Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Anelay of St. Johns: I thank the Minister for his courteous and full reply. I found helpful the Government's expectations of how the chamber will operate. However, I accept his explanation that my amendment may not be appropriate for this Bill. I promise that, if we are both in our respective places when a Bill comes forward with regard to the chambers, we shall return to the subject. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 39 not moved.]

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 40:


Page 4, line 3, after ("may") insert (", subject to subsection (4),").

The noble Baroness said: I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 40 and 48. My noble friend Lord Bowness will speak to Amendment No. 47.

Amendment No. 40 is a paving amendment in order to make subsection (1) subject to the provisions of the proposed new subsection (4). The purpose of that subsection, proposed in Amendment No. 48, is to rectify an omission by the Government of something which they said they intended to include in the Bill.

The Bill was preceded by a White Paper entitled Building Partnerships for Prosperity, published last December. Chapter 11 provides for the setting up of regional chambers which the White Paper describes as:


Paragraph 11.4 states that the Government propose four criteria,


    "for the equitable involvement of all the regional partners".
The most excellent Notes on Clauses, which were published by the department in order to assist in the perusal of the Bill, record the Government's intention to build on the voluntary chamber's arrangements and refer

7 Oct 1998 : Column 534

to the four criteria set out in the White Paper. Indeed, the Notes on Clauses go even further and add as two more criteria,


    "An appropriate gender and ethnic balance".
What is set out in the White Paper and added to in the Notes on Clauses, both of which set out the Government's intentions for the clause, is nowhere to be found in the Bill. That is what I meant when I referred a few moments ago to an omission by the Government.

If we look at the debate in Committee in another place, we find that my honourable friend the Member for South Suffolk asked a number of questions about how the political balance would be achieved and measured; about what industries the Secretary of State expected to see represented; and about how bodies expecting to be designated as regional chambers should change their present composition. Answer came there none. That was despite the fact that the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning was being pressed by my honourable friend.

However, we now have a typical manoeuvre by the Government. After the Bill had passed all its stages in another place and its Second Reading in your Lordships' House, and soon after Parliament recessed, a press notice was issued, therefore bypassing Parliament--and not for the first time in the past 18 months. It sets out,


    "The Government's Guidance for the General Principles of the Designation of Voluntary Regional Chambers".
That wordy title disguises the fact that the page and a half leaves more questions unanswered than it actually resolves. It implies that the membership should be drawn at least 70 per cent. from local authorities in the region. I certainly applaud that. Furthermore, it is proposed that the local authorities should reflect "some" representation from all the main parties, even if they may not be the party in control in any local authorities in the region. What proportion is "some"? What happens if the political make-up of a region changes? What chamber change would require a change in the proportions of political representation? What will the Minister do if a regional chamber refuses to alter its make-up? Will the Secretary of State have to de-recognise the chamber and start over again? What other influence and sanctions will the Secretary of State have over the composition of the chambers which he has already recognised?

The Government state that a chamber's constitution should apply for an open process of nomination of non-local authority members. I take that to mean that interested persons could nominate themselves. We would all applaud that, too. However, what happens if a major company or organisation in a region applies to be a member of the chamber--I am not talking about some inappropriate nominee--and that application is capriciously refused for some unacceptable reason; for example, opposition by some business competitor of the nominee, or for political reasons, or opposition by some lobbying group or another? Would the Secretary of State intervene? After having recognised a chamber, how will he influence its future composition within the guidelines?

7 Oct 1998 : Column 535

The Notes on Clauses to the Bill added two more criteria--to those in the White Paper, gender and ethnic balance. The press release has added yet another, disability. Does not that further afterthought prove that the whole concept of these regional chambers is something that has been cobbled together without having been properly thought out in advance? Does it not also prove that this concept of regional chambers is nothing but an exercise in political correctness to give the whole exercise a cosmetic appearance of consultation, whereas an RDA does not have to take any more notice of the recommendations of the chamber than the Secretary of State has to take of those of the RDA.

Let me make it clear, of course disabled persons and organisations representing them can be members of chambers, even though the press release also requires for


    "those not directly consulted to make their views known".
What else will the Secretary of State add to this list? Religion? Age? Sexual orientation?

If we give the Government the benefit of the doubt and assume that the contents of paragraph 11.4 of the White Paper were not just mere verbiage, and that they have not changed their mind about the extra two criteria introduced only a few weeks ago when the Notes on Clauses were published, only to be supplemented during the Recess by the press release and guidance, then the proposed new clause would put those matters right. The effect of this clause will be to concentrate the Government's mind on the real-life issues involved before they give the seal of approval to these new regional chambers.

The amendment introduces into the Bill the criteria which the Government have indicated are needed. The wording is the same as in the White Paper, the Notes on Clauses and the afterthoughts set out in the recent guidance that came with the press release, subject only to the modifications that are needed to alter simple narrative into legalese. The amendment does not require any great leap of principle by the Government. All it requires is for the Government to translate their words into a binding statutory commitment. I beg to move.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Bowness: I wish to speak to Amendment No. 47, which is included in the grouping.

I was a little confused when the Minister said earlier that these regional chambers were nothing to do with this Bill. They have everything to do with this Bill when Clause 8 makes it quite clear that there are certain bodies whom the Secretary of State may, by direction, designate as a regional chamber for the agency, with certain consequences. This Bill has everything to do with regional chambers and how they are set up when the department issues guidance and press releases as to what it expects to see in such organisations if they are to be designated a voluntary regional chamber.

The amendment that I am speaking to suggests that the guidelines and the Bill should be very specific and state, in effect, that a body would not be designated a

7 Oct 1998 : Column 536

voluntary regional chamber unless it complied with the guidelines, and those guidelines and the statute would stipulate that it should include representatives from every local authority in the area of the agency.

We already have a position where the local authority representation on the RDA may be small. We have no guarantee that local authority members will have to resign if they cease to be members. It is all the more important, given the size of the areas that the regional development agencies will cover, that the regional chamber is, as a matter of basic principle, in the words of the White Paper, not representative of local authorities in the area, but contains representatives of all the local authorities in the area. That is the principle which I seek to establish.

The English regional associations have produced a useful guide to the existing regional associations. It is clear from that guide that in every instance membership is open to all the authorities within the area of operation. If this simple protection and commitment cannot be given in the guidelines and on the face of the Bill, it is hard to see how all the assurances that we are given by the Government about how much they value local government and how much they want to see it lead communities are anything but empty rhetoric.

The local government functions are seriously challenged by the proposals in the Bill. I will not take the time of the Committee now to outline them, but if one looks at the White Paper and at the core functions and all the additional items in which the RDAs will be involved--the production of policies and programmes--it is quite clear that this will have a significant effect. This is all under consideration by bodies that do not even have an obligation to hold their meetings in public. The White Paper refers to an intention to have an annual public meeting and an encouragement to hold some board meetings in public. That is all there is about meeting in public. I therefore consider that it is vital for the democratically elected bodies to have a guaranteed right to sit on those bodies that are designated as regional chambers.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page