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Mr. Curry: The Government made great play of justifying regional development agencies on the ground of the under-performance of British regions compared with those on the continent. Would the Minister be prepared to set a target for the relative performance of our regions compared with those on the continent, to judge whether the RDAs have been a success? Will he tell us

1 Apr 1998 : Column 1293

what he would expect that relative performance to be five years down the road, so that we can assess whether, by his own standards, RDAs have worked?

Mr. Caborn: As we are creating the RDAs to tackle the competitiveness weaknesses and wealth-creating potential of our regions, we obviously want a better performance than there has been to date. It would not be wise for any politician to set such targets. We must address the legacy of the previous Government and the fact that only London comes up to the average of the European regions in wealth creation. That is poor by any standards.

Mr. Paul Clark (Gillingham): In light of the up-to-date figures that are now available, it is worth reiterating that even in the region from which I come, the supposedly prosperous south-east, the figures show that there has been a fall. In Committee, the Opposition, particularly the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), argued that the up-to-date figures would show that the RDAs were not required. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should withdraw his words, as the Opposition case now falls.

Mr. Caborn: My hon. Friend expresses the position succinctly. We shall no doubt return to the matter in our discussion of later clauses.

An RDA's strategy will provide a framework for economic decision-taking in the region and, to be effective, will have to command the support of the regional partners. Clause 4(2) makes it clear that the RDAs' purposes apply equally in rural and in non-rural areas. Therefore, it follows that RDAs' strategies will have to relate to all parts of the region.

Clause 7 provides for the Secretary of State to give guidance and directions to RDAs on various issues that the RDAs should take into account when framing their regional strategies. The clause makes it clear that that may include issues relating not only to an RDA's own area, but to the area of another RDA or to any part of the UK outside England.

Amendment No. 1 would add to that the needs of the rural areas within any region. The amendment is unnecessary. The Secretary of State would already have powers under clause 7 to issue guidance or directions to RDAs on the necessity to take into account the needs of the rural parts of its region, as rural areas will be part of an RDA's area. We do not wish to create a lengthy and all-encompassing list of issues on which guidance and directions might be issued. The Bill allows for flexibility on issues that might be covered in guidance, and we wish to retain that flexibility.

The amendment would not require the Secretary of State to give guidance on rural issues, nor is there any need for the Bill to do so. On 19 February, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary informed the Committee that it would indeed be appropriate to give RDAs guidance on rural issues. We expect such guidance to cover matters such as how RDAs should assess and monitor rural needs, but there is no need to set that in statute. As I have already said, the RDC is involved in the preparation of draft guidance.

New clause 1 would require the Secretary of State to make an annual assessment of the impact of RDAs' activities on rural areas, and would require that assessment to be laid before each House. Again, that is an

1 Apr 1998 : Column 1294

example of the Opposition singling rural areas out for special treatment, as if they existed in isolation from the region as a whole.

Clause 17 already requires RDAs to submit annual reports of their activities to the Secretary of State. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the motion.

Mr. Yeo: This has been a valuable debate, although not for the reasons that the Minister may have imagined.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) reinforced the fears that people have about the effects that regional development agencies will have on the countryside.

The hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) recognised the value of the Rural Development Commission's work, but I was sorry that he did not also recognise the value of the White Paper that the previous Government produced on rural England, and the value of the annual update of that White Paper that the previous Government started to produce and the present Government have discontinued.

The hon. Gentleman made an astonishing intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) about housing in West Sussex, apparently ignorant of the fact that the Labour party has joined the Conservatives on West Sussex county council to oppose the Government's decision.

The hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) rightly stressed the point that, contrary to some of the Government's claims, the cost of producing a report of the kind required by new clause 1 would be negligible.

My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs referred to the impressive petition signed by 28,000 people, which is powerful evidence of the public concern about the Government's approach to building new homes in West Sussex. He also highlighted the sense of identity that many people feel between themselves and their county. That goes back for generations, or even centuries. It is hard to imagine that that will be replaced by a similar sense of identity between individuals and the South East regional development agency.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) quoted from his direct experience in Cambridgeshire of how resources and effort can be diverted from rural to urban areas.

