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Lord Waddington: Will the noble Lord give way?

Lord Greaves: I shall not, as I may be answering the question that the noble Lord is about to ask. If not, I shall give way in a moment.

Lord Waddington: Will the noble Lord give way later?

Lord Greaves: Certainly. The point that I was about to make—I suspect that it is the point that the noble Lord was about to make—is that there is a distinction between activities undertaken by individuals who happen to hold a position in an authority and the activities of the authority itself. A great deal of the promotional activity of the North West Regional Assembly has been undertaken not by the assembly but by, for example, Derek Boden, the leader of the North West Regional Assembly. He has the right to campaign in the region as an individual, even if, at the meetings at which he speaks, he describes himself as the chairman of the North West Regional Assembly.

Lord Waddington: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Surely, one can assume that a statement in a press release that the assembly is campaigning for a referendum in the region is correct.

Lord Greaves: The noble Lord is a lawyer, and I am not.

Lord Waddington: They are plain words.

Lord Greaves: They may be.

Baroness Blatch: If the press release came from the assembly, that would be the assembly speaking, albeit supported by the leader of the assembly.

Lord Greaves: That is the point that I was making. Local authorities throughout the country issue press releases.

Baroness Blatch: There is an important distinction. The assembly does not have the authority, whereas the

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local authorities have authority in their own right. They are elected authorities, and that gives them the authority to concern themselves with their own institutions. The assembly represents lots of other bodies, including some of the local authorities in the region. I understand that Lancashire County Council has withdrawn, but the assembly speaks in the name of all the other bodies. It does not have the authority to spend campaigning money in that way.

Lord Greaves: As I understand it, the laws restricting overt campaigning by the regional assembly are the same laws as restrict overt campaigning by local authorities. I think that that responds to both interventions, but, if I am wrong about that, I will be pleased to be corrected.

I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, who asked what right the North West Regional Assembly had to give itself that name. A long time ago, when it was originally formed, I was a member of the North West Regional Assembly, representing one of the local authorities. It was called a regional assembly long before the concept of regional chambers was put into the law of the land, and it merely continued with the same name. I am not sure that there is a huge issue of principle there.

I do not know whether the North West Regional Assembly has stepped over the line. Equally, I do not know whether Lancashire County Council has stepped over the line or whether Essex County Council has stepped over the line in opposing what is proposed. If local authorities step over the line, there are remedies and ways they can be stopped. That is what should happen.

My second question is: is Amendment No. 24 the way to deal with a problem? I think not. It is clumsy; it is over the top. To conduct an investigation to determine whether two particular bodies in the region—not all the other bodies in the region might be involved in campaigning, including local authorities—have carried out activities which they do not have the power to carry out seems clumsy and over the top. The amendment is a way of raising the issue in Committee, but it is not sensible to include it in the Bill.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I have an implicit trust in the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, the Minister in charge of the Bill in this House. I would believe almost anything he told me under any circumstances. However, I have past experience with some of his colleagues and I am conscious that some of them are associated with legislation introduced by this Government. I incline my head towards the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley. I recall that during discussions on the National Lottery etc. Bill, which the then opposition welcomed, it was said that if we had a desire to redistribute lottery funds in different directions, there would be a debate in the House of Commons and the Government would take note of that.

When the present Government were elected in 1997, they immediately consulted on whether there were other uses to which lottery funds might be put. Not

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surprisingly, of 600 responses to the consultation, 540, I believe, were from producer-interests not then in receipt of lottery funds who said it would be an extremely good idea if lottery funds were distributed to them. In a sense it was a question answering itself.

I have some sympathy with the scepticism my noble friend Lady Blatch shows towards the process we are going through. Some Members of the Committee were present at the exhibition of Durer at the British Museum today where I learnt for the first time that although the elephant was to be found in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries, the rhinoceros has not been seen in Europe since the third century. Yet Durer, on the basis of information given to him by travellers from distant lands, was able to produce a fairly accurate picture of a rhinoceros.

If it is true that while debating a Bill entitled Regional Assemblies (Preparations) regional assemblies are already in existence—as my noble friend Lord Waddington implied and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, did not seem to deny—the mythology that they are associated with Durer's rhinoceros is in some danger of being repeated. I am happy to support my noble friend.

Lord Rooker: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, for his first few sentences. This is an important issue and one which I hoped I had laid to rest, both at Question Time and in previous debates. But I failed; I shall therefore try again. There is an important distinction to be made on Amendment No. 24, which refers to the period of 12 months before the referendum. It states:

    "neither the Regional Chamber nor the Regional Development Agency . . . have carried out any activities which they do not have power to carry out".

