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Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, what a pity!

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the noble Lord says it is a pity that there is no such plan. I suspect that on the Government Benches we have got it right if we are being criticised from both directions at the same time.

We will not be more specific. We will assess the position over time. It is wrong to pre-empt the stage and rate of change towards the assessment of the demand for regional assemblies. As my noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington said, the very first stage is extremely important. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, followed by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, had doubts about our commitment. Anyone looking at the record of this Government in terms of their commitment to a sound and fundamental change and democratisation and decentralisation of the United Kingdom could not fail to believe that we intend to move ahead. However, in terms of the English regions, it is important that we take people and organisations with us.

A whole range of important issues were raised in the debate. I was asked why we have started from here in terms of the boundaries. Those of us who are committed to the concept of the development of regional strategies in England are only too well aware of the siren voices of those who would lure us onto the rocks by saying, "Only when we can agree exactly where the boundaries between north-west and north or south-west, south and south-east can be drawn may we then go ahead". We in the Government are not fooled by that argument. We know it is a recipe for inaction. Therefore, we believe it is important to move ahead, using, as I have said before, those boundaries which were agreed by the previous government for many, though not all, of the functions that the RDAs will carry out.

The issue with regard to Cumbria is one which I understand has been accepted for the moment by those living in Cumbria. I understand that the voluntary and well-established north-west region assembly was chaired by someone from Cumbria at the time the consultation took place. We have not committed ourselves to using these boundaries for regional assemblies in the future. We communicated our intentions to the regional partners and asked them to put aside differences and get on with making RDAs a success. I am pleased to say that most people in both the north-west and north-east have accepted the Government's decision to move ahead on a voluntary basis.

Perhaps I may move on to the role and make-up of the RDAs. The noble Lord, Lord Bowness, and the noble Lord, Lord Elliott of Morpeth, with particular reference to the Consett experience, raised the issue of inward investment. They posed the questions: is the UK already so successful that we do not need RDAs; and why not leave it up to the local authorities or existing organisations? One has only to talk to many, many

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people in industry who speak of potential inward investors receiving well worked out single packages from Scotland and Wales to realise that these packages cannot be met by the English regions. There is a whole range of issues which need to be sorted out. The need to have a co-ordinated approach draws together people in the regions from both sides of industry in support of moving ahead with RDAs.

The Viscount of Oxfuird: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. I have personal experience of Tyne-Tees German inward investment. I was sent a letter of compliment for all the information that was provided and its particularly fine support package.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Viscount if I implied that there has never been an ability by organisations to overcome the problems involved. However, I think that those involved in industry would agree that it is far easier to bring together all the partners and to have a strategic approach with a larger unit. That is the scale of the particular project to which the noble Viscount refers. It is one on which all those concerned must be complimented. I know myself from experience in the north-west that it is important to bring people together to plan for the future in a structured way.

The noble Lord, Lord Bowness, referred to the level of funding. RDAs will be given a substantial budget in order to help them meet their objectives. The final budgets will not be decided until later in the year, but expenditure this year on the programmes which RDAs will inherit will be in excess of £800 million, with a further £1 billion of finance attracted through joint ventures with the private sector. This package of finance will ensure that RDAs are key players in the development of their regions.

With regard to the regional split, in the first instance, government funding for RDAs will be split between the regions principally to meet existing commitments. In future years we will take account of the needs and size of the region and the performance of the RDA when setting budgets. Progress is being made in all regions towards the establishment of regional chambers. The first chamber was launched in Yorkshire and Humberside in March by my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister.

I was asked about the article in the Financial Times today. The Standing Orders of another place provide for a standing committee on regional affairs. The committee has not met since the 1970s and I am not aware of any plan to reconvene it.

The noble Lord, Lord Elliott, asked about the bodies currently involved in economic development. Other noble Lords raised the matter of the functions of the new RDAs and the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, raised the issue of London. The Bill does not distinguish London from elsewhere because we do not want to prejudge the plans we have for the greater London authority. But we have in mind that forthcoming legislation for the greater London authority will make whatever provision is

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needed--perhaps by amending the Bill--to set up a development agency accountable to the London authority.

I was asked why there is no mention of housing in the Bill. RDAs will not be housing bodies but will be able to facilitate the provision of housing by others. English Partnerships estimates that in 1996-97 it facilitated the provision of 5,200 housing units. RDAs will continue the work done by English Partnerships as well as taking on the Rural Development Commission's rural regeneration programme. It will also be responsible for administering the SRB Challenge Fund which includes housing.

The noble Lord, Lord Bowness, asked whether there would be any top-slicing of funding from local government. There will be none whatsoever. RDAs will receive their funding from central government programmes.

