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Lord Bridges: These amendments draw attention to the problems created by the Government's decision to use the regions as the basis and centres for the regional offices for the new regions.

On Second Reading, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said:

But the purposes then served were quite different from the functions foreseen for these new agencies. The old government offices were chosen to enable the responsibilities of central government, mainly in the Department of Trade and Industry, to be executed in the field. I had frequent contact with those offices in relation to the promotion of exports and inward investment.

The jobs performed in those offices were essentially top-down--the tentacles of Whitehall penetrating throughout the country to execute the mission of the government. The sites were chosen on the grounds of administrative convenience. That is quite different from the role of these new agencies which is to promote the progress of a particular region, led by those who know its potential and are ambitious for its progress, working together for that purpose.

Therefore, it is important, indeed essential, that the regions should be capable of collaborative endeavours based on common aims for the region as a whole. That is essential if we are to avoid a top-down interventionist activity devised from the centre. The present scheme seems to me to carry such a flavour. Indeed, it brings to mind rather naughtily Lenin's definition of the role of a trade union in a socialist state which he described as a transmission belt conveying power from the centre to the masses. Of course, the Government have no such intention. I share their idea of creating a new locally-driven set of initiatives. That is why the nature of those regions is so important.

The part of England which I know best is East Anglia. I live in Suffolk. I have noted with some dismay the boundaries of the proposed "eastern region". That phrase means nothing locally. The Government's region consists of the three core counties of East Anglia--the phrase we normally use--consisting of Norfolk, Suffolk and perhaps Cambridgeshire to which are added in the Government's scheme the counties of Essex, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire and four

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non-metropolitan districts. I find it difficult to identify many common purposes in an area with such disparate parts.

On the other hand, the three East Anglian counties have a good deal in common. They are predominantly rural and agricultural. They have suffered from the vicissitudes of farming, particularly at present, and from insufficient investment in the transport infrastructure. They share also a common economic constraint in being the driest part of England with a water resource inadequate to support a much larger population or major industrial development.

I can see that an economic region based on the three counties would make a lot of sense. It would be able to develop common policies based on the interests, views and ambitions which they share. But the other three counties--Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Essex--are quite different in character. West Essex and Hertfordshire are much closer to the metropolis and are greatly affected by being in the Greater London travel-to-work area. Therefore, I find it difficult to see how a region of such diverse characteristics as defined by the Government could develop a common strategy without prodigious efforts in relation to time, energy and tact.

There is also the disadvantage that the head office is to be in Bedford where the government office for the eastern region is located. Even the name of its acronym--GOER--has some exotic foreign ring about it. It sounds to me like somewhere in central Hungary. Indeed, contemplating the distances, Bedford is a long way away. It is a bit closer than Budapest, but not much.

I noted in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, the following significant passage. She said:

    "I am absolutely certain that my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister was right to decide at the outset that we should not be diverted from the main task in hand by disputes endlessly about boundaries"--[Official Report, 18/5/98; col. 1292.]
I take it that the grammar was that of her right honourable friend. I have no wish to be obstructive or to engage in such disputes, but if those agencies are to fulfil the responsibilities set out in the Bill, boundaries are important. After all, we are seeking to encourage the agencies to develop common policies and regional dynamism. Therefore, I consider that the suggestion made in Amendment No. 5 has some merit. I refer to the proposal for work by the Boundary Commission. We know the work of the Boundary Commission. It commands respect. Its decisions are much more likely to be accepted than something simply inserted into the Bill by the Government. Even if the Boundary Commission were to accept a solution like that proposed in the Bill, it would command far more acceptance if that body were the source and authority for the decision.

Baroness Hamwee: It is well known that on these Benches, we have considerable concerns about the composition of many of the regions. I have a great deal of sympathy for many of the comments that have been made. With regard to the Isle of Wight, it is ironic that it has difficulty with being part of the south-east region while Bournemouth and Poole, as I understand it, are to go into the south-west but have a considerable wish to

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be part of the south-east rather than the south-west for those purposes. One can find examples all round the country.

However, there is a clear decision to be made. Are the boundaries to be as near perfect as the Boundary Commission or any other entity can make them before the regional development agencies get going with their important work or should their work be enabled to start, with the possibility, as we would wish to see, of reviewing the boundaries in the future?

We have never felt that the areas which were under the aegis of the government offices were the right areas, although I cannot accept the argument that they were formed for something entirely different for the purposes of this Bill. I have always seen the delivery of services and issues of accountability and democracy as very closely inter-related. The government offices formed by the last government were for the administration of central government. However, central government delivered services just as much as regional government will do in the future and as local government does at present. Therefore, we hear with some interest the comments made in some quarters about the composition of the regions. However, we should wish to see the work of the agencies starting as soon as possible.

4 p.m.

Lord Whitty: I am minded to remark that one of my greatest mistakes when I was General Secretary of the Labour Party--and there were many--was to try to change the regional boundaries of the party. My noble friend Lord Dormand will no doubt recall the reaction in the north-east when we tried to subsume it in Yorkshire.

Boundaries are always an extremely delicate matter. The boundaries that we have proposed here cannot be ideal for all circumstances. They will provoke some resentment. But they are boundaries which already exist.

Perhaps I may begin by correcting something which the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, said and trying to clear up a slight misunderstanding on another point which was made. First, the RDA boundaries are precisely those of the government offices now because Merseyside has already, as a government office, been incorporated into the North West.

