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Baroness Hamwee: I wonder what Hereford had learnt from the Mappa Mundi in the city, but my noble friend tells me that it belongs to the cathedral and not the diocese. I do not know whether that is relevant.

I wish to make a point that I have made to the Minister privately. It relates to the great experience gained by members of the national parks authorities. My noble friend referred to the national parks. I understand that they have a great deal of experience of regeneration and reconciling that with sustainability, environmental protection and so forth.

I do not advocate the appointment of members who come from national parks authorities. Indeed, I have a great deal of sympathy with the suggestion that people should not be appointed on a representative basis. However, I hope that that point can be made and that we shall not lose such expertise.

I find the point about London interesting. It will be most important that the London development agency understands the strains which London imposes on what I believe is arrogantly called "the rest of the south-east". There is something to be said for consideration of such experience being brought into the London agency. I appreciate that London is not on today's agenda, but it is a point which may be worth returning to in that context.

Lord Wade of Chorlton: Like many Members of the Committee, I am a strong supporter of the need to have a strong and vital rural economy. But I emphasise the point about the economy. If we draw attention to the arguments put forward by Members around the House, it is that the economic development agencies must appreciate the importance of the rural economy within their regions. We have mentioned some of the urban areas where that does not apply, but the vast majority rise or fall on the ability of their rural economy to be effective.

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The Bill states that the purpose of the regional development agency shall be:


    ""to further the economic development and the regeneration of its area ... to promote business efficiency, investment and competitiveness in its area ... to promote employment in its area ... to enhance the development and application of skills relevant to employment in its area".
Members of the Committee have referred to the serious problems which exist in many areas of our rural economy. Many are experiencing the worst situation they have seen, perhaps not entirely in my lifetime but for a large part of it. The way to address the problem is by addressing the issues to which I have referred and are contained in the Bill. I would like the Minister to assure us that the agency as a whole and all its members will have it made clear to them that they are responsible for the whole economy in their area and that the Minister is assured that there will be the skills within it to understand the issues.

I am rather nervous about the concept of even the rural areas laying down that there must be somebody there with specific skills and interests. I am not interested within this particular agency to have somebody there to protect the interests of the rural community. I want somebody there who wants to make them all as rich as those who live in the urban areas. Can we get assurances from the Minister that we will have development agencies that understand, as much as anything, the relationship between the urban and the rural?

I am not putting forward arguments which divide the two entities; I am putting forward arguments which actually show how they can probably work better together within the overall interests of the area. That will create wealth for both sectors and drive their economies. By learning from and using the skills of the one and applying them in the other, the development agencies will do the most good for the whole of their regions, be they rural or be they urban.

Lord Grantchester: I have considerable sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns. I underline and agree that board members should be nominated for their personal qualities and not as any representative. It is difficult to understand how the merits and importance of the rural economy will be understood without people having had direct experience in it.

I endorse the comments made by other noble Lords on this point. I would add one of my own. Regeneration through European structural funds will fall within the regional development agencies' jurisdiction. At present aid is available to rural areas under Objectives 5A and 5B, with urban areas coming under Objective 2. Under Agenda 2000 proposals, the new single measure, the new Objective 2, will encompass both urban and rural aid.

Each RDA must ensure that rural issues will have sufficient prominence and that the integration of town and country is embraced through an equitable advance

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of funding. This can be assured by a member with rural experience. I will listen with great interest to how these concerns will be met by my noble friend the Minister.

Lord Patten: Amendment No. 7 is particularly powerful and deserves the strong consideration of the Government. I have three points to make. The first is to repeat something I have said on an earlier occasion in your Lordships' House. In this country we have two nations--the overwhelming urban and suburban nation and a very small, scattered and diffuse rural nation.

If the rural voice is not specifically heard on the RDAs there will be in that decision the clearest possible signal to people who live in the countryside that their voice is not particularly of interest in the new and modern Britain in which we live, and that the Government do not wish to listen to the voice of the authentic and proper rural interest.

