predominately urban region. I speak for the Diocese of Hereford, which is the county of Herefordshire and south Shropshire. That area is very sparsely populated and is part of the West Midlands region. Clearly, we shall be unable to muster a significant number of votes in the RDA in defence of rural interests. The West Midlands region contains some extremely sharp contrasts. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, has acknowledged that that is true of most places but I believe that it cannot be truer than in the West Midlands. There are 3,823 people per square kilometre in the middle of Birmingham; there are 39 in south Shropshire. That represents 1 per cent. of the urban density. Those are extreme contrasts. That fact has never been recognised in the standard spending assessment formula for education, social services or roads. Only 1.5 per cent. of the SSA deals with the sparsity factor.
469 Strangely enough, I believe that in the West Midlands there is a strong sense of complementarity within the region. I agree with what the Minister said about the difficulty of redrawing boundaries. Any member of the Committee who has been involved in ecumenical negotiations will know that the one thing that frustrates the unity of the Church is the fact that no one will change boundaries. In the diocese of Hereford, I relate to Roman Catholic leaders in Cardiff because the Roman Catholic Church regards Hereford as part of Wales; and the Bishop of Shropshire lives in Birkenhead. It is not quite as far as Budapest, but the situation is difficult.
I agree that it is not worth trying to redraw the boundaries. The experience of the voluntary forum in the West Midlands—it has existed for some time—is that it is a coherent region. It does not look like it. From the point of view of Birmingham, Herefordshire and south Shropshire are terra incognita. But we are beginning to get across to our urban colleagues that we can work together and need to do so. We are poor like the Isle of Wight. But that is not a reason for asking to be separate. It is simply a reason for asking for proper representation and for our way of life and requirements to be made known within the RDA.
From the point of view of the Shropshire County Council and the Herefordshire District Council there is a willingness to work in partnership across different areas of interest groups. But those from the rural fringe see a need to include this specific representation of rural interest in the legislation. The point has already been made that there are several references in the White Paper to the desirability of doing so. But those assurances were given during debates in another place. The Government's commitment to the prosperity and regeneration of rural areas must be spelt out by a specific commitment in the Bill. There is widespread awareness of real and increasing distress in the farming industry and the many other industries dependent on it. However, there is no guarantee in the Bill that the RDAs, and our RDA in the West Midlands, will be in a position to be properly informed about those issues, let alone to tackle them effectively. I hope that there will be widespread support for the two amendments, but in particular for Amendment No. 7.
§ Lord Monk Bretton
I support my noble friend's amendment. I believe it to be a minimal and perhaps inadequate requirement. However, my noble friend has a series of amendments on this issue, including Amendment No. 9, which I support. I believe that these together will help to strengthen the rural interest. I wish to say a little more about how the rural interest expresses itself on a rather smaller scale than the regional. The Bill impinges on that aspect because of its effect on the Rural Development Commission.
For many years I have served on my county's rural forum which discusses such issues as planning and conservation; and I have served on its predecessor committees. Therefore, I have had connections with the rural community council on a range of issues. The work of these councils is important. I have attended that rural 470 forum in the interest of those who live and work in the countryside. With my farming interests, I am one of them. I believe that they constitute the rural economy.
Many years ago—perhaps before even the last local government reforms—there were rural district councils and urban district councils, and the honourable and ancient boroughs. The advantage of that situation was that the rural district councils could decide many rural interest issues for themselves. In the interests of more economically efficient local government, those small authorities were replaced. In order to express their views, those in the rural economy then fell back on to the rural community councils, the rural forums and the organisation called Rural Voice. All three are within the ambit of the Rural Development Commission. That is the vehicle through which many rural problems have been aired.
At present many who live and work in the countryside do not welcome the Regional Development Agencies Bill. They fear that yet again their views will be marginalised and swamped, and that the founding of the regional development agencies may dilute the direct funding for rural community councils. The rural community councils fear other difficulties as regards their funding. Their core funding from the Rural Development Commission is about 25 per cent. of their funding, with the remainder coming from diverse sources—quite a lot from local government; but from many different sources. The useful work that the rural community councils are doing will be disrupted if their direct and other fundings are seriously affected. That is why I believe that the amendments are important.
I strongly support Amendments Nos. 7 and 9 so ably moved and spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. I hope that the Government will accept both, or at least one of them.
The Government can no longer be unaware of the deep feeling of those in the rural areas that their lives and their problems are no longer understood by the vast majority of those who rule them. Most of the elected representatives, at least in another place, seem to come from urban backgrounds. Even among intelligent people in urban and country areas there seems a total lack of comprehension of the problems and needs of agricultural activities and communities. It is important that that is recognised.
It is a remarkable demonstration of the change in that respect that the noble Baroness and those who support her feel it necessary to propose such an amendment. Thirty or forty years ago, the concept that a body of 12 people representing any of those regions (with the exception of London) would not have among them a sizeable number of people who fully understood rural matters would be incomprehensible. Forty years ago, the idea that there were people in Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire who did not understand rural matters was inconceivable. Sadly, nowadays it is all too likely. I very much hope that the Government will feel able to include the provision in the Bill.
471 In relation to the previous group of amendments, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that it was unnecessary to include the provision because there was a firm commitment to it in the White Paper and it would inevitably happen. I found his argument in that respect wholly convincing and followed him into the Lobby. It is obvious whether a member of the regional authority is or is not a local councillor, and there are local councils fully able to complain if ever what is promised ceases to exist.
That is not the case in relation to these amendments. There will be no clear identification as to which of the 12, if any, are duly appointed because of their experience in rural matters; nor will there be any body as powerful as local councils to kick up a fuss if the rural representatives are not appointed. Therefore, I hope that the Government will accept at least one of these amendments, deleting London if they wish.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Nicol
I have a great deal of sympathy in particular with Amendments Nos. 7 and 11. Although it is likely that in most regions someone with a knowledge of rural affairs will emerge, we should not take it for granted. It is particularly important in regions where there are large industrial conurbations which may well dominate the scene. It is extremely important that we should have confidence in the new authorities. That confidence must go right through society and not be confined to the urban areas. I hope that my noble friend will view the amendments sympathetically. I do not wish to rehearse all the arguments that have been made, but I agree with a great many of them.
§ Lord Jopling
I wish to stress a point which has not sufficiently been brought out in the discussion. All my life I have been aware of a nervous approach in rural areas to any regional body covering the urban areas too. I have lived all my life in North Yorkshire and have been aware of the views expressed in rural areas when any regional body, whether it be for education, health or transport, has been proposed. There is the inevitable cry, "Well, I suppose that means we will be dominated by Leeds and Bradford". For almost 33 years I had the great honour to represent in another place the southern part of the Lake District. The same attitude applied with regard to regional bodies: "Does this mean that we shall be dominated by Manchester and Liverpool?". There is always such disquiet and anxiety when regional bodies are discussed. It is made all the worse by the sparsity factor, referred to by the right reverend Prelate in his pointed remarks.
I cannot believe that the Government can resist Amendment No. 7 because there are precedents. One need only look at legislation. I remember taking part during the years in discussions on a mass of legislation where various provisos were inserted with regard to the expertise and background of members of the various bodies that were being set up. I am sure that I do not need to quote them.
472 Finally, my noble friend Lady Anelay, in proposing the amendment, referred to the London problem. She is right. The London regional development agency would be a good deal better off if it had a member with direct experience of rural matters. If one had to give way on that—I would not wish to go to the stake for it—surely the Government could give an undertaking. I ask the Minister to refer to that. Cannot the Government come back on Report with a similar amendment, inserting at the end a reference to London? It would then read:At least one member appointed under subsection (1) shall have direct experience in rural matters, with the exception of the London region".The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, referred to that. It would be a practical way of dealing with the problem.
§ There is support for the amendment around the Committee, including on the Government Benches, and I hope that the Government will move in this direction. They gave a clear undertaking in the White Paper about having people with strong rural perspectives and I cannot see why good intentions in the White Paper should not be transmitted on to the face of the Bill.
§ Baroness Hamwee
I wonder what Hereford had learnt from the Mappa Mundi in the city, but my noble friend tells me that it belongs to the cathedral and not the diocese. I do not know whether that is relevant.
I wish to make a point that I have made to the Minister privately. It relates to the great experience gained by members of the national parks authorities. My noble friend referred to the national parks. I understand that they have a great deal of experience of regeneration and reconciling that with sustainability, environmental protection and so forth.
I do not advocate the appointment of members who come from national parks authorities. Indeed, I have a great deal of sympathy with the suggestion that people should not be appointed on a representative basis. However, I hope that that point can be made and that we shall not lose such expertise.
I find the point about London interesting. It will be most important that the London development agency understands the strains which London imposes on what I believe is arrogantly called "the rest of the south-east". There is something to be said for consideration of such experience being brought into the London agency. I appreciate that London is not on today's agenda, but it is a point which may be worth returning to in that context.
§ Lord Wade of Chorlton
Like many Members of the Committee, I am a strong supporter of the need to have a strong and vital rural economy. But I emphasise the point about the economy. If we draw attention to the arguments put forward by Members around the House, it is that the economic development agencies must appreciate the importance of the rural economy within their regions. We have mentioned some of the urban areas where that does not apply, but the vast majority rise or fall on the ability of their rural economy to be effective.
473 The Bill states that the purpose of the regional development agency shall be:"to further the economic development and the regeneration of its area … to promote business efficiency, investment and competitiveness in its area … to promote employment in its area … to enhance the development and application of skills relevant to employment in its area".Members of the Committee have referred to the serious problems which exist in many areas of our rural economy. Many are experiencing the worst situation they have seen, perhaps not entirely in my lifetime but for a large part of it. The way to address the problem is by addressing the issues to which I have referred and are contained in the Bill. I would like the Minister to assure us that the agency as a whole and all its members will have it made clear to them that they are responsible for the whole economy in their area and that the Minister is assured that there will be the skills within it to understand the issues.
§ I am rather nervous about the concept of even the rural areas laying down that there must be somebody there with specific skills and interests. I am not interested within this particular agency to have somebody there to protect the interests of the rural community. I want somebody there who wants to make them all as rich as those who live in the urban areas. Can we get assurances from the Minister that we will have development agencies that understand, as much as anything, the relationship between the urban and the rural?
§ I am not putting forward arguments which divide the two entities: I am putting forward arguments which actually show how they can probably work better together within the overall interests of the area. That will create wealth for both sectors and drive their economies. By learning from and using the skills of the one and applying them in the other, the development agencies will do the most good for the whole of their regions, be they rural or be they urban.
§ Lord Grantchester
I have considerable sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns. I underline and agree that board members should be nominated for their personal qualities and not as any representative. It is difficult to understand how the merits and importance of the rural economy will be understood without people having had direct experience in it.
I endorse the comments made by other noble Lords on this point. I would add one of my own. Regeneration through European structural funds will fall within the regional development agencies' jurisdiction. At present aid is available to rural areas under Objectives 5A and 5B, with urban areas coming under Objective 2. Under Agenda 2000 proposals, the new single measure, the new Objective 2, will encompass both urban and rural aid.
Each RDA must ensure that rural issues will have sufficient prominence and that the integration of town and country is embraced through an equitable advance 474 of funding. This can be assured by a member with rural experience. I will listen with great interest to how these concerns will be met by my noble friend the Minister.
§ Lord Patten
Amendment No. 7 is particularly powerful and deserves the strong consideration of the Government. I have three points to make. The first is to repeat something I have said on an earlier occasion in your Lordships' House. In this country we have two nations—the overwhelming urban and suburban nation and a very small, scattered and diffuse rural nation.
If the rural voice is not specifically heard on the RDAs there will be in that decision the clearest possible signal to people who live in the countryside that their voice is not particularly of interest in the new and modern Britain in which we live, and that the Government do not wish to listen to the voice of the authentic and proper rural interest.
My second point concerns social exclusion. I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has set up a social exclusion unit at No. 10. I have said that before in this House. It is a thoroughly good thing. It is unfortunate that thus far the social exclusion unit has done so little specifically in relation to problems of rural exclusion.
I listened recently to a sociologist. Normally when I hear the word sociologist I reach for my gun. On this occasion it was Professor Howard Newby, the Vice-Chancellor of Southampton University, who is wisdom on stilts and is probably Western Europe's greatest rural sociologist. He told me that he estimates that half a million people in England alone living in the countryside, by conventional measures of income and other issues, can be taken to be deprived and excluded.
These people have a very rough time. If one looks at urban areas there are housing estates which are thought of as deprived. But people can walk out and go to an employment agency next door: they can go to a doctor's surgery; they can go to a leisure centre; they can go to a hospital. In the countryside people are often without transport and very many miles from those facilities.
Equally, the way to lift such people out of the problems which they face is to increase their income. Sometimes there are just two or three families in villages, scattered throughout England. To increase their income is critically important. That is the one thing—the one factor, as the sociologists refer to it—that we should be addressing. Who should be helping them with this? Who should be focusing on what we can do through an RDA to bring more employment into a region that covers not just the towns but the countryside? It should be the RDAs. They need an authentically rural voice to represent the countryside.
Thirdly and lastly, it may seem a minority interest but much that the RDAs may cause to happen—changes that they may promote through their economic and other activities—will have an effect on the rural landscape. We need a voice—sometimes a cautionary and calming voice—on RDAs which can represent not a preservationist or elitist view of the countryside but a sensible and pragmatic view of the way in which men and women have made the countryside what it is over 475 generations. It is their efforts which will help to preserve the beauties of the countryside and the amenities which urban dwellers find so valuable. I hope that the noble Lord will think very hard about accepting or bringing back Amendment No. 7 and its cousins at a later stage in the Bill.
§ 5.45 p.m.
I support the amendments moved by my noble friend Lady Anelay of St. Johns. It is clear that while one appreciates the reluctance of the Government to have on the face of the Bill specific interests—we have seen that in the discussion on local authority interests—it is of great importance that the rural interest is recognised. That has been expressed by many noble Lords this afternoon.
If one looks at the composition of the various proposed development agencies—with, indeed, the exception of London, as has already been referred to—it is very clear that, within the limited number of representatives that will be available, the interests described in the Bill and the activities assigned to the agencies within the Bill are in grave danger of being predominantly urban. The competition that will come from businesses and, indeed, the local authorities within the urban areas to dominate and take the places on the development agency will be very great unless this safeguard is written into the Bill.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
I rise with some trepidation to reply to the wide-ranging debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, rather reminded me of the general flavour of the beginning of term with her reference to those things which I had failed to do. I remembered the words of the starting hymn at school at the beginning of the school year. I apologise in advance for any such omissions I may make tonight and promise, as seriously as I always promised my head teacher, that I will try to do better. I will rectify any omissions in writing afterwards.
I am very grateful for the opportunity that these amendments present to set out the Government's intentions with regard to the composition of RDA boards. The contributions to the debate that we have heard clearly indicate that getting board membership right will be crucial to the success of the RDAs.
Appointments will be made on merit. We will choose those people who are committed to the values of public service and who have experience in areas relevant to the work of the RDA and who can make an effective contribution to the board. The White Paper stated our intention to avoid a fixed composition of sectional or sectoral interest. We are looking for candidates who can bring a range of experience to the board, in particular those who combine experience across a number of sectoral interests within a region.
As has been said, in relation to local government members of boards, we do not intend that more board members should be seen as delegates of individual organisations. However, we have also made clear in the White Paper that RDAs will have a specific remit to 476 serve the rural areas of their regions and that outside of London—the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, and other noble Lords raised this issue—each RDA board will include at least one member who can contribute a strong rural perspective—more in regions with larger rural areas. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford identified the diversity of regions outside London.
As my noble friend Lord Grantchester indicated, it is extremely important that we develop a role—we are not sure precisely what that role will be—for the RDAs in relation to structural funds in the light of the Commission's proposals for the structural funds in the year 2000 and beyond, but also a role in the context of those involved in the judgments, understanding fully the particular balance that needs to be maintained between the different parts eligible for funding. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Patten, that it is important that all of us looking at the needs of rural and urban communities recognise that social exclusion is not confined to large inner-city areas. The scale of the problem may be greater but the experience of the pain and the difficulties may be very deep for the individuals and the smaller number of families in rural areas. That is precisely why my right honourable friend Mr. Morley is considering how to make certain that access to health, our transport strategy and other developments reflect a recognition of the needs of rural areas. I could not agree with the noble Lord more if he was saying that the Government's commitment to family income and income support through our income tax proposals and through the minimum wage proposals are recognised as being relevant to rural areas.
Having said that, I think it is important that we recognise that by giving specific board members a simple label—the rural person or the environmental person—we will marginalise them or at the very least run the risk of marginalising them. If they were appointed specifically and solely because of their rural contribution, would they feel able to play a full role in the whole range of policy development on other issues that come before the board? It is also important that those who come with a particular detailed, specific and guaranteed rural depth of knowledge are able to benefit from the experience of other members of the board which may be highly complementary in developing these policies. We want to ensure that all board members recognise, as the noble Lord, Lord Wade, said, the needs of all parts of the region and work together in those respects.
The noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, stressed a minimum need. We have recognised that in our commitment to ensure that outside London at least one board member will have that background, but we must also recognise that it would not be sufficient on its own. The interests of the rural community need to be recognised and developed in partnership with the urban and suburban communities.
The noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, asked specifically about future funding of rural community councils. They will continue to be funded, whether by the RDAs or the new Countryside Agency, to be formed by the merger of the RDC and the Countryside 477 Commission. Rural regeneration funds inherited by RDAs from the RDC will be separately allocated. I hope that gives the degree of assurance that was sought.
Amendment No. 7 would place the Secretary of State under a statutory obligation to appoint at least one member with direct experience of rural matters. We have sympathy with the aims behind the amendment, but to put it on the face of the Bill would take us down the road of labelling and marginalising a specific member. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, indicated that the environmental needs, background and expertise may not be exactly coterminous with the interests of the rural community in a different economic sense. We very quickly start to look at members being described in a particular way—quite narrowly and specifically—rather than seeking to get the best and the broadest representation possible.
In order to reflect the right balance of regional interests in the composition of boards, several members may be required to contribute experience in more than one field. So we may need to find someone who combines experience of rural matters and environmental matters. However, the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, demonstrate that there may be occasions when there is a difference. We may be faced with the task of finding someone who has that rare quality of being able to combine the interests of both. For that reason, we need to be careful in determining specifically, narrowly and precisely the individual membership. However, to avoid any misunderstanding, I stress that we have given a guarantee that outside London the board will include at least one member who can contribute a strong rural perspective.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about the national parks. The national park authorities contain a wealth of good experience and expertise. We would expect the RDAs to draw upon that expertise as they take forward their own work. Perhaps I may say in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Patten, that I know of at least two people from my past background and experience in local government who could combine environmental, rural, local authority and national park aspects. So it is possible that the kind of points I have been making about overlapping interests could be relevant in many cases.
I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St. Johns, that we will consider the need for a background in rural matters in making appointments and will ensure that rural interests are represented on the board. We are encouraged in that by the good response to our request for nominations. I can also assure her that, as well as bringing rural experience to the board, we will be providing guidance to the RDA boards as a whole as to how they should take account of rural interests in their work.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford drew attention to the extremely important aspect of ensuring that everything possible is done to recognise the needs of all parts of a region. I am sure the right reverend Prelate will forgive me if I do not expand any further but just take note of his point on SSAs.
478 Amendment No. 9 deals with the issue of rural experience on the RDA boards. We feel that the large response we have had in terms of nominations has encompassed responses from people with rural interests who are interested in board membership. We could not make good our commitment to bring rural expertise to the board had we not advertised widely across all those bodies in a position to appoint. We think it is important to state that it is our intention to do this both with current and future appointments. Therefore the amendment is not necessary.
It is also important, with regard to Amendment No. 10, that it is not just those who represent the concerns of local communities in rural areas that we consulted about board membership. Let me assure your Lordships that we consulted numerous groups representing a wide variety of interests about board appointments. The provision in subsection (3)(a) offers only a general guide to the type of organisations to be consulted, and I do not think the amendment would add greatly to the Bill as it stands. I can assure your Lordships that all relevant groups and sectors have been invited to nominate candidates this time round and we shall be seeking further nominations from them and from any new interest groups when making future appointments.
As I have explained with regard to Amendment No. 11, the provision in subsection (3)(a) again offers a general guide to the type of organisations to be consulted. I do not think it would add greatly to the Bill to attempt to list every sector which has an interest in the work of the RDA in order that they may be represented. Actually the one thing that would ensure would be that something was left out and was therefore deemed not to be important. However, I can assure your Lordships that those representing environmental interests were among the people from whom nominations for board membership have been sought, and these have been given.
