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Lord Jopling: My Lords, there is one problem, although I do not want to pre-empt discussion on my Amendment No. 19. I very much welcome the Minister's remarks in regard to the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Stanley. To paraphrase, he said that the stature of the Minister of Agriculture in this matter of consultation under Clause 2 would be on a par with that of Secretaries of State. I am grateful to see the Minister nodding. There is a problem, in that the Minister of Agriculture is not a Secretary of State. Will the noble Lord give an undertaking that the role of the Minister of Agriculture in the consultation will be of exactly the same weight as it would have been were he a Secretary of State? We shall go into this matter later. If the noble Lord would give that undertaking, it would be very helpful.

Lord Whitty: Yes, my Lords, in this context I can give an unequivocal assurance. The matter is more complicated in relation to the subsequent amendment, but however in this context the answer is, yes.

Lord Stanley of Alderley: My Lords, first, perhaps I may refer to the point made by my noble friend Lord Arran. As he said, agriculture in the south-west is vulnerable. I hope that the Minister will bear his remarks in mind when we debate my Amendment No. 9 dealing with the strategy of RDAs.

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My noble friend Lady Anelay made the valid point that unless there is a provision on the face of the Bill, there will be trouble in regard to repeat appointments. The Minister made the same point in moving the government amendment. He said that it was necessary to have the provision on the face of the Bill in order to remind successive governments. Who knows?--we might have a Tory government who forgot all about the countryside. That is why it is as important to have my amendment on the face of the Bill as it is to have the government amendment. I am concerned about the matter. I must not be ungracious. The Minister's remark that the Minister of Agriculture will make the appointments almost jointly with the Secretary of State is very welcome. However, being cynical and untrustworthy, as the Minister knows, I should have liked to see the provision on the face of the Bill. I cannot see why there could not be mention of both the Secretary of State and the Minister of Agriculture.

I am afraid that I shall have to take this matter away and consult with my "rural constituents". If they feel that the provision is unsatisfactory, I hope the noble Lord will not think me churlish if I bring the matter back at Third Reading. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 2, line 4, after ("area,") insert--
("( ) such persons as appear to him to represent the interests of those who live, work or carry on business in rural parts of the agency's area,").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

Schedule 2 [Constitution of agencies]:

5 p.m.

Lord Bowness moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 23, line 1, at end insert--
("( ) The Secretary of State may remove a member of a regional development agency who, at the time of his appointment to the agency, holds office as an elected councillor for a local authority within the area of the agency if for any reason that member ceases to be an elected councillor for a local authority within the area of the agency.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in Committee, we sought to persuade the Government that it would be appropriate to recognise the special position of local government in a number of different ways, particularly to ensure the representation of local authorities within the area of the RDA, and that that representation should feature on the face of the Bill. In that, we failed.

We failed also in terms of trying to achieve a reference to a specific number of local government members. And we failed equally in our attempt to ensure that, if people were appointed to the RDA to represent local government, that representation should end in the event of their ceasing to be members of a local authority.

The Government ask us to accept that in practice four out of 12 of the anticipated number of members of an RDA will come from local government but that the appointments of those people will not be as

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representatives of local government, although local government will have been consulted before the appointments are made. We are asked to accept that these people will sit as individuals who, as the Minister said in Committee,

    "have the appropriate expertise and background, which includes of course background in local government".--[Official Report, 7/10/98; col. 460.]

Reference was made in the debate on the earlier group of amendments to the Government's desire that members of RDAs should be fully involved in all aspects of the work of the agency rather than be perceived as representing a particular special interest. I cannot accept that someone who is appointed because they have a particular qualification will in some way be a second-class member or that they will be constrained in their activities by virtue either of their self-restraint or of their colleagues' wishes. I believe that there is a case for recognising the special position of local government.

If we are to rely on the Government's assurances that in practice four seats will be occupied by people who, among their other talents, number active, practical local government experience from within the area, it seems appropriate that, even if we cannot write that on the face of the Bill, we should include within the Bill a mechanism whereby the position could be restored if it went wrong at some time. That is the purpose of the amendment.

Perhaps I may take the time of the House to explain again why I believe the position of local government is special. Of course I understand that all kinds of interests and groups can make a case for representation, but none of them can claim that democratic element of representation which is true of local authorities and their members. As I said at Committee stage, whatever the turnout at an election may be, local authorities are more democratic and representative than any other organisation or group of interests within an area. People look to their local authorities to lead in many different activities, especially those listed in the White Paper as being within the proposed regional development agencies' interests. I therefore believe it right that those democratically elected bodies should have a voice within the regional development agencies.

I shall not revisit the question of numbers. I entirely accept the assurances given by the Minister about appointments. But, as was said earlier, times move on; there will be different ministers, and assurances, if not set to one side, can be overlooked. All that the amendment seeks is a power for the Secretary of State, if he chooses to exercise it, to remove a member who at the time of his or her appointment holds office in a local authority if that person ceases to be an elected member of a local authority, the purpose being that active local government within the area may be represented. No compulsion is proposed. If the Secretary of State has reasons for not removing a member, he does not need to do so. He does not have to explain, and the amendment does not bind him to any time limit for his action.

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The Bill gives a great deal of power to the Secretary of State, a matter upon which we dwelt in Committee. He appoints; he gives guidance and directions; and he can enhance the RDA by delegation of his own powers. How that matches up to the description in the White Paper, I am not sure. It is stated on page 9 that:

    "power should not be centralised in Whitehall, but that local, regional and national structures are needed for decision-making and for action to put those decisions into effect".
I cannot understand why the Government are not disposed to give to the Secretary of State a power which will enable democratic local government always to be represented on the RDA.

As was pointed out in Committee, it is quite conceivable that the four members--if that is indeed the number--of an RDA who held office as local authority members might, either by retirement or the electoral process, lose their local government seats. I accept that they would not immediately thereafter lose all the local government experience that they were able to bring to the RDA, but, as the Minister himself pointed out, members might lose their local government seats with three years of their term of appointment to an RDA still to run. Is it really suggested that the local authorities within the area of an RDA should remain unrepresented? It was suggested to your Lordships by the Minister that in those circumstances,

    "we would need to review the situation to see what we could do to ensure that the RDA board continued to have some current experience from local government. Depending on the circumstances we could invite the four members concerned to put their RDA places at the Secretary of State's disposal ... after all, we are allowed by the Bill to increase the size of a board up to 15 members".
But there would be many other pressures, and some of those places may have been taken up.

The Minister went on to say:

    "It is not sensible to place on the face of the Bill an absolute requirement that all those members in all the circumstances I have described should resign the minute they are defeated".--[Official Report, 7/10/98; col. 462.]
I accept that, and the amendment does not make that the issue. The involvement of the local authorities in the regional chambers, if they come about, will not be any compensation for not having a seat on an RDA. It is with the regional development agencies, the centrally appointed bodies that will come into existence, that the real power will lie. In my view, in time the funds and the ability to deliver programmes on the many matters set out in the White Paper will rest with them.

I suggest that the amendment gives maximum flexibility to the Secretary of State. If the Government are serious in their desire for partnership between central and local government, they will recognise the need to ensure that they have the means to make certain that democratically elected local authorities can provide members who, in addition to their other talents, have an involvement with local government. The amendment gives local government fewer guarantees than I should like. It commits the Secretary of State to nothing. However, it will at least ensure that there will be a

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means whereby the good intentions about appointments which are currently expressed can be continued if problems arise. I beg to move.

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