HL Deb 04 November 1998 vol 594 cc292-340

4.24 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 2 [Constitution]:

Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 23, at end insert— ("( ) the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a very simple amendment that would require the Secretary of State to consult the Minister of Agriculture before he appoints members to a regional development agency. There are a number of reasons why the Secretary of State should do this. First, the Bill states that an RDA's purposes: apply as much in relation to the rural parts of its area as in relation to its non-rural parts". As the Minister of Agriculture has joint responsibility with the Secretary of State over rural regeneration and the rural economy, it must make sense for him to be involved in the appointments of members to the RDAs. Secondly, farming and related businesses have a pivotal role in helping RDAs to meet their defined purposes both in rural and urban parts of their areas.

Here I so agree with the remarks made by my noble friend Lady Anelay of St. Johns at Committee stage, that it is always—I repeat always—appropriate to consult MAFF in metropolitan areas. I firmly believe, and so I thought did the Government, that the town relies as much on the country as the country relies on the town. However, although the national importance of direct on-farm agricultural employment may have decreased over time—and indeed it has—in many regions agriculture still provides a major source of employment. When upstream and downstream dependent jobs are included and the value of produce is taken into account, farming's importance in both the regional and the national economy is far in excess of what might be deduced from a straight analysis of direct employment in agriculture alone.

Thirdly, as a primary land user in the countryside, agriculture also plays a vital role in the Government's sustainable development strategy—something that your Lordships and the Government are always so keen about—a fact acknowledged in the recent Department of the Environment consultation on the Government's proposals for a revised United Kingdom strategy for sustainable development.

In its role both as a consumer and user of natural resources and also as a source of alternative energy, the agricultural dimension of sustainable development is crucial in our regions. I suspect that the noble Lord will tell me that of course the Secretary of State would always consult with his colleague, the Minister of Agriculture, and no doubt he will point out that Clause 2(3)(d) makes my amendment otiose.

I would say that sometimes—just sometimes—Cabinet colleagues do not always agree on everything all the time. As the Bill is written, the Secretary of State would be legally correct if he considered that his colleague, the Minister of Agriculture, was not a person he considered appropriate, as described in that subsection. I beg to move.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns

My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I speak to the amendment which is in my name, which is grouped with that of my noble friend, at this stage. I understand from the Minister that it will be convenient for him to speak to the Government's amendments after other noble Lords have participated in the debate.

Perhaps I may begin by congratulating my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley on his amendment and remarking on the importance of the part it would play in making sure that appointments to RDAs take proper account of the needs of rural areas. At this stage it is perhaps a somewhat unusual pleasure for me to be able to welcome also government Amendment No. 2. I should make it clear immediately that I shall not be moving Amendment No. 3 which stands in my name and which is grouped with Amendment No. 1.

It is right that there should be on the face of the Bill a requirement that the Secretary of State should consult people who represent the interests of those who know best the needs of rural areas—the people who live there, work there and who run businesses there for the enhancement of the economy of rural areas and elsewhere. I raised this matter in Committee, together with a rather more ambitious amendment which would have put on the face of the Bill the requirement that at least one member of each board should have direct experience of rural matters. At that stage there was considerable support for my amendments from noble Lords of all parties.

The Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, offered a meeting to discuss the amendments further. I know that it is traditional on these occasions to thank Ministers for holding such meetings, but I do so not only as a matter of courtesy but also because of my personal gratitude. The meeting was held with dispatch and there was a constructive approach from the ministerial team. I also thank all noble Lords who attended that meeting. Because of the need to keep the meeting relatively small, we could not invite all those who took such an important part in the discussions in Committee. However, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and my noble friend Lord Bowness for attending. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, would have attended had not other commitments in the House prevented her from doing so. I thank her for the comments that she was able to make outwith the Chamber, which I am sure had some impact on the Government's decisions.

At that meeting, the Government repeated their arguments against both of my amendments in much the same vein as in Committee. However, the Government took some further steps which were helpful. They presented copies of draft documents on rural policy which would act as guidance to the RDAs. They are working documents and all who attended the meeting have respected the Government's request that they should not be circulated outwith that group without the Government's express consent. I am, however, grateful to Ministers for giving me permission for the documents to be shown to the political adviser of the Country Landowners Association who assisted me, in the first instance, with the drafting of my amendment which is before your Lordships today. We all found it helpful that the Government provided us with those papers in which we found some promising material. That makes me sound rather like a headmistress, so I apologise; that was not intended.

All noble Lords who attended that meeting accepted the Government's good will—that when appointments are made to boards in the first instance, the Government expect that at least one person who is appointed will have direct experience of rural matters. Indeed, the White Paper states that that should be the case. All who attended that meeting expressed their great concern about what may happen in the future when substitute or repeat appointments are made. In its present form, the Bill gives no reassurance that those who are appointed with experience of rural matters will continue to be appointed on that basis in the future. There was a concern that, albeit unintentionally, there may be a drift away from appointing persons with such expertise.

As a result of that meeting with Ministers, I invited interested Peers to attend a meeting last Wednesday with a representative of the CLA to discuss noble Lords' views on how best to proceed on Report. On that same day, I was pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, made it clear to me that the Government had considered my amendments further. On the first matter, the more ambitious matter, the Government retained their opposition and made it clear that there was no way in which they could accede to that. However, on the second matter, the subject of today's debate, the Government made it clear that the amendment was acceptable, but needed more felicitous drafting. Having seen the wording of the Minister's amendment, I quite agree. The Government's amendment is not only more felicitous, but will achieve my objective more effectively than would my amendment.

The response of noble Lords who participated in our debates in Committee and at various meetings since has been that the Government's moves should be welcomed. As a measure of good will, I then immediately withdrew my first, more ambitious, amendment from consideration on Report. I welcome the fact that the Minister has tabled his amendment today and I hope that the House will accept it.

When the Minister responds, I wonder whether he will give some indication of the nature of the organisations which the Government would expect to be consulted as a result of the application of the amendment to the working of the Bill. Obviously, because of my personal views, I have it in mind that one should seek consultation with the CLA, the National Farmers Union and the Council for the Protection of Rural England and other such organisations. I am sure that noble Lords with more experience of these matters than I will be able to come up with a wider but more effective list.

In welcoming the Government's moves on this, I end, as one might expect, by commenting that your Lordships have given the Government the opportunity to think again on this matter and, on this occasion, I feel sure that they have come to a better decision.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, during our previous business, I had occasion to draw attention to the fact that a number of northern cities are ruled, and have been for some time—that is changing—by rather Stalinist means and by heavy Whipping on the part of the ruling Labour Party. It is because of that and because such people often do not have much sympathy with the countryside and its real interests that I thought it important to put on the face of the Bill a provision to ensure that there is proper understanding of rural matters and consultation with those involved.

I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St. Johns, for her work in getting the various bodies together to discuss the matter. I pay great tribute also to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for his amendment. I suspected that the Government would not meet us on this matter, but they have managed to do so handsomely in their Amendment No. 2. We on these Benches fully support it.

Viscount Bledisloe

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St. Johns, is to be congratulated on the way in which she succeeded in persuading the Government to adopt the substance of her proposals. She said that in the course of that she had abandoned the more ambitious of her proposals. I confess that I do not think that the alternative proposal that one appointee to each agency should have rural experience is either more ambitious or preferable. I think that the noble Baroness has the right answer. The Government and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, are to be thanked for having co-operated on that point. Having had the privilege of attending that meeting. I know that it is absolutely clear that the Government have taken a great deal of trouble about both the original constitution of the agencies and the rules and guidelines under which they are to operate.

My concern, which was also expressed by the noble Baroness, relates to appointments to be made in the future when the matter cannot be considered in the same depth as at the start. It is highly desirable and a great improvement that the interests and concerns of people in the countryside will be expressly considered.

I have one question for the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. He has chosen not to adopt the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, but to table his own. I quite understand that. The parliamentary draftsmen do not believe that any other hand should ever be allowed to touch a sacred Bill and that amendments must therefore be drafted by them and not by the mere riff-raff who sit on your Lordships' Benches.

However, one word in the amendment worries me. The amendment tabled by the noble Baroness refers to persons who represent the "concerns" of people in rural areas. The Government's amendment refers to those who "represent the interests".

I say as a lawyer—one always becomes boring at this stage!—that "interests" is a much narrower word than "concerns". There are many cases which hold that you have an interest only if you have a financial interest or a property interest. Persons, for example, who are concerned about the conservation of birds or the amenities of the countryside but have no financial or property interest in those things might be regarded by the courts as not being within the scope of the Government's amendment, whereas they obviously would be within the scope of the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay.

I am afraid that I have seen these amendments only today and therefore I have not had a chance to put this matter to the noble Lord. I am sure he will not wish to give me an answer on this occasion, but I hope he will consider that point and consider whether his amendment might be improved on Third Reading by substituting the word "concerns" for "interests".

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I wish to support my noble friend Lord Stanley and to reinforce some of the points he made. In so doing I mention as examples some agricultural points that concern the south-west. Of the 80 separately identified regions of the European Union, only Sicily, Northern Ireland, Scotland and north Pas-de-Calais in France had a higher proportion of their land areas devoted to agriculture than the south-west of England in 1994. As a proportion of regional GDP agriculture is more important in the south-west than in any English region and is second only to Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.

The south-west accounts for 25 per cent. of the United Kingdom's dairy herd and 16 per cent. of its beef cattle. Nearly 60 per cent. of local farms are in the small category with an average income of under £8,000 in 1997. However, a combination of the BSE crisis, the fall in milk prices and the impact of the green revolution has reduced farm incomes by half compared with 1996. Many farmers in Devon and Cornwall—I know your Lordships have heard this many times, but it is a fact—are facing ruin and their uncertain future has a 15 to 25 per cent. knock-on effect on sales of farm machinery and agricultural supplies as well as upon the network of industries and services supporting agriculture in the villages and market towns of the south-west.

I hear that the only agricultural businesses which are growing at the moment in north Devon where I live are those selling tyres for tractors and such like. This implies that our farmers cannot now afford or risk buying new machinery. We should therefore expect them to have even greater problems tomorrow as their ability to compete will be further reduced by a lack of investment today. I think I am right in saying that MAFF is not currently part of government regional offices throughout the country. Therefore it is even more important that strong recognition is given to agriculture within the RDAs.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, and I have been so polite to one another we are in danger of failing to speak altogether from our respective Front Benches. I, too, congratulate and thank the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St. Johns. We are pleased that this reference will now appear on the face of the Bill. I said at a previous stage that I had much sympathy with the Government's concern not to specify direct representation. I think their objective to ensure that members have a mix of expertise to bring a far broader range of experience, background and concerns—to use a word which has been mentioned—to the agencies is a valid one. As I think I have said previously, I do not believe that it will be possible for the agencies to carry out their objectives unless the provision which is now encapsulated in the amendment is put in place.

I have one concern which I wish to place on record although it is not appropriate to push it further. At the previous stage one or two of us mentioned the membership of the London agency when that comes into being. We accepted that expertise in rural matters would be relevant to membership of the London agency. I appreciate that the commencement order for London will not arise at the same time as for the other agencies, and that the London agency will come into being in a couple of years as part of the new government for London. However, the amendment refers to representation of the interests of those, in rural parts of the agency's area". I envisage that may be a little limiting for London. London has its rural parts but they are not extensive. When the London agency is formed it will be important to ensure that it has the right relationship with London's hinterland, as my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley describes it. I appreciate that this is not a comment to be addressed to the Minister but rather to the potential mayor, whoever he or she may be. Subject to that reservation we support the Minister's amendment.

Lord Bowness

My Lords, in Committee it was powerfully argued in all parts of the Chamber that the special concerns of rural areas should be recognised on the face of the Bill. I believe it was accepted that the consultation for the initial appointments would be wide and would cover all the necessary interests. However, I believe—I think this is a fear of many noble Lords—that as time goes by and pressures grow on regional development agencies for different interests to be represented, it will be all too easy for those interests to become dominated by the interests of the large conurbations within the individual regions. I welcome the Government's amendment which ensures that before any appointment is made, not just now but also in the future, those representing the interests of the rural community will be consulted. I take this opportunity to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, and to my noble friend Lady Anelay of St. Johns for the work they have done in ensuring this outcome.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I intend to speak mainly to the amendment standing in my name and to the amendment spoken to so graciously by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St. Johns. I welcomed her comments. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, and the noble Earl, Lord Arran, that agriculture will be a central and important area of concern for the RDAs. The Minister of Agriculture will be involved in the decision making process. Decisions on appointments will be taken collectively amongst Ministers, and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be involved in those decisions. That is part and parcel of Cabinet government. As agriculture is so important to the regional strategies of many regional development agencies, the Minister of Agriculture will be an important component of the decision making process. I hope that in the light of my remarks the noble Lord will accept that the provision does not need to be spelt out on the face of the Bill.