In urging that the amendments are withdrawn, and at the risk of causing problems involving your Lordships' patience, I think it would help—because many future amendments refer to the needs of rural communities and how the RDAs will deal with them—if I were to give the Committee some information on the draft guidance to RDAs on rural issues. Concern has been voiced about the special needs of the rural areas. The RDAs' purpose is to look after the needs of their whole area, rural and urban, but they will have a specific remit to have regard to the needs of the rural areas, and at least one member of the board will have that knowledge and expertise. RDAs will design rural development programmes targeted on their most deprived areas—a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Patten.
They will monitor, consult and report on rural problems and on how the agency is tackling them. The funds they inherit from the RDC will continue to be spent in rural areas. On a working level, staff engaged in rural regeneration activities in the RDC will transfer to the RDAs, and this will provide them with the valuable support that they need. The Secretary of State proposes to issue guidance to the RDAs about the regional strategies they are required to produce under 479 Clause 7 of the Bill. We shall shortly be conducting a public consultation on the draft. I hope the draft will be available before we reach the Report stage of this Bill. A copy of it will be placed in the Library and the draft guidance will not be overly prescriptive. We want the regional strategies to be produced and owned by the RDAs and their regions. The draft guidance, however, will make it clear that a regional strategy should take account of the particular features of the region's rural areas.
There is more that Members of the Committee can learn during the course of this stage of the Bill about the proposal for consultation on specific guidance. I hope that in the light of this information the noble Lords who moved the amendment will feel confident and be able to withdraw it.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
When I spoke earlier in the debate on these amendments I suggested that I would listen with care to what the Government had to say about the arguments that if a person was selected just for rural interests and experience in rural matters they might be sidelined. I have listened with great interest and I do not think I am the slightest bit convinced, partly because, as the Government have been saying time and time again—and we certainly believe them—they are going for people who are outstanding in their own way and who will actually have many interests and will be there on their own merits.
Secondly, I do not see that there is any necessity—I stand open to correction—concerning the person who is appointed under this amendment for direct experience in rural matters to be actually named. There is no reason why he should be picked out. The Government have already said that they propose to appoint people for everywhere except London, and I shall come on to London in a second. They propose to appoint people, everywhere except London, with experience but they are not going to tell us who those people are and they do not want us to put it on the face of the Bill, but if we do put it on the face of the Bill I do not see that that person will necessarily be marginalised and that everyone else will be absolved from responsibility.
I rather hope that Amendment No. 7 can be put on the face of the Bill. Regarding London, London of course needs rural experience. Every great city should have its hinterland represented in its government, and the fact that London has become the great wen and so enormous that it does not really have any hinterland in its region does not mean that that hinterland should not be represented; and so I would not exclude London from this, and I very much hope that this amendment will be incorporated into the Bill.
§ Baroness Anelay of St. Johns
It is now my duty to thank the Minister for her reply. Earlier my noble friend Lord Bowness said that it is rather difficult to be both disappointed and surprised at the same time. I find myself in that position, I have to confess at this stage. I am disappointed at the Minister's reply and surprised because at some stages I suspect that the speaking notes 480 she was using seemed to provide arguments against something that the Minister had just adduced. I am indeed most grateful to all those who have spoken on this group of amendments from around the Committee. I am aware that they spoke with more elegance than I can command and certainly with more practical experience of both pastoral care and practical ministerial decision-making in the past than I could achieve in a lifetime.
All the speakers have spoken with a great deal of care, including those on the Government Front Bench, to take account of the interests of those both in rural areas and elsewhere. I am aware that at the very end of the speech by the Minister she referred to the fact that the period between Committee and Report might give an opportunity for further reflection upon some of the guidance notes that are available. I am also aware during the short time I have been here of some of the conventions of your Lordships' House which dictate that the Opposition should try to be fair and to give the Government the opportunity to see reason—reason which was adduced so strongly by all who have spoken in the Chamber today. I therefore consider that I should seek on this occasion to arrange a meeting with the Minister to which those who have spoken on these matters today might be invited so that perhaps we might try to resolve some of the conflicts which have appeared today in some of her speaking notes.
From my understanding of what has been said on all sides, I thought that all noble Lords were arguing that there should be those on the RDA who had regard for the interests of the whole region. I did not hear any of those who supported Amendment No. 7 say that they were trying to argue for sectional interests. That was not my intention and nor do I believe that it was the intention of any other speaker. However, that appeared to be the argument of the Minister. If I may refer to one point that the noble Baroness made, she referred to the fact that if on the face of the Bill there was the right to appoint someone who had direct experience in rural matters it might label them or might marginalise them. I take great care in using these words because I fear, speaking in front of my noble friend behind me, that I did at one stage study for a sociology degree and so I am quite familiar with these forms of words. However, I am sure that if people were so appointed, they would not be labelled in that way. If they had direct experience of rural matters they would not be seen as people with limited experience or ability. I found that almost offensive on behalf of people with experience of rural matters. They would indeed play a full part in discussions and decision-making across the range of those responsibilities.
Indeed, shortly after arguing that appointing people with direct experience of rural matters might marginalise and sideline them, the noble Baroness referred to her own experience of those who might have experience across a whole range of environmental and rural matters—if indeed there is a dividing line between them, and one could argue about that. She said that such people might fulfil all those criteria. That was a case of a Minister arguing in favour of my amendment and not against it because a person appointed with direct 481 experience of rural matters would not be necessarily identified as such, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, pointed out.
I am aware of the fact that there is a great deal of experience and feeling among Members of the Committee today. I am prepared to give the Government an opportunity to reflect on this matter and also to give an opportunity to some Members of this House to be present who are not aware of the amendment.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
If it is of any assistance to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, we should be very happy to organise the sort of meeting that she has described.
§ Baroness Anelay of St. Johns
The noble Baroness has managed to shorten my speech although I must admit that it was on its last legs. I am grateful for that indication. I shall take up the noble Baroness's offer and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 8 to 11 not moved.]
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ Schedule 2 [Constitution of agencies]:
§ Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 12:
Page 22, line 1, at end insert (", or
() in the case of a local authority member who has been appointed to the agency as a representative of the local authorities in the area of the agency, that the member has ceased for whatever reason to be a member of a local authority in that area").
§ The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment I am aware that it is similar to Amendment No. 8 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. I am aware also that the Minister told the Committee why he does not feel that that is necessary. For that reason, I shall be extremely brief.
§ I have a simple point to make which is quite serious. I interpret Clause 2(1) as saying that the regional development agencies are structured so that they are severely limited in size. In fact, they must have no fewer than eight or more than 15 members. I am aware that the White Paper suggested that the figure should be 10. I certainly understand that the Minister spoke about the possibility of 12 members. But one does not know what the circumstances will be and whether it will be possible to find people to appoint. There could be as few as eight or as many as 15 members.
§ The Government tell us that the membership is to include representatives of the local authorities in the area. The Minister suggested that the figure for that may be four. However, the very modest amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Bowness which proposed at least one was not accepted by the Government despite that fact. We must bear that in mind when we hear of the rural, environmental and local interests—trade, industry and so on. If there are many local councils it may be difficult to achieve the number of councillors that the Government wish to see. Therefore, it is 482 possible that local authority representation could be severely limited due to the size of the authority and the other interests.
§ Having said that, the Government wish to make sure that the local partnership involving the local authorities and the RDA is good. A large number of local authorities may be represented by only two or three representatives. At least one of those should currently be a member of one of them and answerable to at least one group of elected councillors. That is important.
The Minister said that if for some reason all of the councillors on the RDA lost their seats a way would have to be found to make sure that something was done to rectify the situation. I suggest to the Minister that my amendment is very simple and provides an alternative to having to wait for something terrible to happen and then having to look for a way to remedy it. Paragraph 1(3)(a) of Schedule 2 states:
The Secretary of State may remove a member of a regional development agency from that office if he is satisfied",
and the Bill then states various conditions. Paragraph 1(3)(c) states:
that the member is unable or unfit to carry out the functions of a member".
I merely seek to provide that if a member loses his seat he should be covered by that provision. It does not state that the Secretary of State must remove a local councillor who has lost his seat. It simply provides that he may do so.
§ The Minister said that if such an event were to happen the Government would have to find a solution. In that case perhaps the Minister will accept my amendment, which is not prescriptive in any way. It merely gives the Government and the Secretary of State the power to remedy the matter should it be necessary. I beg to move.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Maddock
On these Benches we have a great deal of sympathy with what the noble Baroness said. It seems to me very much in line with what the Minister said earlier this afternoon. As the noble Baroness pointed out, the schedule uses the word "may" and so does not insist that the Government must remove people when they lose their seats on local councils, which is the reason for their representation.
Earlier this afternoon we heard extremely powerful arguments as to why those people should be on the board in the first place. The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, in particular dealt with that matter. The Minister then said that the Government recognise that problem and that in certain circumstances there may be a reason to remove people. He said that the Government want flexibility. I suggest that this amendment gives the Government that flexibility. On those grounds, we are happy to support the amendment.
§ Lord Whitty
I do not wish to go fully over the ground covered on the earlier group of amendments. There is not quite such a wide difference between us on this. I indicated earlier that I was against any 483 amendment which sought immediately and by law to remove councillors once they had lost their local authority seats.
This amendment, as explained by the noble Baroness, leaves discretion with the Secretary of State. However, that discretion is with the Secretary of State. It applies equally in all circumstances and would have to be read from the face of the Bill to apply equally in all circumstances.
Let us reflect again on what we require of the members of the board of the RDA. Although we see local authority experience as being important, the members are not appointed as representatives and in our view it is not necessary to provide that they should remain as representatives in local government in the normal sense for the whole period of their tenure of office.
Because people from local authorities will be appointed for the range of their experience and in many cases would retain that experience even after electoral defeat, we need to maintain a degree of flexibility in that situation. Indeed, I explained earlier the range of circumstances which would range from someone being a few weeks from the end of his mandate and deeply involved in areas of RDA work to a situation in which all the local authority members still had two or more years to serve and were no longer active and current members of a local authority. There will be a whole range of circumstances in between. I think that we require some flexibility here. The Secretary of State, under the powers that we provide, already has the ability to include an assessment of that situation, or so I am advised.
I do not think that we should be absolutist on the face of the Bill in either direction. We should not be saying that in all circumstances the individual who had been defeated in election should immediately resign or instantaneously lose that expertise from the RDA. But nor should we provide for a situation where in all circumstances once appointed they would survive.
The power exists under the Bill as drafted for the Secretary of State to include, for example, provisions in the appointment letter that would require a review or assessment of the situation if the member lost his seat. If we adopt the form of words here it would be difficult for the Secretary of State ever to exercise his judgment differentially between different councillors in the light of a defeat at a particular election, but we would wish to judge the circumstances differentially in the light of the expertise that they bring.
I therefore hope that we could retain that flexibility. There will be different circumstances and different personalities involved. To write this in these terms on the face of the Bill, even with an apparent discretion as referred to by the noble Baroness, would in practice greatly restrict the freedom of the Secretary of State to allow somebody to continue beyond an electoral defeat because of his expertise.
I gave assurances in the earlier debate that we would take note of what had been said in this Chamber and by local authority associations, local government 484 associations and others, as to how in practice we would operate. I feel that at this stage we should not take the matter further. We should recognise that flexibility would not necessarily be achieved by the amendment being pressed by the noble Baroness.
§ Baroness Miller of Hendon
I am greatly disappointed by the Minister's reply and surprised by it. In my book when you give someone the power that he "may" exercise that is a flexible power, not a prescriptive power. Earlier the Minister introduced the idea that if that were to happen we would have to find a way of dealing with it. The White Paper, Building Partnerships for Prosperity, talks about the agencies working in partnership with central and local government. It does not talk about working with just a local councillor. It goes on to say,We must work with local partners—the business community".The words are, "local authorities". If these councillors have lost their seats they are no longer on the local authorities. It may well be that the Secretary of State might want to put them back on the agency for another skill that they might have but they are certainly not there as a representative of the local authority.
§ The Minister said earlier that there would probably be four local councillors and an agency of about 12. All we are trying to do is to protect them. I cannot see what he is giving up if he accepts the amendment. All it says is that the Secretary of State could, if he wished, remove someone who loses his seat a year later, or whenever. He does not have to. If we were to take literally what the Minister said, the Secretary of State has the power in that same section to remove a member if he is unable or unfit to carry out the functions of a member. Who is to say between two members whether they are unable or unfit? We would need to have medical certificates. The Secretary of State will have a discretion. Why he cannot use the discretion in this case I really do not know. Under the circumstances, I should like to test the opinion of the Committee.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 12) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 63; Not-Contents, 81.485
|Division No. 2|
|Addington, L.||Dholakia, L.|
|Aldington, L.||Dixon-Smith, L.|
|Annaly, L.||Elles, B.|
|Attlee, E.||Elliott of Morpeth, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Greenway, L.|
|Biffen, L.||Grey, E.|
|Blaker, L.||Hampton, L.|
|Bowness, L.||Hamwee, B.|
|Burnham, L. [Teller.]||Harmar-Nicholls, L.|
|Cadman, L.||Hesketh, L.|
|Carlisle, E.||Holme of Cheltenham, L.|
|Chesham, L.||Jopling, L.|
|Clement-Jones, L.||Kenyon, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Kinnoull, E.|
|Kitchener, E.||O'Cathain, B.|
|Knutsford, V.||Park of Monmouth, B.|
|Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Pender, L.|
|Lyell, L.||Perry of Walton, L.|
|Mackay of Drumadoon, L.||Rees, L.|
|Mackie of Benshie, L.||Russell, E.|
|McNally, L.||Seccombe, B. [Teller.]|
|Maddock, B.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.|
|Middleton, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Miller of Hendon, B.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Milverton, L.||Thomas of Gresford, L.|
|Mottistone, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Newby, L.||Tope, L.|
|Nicholson of Winterbourne, B.||Tordoff, L.|
|Norton of Louth, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Amos, B.||Hunt of Kings Heath, L.|
|Archer of Sandwell, L.||Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.]|
|Barnett, L.||Islwyn, L.|
|Bassam of Brighton, L.||Jay of Paddington, B. [Lord Privy Seal.]|
|Burlison, L.||Judd, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Kintore, E.|
|Carter, L. [Teller.]||Lockwood, B.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Longford, E.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Lytton, E.|
|Currie of Marylebone, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]|
|David, B.||Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.|
|Davies of Coity, L.||Mallalieu, B.|
|Davies of Oldham, L.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Monkswell, L.|
|Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.||Morris of Castle Morris, L.|
|Dixon, L.||Murray of Epping Forest, L.|
|Donoughue, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Orme, L.|
|Ely, Bp.||Palmer, L.|
|Evans of Parkside, L.||Pitkeathley, B.|
|Falconer of Thoroton, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Farrington of Ribbleton, B.||Ramsay of Cartvale, B.|
|Gallacher, L.||Rea, L.|
|Gordon of Strathblane, L.||Rendell of Babergh, B.|
|Goudie, B.||Scotland of Asthal, B.|
|Gould of Potternewton, B.||Shepherd, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Simon, V.|
|Grantchester, L.||Simon of Highbury, L.|
|Grenfell, L.||Smith of Gilmorehill, B.|
|Hacking, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Hardie, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Haskel, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Hayman, B.||Thornton, B.|
|Hilton of Eggardon, B.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.||Uddin, B.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Walker of Doncaster, L.|
|Hoyle, L.||Waverley, V.|
|Hughes, L.||Whitty, L.|
|Hughes of Woodside, L.||Williams of Mostyn, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 13
§ Page 22, leave out lines 17 to 19.
§ The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 13, I shall speak also to Amendments No. 14. The amendment relate to pay and pensions that the 486 Secretary of State may award to members of RDAs. As drafted, paragraph 3 gives the Secretary of State an unfettered discretion to pay whatever salaries he chooses to members of RDAs. It allows him to pay whatever pension he chooses to former members of RDAs. It allows him to pay such golden handshakes or, perhaps more appropriately, golden kicks in the rear, when he decides that a member's services are no longer required and when perhaps equally golden silence is required from the recipient.
When paragraph 3(2)(a)—the subject of Amendment No. 13—was debated in Committee in the other place, the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning spoke in terms of the Secretary of State paying the "appropriate rate" for the job (a welcome conversion to the concept by the party opposite that there is an "appropriate rate" for the job and that the recipient of the appropriate rate is not ipso facto a "fat cat"). He made some vague promises about the salary reflecting.
what is required of board members in terms of the nature of the job and of the time commitment. Remuneration will be in line with payments made for service on similar bodies".
§ However, despite being pressed by my honourable friend the Member for South Suffolk, the Minister did not say when a decision would be made about the rates of remuneration and the factors affecting it.
§ Since that debate took place, eight months have passed. That is more than enough time for even this very busy Secretary of State to have reached some sort of conclusion. This Government have asked for far too many blank cheques. On this occasion the minimum we require as the price for paragraph 3(2)(a) is a cast iron guarantee that some sort of ceiling or formula will be applied for fixing the remuneration.
§ I turn to Amendment No. 14 which relates to sub-paragraph (2)(c) and the power of the Secretary of State to award pensions of, as matters stand at present, any amount he chooses. The Minister in the other place claimed that pensions are part of a standard remuneration package. With respect, in this situation they most certainly are not. Before coming to your Lordships' House I had the privilege of serving on three public bodies. Nobody whispered a word to me about pensions; on the contrary I was told that although my appointments were each for a definite term, I could be arbitrarily whipped off at the whim of he who appointed me—the Minister giveth and the Minister taketh away.
§ The reason why appointments to RDAs are different from ordinary commercial employment contracts and remuneration packages is that they are inevitably part-time. The recipient will almost certainly have other employment, sources of remuneration and pension rights; the recipient will in many cases be there in a representative capacity—for example, of the local authorities in the region. The appointments, by their nature, will be short-term, however long an individual one will continue in practice. Clearly the Government are not planning freehold appointments to RDAs—at least I hope that they are not. Whatever the rights and wrongs about the rates of salary paid to board members, there can be no justification for adding pensions to their remuneration.487
The Minister in the other place was good enough to admit,
I am sure that Conservative Members have more experience of such matters than we do".
Perhaps in the circumstances he will accept advice from the Opposition and drop this ill-conceived and unnecessary provision. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
To accept Amendment No. 13 would mean that the Secretary of State could not require the regional development agency to pay past or current board members a pension, allowance or gratuity. I do not think that it is right to remove this power from the Bill as the provisions are part of the standard package of measures available to NDPBs in dealing with their members' remuneration and pensions.
The provisions relating to remuneration, pensions and compensation in paragraph 3 of Schedule 2 are nothing new. They are standard provisions and are included in most legislation to set up NDPBs, including English Partnerships, Scottish Enterprise and the Welsh Development Agency. The standards were set by the previous administration and have been clarified to some extent by the Nolan Committee.
A board member's entitlement to a pension would be dependent on the amount of work involved in his board membership. In practice, that is likely only to apply to board chairmen.
Amendment No. 14 would mean that the Secretary of State could not allow the regional development agency to compensate board members, in special circumstances, when they leave the board. Once again, I do not think that it is right to remove that power from the Bill. I can again confirm that the provisions made are part of the standard package of measures available to NDPBs in dealing with their members' remuneration.
Amendment No. 14 would seek to prevent the payment of compensation to members. The Bill states that such compensation would only be paid in exceptional circumstances. I can reassure Members of the Committee that this would be the case; again this is a standard provision. I therefore urge that the amendments be withdrawn.
In moving the amendment, the noble Baroness indicated that some information may be of help in securing her acceptance of the need to withdraw the amendment. Board members will be paid at a rate to secure the best quality candidates. We propose to pay the chairman of each RDA £44,000 for two days a week; that is a notional full-time rate of £110,000 a year. Deputy chairmen will be paid £14,000 for one day a week; that equates to a notional full-time rate of £70,000 a year. Board members will be paid £7,000 for two days a month—a notional full-time rate of £42,000 a year. These payments are in line with those made for service on comparable NDPBs. Pensions will be paid 488 only in limited circumstances. With this information, I hope that the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw the amendment.
§ Baroness Miller of Hendon
With regard to my second amendment, I was referring only to pensions, not to payments, but the Minister seemed to think that I was referring to payments because Schedule 2(3)(1) refers to an RDA paying its members "remuneration", and so on. The public bodies on which I have served were never treated so well. We never received pensions. My noble friend Lord Bowness was a member of the Audit Commission—and he did not get a pension either! I shall carefully read what the noble Baroness said. Obviously, we served on the wrong boards. There can be no doubt about that. Having said that, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 14 not moved.]
§ Schedule 2 agreed to.
§ Clause 3 agreed to.
§ Clause 4 [Purposes]:
§ Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 15:
§ Page 2, line 19, leave out ("economic") and insert ("social, economic and environmental").
§ The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 15, which is grouped with Amendments Nos. 19, 20 and 20A, which stand in the names of other noble Lords.
