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Lord Bowness: I thank the noble Lord for giving way, and I really do not want to detain the Committee. I hear what he says and I will read very carefully what has been said, but I would ask: what is the purpose of the delegation if in fact it is going to be so restrictive? Clause 4, as interpreted, could allow almost any function of any Minister to be applied to any of the subsections of Clause 4. So, although the Minister seems to be suggesting that my worries are misplaced because the delegation is already limited, in fact the delegations could be very widespread indeed and I shall be grateful
Lord Whitty: The delegations would relate to those purposes in Clause 4 in the area of the RDA: in other words, those powers which the Secretary of State already has to promote employment could be devolved to the RDA, for the RDA to carry out. Regarding the responsibilities which I think the noble Lord raised earlier as to the allocation of funds between local authorities, they could not be so allocated: nor could the Secretary of State's transport functions or planning functions in the normal sense of the words. I hope what I have said explains that.
Regarding the noble Lord's question on Clause 6(4)(b), I do agree that this is slightly confusing and I will read out the advice I have got, which may probably meet some of his points but not all of them, in which case I will write to the noble Lord. Delegation does not require the same consent--the consent of the RDA, that is--if the same delegation is given to each RDA in the same terms. That refers clearly to the previous clause or subsection. Variation does not require consent if the same variation is made to a delegation which is made to each RDA in the same terms. The purpose of that is to prevent the Secretary of State singling out individual RDAs for unfavourable treatment or to prevent a single RDA from preventing general delegations from being made or varied. I hope that is clear. If it is not, I will write to the noble Lord.
Lord Bowness: I am grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation. I certainly will not press the amendment but I am not sure that that is what Clause 6(4)(b) actually says. I accept what the noble Lord says--that that is what it is meant to say--but I do not think it means it.
Lord Whitty: If the noble Lord will allow me, I will write to him on this point. Amendment No. 28 would require--this again refers to the noble Baroness's amendment--that the RDA is consulted before any delegation is revoked. I completely understand and sympathise with the intentions prompting this amendment. However, we would not want there to be a statutory duty to consult RDAs in every case before revoking a delegation. In practice I have absolutely no doubt that such consultation would take place in the vast majority of cases. The revocation of a delegation would normally follow a lengthy dialogue with RDAs or with the individual RDA concerned, and indeed, where substantive functions were involved, clearly staff and property transfers would arise, so consultation would need to take place. Nevertheless it is conceivable that there would be circumstances where it would be important for Ministers to act without delay. These would be exceptional circumstances and it would be necessary for Ministers to explain them, but I can assure your Lordships that Ministers would not act unreasonably in this respect. However, they would wish to resist a formal statutory requirement to consult in all cases, again to preserve the necessary flexibility for exceptional cases.
Similarly, regarding Amendment No. 29, which was put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, this would require a report to be made to each House before any individual delegation was made. I assume that this amendment is intended simply to ensure open government, and of course the Government should be open about what it is asking RDAs to do. However, I do not believe that requiring a single separate report to Parliament on each decision is the best way of ensuring this. In some circumstances the House may already be aware of the intention--for example, our intention already announced of delegating the single regeneration budget--in which case there would not be a need for such a report to be made. This does not mean that we are trying to exercise this delegation power in secret. Obviously we would wish to inform not only both Houses but other interested parties. However, we would not wish to be restricted to the particular method of a parliamentary report upon each individual delegation.
Perhaps I may turn now to the substantive point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Arran, relating to the TECs and Business Links. He put his case very eloquently, and there is much in what he said, but, as the Government have said on many occasions, we think that the functions we are giving to the RDAs, at least at their inception, will provide them with a sufficiently challenging agenda. We do not propose to transfer to them all the functions that are currently carried out by the Government Offices, including those relating to TECs and Business Links. As I have mentioned, the Government's approach is designed to maximise the effectiveness of the RDAs and to ensure that they play a key role in improving the performance of both TECs and Business Links and help us achieve our vision: both of them. However, that does not require them at this stage to take over direct responsibility for TECs and oversight of Business Links.
I contend that that does not mean, as the noble Lord, Lord Newby, suggested, that we are doing nothing. I deny also that the effect of the TECs is simply to produce hairdressers. I am not sure whether supply creates its own demand in the north-east. They have noticeably shorter haircuts in the north-east. That is a rather trivial representation of the work of the TECs. They have done some very important work in improving skills regionally and locally.
At present we are reviewing the future role, purpose and funding framework of the TECs to give them a clearer focus. For the time being, we intend that TECs' contracts and budgets will be managed by the government offices. We have said that we shall reflect further on that issue after the TEC review. But the consultation on that review finished only a few days ago. We shall consider the responses and, in the light of them, we shall decide whether a different approach is warranted.
The point as regards this Bill is that if a decision were made in the future to give the RDAs responsibility for TEC contracting and budgeting, which is the important point, we have the flexibility already provided by Clause 6 to delegate those powers. A similar situation
Therefore, the question of timing is not decided by the inclusion of specific powers within this Bill nor by what is on the face of the Bill nor, I hasten to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Newby, on the article in the Financial Times for that matter. Those decisions have yet to be taken. In the meantime, RDAs will have the core role of developing a regional economic strategy for their region and will need to develop those in close liaison with both TECs and Business Links. Clearly education skills and employability are central to the development of regional economic performance and to the RDAs' strategy. They will need to develop that in conjunction with business, industry, trade unions, TECs, Business Links, local authorities and further and higher education. The package of functions that we have given to the RDAs is, immediately and without managerial oversight of the TECs, challenging but realistic.
In managing the TECs and Business Link contracts, government offices will still need to take account of the strategic framework developed by RDAs and therefore there is a continuous interchange between the RDAs and the TECs.
I hope that with those reassurances and indications on earlier amendments that the text of the Bill already provides for the intention behind the amendments, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Hamwee: Before I deal with my amendments, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, has a point in relation to Amendment No. 25. Clause 4, which the Minister has explained will govern delegation and restrict it, is extremely wide. I accept that making grants to local authorities is unlikely to fall within it but the other examples which he used of transport and planning could well come within Clause 4. Therefore, I hope that that point may be pursued later.
I note what the Minister said on Amendment No. 28. If there is an urgency in dealing with the revocation without consultation, I suspect that it may be more to do with the chair and the members of the authority and whether their appointment is terminated than with the particular function. However, that is another matter.
With regard to Amendment No. 24, I shall read what the Minister said but it seems to me that the suggestion is being made that whoever is delegating the function will be absolving himself from responsibility. I should have thought that the responsibility remained with the Minister of the Crown. I certainly did not intend to remove it. Surely as a matter of accountability, that is where responsibility lies. My drafting was not intended to undo that. I was making the very same point that the function remains with the Minister, although he may delegate how it is to be carried out. However, I shall read what has been said and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.