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Baroness Miller of Hendon: With regard to my second amendment, I was referring only to pensions, not to payments, but the Minister seemed to think that I was referring to payments because Schedule 2(3)(1) refers to an RDA paying its members "remuneration", and so on. The public bodies on which I have served were never treated so well. We never received pensions. My noble friend Lord Bowness was a member of the Audit Commission--and he did not get a pension either! I shall carefully read what the noble Baroness said. Obviously, we served on the wrong boards. There can be no doubt about that. Having said that, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 14 not moved.]

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Purposes]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 15:

Page 2, line 19, leave out ("economic") and insert ("social, economic and environmental").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 15, which is grouped with Amendments Nos. 19, 20 and 20A, which stand in the names of other noble Lords.

Clause 4 brings us to the purposes of the new agencies. My amendment proposes that, in addition to furthering the economic development of their areas, the boards should also have social and environmental purposes. These days we are encouraged to undertake joined-up thinking or, to put it another way, to understand that a number of matters are inevitably related to one another. In the area of regeneration, I suggest that social and environmental matters cannot be separated from economic matters. We have seen this already in the regeneration that has been undertaken and in the approach to housing.

Perhaps I may give one example of what is commonly called "housing plus". When it comes to regeneration and renovation, housing estates are not viewed simply as bricks and mortar--or often, concrete and metal--but also as involving social and environmental factors on the basis, rightly, that housing is not only a material matter but is also vital to the lives of its inhabitants. The grouping of those aspects reflects the SRB approach which will be continued.

In the next group of amendments we shall come in more detail to the environmental aspects of the agencies' work. Environmental factors cannot be ignored if social and other provisions are to work in the long term. I believe that they should underlie all developments. That would be better expressed and understood if it were put on the face of the Bill. The regional development agencies are, after all, to be creatures of statute and that is why their purpose has to be defined. I know that I am not alone in taking that view and that it is, in fact, the view of the Government.

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The press notice issued by the department in June used similar language. It stated that it will be important that the agencies,

    "take an integrated approach, bringing together economic, social and environmental goals".

The information which has been published for prospective candidates for appointment to the boards has also described the social, physical and economic regeneration which will be the subject matter of their work, should they be appointed. That is why I suggest that the words "social, economic and environmental" be included on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

6.45 p.m.

The Earl of Arran: Although we have had some hint this afternoon of understanding and accommodation by the Minister of what I am trying to achieve in Amendments Nos. 19 and 20, which are grouped, I should like to refer to business in the West country, as an analogy, to make my case.

Business in the South West has a major stake in the economic health of its region and contributes around £4.9 billion every year--that is, £1,000 for every local resident--to the Exchequer.

In Devon and Cornwall, South West Enterprise Limited, known as SWEL, has energetically supported the creation of a development agency since 1992. SWEL combines the local economic development interests of over 16,000 businesses through bodies such as the Federation of Small Businesses, the Forum of Private Business, the chambers of commerce, and the National Farmers Union, among many others. SWEL is a private sector joint venture, the purpose of which is to catalyse economic development and achieve a turnaround in the business economy of Devon and Cornwall. I must declare an interest in that I am a director of South West Enterprise Limited.

In Devon and Cornwall, we would have preferred to have our own development agency--but then probably so would every other part of England, as many Members of the Committee have mentioned. Therefore, we welcome the formation of a south-west regional development agency.

However, the south west region is the largest English region in terms of land area (at 9,200 square miles) and has more coastline than any other English region (at 745 miles). The distance from Land's End to the Gloucestershire border (at 220 miles) is equivalent to the distance between Gloucestershire and the Scottish Border--and the distance of Bristol from London is the same as the distance from Plymouth to Bristol.

The South West is also the most diverse of the English regions--and it has the greatest economic disparities of any English region. Although the south-west region may be considered relatively prosperous, this bold statement masks the significant variations between the county areas which constitute the region. In general terms, the picture that emerges is one of reduced prosperity the further south-west one travels.

On a range of 17 economic indicators, within the seven county areas which constitute the region, Cornwall ranks last on most and Devon second from

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last. For example, Cornwall's gross domestic product, at 76.7 per cent. of the south-west average, makes it the poorest county. Devon, at 91.6 per cent., is the second poorest. Wiltshire, at 119.9 per cent., is the richest, some 43 per cent. above Cornwall and 28 per cent. above Devon.