The Minister claimed that the Government were addressing the needs of rural areas. Let us consider law and order, an issue that is important to many people living in rural areas. This year, as a result of the Government's decisions and the changes that they have made to the formula, the standard spending assessment for the police has been cut in Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Staffordshire and Wiltshire--all rural areas. It has been cut in dozens of shire districts, including the one where I am a resident and council tax payer--in Babergh. It has been cut in south Cambridgeshire, Chichester and Cornwall. In every case where the Government have a choice, they favour the urban area and neglect the rural area. This is a Government who are trying to berate their predecessor for creating divisions during their term of office. The Government have embarked on a systematic attempt to discriminate against rural areas.

Mr. Paul Clark rose--

Mr. Yeo: I am sorry, but there is no time to give way.

1 Apr 1998 : Column 1295

The Minister gave some assurances about the future use of funds previously spent by the Rural Development Commission. I should like to examine that to see exactly what he was saying. I am not sure that the House has had an assurance that the funds will continue to be allocated in full to the rural areas. If we have had such an assurance, we welcome it.

The Minister also referred to some 1995 figures for regional gross domestic product. I will examine those. However, it is scarcely up to date to say that 1995 figures can be used to judge the position in 1998. In any event, they are wholly irrelevant to the question whether the new clause is needed. Nothing that the Minister said has allayed the fear of Conservative Members that regional development agencies are likely to operate to the disadvantage of rural areas, unless the check that we--

It being half-past Five o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker, pursuant to the Order [27 March] and the Resolution [this day], put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:--

The House divided: Ayes 166, Noes 295.

Division No. 240
[5.30 pm


AYES


Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)
Allan, Richard
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael
Arbuthnot, James
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baker, Norman
Ballard, Mrs Jackie
Beggs, Roy
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Blunt, Crispin
Body, Sir Richard
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Brady, Graham
Brazier, Julian
Breed, Colin
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Browning, Mrs Angela
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Burns, Simon
Butterfill, John
Cash, William
Chapman, Sir Sydney
(Chipping Barnet)
Chidgey, David
Chope, Christopher
Clappison, James
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth
(Rushcliffe)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Collins, Tim
Colvin, Michael
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cotter, Brian
Cran, James
Curry, Rt Hon David
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Duncan, Alan
Duncan Smith, Iain
Evans, Nigel
Faber, David
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Michael
Fearn, Ronnie
Flight, Howard
Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Foster, Don (Bath)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Fox, Dr Liam
Gale, Roger
Garnier, Edward
George, Andrew (St Ives)
Gibb, Nick
Gill, Christopher
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair
Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Gorrie, Donald
Gray, James
Greenway, John
Grieve, Dominic
Hague, Rt Hon William
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Hammond, Philip
Harris, Dr Evan
Harvey, Nick
Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Horam, John
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hunter, Andrew
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Jenkin, Bernard
Johnson Smith,
Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
Key, Robert
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Kirkwood, Archy
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lansley, Andrew
Letwin, Oliver
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Lidington, David
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
MacGregor, Rt Hon John
McIntosh, Miss Anne
MacKay, Andrew
Maclean, Rt Hon David
McLoughlin, Patrick
Major, Rt Hon John
Maples, John
Mates, Michael
Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
May, Mrs Theresa
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Moore, Michael
Moss, Malcolm
Nicholls, Patrick
Norman, Archie
Oaten, Mark
Öpik, Lembit
Ottaway, Richard
Page, Richard
Paice, James
Pickles, Eric
Prior, David
Randall, John
Redwood, Rt Hon John
Rendel, David
Robathan, Andrew
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Ruffley, David
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
St Aubyn, Nick
Sanders, Adrian
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Shepherd, Richard
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Soames, Nicholas
Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spring, Richard
Steen, Anthony
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Desmond
Syms, Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Thompson, William
Townend, John
Tredinnick, David
Trend, Michael
Tyler, Paul
Tyrie, Andrew
Wallace, James
Walter, Robert
Wardle, Charles
Waterson, Nigel
Webb, Steve
Wells, Bowen
Whitney, Sir Raymond
Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Willetts, David
Willis, Phil
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Woodward, Shaun
Yeo, Tim
Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Tellers for the Ayes:


Mr. Stephen Day and
Mr. Oliver Heald.