Much has been said on rural interests generally. I appreciate the remarks of all noble Lords, and particularly of the noble Baroness, who was energetic and effective in lobbying the Government on this issue. We listened, both during the debate and in the meetings outside this House. We have brought forward a proposal which I believe meets the concerns of most noble Lords.

I wish to make a few points for the record. Reference was made to the original amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, described by her as more ambitious. It is important that people in rural areas understand why we have not been prepared to go along with that proposal. The Bill does not single out any board member for special areas of interest; all members of the board will be treated equally. Our view remains that we do not want to separate out the rural expertise in that way.

However, while we do not intend rural expertise to be ghetto-ised and represented by one member, we do, on the contrary intend to ensure that there will be rural expertise on the board. I cannot give an unequivocal reply in relation to London because of the role of the mayor in that respect, but on the other boards there will undoubtedly be someone appointed who has rural expertise. That is the Government's intention. We recognise that in bringing forward Amendment No. 2 noble Lords require this provision to be on the face of the Bill, and that people in rural areas require that assurance. The Bill as it stands provides a general list of people to be consulted. We are happy to add to that list the reference to rural interests; that is represented in our amendment.

In parallel with the passage of this Bill, and without pre-empting the view of this House, it has obviously been necessary for us to have started consultation with organisations on the initial appointments to the boards. Noble Lords who inquire, region by region, will know that the consultation has included identifying candidates with rural expertise. We are consulting numerous groups about board membership. In response to the noble Baroness's question, the consultation includes the Country Landowners' Association, the NFU and the Council for the Protection of Rural England. On the national list there are several more bodies with primarily rural interests. I shall be happy to let the noble Baroness have a list. Region by region, there are also local variations in those being consulted. We have received a good response to the consultation. We will ensure that initial appointments will be made in the light of the consultation, and with rural interests very much in mind.

In addition to that, the concern represented to me in the interim between Committee stage and this stage was to the effect that that is all very well for the first batch but we need to ensure that the same will apply in future. I believe that my amendment will ensure that that happens in relation to future Secretaries of State and future appointments.

Perhaps I may explain to the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, why we differentiate between the wording of the noble Baroness's amendment and the government amendment. We did not see the same distinction. There may well be more sophisticated reasons from the parliamentary draftsmen, but perhaps I may give just two. First, our amendment refers specially to people in rural areas rather than representing concerns. Secondly, the word "concerns" may be straightforward to a lawyer, but it is ambiguous to a layman in the sense that it can mean enterprises and institutions and not people; whereas we have referred specifically to people, and to those who operate businesses. As I believe the noble Baroness accepted, our wording is slightly wider than that in Amendment No. 3.

I am grateful for all the kind words directed towards the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, and myself. Congratulations are probably due more to those who have brought these matters to our attention. However, I believe that this issue can now be resolved. I hope that at least in this instance the noble Baroness will recognise that the Government do listen to the House of Lords, and that on this occasion we can all agree on my amendment.

Lord Jopling

My Lords, there is one problem, although I do not want to pre-empt discussion on my Amendment No. 19. I very much welcome the Minister's remarks in regard to the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Stanley. To paraphrase, he said that the stature of the Minister of Agriculture in this matter of consultation under Clause 2 would be on a par with that of Secretaries of State. I am grateful to see the Minister nodding. There is a problem, in that the Minister of Agriculture is not a Secretary of State. Will the noble Lord give an undertaking that the role of the Minister of Agriculture in the consultation will be of exactly the same weight as it would have been were he a Secretary of State? We shall go into this matter later. If the noble Lord would give that undertaking, it would be very helpful.

Lord Whitty

Yes, my Lords, in this context I can give an unequivocal assurance. The matter is more complicated in relation to the subsequent amendment, but however in this context the answer is, yes.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, first, perhaps I may refer to the point made by my noble friend Lord Arran. As he said, agriculture in the south-west is vulnerable. I hope that the Minister will bear his remarks in mind when we debate my Amendment No. 9 dealing with the strategy of RDAs.

My noble friend Lady Anelay made the valid point that unless there is a provision on the face of the Bill, there will be trouble in regard to repeat appointments. The Minister made the same point in moving the government amendment. He said that it was necessary to have the provision on the face of the Bill in order to remind successive governments. Who knows?—we might have a Tory government who forgot all about the countryside. That is why it is as important to have my amendment on the face of the Bill as it is to have the government amendment. I am concerned about the matter. I must not be ungracious. The Minister's remark that the Minister of Agriculture will make the appointments almost jointly with the Secretary of State is very welcome. However, being cynical and untrustworthy, as the Minister knows, I should have liked to see the provision on the face of the Bill. I cannot see why there could not be mention of both the Secretary of State and the Minister of Agriculture.

I am afraid that I shall have to take this matter away and consult with my "rural constituents". If they feel that the provision is unsatisfactory, I hope the noble Lord will not think me churlish if I bring the matter back at Third Reading. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 2, line 4, after ("area,") insert— ("( ) such persons as appear to him to represent the interests of those who live, work or carry on business in rural parts of the agency's area,").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

Schedule 2 [Constitution of agencies]:

5 p.m.

Lord Bowness moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 23, line 1, at end insert— ("( ) The Secretary of State may remove a member of a regional development agency who, at the time of his appointment to the agency, holds office as an elected councillor for a local authority within the area of the agency if for any reason that member ceases to be an elected councillor for a local authority within the area of the agency.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in Committee, we sought to persuade the Government that it would be appropriate to recognise the special position of local government in a number of different ways, particularly to ensure the representation of local authorities within the area of the RDA, and that that representation should feature on the face of the Bill. In that, we failed.

We failed also in terms of trying to achieve a reference to a specific number of local government members. And we failed equally in our attempt to ensure that, if people were appointed to the RDA to represent local government, that representation should end in the event of their ceasing to be members of a local authority.

The Government ask us to accept that in practice four out of 12 of the anticipated number of members of an RDA will come from local government but that the appointments of those people will not be as representatives of local government, although local government will have been consulted before the appointments are made. We are asked to accept that these people will sit as individuals who, as the Minister said in Committee, have the appropriate expertise and background, which includes of course background in local government".—[Official Report, 7/10/98; col. 460.]

Reference was made in the debate on the earlier group of amendments to the Government's desire that members of RDAs should be fully involved in all aspects of the work of the agency rather than be perceived as representing a particular special interest. I cannot accept that someone who is appointed because they have a particular qualification will in some way be a second-class member or that they will be constrained in their activities by virtue either of their self-restraint or of their colleagues' wishes. I believe that there is a case for recognising the special position of local government.

If we are to rely on the Government's assurances that in practice four seats will be occupied by people who, among their other talents, number active, practical local government experience from within the area, it seems appropriate that, even if we cannot write that on the face of the Bill, we should include within the Bill a mechanism whereby the position could be restored if it went wrong at some time. That is the purpose of the amendment.

Perhaps I may take the time of the House to explain again why I believe the position of local government is special. Of course I understand that all kinds of interests and groups can make a case for representation, but none of them can claim that democratic element of representation which is true of local authorities and their members. As I said at Committee stage, whatever the turnout at an election may be, local authorities are more democratic and representative than any other organisation or group of interests within an area. People look to their local authorities to lead in many different activities, especially those listed in the White Paper as being within the proposed regional development agencies' interests. I therefore believe it right that those democratically elected bodies should have a voice within the regional development agencies.

I shall not revisit the question of numbers. I entirely accept the assurances given by the Minister about appointments. But, as was said earlier, times move on; there will be different ministers, and assurances, if not set to one side, can be overlooked. All that the amendment seeks is a power for the Secretary of State, if he chooses to exercise it, to remove a member who at the time of his or her appointment holds office in a local authority if that person ceases to be an elected member of a local authority, the purpose being that active local government within the area may be represented. No compulsion is proposed. If the Secretary of State has reasons for not removing a member, he does not need to do so. He does not have to explain, and the amendment does not bind him to any time limit for his action.

The Bill gives a great deal of power to the Secretary of State, a matter upon which we dwelt in Committee. He appoints; he gives guidance and directions; and he can enhance the RDA by delegation of his own powers. How that matches up to the description in the White Paper, I am not sure. It is stated on page 9 that: power should not be centralised in Whitehall, but that local, regional and national structures are needed for decision-making and for action to put those decisions into effect". I cannot understand why the Government are not disposed to give to the Secretary of State a power which will enable democratic local government always to be represented on the RDA.

As was pointed out in Committee, it is quite conceivable that the four members—if that is indeed the number—of an RDA who held office as local authority members might, either by retirement or the electoral process, lose their local government seats. I accept that they would not immediately thereafter lose all the local government experience that they were able to bring to the RDA, but, as the Minister himself pointed out, members might lose their local government seats with three years of their term of appointment to an RDA still to run. Is it really suggested that the local authorities within the area of an RDA should remain unrepresented? It was suggested to your Lordships by the Minister that in those circumstances, 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 — after all, we are allowed by the Bill to increase the size of a board up to 15 members". But there would be many other pressures, and some of those places may have been taken up.

The Minister went on to say: 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".—[Official Report, 7/10/98; col. 462.] I accept that, and the amendment does not make that the issue. The involvement of the local authorities in the regional chambers, if they come about, will not be any compensation for not having a seat on an RDA. It is with the regional development agencies, the centrally appointed bodies that will come into existence, that the real power will lie. In my view, in time the funds and the ability to deliver programmes on the many matters set out in the White Paper will rest with them.

I suggest that the amendment gives maximum flexibility to the Secretary of State. If the Government are serious in their desire for partnership between central and local government, they will recognise the need to ensure that they have the means to make certain that democratically elected local authorities can provide members who, in addition to their other talents, have an involvement with local government. The amendment gives local government fewer guarantees than I should like. It commits the Secretary of State to nothing. However, it will at least ensure that there will be a means whereby the good intentions about appointments which are currently expressed can be continued if problems arise. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, at the previous stage of the Bill the thrust of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, was supported by these Benches. I share his views on this issue. Rather than repeating the arguments, I shall ask the Minister a question. In Schedule 2, which deals with the constitution of agencies, paragraph 1(1) refers to members holding and vacating office in accordance with the terms of their appointment. Can the Minister clarify whether the terms of appointment of individual members would go any way towards meeting the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness? I agree with the noble Lord that the position of local authority members is different from that of other members. Is there scope within the appointment to provide for the vacation of office upon an individual ceasing to be a member of the local authority?

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I participated in the debate on this issue on the last occasion and spoke not only from my own experience of serving on a council but prompted by the views of the Local Government Association. Whenever one moves to another stage of any Bill, one should reflect on not only what a Minister said at a previous stage. To be fair, one should also reflect on the situation. I start from the basis of hoping that when councils and councillors in a region are given the opportunity, by whatever method, to produce four people from their midst to serve on a RDA, the people chosen will look upon their appointment as a very high responsibility. It is not, like many other appointments, "Buggins' Turn", or something which should be taken lightly. I hope that those in local government will be very careful about the people they put forward and nominate people who are likely to stay in the race for a very long time. We know that in a democracy people who have every confidence that they will last a long time fall at the next hurdle. That has happened to many people. It has happened to me more than once. As I am now a Member of your Lordships' House, thankfully it should not happen again.

Noble Lords


Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, this is unless I am made into a hereditary Peer in the near future.

Viscount Bledisloe

What about reform, my Lords?

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I am all for reform. As I understand it, when we reform this House, the issue will be about the place of hereditary Peers. Without making any further comment, I happen not to be an hereditary Peer.

If serious players are nominated, then—whether one uses the term "representing the views of", or "from amongst the numbers of or "with experience in"—I hope that the men and women put forward will look upon appointment to the RDA as achieving a very high post.

Reflecting on what the Minister said, even if there is nothing laid down—either in my previous amendment or in this amendment which makes removal mandatory—I sense that the Minister and his colleagues recognise fully the blemish that would be incurred if there were to be people in the circumstances mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness. In such a situation—where very early into a four-year period board members cease to be members of a council—it should be possible, not for pressure to be applied, but for ministerial advice and guidance to be given.

I would hope that the colleagues of the person affected would say "Look, George, Mary, Joan or Charlie, we are sorry that you have lost your place on the council or have decided to retire from the council because you have other important business interests, but do you not understand that we would like someone closer to us after such events? Can we talk about your resigning?" I hope that councils will not put forward people as members who are not receptive to the views of their colleagues. My experience is not recent; it goes back a number of years. I can recall situations where positions were coveted and looked for. I hope that people in local government will respect that.