§ Clause 4 brings us to the purposes of the new agencies. My amendment proposes that, in addition to furthering the economic development of their areas, the boards should also have social and environmental purposes. These days we are encouraged to undertake joined-up thinking or, to put it another way, to understand that a number of matters are inevitably related to one another. In the area of regeneration, I suggest that social and environmental matters cannot be separated from economic matters. We have seen this already in the regeneration that has been undertaken and in the approach to housing.
§ Perhaps I may give one example of what is commonly called "housing plus". When it comes to regeneration and renovation, housing estates are not viewed simply as bricks and mortar—or often, concrete and metal—but also as involving social and environmental factors on the basis, rightly, that housing is not only a material matter but is also vital to the lives of its inhabitants. The grouping of those aspects reflects the SRB approach which will be continued.
§ In the next group of amendments we shall come in more detail to the environmental aspects of the agencies' work. Environmental factors cannot be ignored if social and other provisions are to work in the long term. I believe that they should underlie all developments. That would be better expressed and understood if it were put on the face of the Bill. The regional development agencies are, after all, to be creatures of statute and that is why their purpose has to be defined. I know that I am not alone in taking that view and that it is, in fact, the view of the Government.489
The press notice issued by the department in June used similar language. It stated that it will be important that the agencies,
take an integrated approach, bringing together economic, social and environmental goals".
§ The information which has been published for prospective candidates for appointment to the boards has also described the social, physical and economic regeneration which will be the subject matter of their work, should they be appointed. That is why I suggest that the words "social, economic and environmental" be included on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ The Earl of Arran
Although we have had some hint this afternoon of understanding and accommodation by the Minister of what I am trying to achieve in Amendments Nos. 19 and 20, which are grouped, I should like to refer to business in the West country, as an analogy, to make my case.
Business in the South West has a major stake in the economic health of its region and contributes around £4.9 billion every year—that is, £1,000 for every local resident—to the Exchequer.
In Devon and Cornwall, South West Enterprise Limited, known as SWEL, has energetically supported the creation of a development agency since 1992. SWEL combines the local economic development interests of over 16,000 businesses through bodies such as the Federation of Small Businesses, the Forum of Private Business, the chambers of commerce, and the National Farmers Union, among many others. SWEL is a private sector joint venture, the purpose of which is to catalyse economic development and achieve a turnaround in the business economy of Devon and Cornwall. I must declare an interest in that I am a director of South West Enterprise Limited.
In Devon and Cornwall, we would have preferred to have our own development agency—but then probably so would every other part of England, as many Members of the Committee have mentioned. Therefore, we welcome the formation of a south-west regional development agency.
However, the south west region is the largest English region in terms of land area (at 9,200 square miles) and has more coastline than any other English region (at 745 miles). The distance from Land's End to the Gloucestershire border (at 220 miles) is equivalent to the distance between Gloucestershire and the Scottish Border—and the distance of Bristol from London is the same as the distance from Plymouth to Bristol.
The South West is also the most diverse of the English regions—and it has the greatest economic disparities of any English region. Although the south-west region may be considered relatively prosperous, this bold statement masks the significant variations between the county areas which constitute the region. In general terms, the picture that emerges is one of reduced prosperity the further south-west one travels.
On a range of 17 economic indicators, within the seven county areas which constitute the region, Cornwall ranks last on most and Devon second from 490 last. For example, Cornwall's gross domestic product, at 76.7 per cent. of the south-west average, makes it the poorest county. Devon, at 91.6 per cent., is the second poorest. Wiltshire, at 119.9 per cent., is the richest, some 43 per cent. above Cornwall and 28 per cent. above Devon.
With regard to unemployment, in August 1998, the unemployment rate in Cornwall was the worst in the south-west region, at 5.1 per cent. Devon's was the second worst, at 4.5 per cent.—more than double that for Wiltshire at 2.2 per cent.
There appear to be two economies in the south-west region—a prosperous one in the north of the region and a significantly less prosperous one in the south. If the RDAs are tasked with increasing wealth creation and improving the competitiveness of their areas as a whole, there is a serious risk that the attention currently given to the less prosperous parts of their area will be diluted by the attention given to the prosperous areas.
This does not imply that the RDAs should not support the prosperous areas. My amendments make it explicit that the RDAs' purposes shall apply as much to the prosperous areas as to the less prosperous areas. Furthermore, the outcomes in the less prosperous areas will be less certain because of the longer timescale required to address their more structural difficulties.
If an RDA's priorities are affected by the speed, size and certainty of outcomes, the RDA could be tempted to seek to achieve its regional purposes through a bias in favour of the prosperous parts of its area. Hence my amendment proposes that an RDA will be required to seek to bring about greater economic convergence within its area.
On 25th September, SWEL published a prospectus for the South West Regional Development Agency, so that the board of the new agency can take full advantage of the experience and thinking of business leaders. The prospectus has been the subject of intensive consultation and debate over the past 12 months. It has achieved wide support among the business community in Devon and Cornwall, as well as in the wider south-west region. I am very proud to be able to show it to the Committee this afternoon and can confirm that I have placed a copy in the Library of the House. I strongly recommend it.
In summary, social exclusion is an issue which is at the heart of the Government's agenda. I suggest that economic convergence, levelling up within regions, will be a key feature in alleviating social exclusion, in all its manifestations, at the local level. I believe that the Government are sympathetic to narrowing the divide within the regions, and to targeting resources better within regions in order to achieve that aim.
The Minister for the regions stated, at the National Conference on Regional Development in Leeds on 25th September 1997, that:We need to make sure that the regions and sub-regions are brought up to speed economically".491 My amendments seek to ensure that a proper emphasis is given to ensuring a narrowing of the economic performance gap within, as well as between, each English region.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
Amendment No. 20A, which is tabled in my name, has been included in this group of amendments. It returns us to the problem of agriculture and land management. I suppose that I must declare an interest in so far as I am a Welsh sheep farmer. However, although I agree with every word that my noble friend said, when it comes to poverty I believe that I can give him a fair run for his money in that sphere.
My amendment would ensure that any action—or, more importantly, the lack of action—taken by RDAs takes full account of the effect that it has on efficient agriculture and land management. Of course, as my noble friend said, the latter includes a multitude of related activities. My amendment could well be an addition to Amendment No. 7 moved by my noble friend Lady Anelay.
Members of the Committee will be aware of the problems confronting agriculture which will rebound on to many rural businesses. Although I believe that the Government could do more to help, the problem is world wide and I cannot see it being resolved in the near future. Indeed, being the farmer and pessimist that I am, I see an 1870–1939 scenario for British agriculture.
Before tabling the amendment I took heed of the Minister's reply to a somewhat similar amendment moved in another place on 5th February. In particular, I should like to draw the attention of Members of the Committee to the Minister's reply when he said:We aim to ensure that rural and non-rural areas arc treated equitably according to their needs, and that RDAs will not become urban-centred bodies that neglect the needs of their rural areas".— [Official Report, Commons, 5/2/98; col. 164.]I can agree with those sentiments but, as the Bill is written, I cannot for the life of me see RDAs doing as the Minister hopes, bearing in mind, for example, that the best rural representation on RDAs is likely to be only one person and that will only apply if my noble friend achieves what she wishes. The rest will be urban centred, so it is most unlikely—and, again, I refer to the Minister's words—that rural areas, agriculture and land management will be,treated equitably according to their needs".This is a classic case where democracy can and will ignore and neglect a minority and, by doing so, will not help efficient agriculture, land management and the region as a whole, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Wade.
§ My amendment would ensure that the problem was highlighted by making sure that any action taken by RDAs—or, more importantly, any lack of action by them—must be considered fully in terms of its effect on efficient agriculture and land management. Although helpful, Clause 4(2) does not, as I read it, do that. Like my noble friend Lord Patten and the right reverend Prelate, I am seriously worried that agriculture and land 492 management will be considered a poor relation in RDAs. However, if the Minister can convince me that the clause does redress the balance in a far more convincing way than his honourable friend in the other place was able to do. I will be content.
§ The Lord Bishop of Ely
I rise to offer brief support for the amendments. My support is based on conversations which I have had with Cambridgeshire County Council and Cambridge Community Council. In such bodies, I am very conscious that there is always something of a tension between those who take a very narrow view of regeneration and development and who see it solely in economic terms and those who take what I would call a more communitarian view of such development and certainly want to see the inclusion of social and community matters in such concepts of regeneration.
I merely wish to invite the noble Baroness to say how broad or narrow a view is being taken of the word "regeneration". Among the core functions of RDAs in the Government's White Paper were the social, physical and economic regeneration of the region. If one looks at the precise wording of the Bill, it will be seen in Clause 4(1)(a) that a separation has been made between those terms; namely,to further the economic development and the regeneration of its area".
§ What I seek is confirmation that, by the word "regeneration", some very important social matters are also being considered. I warmly support the noble Baroness in her insistence that this is an opportunity for the Government to demonstrate that they do take an integrated view of such matters and that all their admirable intentions and expectations in relation to social exclusion, as well as the Prime Minister's intentions in relation to the development and support of local communities—which, I have to say, in my experience are in an amazingly fragile state in many parts of my diocese—can be delivered by requiring the RDAs to undertake not merely economic development and economic regeneration but also social development. At the same time, I should like to offer my modest support for the intention that the physical environment will also be the subject of careful thought and concern on the part of the RDAs. I hope that this will be an opportunity for receiving such assurances.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Wade of Chorlton
Although the amendments we are discussing are grouped together they are quite different and I shall therefore discuss them separately. As regards the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, although I accept entirely the need for a whole range of activities to be covered I am nervous about placing further responsibilities, other than economic and regenerative ones, on the regional development agencies. Many existing agencies already study a wide range of responsibilities such as the responsibilities of government bodies and of local authorities. I refer to the Environment Agency in this regard. I welcome the fact that the regional development agencies will seek to develop the economy of their 493 regions. Unless the economy of a region is improved, one cannot tackle its social problems, its environmental problems or any other problems which need money and resources to enable them to be solved. The RDAs will promote the economic growth and the wealth creating opportunities of the regions. I hope that the Government will not support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.
My noble friends Lord Arran and Lord Stanley drew attention to some important aspects of economic development and regeneration. However, in any region there are certain pockets which are not as prosperous as others. They may constitute geographical pockets or certain sectors within an area. My noble friend Lord Stanley is right to say that certain quarters of the agricultural industry are facing hardship. However, the urban economy is also facing hardship in many quarters. The amendments seek to promote greater economic convergence within areas and state that the RDAs should consider those sectors which are facing hardship. The movers of the amendments wish the RDAs to consider what decisions must be taken as regards restructuring the economies of such regions or introducing new industries to replace those which are clearly dying. We cannot always support industries that are dying. Perhaps certain quarters of the agricultural industry are in decline and need to be restructured, as has happened in other industries. I agree with my noble friends that the RDAs need to be aware of these issues and of their responsibility to co-ordinate economic effort in order to increase the prosperity of their areas.
§ The Lord Bishop of Hereford
I hesitate to trespass again on the time of the Committee but I believe that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wade, is in serious conflict with the amendment that has been moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. Is the RDA supposed simply to affirm economic regeneration—is that what it is really all about?—or have we an opportunity here in the creation of RDAs to bring together the different interests which in the past have sometimes been in conflict?
It seems to me that the history of agriculture is one of creating wealth at one point in time by one particular method; for example, intensification, which has caused serious environmental degradation and damage. That situation is now having to be addressed by other agencies. Have we not here an opportunity to take these two things together and to entrust one significant agency with the task of development and economic regeneration, but having proper regard for the environmental effect of what is being done? I am concerned about the effect of following the philosophy of the RDAs that has just been expounded by the noble Lord, Lord Wade.
I hope that the Government will take seriously the desirability of fostering development and regeneration while taking into account the environmental consequences of what we are doing in that regard. If we are talking about the regeneration of agriculture we must consider seriously extensification. That may create more jobs and will certainly better protect the environment than the kind of agricultural advances we have seen in 494 the past which have sometimes caused severe damage in environmental terms. I hope the Government will take seriously the crux that we have reached in this amendment.
§ Lord Whitty
Many of the concerns as regards how the RDAs conduct their business are shared by the Government. However, in respect of all of these amendments most of the concerns are met by provisions which are already in the Bill or by declared government policy.
I absolutely concur with what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely indicated; namely, that we cannot separate the social, economic and environmental issues. The statutory purposes of the RDAs cover a broad spectrum. They are expected to take an integrated approach. An important aim of their regional strategy will be to develop links between the social, environmental and economic aspects of that strategy to ensure an integrated and cohesive approach to the regions' problems. That perhaps is best summarised in the objective of sustainable development. The Bill is drafted to achieve sustainable development. Our aim is that the RDAs promote sustainable economic and social development and that they consider the implications of sustainable development in everything that they do. This is itself an example of joined-up thinking in government. We need RDAs to have these broader objectives.
Amendment No. 15 seeks to add social and environmental elements to the economic development purposes of RDAs. I suggest the amendment is unnecessary and could in certain circumstances be misleading. We have already proposed in our consultation paper on sustainable development four key objectives: social progress, which recognises the needs of everyone; effective protection of the environment; prudent use of natural resources; and high and stable levels of economic growth and employment. The sustainable development purpose of the RDAs therefore encompasses the need for environmental and social considerations to be taken into account.
To a large extent I adhere to the philosophical approach of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford rather than to the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Wade. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wade, that economic regeneration is a central purpose of the RDAs but it must be carried out on a sustainable basis not only in economic and environmental terms but in terms of sustainable communities. In the objectives set out in the Bill and in statements of government policy we have already met the main purpose of Amendment No. 15.
Amendments Nos. 19 and 20 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Arran, raise rather different points. They seek to ensure that the purposes of the RDAs should apply as much in relation to prosperous areas as to less prosperous ones. I assure the noble Earl that we intend that the purposes and activities of the RDAs will apply equally to all parts of their areas. Indeed, one of the main reasons for establishing RDAs is to ensure that regeneration takes place throughout the regions. English Partnerships historically concentrated mainly, although 495 not entirely, on urban areas and the Rural Development Commission concentrated on rural areas. RDAs, however, will act and co-ordinate action throughout their areas. Clause 4(2) puts beyond doubt that the purposes of the RDAs apply equally to the rural and non-rural parts of their areas.
Amendment No. 20 seeks to make it a requirement that RDAs should bring about greater economic convergence within their areas. That is indeed one of their objectives. We wish them to address the economic deficit between regions but also within regions. We want them to help the regions realise their full economic potential. We also want them to take a region-wide strategic perspective and not just concentrate on the more prosperous parts of their region where they can get the maximum immediate productivity return, or act solely to rescue the least prosperous parts. They must serve the whole of the region and adopt a strategy which addresses the interests of the region as a whole. We know that many regions have underperforming areas. The noble Earl spelt out the situation in the south-west. It is true also in terms of an earlier debate about the Isle of Wight in the south-east, and indeed parts of south London. We need to ensure that the prosperity to which RDAs will contribute is spread to the poorer performing areas but at the same time build on what is good within, for example, the northern part of the south-west as well as spreading prosperity to the southernmost and westernmost parts of the south-west region. No one would want to prevent the better-performing regions from benefiting from the RDAs; on the other hand, we need to ensure that the RDAs address the problems of their under-performing areas.
Some of the instruments which will be at the disposal of the RDAs specifically address that point. The single regeneration budget which the RDAs will administer on behalf of the Government on the one hand and the rural regeneration programmes which they will inherit from the Rural Development Commission are specifically and explicitly targeted at the most deprived areas of their region. I therefore believe that the noble Earl will see, both strategically and in terms of the instruments that we are giving to the RDAs, that they will meet the needs for convergence and for addressing the differential needs of the regions.
I now turn to Amendment No. 20A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley. It deals with the requirements of agriculture and efficient land management. In approaching this new institution we recognise the importance of those factors and the particular and immediate problems of the agriculture industry. I am grateful that the noble Lord has drawn them into this debate.
Subsection (2) of Clause 4 makes clear that an RDA's purposes,apply as much in relation to the rural parts of its area as in relation to the non-rural parts".We intend to give RDAs guidance on rural issues to ensure that rural needs and agricultural needs are properly factored into the RDAs' strategies.
§ We propose shortly to issue guidance to the RDAs about the strategies they are required to produce under Clause 7 of the Bill. We shall shortly conduct a public consultation on that draft. As I indicated, that should be available before we reach Report stage of the Bill. Among other matters that RDAs will have to address will be the particular feature of the region's rural areas, including, importantly, the role of land-based industries such as agriculture. The land-use planning framework for the region is set out in regional planning guidance and in local authorities' development plans, as now.
§ As my noble friend Lady Farrington indicated, we also intend that supplementary guidance to the RDAs will ensure that they take account of the development pressures specifically facing the rural environment. It will also highlight the point that agricultural use, land-use and conservation issues are all important in their own right, but are also fundamental to achieving sustainable development in rural areas. We will remind RDAs that much of our landscape depends on efficient agriculture which can also support sustainable communities. The condition of the local environment may often be a significant factor in attracting new investment and other employment. RDAs will design rural development programmes which build on those factors. Furthermore, they will monitor, consult and report on the rural perspective as a whole and how they are tackling related problems.
§ For those reasons, I hope that the noble Lord will recognise that we have already taken on board many of his concerns and that they will be central to the development of RDA strategies. I hope therefore that noble Lords who have contributed to this rather wide-ranging debate on the amendments in this group will not feel it necessary to press amendments to the face of the Bill, given the Government's assurances that both the Bill and the strategic guidance that will follow meet most of those concerns.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
Before the noble Lord sits down, I have a question on which the Minister may be able to help me. If I may say so without causing trouble in his ranks, I thought he did a better job than his honourable friend in another place in explaining the problem. He indicated that RDAs would not necessarily concentrate on the best return and that they would address the less well-performing areas, which at present might be agriculture and land management. That will presumably be included in the guidance. What happens if they do not? I can see the pressures on the RDAs to go for a good return, as always happens in the end. Perhaps the Minister can help me on that point.
§ Lord Whitty
The short answer is that the RDAs' plans will have to be authorised by the Secretary of State. Should there be a serious refusal to observe key aspects of the guidance, then resources will not follow. I hope, however, that such issues can be dealt with by consensus and negotiation. It is certainly our intention that the issues with which the noble Lord is concerned are specifically addressed in the broad guidance that we give to RDAs and that they will take it to heart.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Hamwee
I thank the Minister for his response and thank other noble Lords for contributing to the debate.
To answer the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wade of Chorlton, I accept that the RDAs are not there to take on everything and that matters are to be dealt with by a wide range of other agencies. However I believe that their work should be in the context that I and other noble Lords have described.
The Minister said that the statutory purposes cover a wide spectrum. They do, but not quite wide enough. That was the very thrust of my amendment. He argued that because government policy is promoting the points that I and other noble Lords made we should accept that it is not necessary to refer to those goals, as the Government have described them, on the face of the Bill. But taken to its extreme, that is an argument for saying that practically nothing needs to go onto the face of the Bill because it is already government policy.
The Minister referred to the guidance and gave a specific assurance in relation to references to rural matters. It would be appropriate for me to wait for the draft guidance. However, I am not convinced by the arguments we have heard. We may consider another approach to this matter in the strategy provisions when we return to the Bill at a later date. For the present, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 16:
Page 2, line 24, after ("area,") insert—
("() to promote the environmental interests of its area,").
§ The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 standing in my name.
This amendment seeks to insert a specific purpose into the Bill; namely, the promotion of environmental interests of an agency's own area. I chose those words to follow the formulae in the earlier subparagraphs in Clause 4(1), which refer directly to an agency's area, because the reference in Clause 4(1)(e) is to,
sustainable development in the United Kingdom".
It would be inappropriate to spend time now re-rehearsing the arguments about the need to pay attention to environmental interests. It seems that that is widely accepted. The issue is whether the provisions of the Bill are such that one can point to them at a later date and prompt an agency which may appear to ignore environmental interests and say to it that that is one of its statutory purposes. There needs to be a direct reference to the environmental interests of the agency's own area.
§ Amendment No. 17 seeks confirmation from the Government as to what they mean by "sustainable development". I say that with some hesitation; I realise that in raising the question of terminology I could be starting an eight-hour debate. I hope that that will not happen, but that is a matter for the Committee.498
§ I find the term "sustainable development" difficult because the word "development" suggests that one is looking at development rather than the constraints on development which are sometimes required by a sustainable approach. The language is evolving and it must be difficult to find the terms that press the right buttons in legislation. I shall be interested in the noble Lord's comments on that term.
Amendment No. 18 relates to Clause 4(1)(e), which is an issue which has provoked much interest and concern. Clause 4(1)(e) provides that an RDA is,
to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development in the United Kingdom where it is relevant to its area to do so".
