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Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, with regard to Amendment No. 13, I referred to the use of Clause 17(2)(a) to deal with compliance. I recognise that that is a possibility. With regard to Amendment No. 12, I accept the danger of turf wars, to which the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, referred. I am certainly one of those who is persuaded of the desirability of the RDAs exercising powers which are currently exercised by central government and not taking over the functions of local government. Frankly, I still find indigestible the centralised nature of the provision, with everything being dependent on the Secretary of State's directions. However, I have heard what the noble Baroness said, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 13 not moved.]

Clause 25 [Power to alter regions]:

Lord Bowness moved Amendment No. 14:

Page 12, line 36, at beginning insert ("For a period of five years beginning with the day on which this Act is passed,").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, your Lordships will recall that in Committee we sought in the first instance to involve the Boundary Commission in establishing the areas of the regions. The amendment sought to limit the time which the Boundary Commission had for that task, but the Government rejected the proposal on the basis that further reviews would not be in anyone's interests as the imminence of the RDAs had already led to a substantial amount of co-operation. Whether that co-operation was voluntary or enforced, I leave your Lordships to judge. However, the Minister recognised

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that the boundaries were not immutable and referred to the ability under Clause 25 to make changes to the extent of the regions. In the debate on Clause 25, the Minister steadfastly refused to contemplate reviews which might alter the number of regions. My amendment, which sought to allow that, was defeated.

Among the arguments deployed by the Minister against the amendment were those which appear at cols. 559 and 560 of the Official Report of 7th October. The Minister said:

    "The objection that we have to re-opening the question of the number of regions as distinct from relatively minor changes to the boundaries of those regions is that we believe that, in order for the development agencies to work, people must believe that they will be, broadly speaking, permanent areas".
I say in parenthesis that I would like people to feel that the regions are in reality regions in which they are able to work together for the purposes of the Bill rather than being led to believe that they are the right areas and that they have no alternative. The Minister continued:

    "If we were to re-open the question of the number of regions, it would lead to local pressure groups trying to alter what has begun to be a constructive dialogue to make the RDAs work ... The point is that the Government want to maintain that number of regions. They believe that that puts pressure on people to co-operate. That co-operation is beginning. If we remove that constraint some of that co-operation may be lost and that would not be to the benefit of the purposes of the Bill or the future development of ... our regions".--[Official Report, 7/10/98; col. 560.]
I find that troubling. We know that the regions as set out in this Bill were established by the previous government for the administrative convenience of delivering the functions of central government. It was never envisaged or suggested that they should be the basis for organisations which are to deliver policies locally, even if they are policies delivered in partnership with central government.

If the regions have to be maintained as they are to get the RDAs up and running, I accept with reluctance the argument that is advanced. However, I can find no good reasons for a commitment to a figure of 12, no more and no less, at least not without primary legislation. The reasons given by the Minister for rejecting the amendment in Committee smacked more of centralisation than devolution to local communities and more of central government convenience than of whether the arrangements suited local people.

We were assured that the proposal has nothing whatever to do with the possible introduction at some time in the future of regional assemblies. I must accept the Minister's assurances but the Government have said that the figure of 12 regional development agencies and no more and no less is the right number. They have created within those regions not just the development agencies but also the regional chambers. Ministers say that the Bill has nothing to do with regional chambers. They may be voluntary chambers but if there is to be central government guidance and central government approval of what is or is not to be recognised as a voluntary chamber, I believe that the Bill has everything to do with regional chambers, voluntary or otherwise. I believe that by taking such a restricted view--whether deliberately or not--of the area of the regions we are

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pre-empting our view about the regions of England if, at some time, the Government were minded to try to go down the road I have mentioned.

The Government should consider that in some instances the areas of the regional development agencies will need changes which may alter the number of regional development agencies. I believe local people, local businesses and local authorities within those areas may find that the areas are just not right and cannot be put right by a mere alteration to the boundary of the region. I take the point that the Government do not want to encourage the concept of immediate secession and that they want the different interests to get together to work on regional policies. Having imposed these constraints, the organisations may after a period of time acquire their own identities and the desire to change may not exist. To try to meet the problem perceived by the Government I have limited in the amendment the Secretary of State's ability to change the number of regions to prevent him doing so for the first five years.

I submit to your Lordships that if within five years a regional development agency has not been able to build its identity, has not established its role and has not achieved acceptance within the region it seeks to serve, it should be possible to change the regions in extent and numbers in a way that meets local needs and wishes and not the convenience of central government and the Secretary of State. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, at the previous stage I was among those who argued against setting the number of regions in stone. I was attracted by the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness. I had not expected his passionate argument as to the effect of the legislation on future regional government to have the opposite effect on my thinking.

