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Lord Renton: My Lords, I had no intention to speak on this amendment, but whenever I hear mention of Pepper v. Hart it drags me to my feet. I am not quite sure whether my noble friend who so clearly and eloquently put forward his case had a reserve in his mind about the possibility of that case being of use in getting the regional agencies to understand the Government's intention.
However, I feel bound to say that even if one were to accept the validity of the principles of Pepper v. Hart--which I have always found difficult to do--it would merely enable a Minister who is handling a Bill in either House of Parliament to be quoted by those who want to hang on to his words perhaps for years afterwards. It would be very dangerous indeed to regard reliance upon Pepper v. Hart as a substitute for accepting the views put forward by my noble friend.
The Lord Bishop of Southwell: My Lords, I am glad to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, because it emphasises the need for RDAs to carry out consultation with other bodies where appropriate. While effective networks already exist within county areas--and these include local authorities and representatives of the private and voluntary sector--they do not yet exist in the same way across the regions.
I believe that most of those bodies have a clear commitment to support the future work of the RDAs. Indeed, it is to their advantage to do so. But that commitment, which includes significant and considerable knowledge and expertise, will be lost unless the RDAs for their part are committed to carrying out appropriate consultation with such bodies. In that respect, I am thinking especially of the voluntary sector and faith communities with which I have a particular link. I remind your Lordships that their experience and involvement in such matters as development of community and concern for social regeneration are extensive. It is vital for us all that RDAs succeed in their work. That is why I hope that noble Lords will support the amendment, which simply requires proper and appropriate consultation.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, said, the purpose of Amendment No. 2 to put on the face of the Bill a requirement for RDAs to consult with government departments and other interested bodies in the region when producing their strategies. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley, has put forward a powerful argument for this to be a statutory requirement. Like us, he recognises that this is a vital matter.
The Government fully agree with the noble Lord that it will be vital for RDAs to consult widely when producing their strategies. We are grateful that he has provided us with an opportunity to emphasise the importance that we place on full and proper consultation. Indeed, I remind noble Lords that the draft statutory guidance, on which we are currently consulting, specifically says that the RDAs,
The noble Lord referred to Clause 8. In fact, he is wrong. It does not require RDAs to consult with local authorities, as he suggested. It makes provision for the Secretary of State to designate a "regional chamber" for the RDA and for the Secretary of State to issue directions in relation to consultation if it is deemed necessary. We do not expect to have to issue such directions. We expect RDAs to consult widely in their regions about strategies and, where appropriate, in relation to their functions more generally.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell is correct to say that the process of development of the "effective networks", including voluntary groups and local authorities, has progressed at different rates in different regions. However, I am sure that very good progress is being made in all regions towards this coming together of such interests.
Our view is quite clearly expressed in the consultation document which has been circulated. It reflects both our view and that of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, that it would be unacceptable for the RDA to produce its strategy without consulting regional interests. If the
The Government agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, that it will also be essential for the RDAs to consult government about their strategies to ensure that they are consistent with national policies. Unless they do that, the Government will not feel able to endorse the strategies or use them as the basis of their decisions about regional matters. This does not mean that RDAs' strategies will simply restate national policy. They will need to reflect fully not only national policies but also be able to do so in a way which best suits the circumstance of the region.
I hope that I have been able to reassure the noble Lord that there is no difference in our desire to see the RDAs consult fully on their strategies. Perhaps the only difference between us is how we ensure that is achieved. The noble Lord seeks to put a requirement on the face of the Bill; the Government feel it is not necessary to do that to achieve his objective.
We think it is right that the Bill should give RDAs a framework of powers to allow them to make decisions which reflect the circumstances and needs of their regions. We purposely chose not to take a prescriptive approach. The RDAs will be accountable to Ministers and Parliament for their decisions and the Secretary of State has powers to give them guidance and directions both generally and in relation to their strategies, should that be necessary. He could therefore direct an RDA to make arrangements for appropriate consultation, but we have every confidence that it will not come to that.
The noble Lord tempts me into a discussion on the use of the words "turnip" and "swede". I was born in the east Midlands--to which the right reverend Prelate referred--and then moved to Lancashire and I realise that the names are not the same across the country. The vegetable may be known as a turnip in the south but it becomes known as a swede in the north. Further north in Cumbria it is known as a neep. In the light of what I have said, I hope the noble Lord will feel this has been a helpful and comprehensive reply and that he will feel able not to press his amendment.
Lord Stanley of Alderley: My Lords, I noted with interest that my noble friend Lord Renton managed to put to bed the Pepper v. Hart aspect. The noble Baroness did not take that up. However, like my noble friend, I believe it would be much better to have the provision I seek on the face of the Bill than to resort to Pepper v. Hart because, believe it or not, not everyone reads Lords' Hansard. I thank the right reverend Prelate for his remarks, which were similar to those of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester. My amendment has much relevance to the institutions he mentioned.
The Minister said it would be inconceivable for the RDAs to develop strategies without regional partners being closely involved. I have to tell her that nothing is inconceivable. The October weather was inconceivable but it happened. Therefore I do not trust anyone, let alone myself, to act in the way the Minister thinks we should. It was a case of jam tomorrow but not jam today. We never seem to get jam today, although I have great hopes that the new agriculture Minister is close to giving us jam. Not everyone reads the guidance notes. As a matter of interest, on the previous occasion we discussed this matter the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester could not find the guidance notes. I know the RDAs should read the guidance notes, but that is not the same as having a provision on the face of the Bill.
As I understand Clause 8--I spent a fair amount of time trying to fathom it out--I may have been slightly economical with the truth in my remarks in so far as the RDAs do not have to consult with local authorities but the Secretary of State can make them do so. That is a case of splitting hairs as to whether the Secretary of State tells them to consult or they tell themselves to consult and set up a consultative body. I believe that is what Clause 8 achieves. The noble Baroness looks as confused as I was to start with, but I think I have the matter right this time, or near enough right. I am not happy with the situation. I would have much preferred to have the provision on the face of the Bill, but I shall leave it at that.
This is an important Bill. It provides for regional development agencies to be established in each of England's nine regions. Once the Bill is passed we intend to set up eight regional development agencies this year and one, for London, in the year 2000. The Bill takes forward a key manifesto commitment to decentralise decision-taking to England's regions. The regional development agencies will provide for effective, properly co-ordinated regional economic development and regeneration, and they will play a major part in ensuring the future economic prospects of all the parts of English regions. The statutory purposes of the RDAs have been developed from experience of the existing agencies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But they also reflect the objective of this
As noble Lords will be aware, this is the first Bill I have taken through as a DETR Minister. I wish to record my thanks to all noble Lords who have participated in this debate from all sides of the House. It has been a useful experience for me and I hope it has been an informative experience for the House. I hope noble Lords do not think it remiss if I pick out one contributor in particular; namely, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St. Johns, who played an especially important part in the scrutiny of this Bill. With her customary politeness, but nevertheless a focused determination, she made the case for the rural areas. The Bill now gives Ministers a clear remit in respect of the appointment of board members to ensure that the needs of a region's rural areas are taken into account. The Government listened on that occasion and agreed that that would be an improvement to the Bill. I think it was a good use of the House of Lords' procedures.
Anyone who follows the regional press or visits the regions will know that many people have high expectations of regional development agencies. There is much support for them even in regions in which traditionally there has been no strong regional identity or regional co-operation. Once the Bill is passed, it will of course be primarily up to the regions and the agencies themselves to deliver more effective and enhanced regional prosperity which will benefit all parts of all the English regions. This is a good Bill. I thank everyone who has participated.