In view of what the Minister said at the previous stage of the Bill, if he and his colleagues have dug their toes in—which they have—then one will not get very far if one pushes this point. I am a great believer in seeing how things work out. I believe that the Minister is saying in good faith that he and his colleagues have reason to believe that, if the situation we have discussed arises, there are ways of dealing with it other than having it written onto the face of the Bill. Unlike those opposite who are shaking their heads, I say that this is a case where we can give the Minister an opportunity to prove to us, in the light of experience, that his advice at this stage is sound.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, I would in spirit like to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Bowness. I regret that he has put it rather in the negative so I am unable to do so. It is not constructive to think of the Secretary of State removing someone from office because they have ceased to be a member of their local authority. I would have preferred the wording to say that that person may be allowed to stay on in exceptional circumstances. If they are there by virtue of being a local authority member, they should cease to represent local authority membership on the board when they are no longer a councillor. However, I can imagine what a hornet's nest will be opened up. The noble Lord is right. These positions are sought after, with many applicants for all of them.

There was also discussion about political proportionality and so on. Given that elections for districts, counties and unitaries do not all happen at the same time, the electoral process is not clear at the moment; we may be going to annual elections and so on. Where would it leave us, removing one member at one time and one member at another time? Suppose all the members were required to leave at one time? That would mean a loss of a third of the experience on the board.

The spirit of requiring members to resign when they no longer represent their local authorities is correct, but to require them arbitrarily to stand down is probably wrong at this stage. We should not leave it in the hands of the Secretary of State to remove a member. That might be viewed incorrectly in the region from which that member had come, however good the intentions were. I would welcome a statement from the Minister outlining the criteria that he would imagine using in such circumstances.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I appreciate the tone of the remarks on this issue. We debated it in Committee when a similar amendment, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, was defeated. I understand the objective of the amendment of the noble Lord. We obviously share a substantial amount in terms of the objective. We wish to see local government fully represented, in the broadest sense, on the board in that people with local government expertise should be members of the board. We have committed ourselves to appointing four members out of a 12-board executive, which is a very sizeable minority. But they are not representative in terms of the accountability in the sense in which the word has been used in this debate. They are not representative of local authorities. They owe their position not to their local councils or, in the last analysis, to their electorate. They are appointed by the Secretary of State and in that sense are the same as all other members of the board. One of the important points of our argument is that we wish to treat all members of the board in the same manner.

That is still entirely consistent with our intention that appointments made from local government should be of serving councillors. We intend to appoint to boards local government members who can bring the best possible local government expertise to bear on the work of the RDA. That must be best done by people who are serving councillors. Given the wealth of talent in local government, we should have no difficulty in appointing such councillors. However, that expertise is not wiped out automatically the day after councillors are defeated and cease to be members of the council. Election defeat does not make such people unfit to serve. In addition, I have a particular, almost technical, quarrel with the noble Lord's amendment in that the provision in Schedule 2 deals with people who are unfit to continue to serve because they are not willing to turn up, are bankrupt or are incapacitated in some way which makes it impossible for them to continue on the board. I do not think that that situation fits into the same category.

A recently defeated councillor will not suddenly become unaware of what local authorities are, what they do and what relationship they will need to have with the RDA. The Government wish to create balanced boards which reflect the range of interests concerned in the region. They must be kept to a manageable size and some members will therefore have to bring experience of more than one aspect. To revert to a previous debate, one of the local councillors on the board could be someone who brings particular expertise of rural or agricultural matters. Surely the fact that councillors have just been defeated should not remove them from the board. That is our basic position and why we cannot accept the amendment.

However, I think I can bring some comfort to the noble Lord. As he recognised, I said in Committee that we would need to ensure that there was a continuing current reflection of local government in the membership of the board at all times. If, for example, all four members from local authorities who were on the board lost their seats at the same time, which was the situation referred to in a slightly different context by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, one might wish nevertheless to keep some of those on, but the total result would be that one would need to take some steps to ensure that local government was represented. Depending on the circumstances, we might invite some or all of those members to put their RDA places at the Secretary of State's disposal; or we might make additional appointments if we were below the 15 ceiling; or, as my noble friend Lord Graham indicated, we might look at other ways, in consultation with the local authorities, to ensure that the board continued to benefit from current local government experience.

I more or less said that on the previous occasion, but I shall go slightly further than that now. This is in reference to the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. In this context we would still be treating all members of the board formally and contractually in the same manner. I am now able to say that all RDA appointment letters will include a provision enabling the Secretary of State to terminate the appointment of any member, local government or otherwise, within a given period of notice. The Secretary of State would have the means to change the composition of the board in such cases were the council element to be inadequately reflected. In the same way the Secretary of State could change the membership of the board for other reasons.

I therefore think that we should pursue the path laid out for us by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in that the appointments would allow the Secretary of State—in circumstances where, for example, all members on the board from local government disappeared at the same time in the sense of their being elected councillors—to take steps to replace them. That would not breach our approach whereby all members of the board are in the same relationship and under the same terms but it would give an opportunity in those circumstances for the Secretary of State, under the terms of the letter of appointment, to ensure that local government continued to have its interests fully reflected on the board.

In the light of that approach—I am putting a new position to the House today—I hope that the noble Lord will not feel it necessary to press the amendment to a vote. We all share the objective of ensuring that local government is fully a part of the boards of these important agencies in their regions.

Lord Bowness

My Lords, before I deal with the Minister's final point, perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, that my amendment is in no way intended to be mandatory on the Secretary of State. It may be badly worded, but if it was perceived as mandatory it was misunderstood. We should also bear in mind that those people with talent and experience, including a background in local government, who are appointed, will not be appointed from a list provided by local government. Local government may have been consulted but the appointments will, as the Minister pointed out, have been made by the Secretary of State. Indeed, as things currently stand, it is fair to say that were the circumstances I described in moving the amendment to arise, former colleagues of those appointees in local government and local government associations would have virtually no pressure to bring to bear.

Of course I accept that there are particular circumstances and of course I accept that people do not lose their expertise overnight. It would be foolish of me to suggest that and I do not want anyone to suggest it of me. One hopes it goes on for a little longer. However, I am grateful for the Minister's response. I accept that he understands the case I have sought to make and the position I am trying to protect. It may well be a way forward to deal with the matter through the letters of appointment.

We have had the Minister's assurances in this debate: they are on the record. I should like to read what has been said and, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 [Purposes]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 2, line 26, leave out ("where it is relevant to its area to do so").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 6 and 8 which stand in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer.

With these amendments we return to the question of sustainability. It may be worth reminding ourselves of the objectives set out in the White Paper. Paragraph 8.1 of the White Paper refers to the regional development agencies placing the principle of sustainable development at the heart of their programmes. It tells us that the Government will give them the specific statutory objective of furthering the achievement of sustainable development, which would be monitored closely; that they will integrate environmental, economic and social objectives; and that they will engage directly in regeneration projects and set a priority for bringing back existing sites into productive use. It talks of working sensitively within the existing built environment and of seeking new uses for redundant buildings which would become part of the urban or rural landscape. The introductory paragraph concludes by saying that in doing all these things the agencies will help to deal with growing pressures to bring greenfield sites into urban and industrial use. The White Paper also rightly points to the pressures on the environment which are wider than just local or regional. I accept that it is appropriate for the Bill to refer to sustainable development in the United Kingdom.

When this matter was discussed at Committee stage at col. 498 of Hansard the Minister contrasted the deletion of the words which are the subject of the first of these amendments, where it is relevant to its area to do so —the condition limiting the purpose of achieving sustainable development—with the wording of the other subsections. I did not at that stage, nor do I now, propose to delete the reference to the United Kingdom. That may have been a misunderstanding at the previous stage. I do not propose that the clause should read: to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development in its area", which appears to be the basis of the response to my amendment. I propose that one of the agencies' purposes should be to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development, in the UK, without any limitation.

I have had sight of the draft guidance on the agencies' contribution to sustainable development, which I understand has gone to a limited number of organisations for consultation prior to more general consultation. The Minister may feel that he cannot win on this matter. Having seen that draft, and also the general guidance as to the agencies' strategy, I wonder whether it is appropriate to have separate sets of guidance. There has been a good deal of debate about integrating the agencies' purposes. Reading the two documents, I believe that there is considerable danger of projecting sustainable development as an add-on to the purposes of the agencies. In particular, paragraphs 7 and 8 of the wider draft guidance do not appear to bring the purpose of sustainability into the strategy at all, still less to place it at the heart of the strategy as the White Paper told us it would.

It is the question of integration that has prompted my Amendments Nos. 6 and 8. In Amendment No. 6 I propose that the agencies shall have regard to all of their purposes in seeking to achieve each purpose. In Amendment No. 8 I propose, in the clause dealing with strategy, that they should have regard to all of their purposes in exercising their functions. I do not suggest that it be a requirement that every project achieves every purpose but that with regard to every project the agency must not fail to address each of its purposes.

It is apparent from the draft on the general strategy that the economic work is moving ahead. I should like the agency to keep asking itself five questions based on the purposes in Clause 4(1). For example, how would the particular project further the economic development and regeneration of the area? How would it promote business efficiency, investment, competitiveness and so on? Your Lordships will get the point. I should like each agency to ask itself how each project will contribute to the achievement of sustainable development in the United Kingdom.

Other noble Lords will have many examples of projects that can meet environmental as well as economic purposes. For example, there is much good work going on at the moment on energy efficiency measures that meet environmental objectives but also provide employment. I hope that my noble friend Lady Maddock, who has particular experience in this area, will be able to join in this debate and provide some examples.

These amendments seek to put on the face of the Bill an acknowledgement of the integration of the purposes. I suggest to noble Lords that it is easy to use the word "strategy" in guidance but that it is the mechanisms that count towards the outcomes and that to acknowledge sustainable development in particular is never irrelevant.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Maddock

My Lords, I have been invited by my noble friend to support her amendment. I believe it is very important when considering regional development, particularly economic development, with sustainability in mind, that we look very closely at energy efficiency. Noble Lords may be aware that I have a particular interest in this subject. We now have a good deal of information about the energy efficiency of our homes. Legislation that has been introduced has enabled jobs to be created locally and local industries to be used in the area of energy efficiency. Various government schemes give money to such projects, and job creation has been at the heart of the provision of grant and assistance to help people to do just that. The Government have provided additional money to the Energy Savings Trust to ensure that projects of this nature are supported, and innovation is very much part of that.

On the previous occasion when your Lordships discussed this matter I referred to housing and the strategic role of regional development agencies in regional housing issues. This is yet another area in which it is important for regional development agencies to look at their properties and to promote not only better housing conditions but to enable local authorities to get schemes off the ground and bid for projects. I believe that in a regional context this is one of the main areas where regional development agencies can develop thoroughly in line with progress by government in other areas. One of the problems in the area of energy efficiency is that projects do not tie up. Here is a golden opportunity for the other projects that the Government promote in this area to be gathered together in a region so that they are much more effective.

Baroness Young of Old Scone

My Lords, in referring to these amendments I do not necessarily support the words that have been adopted to try to acknowledge on the face of the Bill a number of important concerns. However, the amendments reveal, in their tortuous language, real concern about the duty of RDAs to promote sustainable development, the extent to which they will integrate their requirements for sustainable development across all of their purposes and strategies and, in a later amendment, how far they have regard to regional planning guidance and local plans. This matter was raised at Committee stage. At that time my noble friend the Minister informed the Committee that it would be reassured by the guidance to be given to RDAs on the various matters that the noble Baroness has already mentioned. Some of that guidance is now out for consultation and the rest is in draft.

We remain to be assured. I believe we all acknowledge the importance of RDAs fulfilling some of their primary purposes to deal with decentralisation, to bring decisions to a more local level, to respond to regional needs and to develop real regional identities. Nevertheless, there needs to be more than a passing nod at some of the national and international commitments that the Government have already made and which should at least be reflected in the guidance if they are not on the face of the Bill.

The Government have given a strong commitment to a national sustainability strategy, which is in preparation. There is already a UK biodiversity action plan. Biodiversity and its fate will be a key test of whether regional development agencies make decisions that are truly sustainable for the future. I do not believe that the Government's commitments can be ignored by RDAs. It would be false to imply through the guidance that economic development was the only primary purpose of RDAs and that environmental and sustainable development outcomes were a bolt-on extra. That is the tone that the guidance is currently adopting. The indicators of whether RDAs will have been successful relate almost totally to economic outcome rather than to the environment or biodiversity.