The relationship of two phrases in that paragraph is interesting. Are we saying that the relevance is to,
sustainable development in the United Kingdom",
or to "its area"? Surely sustainability is relevant to every area. If deleting the references to the United Kingdom and to relevance and referring just to the achievement of sustainability would solve the point, that would satisfy many people. The Government have already resisted that. I believe that the achievement of sustainability must always be relevant. I shall probably bring down the wrath of some lobbies on my head if I say that there may be circumstances in which it is not paramount, but I cannot believe that it is not on every occasion relevant. In other words, sustainability must always be considered even if other concerns eventually override it. The drafting accepts that it may not always be relevant. I believe that that reneges on the stewardship obligations which we all have at the outset of the work of the RDAs, and that is tremendously disappointing. I beg to move.
§ Lord Whitty
I genuinely believe that these are arguments about drafting rather than about purpose. I hope I said enough on the previous group of amendments to demonstrate our commitment to a process of sustainable development very close to the philosophy which the noble Baroness enunciated earlier.
Perhaps I may deal with Amendment No. 18 first. because I think there is some misunderstanding here. That amendment seeks to remove the reference in Clause 4(1)(e) to,where it is relevant to its area to do so".Those words are a limitation on the scope of the RDAs' remit, as there are limitations on the other objectives set out in Clause 4. However, the limitations in relation to sustainable development are significantly less strict in order to reflect the fact that sustainable development considerations often do not respect RDA boundaries.
If we had simply expressed the sustainable development purpose on the basis of the model applied to the first four objectives, that would have given us the wording,
to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development in its area".
We took the view, however, that that was far too restrictive because of the implications that RDA decisions might have beyond their own area. Hence we broadened the formulation in this objective to require
RDAs to contribute to sustainable development in the United Kingdom as a whole where it is relevant to an RDA's area.
§ The noble Baroness reflects a concern that in certain circumstances this formulation could be ambiguous and the suspicion that it might be open to an RDA to decide that sustainable development in general is somehow not relevant to the development purposes in its area and not a factor relevant to individual decisions. I am advised that that fear is wholly unfounded. If Parliament decides—as it will do if the Bill is passed in this form—that sustainable development is one of the five purposes for RDAs, then it will not be open to an individual RDA to set aside that intention and determine for itself that sustainable development is not a relevant purpose for its activities or decisions.
§ To reinforce that point we intend in our guidance to RDAs on sustainable development to set out how they should take account of sustainable development in all their work. Officials in my department will work closely with interested organisations in finalising that guidance. I hope that that will reassure the noble Baroness and that she will not press that amendment.
§ Amendment No. 16 seeks to add a sixth purpose to RDAs; namely, the purpose of promoting environmental interests. As I have indicated, we believe that that purpose is subsumed in the purpose of sustainable development.
§ I fear that Amendment No. 17, which seeks to alter the reference to sustainable development, would not be acceptable to us. I agree that some of this parlance is perhaps a little new to many of us and possibly quite new to the parliamentary draftsmen; and I agree that sometimes these terms ring different bells with different people. However, whereas "sustainable development" may not be in common parlance. it is a more precise term than "sustainability". Some people use those terms as if they were synonymous, but they are not. In the RDA context the emphasis on development is crucial for a body which is concerned with economic and social development and regeneration—but regeneration in a way which sustains environmental as well as economic objectives.
§ Incidentally, the words in the Bill are those used by the international community in most of its deliberations since the days of the Brundtland Commission. They are, of course, central to the national sustainable development strategy we are now producing after wide public consultation and which we shall look to the RDAs to help deliver. I do not think that removing this term from the Bill and replacing it with "sustainability" would be helpful. Indeed, it might be regarded in some circles as a retrograde step. I therefore urge the noble Baroness not to press that amendment.
§ In placing sustainable development alongside the other four purposes of RDAs and thus giving it equal status with those other purposes, the Bill makes it very clear that sustainable development is at the heart of the RDAs' activities. Given these reassurances and my 500 explanation of the background to this issue. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to withdraw her amendment.
§ Baroness Hamwee
Of course, I accept that sustainable development does not respect boundaries, but it occurs to me that not developing may sometimes be in the economic interests of an area. However, I shall not pursue that for the moment. What puzzles me is that the Minister said that it is not open to an RDA to determine that the matters covered by Clause 4(1)(e) are not relevant. If it is not open to the agency to determine that the achievement of sustainable development in the UK is not relevant, why does the Bill talk about it where it is relevant? I shall read carefully in Hansard what the Minister said. I accept that the precision of the drafting has already received a great deal of attention. I am not yet convinced, but I hope to be so. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 17 to 20A not moved.]
§ Clause 4 agreed to.
§ Clause 5 [Powers]:
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 21:
§ Page 2, line 29, leave out subsection (1).
§ The noble Baroness said: I should like to move Amendment No. 21 and speak at the same time to Amendment No 22. Both amendments seek to amend Clause 5. Amendment No. 21 seeks to delete subsection (1); Amendment No. 22 seeks to delete subsection (3). The reasons for the deletions of those two subsections are very similar: subsection (1) is far too wide and subsection (3) is too vague and does not say what the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State told the Committee of the other place was its intention. The reason for this wooliness is not difficult to see. The Government launched into what we consider to be an ill-conceived Bill as the thin end of the wedge for its intended break up of England into separate regions as part of an overall strategy which we see carried out almost daily to marginalise Parliament.
§ The Bill was produced following a White Paper and a consultation exercise. Although the Government received some 1,500 replies, we believe that many were carefully weeded out so that they could claim—we do not really agree with this either—that they had overall support. We have all kinds of vague provisions, the effect of which is that we are asked to rely upon ministerial statements on what the Government believe to be their interpretation.
Let me be more specific. I deal first with subsection (1). The subsection provides:
Subject to the following provisions of this Part, a regional development agency may do anything which it considers expedient for its purposes, or for purposes incidental thereto".
Even with the modulation about the provisions of the remainder of Part I, those are extremely wide-ranging powers especially as the remaining clauses in Part I are
largely of an administrative nature and deal with financial arrangements, information, reports and accountability, vesting and acquisition of land and miscellaneous and supplementary matters. Why cannot the Bill provide, perhaps in a separate schedule, a specific list of the powers that the RDAs are intended to have? Every limited company must produce and file a list of its objects, although I agree that usually they cover every conceivable contingency. Surely, the Government must have some idea what they want these quangos to do, or what they emphatically do not want them to do. There is absolutely no reason why the same schedule or the clause incorporating it in the Act should not contain the same modification as is already in the subsection; namely,
or for purposes incidental thereto".
Every limited company includes in its objects a similar provision. As far as I can see there would even be no objection to the Secretary of State taking power to modify those provisions by statutory instrument so long as it was subject to a positive resolution of both Houses.
§ We cannot give individual RDAs the power to go running off on madcap schemes of their own with virtually no power of parliamentary scrutiny until long after the event. Under Clauses 17 and 18 accountability consists of reports to the Secretary of State and a public meeting after the annual report is published. The right of regional chambers to information is dependent upon the Secretary of State ordering the RDA to supply it, presumably on a case-by-case basis.
I spoke a little earlier about the Government's reliance on their own interpretation of what some of the provisions of the Bill are supposed to mean. Let me be specific about subsection (1). I remind the Committee that subsection (1) provides that,
a regional development agency may do anything which it considers expedient for its purposes".
When the Committee in the other place debated Clause 6, not Clause 5(1), the Minister said:
Clause 5(1) already provides that RDAs can only act in accordance with their purposes".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee E, 5/2/98; col. 179.]
Where is the word "only" in the text of the Bill? It is not just an exercise in semantics. Clause 5(2) provides that,
A regional development agency may only",
do (a), (b) and (c). Those noble Lords who are members of the legal profession will know that countless hours have been spent arguing the interpretation of various Acts where the question has been why a particular word is used in one clause but not in another. If subsection (1) is intended to be restricted by the word "only" why does it not say so? Why does not the subsection provide that an RDA may do anything that it reasonably considers to be expedient for its purposes? I believe that I can answer that based on my experience of batting my head against a brick wall when dealing with the Minimum Wage Bill. Every time I sought to introduce a modification to a clause it was shot down on the grounds that the Government could always be relied upon to act reasonably. Even someone a lot less cynical than me about governments in general all over the world would find that hard to swallow without a great deal of derision.
§ "Flexibility" is another mantra of the present Government for refusing to tie themselves down to specific provisions instead of the carte blanche provisions that they constantly demand in various Bills and specifically in subsection (1). This subsection is sloppily drafted. It is too wide. It is clear from what was said in the other place that the Minister responsible for it is not absolutely sure what it means. It is not my responsibility to do the Government's job and to prepare a list of the specific powers that these nine quangos should have. We accept that so long as these quangos are to come into existence they need various powers but they must be properly defined. I suggest that the Secretary of State takes this subsection back to the drawing board and tells the House what he has in mind.
I turn now to Amendment No. 22 which is to delete subsection (3), which provides:
A regional development agency may only provide housing by acquiring existing housing accommodation and making it available on a temporary basis for purposes incidental to its purposes".
This short sentence with two different purposes within four words of each other is ambiguous, and the Government's explanation of its objects is utterly contradictory. The Notes on Clauses are unhelpful because they merely repeat the wording of the clause. In Committee in the other place the Government were questioned about the meaning of this clause. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions said:
The purpose of Clause 5(3) is to ensure that RDAs can only facilitate the development and regeneration of housing, such as by site assembly, or acquire existing housing to accommodate, for example, their own relocated staff on a temporary basis".—[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee E, col. 174.]
Where does the subsection refer to site assembly? It refers only to existing housing accommodation, not to potential redevelopment.
§ If the clause is supposed to mean what the Minister said, why does the clause not use those very precise and specific words? They are only three more words than are in the Bill now. My honourable friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon intervened to question the word "provide". He wanted to know why the word "own" was not used. The Minister said that it was to make it clear that RDAs were not to be able to become large-scale developers, to undertake housing developments as if they were local authorities or to become large-scale landlords.
So far so good, but once again why cannot this be spelled out clearly and emphatically so that there can be no possible doubt and no RDA with empire-building ambitions is tempted to try it on and enter into unauthorised transactions which it will be vastly expensive to cancel? Why or how would an RDA have the temerity to try to move into the large-scale housing market? The reason is that the purposes of an RDA are specifically referred to in this subsection and those purposes set out in Clause 4 of the Bill would on any fair interpretation include the provision of housing to,
further the economic development of the area, to promote employment and to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development".
Why did Clause 4(1) not include after paragraph (e)
but shall not be entitled to carry out the activities of housing developers or long-term residential landlords"?
Will the Government in addition to answering these questions undertake to rectify this ambiguity at a later stage of the Bill?
§ I have a further question which was not raised in the other place. What does "temporary" mean? How long is a "temporary basis"? Income tax was supposed to be a temporary tax. Noble Lords will recall the prefabricated houses—"prefabs" they were called—erected after the war to help with the vast housing shortage. They were supposed to be replaced within 10 years at the outside but many were still in use after a quarter of a century.
§ Properly drafted, the word "temporary" should have been confined to one, two or three years—or whatever the Government intend it to mean. The Government's stock answer of "flexibility" is even more inappropriate in this case. RDAs are to enjoy considerable autonomy subject only to a reporting system. Is there to be an inspector or supervisor appointed to each RDA to oversee this aspect of its activities and to see that they do not step over this undefined boundary?
§ I regret to say that this clause is very badly drafted. I do not blame the parliamentary draftsmen, whose skill I admire and respect, but they can only work within the drafting brief that they are given. In this case, as with some other legislation introduced by the Government, the policy here is to be as vague and unspecific as possible. That is what the Government are saying when they claim that the Bill allows them flexibility.
§ I stand in awe of the Government's mastery of the fine print, which would do credit to the author of a holiday brochure, but in this case it simply will not do. I should like the Minister to come back to noble Lords with some clear and unambiguous pledges about the operation of this part of the Bill or a promise to do some serious redrafting.
§ It is often said that the purpose of this Chamber is to tell the Government to think again. This, I believe, is such a case, but I stress it should be done without in any way modifying or detracting from the principles that they wish to establish. When I was at school one of the teachers had the habit of writing across essays—never, I hasten to stress, on mine—"Do it again, this time with a little more care and attention". That is my advice to the Government on these two subsections. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Maddock
Having listened to the noble Baroness and to earlier contributions, I am somewhat confused as to where the Conservative Front Bench stands on regional development and devolution. We heard earlier that it wished to have as much devolution as possible. I know that it has had great difficulty in Bournemouth this week. Their party is divided about whether we should have an English parliament. I am still confused after listening to the recent contribution. The amendment would limit the powers of the regional development agencies and give more power to central government. I had understood that the Conservative Front Bench did not want that.
504 Perhaps I may make clear our general attitude to the legislation. My noble friend Lady Hamwee mentioned earlier how we view the Bill. We may not have gone about the matter in the same way as the Government. However, if the RDAs are to be set up—we know that it will happen as soon as possible—we support in general the legislation. But in doing so we wish to press for accountability, openness and the ability for local decision-making and strategies within the context of the Bill. It is not surprising that we view the removal of these parts of the Bill as going against those principles.
However, I agree with the noble Baroness as regards the ambiguity of the part of the clause that she wishes to delete. I shall reserve my further remarks on housing to the amendment that I am about to move. My amendment will deal with the point she made. Having said that, we do not want to see those parts of the Bill removed.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, unwittingly produces an evocative response. She accused the Government of being adept at producing the fine print of a holiday brochure. While the pleasure of being in your Lordships' House is great, the fine print on the holiday brochure for my holiday on a Greek island in the sun was absolutely accurate. The holiday was superb. Just occasionally, I wish that I had believed that fine print and stayed longer.
Amendment No. 21 is helpful. I hope that discussion on the amendment will clarify some of the issues on a crucial part of the Bill: that part which enables RDAs to do what they need to do in order to fulfil their purposes. At Second Reading, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, gave notice of her concerns about Clause 5. She argued then, as now, that we were giving a blank cheque to RDAs; and that most certainly is not our intention. I welcome the opportunity that the amendment provides to help clarify the situation.
Clause (5)(1) is designed to make clear that these public bodies have the power to do what is necessary in order to achieve their statutory purpose. RDAs will have the powers given to them by the Bill. The Bill is therefore drafted in positive terms—what the RDA is to be allowed to do is specified—rather than in negative terms as to what it is not allowed to do. The word "only" is implied in every piece of legislation enacted by this House because without the legislation nothing could be done.
The noble Baroness also raised the issue of reasonableness. It may be helpful to deal with that now. If the RDA does not act reasonably, it is open to judicial review, as is any administrative body or elected authority. The provision is designed to remove any doubt about the position. It would be open to RDAs, as bodies corporate, to do anything they considered expedient for their purposes or incidental to them. As I have said, Clause (5)(1) puts that beyond doubt.
That said, we think that it is only right and proper that in certain areas we put limitations on what RDAs do. Those limitations are set out in subsections (2) and (3) of Clause 5.
505 The noble Baroness gave some examples at Second Reading of what an RDA might or might not be able to do. She wondered whether under this power RDAs could divert a road or a river or order a business to move. The answer is a resounding "No". RDAs will be subject to the panoply of English law, just as other organisations and individuals are. Clause 5 does not give them the right to do anything which any other body corporate could not do. What they do has to be expedient to their purposes.
This amendment can almost be said to be wrecking. It goes to the heart of our flexible approach and removes a key power for RDAs. I trust the Committee will join me in rejecting it.
Clause 5 sets out the limits to RDAs' powers, and subsection (3) refers to the agencies' remit to provide housing. RDAs will not be housing bodies and may only facilitate the regeneration of housing or acquire existing housing on a temporary basis, for example, for their own relocated staff.
I was asked about the use of the term "temporary". It means provision which is not permanent. The difference between permanent and temporary accommodation is understood by most tenants. The RDA cannot provide long-term housing in the way that a local authority or housing association does. But it can provide interim accommodation, for example, for staff moving to the area, or for people who are being moved to the development site to give them time to find permanent accommodation. Rather like the elephant, people know when they see it. However, Amendment No. 22 would remove these limitations and as a result RDAs would be able to provide housing for any reason as long as it was incidental to their main purposes.
We do not wish the agencies to become housing bodies. Housing is already provided in the public sector through local authorities and housing associations, and through private landlords. We do not need to create another housing provider. However, we appreciate that in a few cases there may be a need for the agencies to provide housing on a temporary basis, for example when staff transfer from one of the existing bodies to the agencies. In addition, the transferring bodies may have a facilitating role. English Partnership, for example, aids the provision of housing by providing sites for suitable development. That is why we have given the limited power that is currently in the Bill. We see no case for enabling RDAs to provide housing on a permanent rather than on a temporary basis, or for enabling them to create new housing accommodation. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, I am slightly puzzled because I can envisage that had the Bill enabled them to become housing authorities the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, would have said that that impinges on the roles, rights and remit of local authorities. Therefore, for the reasons I have outlined, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
§ Baroness Miller of Hendon
The noble Baroness gave an answer with regard to temporary not being permanent. On that amusing note, I can do no less than read carefully what she said and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 22 not moved.]506
§ Baroness Maddock moved Amendment No. 23:
§ Page 2, line 38, leave out from ("housing") to ("for") in line 40.
§ The noble Baroness said: Amendments Nos. 23 and 34 deal with our concern about the housing powers of regional development agencies. In the light of the previous discussion, I hope that the Government will find Amendment No. 23 helpful. We support them in believing that the provision of housing should be by local authorities as a district responsibility. That is the level at which people know best the housing needs of their locality. The role of the regional development agencies is not to be housing providers. However, we also recognise that in carrying out wide duties and responsibilities, as the RDAs will be doing, there may be times when it is necessary to provide houses, perhaps for employees.
§ Subsection (3) of the clause is extraordinarily worded. Indeed, we had difficulty wording the amendment so that it made sense. I believe that our amendments make a great deal of sense and do not detract from the Government's proposals. I recommend the amendments on the ground of common sense.
§ Amendment No. 34 highlights the importance of recognising the role of housing in economic development. Regional development agencies need to be aware of that. The Minister in another place described the strategies of the RDAs as one of the core functions. The Minister also said that it could be described as their most significant role. That is true, but we on these Benches believe that housing is inextricably linked to economic development. Indeed, the availability of housing, both public and private, is central to achieving the Government's objective of sustainable regeneration.
§ Where inward investment is attracted and jobs are created it is sensible that account is taken and an audit made of the availability and quality of housing. Equally, we need to look at the socio-economic profile of the people living in those houses. If economic regeneration occurs in an area where there is not a significant supply of housing there may be certain problems, such as increased pressure on transport infrastructure. We could see an increase in new employees using their own personal transport. There might be an over-supply and excessive demand for housing in certain localities. That can bring problems associated with excessive house prices, deflation and inflation. Furthermore, existing communities could find themselves excluded from training and employment if the right housing is not in the right place.
§ Where housing availability is taken into account land sites should be made available for economic regeneration and used efficiently across the region. Although we do not see RDAs providing housing, it is important that they take the matter on board when putting forward their strategies for economic development. Discussions here and in another place show concern that RDAs may well be led and staffed by people who are committed to economic regeneration but who may not appreciate the matters I have raised, in particular the importance of the social policy agenda being integrally linked to the economic agenda.507
§ The Secretary of State is to approve the strategies. Therefore, the purpose of the amendments is to ensure that this aspect is included in the strategy. We may then go some way towards ensuring that the social policy and housing agenda is taken on board at all stages when the strategies are being formed and put to the Secretary of State for his comments and approval. We hope that the Government agree with us and will give some encouragement on that. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
Clause 5 sets out the limits of RDAs' powers. Subsection (3) refers to the agencies' remit to provide housing. RDAs will not be housing bodies and may only facilitate the regeneration of housing or acquire existing housing on a temporary basis for their own relocated staff.
However, Amendment No. 23, like Amendment No. 22, would remove those limitations. As a result, RDAs would be able to provide housing for any reason, provided that it was incidental to their main purposes. We do not wish the agencies to become housing bodies. Housing is already provided in the public sector through local authorities, housing associations and private landlords. We do not feel the need to create another housing provider. However, in agreeing with the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, we appreciate that in a few cases there may be a need for the agencies to provide housing on a temporary basis for their staff.
In addition, the transferring bodies may have a facilitating role. English Partnership, for example, aids the provision of housing by providing sites suitable for development. That is why we have provided the limited power in the Bill. We see no case for enabling RDAs to provide housing on a permanent rather than on a temporary basis, or for enabling them to create new housing accommodation.
