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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: In politics there is occasionally an all-pervasive sense of deja vu. As someone who was born in the Midland region and has lived for over 30 years in the north-west, much of my political life has been spent facing people who live in the London region who claim that those who live in other regions do not know where they are. Presumably we never get home because we do not know in which direction to go. I should like to place on record that I do not live in Kent; I never get lost going home to the north-west region by mistaking it for Kent; and I have yet to meet anyone from Kent who sets off home towards Lancashire. I say that as an aside. I occasionally become defensive, because we do know that there are regions; we live in them. We know that those regions share interests that are more similar than the interests which they share with, for example, the region in which the noble Baroness lives.

Amendment No. 32 would require an RDA to consult every local authority within its region before formulating or revising its regional strategy. The RDAs' strategies will be meaningful only if they command the support of the region. To do this it will be essential for the RDAs to involve a wide range of regional interests in the development of their strategies--not only local authorities, important though they are, but also business, the voluntary sector, trade unions, further and higher education and many others.

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RDAs will need to carry the regions with them when producing and implementing their strategies and will need to ensure that the region can come together behind the priorities and goals identified in the strategy. They will therefore want to develop a partnership approach to this work. Therefore we expect the RDAs to want to involve local authorities in their strategic work. In addition to this, the RDAs will hear the collective views of local authorities and other partners through designated regional chambers provided for in Clause 8 of the RDAs Bill. The Secretary of State can designate a chamber for the region to provide a focus for consultation and scrutiny of the RDA's work. We have identified a number of criteria for designation of a chamber, one of which is that the majority of members should be representatives of local authorities. The Bill provides specifically that RDAs must have regard to any views expressed by the chamber when formulating and reviewing their strategies.

Amendment No. 36 would add to the face of the Bill a requirement for the Secretary of State to consult all local authorities in the region on guidance and directions issued to RDAs in relation to their strategies. The Bill places a general duty on the Secretary of State to consult with the RDAs before guidance or directions are issued; and in another place Ministers made commitments to consult others with an interest in the guidance, where appropriate.

I can give the noble Baroness and other noble Lords the assurance she sought that when we launch the consultation on the draft guidance to RDAs on the strategies, which, as we have said, we hope will be very shortly, we shall consult with the Local Government Association at the national level and, at the regional level, all the government offices will consult with their constituent local authorities. We do not, however, want to make this a statutory requirement. It is not necessary, or desirable, to put on the face of the Bill detailed requirements which, as a matter of good administrative practice, government and the RDAs will follow. I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: I thank the noble Baroness for her answer and in doing so express my regret and apologise to both Ministers opposite for the fact that I have not thanked them for any of the courteous answers which they have given me. I was so upset at not getting my own way that I dashed ahead without thanking them for the care and courtesy of their answers. I hope they will take it that I thank them for all the previous answers they have given me.

I have listened carefully to the words of the noble Baroness. I hope that when we see the guidance on the strategy we shall have the assurance that we seek. I am sure that that will happen because the noble Baroness has said so. However, like other members of the Committee who have spoken this evening, I very much hope that the guidance appears, even if not in complete detail, before Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 33 to 37 not moved].

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Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [Regional consultation]:

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns moved Amendment No. 38:

Page 3, line 41, after ("of") insert ("all").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 38 and speak also to Amendments Nos. 39 and 41 which are grouped with it. Clause 8 makes provision for the designation of a regional chamber for an agency and for an agency to consult the chamber on its functions. The Secretary of State may give guidance and directions about consultation where there is no chamber in existence. Subsection (1) provides that the Secretary of State may designate a body within a region as an agency's regional chamber if he is of the opinion that it is representative of those in the area with an interest in the work of the agency.

The intention of Amendments Nos. 38 and 39 is to ensure that before the Secretary of State designates a body as a regional chamber he must be of the opinion that it is representative of all those in the RDA's area including the rural parts. Amendment No. 41 would give regional chambers a remit which it is hoped would be identical to that given to RDAs under Clause 4(2), which provides:

    "A regional development agency's purposes apply as much in relation to the rural parts of its area as in relation to the non-rural parts of its area".
The Government properly provide in Clause 4(2) that the needs of rural areas are considered to be of equal weight to those of other areas. I believe that the Government have got the wording right in that provision. I am trying not to say that the Government are right but it is being dragged out of me. I seek to persuade the Government to get it right again. Perhaps in view of the words of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, I hope for too much. Just as it is appropriate to include that proviso within Clause 4, I hope that the Government accept that in Clause 8(2) it is also appropriate to refer to rural areas. I beg to move.