We were not assured by the Minister's first assurance, so perhaps we will be assured by the finalised guidance. There is real concern that unless we achieve a rounded framework with the three legs of sustainable development—economic, environmental and social—we will be doing a bad job by setting the RDAs off on their very important task.

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, we had a relatively brief discussion of the sustainable purpose in Clause 4 of the Bill at Committee. Amendment No. 5 is a repeat of the amendment then tabled by the noble Baroness. She expressed concern then, as now, about the words, where it is relevant to its area to do so", which apply to the sustainable development purpose. Amendments Nos. 6 and 8 are about how the RDAs' purposes relate to each other. But of course the concern that the noble Baroness has, and which has led her to table these amendments, is how the sustainable development purpose relates to and will work in conjunction with the other purposes. So, if it will help your Lordships, I wish to explain more fully why the sustainable development provision is drafted as it is.

The RDAs' sustainable development purpose can be looked at in two ways. First, as one of the five purposes of the RDAs, it will inform the RDAs' actions in relation to all the other purposes where sustainable development is an issue. It will not be open to an RDA to decide that this purpose is "irrelevant" if it is in fact relevant, and where it is relevant, and an RDA must take sustainable development into account in taking a decision. It will not be possible to ignore the factor. It will be incumbent on each RDA in all actions it takes in pursuance of its purposes to take account of all its purposes and in particular whether and how its action will contribute to sustainable development. There will be some occasions when some of the purposes will have less relevance to a policy or action than others; not all the purposes will be equally relevant to all decisions. Different purposes may also suggest different decisions or policies. In such cases, the RDAs will have to strike a balance between competing considerations. But the point is that all the purposes must be considered—none can be ignored—and with the nature of sustainable development as an all-pervading concept, it is likely that it will feature to some degree in all decisions and policies. That point was raised by my noble friend Lady Young.

Secondly, RDAs will in practice be able to take action which contributes to sustainable development, even where that action does not fall within one of the other four purposes. It will be open to an RDA, for example, to host a conference specifically on sustainable development, which does not, of itself, further any of their other purposes. I hope that clarifies the position.

The point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, about energy efficiency is important to sustainable development. The development of the technology relating to energy efficiency may well form part of that category. On the other hand, the RDAs would not be housing authorities, so the component would need to be taken into account. Against that background, let us consider the two limitations on the RDAs' sustainable development purpose in Clause 4(1)(e); that action should contribute to sustainable development and that it should be relevant to the RDA's area. These limitations will in practice have an effect only in relation to decisions and action under the second scenario; that is, when the sustainable development purpose is the sole driver of action by an RDA. The limitations are not relevant to the first interpretation—when sustainable development is influencing action under the other four purposes—because any action under the other four purposes which was relevant to sustainable development would also be relevant to sustainable development in the UK and relevant to the RDA's area. Thus, for example, in furthering the regeneration of its area, an RDA will have to have regard to the need for development to be sustainable development. It will, in doing this, clearly be contributing to sustainable development in the UK; and it will clearly be relevant for the RDA to do this.

If we removed the limitation "where it is relevant to its area", as Amendment No. 5 proposes, we would allow an RDA (indeed, give it a duty) to take actions contributing to sustainable development which were not relevant to its area. I am sure your Lordships will agree that that would not be sensible.

The whole purpose of RDAs—as is clear from Clause 4—is that they will take action which is relevant to their particular areas, rather than action which is relevant only to the rest of the UK.

On the other hand, a limitation which confined RDAs to action only within their region would be too restrictive. There may be projects where action outside the region would be relevant to sustainable development within it. A good example of this might be in relation to transport links between regions; for example, across the Pennines, or between the West Midlands and Wales. Limiting an RDA to action physically within its region might jeopardise projects of that kind.

So, given that it is sensible to restrict the relevance of some of the RDAs' actions, we think we have a provision which enables RDAs to make an appropriate contribution to the achievement of sustainable development, without unduly restricting them to action and effects solely within their individual areas.

I ought also to remind the House that we intend to issue guidance to the RDAs on the operation of the sustainable development purpose. I note the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about whether it should be outwith the general guidance or treated separately. At this early stage in formulating the guidance, consultation being ongoing, changes might be made to the draft as the process continues. I hope that the noble Baroness accepts that we are listening to her points about the process and contents of the guidance.

English Nature and other interested bodies, such as the Environment Agency, the CPRE, Friends of the Earth to name but a few, are actively participating in the consultation.

Officials are currently working on an early draft. It is important to reassure the noble Baroness that it is not our intention through procedure or guidance to marginalise the sustainable development consideration or the development of the strategy within it.

The draft guidance stresses the need for an integrated approach. The aim of the provision on sustainable development in the draft guidance will be to ensure that we develop the best strategies for ensuring that sustainable development is taken seriously. The guidance will seek to explain how an RDA should seek to meet its statutory duty under Clause 4, making clear in particular the need to consider alternative options, to assess the impact of policies, programmes and projects on society, the economy and the environment and stressing the importance of consultation and public scrutiny in the decision process.

The current draft is very much work in progress. We know that a number of organisations will continue to offer their thoughts on what the guidance should say. I shall ensure that your Lordships are kept informed about the development of the guidance and that when, in due course, the department consults formally on the guidance, I shall ensure that a copy is placed in the Library.

I apologise for speaking at length but this is an important issue. There is quite clearly a widespread knowledge of and concern about sustainable development and the role it will play in RDAs. I hope that I have managed to reassure the noble Baroness and that she will not press her amendment.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, not entirely, although I shall not push the matter further at this stage. However, I take this opportunity to make a few points and to ask a question. First, I hope that in view of the concerns about the relevant weight of what may be two documents, the consultation on both of them will run absolutely in parallel and that neither will be concluded before the other. That would disable the Government from taking account of responses in one area in that integrated approach to which the Minister referred.

I accept entirely that the test in Clause 4(1)(e) is objective. It is not a matter subjective to each agency to decide whether or not sustainable development will be relevant to its area. I have not sought to overturn that. My point is to ask whether it can ever not be relevant. If the wording of the Bill accepts that there may be circumstances in which it is not relevant then—I use the noble Baroness's example of the balance between competing interests—that makes it easier for an agency to say that, in those particular circumstances, the balance is against an environmental concern.

As the Minister was describing the complexity of expressing those thoughts in wording which will stand up in legislation—and I can quite see that that must have been a challenge—I wondered whether the difficulty was as regards the term "where it is relevant", and I do not mean that in the sense of the narrow geographical "where". I wondered whether the draftsman had considered referring to sustainable development "which is relevant". Rather than detaining your Lordships on that point, perhaps the Minister may be prepared to write to me on the detail or perhaps discuss the matter with me before the next stage of the Bill.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, perhaps I may answer the three points which the noble Baroness made. While the conclusion of the consultation may be at slightly different times, the view taken of the outcome of the consultation will not be taken on one area in advance of the other.

As regards the noble Baroness's concern, I hope that on reading Hansard, she will feel that we have not in any way allowed people to use the term "where relevant" as a way of avoiding the issue although no one, including the noble Baroness, would deny that there may be some difficult judgments to be made. But those cannot be made on the basis of denying the relevance of sustainability.

Finally, in relation to the exact language to be used in parliamentary drafting, I should be far happier to take the course which the noble Baroness suggested and write to her on that matter.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 3, line 27, at end insert (", and ( ) have regard to regional planning guidance for its area").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, with this amendment, we return to the issue of regional planning guidance and its relationship with the strategies of the various agencies.

In Committee, when we debated this matter on an amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, the Minister referred us to the draft guidance which was to be published on the strategies. She made the point that the RDAs must work with the regional planning body but that the new institutions which will create the regional planning guidance do not exist as yet and that their relationships with the RDAs will have to evolve.

I accept that, but a distinction needs to be made between the bodies which are responsible for regional planning guidance and their product; in other words, the guidance. The development of the bodies creating the guidance does not preclude dealing now with the relationship between the guidance and the agencies' strategies.

The Minister said: Like any other body, an RDA will be expected to work within the framework"— by that he meant the framework of the regional planning guidance and development plans— This is not at issue".—[Official Report, 7/10/98; col. 521.] However, he then went on to describe what seemed to be quite a circular relationship.

We now have the draft guidance on the strategies which, at paragraph 23, refers to the complementality and mutual responsiveness of regional planning guidance and the agencies' strategies. Yet, it states that, the proposals in regional planning guidance for the provision of regionally or sub-regionally significant housing, transport and other infrastructure should have regard to the agency's strategy". In other words, there is a sentence in there which makes regional planning guidance subsidiary to the agencies' strategies.

I believe that either regional planning guidance on the one hand or the RDAs' strategies on the other must be paramount. That is not to suggest that in the development of regional planning guidance, the body responsible for it would not have regard to the agencies' own developing strategies. Indeed, I should expect a close, detailed and careful dialogue between the two organisations. But when push comes to shove, which is paramount? Which is to govern?

I do not suggest that there is any lack of importance in the work to be carried out by the RDAs but I believe strongly that they should be subject to the same planning framework as everybody else. The creation of regional planning guidance is often a pretty tortuous process. That is because of the work that goes on to ensure a dialogue with all interested parties. There is a whole area which I shall not develop at this point, but I have in mind the democratic aspects of the formation of regional planning guidance and, indeed, the whole consultation process.

Therefore, while I accept and support the role that regional planning guidance will have in helping to achieve an urban renaissance by reconciling rural and urban interests, and so on, it seems to me that RDAs should work with the grain within the framework of the planning guidance of their own regions and not be put in a position where that can be set aside or ignored. I beg to move.

6 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, I do not wish to repeat the points made by my noble friend, but this is a subject about which that I feel most strongly in connection with all the amendments. That is partly because we have now reached a time when it is most important that the public should receive the right messages as regards what is happening in this respect. Planning guidance that is on the table now has taken literally years to develop and will be effective for years into the future. It will send the wrong message at the start of the establishment of the development agencies if they were able in any way to disregard or not pay very full attention to a process in which dozens of local authorities have participated. Indeed, hundreds of meetings have taken place in various areas and that work has finally come together in the form of planning guidance. We should not be so cavalier as not to take that fully into account.

We frequently hear about how we must consult members of the public and the latter often turn out on a rainy night to voice their opinions. Indeed, there are few subjects that they turn out for so strongly than matters concerning planning for their area, especially when it comes to housing development and transport. Therefore, if we wish to send the correct message to them about how development agencies will be responsive to their regions, this amendment will prove to be particularly important. At a time when we are all promoting the message that we will involve and consult members of the public and act upon that consultation, I should like to think, like my noble friend, that for the forthcoming years the relationship between the development agencies and the regional chamber will be a good one. We have conceded that that is not defined at present but, as we have a lack of definition, I believe that we need to be very clear about the role of planning guidance.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I totally agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that we do not want to send the wrong message in this respect. Whatever I said in Committee and, indeed, what I will say now is not intended to cut across that at all. We should make clear that the current position, whereby regional planning guidance provides the land-use planning framework for the regions, will not be changed by the creation of regional development agencies. RDAs will, like any other body, work within the land-use framework provided by RPG and local authority development plans. RDAs will, like anyone else, be required to seek planning permission from local authorities in the normal way. Any proposals that they make will need to be consistent with RPG and local development plans; otherwise they will be subject to the normal arrangements for applications from anyone which depart from the development plans. Similarly, in formulating their regional strategies, RDAs will have to have regard to the strategic planning context for the region as set out in RPG.

That is the position for all organisations which are making plans with land use implications. That is why we did not think it necessary to put a provision on the face of the Bill in the manner suggested by the amendment. The amendment also raises a slight legal difficulty by not limiting the reference to regional planning guidance to that issued by the Secretary of State.

As I said in Committee, this is an organically developing process. Noble Lords will undoubtedly be aware that RPGs are currently being reviewed in most regions. The arrangements for producing RPGs themselves are under review in order to improve regional accountability. My honourable friend Dick Caborn, the Minister for Regions, Regeneration and Planning, has consulted on proposals which are intended to provide a greater input from the regional planning body into RPG and to bring some broader considerations into land-use planning. Thus, while under the previous arrangements draft RPG was prepared by government for consultation in the region, in future it is intended that the regional planning body will prepare draft RPG and be responsible for consulting within its region. Such a draft RPG will then be submitted to the Secretary of State, for him to issue if he is content with it following a public examination in front of an independent panel.