The noble Baroness asked whether it would be open to RDAs to take any further action, perhaps by providing financial assistance to public/private partnerships to regenerate an area by building residential accommodation. It may be helpful if I confirm that that is the case. The restriction in Clause 5(3) relates to the provision of housing by an RDA as a landlord. It does not prevent an RDA from facilitating the provision of housing by others. RDAs will have the same powers in relation to facilitating the provision of housing as English Partnership. We envisage them having a similar role.
Amendment No. 34 would provide that guidance and directions on RDA strategies could deal with the availability of housing in an RDA's area. There are three objections to Amendment No. 34. First, there is a point of principle. I am not attracted by the idea of spelling out in minute detail the guidance and directions given by the Secretary of State to the RDAs. Clause 7(2) provides an umbrella for any guidance that the Secretary of State may wish to give and sets out only broad categories.
Secondly, subsection (3) is not an appropriate place for adding this sort of detail as it relates to geographical areas, not subject areas, on which guidance can be given.
508 Thirdly, it is unnecessary to amend the Bill this way. We must not forget that at the regional level housing issues are already addressed in the regional planning guidance. RDAs will need to, have regard to regional planning guidance when they formulate their strategies. Therefore they will consider the housing policies set out in the RPG and how these will impact on their own functions. I would therefore ask the noble Baroness to withdraw these amendments.
§ 8 p.m.
§ Baroness Maddock
I thank the Minister for her answer. As to the first amendment, the removal of the words in the middle make absolutely no difference. We are in agreement; we just disagree about the way we interpret the words on the page. I agree that we are anxious to enable the RDA to have powers that are incidental to anything else it might be doing and that it is not held back because it has to get permission from somewhere or simply cannot do something. It is semantics, and I shall not press that at the moment.
As to Amendment No. 34, the Minister had three objections. One was the principle that it was minute detail. I do not think I have described in minute detail what should be in this Bill with regard to housing. I have merely said what is absolute common sense—something with which we fail with too often in this country—that housing and economic development are inextricably linked. This brings that principle into the Bill. I agree with the Minister—and I nearly said it in my opening comments but I thought it better to leave something for the Minister to do—that this is not an appropriate place to put this in the Bill. I appreciate that. In my opening remarks I said that we were merely trying to get an indication from the Government that they appreciated the point we were making. I am disappointed that they do not seem quite to appreciate the point.
We need to return to this again at a later stage of the Bill. It is certainly necessary somewhere in the Bill for it to be stated that regional development agencies, in their strategies, recognise the importance of key workers in their region. In any key development on the economic front, the people working there should have appropriate housing. We should plan for appropriate housing to go with the economic development strategies.
I am sure we will return to this issue at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 5 agreed to.
§ Clause 6 [Delegation of functions by Ministers]:
§ Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 24:
§ Page 3, line 2, after ("delegate") insert ("the exercise of").
§ The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 24 and will speak also to Amendment No. 28 grouped with it. The group also includes Amendments Nos. 25, 27 and 29 in the names of other noble Lords. My two amendments will probably be the shortest in substance in the group.
§ The first amendment is to suggest that delegation by the Minister should not be delegation of his or her function but of the exercise of that function. I apologise 509 for being so picky. It probably confirms the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, about the lawyer influence.
§ The second amendment deals with the question of revocation of a delegation. It suggests that delegation should only be revoked after consultation with the agencies in question. Earlier parts of Clause 6 provide for the agreement of the agencies concerned in various circumstances. It can only be sensible if an agency which has been exercising the function has the opportunity to make its points to the Minister before it loses that function.
I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 25 and 29 within this group standing in my name. In setting up these new bodies we should recognise that they have no democratic accountability other than to Parliament through the Secretary of State. Perhaps that clarifies my view of regional development agencies for the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. It is a delusion to suggest that they are local bodies because, as this Bill is drawn, local communities will have any input only by virtue or the grace and favour of the Secretary of State.
The Bill creates bodies which are his creatures and gives to them certain functions under Clause 4. I would suggest that those functions should be strictly adhered to. It should not be possible for the Secretary of State, at the stroke of an administrative pen, to vary these. It may well be that I am seeing more in this clause than actually exists. No doubt the Minister will advise me if that be the case.
If the Government will not concede that the functions should be restricted to the functions of the RDAs, as on the face of the Bill, I hope that they will then agree with the second of my amendments. At the very least Parliament, to whom the Secretary of State is answerable, should be told that the functions of one of the principal Ministers answerable to it have been delegated to one or other bodies.
While we are discussing this, perhaps the Minister can assist the Committee—or at least assist me—with the precise meanings of the wordings in Clause 6(4). It is not clear to me what are the functions that will not require the regional development agencies' consent. Clause 6(4)(a) refers to that. We are talking there about no variation of a delegation being made without the agreement of the regional development agency unless, in the first place, it did not require that agreement. Where are we on that? Are we supposed to refer back to Clause 6(3) which says that no delegation may be made without agreement unless it is made to all of them?
In that case I am lost by Clause 6(4)(b) because it then talks about no variations being made without agreement unless it did not require that agreement in the first place, and a corresponding variation of every corresponding delegation to not all the other regional development agencies—as would appear logical from Clause 6(3)—but to another regional development agency is made at the same time. Are we talking about subsection (4)(b) applying only where it refers to one or more?
510 I hope that we will hear from the Minister about the eligible functions of the Secretary of State. Apart from a reference in Clause 6(2)(a) which tells us what is not eligible, it would appear that anything the Secretary of State decides is eligible may be delegated according to Clause 6(2)(b). That leaves available for delegation a great range of powers which the Secretary of State currently exercises. I shall not take up the time of the Committee by going through all the powers of the Secretary of State, even if I could bring them all to mind. But may we have an assurance, for example, that the allocation of revenue and capital between individual local authorities within the area of an RDA will not be delegated? Can we be sure that, although planning has been withdrawn from the Bill, the Secretary of State cannot delegate his final powers of confirmation on the outcome of planning inquiries? There may be better examples, but those are examples of important functions that the Secretary of State exercises. We ought to know whether or not it is ever envisaged, or indeed whether it would be possible as the Bill is drawn, that delegation of such matters will be made.
§ The Earl of Arran
I wish to speak to Amendment No. 27 which stands in my name. As I said earlier, the business community in Devon and Cornwall broadly welcomes the Bill. However, there needs to be greater emphasis in the Bill on the development of businesses, especially small businesses, in improving the competitiveness and increasing the wealth-creating base of the English regions. The present proposals provide only a partial solution to the needs of business. The Government should include Business Links and the training and enterprise councils within the RDAs as soon as possible if the RDAs are to meet the requirements for sustainable business development.
I note that under Clause 6 the Bill allows for Business Links and TECs to be included in the RDAs at a later date without recourse to primary legislation. In its reply of 18th February to a letter to the Deputy Prime Minister from the chairman of the south-west inter-regional committee of the Federation of Small Businesses, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions said that the RDAs,will be able to provide regional objectives as part of TEC planning … The RDAs' regional strategies will address the needs of small business in the regions and Business Links will wish to draw upon the priorities identified in these strategies as they develop their detailed services".Strategic oversight of TECs and Business Links will not be sufficient. Business development is at the heart of wealth creation. Without it, issues such as regional competitiveness, community regeneration and social exclusion cannot be properly addressed. The RDAs will need to be operationally as well as strategically involved in the activities of TECs and Business Links as soon as this can possibly be achieved.
An examination of international best practice has shown that sustainable economic and community development requires the development of the indigenous business community alongside the other four function of regional development. Regeneration, inward investment and rural development, which will be part of the RDAs from their formation next April, must be 511 co-ordinated with the development of small and medium enterprises and their investment in the community. There is evidence that more jobs and more sustainable businesses are created through the development of the region's indigenous businesses than through inward investment. There is more to regional development than addressing the problems of economic blackspots. The most competitive businesses have continually to strive to maintain their lead.
Small and medium-sized enterprises—SMEs—currently account for nearly 50 per cent. of employment outside the public sector and for around 38 per cent. of the UK's gross national product. SMEs are expected to be the main source of future economic growth throughout the country. From a business perspective, the TECs and Business Links should be part of the RDAs from the outset. Indeed, this issue is touched on in the prospectus for the south-west RDA, which I have already mentioned.
I am calling for nothing which the Government have not already accepted other than the timing of the inclusion of TECs and Business Links within the RDAs. The purpose of my amendment is simply to strengthen the Bill by making explicit the need to incorporate within the RDAs, and as soon as possible, the functions associated with the development of the businesses in an RDA's area. Business is the engine of sustainable economic development and business development needs to be put at the heart of the RDAs.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Lord Newby
I wish to support the noble Earl, Lord Arran, in respect of Amendment No. 27. Clearly, it makes sense for oversight of the TECs and Business Links to go to the RDAs. The training and development of the population of a region and the whole question of matching skills to business and economic development needs are crucial if the RDAs are to achieve their purpose.
At present, the situation within any region in respect of TECs and Business Links is unsatisfactory. The remit of these bodies is limited to the geographic area in which they operate, which is, by definition, part of a region. Secondly, they are under tremendous pressure to achieve outputs in terms of the number of people achieving qualifications—almost any qualifications, it seems, in some places. In the north-east there is a standing joke that there are more trained hairdressers per "head" of the population than anywhere else in the world. That is because there has been such a concentration of hairdressing courses in the TECs in the north-east. There is great frustration because that is not an activity on which one would wish strategic emphasis to be placed.
§ Lord Newby
The hairdresser's job would be permanent. Whether all politicians would need 512 permanently the services of a hairdresser is a point one might put to the Leader of the Opposition in another place.
The arguments for RDAs taking control of TECs and Business Links are self-evident and in the long term no one would seriously argue against them. Therefore, as the noble Earl, Lord Arran, said, we are talking about timing. What have the Government said about this? In their recent consultation document on TECs, they said:We do not want to burden RDAs from the outset with a substantial management task while they are still finding their feet. RDAs must be able to concentrate on developing a strategic vision for their regions and to build the necessary relationships with a wide range of organisations".That is wonderful Civil Service-speak for doing nothing for the maximum possible time.
Yet, if we look at the actors in the regions, we find that there is considerable enthusiasm for the transfer of the functions of the TECs and Business Links to the RDAs from the outset. We have heard that that is the case in the south-west. I know from the discussions I have had that it is the case in regions further north where there is a great desire to start work from the outset with the TECs under the aegis of the RDAs.
Equally, what do the TECs themselves want? In the TEC National Council's recommendations to the Government in response to the consultation document, we see that they want to be at the heart of the RDAs. The London TECs have said explicitly that they want funding to go through the London Development Agency from the outset—not at some far distant point at which Whitehall has decided that the RDAs have found their feet.
In urging support for the amendment, I would ask the Minister whether he can deny a report in yesterday's Financial Times that it is unlikely that the Government would reconsider the issue of whether the RDAs were sufficiently empowered and sufficiently well developed to take on the oversight of TECs and Business Links until after the next election. Is that indeed the Government's current view? If so, I should be extremely grateful to hear from the Minister the arguments that could be advanced in that direction. It seems to us that the RDAs need from the start all the functional powers that they can get in order to deliver the quite significant expectations of them that have been built up in the regions.
There is a great danger, it seems to me, that unless the RDAs can have some relatively quick wins there will be severe credibility questions posed, and their ability to have quick wins requires them from the outset to have the necessary powers. In our view, powers relevant to TECs and Business Links from the outset should be within their remit. Therefore I should be most grateful if the Minister could tell us why it is that the Government appear so reluctant to transfer to the RDAs powers which virtually all those from without who have looked at the question think should be with them from the start.
§ Lord Whitty
Clause 6 provides for any government Minister to delegate functions to the RDAs. However, delegated functions must be appropriate—and I will 513 return to that in a moment—and they must not consist of the power to make regulations or set fees and charges. The consent of the agency is required unless the delegation is made to all RDAs. That seems to be a fairly straightforward technical and administrative provision, and we are making a rather lot of it on this occasion.
Amendment No. 24 would have the result of ensuring that a delegation would permit an agency to carry out a function but that the responsibility for the function would rest elsewhere. I presume, but I was not clear from what the noble Baroness said, that the intention behind the amendment is to allow the Secretary of State either to control the nature and extent of the delegation or to restrict it in some way in future. However, I am advised that this amendment does not achieve that, and indeed it does not change the actual substance of the clause, which already gives the Secretary of State the power to delegate functions as he sees fit. This includes the power to withdraw the delegation if he does not like the way in which it is exercised. However, if it would permit the agency to exercise the function that is carried out by somebody else other than the Secretary of State, then I do not quite understand the point of Amendment No. 24: it would appear to be confusing.
Amendment No. 25 would specify on the face of the Bill that delegation may only take place when it is considered that this would further the RDA's purposes. Again, if I understand the intention aright, this is unnecessary. Clause 5(1) of the Bill already provides that the RDAs may act only in accordance with the purposes set out in Clause 4. The delegation provided for under Clause 6 does not in any sense override that and therefore I think that in this context I can also reassure the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, that the Secretary of State can delegate only those functions which correspond to the RDA's purpose. It is certainly true that my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister has very wide powers in his current capacity over civil aviation and merchant shipping among other things: a very wide range. However, he is not going to delegate that under this clause to the RDA because he can only delegate those aspects which relate to the RDA's purposes, as set out in Clause 4. Otherwise the agency would itself be in a situation that it would carry out delegated functions that it could not, legally speaking, carry out. I believe that may be the reassurance that the noble Lord was looking for.
I thank the noble Lord for giving way, and I really do not want to detain the Committee. I hear what he says and I will read very carefully what has been said, but I would ask: what is the purpose of the delegation if in fact it is going to be so restrictive? Clause 4, as interpreted, could allow almost any function of any Minister to be applied to any of the subsections of Clause 4. So, although the Minister seems to be suggesting that my worries are misplaced because the delegation is already limited, in fact the delegations could be very widespread indeed and I shall be grateful 514 if the noble Lord could tell the Committee what sort of delegations in regard to what kind of powers he has in mind.
§ Lord Whitty
The delegations would relate to those purposes in Clause 4 in the area of the RDA: in other words, those powers which the Secretary of State already has to promote employment could be devolved to the RDA, for the RDA to carry out. Regarding the responsibilities which I think the noble Lord raised earlier as to the allocation of funds between local authorities, they could not be so allocated: nor could the Secretary of State's transport functions or planning functions in the normal sense of the words. I hope what I have said explains that.
Regarding the noble Lord's question on Clause 6(4)(b), I do agree that this is slightly confusing and I will read out the advice I have got, which may probably meet some of his points but not all of them, in which case I will write to the noble Lord. Delegation does not require the same consent—the consent of the RDA, that is—if the same delegation is given to each RDA in the same terms. That refers clearly to the previous clause or subsection. Variation does not require consent if the same variation is made to a delegation which is made to each RDA in the same terms. The purpose of that is to prevent the Secretary of State singling out individual RDAs for unfavourable treatment or to prevent a single RDA from preventing general delegations from being made or varied. I hope that is clear. If it is not, I will write to the noble Lord.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation. I certainly will not press the amendment but I am not sure that that is what Clause 6(4)(b) actually says. I accept what the noble Lord says—that that is what it is meant to say—but I do not think it means it.
§ Lord Whitty
If the noble Lord will allow me. I will write to him on this point. Amendment No. 28 would require—this again refers to the noble Baroness's amendment—that the RDA is consulted before any delegation is revoked. I completely understand and sympathise with the intentions prompting this amendment. However, we would not want there to be a statutory duty to consult RDAs in every case before revoking a delegation. In practice I have absolutely no doubt that such consultation would take place in the vast majority of cases. The revocation of a delegation would normally follow a lengthy dialogue with RDAs or with the individual RDA concerned, and indeed, where substantive functions were involved, clearly staff and property transfers would arise, so consultation would need to take place. Nevertheless it is conceivable that there would be circumstances where it would be important for Ministers to act without delay. These would be exceptional circumstances and it would be necessary for Ministers to explain them, but I can assure your Lordships that Ministers would not act unreasonably in this respect. However, they would wish to resist a formal statutory requirement to consult in all cases, again to preserve the necessary flexibility for exceptional cases.
515 Similarly, regarding Amendment No. 29, which was put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, this would require a report to be made to each House before any individual delegation was made. I assume that this amendment is intended simply to ensure open government, and of course the Government should be open about what it is asking RDAs to do. However, I do not believe that requiring a single separate report to Parliament on each decision is the best way of ensuring this. In some circumstances the House may already be aware of the intention—for example, our intention already announced of delegating the single regeneration budget—in which case there would not be a need for such a report to be made. This does not mean that we are trying to exercise this delegation power in secret. Obviously we would wish to inform not only both Houses but other interested parties. However, we would not wish to be restricted to the particular method of a parliamentary report upon each individual delegation.
Perhaps I may turn now to the substantive point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Arran, relating to the TECs and Business Links. He put his case very eloquently, and there is much in what he said, but, as the Government have said on many occasions, we think that the functions we are giving to the RDAs, at least at their inception, will provide them with a sufficiently challenging agenda. We do not propose to transfer to them all the functions that are currently carried out by the Government Offices, including those relating to TECs and Business Links. As I have mentioned, the Government's approach is designed to maximise the effectiveness of the RDAs and to ensure that they play a key role in improving the performance of both TECs and Business Links and help us achieve our vision: both of them. However, that does not require them at this stage to take over direct responsibility for TECs and oversight of Business Links.
I contend that that does not mean, as the noble Lord, Lord Newby, suggested, that we are doing nothing. I deny also that the effect of the TECs is simply to produce hairdressers. I am not sure whether supply creates its own demand in the north-east. They have noticeably shorter haircuts in the north-east. That is a rather trivial representation of the work of the TECs. They have done some very important work in improving skills regionally and locally.
At present we are reviewing the future role, purpose and funding framework of the TECs to give them a clearer focus. For the time being, we intend that TECs' contracts and budgets will be managed by the government offices. We have said that we shall reflect further on that issue after the TEC review. But the consultation on that review finished only a few days ago. We shall consider the responses and, in the light of them, we shall decide whether a different approach is warranted.
The point as regards this Bill is that if a decision were made in the future to give the RDAs responsibility for TEC contracting and budgeting, which is the important point, we have the flexibility already provided by Clause 6 to delegate those powers. A similar situation 516 applies to the oversight of Business Links although they are not government bodies but are the property of local partnerships and are not in quite the same position.
Therefore, the question of timing is not decided by the inclusion of specific powers within this Bill nor by what is on the face of the Bill nor, I hasten to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Newby, on the article in the Financial Times for that matter. Those decisions have yet to be taken. In the meantime, RDAs will have the core role of developing a regional economic strategy for their region and will need to develop those in close liaison with both TECs and Business Links. Clearly education skills and employability are central to the development of regional economic performance and to the RDAs' strategy. They will need to develop that in conjunction with business, industry, trade unions, TECs, Business Links, local authorities and further and higher education. The package of functions that we have given to the RDAs is, immediately and without managerial oversight of the TECs, challenging but realistic.
In managing the TECs and Business Link contracts, government offices will still need to take account of the strategic framework developed by RDAs and therefore there is a continuous interchange between the RDAs and the TECs.
I hope that with those reassurances and indications on earlier amendments that the text of the Bill already provides for the intention behind the amendments, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Hamwee
Before I deal with my amendments, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, has a point in relation to Amendment No. 25. Clause 4, which the Minister has explained will govern delegation and restrict it, is extremely wide. I accept that making grants to local authorities is unlikely to fall within it but the other examples which he used of transport and planning could well come within Clause 4. Therefore, I hope that that point may be pursued later.
I note what the Minister said on Amendment No. 28. If there is an urgency in dealing with the revocation without consultation, I suspect that it may be more to do with the chair and the members of the authority and whether their appointment is terminated than with the particular function. However, that is another matter.
With regard to Amendment No. 24, I shall read what the Minister said but it seems to me that the suggestion is being made that whoever is delegating the function will be absolving himself from responsibility. I should have thought that the responsibility remained with the Minister of the Crown. I certainly did not intend to remove it. Surely as a matter of accountability, that is where responsibility lies. My drafting was not intended to undo that. I was making the very same point that the function remains with the Minister, although he may delegate how it is to be carried out. However, I shall read what has been said and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 25 not moved.]517
§ [Amendment No. 26 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
§ [Amendments Nos. 27 to 29 not moved.]
§ Clause 6 agreed to.
§ Clause 7 [Strategy]:
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 30:
Page 3, line 27, at end insert (", and
() have regard to, and promote, regional planning guidance and local authority development plans").
§ The noble Lord said: In Clause 7 we move to an extremely important aspect of the role, function and responsibilities of the RDAs; that is, strategy. Like many words, there are different ways in which to interpret it, but I see strategy as being the ability of a body to take an overview and to embrace work, plans or progress by a number of other bodies.