Clause 25 provides for orders by affirmative resolution. Regional government will be a major area of constitutional development; it is one to which I and my colleagues on these Benches look forward. I would be most unhappy at the prospect of the shape of the regions being pre-empted by an order rather than by the whole subject being fully debated in primary legislation. I can see that in five, six or seven years' time we may be presented with an order varying the number of regions and that a year or two after that we may be told by the Government that it would not be appropriate to make a further change to the number of regions when the country is involved in the much wider debate that primary legislation would provoke and assist. I had not expected to find myself disagreeing with the noble Lord on the amendment, but I fear that I do.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, for slightly different reasons I, too, disagree with the noble Lord. I am not entirely sure that I shall be able to adduce many new arguments. I shall merely try more convincingly to explain the arguments given in Committee.

I believe that part of the concern over our insistence that Clause 25 while allowing for changes of boundaries, should not change the number of regions is that there is still a fear that these will be taken as the boundaries for the regional assemblies or any other

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institutional regional organisations. I do not accept that. The question of whether the number of RDA areas should be increased or decreased can be considered entirely within the context of the Bill and the powers and responsibilities that are going to RDAs. For that reason the Government believe it right to stick broadly to the regions identified in the Bill for the RDAs. That will provide a certainty and stability which we believe is desirable for RDAs as they face their new challenges. The noble Lord's proposal for a five-year moratorium does not provide sufficient certainty. Indeed, in a sense it would do the opposite. It would raise the expectation that matters might well change within five years. That is a relatively short period of time for the kind of medium-term planning operation we wish to see the RDAs achieve.

We want to see the RDAs established as quickly as possible as strong, influential and stable bodies able to bring the right economies of scale to the regions and to bring regional stakeholders together. We have chosen to use the areas already served by the Government Offices. We accept that in a number of regions, regional identities have not hitherto been strong, and in some regions there have been pressures on us to take a different approach. In some cases there has been pressure to provide an agency for an area much smaller than the region that we are proposing--proposals involving single counties such as Cornwall or the Isle of Wight.

As regards preparation for the establishment of the RDAs, the evidence is that people, broadly speaking, now accept the boundaries for that purpose and acknowledge that an area of approximately the size we are talking about is required in order to achieve the benefits that the RDAs will bring. People are working together constructively to make regional partnerships a reality in all parts of our regions and to bring together for all parts of those regions the benefits of the new approach.

If we set out the prospect of a change in those boundaries after five years, through those five years there will be protracted arguments about boundaries when the important task is to address regional economic performance. That is why we chose relatively uncontentious boundaries in terms of Government Office boundaries, which are well-established. And that is why we wish to stick to the number of agencies we are talking about. We do not accept the proposition that lies behind the noble Lord's argument; namely, that after five years the need for certainty will have disappeared.

Perhaps I may indicate why a proposal regarding a change to the boundaries could be counter-productive. The RDAs' regional strategies will be crucial to their success and, more importantly, to the success of regional economies. We envisage these strategies looking five to 10 years ahead and encouraging investment in that kind of timescale. We envisage their being regularly reviewed over that period. Their delivery and the economic improvements we want them to bring will depend on the will and commitment of regional partners across the spectrum of regional activity and across the

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whole of each region. The RDAs' role will be to bring people together, to break down barriers that may exist, and to foster regional working. Leaving open the prospect of break-away regions or mergers between different regions, as the amendment might appear to do, is not in the Government's view helpful to RDAs in their task or conducive to constructive regional working.

The noble Lord may regard this approach as one of excessive centralisation. I regard it as common sense. And it appears to coincide with the views of most of the people who are working to establish the RDAs region by region.

I accept that in certain circumstances it may be necessary to change the broad framework at some future date. If, when the time comes, regional assemblies are developed and put into law, and if at that time, as a result of consultation and the democratic process region by region, we, or a future government, reach the conclusion that the boundaries for regional assemblies should be different to the extent that there are a different number it would then be sensible to re-examine the regional development area boundaries.

As I said earlier, and as my noble friend Lady Farrington repeated, the establishment of regional assemblies, their number, and the implications for the RDAs and other bodies would be a matter for future primary legislation, not for this Bill. That legislation would provide the opportunity, when we are establishing a different configuration of regions for regional assemblies, to alter the RDA boundaries in the light of that alternative configuration.

I should have said that I congratulate the noble Lord on achieving in his opening remarks--I am not sure he was entirely aware of it--without changing a single dot or comma of the schedule to the Bill, an extension in the number of regional development areas from nine to 12. There are in fact only nine--

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