That is important.

The Government genuinely believe that the provisions are unnecessary. The two organisations mentioned—I shall deal with them separately—are quite different in their responsibilities and their origins. The regional development agencies are non-departmental public bodies of the Department of Trade and Industry. They act within the constraints of legislation under which they were established—namely, the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998. Because of their status they are audited by the National Audit Office and they are subject to the scrutiny of the Public Accounts Committee. As a former member of the Public Accounts Committee—indeed, the only Select Committee on which I served—I am a big supporter of the National Audit Office and the kind of scrutiny it carries out. It is an excellent committee. Its members hunt as a pack. There are no party divisions in the PAC. As no Minister appears as a witness, they coalesce to give the civil servants a bashing. That is basically the theory.

My point is that the regional development agencies are not in a position to carry out activities outside their powers. To ask the Secretary of State to issue a certificate when the PAC and the National Audit Office are their watchdogs is way beyond what we should be doing.

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The regional chambers are a different kettle of fish. They are not statutory bodies; they are voluntary bodies. They have been designated for the purposes of the 1990 Act, but they are not statutory bodies. Each has its own constitution. They receive grants—

12.15 p.m.

Lord Waddington: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. The Minister is right. Section 8 of the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998 states:

    "If the Secretary of State is of the opinion . . . that there is a body which is representative of those in a regional development agency's area with an interest in its work, and . . . that the body is suitable to be given the role of regional chamber for the agency, he may by directions to the agency designate the body as the regional chamber for the agency".

Therefore, by designating the body, it is actually a statutory body.

Lord Rooker: I shall take advice, but I disagree with that. The matter of the designation does not alter the voluntary nature of the body. They are as different as chalk and cheese from the regional development agencies in the legal framework in which they are set up.

The money aspect obviously concerns Members of the Committee. The voluntary bodies—namely, the chambers—receive grants from central government and have the powers to act as the regional planning bodies under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill currently being discussed in another place. In addition, they receive funds from local government. I do not know from where else they might receive funds. I believe it will be just central and local government.

What they do with the local government money is entirely up to them. I repeat that if it is misspent and misused, the complaint ought to be to the district auditor. What they do with the grant from my department is different altogether. After the allegations were made, Nick Raynsford, the Minister in charge of the Bill in another place, made it clear and put it on record that,

    "The accountable body [the chamber] may not use any grant paid under this funding agreement"—

from the department—

    "for expenditure falling within any of the following categories—

    (a) expenditure on activities of a political or exclusively religious nature e.g. campaigning for, publicising and promoting the case for an elected regional assembly".

I know that it is almost Orwellian that they are chambers which are converting themselves into assemblies. They are voluntary bodies; in effect, they could probably call themselves whatever they want. All the concentration seems to be on "our friends in the North". But the regional chamber in the South East is in no way "our friends in the South"; it is "your friends in the South", if I may put it in that colloquial way. It is a Conservative-led regional assembly in the south-east of England.

It is the chamber but has decided to call itself the regional assembly for whatever reason. The reasons may be those given by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I do not know. I have had no contact with it and I have

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not seen any of its correspondence. So far as I know it is not in favour of elected regional assemblies. It is calling itself the regional assembly, but it is the chamber. It is entitled to do that. What it cannot do is spend the money from the taxpayers—by which I mean my department—on such campaigning. What it does with the money from the council tax payers that comes from local government is another matter. If that is considered to be wrong, as I have previously said from this Dispatch Box, a complaint should be made to the district auditor and the necessary inquiries will be made.

I do not know whether any complaints have been made. As regards my department, I know of no chamber going outside it. They have been informed of what Nick Raynsford said and we expect them to follow that.

Essentially, the chambers are voluntary bodies and can call themselves what they want. While it might be thought Orwellian or slipping through under the door to call themselves regional assemblies in advance of being set up, that is their choice. However, despite all the correspondence from and debates with Members on the Benches opposite, it is clear that open warfare is going on in those regions. That both underlines and undermines our previous debate; namely, that no one knows anything about this Bill. We see county councils having a go at each other and exchanging letters in the press. How can it be said that no one knows about this legislation?

I think that the amendment is unnecessary. While I understand why it has been tabled, I say again that the two bodies are quite different. Furthermore, as regards the regional development agencies, the Committee should rely on the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee to ensure that the rules are followed. Once more, I emphasise the fact that the district auditor should look at any complaints concerning the alleged misuse of local government money.

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