§ Perhaps the words of my amendment and what I am saying now do not describe what the Government have in mind. I strongly support the concept of the RDA and I would go further than some of the views which have been expressed this evening. I want to see strong, responsive and successful RDAs. That may not happen immediately as a result of this Bill because it may take two or three years before one sees the benefits.
Amendment No. 30 seeks to add words to Clause 7(1) which states:
A regional development agency shall—
I seek to add that it shall,
have regard to, and promote, regional planning guidance and local authority development plans".
All Members of the Committee who speak in these debates have experience of how the planning nexus impinges upon the raison d'être of a council. We are all extremely concerned and receive good advice from our council offices about how to draw up a plan; what should be included and excluded; who should be consulted. At the end of the day, we have a satisfactory structure and framework which this country and the people of this country enjoy in respect of planning guidance.
§ When the RDAs begin to function, they will have not only the functions as described but will operate in a situation in which there are pre-laid down structures. For example, in every RDA there will be in existence regional planning guidance, a transport strategy and a waste strategy. Those have extremely important implications for sustainable development.
§ The purpose of this amendment is not only to improve the effectiveness of the RDAs but it is important also that the economic strategies do not conflict with those which are already in place. It may be said that surely such matters can be talked through. Of course they can be. But people sometimes dig in their heels. I believe that at the end of the day, the Government have a responsibility to say to the RDAs that they are responsible for ensuring that there is no conflict between the strategies which the people of this country have put in place. The CPRE, the Local Government Association and the RSPB have issued 518 a statement, an aspiration, of which I have a copy and which I support. We would like to see the Government strengthen the role of the RDAs to ensure that there is a "knitting together" on all matters, especially those which affect sustainable development.
§ When the White Paper, Building Partnerships for Prosperity, was produced there was a particular welcome for the statement that RDAs will place the principle of sustainable development at the heart of their programmes and the commitment to give RDAs a specific statutory objective of furthering the achievements of sustainable development.
§ However, Clause 4(1), which includes sustainable development, lists five purposes and then says that this should apply only where it is relevant. I ask my ministerial friends to recognise that there is a job to be done and if, at the end of the day, somebody needs to be given a little bit of muscle or a little bit of push, I think that the RDA is ideally situated to do it. I do not think that is much to ask.
§ If one looks at Clause 4 which talks about activities one sees how the role begins to be spelt out:
- "(a) to further the economic development and the regeneration of its area,
- (b) to promote business efficiency, investment and competitiveness…
- (c) to promote employment…
- (d) to enhance the development and application of skills
- (e) to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development in the United Kingdom where it is relevant to its area to do so".
§ I say to the Minister that we may not have the words right, but we may well be as one in the objective. The purpose of this amendment is to provide the Minister with something that may be helpful to others outside the Chamber. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Hamwee
Before I come to my own amendment in this group, from these Benches may I warmly support the amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. I know that there has been a discussion in another place about the relationship between the exercise by the RDAs of their functions, purposes and the existing planning guidance and development plans. As the noble Lord says, of course there has to be a continuing dialogue between all partners. But I firmly believe that it is right that the work of the RDAs follows and observes the guidance and the plans constructed in the ways in which we know they are. The planning authority, in other words, must remain the planning authority.
One reason for my saying that is that the process of planning at its best, involves local communities to a great extent. Although I do not suggest that RDAs will not go out to their own communities, perhaps there will not be the same imperative there. Their objectives are rather different. It seems to me that it is quite right to say that development plans and regional planning guidance are simply not to be ignored.
519 Amendment No. 37 proposes that in the exercise of its functions—which is the subject of Clause 7 and for which guidance and directions are to be given under the clause—there will be provision in the guidance and the directions as regards both freedom of information and access to information. We have already heard that the RDAs will be carrying out functions which would otherwise be carried out by the Government. I believe that they should be subject to the fullest scrutiny.
The question of freedom of information was a matter which I raised earlier this year in the context of the Local Government (Experimental Arrangements) Bill, the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tamworth. At that time, the noble Lord in promoting the Bill and the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, on behalf of the Government, were helpful in coming up with a method of referring to freedom of information even before the Freedom of Information Act was on the statute book or had even started as a Bill.
We are looking forward to the progress of that legislation but would be happy to find ways of getting references into legislation as early as we can. I know that draftsmen, if they accept the thrust of an amendment, generally prefer to redraft it themselves. However, I hope that the Government will accept that the intentions in this amendment are the right intentions and that it would be right to refer to freedom of information.
I have also mentioned access of information. Although I appreciate that there are provisions for making annual reports, those reports are inevitably limited. Provisions for access of information allow those who are interested to dig rather deeper than they can do simply by reading what any entity chooses to include in its report.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Young of Old Scone
I support my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton in his Amendments Nos. 30 and 33. I congratulate the Minister on stressing earlier in this debate the Government's commitment to sustainable development and pointing out that sustainable development is about "joined up" thinking and "joined up" government. I wonder if I could press him further on that point?
We already have in existence some important mechanisms for sustainable development in the form of original planning guidance and local authority development plans. We are seeing an encouraging development with some regions already beginning to put together sustainable development strategies. That, I would hope, is a process that the Government will be pushing.
The valuable mechanisms for ensuring that development is sustainable are already there. The question is how we can ensure that RDAs, when they come on the scene, are part of joined up government and take full account of those in drawing up their strategies. The Government have acknowledged in another place that it is important that there is integration between all of these mechanisms, but they were rather imprecise about how that was to be achieved.
520 I am sure that the Minister will tell me that it is self-evident that these statutory mechanisms already in existence will be taken fully into account by RDAs in drawing up their strategies. Perhaps I can just widen this issue a little further. Throughout the passage of the Bill, and indeed in our discussions on previous amendments, we have continued to hear concern from a variety of quarters about the sustainable development function of RDAs. We have continued to hear regular assurances from Government about the fundamental importance of sustainable development for RDAs and yet a marked reluctance to specify in any detail how that is to happen on the face of the Bill.
I think that this particular area would be one where there could be considerable comfort given about how RDAs are to go about their sustainable development duty. I hope that we can see some movement towards specifying that they do need to take into account the joined up thinking that is already around in the form of regional planning guidance, local authority development plans and emergent sustainable development strategies.
I wonder if we could press the Minister into a little more joined up thinking than is already evident on the face of the Bill.
§ Lord Whitty
Once again the objectives set out in this group of amendments are shared by the Government. For example, I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton that all these bodies must work together. There is obviously already substantial strategic work being undertaken at regional level before the creation of the RDAs; in particular, a relationship needs to be built up between the RDAs and regional planning guidance. Regional planning guidance forms the framework for land-use planning decisions, and the RDAs' strategies relate to that. The right relationship is essential to our task of providing for more coherent and more effective working at the regional level.
The difficulty with Amendment No. 30 and some of the subsequent ones is that we are at the stage of dealing with institutions which do not yet exist or which are only in the process of being developed, such as regional transport planning. To specify too clearly in statutory form could prevent the organic development of relationships between the various forms of new institutions and processes.
I do not feel therefore that the face of the Bill is the best place for those relationships to be spelt out. I say "those" relationships rather than the specific relationship dealt with by my noble friend's first amendment because there are a number of complex relationships that will involve the RDAs at national, regional and local levels. Moreover, the amendment raises a legal difficulty by not limiting the reference to regional planning guidance to guidance issued by the Secretary of State, though clearly that is the intention behind the amendment.
We have put nothing in Clause 7 about specific matters RDAs should have regard to and issues that must be taken into account in drawing up their regional strategies. That will be dealt with in guidance. We will shortly be publishing for public consultation draft guidance to the RDAs about the formulation of their strategies. I very much hope that the draft guidance will be published 521 before the Report stage of this Bill. In the draft guidance the Government will set out what we believe to be the relevant matters. The draft guidance will explain the relationship between RDAs' strategies and RPG. I will seek to set out a little of that for the Committee this evening.
Regional planning guidance, together with the local authority development plans, sets out the planning framework for the region. Like any other body, an RDA will be expected to work within that framework. This is not at issue. Anxieties were expressed about RDAs taking over planning responsibilities. That will not be the case. But RPG is a developing spatial planning framework. Under the Government's new arrangements, the regional planning body will in future take the lead in the preparation of draft RPG. Another institution is involved, therefore, whose relationship with the RDA will need to develop over time. In many regions the two documents will be developed in parallel, and both documents will need to be reviewed regularly. The regional planning body will therefore be a key regional partner with which the RDA will need to work closely.
The regional planning guidance and the regional economic strategy do, however, have different purposes. It is of course important that the messages of both are compatible and consistent. And, to achieve that, it will be important for the RDAs as they develop their regional strategies to have due regard to regional planning guidance and the developing thinking of the regional planning body. In turn, through their work and the advice they will be able to give, RDAs will provide a vital input to the review of regional planning guidance. Those putting the strategic thinking together will need, on both sides, to have regard to the views and needs of the other. However, the achievement of both objectives will develop over time. In our view, it would not be sensible to specify that on the face of the Bill at this stage.
Amendment No. 30 would also require RDAs to promote regional planning guidance. It is not entirely clear what my noble friend means by that, but I believe that that would not be appropriate. RDAs do not have the levers to do that. As I said, land-use planning is not one of their responsibilities, though they must pay due regard to it. The amendment therefore could be too prescriptive and it is unnecessary in the sense that much of this will be covered by guidance and by developing relationships at the regional level.
As regards the relationship between RDA strategies and existing or proposed regional sustainable strategies—Amendment No. 33—further thought is needed on that. My noble friend Lady Young, in an earlier debate, referred to the fact that we have a plethora of sustainable development initiatives being undertaken at regional level, and that is all to the good. However, given the different initiatives being taken and the different institutions involved, it is difficult to specify on the face of the Bill the statutory forms and processes with which the RDAs should relate to the developing sustainable initiatives. We want joined-up government in that area. Guidance will provide some indication to RDAs in their initial stages as to how to relate to the proposals. Again, hopefully over time organic links will be built up between those who are developing sustainable development plans 522 at regional level and the RDAs. Indeed, the department commissioned a research project to identify what is happening in the different regions in that area. We need to look at the results of that study and consider their implications before setting in concrete the guidance we wish to give to RDAs in that respect.
My noble friend need have no concern that we are not moving in the same direction. He is correct that RDAs should take account of strategies on sustainable development produced by other bodies. We will have the powers to give them guidance or directions on this matter under subsection (7)(2) of the Bill, and we intend to use those powers.
Amendment No. 37 deals with a slightly separate issue in relation to freedom of information and access to information. I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that it is my department's policy and practice to require all our non-departmental public boards to operate in an open way. In the case of RDAs' strategies, I explained in relation to an earlier amendment that regional strategies will be public documents. They will be compiled with the help of and are aimed at a range of regional stakeholders. They could not fulfil their purpose unless they were publicly available.
On the more general issue of freedom of information, Members of the Committee will be aware that we are committed to the principles of freedom of information. The Home Secretary announced on 29th September further steps to take forward our commitment. He undertook to publish a draft Bill early in the new year and announced the allocation of additional staff and resources to work on that Bill. That Bill will take the steps necessary to apply freedom of information principles across the public sector.
In our view, therefore, it would not be right in this Bill to do anything that might cut across any wider developments. For the time being, accordingly, I hope the noble Baroness will accept my reassurance that the key documents of RDAs will be in the public domain; that RDAs will comply fully with best practice and current statutory requirements for access to information, and that in doing so we will take account of moves towards the fuller freedom of information regime which we intend. RDAs will be subject to the full rigours of the proposed new statutory requirements for freedom of information.
With those reassurances, I hope that my noble friend will be prepared to withdraw his amendment at this stage.
§ Baroness Hamwee
Before the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, responds, perhaps I may encourage the Minister in his turn to encourage officials working with Ministers to produce the draft guidance before Report stage as he hopes. So much of what he said will depend on what we see in that guidance.
I make the point now because the Minister's response to the noble Lord, Lord Graham, left me less reassured about the requirement on RDAs to observe what is being done to forward sustainable development and so forth through regional planning guidance and local authority development plans than I was before he started. I became confused about the distinction between what is 523 produced by various bodies—that is, the guidance and the plans—and the bodies that produce such plans, which the Minister said are changing. I accept that. The process of regional planning guidance is under review. Whichever bodies produce such items, it is their product that we want to see the RDAs observe.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Lord Whitty
Perhaps I may clarify the position on guidance. It is our intention to try to produce guidance on the strategies for RDAs which will include broad references to all those areas in time for Report. The more detailed guidance—on sustainable development and rural development, to which we have referred this evening—will probably not be ready for Report, but should not be long delayed after that. I believe that even the strategic guidance will give some reassurance. On the point about sustainable development, I assure Members of the Committee that many of the concerns raised by the noble Baroness and my noble friend will be met.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
I am grateful to the Minister. I sympathise with his inability to be more helpful. Having been a Member of both Houses and considered many Bills, I know the importance of appreciating goodwill and good intent, such as has been professed by this Minister and his colleagues. One can either trust him or not—and I trust my noble friend and his ministerial colleagues. We may not get exactly what we want in the way that we want it when we want it, but as I sense from what my noble friend said that there is wide agreement with, and sympathy for, the objectives of my amendment, the raison d'être of which is the need to synthesise strategies across the region, it would be churlish of me to take any further action tonight or before we have had the opportunity to return to this matter.
I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister. I believe that most of us understand the dilemma—I shall not say, "of making policy on the hoof", but of having to make policy in changing and fluctuating circumstances. As I see it, we have got the best that we can. You are going to get nowt more out of this Minister tonight! He has done his best. I am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 31:
Page 3, line 27, at end insert (", and
() assess the environmental implications of its strategy and make such assessment publicly available").
§ The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 35. Amendment No. 31, which is also to Clause 7 and deals with strategy, proposes to ensure that the regional economic strategy is assessed for its environmental impact and seeks to help to deliver the sustainable development objectives of the RDAs. I am bound to say that such an amendment would not be necessary if the environmental purposes that we debated earlier were included in the Bill in the form discussed.524
§ A strategic environmental assessment would, one hopes, identify potential conflicts at a very early stage and enable alternative options to be explored to avoid adverse environmental impacts. We have discussed whether particular concerns should be paramount. My amendment proposes a mechanism to try to avoid conflicts between different interests.
§ The Minister in another place indicated that a strategic environmental assessment may be carried out. He said that where there are likely to be significant environmental impacts, environmental appraisals need to be carried out. Yet again, one comes to the word "may". Such assessments should be routine. They should not be optional.
§ I have referred to avoiding conflict. Consensus between all those who have an interest in the decision-making process is obviously desirable. Indeed, the more that appeals can be avoided (with all their inherent delay) the better—that is, if there is resort to appeals under the planning system.
§ This may be another matter on which the Minister will refer us to guidance. If so, I hope that the guidance will recognise that conserving biodiversity is a key test of sustainable development and that the RDAs will therefore need to set environmental targets and indicators and to appraise their economic strategy—in other words, to monitor their economic strategy against such matters. I look forward to such assurances as the Minister can give on that.
§ My second amendment requires RDAs to report on their performance in achieving sustainable development and to set sustainability targets and indicators. It would be helpful to have some specific provisions on that.
§ My attention has been drawn to the Welsh Development Agency, which has been mentioned several times today. Its annual report includes performance targets. It would be most helpful if the RDAs were to set targets following that example and published how they met them. As we all know, there is not a lot of point in having good intentions unless you are precise about assessing whether or not you have carried out those intentions and unless you monitor what you are doing.
§ I hope that we can be given some assurances that even if there is nothing on the face of the Bill in that regard, the guidance will deal with the sustainability targets and indicators, and with reporting their performance against the regional economic strategy. I beg to move.
§ Lord Whitty
Once again, I feel that I can express total sympathy with the objectives of the noble Baroness while not conceding any change in the Bill. I understand the concerns behind the amendment, but I can reassure the noble Baroness that the guidance will make it absolutely clear to RDAs that they must include in their regional strategy an appraisal of the contribution that the total strategy will make to sustainable development. Therefore, we are not putting it as an "add-on"; we are ensuring that the regional strategies of RDAs will routinely make an appraisal not just of their environmental effects, as we might previously have put it, but also of their wider achievement as regards sustainable development.
525 Amendment No. 31 also seeks to make any environmental assessment publicly available. I have already assured Members of the Committee that the regional strategies of RDAs will be public documents: they will be compiled with the help of and aimed at a range of regional stakeholders. Therefore, they must be public documents. As I said, we intend the strategy to include a clear assessment of its contribution to sustainable development. So, again, the assessment will be publicly available and, indeed, needs to be to enable the RDAs to carry out their tasks. Given that assurance, I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendment.
Amendment No. 35 seeks to make it clear on the face of the Bill that such guidance and directions may include sustainability indicators and targets. There are some technical problems in that this is an amendment to Clause 7(3), which relates to geographical areas and not to subjects upon which guidance can be given. In addition, the amendment is probably unnecessary because Clause 7(2) already gives the Secretary of State the power to give an RDA guidance and directions in relation to any matter. Therefore, the purpose of the amendment could be covered by that subsection.
In terms of what lies behind our position on indicators of sustainable development, I can say that we are currently working on a set of national headline indicators. We intend to publish these later in the autumn. In terms of whether we should be giving guidance to RDAs on what indicators they should use regionally, whether sustainable development indicators or anything else, we have not yet taken a final view on whether the Secretary of State should prescribe them, as suggested by the amendment, or whether we should leave it to the RDA to decide what indicators are appropriate for its region, having regard to the headline national indicators. That remains to be considered. Indeed, in some ways this Bill is in a sense a decentralising process and we ought to use prescription only where there is a strong case to do so. As drafted, the amendment would require the Secretary of State to set regional indicators, whereas some flexibility is needed for RDAs in the light of what we are doing nationally. Having once again expressed my good intentions, I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that she need not pursue these amendments tonight.
§ Baroness Young of Old Scone
I wonder whether we could press my noble friend the Minister a little further as regards the guidance which he has reassured us will be coming soon and which will satisfy all our concerns about sustainable development. I was slightly concerned to hear that the guidance might be delayed until after the Report stage. It has been referred to so frequently during the passage of the Bill that it would be most reassuring—and I am sure that we all echo the exposition of my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton as regards trusting the Minister—to see it in print. That would reassure us all greatly.
§ Lord Whitty
I am afraid that I cannot he as helpful as I would like to be to my noble friend. As I indicated a few moments ago, I can almost, but not quite, assure Members of the Committee that the strategic guidance will be 526 available before the Report stage. Indeed. I may have gone slightly too far in that respect, but I believe that it will be available by that time.
However, I do not believe that we will have completed the internal processes to produce the sustainable development guidelines in time for the Report stage and that applies equally to those for rural development. I hope that we are sufficiently further advanced for me to be able to give a better indication on Report, but they will not be in anything like their final form and that form may be subject to further consultation.
§ Baroness Hamwee
I thank the Minister for his response. I did not mean to indicate any dissent from the proposition put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, that one trusts the Minister. Indeed, it is always some other Minister who might be in that position who is distrusted and not the one in the present position. I also take the noble Lord's point about the rather more centralising flavour of these amendments than I would normally be happy with. One wants to centralise to ensure that things are done well when one believes that they need to be promoted. I understand the temptation into which the noble Lord suggests that I may have fallen. At this point I can do little more than look forward to reading the guidance. However, if I can think of another way of skinning this cat before the Report stage, I may return to the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 32:
Page 3, line 27, at end insert—
("() A regional development agency must show that it has consulted every local authority within the area of the agency before formulating or reviewing its strategy.").
§ The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 32 I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 36. Like the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, we on these Benches certainly trust both Ministers on the Benches opposite. We understand the constraints under which they work. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, said that we shall get "nowt" more from the Minister tonight. I think that is how he pronounced the word. I very much hope that he is wrong because we have tabled many more amendments for consideration and it is a little demotivating to think that nothing good will come of them other than the giving of sympathy and understanding on the part of the Government.
§ Amendments Nos. 32 and 36 are similar in effect and are intended to introduce an element of consultation before strategic decisions are made either by regional development agencies under Clause 7(1) or by the Secretary of State under Clause 7(3). As regards the contents of the clause I stress that what we are talking about here are not merely administrative or day-to-day matters. We are talking about strategy. For the moment we have within each of the geographical areas allotted to each RDA a number of local authorities of various sizes. If RDAs are to have the powers to make strategic decisions and to formulate strategic policies, they must at 527 least consult the local authorities which may have an interest in, or at least a view, on decisions that will affect them and the services they provide and the individual citizens and businesses within their jurisdiction.
§ This requirement for consultation with the local authorities will also facilitate individuals who are making representations via their local authority on these strategic matters. It will considerably strengthen the Bill if RDAs are obliged to consider local authorities' views. Currently local authorities are the only directly elected bodies in these nine regions. I may have the wrong word there; I think we are talking about the RDAs.