My second point concerns social exclusion. I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has set up a social exclusion unit at No. 10. I have said that before in this House. It is a thoroughly good thing. It is unfortunate that thus far the social exclusion unit has done so little specifically in relation to problems of rural exclusion.

I listened recently to a sociologist. Normally when I hear the word sociologist I reach for my gun. On this occasion it was Professor Howard Newby, the Vice-Chancellor of Southampton University, who is wisdom on stilts and is probably Western Europe's greatest rural sociologist. He told me that he estimates that half a million people in England alone living in the countryside, by conventional measures of income and other issues, can be taken to be deprived and excluded.

These people have a very rough time. If one looks at urban areas there are housing estates which are thought of as deprived. But people can walk out and go to an employment agency next door; they can go to a doctor's surgery; they can go to a leisure centre; they can go to a hospital. In the countryside people are often without transport and very many miles from those facilities.

Equally, the way to lift such people out of the problems which they face is to increase their income. Sometimes there are just two or three families in villages, scattered throughout England. To increase their income is critically important. That is the one thing--the one factor, as the sociologists refer to it--that we should be addressing. Who should be helping them with this? Who should be focusing on what we can do through an RDA to bring more employment into a region that covers not just the towns but the countryside? It should be the RDAs. They need an authentically rural voice to represent the countryside.

Thirdly and lastly, it may seem a minority interest but much that the RDAs may cause to happen--changes that they may promote through their economic and other activities--will have an effect on the rural landscape. We need a voice--sometimes a cautionary and calming voice--on RDAs which can represent not a preservationist or elitist view of the countryside but a sensible and pragmatic view of the way in which men and women have made the countryside what it is over

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generations. It is their efforts which will help to preserve the beauties of the countryside and the amenities which urban dwellers find so valuable. I hope that the noble Lord will think very hard about accepting or bringing back Amendment No. 7 and its cousins at a later stage in the Bill.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Bowness: I support the amendments moved by my noble friend Lady Anelay of St. Johns. It is clear that while one appreciates the reluctance of the Government to have on the face of the Bill specific interests--we have seen that in the discussion on local authority interests--it is of great importance that the rural interest is recognised. That has been expressed by many noble Lords this afternoon.

If one looks at the composition of the various proposed development agencies--with, indeed, the exception of London, as has already been referred to--it is very clear that, within the limited number of representatives that will be available, the interests described in the Bill and the activities assigned to the agencies within the Bill are in grave danger of being predominantly urban. The competition that will come from businesses and, indeed, the local authorities within the urban areas to dominate and take the places on the development agency will be very great unless this safeguard is written into the Bill.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I rise with some trepidation to reply to the wide-ranging debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, rather reminded me of the general flavour of the beginning of term with her reference to those things which I had failed to do. I remembered the words of the starting hymn at school at the beginning of the school year. I apologise in advance for any such omissions I may make tonight and promise, as seriously as I always promised my head teacher, that I will try to do better. I will rectify any omissions in writing afterwards.

I am very grateful for the opportunity that these amendments present to set out the Government's intentions with regard to the composition of RDA boards. The contributions to the debate that we have heard clearly indicate that getting board membership right will be crucial to the success of the RDAs.

Appointments will be made on merit. We will choose those people who are committed to the values of public service and who have experience in areas relevant to the work of the RDA and who can make an effective contribution to the board. The White Paper stated our intention to avoid a fixed composition of sectional or sectoral interest. We are looking for candidates who can bring a range of experience to the board, in particular those who combine experience across a number of sectoral interests within a region.

As has been said, in relation to local government members of boards, we do not intend that more board members should be seen as delegates of individual organisations. However, we have also made clear in the White Paper that RDAs will have a specific remit to

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serve the rural areas of their regions and that outside of London--the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, and other noble Lords raised this issue--each RDA board will include at least one member who can contribute a strong rural perspective--more in regions with larger rural areas. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford identified the diversity of regions outside London.

