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Lord Whitty: I sometimes wish that the Government were as Machiavellian as the reputation we clearly have on the Benches opposite. The White Paper spelt out the Government's support for the development of regional chambers. We have issued guidance on how we would like to see those chambers develop. However, this is a voluntary process. We are not at the stage of statutorily instituting it.

Clause 8 relates to the relationship of those chambers which exist as a result of that voluntary process and of the Secretary of State's approval of it with the RDAs. The points raised were more about a Bill which put regional chambers on a fully statutory basis. At this stage there is no intention to be overly prescriptive about the precise form that chambers should take. I am straying from the Bill but I think that I have to respond to what has been said. We intend that the regions should be able to tailor their own arrangements within the broad criteria that we have set out in the White Paper and in the guidance and within their own circumstances.

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Amendment No. 47 is concerned with the specific criteria for designating a body to take up the role as a regional chamber. It would prevent the Secretary of State from designating a chamber where the chamber does not comply with guidelines published by the Secretary of State, or where the chamber does not include representatives from every local authority in the area of the agency.

Clause 8 makes provision for the designation of a regional chamber for the purposes of the relationship with the agency. The effect of the first part of the proposed amendment would be to prohibit the Secretary of State from designating a chamber where his guidelines were not complied with. Clause 8 already 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. I am of the opinion that to include the proposed amendment would be superfluous to the current provisions of Clause 8 and premature in terms of laying down what is required in the ongoing development of regional chambers.

The second part of the amendment would prohibit explicitly on the face of the Bill the Secretary of State from designating a chamber where it did not include representatives of all local authorities. Some of the RDA-designated regions--which may or may not be the regions for future regional assemblies, but for the moment let us deal with those--may contain as few as 22 local authorities, as in Yorkshire and Humberside, and up to 72 in the south-east. In many regions the local authorities themselves will wish to keep down the number of local authority members of those chambers. This amendment would preclude that. Even if it were appropriate, therefore, I do not think it should be pursued and I do not believe that it is appropriate for this part of the Bill or indeed for any part of it.

I repeat that this Bill deals solely with providing some form of regional accountability for the regional development agencies. It does not deal with a full prescription as to how those regional chambers should operate. In the light of that, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: I thank the Minister for his reply. I will read very carefully what he has said. I have an awful lot of sympathy with my noble friend in trying to understand a previous answer given by the Minister about the chambers not being so involved in the Bill. In the circumstances, I should like to look in Hansard at what the Minister has said and then make a decision. But at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 41 not moved.]

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 42:

Page 4, line 10, leave out ("such of").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 42 and, with it, to speak to Amendments Nos. 43, 44 and 58 standing in my name. They are also grouped with Amendments Nos. 45 and 46. The first two

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amendments, Nos. 42 and 43, seek to deal with the provision of the Bill which appears to make consultation under this clause optional. Reference has already been made to this on a number of occasions tonight, and I have accepted the mild stricture from the Minister about my falling into the trap; but the centralised approach, so much depending on the Secretary of State, is one with which we feel extremely uncomfortable.

In Clause 8(2) the Secretary of State may by directions require a regional development agency for which there is a regional chamber to consult in relation to the exercise of such of the RDA's functions as the Secretary of State may specify. My two amendments, taken together, would widen the consultation, which admittedly still has to be required by direction through the Secretary of State, but he would only be able to direct consultation: he would not be able to limit the subject matter of that consultation.

I appreciate that a great deal will depend on the evolving culture of both the RDAs and the chambers, but neither set of bodies has yet been created, or, in the case of the chambers, the number of them and the form in which they are likely to end up. We do not have chambers and we do not have RDAs. Therefore the only entity that can encourage the contact and the degree of consultation which we would like to see is Her Majesty's Government.

I make the point in particular because, accepting all that has been said about the skills and experience of the board members who are likely to be appointed, it is most unlikely that they will be able to cover as much ground and to represent as much expertise as each of the chambers, which will have far more members. So my request for wide and deep consultation is not just repeating the formula that consultation is a good thing. It is because I think that the chambers will be able to bring a great deal to the process of regeneration, which is the responsibility of the RDAs.

The third of my amendments, Amendment No. 44, seeks to deal with the position where no regional chamber has been designated. I suggest that if there is no designated chamber, the directions should require the RDA to have regard to views expressed by local authorities and to consult all the local authorities in its area as a substitute for dealing with a chamber.

I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to inform the Committee of the progress towards designating chambers. From what I have been able to discover, it seems that many of the groups which are likely to make up the chambers are making extremely good progress. There seems to be a lot of agreement among the potential prospective members as to how they should operate. Matters such as weighted voting and so on are all being dealt with in considerable detail and by and large with a considerable degree of agreement.

One matter which will inevitably give cause for concern is the cost of the chambers. It has been put to me that there is anxiety among local authorities that, accepting that having chambers in place is important, nevertheless their budgets are not so full of dosh that they can easily allocate a new head of expenditure. Many local authorities will give help in kind by providing officer-time, but that in itself is a cost.

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I appreciate that the Minister will say that the Government also do not have lots of cash to give away. But in investing in this new way of doing things, I hope it will be accepted that it is an investment and not a waste of money. Enabling local authorities, through grants, SSAs and so on, to have just that extra little bit of money required to make the chambers function well is a good thing. Before somebody says, "Oh, the cost of bureaucracy", to my mind, it is the cost of democracy.

10 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I shall speak to Amendment No. 45 which is in my name and grouped with Amendment No. 42. Amendment No. 45 would require the Secretary of State to direct an RDA to consult the local authorities in its area whenever there is no regional chamber for that area.

I have sympathy with Amendment No. 44 moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. The difference between us is the words "may" and "shall" which always lead to something of a devil's discussion in either House. On this occasion I hope too that I shall not fall foul of the Minister's strictures with regard to the appropriateness of the amendment because we are dealing here with the actions of the RDA and not the regional chamber, whether voluntary or otherwise.

Amendment No. 44 does not cover the situation where directions are given by the Secretary of State who then omits or decides not to direct the RDAs to consult the local authorities. I cannot envisage a reason why local authorities should not be consulted in those circumstances. Therefore, I ask the Minister why that has been omitted from the face of the Bill. After all, it is essential that the RDAs work with and not separately from local authorities in the areas they serve. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response not only to my questions but also with regard to Amendment No. 44 and my noble friend's amendment which I hope is about to be spoken to.

Baroness Maddock: Perhaps I might speak briefly to Amendment No. 58, to which my noble friend Baroness Hamwee referred. This is all part of ensuring proper consultation between regional chambers and the RDAs. I think it is fairly straightforward and I hope that the Minister will take this on board. It is in line with many of the things that the Minister has been saying this evening about the way that chambers and RDAs should operate. I hope that he will be sympathetic to this amendment.

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