NOES


Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Alexander, Douglas
Allen, Graham
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)
Armstrong, Ms Hilary
Ashton, Joe
Atherton, Ms Candy
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John
Banks, Tony
Barnes, Harry
Battle, John
Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel
Begg, Miss Anne
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, Andrew F
Bermingham, Gerald
Blackman, Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel
Boateng, Paul
Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Browne, Desmond
Buck, Ms Karen
Caborn, Richard
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, Dale
Canavan, Dennis
Cann, Jamie
Caplin, Ivor
Casale, Roger
Caton, Martin
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chisholm, Malcolm
Church, Ms Judith
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Clark, Dr Lynda
(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David
Clwyd, Ann
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, Harry
Coleman, Iain
Colman, Tony
Connarty, Michael
Cooper, Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy
Corston, Ms Jean
Cranston, Ross
Crausby, David
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cummings, John
Cunliffe, Lawrence
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, John
Dewar, Rt Hon Donald
Donohoe, Brian H
Doran, Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, David
Drown, Ms Julia
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Fatchett, Derek
Field, Rt Hon Frank
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Fitzsimons, Lorna
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Forsythe, Clifford
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Fyfe, Maria
Galloway, George
Gardiner, Barry
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr Ian
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Godman, Dr Norman A
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Golding, Mrs Llin
Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Grant, Bernie
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grocott, Bruce
Grogan, John
Gunnell, John
Hain, Peter
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Hanson, David
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Healey, John
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hepburn, Stephen
Hesford, Stephen
Hinchliffe, David
Hodge, Ms Margaret
Hoey, Kate
Home Robertson, John
Hood, Jimmy
Hoon, Geoffrey
Hope, Phil
Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Howells, Dr Kim
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, Alan
Hutton, John
Iddon, Dr Brian
Ingram, Adam
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Miss Melanie
(Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Ms Jenny
(Wolverh'ton SW)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Jowell, Ms Tessa
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Kelly, Ms Ruth
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Khabra, Piara S
Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Kingham, Ms Tess
Kumar, Dr Ashok
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Laxton, Bob
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Liddell, Mrs Helen
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Love, Andrew
McAllion, John
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Ms Chris
McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
McDonagh, Siobhain
McIsaac, Shona
McWalter, Tony
McWilliam, John
Mallaber, Judy
Mandelson, Peter
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Martlew, Eric
Maxton, John
Meale, Alan
Merron, Gillian
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Milburn, Alan
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Austin
Moffatt, Laura
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Moran, Ms Margaret
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Mudie, George
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
O'Hara, Eddie
O'Neill, Martin
Palmer, Dr Nick
Pearson, Ian
Pendry, Tom
Perham, Ms Linda
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L
Pond, Chris
Pope, Greg
Pound, Stephen
Powell, Sir Raymond
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prescott, Rt Hon John
Primarolo, Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Quin, Ms Joyce
Radice, Giles
Rapson, Syd
Raynsford, Nick
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Roy, Frank
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Ms Joan
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Salter, Martin
Sarwar, Mohammad
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Ms Helen
Spellar, John
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George
Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr Howard
Stott, Roger
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
(Dewsbury)
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark
Touhig, Don
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Vis, Dr Rudi
Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Ms Claire
Watts, David
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Williams, Rt Hon Alan
(Swansea W)
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Wills, Michael
Wilson, Brian
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wise, Audrey
Woolas, Phil
Wray, James
Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Wyatt, Derek

Tellers for the Noes:


Mr. Clive Betts and
Mr. John McFall.

Question accordingly negatived.

1 Apr 1998 : Column 1298

New clause 3

Access to meetings etc. of regional development agencies


'.--(1) In the Schedule to the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960, there shall be inserted--
"(l) regional development agencies."
(2) In subsection (1) of section 100J of the Local Government Act 1972, there shall be inserted--
"(g) a regional development agency".'.--[Mrs. Ballard.]
Brought up, and read the First time.

Mrs. Jackie Ballard (Taunton): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.


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