Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns: It is now my duty to thank the Minister for her reply. Earlier my noble friend Lord Bowness said that it is rather difficult to be both disappointed and surprised at the same time. I find myself in that position, I have to confess at this stage. I am disappointed at the Minister's reply and surprised because at some stages I suspect that the speaking notes

7 Oct 1998 : Column 480

she was using seemed to provide arguments against something that the Minister had just adduced. I am indeed most grateful to all those who have spoken on this group of amendments from around the Committee. I am aware that they spoke with more elegance than I can command and certainly with more practical experience of both pastoral care and practical ministerial decision-making in the past than I could achieve in a lifetime.

All the speakers have spoken with a great deal of care, including those on the Government Front Bench, to take account of the interests of those both in rural areas and elsewhere. I am aware that at the very end of the speech by the Minister she referred to the fact that the period between Committee and Report might give an opportunity for further reflection upon some of the guidance notes that are available. I am also aware during the short time I have been here of some of the conventions of your Lordships' House which dictate that the Opposition should try to be fair and to give the Government the opportunity to see reason--reason which was adduced so strongly by all who have spoken in the Chamber today. I therefore consider that I should seek on this occasion to arrange a meeting with the Minister to which those who have spoken on these matters today might be invited so that perhaps we might try to resolve some of the conflicts which have appeared today in some of her speaking notes.

From my understanding of what has been said on all sides, I thought that all noble Lords were arguing that there should be those on the RDA who had regard for the interests of the whole region. I did not hear any of those who supported Amendment No. 7 say that they were trying to argue for sectional interests. That was not my intention and nor do I believe that it was the intention of any other speaker. However, that appeared to be the argument of the Minister. If I may refer to one point that the noble Baroness made, she referred to the fact that if on the face of the Bill there was the right to appoint someone who had direct experience in rural matters it might label them or might marginalise them. I take great care in using these words because I fear, speaking in front of my noble friend behind me, that I did at one stage study for a sociology degree and so I am quite familiar with these forms of words. However, I am sure that if people were so appointed, they would not be labelled in that way. If they had direct experience of rural matters they would not be seen as people with limited experience or ability. I found that almost offensive on behalf of people with experience of rural matters. They would indeed play a full part in discussions and decision-making across the range of those responsibilities.

Indeed, shortly after arguing that appointing people with direct experience of rural matters might marginalise and sideline them, the noble Baroness referred to her own experience of those who might have experience across a whole range of environmental and rural matters--if indeed there is a dividing line between them, and one could argue about that. She said that such people might fulfil all those criteria. That was a case of a Minister arguing in favour of my amendment and not against it because a person appointed with direct

7 Oct 1998 : Column 481

experience of rural matters would not be necessarily identified as such, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, pointed out.

I am aware of the fact that there is a great deal of experience and feeling among Members of the Committee today. I am prepared to give the Government an opportunity to reflect on this matter and also to give an opportunity to some Members of this House to be present who are not aware of the amendment.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: If it is of any assistance to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, we should be very happy to organise the sort of meeting that she has described.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns: The noble Baroness has managed to shorten my speech although I must admit that it was on its last legs. I am grateful for that indication. I shall take up the noble Baroness's offer and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 8 to 11 not moved.]

Clause 2 agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Constitution of agencies]:

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 22, line 1, at end insert (", or
( ) in the case of a local authority member who has been appointed to the agency as a representative of the local authorities in the area of the agency, that the member has ceased for whatever reason to be a member of a local authority in that area").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment I am aware that it is similar to Amendment No. 8 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. I am aware also that the Minister told the Committee why he does not feel that that is necessary. For that reason, I shall be extremely brief.

I have a simple point to make which is quite serious. I interpret Clause 2(1) as saying that the regional development agencies are structured so that they are severely limited in size. In fact, they must have no fewer than eight or more than 15 members. I am aware that the White Paper suggested that the figure should be 10. I certainly understand that the Minister spoke about the possibility of 12 members. But one does not know what the circumstances will be and whether it will be possible to find people to appoint. There could be as few as eight or as many as 15 members.

The Government tell us that the membership is to include representatives of the local authorities in the area. The Minister suggested that the figure for that may be four. However, the very modest amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Bowness which proposed at least one was not accepted by the Government despite that fact. We must bear that in mind when we hear of the rural, environmental and local interests--trade, industry and so on. If there are many local councils it may be difficult to achieve the number of councillors that the Government wish to see. Therefore, it is

7 Oct 1998 : Column 482

possible that local authority representation could be severely limited due to the size of the authority and the other interests.

