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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: These amendments concern Clause 8(2) which, as it stands, provides that the Secretary of State may direct an agency to consult the chamber in relation to such of its functions as specified in the direction. The effect of Amendments Nos. 42 and 43 is to ensure that RDAs can only be required to consult the chamber in exercising all of its functions.
There is no doubt that we believe RDAs should have regard to and take account of regional views and give an account of themselves to their region. The provision enables the Secretary of State to require RDAs to take account of chambers' views in its strategy and it will have a consequential effect on the exercise of RDAs' functions, as its functions will be exercised with regard to the strategy. I understand the purpose behind amendments which seek to go further than Clauses 8 and 18 and give the regional chamber an opportunity to comment on each of the RDAs' proposed actions. In time, in another Bill, this purpose will be a crucial consideration. But it is not appropriate for the NDPB framework which we are currently considering.
I am sure that all those present would expect the RDA and the chamber to conduct their relationship in the spirit of partnership and co-operation. It would be a particularly inauspicious beginning for these bodies if they had to be told how to do this because they could not be relied on to work this out for themselves. I do not believe that the Bill should provide that the Secretary of State, in his designation of a chamber, must require an RDA to consult the chamber on all of its functions. However, I think it likely that both parties may require some guidance and I would not rule out using the powers under the Bill to provide this.
Amendments Nos. 44, 45 and 46 refer to circumstances where there is no representative and suitable body to which the Secretary of State can designate a regional chamber. I hope this proves to be unduly pessimistic. The role which the Bill gives to chambers provides an opportunity to people who are keen to carry the regional agenda forward to do just that. Good progress is being made towards putting a chamber in place in every English region.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked me what the position was as of the information we have today. Regional chamber arrangements are being put in place in each region according to the information that we have received. Three regions have launched their chambers already: the North West, the South West, Yorkshire and the Humber. The West Midlands have already agreed their proposals and hope to have the first meeting of their chamber before the end of the year. The North East and Eastern Region chambers are finalising proposals and hope to have the first meeting of their chambers by the end of the year or very early in the new year. The East Midlands and South East have issued consultation papers. The East Midlands chamber is currently drawing up its draft constitution and hopes to have its inaugural meeting in December.
Amendments Nos. 45 and 46 would limit the power to give guidance and directions, in the absence of a chamber, on the consultation arrangements involving local authorities to the exclusion of other groups and bodies. That would be unsatisfactory. I can assure the noble Baroness that I would expect such consultation arrangements to involve local authorities and we have the powers to make it so. But consultation would also have to involve other sectors. We must not overlook those groups which would otherwise be represented in the chamber if one were to exist.
Amendment No. 58 relates to Clause 18, which provides the Secretary of State with powers to make directions for the way in which an RDA is to give an account of itself to the chamber, including the provision of information, answering questions and the holding of a public meeting. The amendment provides for the chamber itself also to be able to direct how the RDA is to account to it.
It goes without saying that I would expect the chamber-RDA relationship to grow out of co-operation and partnership. It should be one of mutual respect and trust. To achieve that, it would not be right to provide that one party to the relationship should have the upper hand. That is what the amendment would do and we do not believe that that will be helpful to the relationship. If it happens that those matters cannot be worked out in the region--we very much hope that they can--the Bill gives the Minister the means to intervene.
With regard to the question on funding, we have not envisaged any direct central government contribution to funding for running the regional chambers. It is important that regions which wish to make progress in developing their identity through the creation of the chamber, as envisaged in the White Paper, should demonstrate their commitment to it in a number of ways--not least a willingness to provide resources; for example, as in kind by supplying staff time, referred to by the noble Baroness. We envisage therefore that costs will be met, as they are now, by those involved. However, we intend that there could be some support in kind, such as joint working or joint funding of research.
Baroness Hamwee: I thank the Minister for that reply. My first amendments did not seek to extend the consultation to anything beyond the RDAs' functions, which seemed to be what she was suggesting, though I may have misheard her. I was objecting to the Secretary of State having the opportunity to limit consultation.
With regard to the position that arises if no chamber is designated, I did not have it in mind to exclude other bodies; I was merely seeking to protect the channel of communication and consultation with local authorities who, after all, will be making up the majority of the members of chambers along with the other regional partners. As drafted, Clause 8(3) means that there could be no requirement for consultation.
With regard to Amendment No. 58, to which my noble friend spoke, the marginal rubric reads, "regional accountability". That seems to be accountability subject to directions; subject to the Secretary of State. The noble Baroness says that one party should not be given the upper hand. However, one party has got the upper hand, that body being the Secretary of State. We come back to the point that the RDAs are creatures of government. We understand that. But it is misleading to suggest that there is accountability when it is only such accountability as one of the parties in this triumvirate decides may be in place.
I am not surprised by the answer with regard to funding. I do not ask the noble Baroness to respond to this, but I suspect that she may have some sympathy with the fact that her point would have greater significance if more local funding were raised at a local level since such a high proportion comes by way of central government grant. Although the commitment that one gives by putting in the funding is obviously important, it is not as important as if one had to go out and raise it locally. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Jopling: I find myself in a difficult situation, having made a speech earlier. Throughout the Bill there are continual references to "the Secretary of State". I had imagined, as I read the Bill, that "the Secretary of State" meant "the Secretary of State for the Environment" and for all the other subjects that he looks after. However, when I looked through the Bill a few moments ago to try to discover which Secretary of State we are talking about, I was unable to find a definition in the Bill. There are so many references to "Secretary of State" that we ought to know which one we are talking about, but I can find no such definition in the Bill. I have made inquiries outside the Chamber and, as I understand it, the phrase can mean any Secretary of State. Therefore, none of these powers and responsibilities are defined in the Bill as relating to a specific Secretary of State.
If decisions are subject to Cabinet committees, it does not matter too much, but there is one severe problem here. One member of the Cabinet has responsibility for all the matters with which we are concerned in setting up regional development agencies--and that is the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. We have considered a number of amendments in Committee
We have the rather strange situation that over many decades Ministers of Agriculture have refused the option to become a Secretary of State. I say that because I was Minister of Agriculture from 1983 to 1987 and I was invited by the Cabinet Office to bow my knee to the great god of uniformity and to become a Secretary of State. I have had conversations with many distinguished Members of your Lordships' House, including with Lord Peart, that great Minister of Agriculture and a great friend of many of those present and certainly a great friend of mine, and with the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, who is still a distinguished Member of your Lordships' House. We have over the years refused to become Secretaries of State quite simply because of the historic dimension. I believe that Dr. Cunningham and Mr. Brown, who in the past few years have occupied that office, have also declined the offer to become Secretaries of State. It is a tradition in that department.
I hope that Ministers will agree that it is something of an anomaly that such decisions and views can be imposed by any of the Secretaries of State in the Government but not by the Minister of Agriculture, who has a great responsibility for many of the functions and matters which are covered by the Bill. It seems to me that the Government have an easy solution to the problem. They can either designate one particular Minister to whom all of this should be referred or, on the other hand, they can go through the Bill and make amendments to every reference to the Secretary of State and specify that that also applies to the Minister of Agriculture.
It would be intolerable if the Bill were to reach the statute book with all its references to Secretaries of State throughout the whole breadth of government, while leaving out the Minister of Agriculture, who has such an important role to play. Indeed, I hope he does and I am sure that many of us hope that he will have a big role to play under the legislation. It is probably a matter to which we could return on Report. It would be quite simple to resolve the problem, and I hope the Bill will not be left in its present state because it is very unsatisfactory.
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