Therefore, in practice, revised regional planning guidance will be reviewed and developed more in parallel with RDAs formulating their strategies. As these strategic documents develop, I agree that the relationship between the various bodies producing them is of the highest importance. The draft guidance on the strategies of RDAs that has been issued for consultation, and to which the noble Baroness referred, seeks to outline the relationship between RPG and RDAs' strategies against that background to make it clear that the RPG and the local development plans provide the land-use planning framework for the RDAs. However, that will also recognise that the review of RPG and the strategies of RDAs will be an iterative process which will require constructive and collaborative working and on-going dialogue. Thus, in developing its strategy, the RDA will need to have regard to RPG, and to the developing thinking of the regional planning body, as it reviews the planning guidance. By the same token, the regional planning body, in reviewing RPG, will need to be responsive to the developing thinking of the RDA on its regional strategy.

Moreover, because this is an iterative process it would not be appropriate to seek to impose a hierarchical relationship between the RDAs and the regional planning bodies. Their work has different purposes. The RDAs will certainly have to observe the planning procedures but the focus of the two strategies will be different. Inevitably there will be issues of mutual interest for those who are drawing up both strategies, but the focus of each strategy will be different.

However, having read the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, I looked again at the wording in the draft guidance on the RDAs' strategies which has been issued since the Committee stage. I think that I would accept that the drafting of the relevant sections may not be as felicitous as all that and may not bring out as clearly as it might the relationship that we intend. Whatever the result of the debate on this particular amendment, I can assure the noble Baroness that I shall draw these comments to the attention of my honourable friend the Minister for Regions, Regeneration and Planning so that he can take that into account In terms of the final version of that guidance. In the light of my assurances and the slightly complicated developing situation, I urge the Baroness not to press the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I am particularly grateful for the Minister's last comment. When considering responses on the draft guidance, I had intended to ask the Minister whether he might consider that the reference in paragraph 2 to proposals in RPG having to have regard to the strategy of the agency might perhaps be better if set out as, "proposals in draft RPG". In other words, that would reflect the contribution of the objectives of the agency and take into account its concerns as to how it can carry out its purposes in the framing of RPG, rather than RPG, once formed, being set on one side in some way.

I accept the point made by the Minister about particular development applications. However, my concern was not about applications. I appreciate that the usual planning arrangements will have to apply to particular developments. Indeed, my concern is that regional planning guidance once formed, and once that exercise of consultation with all the partners or—to use the current term—stakeholders has been completed, should have its place in something of a hierarchy to which the agency must have regard. Therefore, I do not to that extent agree with the Minister. I wished to have that on the record. However, having got it off my chest, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 8 not moved.]

Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 3, line 27, at end insert— ("(1A) In formulating a strategy in accordance with this section, a regional development agency shall carry out consultation with government departments, statutory bodies, organisations representative of business and such other bodies with an interest in its work as it considers appropriate.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I thank the Minister for sending me an up-to-date list of groupings. Noble Lords may find that there are two sets of groupings at present. I refer to the most up-to-date list. In moving Amendment No. 9, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 10 and 11.

The Bill places a duty on RDAs to consult with regional chambers on the preparation of the strategies which they will have a statutory duty to formulate under Clause 7. I accept the importance of local authorities in furthering the agenda of RDAs. But they are not the only key players. A number of other agencies play an equally important role in enabling economic development in the regions. I refer, for instance, to government departments, the Environment Agency, passenger transport companies, the Ministry of Defence, and so on. The need to consult those bodies is recognised in the draft guidelines for RDA strategies which were placed in the Library on 20th October. I draw your Lordships' attention to paragraph 1b of that document which states: to promote business efficiency, investment and competitiveness in their area". I cannot see how the agencies can do so unless they consult with those organisations. Paragraph 20 is headed "Consultation" and states that, in formulating its strategy the Agency should consult widely with Government and other interests nationally, and within the region". However, as it stands, the Bill does not guarantee that that vital process will take place. My argument is similar to the one that I put forward on my last amendment.

Amendment No. 9 gives the RDAs a duty to consult government departments, statutory bodies, business organisations and any other bodies considered appropriate within the RDAs' discretion when they formulate their strategies. The amendment merely places on the face of the Bill the Government's intentions in respect of consultation on RDA strategies as set out in the draft guidance. I have enumerated two points from that guidance.

Amendment No. 11 is technical and consequential. I beg to move.

Earl Peel

My Lords, I support my noble friend. The objectives that he seeks to achieve are clearly in the draft guidance but that is not the same as being on the face of the Bill. If the RDAs are to get off to the start that we wish, proper consultation will have to take place with those groups and bodies to which my noble friend referred. It is important that that is done at an early stage; otherwise the strategies formed are likely to omit key ingredients which could contribute to those many interests and groups which wish the agencies to succeed.

It is important that all interests are considered and that different sectors do not feel that they will be discriminated against. Unless we have a provision like this on the face of the Bill, there is a danger that that may happen. My noble friend is right. I hope that the Government will accept what is a simple and straightforward amendment.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I speak to Amendment No. 11 which stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. It amends Clause 7(2)(b) by providing that social, environmental and other issues be taken into account in formulating the agency's strategy.

We debated this issue at Committee stage. Amendment No. 11 provides for reference in the strategy to social, environmental and other issues. I suspect that the Minister will say that it is unnecessary because that is what the Government will require in any event. If so, I shall give the usual response: if the Government require that, why do they not take the credit for saying so? How will the Government ensure that a future, perhaps less benign, Secretary of State will issue similar guidance?

At the previous stage the House accepted that social and environmental matters are of enormous importance and cannot be separated from economic matters. There have been many contributions on this issue. One of the most recent is Shelter's report on urban and rural renaissance.

The Minister said in Committee that he concurred with the view expressed by me, and far more eloquently, by the right reverend Prelate, and that we could be reassured that it was already government policy. He also said that to put the words on the face of the Bill might be misleading. Having read the Official Report, I cannot find an explanation for such references being potentially misleading. If those matters are not included in the Bill but are government policy—they may not be the policy of a future government—what good reason can there be for not including the references on the face of the Bill unless it is because they were not invented here. However, I am sure that the Government are not so small minded.

The Lord Bishop of Winchester

My Lords, I support all three amendments and speak to Amendment No. 9. In passing, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and urge that the words in her amendment are included on the face of the Bill.

I wish to make two points on Amendment No. 9. I am hampered by my failure to get hold of a copy of the draft guidance. The Printed Paper Office is having difficulty identifying the document. A number of individuals who have spoken to me are concerned that the guidance makes it difficult to measure the problems of rural areas. It is another aspect of the constant anxiety expressed to me in Hampshire and in material received by bishops from individuals in rural areas about proper representation of rural areas and rural issues.

I wish to make a substantive point in support of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley. However, I wish to broaden his concern. His amendment refers to, government departments, statutory bodies, organisations representative of business and such other bodies". I wish to include a specific reference in, such other bodies with an interest in its work". There is a sad lack of reference on the face of the Bill to voluntary organisations. I include among those the Churches. It is an important issue to raise. The fact is—this takes us back to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee—that in rural and urban areas voluntary organisations across the whole range (the Churches included) will be better informed about pockets of detail, about issues of poverty, social exclusion, disadvantage and disability than are the statutory organisations, much as I respect their work and those who struggle to serve them. It is a serious matter that there is so little mention of the whole voluntary section at point after point in the Bill where it would be relevant. I want us to understand the words "such other bodies" in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, as referring specifically to the whole range of the voluntary sector.

That means that more serious consideration needs to be given to some specific engagement of the voluntary sector in the membership of regional chambers where, again, they need to be active parties. They bring a skill and often detailed experience of small geographical areas. However, that should not be left to the charity of others. The Government need to make some distinct commitment to and proper engagement with the voluntary sector across this whole range of issues.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, in speaking to the amendment perhaps I can begin by responding to the penultimate point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester regarding regional chambers. It is important to place on record that this legislation is not legislation to establish those regional chambers. As such, his point will be a matter for future legislation.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, for tabling Amendment No. 9 and allowing me the opportunity to make clear what we expect of RDAs in relation to consultation on their regional strategies. Consultation is an important aspect of this work, as several noble Lords stressed. The Government are quite clear that unless RDAs consult fully on their strategies—indeed, unless they promote a partnership approach to the formulation and the delivery of their strategies—they will not be successful. Moreover, it is very important that the strategies are drawn up in a way that enhances national policies, so that central government and national agencies will respect the strategies as they take forward their own policy thinking. The noble Lord has, in his customary way, hit on the heart of the matter.

This amendment would add to the face of the Bill a requirement that RDAs must consult with interested bodies and government departments, as they consider appropriate, when formulating their strategies. Clause 7 allows for the Secretary of State to issue guidance to the RDAs on a range of matters relating to the formulation of their strategies. Indeed, during Committee stage of this Bill my noble friend and I said that the Government intended to issue guidance on the formulation of regional strategies, for consultation. Several noble Lords referred to the fact that it was launched on 20th October. The guidance has been distributed widely and comments have been invited by the end of November. Copies of the guidance were also placed in the Library. Also, perhaps I can reassure the right reverend Prelate that the voluntary sector is referred to in the guidance on strategies.

Those noble Lords who have seen the draft guidance will see that it is not excessively prescriptive. That is in line with the Government's view that the guidance should provide a framework within which the RDAs can produce their strategies and should not dictate what the strategy should be or how the RDAs should go about producing it. It is important that there are regional solutions to regional problems: that is at the heart of the Government's wish to decentralise decision taking to the regional level. However, I hope the noble Earl, Lord Peel, will accept that the draft guidance stresses the need for RDAs, working within their own circumstances, to build consensus in their regions and to work closely with their regional partners.

During the course of this short debate several noble Lords referred to the people and organisations that they would like to include. But I suggest that the people and organisations listed may stand at six now, but at a later stage in the Bill the list may become extremely long and would never be capable of including all.

The draft guidance specifically covers the question of consultation during the preparation of the strategy. It says that the RDAs should consult widely, with Government and other interests nationally and within the region". It also says that RDAs should include in their strategies a statement on the consultation arrangements they made and a list of those consulted during the preparation of the strategy.

We envisage that it will include the Government Offices in the regions, which will be the normal liaison point between RDAs and government. Government Offices will have close contact with all government departments, including MAFF, which I hope will please the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley. As the substance of the amendment has been included in the draft guidance that we issued for consultation, I urge the noble Lord not to press his amendment.

Amendment No. 11 seeks to specify on the face of the Bill the Secretary of State's powers to give RDAs guidance on "social, environmental and other" issues to be taken into account in the formulation of their strategies.

RDAs are to be development agencies, set up, as our White Paper of the regions made clear, to promote sustainable economic development and social and physical regeneration, and to co-ordinate the work of regional local partners in areas such as training, investment, regeneration and business support. The purposes of RDAs are therefore essentially economic and their strategies will essentially be aimed at addressing the economic problems of their region.

The Government are quite clear that economic performance can be improved only by taking a broad approach to tackling the problems our regions face. We believe that solutions integrating economic, social and environmental issues are needed. That integrated approach will, in our view, be central to the success of the regional development agencies in improving the economic prospects of their regions.

The draft guidance for the RDAs on their strategies, on which the Government are currently consulting, commends that approach. The guidance highlights the broad spectrum of activity covered by the RDAs' statutory purposes and stresses that, in order to develop an effective strategy, RDAs will need to take an integrated approach to tackling business competitiveness and the need to increase productivity, but also the underlying problems of unemployment, skills shortages, social exclusion and physical decay.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, tempts me—but not a lot—with her suggestion that I should contemplate a less benign Secretary of State. I cannot imagine life without my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State and would not wish to do so. Therefore I cannot concede that there could be a less benign Secretary of State at any time in the future.

The draft guidance also makes clear that RDAs should include in their strategies an appraisal of the contribution that a strategy will make to sustainable development and how it will integrate social and environmental objectives. The provision in Clause 7(2)(b) empowers the Secretary of State to issue guidance on the issues to be taken into account in their strategies. It does not limit him to certain types of issues and would certainly encompass social and environmental issues. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel, as we do, that her amendment is unnecessary.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, it was the Prime Minister before last who talked about going on and on and so I would suggest a little caution in suggesting that any Minister, however benign, goes on and on. Experience shows that they do not!

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, having been a church warden in the diocese of Oxford for a number of years, I have to tell the right reverend Prelate that I did not always agree with my bishop: far from it. But on this occasion I am delighted to say that I agreed, I think, with all his ideas.

With regard to enumerating bodies, I have to agree with the noble Baroness because I have tried to enumerate before and I did not mention the Ministry of Agriculture. However, it is nearly always a mistake because they always remind you of the bits that you have missed. Of course I am most grateful to the right reverend Prelate. He has made a very important point that I feel strongly about.

The noble Baroness started off very well, so far as I was concerned. She said that RDAs must consult with local and national organisations to be successful and she said that they must not be dictated to. However, my amendment is not dictating to the RDAs. In fact when the noble Baroness began I really thought I had hooked a fish for once, but sadly as she went on, as so often happens to me, the fish got away and I never landed it.