As my noble friend Lord Grantchester indicated, it is extremely important that we develop a role--we are not sure precisely what that role will be--for the RDAs in relation to structural funds in the light of the Commission's proposals for the structural funds in the year 2000 and beyond, but also a role in the context of those involved in the judgments, understanding fully the particular balance that needs to be maintained between the different parts eligible for funding. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Patten, that it is important that all of us looking at the needs of rural and urban communities recognise that social exclusion is not confined to large inner-city areas. The scale of the problem may be greater but the experience of the pain and the difficulties may be very deep for the individuals and the smaller number of families in rural areas. That is precisely why my right honourable friend Mr. Morley is considering how to make certain that access to health, our transport strategy and other developments reflect a recognition of the needs of rural areas. I could not agree with the noble Lord more if he was saying that the Government's commitment to family income and income support through our income tax proposals and through the minimum wage proposals are recognised as being relevant to rural areas.

Having said that, I think it is important that we recognise that by giving specific board members a simple label--the rural person or the environmental person--we will marginalise them or at the very least run the risk of marginalising them. If they were appointed specifically and solely because of their rural contribution, would they feel able to play a full role in the whole range of policy development on other issues that come before the board? It is also important that those who come with a particular detailed, specific and guaranteed rural depth of knowledge are able to benefit from the experience of other members of the board which may be highly complementary in developing these policies. We want to ensure that all board members recognise, as the noble Lord, Lord Wade, said, the needs of all parts of the region and work together in those respects.

The noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, stressed a minimum need. We have recognised that in our commitment to ensure that outside London at least one board member will have that background, but we must also recognise that it would not be sufficient on its own. The interests of the rural community need to be recognised and developed in partnership with the urban and suburban communities.

The noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, asked specifically about future funding of rural community councils. They will continue to be funded, whether by the RDAs or the new Countryside Agency, to be formed by the merger of the RDC and the Countryside

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Commission. Rural regeneration funds inherited by RDAs from the RDC will be separately allocated. I hope that gives the degree of assurance that was sought.

Amendment No. 7 would place the Secretary of State under a statutory obligation to appoint at least one member with direct experience of rural matters. We have sympathy with the aims behind the amendment, but to put it on the face of the Bill would take us down the road of labelling and marginalising a specific member. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, indicated that the environmental needs, background and expertise may not be exactly coterminous with the interests of the rural community in a different economic sense. We very quickly start to look at members being described in a particular way--quite narrowly and specifically--rather than seeking to get the best and the broadest representation possible.

In order to reflect the right balance of regional interests in the composition of boards, several members may be required to contribute experience in more than one field. So we may need to find someone who combines experience of rural matters and environmental matters. However, the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, demonstrate that there may be occasions when there is a difference. We may be faced with the task of finding someone who has that rare quality of being able to combine the interests of both. For that reason, we need to be careful in determining specifically, narrowly and precisely the individual membership. However, to avoid any misunderstanding, I stress that we have given a guarantee that outside London the board will include at least one member who can contribute a strong rural perspective.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked about the national parks. The national park authorities contain a wealth of good experience and expertise. We would expect the RDAs to draw upon that expertise as they take forward their own work. Perhaps I may say in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Patten, that I know of at least two people from my past background and experience in local government who could combine environmental, rural, local authority and national park aspects. So it is possible that the kind of points I have been making about overlapping interests could be relevant in many cases.

I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St. Johns, that we will consider the need for a background in rural matters in making appointments and will ensure that rural interests are represented on the board. We are encouraged in that by the good response to our request for nominations. I can also assure her that, as well as bringing rural experience to the board, we will be providing guidance to the RDA boards as a whole as to how they should take account of rural interests in their work.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford drew attention to the extremely important aspect of ensuring that everything possible is done to recognise the needs of all parts of a region. I am sure the right reverend Prelate will forgive me if I do not expand any further but just take note of his point on SSAs.