In a debate on a similar amendment in Committee in another place, the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning said,
We want regional partners to feel they own the strategy as much as the RDAs. It is to be a bottom up strategy".
He went on to say,
Regional partners will have a key influence on the strategy's content and they will often have to implement it. Therefore RDAs will work closely with all relevant partners including local authorities".
How can local authorities have a key influence on the strategy's contents if they are not consulted about it? How can a local authority be expected to work closely with its RDA if it is merely being required to carry out its orders on matters over which, contrary to the Minister's stated intentions, it had absolutely no influence, let alone a key one?
§ Even if my amendment is accepted, there is still every possibility that within the area of an RDA different local authorities may have different views. Certainly, purely because of limitations of size, many of the local authorities may not be represented on an RDA at all.
The Minister told the Committee,
We do not wish to list in the Bill various other interests that RDAs may wish to consult".
Local authorities from parish councils upwards are not mere pressure groups or single issue agitators. Whatever "various other interests" the Government may not wish to clutter up the Bill with, there is absolutely no reason why they should not put down in the Bill in black and white what they have said both in the White Paper and in the other place. The Minister similarly claimed that,
"there will be a strong incentive for RDAs to consult widely".
There can be no stronger incentive than for an Act of Parliament to tell them to do so.
I now turn to Amendment No. 36. This adds a new subsection requiring the Secretary of State to consult all the local authorities in an RDA's area,
Before giving guidance and directions referred to in subsection (2)".
Subsection (2), as drawn, gives the Secretary of State sweeping powers in relation to the exercise of an RDA's functions about formulating and reviewing its strategy. It not only allows the Secretary of State to give what the subsection calls "guidance"—which one assumes the RDA could ignore if it chooses and its members are perhaps tired of their jobs—but it also enables the Secretary of State to give directions about every key component of an RDA's strategic planning. In Committee
in another place my honourable friend the Member for South Suffolk described this power as extraordinary, inconsistent and irreconcilable with everything that the Government have said about both wishing to decentralise and at the same time to take into account the views of the regions. I cannot express it better myself. The Secretary of State cannot only say "no" to any strategic plan—which has to be fair enough since the ultimate responsibility is his—but he can decide which strategic aspects they can consider in the first place.
§ Subsections (2) and (3), taken together, make a mockery of the idea that RDAs are a form of decentralisation. My amendment is nowhere near as ambitious as that proposed by my colleagues in the other place. They wanted to throw out subsections (2) and (3) altogether. All my amendment requires them to do is to go through the motions of consultation with the local authorities that fall within their region. As I have pointed out, the Secretary of State is not bound by the results of any consultation, within the constraints of not being totally irrational and thereby triggering a judicial review under the Wednesbury principles.
The Minister in the other place claimed that the present proposals are,
no different from the 1975 legislation on the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies".
He went on to claim:
the then Prime Minister. Mrs. Thatcher, decided it was such a good idea that she introduced one in Northern Ireland".
There is the crux of the whole problem that the Government have regarding their regional strategy. They perhaps do not realise that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are each physically and historically self-contained geo-political entities, albeit part of the United Kingdom. England is also a separate entity. Despite that, the Government now propose to chop it up into a bunch of disparate, unconnected super-counties such as we have not seen since the days of the Saxon kingdoms.
I shall not repeat the arguments about the inappropriateness of the regions as defined by Schedule 1. The situation is simply that the Government are creating nine competing regions. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions said at Committee stage in the other place in relation to Clause 16:
If the practice [of competitive bidding for inward investment projects] is allowed to proceed unchecked public resources will be wasted. The cost to regions of inward investment may be bidded up—the regions might have secured such an investment at a lower price if bidding had not taken place—and I am sure all committee members agree that this has to stop".
I certainly agree with that sentiment. It is precisely what I warned your Lordships about in my speech at Second Reading on 18th May. Will the Minister, in replying, tell the Committee precisely how creating nine separate regional development agencies will lessen competition and waste rather than increase them? At the same time will he tell us how, again to quote the Minister in the other place, co-ordination and a cohesive and effective national approach will be achieved among nine separate regions, each trying desperately to justify its individual existence?
§ If RDAs are supposed to have some degree of local autonomy, then the very least that the Secretary of State could do is to listen to any representations that local councils wish to make before he tells the RDAs which strategies they can formulate.
The Minister told Members in the other place that,
It is right and highly desirable that RDAs work closely with their regional partners".
How can they do that if they have to evolve strategies at the direction of the Secretary of State, who is not obliged to consult with anyone?
The Minister said:
it is our wish to decentralise decision making to the regional level wherever we can".
How is that possible when the key decision, the basic strategy, will be on the basis of a ministerial diktat, which may be made without consultation with the local authorities?
Finally, in the same passage, the Minister said:
We need to ensure that RDAs in formulating their strategies understand how they will fit into the national policy framework".
I certainly agree that the Minister got that right. In that one phrase he summarised the whole case against needlessly creating this bunch of quangos—it is a national policy that is required, not nine separate regions, each jealously guarding its own parochial interests. But we know that the Government are determined to take this course. The least we ask them to do is pay lip-service to the principles they claim to espouse—those of local autonomy. All they need to do is agree the very moderate Amendment No. 36 and agree to consult with the local authorities before telling the regional development agencies what they are allowed to do in their strategy.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
In politics there is occasionally an all-pervasive sense of déjà vu. As someone who was horn in the Midland region and has lived for over 30 years in the north-west, much of my political life has been spent facing people who live in the London region who claim that those who live in other regions do not know where they are. Presumably we never get home because we do not know in which direction to go. I should like to place on record that I do not live in Kent; I never get lost going home to the north-west region by mistaking it for Kent; and I have yet to meet anyone from Kent who sets off home towards Lancashire. I say that as an aside. I occasionally become defensive, because we do know that there are regions; we live in them. We know that those regions share interests that are more similar than the interests which they share with, for example, the region in which the noble Baroness lives.
Amendment No. 32 would require an RDA to consult every local authority within its region before formulating or revising its regional strategy. The RDAs' strategies will be meaningful only if they command the support of the region. To do this it will be essential for the RDAs to involve a wide range of regional interests in the development of their strategies—not only local authorities, important though they are, but also business, the voluntary sector, trade unions, further and higher education and many others.
530 RDAs will need to carry the regions with them when producing and implementing their strategies and will need to ensure that the region can come together behind the priorities and goals identified in the strategy. They will therefore want to develop a partnership approach to this work. Therefore we expect the RDAs to want to involve local authorities in their strategic work. In addition to this, the RDAs will hear the collective views of local authorities and other partners through designated regional chambers provided for in Clause 8 of the RDAs Bill. The Secretary of State can designate a chamber for the region to provide a focus for consultation and scrutiny of the RDA's work. We have identified a number of criteria for designation of a chamber, one of which is that the majority of members should be representatives of local authorities. The Bill provides specifically that RDAs must have regard to any views expressed by the chamber when formulating and reviewing their strategies.
Amendment No. 36 would add to the face of the Bill a requirement for the Secretary of State to consult all local authorities in the region on guidance and directions issued to RDAs in relation to their strategies. The Bill places a general duty on the Secretary of State to consult with the RDAs before guidance or directions are issued; and in another place Ministers made commitments to consult others with an interest in the guidance, where appropriate.
I can give the noble Baroness and other noble Lords the assurance she sought that when we launch the consultation on the draft guidance to RDAs on the strategies, which, as we have said, we hope will be very shortly, we shall consult with the Local Government Association at the national level and, at the regional level, all the government offices will consult with their constituent local authorities. We do not, however, want to make this a statutory requirement. It is not necessary, or desirable, to put on the face of the Bill detailed requirements which, as a matter of good administrative practice, government and the RDAs will follow. I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
§ Baroness Miller of Hendon
I thank the noble Baroness for her answer and in doing so express my regret and apologise to both Ministers opposite for the fact that I have not thanked them for any of the courteous answers which they have given me. I was so upset at not getting my own way that I dashed ahead without thanking them for the care and courtesy of their answers. I hope they will take it that I thank them for all the previous answers they have given me.
I have listened carefully to the words of the noble Baroness. I hope that when we see the guidance on the strategy we shall have the assurance that we seek. I am sure that that will happen because the noble Baroness has said so. However, like other members of the Committee who have spoken this evening, I very much hope that the guidance appears, even if not in complete detail, before Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 33 to 37 not moved].531
§ Clause 7 agreed to.
§ Clause 8 [Regional consultation]:
§ Baroness Anelay of St. Johns moved Amendment No. 38:
§ Page 3, line 41, after ("of") insert ("all").
§ The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 38 and speak also to Amendments Nos. 39 and 41 which are grouped with it. Clause 8 makes provision for the designation of a regional chamber for an agency and for an agency to consult the chamber on its functions. The Secretary of State may give guidance and directions about consultation where there is no chamber in existence. Subsection (1) provides that the Secretary of State may designate a body within a region as an agency's regional chamber if he is of the opinion that it is representative of those in the area with an interest in the work of the agency.
The intention of Amendments Nos. 38 and 39 is to ensure that before the Secretary of State designates a body as a regional chamber he must be of the opinion that it is representative of all those in the RDA's area including the rural parts. Amendment No. 41 would give regional chambers a remit which it is hoped would be identical to that given to RDAs under Clause 4(2), which provides:
A regional development agency's purposes apply as much in relation to the rural parts of its area as in relation to the non-rural parts of its area".
The Government properly provide in Clause 4(2) that the needs of rural areas are considered to be of equal weight to those of other areas. I believe that the Government have got the wording right in that provision. I am trying not to say that the Government are right but it is being dragged out of me. I seek to persuade the Government to get it right again. Perhaps in view of the words of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, I hope for too much. Just as it is appropriate to include that proviso within Clause 4, I hope that the Government accept that in Clause 8(2) it is also appropriate to refer to rural areas. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Maddock
Perhaps I may speak to Amendment No. 49. My noble friend Lady Hamwee moved a similar amendment to Clause 7, which is concerned with strategy whereas Clause 8 relates to regional consultation. My noble friend and other noble Lords on these Benches are very concerned about access to and freedom of information. I do not need to say other than that this is a very similar amendment to the one moved to the other clause. I am sure that the Minister will make similar remarks in reply.
§ Lord Whitty
This is a little difficult. The points that have been raised are valid but they are not really relevant to this Bill. This Bill does not seek to legislate for or institutionalise regional chambers. All it does is to require regional development agencies which are the subject of this Bill to consult chambers where they exist in regional form.
The amendments appear to be directed at the constitution and method of operation of regional chambers and are not relevant to the Bill. If I say more, 532 I shall fall into the same trap. However, I shall say a little more. The reality is that Amendments Nos. 38 to 49, and one subsequent amendment, are not relevant in that sense. We do not seek to use the Bill on RDAs to introduce by the back-door the legislative framework for regional chambers. Those will develop at different paces region by region. Our approach is to build up voluntary arrangements. The Bill provides that while such a chamber exists, it can be given a role in relation to an RDA provided it meets certain general criteria.
In an earlier debate I set out the Government's position on our admittedly ultimate aim: to move decentralisation of decision-making to regional assemblies in England where there is a demand for that step. But that, as well as the half-way stage to that which regional chambers may represent, is for another Bill at another time, and certainly not for debate tonight.
Having said that, let me address the amendment. Amendments Nos. 38, 39 and 41 specifically apply the chamber's remit to the rural as well as the non-rural parts of its area. That is not the purpose of the Bill. However, the relationship between the chamber and the RDA arises out of the activities that the RDA is to undertake. As provided in the Bill, the RDA's activities are expressly prescribed to apply as much in relation to the rural parts of its area as in relation to its non-rural parts and we would expect the chamber in its dealings with the RDA similarly to have regard to the RDA's activities.
The clause relates to the RDA's input to the chambers and the feedback that the RDA receives from the chambers. That will be defined by the responsibilities of the RDA and not the responsibilities of the chambers for which we do not have to provide in the Bill.
I can assure noble Lords that we believe the regional chamber in its activities should have regard to the rural and non-rural parts. It is not relevant to prescribe it in that way in the Bill.
On Amendments Nos. 38 and 39, in the light of what I have said about the chambers, the Committee will understand why we do not think it necessary or right to amend the Bill in this form. The chamber must include representatives of the full range of regional interests. That is what is being developed region by region at present. But if the numbers are kept to a sensible level, they cannot include everyone who might claim to have an interest. At this point, the regional partners are going through a quite difficult process of organising their membership arrangements for the different regional chambers. There is no prescription which applies to all regions, and nor should there be. It is inevitable that in some cases contact with chambers may be one stage removed for certain of those local bodies. For example, there may be room in the chamber for one or two people representing voluntary groups but not for every voluntary group which operates at regional level.
Amendment No. 41 deals with the rural and non-rural parts of the area. We expect a chamber to operate in that way. I am sorry to be repetitive, but again the provision is not appropriate in the Bill. That also applies to the provision on freedom of information. Leaving aside my earlier arguments about whether one can trust the Home Secretary 533 to produce freedom of information legislation which would apply to RDAs in the future, it would not be sensible for us to prescribe in the Bill the freedom of information requirements on the regional chambers. Clearly we wish the chambers to be open and to subscribe to the general principles of freedom of information. But again that is a constitutional and administrative determination of the chambers which is not appropriate for this clause. Noble Lords will have noted my previous commitments on the RDAs as regards freedom of information. That would certainly apply to the exchange of information between the RDAs and the chambers.
I hope that, with that explanation of why we may return to those issues at a later stage in a different Bill, the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment despite her good intentions.
§ Baroness Anelay of St. Johns
I thank the Minister for his courteous and full reply. I found helpful the Government's expectations of how the chamber will operate. However, I accept his explanation that my amendment may not be appropriate for this Bill. I promise that, if we are both in our respective places when a Bill comes forward with regard to the chambers, we shall return to the subject. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 39 not moved.]
§ Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 40:
§ Page 4, line 3, after ("may") insert (", subject to subsection (4),").
§ The noble Baroness said: I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 40 and 48. My noble friend Lord Bowness will speak to Amendment No. 47.
§ Amendment No. 40 is a paving amendment in order to make subsection (1) subject to the provisions of the proposed new subsection (4). The purpose of that subsection, proposed in Amendment No. 48, is to rectify an omission by the Government of something which they said they intended to include in the Bill.
The Bill was preceded by a White Paper entitled Building Partnerships for Prosperity, published last December. Chapter 11 provides for the setting up of regional chambers which the White Paper describes as:
a body that includes councillors from local authorities in the region and representatives of the various sectors with a stake in the region's economic, social and environmental wellbeing".
Paragraph 11.4 states that the Government propose four criteria,
for the equitable involvement of all the regional partners".
The most excellent Notes on Clauses, which were published by the department in order to assist in the perusal of the Bill, record the Government's intention to build on the voluntary chamber's arrangements and refer
to the four criteria set out in the White Paper. Indeed, the Notes on Clauses go even further and add as two more criteria,
An appropriate gender and ethnic balance".
What is set out in the White Paper and added to in the Notes on Clauses, both of which set out the Government's intentions for the clause, is nowhere to be found in the Bill. That is what I meant when I referred a few moments ago to an omission by the Government.
§ If we look at the debate in Committee in another place, we find that my honourable friend the Member for South Suffolk asked a number of questions about how the political balance would be achieved and measured; about what industries the Secretary of State expected to see represented; and about how bodies expecting to be designated as regional chambers should change their present composition. Answer came there none. That was despite the fact that the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning was being pressed by my honourable friend.
However, we now have a typical manoeuvre by the Government. After the Bill had passed all its stages in another place and its Second Reading in your Lordships' House, and soon after Parliament recessed, a press notice was issued, therefore bypassing Parliament—and not for the first time in the past 18 months. It sets out,
The Government's Guidance for the General Principles of the Designation of Voluntary Regional Chambers".
That wordy title disguises the fact that the page and a half leaves more questions unanswered than it actually resolves. It implies that the membership should be drawn at least 70 per cent. from local authorities in the region. I certainly applaud that. Furthermore, it is proposed that the local authorities should reflect "some" representation from all the main parties, even if they may not be the party in control in any local authorities in the region. What proportion is "some"? What happens if the political make-up of a region changes? What chamber change would require a change in the proportions of political representation? What will the Minister do if a regional chamber refuses to alter its make-up? Will the Secretary of State have to de-recognise the chamber and start over again? What other influence and sanctions will the Secretary of State have over the composition of the chambers which he has already recognised?
§ The Government state that a chamber's constitution should apply for an open process of nomination of non-local authority members. I take that to mean that interested persons could nominate themselves. We would all applaud that, too. However, what happens if a major company or organisation in a region applies to be a member of the chamber—I am not talking about some inappropriate nominee—and that application is capriciously refused for some unacceptable reason; for example, opposition by some business competitor of the nominee, or for political reasons, or opposition by some lobbying group or another? Would the Secretary of State intervene? After having recognised a chamber, how will he influence its future composition within the guidelines?535
§ The Notes on Clauses to the Bill added two more criteria—to those in the White Paper, gender and ethnic balance. The press release has added yet another, disability. Does not that further afterthought prove that the whole concept of these regional chambers is something that has been cobbled together without having been properly thought out in advance? Does it not also prove that this concept of regional chambers is nothing but an exercise in political correctness to give the whole exercise a cosmetic appearance of consultation, whereas an RDA does not have to take any more notice of the recommendations of the chamber than the Secretary of State has to take of those of the RDA.
Let me make it clear, of course disabled persons and organisations representing them can be members of chambers, even though the press release also requires for
those not directly consulted to make their views known".
What else will the Secretary of State add to this list? Religion? Age? Sexual orientation?
§ If we give the Government the benefit of the doubt and assume that the contents of paragraph 11.4 of the White Paper were not just mere verbiage, and that they have not changed their mind about the extra two criteria introduced only a few weeks ago when the Notes on Clauses were published, only to be supplemented during the Recess by the press release and guidance, then the proposed new clause would put those matters right. The effect of this clause will be to concentrate the Government's mind on the real-life issues involved before they give the seal of approval to these new regional chambers.
§ The amendment introduces into the Bill the criteria which the Government have indicated are needed. The wording is the same as in the White Paper, the Notes on Clauses and the afterthoughts set out in the recent guidance that came with the press release, subject only to the modifications that are needed to alter simple narrative into legalese. The amendment does not require any great leap of principle by the Government. All it requires is for the Government to translate their words into a binding statutory commitment. I beg to move.
§ 9.45 p.m.
I wish to speak to Amendment No. 47, which is included in the grouping.
I was a little confused when the Minister said earlier that these regional chambers were nothing to do with this Bill. They have everything to do with this Bill when Clause 8 makes it quite clear that there are certain bodies whom the Secretary of State may, by direction, designate as a regional chamber for the agency, with certain consequences. This Bill has everything to do with regional chambers and how they are set up when the department issues guidance and press releases as to what it expects to see in such organisations if they are to be designated a voluntary regional chamber.
The amendment that I am speaking to suggests that the guidelines and the Bill should be very specific and state, in effect, that a body would not be designated a 536 voluntary regional chamber unless it complied with the guidelines, and those guidelines and the statute would stipulate that it should include representatives from every local authority in the area of the agency.
We already have a position where the local authority representation on the RDA may be small. We have no guarantee that local authority members will have to resign if they cease to be members. It is all the more important, given the size of the areas that the regional development agencies will cover, that the regional chamber is, as a matter of basic principle, in the words of the White Paper, not representative of local authorities in the area, but contains representatives of all the local authorities in the area. That is the principle which I seek to establish.
The English regional associations have produced a useful guide to the existing regional associations. It is clear from that guide that in every instance membership is open to all the authorities within the area of operation. If this simple protection and commitment cannot be given in the guidelines and on the face of the Bill, it is hard to see how all the assurances that we are given by the Government about how much they value local government and how much they want to see it lead communities are anything but empty rhetoric.
The local government functions are seriously challenged by the proposals in the Bill. I will not take the time of the Committee now to outline them, but if one looks at the White Paper and at the core functions and all the additional items in which the RDAs will be involved—the production of policies and programmes—it is quite clear that this will have a significant effect. This is all under consideration by bodies that do not even have an obligation to hold their meetings in public. The White Paper refers to an intention to have an annual public meeting and an encouragement to hold some board meetings in public. That is all there is about meeting in public. I therefore consider that it is vital for the democratically elected bodies to have a guaranteed right to sit on those bodies that are designated as regional chambers.
§ Lord Whitty
I sometimes wish that the Government were as Machiavellian as the reputation we clearly have on the Benches opposite. The White Paper spelt out the Government's support for the development of regional chambers. We have issued guidance on how we would like to see those chambers develop. However, this is a voluntary process. We are not at the stage of statutorily instituting it.
