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Lord Bowness: It is interesting, sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, to be asked to answer questions. I do not feel particularly obliged to reply on behalf of the previous government, of which I was not a member. Suffice it to say that time moves on. We are discussing this Government's proposals. I have heard and read of their proposals to recognise and restore local government to its rightful place, as they see it, to ensure that it has its place in the sun, to strengthen it and to build on it. In view of the comments made about UDCs in the past by members of the Labour Party, and in view of what they are now saying about local government, I presume that we have no difficulty in agreeing on the merits of my amendment.
The Earl of Lytton: What I have to say will not help the noble Lord, Lord Bowness. In my current capacity as president of the Sussex Association of Local Councils--which interest I declare--I know well that there is some concern that the interests of local councils, such as parish councils and town councils, which are nearest to the community, are in the process of possibly
I believe that there is a degree of special pleading here because the Government will be faced with a large number of competing claims from both those who come from elected authorities and those who represent sectoral interests, including possibly county wildlife societies and people with other such special interests. The lobbying that will be done on all sides will create some confusion. I sense that it would be dangerous for local authorities--the same may apply to parishes--to have two bites of the cherry in terms of the regional development agency structure. If there are to be facilities for local authority councillors (coming from their elected and, it should be said, often party political backgrounds) to have a special place on the RDAs, I for one would be concerned by that because the RDAs should not be susceptible to the normal local authority mould. I believe that it should have a different nature. It seems to me that it is being set up to promote the purposes of economic activity and, as the Minister said earlier, in some way to rectify the imbalances that have occurred across the regions. I understand that.
It seems that me that the RDAs should be free of the sort of things that occur with a somewhat politicised local authority structure. I should have thought that if any body within the elected structure, from the tiers of local government, had a claim to a place on an RDA, the parish and town councils might have a better claim, being constitutionally apolitical.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: I am glad that I have waited my turn because we have heard two valuable contributions which demonstrate the wealth and depth of experience of local government possessed by Members of this House.
I rise to speak in support of Amendment No. 8 which stands in my name. I have two prime interests in this matter, one of which I must declare. All my life I have worked for the co-operative movement. That interest is recorded in the Register. I say that now because we have always claimed that we are a democratic organisation. We believe in direct democracy and elections. I have a wealth of experience in the co-operative movement of committee structures, where individuals represent their society at sectional, regional and national level. So I speak with that experience as well as from that gained in local government.
It is now some years since I had the proud privilege of being the leader of a London borough council. Presently, along with many other Members of the House, I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. The debate is illuminated not merely by what we read in briefs sent to us but also by our gut reactions to many of the situations that we come across.
I am puzzled by the resistance that the Government have shown to the concept of a person being appointed to a board because he is a member of a local authority. I know that it will be argued that he or she is not a representative nor a delegate but a free man or woman. Nevertheless, that person would not have been appointed if he or she had not been a member of a local authority. I am puzzled about why the Government are not prepared to try to be kinder to what I think is the basic democratic concept.
When we consider what has happened during the past year, we see that the Government brought forward a Bill under the last Queen's Speech and here we are now, virtually in time for the next one. Much water has flowed under the bridge since that time. The Local Government Association in doing its job has written to its member associations. I have with me part of a letter from the association which is called a "guidance note". I shall read a section of it to Members of the Committee for the sake of the record. It says:
As I understand it, the Minister invited the LGA during the past year to submit names. In turn, the latter has invited each of its regions to submit such names, being careful not just to nominate four--indeed, sometimes it is five, six, seven or eight. The Minister will then have a broad list by which the names of men and women who carry the confidence of the local authorities in the region are put before him. I accept that the final choice will be made by the Minister. But, quite frankly, when you look at the qualifications and the credentials of a local councillor, I do not think that they can be bettered. First, the councillor needs to know his constituency--that is, his ward. He needs to be aware of the problems and needs to be involved in major decisions inside his group, inside his council and inside the regional structure. He also needs to be familiar with the problems of the local community, both economically and socially, and needs to be sensitive to the fact that if he does not do well he will lose his seat.
As someone who has lost his seat at any level you may care to think of--but starting with a local council--I respect the fact that, in a democracy, the latter sometimes works in a funny way. But that is our democracy: you stand or fall by the will of the people. In my view, if the people in a region decide for whatever reason that a man or woman who carries the confidence of his or her political group, and of the non-political council, who was endorsed by the Minister and became a member of the board, has subsequently failed to carry the confidence of the constituency, that ought not to be tolerated.
I am heartened by the Minister's remarks in another place, and I should like my noble friend the Minister to endorse what his colleague, Mr. Caborn, said in Standing Committee E on 29th January. During the course of answering points that had been raised, he said:
If that is the position as regards the Minister's response on 29th January, then much of my anxiety will be gone. However, the LGA has also said something else about which I believe Members of the Committee should be aware. It has said:
I understand that the Minister and his colleagues took great care over many months to put together a Bill which, I say now, has my support. It has my backing because it is doing what I want to see happen in each region--that is, economic regeneration to redress the economic deficit which exists. Indeed, that has my full support. However, I have just one request to make which does not affect the structure; indeed, it is in response to what local people want. They want local councillors. If my noble friend the Minister and his colleagues can look again at the possibility that, in this instance, there is room for some adjustment, I shall be most grateful.
Lord Wade of Chorlton: I intervene briefly to say that I agreed with the previous government when they did not automatically have local government people on the development associations. I also agree with this Government that local government members should not automatically and by right be members of the development agencies. In fact, I believe that the relationship between local government and the development agencies will be better if there is no automatic right for members of local government to
Local authorities in the areas are already structuring themselves so that they will be able to work closely with the development agencies in the best interests of their local activities while considering how they will comply with the objectives of the regions. It will be better if the Government's proposals in the Bill are those which are implemented rather than those proposed in the amendments.
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