With regard to unemployment, in August 1998, the unemployment rate in Cornwall was the worst in the south-west region, at 5.1 per cent. Devon's was the second worst, at 4.5 per cent.--more than double that for Wiltshire at 2.2 per cent.

There appear to be two economies in the south-west region--a prosperous one in the north of the region and a significantly less prosperous one in the south. If the RDAs are tasked with increasing wealth creation and improving the competitiveness of their areas as a whole, there is a serious risk that the attention currently given to the less prosperous parts of their area will be diluted by the attention given to the prosperous areas.

This does not imply that the RDAs should not support the prosperous areas. My amendments make it explicit that the RDAs' purposes shall apply as much to the prosperous areas as to the less prosperous areas. Furthermore, the outcomes in the less prosperous areas will be less certain because of the longer timescale required to address their more structural difficulties.

If an RDA's priorities are affected by the speed, size and certainty of outcomes, the RDA could be tempted to seek to achieve its regional purposes through a bias in favour of the prosperous parts of its area. Hence my amendment proposes that an RDA will be required to seek to bring about greater economic convergence within its area.

On 25th September, SWEL published a prospectus for the South West Regional Development Agency, so that the board of the new agency can take full advantage of the experience and thinking of business leaders. The prospectus has been the subject of intensive consultation and debate over the past 12 months. It has achieved wide support among the business community in Devon and Cornwall, as well as in the wider south-west region. I am very proud to be able to show it to the Committee this afternoon and can confirm that I have placed a copy in the Library of the House. I strongly recommend it.

In summary, social exclusion is an issue which is at the heart of the Government's agenda. I suggest that economic convergence, levelling up within regions, will be a key feature in alleviating social exclusion, in all its manifestations, at the local level. I believe that the Government are sympathetic to narrowing the divide within the regions, and to targeting resources better within regions in order to achieve that aim.

The Minister for the regions stated, at the National Conference on Regional Development in Leeds on 25th September 1997, that:

    "We need to make sure that the regions and sub-regions are brought up to speed economically".

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My amendments seek to ensure that a proper emphasis is given to ensuring a narrowing of the economic performance gap within, as well as between, each English region.

Lord Stanley of Alderley: Amendment No. 20A, which is tabled in my name, has been included in this group of amendments. It returns us to the problem of agriculture and land management. I suppose that I must declare an interest in so far as I am a Welsh sheep farmer. However, although I agree with every word that my noble friend said, when it comes to poverty I believe that I can give him a fair run for his money in that sphere.

My amendment would ensure that any action--or, more importantly, the lack of action--taken by RDAs takes full account of the effect that it has on efficient agriculture and land management. Of course, as my noble friend said, the latter includes a multitude of related activities. My amendment could well be an addition to Amendment No. 7 moved by my noble friend Lady Anelay.

Members of the Committee will be aware of the problems confronting agriculture which will rebound on to many rural businesses. Although I believe that the Government could do more to help, the problem is world wide and I cannot see it being resolved in the near future. Indeed, being the farmer and pessimist that I am, I see an 1870-1939 scenario for British agriculture.

Before tabling the amendment I took heed of the Minister's reply to a somewhat similar amendment moved in another place on 5th February. In particular, I should like to draw the attention of Members of the Committee to the Minister's reply when he said:

    "We aim to ensure that rural and non-rural areas are treated equitably according to their needs, and that RDAs will not become urban-centred bodies that neglect the needs of their rural areas".--[Official Report, Commons, 5/2/98; col. 164.]
I can agree with those sentiments but, as the Bill is written, I cannot for the life of me see RDAs doing as the Minister hopes, bearing in mind, for example, that the best rural representation on RDAs is likely to be only one person and that will only apply if my noble friend achieves what she wishes. The rest will be urban centred, so it is most unlikely--and, again, I refer to the Minister's words--that rural areas, agriculture and land management will be,

    "treated equitably according to their needs".
This is a classic case where democracy can and will ignore and neglect a minority and, by doing so, will not help efficient agriculture, land management and the region as a whole, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Wade.

My amendment would ensure that the problem was highlighted by making sure that any action taken by RDAs--or, more importantly, any lack of action by them--must be considered fully in terms of its effect on efficient agriculture and land management. Although helpful, Clause 4(2) does not, as I read it, do that. Like my noble friend Lord Patten and the right reverend Prelate, I am seriously worried that agriculture and land

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management will be considered a poor relation in RDAs. However, if the Minister can convince me that the clause does redress the balance in a far more convincing way than his honourable friend in the other place was able to do, I will be content.

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