I am not happy, for the following three reasons. First, I think it is vital, as I said earlier in connection with my first amendment, to have matters on the face of the Bill. My noble friend Lady Anelay pointed out how important it is. Governments change and things are forgotten. Secondly, I was reminded—I am beginning to feel very old—that the drafting of Bills now has become quite permissive, perhaps like our society. For instance, if the noble Baroness were to look up the Welsh Development Agency Act of 1975 she would see that it is written in a far less permissive way. It was laid down, left or right, and I think we have become too permissive.

I am sorry to pontificate, but it is important that your Lordships make sure that all the i's are dotted and all the t's are crossed: it is indeed the purpose of your Lordships' House. I must repeat something that I shall probably get into trouble about, because all the way through the Government of Wales Bill I was told, "Trust the Assembly, trust the Government". I do not trust the Assembly and I do not trust the Government—

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would forgive me? Perhaps it would be helpful if I could remind your Lordships of the precedent set by the Pepper v. Hart case. The commitment and the clear explanation that are given are, in a particularly important way, recorded because of what has been said in the course of the debate today. Certainly I did not wish to deny the noble Lord the opportunity to go fishing. All I was saying was that perhaps we had already caught a good fish, and that perhaps he would like to eat ours.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, I have not caught the fish: it has wiggled off. But as far as Pepper v. Hart is concerned, if I got my noble friend Lord Renton on it he would say that, good though that case was, it is not as good as having it on the face of the Bill. I am still convinced that you have to argue it and the judge might say, "Well, Parliament did not quite say that". So I am not entirely convinced.

I will just conclude by saying why I do not trust any of these organisations. As I said earlier, I have farmed for nearly 50 years and have found that if a thing can go wrong it jolly well does go wrong. This will go wrong. My second reason is that, as I am sure the right reverend Prelate will agree, my name is Thomas. Thirdly, it is the job of your Lordships to make sure that everything is watertight. I am sorry to have to say this because the noble Baroness was very helpful, but I really will have to think about this point for Third Reading, because it really ought to be on the face of the Bill. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 not moved.]

Clause 8 [Regional consultation]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 4, line 8, leave out from beginning to second ("to") and insert ("in the exercise of its functions under section 7(1)(a), to consult and have regard").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 12 and to speak at the same time to Amendment No. 13. If there is any relationship between these two amendments it is perhaps to do with transparency. At the last stage I put down an amendment seeking to provide for consultation with the regional chambers on a non-optional basis: in other words, that the consultation be wider than as directed by the Secretary of State, since our potentially non-benign Secretary of State might give a very narrow direction. The Minister at that time said that this and related matters would be crucial in another Bill at some other time but it was not for this framework. I accept her point that perhaps I was trying to push the limits of this Bill a little further than they are intended to go.

However, reflecting on her words, I began to wonder about the operation of Clause 8(2)(a) and (b). Clause 8(2)(a) talks of the agency having regard to any views expressed by the regional chamber and, separately, consulting the chamber in relation to the exercise of its functions—but only those functions as are specified in the Secretary of State's direction.

Would it not be more helpful to the agency and the chamber if there were to be a more general consultation to give a framework to the views of the chamber to which the agency must have regard under Clause 8(2)(a)? No doubt a regional chamber, doing its job thoroughly and energetically, is going to express views on pretty well everything, but I believe that those views might be more helpfully expressed if they were in response to a structured consultation.

Amendment No. 13 deals with the agency's annual reports. This provides that the report must, among other things, set out directions which have been given to the agency during the relevant period. My amendment suggests that the agency should also report on how it has complied with the direction, since unless compliance with the direction is within the information which the Secretary of State specifies under Clause 17(2)(a), the reader of the report will be left to guess if and how there has been compliance with those directions.

I appreciate that this is a late stage at which to raise such a relatively small matter, and I assure your Lordships that I am not intending to try to score points off the drafters of this clause, because I know one can never achieve that result. However, there is an underlying query about how extensive the reports of the agencies are intended to be. I beg to move.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I rise to give general support to the amendments and to repeat a word of caution which was issued in Committee. The new body needs to be careful to concentrate on strategy (with a capital S) and to ensure that it is not seen to interfere with the functions of similar existing bodies. Of course, we know that each RDA will be unique. The remit of the RDAs is very broad. I doubt whether they would have the time to interfere. However, it is timely to remind the new bodies that we are talking about strategy and consultation on strategy. All of us understand that that is the broad picture; we are talking about general guidance and direction, but not about interfering with the activities of existing bodies.

In Committee, I raised a number of points on behalf of the Local Government Association, which, like many other bodies, awaited the publication of the document. Its initial response welcomes the guidance given, but raises several points which have already been fairly well covered. The main point is to ensure that we do not duplicate the effort, money and time that have already been devoted to this matter. We do not want turf wars in regions. We know that that can easily happen. This is the stage at which the embryo RDAs should be reminded that they are charged with dealing with strategy (with a capital S) and not with running the area, county or district. Good people have been placed in those organisations by the Minister or have been appointed by bodies, and they are every bit as capable of continuing to do that with which they were charged as are members of RDAs. I hope that the Minister and her colleagues will hear that in mind.

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, Amendment No. 12 seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State has the power to issue directions to RDAs which would require them to consult with, and have regard to the views of, designated chambers when producing their regional strategies. Those powers are contained in the Bill as drafted. Subsection (2)(a) allows for directions to be issued by the Secretary of State requiring the RDAs, when formulating and reviewing their strategies, to have regard to any views expressed by the chamber.

In addition, subsection (2)(b) allows the Secretary of State to issue directions to RDAs requiring them to consult the chamber when exercising any functions specified in the directions. This could, of course, include the preparation of the RDAs' strategies, which is a function of RDAs under Clause 7 of the Bill.

In practice we hope that it will not come to that. As I have said on more than one occasion, the success of the RDAs' strategies will depend on the extent to which RDAs are able to build a consensus in their region, and their ability to secure regional ownership of the strategy, and regional commitment to delivering it. Clearly, the commitment of the regional chamber will be a key objective for the RDA. Arguably, therefore, the issue of a direction on the subject of consultation with the chamber would be a sign of the breakdown of this crucial relationship. My noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton referred to the sensitivity of that matter and the need for people to respect complementary roles.

However, I can assure the noble Baroness that her amendment is unnecessary and that the Secretary of State will have the necessary powers to require the RDAs to consult with the chambers in the formulation and review of their strategies should it ever be necessary. In those circumstances, I ask the noble Baroness not to press the amendment.

Turning to Amendment No. 13, I recognise the good intentions that lie behind this amendment, which would require RDAs to include in their annual reports details of their compliance with directions issued by the Secretary of State. However, I believe that the amendment as drafted is not only unnecessary, but unfortunately is also flawed in some fundamental respects.

It is unnecessary, because under Clause 17(2)(a) the Secretary of State will have the power to give directions to the agency as to the contents of its annual report and this could be used to achieve the same effect. It is flawed, because if directions had been given towards the end of the period covered by the report, it might be too soon for the agency to report in any meaningful way on its compliance with them. Also, the clause requires the RDAs to include in their annual reports only directions made during the period covered by the report. In terms of compliance, it is at least—if not more—relevant to consider what action has been taken to comply with directions issued in previous years.

As I have said, under the Bill as drafted the Secretary of State already has powers to direct RDAs as to the contents of their reports. However, I very much hope that on a matter such as this RDAs would never need to be formally directed, before including details of their compliance in their reports. In view of what I have said, I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendment.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, with regard to Amendment No. 13, I referred to the use of Clause 17(2)(a) to deal with compliance. I recognise that that is a possibility. With regard to Amendment No. 12. I accept the danger of turf wars, to which the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, referred. I am certainly one of those who is persuaded of the desirability of the RDAs exercising powers which are currently exercised by central government and not taking over the functions of local government. Frankly, I still find indigestible the centralised nature of the provision, with everything being dependent on the Secretary of State's directions. However, I have heard what the noble Baroness said, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 13 not moved.]

Clause 25 [Power to alter regions]:

Lord Bowness moved Amendment No. 14:

Page 12, line 36, at beginning insert ("For a period of five years beginning with the day on which this Act is passed,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, your Lordships will recall that in Committee we sought in the first instance to involve the Boundary Commission in establishing the areas of the regions. The amendment sought to limit the time which the Boundary Commission had for that task, but the Government rejected the proposal on the basis that further reviews would not be in anyone's interests as the imminence of the RDAs had already led to a substantial amount of co-operation. Whether that co-operation was voluntary or enforced, I leave your Lordships to judge. However, the Minister recognised that the boundaries were not immutable and referred to the ability under Clause 25 to make changes to the extent of the regions. In the debate on Clause 25, the Minister steadfastly refused to contemplate reviews which might alter the number of regions. My amendment, which sought to allow that, was defeated.

Among the arguments deployed by the Minister against the amendment were those which appear at cols. 559 and 560 of the Official Report of 7th October. The Minister said: The objection that we have to re-opening the question of the number of regions as distinct from relatively minor changes to the boundaries of those regions is that we believe that, in order for the development agencies to work, people must believe that they will be, broadly speaking, permanent areas". I say in parenthesis that I would like people to feel that the regions are in reality regions in which they are able to work together for the purposes of the Bill rather than being led to believe that they are the right areas and that they have no alternative. The Minister continued: If we were to re-open the question of the number of regions, it would lead to local pressure groups trying to alter what has begun to be a constructive dialogue to make the RDAs work…The point is that the Government want to maintain that number of regions. They believe that that puts pressure on people to co-operate. That co-operation is beginning. If we remove that constraint some of that co-operation may be lost and that would not be to the benefit of the purposes of the Bill or the future development of…our regions".— [Official Report, 7/10/98; col. 560.] I find that troubling. We know that the regions as set out in this Bill were established by the previous government for the administrative convenience of delivering the functions of central government. It was never envisaged or suggested that they should be the basis for organisations which are to deliver policies locally, even if they are policies delivered in partnership with central government.

If the regions have to be maintained as they are to get the RDAs up and running, I accept with reluctance the argument that is advanced. However, I can find no good reasons for a commitment to a figure of 12, no more and no less, at least not without primary legislation. The reasons given by the Minister for rejecting the amendment in Committee smacked more of centralisation than devolution to local communities and more of central government convenience than of whether the arrangements suited local people.

We were assured that the proposal has nothing whatever to do with the possible introduction at some time in the future of regional assemblies. I must accept the Minister's assurances but the Government have said that the figure of 12 regional development agencies and no more and no less is the right number. They have created within those regions not just the development agencies but also the regional chambers. Ministers say that the Bill has nothing to do with regional chambers. They may be voluntary chambers but if there is to be central government guidance and central government approval of what is or is not to be recognised as a voluntary chamber, I believe that the Bill has everything to do with regional chambers, voluntary or otherwise. I believe that by taking such a restricted view—whether deliberately or not—of the area of the regions we are pre-empting our view about the regions of England if, at some time, the Government were minded to try to go down the road I have mentioned.

The Government should consider that in some instances the areas of the regional development agencies will need changes which may alter the number of regional development agencies. I believe local people, local businesses and local authorities within those areas may find that the areas are just not right and cannot be put right by a mere alteration to the boundary of the region. I take the point that the Government do not want to encourage the concept of immediate secession and that they want the different interests to get together to work on regional policies. Having imposed these constraints, the organisations may after a period of time acquire their own identities and the desire to change may not exist. To try to meet the problem perceived by the Government I have limited in the amendment the Secretary of State's ability to change the number of regions to prevent him doing so for the first five years.

I submit to your Lordships that if within five years a regional development agency has not been able to build its identity, has not established its role and has not achieved acceptance within the region it seeks to serve, it should be possible to change the regions in extent and numbers in a way that meets local needs and wishes and not the convenience of central government and the Secretary of State. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, at the previous stage I was among those who argued against setting the number of regions in stone. I was attracted by the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness. I had not expected his passionate argument as to the effect of the legislation on future regional government to have the opposite effect on my thinking.

Clause 25 provides for orders by affirmative resolution. Regional government will be a major area of constitutional development; it is one to which I and my colleagues on these Benches look forward. I would be most unhappy at the prospect of the shape of the regions being pre-empted by an order rather than by the whole subject being fully debated in primary legislation. I can see that in five, six or seven years' time we may be presented with an order varying the number of regions and that a year or two after that we may be told by the Government that it would not be appropriate to make a further change to the number of regions when the country is involved in the much wider debate that primary legislation would provoke and assist. I had not expected to find myself disagreeing with the noble Lord on the amendment, but I fear that I do.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, for slightly different reasons I, too, disagree with the noble Lord. I am not entirely sure that I shall be able to adduce many new arguments. I shall merely try more convincingly to explain the arguments given in Committee.