Having said that, the Government wish to make sure that the local partnership involving the local authorities and the RDA is good. A large number of local authorities may be represented by only two or three representatives. At least one of those should currently be a member of one of them and answerable to at least one group of elected councillors. That is important.

The Minister said that if for some reason all of the councillors on the RDA lost their seats a way would have to be found to make sure that something was done to rectify the situation. I suggest to the Minister that my amendment is very simple and provides an alternative to having to wait for something terrible to happen and then having to look for a way to remedy it. Paragraph 1(3)(a) of Schedule 2 states:

    "The Secretary of State may remove a member of a regional development agency from that office if he is satisfied",
and the Bill then states various conditions. Paragraph 1(3)(c) states:

    "that the member is unable or unfit to carry out the functions of a member".
I merely seek to provide that if a member loses his seat he should be covered by that provision. It does not state that the Secretary of State must remove a local councillor who has lost his seat. It simply provides that he may do so.

The Minister said that if such an event were to happen the Government would have to find a solution. In that case perhaps the Minister will accept my amendment, which is not prescriptive in any way. It merely gives the Government and the Secretary of State the power to remedy the matter should it be necessary. I beg to move.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Maddock: On these Benches we have a great deal of sympathy with what the noble Baroness said. It seems to me very much in line with what the Minister said earlier this afternoon. As the noble Baroness pointed out, the schedule uses the word "may" and so does not insist that the Government must remove people when they lose their seats on local councils, which is the reason for their representation.

Earlier this afternoon we heard extremely powerful arguments as to why those people should be on the board in the first place. The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, in particular dealt with that matter. The Minister then said that the Government recognise that problem and that in certain circumstances there may be a reason to remove people. He said that the Government want flexibility. I suggest that this amendment gives the Government that flexibility. On those grounds, we are happy to support the amendment.

Lord Whitty: I do not wish to go fully over the ground covered on the earlier group of amendments. There is not quite such a wide difference between us on this. I indicated earlier that I was against any

7 Oct 1998 : Column 483

amendment which sought immediately and by law to remove councillors once they had lost their local authority seats.

This amendment, as explained by the noble Baroness, leaves discretion with the Secretary of State. However, that discretion is with the Secretary of State. It applies equally in all circumstances and would have to be read from the face of the Bill to apply equally in all circumstances.

Let us reflect again on what we require of the members of the board of the RDA. Although we see local authority experience as being important, the members are not appointed as representatives and in our view it is not necessary to provide that they should remain as representatives in local government in the normal sense for the whole period of their tenure of office.

Because people from local authorities will be appointed for the range of their experience and in many cases would retain that experience even after electoral defeat, we need to maintain a degree of flexibility in that situation. Indeed, I explained earlier the range of circumstances which would range from someone being a few weeks from the end of his mandate and deeply involved in areas of RDA work to a situation in which all the local authority members still had two or more years to serve and were no longer active and current members of a local authority. There will be a whole range of circumstances in between. I think that we require some flexibility here. The Secretary of State, under the powers that we provide, already has the ability to include an assessment of that situation, or so I am advised.

I do not think that we should be absolutist on the face of the Bill in either direction. We should not be saying that in all circumstances the individual who had been defeated in election should immediately resign or instantaneously lose that expertise from the RDA. But nor should we provide for a situation where in all circumstances once appointed they would survive.

The power exists under the Bill as drafted for the Secretary of State to include, for example, provisions in the appointment letter that would require a review or assessment of the situation if the member lost his seat. If we adopt the form of words here it would be difficult for the Secretary of State ever to exercise his judgment differentially between different councillors in the light of a defeat at a particular election, but we would wish to judge the circumstances differentially in the light of the expertise that they bring.

I therefore hope that we could retain that flexibility. There will be different circumstances and different personalities involved. To write this in these terms on the face of the Bill, even with an apparent discretion as referred to by the noble Baroness, would in practice greatly restrict the freedom of the Secretary of State to allow somebody to continue beyond an electoral defeat because of his expertise.

I gave assurances in the earlier debate that we would take note of what had been said in this Chamber and by local authority associations, local government

7 Oct 1998 : Column 484

associations and others, as to how in practice we would operate. I feel that at this stage we should not take the matter further. We should recognise that flexibility would not necessarily be achieved by the amendment being pressed by the noble Baroness.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page