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Amendment No. 9 deals with the issue of rural experience on the RDA boards. We feel that the large response we have had in terms of nominations has encompassed responses from people with rural interests who are interested in board membership. We could not make good our commitment to bring rural expertise to the board had we not advertised widely across all those bodies in a position to appoint. We think it is important to state that it is our intention to do this both with current and future appointments. Therefore the amendment is not necessary.

It is also important, with regard to Amendment No. 10, that it is not just those who represent the concerns of local communities in rural areas that we consulted about board membership. Let me assure your Lordships that we consulted numerous groups representing a wide variety of interests about board appointments. The provision in subsection (3)(a) offers only a general guide to the type of organisations to be consulted, and I do not think the amendment would add greatly to the Bill as it stands. I can assure your Lordships that all relevant groups and sectors have been invited to nominate candidates this time round and we shall be seeking further nominations from them and from any new interest groups when making future appointments.

As I have explained with regard to Amendment No. 11, the provision in subsection (3)(a) again offers a general guide to the type of organisations to be consulted. I do not think it would add greatly to the Bill to attempt to list every sector which has an interest in the work of the RDA in order that they may be represented. Actually the one thing that would ensure would be that something was left out and was therefore deemed not to be important. However, I can assure your Lordships that those representing environmental interests were among the people from whom nominations for board membership have been sought, and these have been given.

In urging that the amendments are withdrawn, and at the risk of causing problems involving your Lordships' patience, I think it would help--because many future amendments refer to the needs of rural communities and how the RDAs will deal with them--if I were to give the Committee some information on the draft guidance to RDAs on rural issues. Concern has been voiced about the special needs of the rural areas. The RDAs' purpose is to look after the needs of their whole area, rural and urban, but they will have a specific remit to have regard to the needs of the rural areas, and at least one member of the board will have that knowledge and expertise. RDAs will design rural development programmes targeted on their most deprived areas--a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Patten.

They will monitor, consult and report on rural problems and on how the agency is tackling them. The funds they inherit from the RDC will continue to be spent in rural areas. On a working level, staff engaged in rural regeneration activities in the RDC will transfer to the RDAs, and this will provide them with the valuable support that they need. The Secretary of State proposes to issue guidance to the RDAs about the regional strategies they are required to produce under

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Clause 7 of the Bill. We shall shortly be conducting a public consultation on the draft. I hope the draft will be available before we reach the Report stage of this Bill. A copy of it will be placed in the Library and the draft guidance will not be overly prescriptive. We want the regional strategies to be produced and owned by the RDAs and their regions. The draft guidance, however, will make it clear that a regional strategy should take account of the particular features of the region's rural areas.

There is more that Members of the Committee can learn during the course of this stage of the Bill about the proposal for consultation on specific guidance. I hope that in the light of this information the noble Lords who moved the amendment will feel confident and be able to withdraw it.

6 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: When I spoke earlier in the debate on these amendments I suggested that I would listen with care to what the Government had to say about the arguments that if a person was selected just for rural interests and experience in rural matters they might be sidelined. I have listened with great interest and I do not think I am the slightest bit convinced, partly because, as the Government have been saying time and time again--and we certainly believe them--they are going for people who are outstanding in their own way and who will actually have many interests and will be there on their own merits.

Secondly, I do not see that there is any necessity-- I stand open to correction--concerning the person who is appointed under this amendment for direct experience in rural matters to be actually named. There is no reason why he should be picked out. The Government have already said that they propose to appoint people for everywhere except London, and I shall come on to London in a second. They propose to appoint people, everywhere except London, with experience but they are not going to tell us who those people are and they do not want us to put it on the face of the Bill, but if we do put it on the face of the Bill I do not see that that person will necessarily be marginalised and that everyone else will be absolved from responsibility.

I rather hope that Amendment No. 7 can be put on the face of the Bill. Regarding London, London of course needs rural experience. Every great city should have its hinterland represented in its government, and the fact that London has become the great wen and so enormous that it does not really have any hinterland in its region does not mean that that hinterland should not be represented; and so I would not exclude London from this, and I very much hope that this amendment will be incorporated into the Bill.


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