I believe that part of the concern over our insistence that Clause 25 while allowing for changes of boundaries, should not change the number of regions is that there is still a fear that these will be taken as the boundaries for the regional assemblies or any other institutional regional organisations. I do not accept that. The question of whether the number of RDA areas should be increased or decreased can be considered entirely within the context of the Bill and the powers and responsibilities that are going to RDAs. For that reason the Government believe it right to stick broadly to the regions identified in the Bill for the. RDAs. That will provide a certainty and stability which we believe is desirable for RDAs as they face their new challenges. The noble Lord's proposal for a five-year moratorium does not provide sufficient certainty. Indeed, in a sense it would do the opposite. It would raise the expectation that matters might well change within five years. That is a relatively short period of time for the kind of medium-term planning operation we wish to see the RDAs achieve.

We want to see the RDAs established as quickly as possible as strong, influential and stable bodies able to bring the right economies of scale to the regions and to bring regional stakeholders together. We have chosen to use the areas already served by the Government Offices. We accept that in a number of regions, regional identities have not hitherto been strong, and in some regions there have been pressures on us to take a different approach. In some cases there has been pressure to provide an agency for an area much smaller than the region that we are proposing—proposals involving single counties such as Cornwall or the Isle of Wight.

As regards preparation for the establishment of the RDAs, the evidence is that people, broadly speaking, now accept the boundaries for that purpose and acknowledge that an area of approximately the size we are talking about is required in order to achieve the benefits that the RDAs will bring. People are working together constructively to make regional partnerships a reality in all parts of our regions and to bring together for all parts of those regions the benefits of the new approach.

If we set out the prospect of a change in those boundaries after five years, through those five years there will be protracted arguments about boundaries when the important task is to address regional economic performance. That is why we chose relatively uncontentious boundaries in terms of Government Office boundaries, which are well-established. And that is why we wish to stick to the number of agencies we are talking about. We do not accept the proposition that lies behind the noble Lord's argument; namely, that after five years the need for certainty will have disappeared.

Perhaps I may indicate why a proposal regarding a change to the boundaries could be counter-productive. The RDAs' regional strategies will be crucial to their success and, more importantly, to the success of regional economies. We envisage these strategies looking five to 10 years ahead and encouraging investment in that kind of timescale. We envisage their being regularly reviewed over that period. Their delivery and the economic improvements we want them to bring will depend on the will and commitment of regional partners across the spectrum of regional activity and across the whole of each region. The RDAs' role will be to bring people together, to break down barriers that may exist, and to foster regional working. Leaving open the prospect of break-away regions or mergers between different regions, as the amendment might appear to do, is not in the Government's view helpful to RDAs in their task or conducive to constructive regional working.

The noble Lord may regard this approach as one of excessive centralisation. I regard it as common sense. And it appears to coincide with the views of most of the people who are working to establish the RDAs region by region.

I accept that in certain circumstances it may be necessary to change the broad framework at some future date. If, when the time comes, regional assemblies are developed and put into law, and if at that time, as a result of consultation and the democratic process region by region, we, or a future government, reach the conclusion that the boundaries for regional assemblies should be different to the extent that there are a different number it would then be sensible to re-examine the regional development area boundaries.

As I said earlier, and as my noble friend Lady Farrington repeated, the establishment of regional assemblies, their number, and the implications for the RDAs and other bodies would be a matter for future primary legislation, not for this Bill. That legislation would provide the opportunity, when we are establishing a different configuration of regions for regional assemblies, to alter the RDA boundaries in the light of that alternative configuration.

I should have said that I congratulate the noble Lord on achieving in his opening remarks—I am not sure he was entirely aware of it—without changing a single dot or comma of the schedule to the Bill, an extension in the number of regional development areas from nine to 12. There are in fact only nine—

Lord Bowness

Sorry, I am not very good at numbers.

Lord Whitty

That could explain a lot. Such developments as might follow the establishment of regional assemblies are beyond the scope of our discussion today. We believe it right for the Bill to stick with the principle of nine. I underline that there are to be nine regional development agencies for England, including the London agency.

There is an additional meso-economic point, as I believe it is called in the jargon. The main pressure would not be for the merger of regions; it would be for the splitting of regions. I know that it is superficially easy to argue that sub-regional identity is stronger than regional identity and that RDAs serving smaller regions should therefore be permitted. However, that rather misses the economic point of what we are attempting to do in relation to RDAs.

All the evidence we have seen from other members of the European Union in regard to the development of regional policies indicates that in order to be an effective economic unit—and we are talking only of economic instruments—regions need to be large and influential enough to make a difference to regional economies and to the contribution that those economies make to the national and European economy. A certain scale and a certain level of economic generation are needed to improve competitiveness and to make a regional approach to economic and industrial policy work.

That does not of course mean that we cannot have sub-regional sects within a regional development agency framework. Of course we can, for particular purposes where it makes sense to do so in particular sectors and for particular products. That would be a matter for each RDA to decide over time. But where regional policy has worked and where there has been an effective study of the matter, the evidence suggests that regions should probably be slightly larger than the smaller region we have included, which represents over 2 million people. Any area smaller than that would not be able to achieve the economies of scale and economic performance we are looking for as a result of establishing the RDAs.

I have attempted to give one or two additional reasons for not accepting the proposal. If the noble Lord's objection is basically that the Government's view is being imposed from above, I assure him that all those whom my honourable friend Dick Caborn has consulted and continues to consult in establishing the RDAs also believe that it is necessary to provide that stability and certainty to make the RDAs work. Telling everyone concerned, including those who are doubtfully involved at the edges but who have now begun to see the advantage of these structures, and giving the impression that in five years' time the whole matter will be thrown up in the air again, would not be helpful. Therefore, while I understand some of the noble Lord's arguments, it would not be sensible to alter the Bill in this respect. I therefore ask him to withdraw his amendment.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Bowness

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. My argument is not about regional assemblies. I accept the Minister's remark that he is not endeavouring to pre-empt the discussion. My concern is that, as a matter of fact, in setting up these structures and determining that at no stage can the numbers be changed we are, whether we wish it or not, pre-empting those decisions.

I accept that people are working together to make these structures work. People tend to do that. They are not destructive. Of course they work together; they have no alternative. There are already chairmen-designate of the regional development agencies. Matters have gone on apace, notwithstanding the fact that we are still debating the Bill in your Lordships' House today. People will make the best of it. My point is that I am not convinced that one can say with certainty that these regions, established by the previous government for central government purposes, are the right areas in which to try to achieve the objectives of the regional development agencies as set out in the White Paper.

I am intrigued by the Minister's suggestion that the regions must be this size in order to be effective economic units. The core functions and the issues to which they will contribute—the policies and programmes on transport, land use, environment, further and higher education, crime prevention, public health, housing, tourism, culture, sport and infrastructure—are all matters which would normally relate to local government. Certainly, there are structures which are much smaller than the proposed regional development agencies that deliver policies and programmes on these issues.

I listened with care to the Minister. I shall read and reflect upon what he said and talk to other people. I may return to the matter at another stage, but at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Monk Bretton moved Amendment No. 15:

Page 16, line 27, at end insert— ("( ) An order made under subsection (1)(c) shall in particular make provision for sustaining a network of rural volunteer organisations throughout rural England that will act to reduce social and economic exclusion in all rural areas.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 15, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 16. At Committee stage I expressed anxieties about the future and the funding of rural community councils, a rather smaller issue than that dealt with by the previous amendment but nevertheless important. I was grateful for the assurance given by the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, who said that she hoped she had given the degree of assurance sought. I am afraid that she had not entirely done so, hence my amendments.

The second of the amendments, Amendment No. 16, is a probing amendment which suggests that funding for rural community councils could come from a national agency, which, by definition, means not a regional agency. I wonder whether any decision has yet been made as to which agency or agencies will be responsible for this funding and what the parameters will be. If it is to be undertaken by a national organisation, that could be the new countryside agency; or it could be ACRE, the charity that is owned by the rural community councils, which would be an interesting alternative.

The first of my amendments, Amendment No. 15, is the more important one. It seeks to put on the face of the Bill what are effectively the objectives of the rural community councils, to ensure that these bodies are retained and that they continue to be used by the new agency or agencies in the way that they have been in the past. Rural community councils have been the eyes and ears locally for the Rural Development Commission. It is acknowledged that the Rural Development Commission has been a highly authoritative source of information on the rural sector and its needs, and that is very important to the rural areas.

I do not need to say much about rural community councils themselves, since I believe that most noble Lords will know about them. Most counties have one. They are all registered charities which guide a great deal of voluntary effort and bring together statutory authorities and voluntary organisations to look after the needs of rural communities. I am sure that it is not necessary to list their various functions. I believe that they come cheap at the price because of the voluntary element of their work. Core funding comes from local government as well as from the Rural Development Commission.

It is not clear at present how the rural community councils will fit in with the two new agencies. However that works out, it seems imperative that the respective roles of the two bodies should be complementary and clearly defined. Meanwhile the social work of helping rural communities must continue in the long term, preferably more strongly than before, particularly bearing in mind the sombre agricultural outlook at present. However, to me the omens do not look favourable.

The question of how to break up the Rural Development Commission is not a simple one. I do not know what further news there is about that. Parallel with the passage of the Bill through Parliament, much discussion has taken place about the future of the agencies and of the rural community councils. I am not happy about the outlook for that.

It appears that the funds of the rural development agencies are to be targeted on a small number of closely defined areas of social disadvantage. My concern is that that hardly meets the rural case, where often small pockets of need exist across substantial rural areas. If the rural development agencies are to pick up this task, I believe that big changes will be needed to the current thinking on how their assistance will be targeted, and I wonder how much would be left over for scattered rural needs after the main targets had been satisfied.

The grapevine tells me that the merger between the Rural Development Commission and the Countryside Commission seems more like a takeover than a merger, and I fear that there may be a difference of culture between the two. The Countryside Commission began its life by managing national parks. I do not believe that it was entirely popular in the way it did that, but I will let that pass. Its field of operations since then has been environmental protection and enhancement and access to the countryside. It has concentrated on those. It is quite a different field from the Rural Development Commission, which has dealt with people. It has been very successful in dealing with people because it works through the rural community councils. There was always each-way communication. We do not want to change that. We do not want to change to a top-down type of organisation. I would not wish to see such things as demonstration projects, initiated from on high, or short-term, pump-priming approaches to different projects from time to time.

I do not feel too happy about the prospectus for the new agency, on the grounds that I have mentioned. There seems to be no reassurance that the new agency will commit sufficient funds over the long term to equal the Rural Development Commission's achievements. Too much of the prospectus looks like proposals for research projects or exhortations to others. This has its place, but the ability of the new organisation to exhort others will be dependent on its long-term understanding of the rural issues. It will need an ear to the ground. That ear to the ground is the rural community councils. That should be understood by all, particularly those making reports and involved in negotiations about the new organisation.

I would like to see this amendment, or something very like it, on the face of the Bill. I hope that the noble Baroness will appreciate the merits of the amendment. I beg to move.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I wish to support my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton. It is absolutely vital that the new RDAs do not lose sight of the valuable work already in progress in rural areas. The risk is that the RDAs will try to start with a clean sheet and spend three years re-inventing the wheel. There is also the risk that some of the work in progress will fall between the two stools of the RDA and the Countryside Commission and that time will be wasted in deciding who is responsible for what. For example, the RDC's support for rural volunteer bodies, which is key to overcoming social and economic exclusion, is also key to enabling the rural community to adjust to change with a sense of purpose which comes from a local ownership of issues faced.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, I too praise the work of the Rural Development Commission. It has been extremely good. I am glad to see in the development guidance so much use made of its indicators, although I disagree with one particular area. I look forward with much optimism to the Regional Development Agency allowing us to address issues that are not defined by rural development areas. This has hampered the Rural Development Commission's work considerably because, up until now, we have had geographical boundaries, drawn up by the use of imperfect indicators, which have cut very arbitrarily across areas which suffer considerable social exclusion.

For that reason, the move that we are now making is likely to produce a much easier working environment for the voluntary organisations. It was no fault of the Rural Development Commission that it was unable to offer the sort of service it would have liked to the volunteer organisations. Those organisations worked across broad geographical areas whereas the development area was, in many cases, smaller and did not cover the same geographical boundaries. We are moving into something that will produce a far more cohesive pattern.