It is true that we have started advertising for members of the boards of the RDAs and have appointed a chairman designate for those boards. But in no sense, apart from the chairs, have we made any definitive decisions. We shall not be making any appointments of other board members on the basis of these boundaries or any other aspect of the functions of the RDAs. We are not, therefore, pre-empting parliamentary scrutiny in this House and possibly again in another place before we make any such appointments. We have started that process because it is sensible to do so, but it will take some time to go through what is now required for such public appointments. We shall be considering those applications, but no appointment apart from the chairs will be made. I thought I should clarify that point.

The substance of this debate is whether we have chosen the right boundaries for the RDA purpose, though we have spilt over slightly into the earlier debate

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from time to time. I am glad that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bridges, recognises that there is a difference between the past Leninist approach of the former government in terms of "top-down" use of government offices as the arms of Whitehall and the regional development agencies concept which is very much a regionally-based initiative. But in both cases they relate, to a large extent, to the same economic and industrial infrastructure and the same questions of administrative convenience. Nothing is ideal, but the administrative convenience of the government offices does not seem to us to provoke any reasons for changing the boundaries of the RDAs at this point.

The boundaries of the government offices have been accepted by previous governments and by this one. They are also based on local authority boundaries which themselves, by and large, reflect historic identities. People in the regions, particularly business people, are familiar with the areas involved. We think it makes sense at this point to base the RDAs on them.

We are not suggesting that they are immutable. Indeed, as the noble Lord has indicated, Clause 25 provides a means of changing them. As a result of listening to the opinions of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee we have proposed that any changes would be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny by affirmative resolution. So we are providing for some change in future.

It is also important to recognise that we do not regard these boundaries as being Chinese walls. We expect RDAs to co-operate with each other in addressing issues which extend across their boundaries as the government offices and regional partners already do. In particular there is co-operation for example, on the Thames Gateway between three of the regions designated in the Bill and co-operation between at least two and sometimes three or four regions on trans-Pennine issues.

So there are means of co-operation across boundaries. To have a further review at this stage would not, in our view, be in anybody's interest, least of all those regional stakeholders, businesses and others, who are already working together in the shadow regions where they have traditionally found it less than easy to do so. The imminence of the RDAs has led to a substantial amount of co-operation.

The process of a further review would, in our judgment, place an unnecessary strain on those relationships which are still in the process of being developed and would fuel old disagreements and new rivalries within those regions. Any delay would, in our view, jeopardise the goodwill that has already been shown so positively to the Government's proposals on RDAs.

Amendments Nos. 2 to 5 and the deletion of Schedule 1, as proposed by the noble Lord, would place the decisions on the boundaries in the hands of the Boundary Commission. We do not consider that to be appropriate. Although I take very much the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about the appropriateness of the Boundary Commission for reviewing electoral constituencies, we are not involved with electoral

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constituencies or bodies of democratic accountability here; we are dealing with development agencies and the administrative areas of those development agencies. It would not be appropriate, given the expertise and the system of working that the Boundary Commission has adopted in the past, to apply it to this area.

We understand that some of the concerns behind this proposition relate to the presumption discussed on the earlier amendments that we were using the same boundaries for future purposes. I hope I have made clear my assurances on that.

Moreover, passing responsibility to the Boundary Commission, even if it were appropriate, would lead to yet a further delay. The Boundary Commission does a thorough job, but it takes a long time. It would not be appropriate, and I think would be most unwelcome in those regions which have greeted with such enthusiasm the proposals for RDAs and positively responded to the opportunity that RDAs will give their regions.

There is a specific point in Amendment No. 4 which concerns Clause 1(3). That subsection provides that:

    "Any reference in Schedule 1 to a local government or administrative area is to that area as it is for the time being".
That subsection therefore ensures that when a local government administrative area is changed, the change will automatically follow through to an RDA area. The amendment would stop such changes carrying through to changes to RDA boundaries. That, surely, is not sensible.

Points have been raised in relation to particular regional problems. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, spoke eloquently about the Isle of Wight. I recognise the correspondence he referred to from my honourable friend, the Minister for Regions, Regeneration and Planning, Mr. Dick Caborn. Clearly, there is an important role for the RDA in attracting investment for the whole of the south east region and that must include the Isle of Wight.

We have made it clear that RDAs take an integrated approach to their work. They take account of all parts of the region. One of the intentions behind the RDA is to spread prosperity across the region and not to concentrate it solely in a few areas of that region. In our view the Isle of Wight will be a prime beneficiary of that approach rather than missing out, as the noble Lord seemed to say in some of his remarks. It is important that rural and urban areas, fringe and central areas of the region are treated equally and with due respect in terms of the development and regeneration task of the agencies.

In relation to the hints the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, gave of the constitutional position of the Isle of Wight, I think that is probably a little beyond the scope of the Bill. I am not sure whether he is suggesting that it should have equivalent status to the Isle of Man, Jersey or whatever. As I understand it, as a unitary authority it has similar status already to Orkney and Shetland. But I think that is probably beyond us today. I do assure the noble Lord that the economic

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development of the region as a whole, of which the Isle of Wight is an important part, would be the responsibility of the RDA for that region.

He also referred, I regret to say, to a map produced by my department. I can only grovellingly apologise to the noble Lord for this utterly deplorable geographical error. I am assured that it is due to "technical problems". It says here-- "low resolution of the maps and slight printing inconsistencies". I hope the noble Lord takes that to heart. I am also assured that larger versions of that very same map show the Isle of Wight clearly to be separated from the mainland.

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