Baroness Maddock: Perhaps I may speak to Amendment No. 49. My noble friend Lady Hamwee moved a similar amendment to Clause 7, which is concerned with strategy whereas Clause 8 relates to regional consultation. My noble friend and other noble Lords on these Benches are very concerned about access to and freedom of information. I do not need to say other than that this is a very similar amendment to the one moved to the other clause. I am sure that the Minister will make similar remarks in reply.

Lord Whitty: This is a little difficult. The points that have been raised are valid but they are not really relevant to this Bill. This Bill does not seek to legislate for or institutionalise regional chambers. All it does is to require regional development agencies which are the subject of this Bill to consult chambers where they exist in regional form.

The amendments appear to be directed at the constitution and method of operation of regional chambers and are not relevant to the Bill. If I say more,

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I shall fall into the same trap. However, I shall say a little more. The reality is that Amendments Nos. 38 to 49, and one subsequent amendment, are not relevant in that sense. We do not seek to use the Bill on RDAs to introduce by the back-door the legislative framework for regional chambers. Those will develop at different paces region by region. Our approach is to build up voluntary arrangements. The Bill provides that while such a chamber exists, it can be given a role in relation to an RDA provided it meets certain general criteria.

In an earlier debate I set out the Government's position on our admittedly ultimate aim: to move decentralisation of decision-making to regional assemblies in England where there is a demand for that step. But that, as well as the half-way stage to that which regional chambers may represent, is for another Bill at another time, and certainly not for debate tonight.

Having said that, let me address the amendment. Amendments Nos. 38, 39 and 41 specifically apply the chamber's remit to the rural as well as the non-rural parts of its area. That is not the purpose of the Bill. However, the relationship between the chamber and the RDA arises out of the activities that the RDA is to undertake. As provided in the Bill, the RDA's activities are expressly prescribed to apply as much in relation to the rural parts of its area as in relation to its non-rural parts and we would expect the chamber in its dealings with the RDA similarly to have regard to the RDA's activities.

The clause relates to the RDA's input to the chambers and the feedback that the RDA receives from the chambers. That will be defined by the responsibilities of the RDA and not the responsibilities of the chambers for which we do not have to provide in the Bill.

I can assure noble Lords that we believe the regional chamber in its activities should have regard to the rural and non-rural parts. It is not relevant to prescribe it in that way in the Bill.

On Amendments Nos. 38 and 39, in the light of what I have said about the chambers, the Committee will understand why we do not think it necessary or right to amend the Bill in this form. The chamber must include representatives of the full range of regional interests. That is what is being developed region by region at present. But if the numbers are kept to a sensible level, they cannot include everyone who might claim to have an interest. At this point, the regional partners are going through a quite difficult process of organising their membership arrangements for the different regional chambers. There is no prescription which applies to all regions, and nor should there be. It is inevitable that in some cases contact with chambers may be one stage removed for certain of those local bodies. For example, there may be room in the chamber for one or two people representing voluntary groups but not for every voluntary group which operates at regional level.

Amendment No. 41 deals with the rural and non-rural parts of the area. We expect a chamber to operate in that way. I am sorry to be repetitive, but again the provision is not appropriate in the Bill. That also applies to the provision on freedom of information. Leaving aside my earlier arguments about whether one can trust the Home Secretary

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to produce freedom of information legislation which would apply to RDAs in the future, it would not be sensible for us to prescribe in the Bill the freedom of information requirements on the regional chambers. Clearly we wish the chambers to be open and to subscribe to the general principles of freedom of information. But again that is a constitutional and administrative determination of the chambers which is not appropriate for this clause. Noble Lords will have noted my previous commitments on the RDAs as regards freedom of information. That would certainly apply to the exchange of information between the RDAs and the chambers.

I hope that, with that explanation of why we may return to those issues at a later stage in a different Bill, the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment despite her good intentions.

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