The question of the performance of RDAs was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. They will be required to report their performance against targets set by the Government as part of the corporate planning process. The NAO will audit RDAs and will be able to conduct value-for-money studies as well.

Several noble Lords asked about rural membership. It is difficult to ascertain whether any reply could gain universal support. The noble Lord, Lord Bowness, wanted to know why we were spelling out the need to have at least one member with a rural background. My noble friend Lord Grantchester asked whether there should be more than one member. Other noble Lords were concerned that this aspect may be left out.

In our White Paper Building Partnerships for Prosperity, we said that each RDA board outside London would include at least one member who can contribute a strong rural perspective. The information provided to potential candidates made clear that members will be drawn from a range of regional interests, including rural interests. RDAs must be inclusive and therefore all the complementary elements--rural-urban, employer-employee, large and small--must be brought together. RDAs need to be innovative and imaginative. They must recognise that small companies need help to grow. The co-operative movement is growing in a large way in both rural and urban areas.

The RDAs' rural duty, in terms of their functions, will apply equally strongly. To have required them to have particular regard to the needs of rural areas would have meant that they would have done so at the expense of other areas and would be drawn out. If we are not careful, our intention can appear to favour one area more than another. We assume that the importance of the large and small, the rural and the urban, will be complementary, as the noble Lord, Lord Wade of Chorlton, said.

Noble Lords referred in passing to our record. As regards rural areas, an extra £50 million for rural transport was announced in the Budget. A further £1.4 million was made available for public transport in rural areas. Rural schools are to be given greater protection. In housing there will be more flexibility for

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local authorities and also in rural areas. Further as regards rural areas, my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister announced on 27th March that the RDC and the Countryside Commission were to merge--neither is being scrapped, as the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, suggested. We see that as an important basis for going ahead.

Several other points were raised and I shall answer them quickly. My noble friend Lord Graham asked about councillors resigning. They will not be required to resign immediately on losing their seats. They will be appointed for a range of qualities, including their experience as councillors, and not as representatives of the authority. The record for the economic planning councils was good. In 1979 the Conservative Government decided to wind them down. I must gently correct my noble friend Lord Sefton in that they were neither directly accountable democratically, nor were they as small as in the present proposals.

Regional people should decide their own affairs. Regional planning councils were a good thing in that sense, but we want to move on. There is a framework within the Bill for guidance for the work of the RDAs. That allows the Secretary of State to issue guidance and directions to the RDAs in relation to the development of their strategies and the exercise of their functions.

During the passage of this Bill I hope to able to discuss in particular freedom and access to information and how that will be dealt with. The question of sustainable development was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I can reassure your Lordships that the Bill is drafted to ensure that an RDA takes full account of the needs of sustainable development at all times. It will be incumbent on it to do so.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, mentioned the valuable contribution of the environment industry. That underpins the importance of having wide discussion and consultation on guidance with those organisations that have a role to play.

Many other points were raised, many of which will also be mentioned in future debates. Transport, planning and delivery for the RDAs are important elements of regional competitiveness. Although RDAs will have no specific transport delivery role, they will want to influence the planning services. That was a point dealt with by my noble friend Lord Sefton.

The power to raise private capital was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Wade of Chorlton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege. In particular, the noble Earl, Lord Arran, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, stated the importance of helping small companies, of seedcorn investment and of development for the future.

There are other points which need to be covered. I am conscious of the fact that I have spoken for a long time. In summary, the Government will be establishing with this Bill nine new development agencies which will put our regions and the country generally into a better position to maximise our economic performance. The noble Lord, Lord Wade, my noble friend Lord Dormand

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of Easington and the noble Viscount, Lord Oxfuird, raised points on higher and further education and the importance of the interface at regional level, including the close collaboration proposed between RDAs and the Further Education Funding Council and its regional committees. These are an important and integral part of the scheme.

The Government are committed to promoting policies which pursue jobs, growth and competitiveness, but in a way that is compatible with safeguarding the environment and with social progress. These were important points raised by my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton and the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege. The Bill ensures that RDAs will similarly take a broad view of their economic remit. As we have made clear, they will be required to have regard to the needs of all their regions, including sub-regional, local, rural and urban areas, in fulfilling their statutory purposes. They will be required in all they do to consider the need for sustainable development. We want the RDAs to make their full contribution to the Government's aim of achieving sustainable growth and bringing to an end the economic deficit faced by our regions for so long.

The Government's proposals for RDAs in this Bill have been widely welcomed in all our regions. They form an integral part of the Government's objective of decentralising decision-making and creating a Britain better equipped to deal with the challenges of the global market. They are the backdrop for our vision of a more consensual partnership approach to regional working as a means to achieving a sustainable, prosperous future for all our regions. It gives me great pleasure to commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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