Clause 8 relates to the relationship of those chambers which exist as a result of that voluntary process and of the Secretary of State's approval of it with the RDAs. The points raised were more about a Bill which put regional chambers on a fully statutory basis. At this stage there is no intention to be overly prescriptive about the precise form that chambers should take. I am straying from the Bill but I think that I have to respond to what has been said. We intend that the regions should be able to tailor their own arrangements within the broad criteria that we have set out in the White Paper and in the guidance and within their own circumstances.
537 Amendment No. 47 is concerned with the specific criteria for designating a body to take up the role as a regional chamber. It would prevent the Secretary of State from designating a chamber where the chamber does not comply with guidelines published by the Secretary of State, or where the chamber does not include representatives from every local authority in the area of the agency.
Clause 8 makes provision for the designation of a regional chamber for the purposes of the relationship with the agency. The effect of the first part of the proposed amendment would be to prohibit the Secretary of State from designating a chamber where his guidelines were not complied with. Clause 8 already provides that the Secretary of State may designate a body within a region as an agency's regional chamber if he is of the opinion that it is representative of those in the area. I am of the opinion that to include the proposed amendment would be superfluous to the current provisions of Clause 8 and premature in terms of laying down what is required in the ongoing development of regional chambers.
The second part of the amendment would prohibit explicitly on the face of the Bill the Secretary of State from designating a chamber where it did not include representatives of all local authorities. Some of the RDA-designated regions—which may or may not be the regions for future regional assemblies, but for the moment let us deal with those—may contain as few as 22 local authorities, as in Yorkshire and Humberside, and up to 72 in the south-east. In many regions the local authorities themselves will wish to keep down the number of local authority members of those chambers. This amendment would preclude that. Even if it were appropriate, therefore, I do not think it should be pursued and I do not believe that it is appropriate for this part of the Bill or indeed for any part of it.
I repeat that this Bill deals solely with providing some form of regional accountability for the regional development agencies. It does not deal with a full prescription as to how those regional chambers should operate. In the light of that, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
§ Baroness Miller of Hendon
I thank the Minister for his reply. I will read very carefully what he has said. I have an awful lot of sympathy with my noble friend in trying to understand a previous answer given by the Minister about the chambers not being so involved in the Bill. In the circumstances, I should like to look in Hansard at what the Minister has said and then make a decision. But at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 41 not moved.]
§ Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 42:
§ Page 4, line 10, leave out ("such of").
§ The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 42 and, with it, to speak to Amendments Nos. 43, 44 and 58 standing in my name. They are also grouped with Amendments Nos. 45 and 46. The first two 538 amendments, Nos. 42 and 43, seek to deal with the provision of the Bill which appears to make consultation under this clause optional. Reference has already been made to this on a number of occasions tonight, and I have accepted the mild stricture from the Minister about my falling into the trap: but the centralised approach, so much depending on the Secretary of State, is one with which we feel extremely uncomfortable.
§ In Clause 8(2) the Secretary of State may by directions require a regional development agency for which there is a regional chamber to consult in relation to the exercise of such of the RDA's functions as the Secretary of State may specify. My two amendments, taken together, would widen the consultation, which admittedly still has to be required by direction through the Secretary of State, but he would only be able to direct consultation: he would not be able to limit the subject matter of that consultation.
§ I appreciate that a great deal will depend on the evolving culture of both the RDAs and the chambers, but neither set of bodies has yet been created, or, in the case of the chambers, the number of them and the form in which they are likely to end up. We do not have chambers and we do not have RDAs. Therefore the only entity that can encourage the contact and the degree of consultation which we would like to see is Her Majesty's Government.
§ I make the point in particular because, accepting all that has been said about the skills and experience of the board members who are likely to be appointed, it is most unlikely that they will be able to cover as much ground and to represent as much expertise as each of the chambers, which will have far more members. So my request for wide and deep consultation is not just repeating the formula that consultation is a good thing. It is because I think that the chambers will be able to bring a great deal to the process of regeneration, which is the responsibility of the RDAs.
§ The third of my amendments, Amendment No. 44, seeks to deal with the position where no regional chamber has been designated. I suggest that if there is no designated chamber, the directions should require the RDA to have regard to views expressed by local authorities and to consult all the local authorities in its area as a substitute for dealing with a chamber.
§ I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to inform the Committee of the progress towards designating chambers. From what I have been able to discover, it seems that many of the groups which are likely to make up the chambers are making extremely good progress. There seems to be a lot of agreement among the potential prospective members as to how they should operate. Matters such as weighted voting and so on are all being dealt with in considerable detail and by and large with a considerable degree of agreement.
§ One matter which will inevitably give cause for concern is the cost of the chambers. It has been put to me that there is anxiety among local authorities that, accepting that having chambers in place is important, nevertheless their budgets are not so full of dosh that they can easily allocate a new head of expenditure. Many local authorities will give help in kind by providing officer-time, but that in itself is a cost.539
§ I appreciate that the Minister will say that the Government also do not have lots of cash to give away. But in investing in this new way of doing things, I hope it will be accepted that it is an investment and not a waste of money. Enabling local authorities, through grants, SSAs and so on, to have just that extra little bit of money required to make the chambers function well is a good thing. Before somebody says, "Oh, the cost of bureaucracy", to my mind, it is the cost of democracy.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Baroness Anelay of St Johns
I shall speak to Amendment No. 45 which is in my name and grouped with Amendment No. 42. Amendment No. 45 would require the Secretary of State to direct an RDA to consult the local authorities in its area whenever there is no regional chamber for that area.
I have sympathy with Amendment No. 44 moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. The difference between us is the words "may" and "shall" which always lead to something of a devil's discussion in either House. On this occasion I hope too that I shall not fall foul of the Minister's strictures with regard to the appropriateness of the amendment because we are dealing here with the actions of the RDA and not the regional chamber, whether voluntary or otherwise.
Amendment No. 44 does not cover the situation where directions are given by the Secretary of State who then omits or decides not to direct the RDAs to consult the local authorities. I cannot envisage a reason why local authorities should not be consulted in those circumstances. Therefore, I ask the Minister why that has been omitted from the face of the Bill. After all, it is essential that the RDAs work with and not separately from local authorities in the areas they serve. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response not only to my questions but also with regard to Amendment No. 44 and my noble friend's amendment which I hope is about to be spoken to.
§ Baroness Maddock
Perhaps I might speak briefly to Amendment No. 58, to which my noble friend Baroness Hamwee referred. This is all part of ensuring proper consultation between regional chambers and the RDAs. I think it is fairly straightforward and I hope that the Minister will take this on board. It is in line with many of the things that the Minister has been saying this evening about the way that chambers and RDAs should operate. I hope that he will be sympathetic to this amendment.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
These amendments concern Clause 8(2) which, as it stands, provides that the Secretary of State may direct an agency to consult the chamber in relation to such of its functions as specified in the direction. The effect of Amendments Nos. 42 and 43 is to ensure that RDAs can only be required to consult the chamber in exercising all of its functions.
I have much sympathy with the intention behind these amendments. By giving the Secretary of State the power to require that the RDA consult the chamber on all of 540 its functions, the aim of Amendments Nos. 42 and 43 is clearly to achieve a greater level of regional accountability. However, we must remember that the Bill we are scrutinising today is concerned with remedying the economic deficit which currently exists in the English regions. The RDAs will be NDPBs and within the current democratic framework they will be accountable to Ministers who will themselves have to account for their actions.
There is no doubt that we believe RDAs should have regard to and take account of regional views and give an account of themselves to their region. The provision enables the Secretary of State to require RDAs to take account of chambers' views in its strategy and it will have a consequential effect on the exercise of RDAs' functions, as its functions will be exercised with regard to the strategy. I understand the purpose behind amendments which seek to go further than Clauses 8 and 18 and give the regional chamber an opportunity to comment on each of the RDAs' proposed actions. In time, in another Bill, this purpose will be a crucial consideration. But it is not appropriate for the NDPB framework which we are currently considering.
I am sure that all those present would expect the RDA and the chamber to conduct their relationship in the spirit of partnership and co-operation. It would be a particularly inauspicious beginning for these bodies if they had to be told how to do this because they could not be relied on to work this out for themselves. I do not believe that the Bill should provide that the Secretary of State, in his designation of a chamber, must require an RDA to consult the chamber on all of its functions. However, I think it likely that both parties may require some guidance and I would not rule out using the powers under the Bill to provide this.
Amendments Nos. 44, 45 and 46 refer to circumstances where there is no representative and suitable body to which the Secretary of State can designate a regional chamber. I hope this proves to be unduly pessimistic. The role which the Bill gives to chambers provides an opportunity to people who are keen to carry the regional agenda forward to do just that. Good progress is being made towards putting a chamber in place in every English region.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked me what the position was as of the information we have today. Regional chamber arrangements are being put in place in each region according to the information that we have received. Three regions have launched their chambers already: the North West, the South West, Yorkshire and the Humber. The West Midlands have already agreed their proposals and hope to have the first meeting of their chamber before the end of the year. The North East and Eastern Region chambers are finalising proposals and hope to have the first meeting of their chambers by the end of the year or very early in the new year. The East Midlands and South East have issued consultation papers. The East Midlands chamber is currently drawing up its draft constitution and hopes to have its inaugural meeting in December.
All regions, including those where no regional representative structure existed before, are making efforts to develop a new style of regional chamber. 541 Local authorities are coming together with business and other interests at the regional level and are actively exploring arrangements to satisfy the criteria set out in the White Paper. I would not be surprised if several regions are knocking at the door of Eland House seeking designation very quickly after Royal Assent. Nonetheless, we must provide for the possibility that a chamber might not exist in a region, and the Bill as drafted does that.
Amendments Nos. 45 and 46 would limit the power to give guidance and directions, in the absence of a chamber, on the consultation arrangements involving local authorities to the exclusion of other groups and bodies. That would be unsatisfactory. I can assure the noble Baroness that I would expect such consultation arrangements to involve local authorities and we have the powers to make it so. But consultation would also have to involve other sectors. We must not overlook those groups which would otherwise be represented in the chamber if one were to exist.
Amendment No. 58 relates to Clause 18, which provides the Secretary of State with powers to make directions for the way in which an RDA is to give an account of itself to the chamber, including the provision of information, answering questions and the holding of a public meeting. The amendment provides for the chamber itself also to be able to direct how the RDA is to account to it.
It goes without saying that I would expect the chamber-RDA relationship to grow out of co-operation and partnership. It should be one of mutual respect and trust. To achieve that, it would not be right to provide that one party to the relationship should have the upper hand. That is what the amendment would do and we do not believe that that will be helpful to the relationship. If it happens that those matters cannot be worked out in the region—we very much hope that they can—the Bill gives the Minister the means to intervene.
With regard to the question on funding, we have not envisaged any direct central government contribution to funding for running the regional chambers. It is important that regions which wish to make progress in developing their identity through the creation of the chamber, as envisaged in the White Paper, should demonstrate their commitment to it in a number of ways—not least a willingness to provide resources; for example, as in kind by supplying staff time, referred to by the noble Baroness. We envisage therefore that costs will be met, as they are now, by those involved. However, we intend that there could be some support in kind, such as joint working or joint funding of research.
In the light of that reply, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ Baroness Hamwee
I thank the Minister for that reply. My first amendments did not seek to extend the consultation to anything beyond the RDAs' functions, which seemed to be what she was suggesting, though I may have misheard her. I was objecting to the Secretary of State having the opportunity to limit consultation.
542 With regard to the position that arises if no chamber is designated, I did not have it in mind to exclude other bodies; I was merely seeking to protect the channel of communication and consultation with local authorities who, after all, will be making up the majority of the members of chambers along with the other regional partners. As drafted, Clause 8(3) means that there could be no requirement for consultation.
With regard to Amendment No. 58, to which my noble friend spoke, the marginal rubric reads, "regional accountability". That seems to be accountability subject to directions; subject to the Secretary of State. The noble Baroness says that one party should not be given the upper hand. However, one party has got the upper hand, that body being the Secretary of State. We come back to the point that the RDAs are creatures of government. We understand that. But it is misleading to suggest that there is accountability when it is only such accountability as one of the parties in this triumvirate decides may be in place.
I am not surprised by the answer with regard to funding. I do not ask the noble Baroness to respond to this, but I suspect that she may have some sympathy with the fact that her point would have greater significance if more local funding were raised at a local level since such a high proportion comes by way of central government grant. Although the commitment that one gives by putting in the funding is obviously important, it is not as important as if one had to go out and raise it locally. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 43 to 49 not moved.]
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 8 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord Jopling
I find myself in a difficult situation, having made a speech earlier. Throughout the Bill there are continual references to "the Secretary of State". I had imagined, as I read the Bill, that "the Secretary of State" meant "the Secretary of State for the Environment" and for all the other subjects that he looks after. However, when I looked through the Bill a few moments ago to try to discover which Secretary of State we are talking about, I was unable to find a definition in the Bill. There are so many references to "Secretary of State" that we ought to know which one we are talking about, but I can find no such definition in the Bill. I have made inquiries outside the Chamber and, as I understand it, the phrase can mean any Secretary of State. Therefore, none of these powers and responsibilities are defined in the Bill as relating to a specific Secretary of State.
If decisions are subject to Cabinet committees, it does not matter too much, but there is one severe problem here. One member of the Cabinet has responsibility for all the matters with which we are concerned in setting up regional development agencies—and that is the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and, Food. We have considered a number of amendments in Committee 543 tonight which refer specifically to the rural dimension and the situation of agriculture. It seems to me that under the terms of the Bill such decisions and directions could be laid down by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs or by the Secretary of State for International Development, if you like, but not by the Minister of Agriculture.
We have the rather strange situation that over many decades Ministers of Agriculture have refused the option to become a Secretary of State. I say that because I was Minister of Agriculture from 1983 to 1987 and I was invited by the Cabinet Office to bow my knee to the great god of uniformity and to become a Secretary of State. I have had conversations with many distinguished Members of your Lordships' House, including with Lord Peart, that great Minister of Agriculture and a great friend of many of those present and certainly a great friend of mine, and with the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, who is still a distinguished Member of your Lordships' House. We have over the years refused to become Secretaries of State quite simply because of the historic dimension. I believe that Dr. Cunningham and Mr. Brown, who in the past few years have occupied that office, have also declined the offer to become Secretaries of State. It is a tradition in that department.
I hope that Ministers will agree that it is something of an anomaly that such decisions and views can be imposed by any of the Secretaries of State in the Government but not by the Minister of Agriculture, who has a great responsibility for many of the functions and matters which are covered by the Bill. It seems to me that the Government have an easy solution to the problem. They can either designate one particular Minister to whom all of this should be referred or, on the other hand, they can go through the Bill and make amendments to every reference to the Secretary of State and specify that that also applies to the Minister of Agriculture.
It would be intolerable if the Bill were to reach the statute book with all its references to Secretaries of State throughout the whole breadth of government, while leaving out the Minister of Agriculture, who has such an important role to play. Indeed, I hope he does and I am sure that many of us hope that he will have a big role to play under the legislation. It is probably a matter to which we could return on Report. It would be quite simple to resolve the problem, and I hope the Bill will not be left in its present state because it is very unsatisfactory.
§ Lord Kimball
My noble friend has raised a most important point. I was privileged in another place to represent the constituency from which the very first Minister of Agriculture came; namely, Mr. Henry Chaplin. He was the first President of the Board of Agriculture. When you go into the entrance of the offices of that ministry, you can see the pictures of all the Ministers of Agriculture, including one of my noble friend Lord Jopling. This just demonstrates a sad lack of historical knowledge of the position and the 544 importance of the Minister of Agriculture. I hope we shall receive a sympathetic reply to the very important point raised by my noble friend.
§ Lord Whitty
I do not think that noble Lords will receive a very sympathetic reply. I admire the ability to go into the history of the Ministry of Agriculture at this stage in the evening, though for what purpose I know not. Perhaps we shall find out later. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, and other Members of the Committee will undoubtedly know, the position has not changed. The reference to the Secretary of State in the Bill, as in all other legislation, has the same meaning. The strict interpretation is now in the Interpretation Act 1978. It does indeed exclude the Minister of Agriculture, but that has been the case for some time. We do not intend at this stage of the Bill—or, indeed, at any stage in the proceedings—to alter that, because it has considerable ramifications throughout Whitehall. Accordingly, I think that we should move on.
§ Clause 8 agreed to.
§ Clause 9 [General financial duties]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 50 and 51 not moved.]
§ Clause 9 agreed to.
§ Clause 10 agreed to.
§ Clause 11 [Borrowing]:
§ Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 52:
§ Page 5, line 20, leave out ("£200 million") and insert ("£400 million").
The noble Baroness said: In moving the above amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 54. I should point out that Amendment No. 56 has also been included in this group. I hope to make quite short points. Amendment No. 52 is a probing amendment. The Bill sets a collective borrowing limit of £200 million or—because some other departments do get their act together—
such greater sum as the Secretary of State may, with the approval of the Treasury, specify".
My purpose in tabling the amendment is to probe whether £200 million is the correct limit. I understand that it is the same as the borrowing that was allowed to English Partnerships. I also understand that it is common in such circumstances to set limits which can only be increased through a mechanism requiring parliamentary approval at roughly five-yearly intervals. I am not clear how long the £200 million has been in effect for English Partnerships, but, if it is the same as has applied for some time, I wonder whether the Government have considered a higher limit. It would be sad if these restrictions impeded the good work that we hope to see the RDAs undertake.
Amendment No. 54 may look a little opaque. It seeks to provide that regional development agencies will be relevant bodies,
"for the purposes of section 44 of the Audit Commission Act 1998".
The amendment seeks to put RDAs on a similar footing to local authorities as regards setting standards and particularly monitoring standards. Local authorities are accustomed to having to set performance indicators and
to being compared with other local authorities. Of course there is not always complete support of the indicators that are required, but the notion of standard setting and monitoring of standards is a good one.
Section 44 of the Act allows the Audit Commission to facilitate the,
making of appropriate comparisons (by reference to the criteria of cost, economy, efficiency and effectiveness) between the standards of performance achieved by different relevant bodies … and … in different financial years".
It also contains provisions concerning the publication of information. We have already had some discussion as regards concerns about the openness of information. The measure would allow a local government elector for the area to inspect certain relevant documents.
§ I accept that this may not be the best approach to dealing with standard setting and monitoring but there is concern over how the public can be assured that the RDAs are setting targets and that they will be monitored. Something more is needed than the annual reports mentioned in the Bill. I look forward to hearing the Minister's comments. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Anelay of St. Johns
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that Amendment No. 56 which stands in my name has been grouped with Amendments Nos. 52 and 54. That happened inadvertently. In an earlier grouping my amendment was unintentionally left behind. I have given notice of this matter to the Clerks and to the Chairman of Committees. I shall be grateful if I can discuss my amendment at the appropriate moment.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
Clause 11 details the borrowing powers of RDAs. Under this clause RDAs may borrow only with the consent of the Secretary of State and the approval of Treasury. Subsection (6) of the clause sets out the limit which the RDAs collectively should not exceed, although the limit may be increased with Treasury's consent, by means of an order made by statutory instrument. Although provision has been made in the Bill, we do not anticipate RDAs borrowing considerable amounts of money as their spending will be supported by grant in aid.
I cannot see any need to increase the borrowing limit immediately, as Amendment No. 52 would do. If over time there is a need for RDAs to borrow greater sums then the Secretary of State can seek Parliament's approval to increase the limit.
The proposed new clause in Amendment No. 54 would permit the Audit Commission to direct RDAs to publish information on their performance standards. I can fully understand the noble Baroness's desire for openness on RDAs' performance standards and I fully agree with her. However, there is an important distinction here. The Audit Commission audits local authority bodies; RDAs, on the other hand, will be audited by the National Audit Office. To have both national audit bodies reporting on the agencies would be confusing and unnecessarily complicated. RDAs will be required to publicise their performance targets and the standards they reach. The corporate plan will detail the 546 RDA's expected targets and the annual report will show how they were met. RDAs' performance will be fully open to public scrutiny.
I therefore ask the noble Baroness not to press the new clause. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St. Johns, that Amendment No. 56 is consequential upon Amendment No. 55 and will speak to those later.
§ Baroness Hamwee
I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. With regard to the question of standards and indicators I am heartened to hear her remarks, though not immediately certain that the matters to which she referred are required by the Bill. It may be that they are required through the National Audit Office's own provisions. That is a point that I should like to examine after this stage of the Bill. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 11 agreed to.
§ Clauses 12 to 15 agreed to.
§ 10.30 p.m.
Lord Bowness moved Amendment No. 53:
After Clause 15, insert the following new clause—