Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Hamwee: The Minister's answer seems to indicate, quite rightly, that the Government assess the various matters to which I referred in Amendment No. 223. I accept that the wording may not be very good and I am not seeking to add to the bureaucracy. I am seeking to ensure that the information as regards the assessments which the Government must make of how the various objectives are being met in comparison to one another is made reasonably available to the public. We have received a lot of information as a result of the environment committee of another place considering the budget and the Government responding to it. I doubt whether the Government want to go through that level of exercise on an annual basis.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I am still not entirely clear, even after what the noble Earl said, about the accountability question. As I read the Bill--I can only go on the Bill because, if it is enacted, that is what the law of the land will be regardless of what happened before--under Clause 122 the Secretary of State will be

1 Apr 1996 : Column 102

entitled, with the consent of the Treasury, to give financial assistance to any person in respect of this, that and thus. Clause 124 states that,


    "Financial assistance under section 122 may be given on such terms as the Secretary of State, with the consent of the Treasury, considers appropriate".

It therefore seems to follow that the Secretary of State, with the consent of the Treasury, may well say that any person could include any person--to put it shortly--and that, if the Secretary of State and the Treasury so decide, any person who wishes to engage in respect of the expenditure, may well receive financial assistance under Clause 122. Therefore, Clause 122, in my reading, allows the Secretary of State to make payments to any body which satisfies the criteria under Clauses 122 and 124 even though it is not a statutory body. I still do not understand how, if the Secretary of State were to make payments to a body which was non-statutory, the accountability as regards the spending of that public money would be achieved. Before I go on with the amendment I hope that the noble Earl can clarify the matter for me.

9.15 p.m.

Earl Ferrers: I am always only too happy to try to clarify the position for the noble Lord, Lord Williams. We are talking about the single regeneration budget which can be given to various projects. Whereas before, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, certain amounts of money were given for specific items, now it is all put into one pool called the single regeneration budget and people bid for projects. When they bid, they say what they will do.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, said that he was quite surprised that the local authority might not be involved and that the Bill as drafted could allow any person to be given funds. That is perfectly true. It could be a person; it could be a company; it could be a non-statutory body. They would come up with a plan and say, "I think we could do this. We could develop this piece of land. This would be our cost. If we had a certain amount of government funding from the single regeneration budget we would be able to do this project". It need not be a statutory body. It could be a person. It could be a company. The whole point is that whether they received the money would depend on the type of bid which they made. That is why the provision is drawn in this way.

The noble Lord then asked how a record would be kept and what is the accountability. The answer is that the accountability comes by virtue of, for instance, the recent report we gave to the Select Committee on the Environment and also in departmental annual reports. The noble Lord was concerned about Clause 122 allowing payments to non-statutory bodies. As I explained, it is the same as giving a grant to anyone. You have to say what you are giving the grant for. The output is then monitored and the reports are audited. That allows payments to be made to the voluntary sector as it does to local authorities or anyone else who can come with a project which is worthy of support and which on the whole is considered of all the bids put forward to be the most likely to give good value for money. As the noble Lord will realise only too well,

1 Apr 1996 : Column 103

when government funds are given towards projects, they are not just given and forgotten; they are monitored, reports have to be made and information is published at the end of the year in various departmental reports.

Lord Williams of Elvel: Reports may be made and various departmental reports may be issued but I simply do not understand that concept. I must stress that point. Now we know that the purpose of the Bill is to allow private bodies of one form or another--as the noble Earl said, companies, individuals, whoever it may be, and not local authorities--which come up with a scheme to regenerate the centre of Bristol, the centre of Llandrindod Wells or wherever it may be and which perform under these criteria to get the money. The noble Earl went on to say that the money will be monitored and that departmental reports will be made.

I do not think that is satisfactory. I find it very odd that public money can be disbursed to private individuals or private companies which conform to the criteria and have projects to do this, that and thus and yet there is no accountability other than, as the noble Earl said, annual reports from one department or another. I find it an extraordinary concept. I hope very much that the noble Earl will be able to reassure me that that is not really what the Government mean.

Lord Elton: We seem to have moved away from Amendment No. 221 and to have moved on, if I understood the noble Lord, Lord Williams, correctly, to Amendment No. 223. Amendment No. 221 has the effect of limiting the expenditure under the clause to items subject to planning guidance under Part II of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

I merely rise, while information is being collected, to point out that there appear to be two, or possibly three, items in subsection (2) which could not be the subject of planning policy guidance of any sort and which do not fall within that Act. Therefore, the effect of this amendment, whatever it is on accountability, would be to narrow the deployment of funds. The amendment would be unfortunate in that respect.

Earl Ferrers: I want to try to help the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, a little more. He said that money can be obtained and given to any single person, and that sort of thing. He makes it sound as though that is wrong. It has been going on for quite some time. Someone may want to complete a building project. The building company says that it will cost so much and if it gets a grant, it will be able to build so many houses. They may be homes for old people or others. The company will put forward a bid. It will say how much money it is able to contribute and it will approach the Government or seek a contribution from the single regeneration budget. When the budget is worked out, one has to discern whether the bid would be better for that area than any other bid. If it is, then the correct forms of application and so forth have to be filled in. The money is carefully "monitored", to use that awful word yet again. The money is put into the project and the results are seen. One knows how many houses have

1 Apr 1996 : Column 104

been built and how many people are housed. That is the kind of way in which the project is managed and looked after. That is a wholly commendable way.

Lord Williams of Elvel: This comes back to my Amendment No. 221. The point about these schemes is that they are a partnership between local authorities and other sources of finance. That seems very desirable. I have no particular problem with that although I have about the single regeneration budget, but I shall leave that aside.

I have a problem with the Bill, as drafted. I may be quite wrong and I am open to correction, but a purely private sector consortium, regardless of any local authority, development plan or strategic planning guidance and the rest of it, can say "I have a project to regenerate or develop 'an area'", in the words of the Bill. Provided that the purely private sector organisation conforms to the criteria of Clause 122, as approved under Clause 124, it will be in receipt of public money. That is quite different. I emphasise again what has happened as regards City Challenge and even the SRB. I simply want to know if that is the Government's intention. If it is, please let us know and we shall take it up at a later stage. This is quite different to what has happened before.

Earl Ferrers: The noble Lord asks whether it is possible for someone to come forward with an idea and say that they are going to develop something without any guidance or planning permission. Of course, that is not so. Any project that is brought forward is subject to all the planning rules and applications that are necessary. Nobody would introduce a scheme which did not have planning permission. It would be a matter of prudent management to decide at what point one applies for planning permission. Presumably, if one has a project, one does not produce it without having checked whether it will be likely to get planning permission. So it is perfectly possible for a firm or business to say, "This is a project for building houses" or whatever, and that might be done in concert with, or for, a local authority and the local authority may not be involved. However, it would be able to do that by making a bid and those who assess that bid will do so against a whole host of different bids for the region. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, asked whether it is possible for a private body to have public funds. The answer is yes it is when it is doing something for an area and for which it is making a bid and where that bid is deemed to be the best bid for the improvement of that area.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page