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Lord Kimball: My noble friend has raised a most important point. I was privileged in another place to represent the constituency from which the very first Minister of Agriculture came; namely, Mr. Henry Chaplin. He was the first President of the Board of Agriculture. When you go into the entrance of the offices of that ministry, you can see the pictures of all the Ministers of Agriculture, including one of my noble friend Lord Jopling. This just demonstrates a sad lack of historical knowledge of the position and the

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importance of the Minister of Agriculture. I hope we shall receive a sympathetic reply to the very important point raised by my noble friend.

Lord Whitty: I do not think that noble Lords will receive a very sympathetic reply. I admire the ability to go into the history of the Ministry of Agriculture at this stage in the evening, though for what purpose I know not. Perhaps we shall find out later. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, and other Members of the Committee will undoubtedly know, the position has not changed. The reference to the Secretary of State in the Bill, as in all other legislation, has the same meaning. The strict interpretation is now in the Interpretation Act 1978. It does indeed exclude the Minister of Agriculture, but that has been the case for some time. We do not intend at this stage of the Bill--or, indeed, at any stage in the proceedings--to alter that, because it has considerable ramifications throughout Whitehall. Accordingly, I think that we should move on.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 [General financial duties]:

[Amendments Nos. 50 and 51 not moved.]

Clause 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 agreed to.

Clause 11 [Borrowing]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 52:

Page 5, line 20, leave out ("£200 million") and insert ("£400 million").

The noble Baroness said: In moving the above amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 54. I should point out that Amendment No. 56 has also been included in this group. I hope to make quite short points. Amendment No. 52 is a probing amendment. The Bill sets a collective borrowing limit of £200 million or--because some other departments do get their act together--

    "such greater sum as the Secretary of State may, with the approval of the Treasury, specify".
My purpose in tabling the amendment is to probe whether £200 million is the correct limit. I understand that it is the same as the borrowing that was allowed to English Partnerships. I also understand that it is common in such circumstances to set limits which can only be increased through a mechanism requiring parliamentary approval at roughly five-yearly intervals. I am not clear how long the £200 million has been in effect for English Partnerships, but, if it is the same as has applied for some time, I wonder whether the Government have considered a higher limit. It would be sad if these restrictions impeded the good work that we hope to see the RDAs undertake.

Amendment No. 54 may look a little opaque. It seeks to provide that regional development agencies will be relevant bodies,

    ""for the purposes of section 44 of the Audit Commission Act 1998".
The amendment seeks to put RDAs on a similar footing to local authorities as regards setting standards and particularly monitoring standards. Local authorities are accustomed to having to set performance indicators and

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to being compared with other local authorities. Of course there is not always complete support of the indicators that are required, but the notion of standard setting and monitoring of standards is a good one.

Section 44 of the Act allows the Audit Commission to facilitate the,

    "making of appropriate comparisons (by reference to the criteria of cost, economy, efficiency and effectiveness) between the standards of performance achieved by different relevant bodies ... and ... in different financial years".
It also contains provisions concerning the publication of information. We have already had some discussion as regards concerns about the openness of information. The measure would allow a local government elector for the area to inspect certain relevant documents.

I accept that this may not be the best approach to dealing with standard setting and monitoring but there is concern over how the public can be assured that the RDAs are setting targets and that they will be monitored. Something more is needed than the annual reports mentioned in the Bill. I look forward to hearing the Minister's comments. I beg to move.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns: The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that Amendment No. 56 which stands in my name has been grouped with Amendments Nos. 52 and 54. That happened inadvertently. In an earlier grouping my amendment was unintentionally left behind. I have given notice of this matter to the Clerks and to the Chairman of Committees. I shall be grateful if I can discuss my amendment at the appropriate moment.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Clause 11 details the borrowing powers of RDAs. Under this clause RDAs may borrow only with the consent of the Secretary of State and the approval of Treasury. Subsection (6) of the clause sets out the limit which the RDAs collectively should not exceed, although the limit may be increased with Treasury's consent, by means of an order made by statutory instrument. Although provision has been made in the Bill, we do not anticipate RDAs borrowing considerable amounts of money as their spending will be supported by grant in aid.

I cannot see any need to increase the borrowing limit immediately, as Amendment No. 52 would do. If over time there is a need for RDAs to borrow greater sums then the Secretary of State can seek Parliament's approval to increase the limit.

The proposed new clause in Amendment No. 54 would permit the Audit Commission to direct RDAs to publish information on their performance standards. I can fully understand the noble Baroness's desire for openness on RDAs' performance standards and I fully agree with her. However, there is an important distinction here. The Audit Commission audits local authority bodies; RDAs, on the other hand, will be audited by the National Audit Office. To have both national audit bodies reporting on the agencies would be confusing and unnecessarily complicated. RDAs will be required to publicise their performance targets and the standards they reach. The corporate plan will detail the

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RDA's expected targets and the annual report will show how they were met. RDAs' performance will be fully open to public scrutiny.

I therefore ask the noble Baroness not to press the new clause. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St. Johns, that Amendment No. 56 is consequential upon Amendment No. 55 and will speak to those later.

Baroness Hamwee: I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. With regard to the question of standards and indicators I am heartened to hear her remarks, though not immediately certain that the matters to which she referred are required by the Bill. It may be that they are required through the National Audit Office's own provisions. That is a point that I should like to examine after this stage of the Bill. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11 agreed to.

Clauses 12 to 15 agreed to.

10.30 p.m.

Lord Bowness moved Amendment No. 53:

After Clause 15, insert the following new clause--

Annual report on financing of each regional development agency

(" . In every financial year the Secretary of State shall lay before each House of Parliament a report on the central government financing of each regional development agency and the effect that this has had upon the funding of local authorities and other bodies.").

The noble Lord said: I referred earlier to the list of functions, programmes and policies with which the RDAs will be involved. Given the length of that list, we are entitled to ask the Minister how, and from where, these functions and programmes are to be funded. The noble Baroness said that the RDAs will be funded by grant in aid. It may well be that that is the answer and, given the Government's commitments on public spending, the funding will come from current budgets. The question that concerns me is whether it will affect the funding of local government and other public bodies within the area of the RDA. In Building Partnerships for Prosperity it is stated that RDAs will, for example, contribute to policies and programmes on transport. That will be key to many of their core functions in terms of economic strategies and regeneration.

Let us suppose that within the area of an RDA local authority A has a set of transport programmes and so has local authority B. That is not a difficult scenario; that is exactly how it is. Let us suppose, however, that the centrally appointed RDAs meet in private to consider transport programmes for the region. A's plans are more ambitious than B's and cost twice as much. The RDAs consider that A's plans are of greater regional importance than B's more modest plans, which, although of limited importance regionally, are of great importance locally. There can be only so much money in the pot. The funds are allocated to A. B's funding is reduced and it cannot proceed with its local plans. The question is: without a report to Parliament, without some kind of openness as to how the money is moved around,

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how are people to know that this has, or has not, happened? Given the involvement of RDAs in many different matters, how their plans are funded and the effect on other authorities and bodies ought to be clear. I beg to move.

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