Rather than, sustaining a network of rural volunteer organisations we are still at the development stage. It is much easier to be a volunteer organisation in an urban area than a rural one, and the development of volunteer organisations in rural areas would be high on any development agency's agenda.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, seeks to specify details about the way in which the new countryside agency will carry out its future role in relation to the rural voluntary sector and rural community councils.

The powers in Clause 35 of the Bill include powers for the Secretary of State to transfer functions of the rural Development Commission to other public bodies or to confer on another public body all or part of a function of the Commission. The order to be made under Clause 35 to put this into effect—and the transfer scheme made in accordance with it—will transfer functions, staff and funds of the Rural Development Commission to the new countryside agency. This will enable it to support the rural voluntary sector and the rural community councils.

As in the case of all the RDCs' live contracts, it will also transfer to the new agency the contractual liability to support funding of the RCCs. I hope that the noble Lord will be comforted to know that this has recently been renewed under a service level agreement. This relates to a specific question which the noble Lord put to me and I hope that that will please him. This renewal of financial support for the RCCs has been notified formally to each one of them. I hope that this goes some way to meet the requirements of the amendments which the noble Lord seeks to put on the face of the Bill.

The Government are committed to a partnership approach with the rural voluntary sector, and I share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, about the importance of the voluntary sector. I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that in many areas it is not only the sustaining of the voluntary sector to meet the needs of rural communities but a more comprehensive approach in helping to develop a voluntary sector where none exists now.

We are committed to a partnership approach with this sector and believe that it is right for the agency to decide in due course how to build on this. The setting up of the new agency offers a valuable opportunity to enhance its role by thinking afresh and imaginatively as to how government policy can be carried out in rural areas. The RDC and the Countryside Commission are paving the way for this with their recently published draft prospectus. It is extremely important to recognise that the countryside agencies merger is intended to build on the strengths of the existing organisation, to sustain and develop that which is good and to ensure that the new body is able to carry forward the undoubtedly valuable work that has been done. An extensive consultation process has just been launched and the new countryside agency will listen to the views of interested parties about its future work and the way in which it carries out its role. The Government are confident that consultees will be emphasising the role of the rural voluntary sector, just as noble Lords have in this debate. We are committed to ensuring that their voice is heard before the new agency is established.

We therefore believe that we should be cautious about putting requirements on the face of the Bill which could unduly restrict the new agency, especially as it will need to work towards the true integration of the RDC and the Countryside Commission functions. Noble Lords, who are extremely knowledgable about the needs of rural communities, recognise the importance of ensuring that the new agency does that.

The draft prospectus for the new agency makes clear the significance of the agency's national advisory role and countrywide work and the need to maintain effective links with all rural agencies and organisations in order to support its work. We recognise that the RCCs have a central role in the RDC's programme for village halls and are also active in rural transport and rural housing. As was said in the debate, the RCCs provide a valuable role in supporting the commission's national advisory role. They work hard in tackling rural problems and are appreciated by local people. As I have said, the arrangements to be made under the Clause 35 order will fulfil the requirement that the noble Lord's amendments would put on the face of the Bill. The Government have absolutely no intention of directing the termination of funding to the RCCs. Such a step would be contrary to government policy. It would not be appropriate to put on the face of the Bill the details of single examples of activities which support the functions of the new countryside agency, or how it should fund particular activities or organisations.

The noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, asked about the future funding of Action with Communities in Rural England. Given that it provides services to the RDC, this will continue with the new service level agreements and RDC funds to ACRE are to be continued under these arrangements.

The new countryside agency will need to ensure that it reflects changing circumstances, including an enhanced role in advising regional development agencies on rural needs. The rural community councils, voluntary bodies in rural areas and many other interested bodies have a part to play in helping to shape the new countryside agency's remit. The Government and the new countryside agency are committed to listening to all their views as this is an important part of the process.

In conclusion, I should like to mention the rural guidance on which work is still in progress. It refers to the range of issues that have been touched on by noble Lords in the debate: the need to be successful in tackling the problems of rural regeneration and the deprivation that exists in rural areas; the need to encourage co-operation and integration between different organisations and sectors; and the need to take account of the often poor level of basic public services, such as transport in rural areas, and to deliver programmes in ways which encourage take-up by those who are most in need of them. The RDAs could build on existing strategies and programmes for the rural development areas designed by the RDC for the targeting of the rural regeneration programme.

I have tried to answer all the points that were raised. Should there be any outstanding questions, I should be only too happy to answer them between now and the next stage of the Bill. In the light of all that I have said, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Monk Bretton

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness most sincerely for that thorough reply and I thank those noble Lords who have spoken to the amendment. I was grateful for their support. I am still disappointed that it is proposed that I should withdraw the amendment. The amendment makes a very definite statement which I felt the Government would be pleased to have on the face of the Bill. But there we are. If they feel they can do without it, I am quite surprised. I agree with my noble friend Lord Stanley that we should put these matters on the face of Bills.

I am glad that the noble Baroness agrees with much of what I said about the way in which rural community councils function, the Rural Development Commission has functioned and the importance of keeping that going. I very much trust that the Minister will bend all efforts to ensure that the future is as successful or better. I expect that that might be quite a task—there are difficulties ahead—and I hope that it does not become too steamy. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 16 not moved.]

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 17:

Page 16, line 42, leave out from ("provision") to end of line and insert—

  1. ("(a) requiring the Commission to make one or more schemes for the transfer of such of the Commission's property, rights and liabilities as appear to the Secretary of State appropriate to be transferred in consequence of the order, and
  2. (b) applying Schedule 8 in relation to a scheme under the order, with such modifications as the Secretary of State thinks fit.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 37 [Powers in relation to the Agency]:

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 18:

Page 18, leave out line 7 and insert—

  1. ("(a) requiring the Agency to make one or more schemes for the transfer of such of the Agency's property, rights and liabilities as appear to the Secretary of State appropriate to be transferred in consequence of the order, and
  2. (b) applying Schedule 9 in relation to a scheme under the order, with such modifications as the Secretary of State thinks fit.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 41 [General interpretation]:

Lord Jopling moved Amendment No. 19:

Page 20, line 26, at end insert— ("notwithstanding the provisions of section 5 of, and Schedule 1 to, the Interpretation Act 1978, "Secretary of State" shall be interpreted to include the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in view of the hour, I shall try to be brief. Perhaps I may begin by apologising to the Minister for intervening during the debate on the first amendment after he had spoken. I am afraid that 33 years of bad habits at the other end of the building had not allowed me to realise that the rules in your Lordships' House for Report stage are different from the ones I am used to. I am sorry about that.

This amendment arises from a point I raised at the Committee stage when I noticed that throughout the Bill there is reference to the Secretary of State. It occurred to me, as a former Minister of Agriculture, that the Minister of Agriculture has no role in the Bill with regard to a great many issues in which he has a great interest. I have in mind agriculture, fisheries, the food manufacturing industry and sea and flood defences, among other things. It seemed to me that that was a mistake.

At this stage I think I should explain why the Minister of Agriculture is the only Minister in the Cabinet who does not have the rank of Secretary of State. It is purely a sentimental and historic reason. I think I am right in saying that every Minister of Agriculture in recent years has been begged by the Cabinet Office to agree to become a Secretary of State. Over the years every one of us has said, "No, it has always been the Minister of Agriculture", and we have resisted the blandishments of becoming a Secretary of State. I can remember the invitation coming at the time. I know that the late Lord Peart and our friend, the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, turned down that same invitation.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is excluded on the face of the Bill from a number of those important functions purely by historical quirk over the definition of a Secretary of State. I raised this point in Committee. The Minister was extremely kind and referred me to the Interpretation Act 1978. I looked it up—I had not been aware of it—and read that "Secretary of State" was defined as "any Secretary of State". In this Bill there are a number of areas in which the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food can have a most useful function in relation to both himself and the regional development agencies, but he is precluded from doing so because he is not a Secretary of State. For example, in Clauses 7 and 27 the Secretary of State may give the rural development agencies a certain amount of guidance and direction. As to guidance, I would have thought that as far as concerned the RDAs that was something that the Minister of Agriculture could usefully do.

In Clause 11 power is given to the Secretary of State to give grants to regional development agencies. One can envisage a situation in which functions can be usefully carried out on behalf of the Minister but he is precluded from giving them grants for that purpose. That does not seem to be very clever. Finally, in Clause 16 one sees that the Secretary of State can receive such information, advice and assistance as he may require. That is all very nice for the Secretary of State for Wales who is also the Minister of Agriculture for Wales, but the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by definition cannot receive such information, advice and assistance as he may require. That appears to be a ridiculous state of affairs.

This anomaly is caused by a quirk of history. In moving this amendment I have no desire to suggest that the Minister of Agriculture should be the lead Secretary of State in this matter. All I ask is that in the provisions of this Bill the Minister of Agriculture should be treated on the same basis as every other Secretary of State. It is absurd that in some of these arrangements the Foreign Secretary can do various things that the Minister of Agriculture is not permitted to do. I hope that the Minister will accept this simple amendment to the Bill and put the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the same footing as he would be if he had broken with the old historic tradition of having the title "Minister of Agriculture" and not "Secretary of State for Agriculture".

7.45 p.m.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the situation with which we are dealing results in part from the historic diffidence of Ministers of Agriculture in refusing the title "Secretary of State" even when offered it, and in part, I believe, from the noble Lord's misinterpretation of what the generic term "Secretary of State" means. It is right that the term "Secretary of State" is defined in the Interpretation Act 1978 and that it includes all Secretaries of State. Therefore, were the Secretary of State who currently deals with this Bill, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, indisposed, somebody else would sign for him. It does not however mean that other Secretaries of State have powers within the Bill that are denied to the Minister of Agriculture.

The term "Secretary of State" is used partly because, unlike the Ministry of Agriculture which, by and large, has kept the same boundaries for many decades, other ministries in Whitehall have altered their configuration; most recently my own department following the coming to power of this Government. Therefore, the term "Secretary of State" must stand for the Secretary of State who is responsible for the areas covered by this Bill. Likewise, Home Office legislation gives powers to the "Secretary of State" but for practical purposes the powers are the Home Secretary's, not the powers of the Foreign Secretary or any other Secretary of State. In this case the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions is the lead Secretary of State. The DETR is the sponsoring department for RDAs and, incidentally, the lead department on rural policy. Therefore, it is appropriate that the term "Secretary of State" should be used. It does not give powers to departments other than those which are inherent in the collective responsibility to make sure that the RDAs work.

I do not believe that the Minister of Agriculture is disadvantaged by this arrangement. Although he is not directly responsible for any of the functions of RDAs, MAFF as the sponsoring department for agriculture has an important interest in their work and is fully involved both in the process of deciding board appointments and, more generally, the preparatory work for RDAs, particularly on the rural side. For example, the rural guidance fully involves the Ministry of Agriculture.

I accept that there are a few pieces of legislation where a different approach is adopted and that while the term "Secretary of State" is used and it is assumed that that is the Minister who has main responsibility, there are references in parts of the legislation to other Ministers, including the Minister of Agriculture. For example, Part VI of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which regulates the use, release and marketing of genetically modified organisms, gives power to the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State jointly, but that is because they have joint responsibility for those areas. There is an agricultural and environmental dimension. There are a few other examples, in particular the Water Resources Act 1991 because the Minister of Agriculture is directly responsible for flood defences.

In so far as the arguments of the noble Lord are predicated on the assumption that the Minister of Agriculture is disadvantaged, I do not accept them. I believe that in relation to the one example cited by the noble Lord—grants—government finance for RDAs from whichever department, whether it be DTI, DfEE or the Ministry of Agriculture, will be channelled through the DETR. Therefore, with respect to other Secretaries of State and other departments the Minister of Agriculture is not disadvantaged. There is one particular respect in which the Minister of Agriculture would have powers under this Bill. I refer to Clause 6 where power is given to delegate functions to the RDAs. That power is exercisable by a Minister of the Crown. That would include explicitly the Minister of Agriculture.

Although at first sight this is a strange way for legislation to operate this is how it has operated for decades. In this particular respect I hope that I have said sufficient to indicate that the Minister of Agriculture and thereby the agricultural interest is not disadvantaged by the fact that he and many of his predecessors have declined the title and with pride have kept the title "Minister of Agriculture". The agricultural interests will be represented here. The Minister of Agriculture will have no fewer powers than Secretaries of State who have an interest in the areas covered by RDAs. I hope that with that explanation, which has been a little complex, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Jopling

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for giving the very clear undertaking, as I understood it, that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would not be in any way disadvantaged by the reference in this Bill to "Secretary of State" rather than a specific reference to him or her. Therefore, with that undertaking I feel a good deal more relieved than I did when I rose to speak. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.