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Baroness Hamwee: We support the thrust of these amendments, especially those tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. As the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, said, he has not been so ambitious as his amendment could require only two members of local authorities to be on the boards. In particular, we support the proposal that a member who has been appointed in that capacity--the noble Lord would state either he or she, but we have not yet seen any females being appointed to the boards of the agencies; indeed, all the chairs appointed have been men--will have other attributes and will bring not just a representation of loyalty, and so on, to his or her particular area.
I understand the dangers inherent in a very parochial connection. But he or she will bring a feeling of the ethos of local government and the strains on local government, together with local government aspirations. That will be most valuable. I do not believe it to be right that a member appointed in that capacity should continue to serve after ceasing, for whatever reason, to be a local councillor. I do not believe that the public would have sympathy with such a person continuing to serve on the board.
Viscount Bledisloe: Until I heard the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, I had no particular views on the matter. However, having heard what he said, I am now convinced that the amendment is entirely wrong. Let us take the case of someone who is a representative of a particular local authority and serving on a regional body. A proposal could be put forward regarding his particular council, together with a counter-proposal from another area. That person would have the difficult task of balancing his natural loyalty to his area with his impartial duty to the region.
Let us assume that this particular councillor surmounts his difficulties and actually makes the right judgment by voting for the proposal, which is not the one favouring his council. The result is that the electorate, who are less understanding of the situation, throw him out. Therefore not only does he lose his council seat but he also loses his place on the region because he has exercised honest judgment rather than local bias.
Lord Islwyn: When I was in the other place as the Member of Parliament for Newport a situation arose in which an elderly alderman was appointed to a water authority but subsequently failed to gain re-election to the council. However, he refused to resign from the
Lord Whitty: My noble friend Lord Islwyn perhaps puts his finger on the issue. We are trying to reconcile two different principles, that of democratic representation and that of expertise. In that sense we do not expect anything different from members of a board with a local authority background than from anyone else. However, we intend to make it clear that people with a local authority background will have a major role to play on these boards. Local authorities are vital to the success of the boards. Relationships between the boards and local authorities will be vital to the success of their operation. For those reasons we have indicated that we shall appoint a significant number of local authority members to be members of the RDA boards who have the appropriate expertise and background, which includes of course background in local government.
As has been indicated, in the White Paper we stated that four out of the 12 seats that we propose for each board should in practice come from local government. That is what we intend to do. However, Amendment No. 6 seeks to make it a requirement that appointments to boards should include elected councillors. I shall deal shortly with the question of councillors who lose their seats. Given the commitment we have given in the White Paper, I hope this general requirement we are discussing will not be insisted upon. As I said, we shall appoint members from local government to the boards. The amendment of my noble friend Lord Graham seeks to specify on the face of the Bill that four members should be councillors. As we gave this commitment in the White Paper, and in the light of the assurances I have given today, I hope that this amendment will not be considered necessary. The legislation, as drafted, provides a measure of flexibility about the overall size of boards. As I said, in the White Paper we indicated a figure of four out of 12. We believe that in practice the flexibility would be limited if we could not in certain circumstances in the future reduce the size of the boards and at the same time keep the number of councillors in the proportion that we believe is right. We believe that we should not be locked into that structure.
I consider this as only a theoretical possibility. I suspect that there will be enormous pressure to increase the size of the boards rather than to reduce them. Nevertheless, we should not tie ourselves to a figure of four councillors irrespective of the size of the boards.
The second part of Amendment No. 8 of my noble friend Lord Graham provides that councillors on an RDA board should be required to resign on losing their local authority seat. This matter is also mentioned in a subsequent amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. I understand some of the points that have been made in this regard. However, other points of view have also been put forward. As the Committee foresaw, my first point is that members of the RDA boards will not in a strict sense be representatives, whether from local government backgrounds, whether they represent employers, trade unions, academic life or any other area of expertise. This applies as much to other members of the boards as it does to the local authority members. The board members are not appointed to represent, to protect or to advance the interests of particular groups. They should act together for the benefit of the region as a whole and to deliver the RDA's agenda for the region. That will be made quite clear in the terms of their appointment. For this reason I cannot accept that local authority members who lose their council seats would in all circumstances necessarily lose their ability to represent local government interests on an RDA board and to reflect the needs of the board as a whole.
We sometimes speak rather loosely of RDA board members representing particular viewpoints. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, fell into this trap. By that we mean that they have particular areas of experience and expertise which they can contribute to the RDA board rather than represent a viewpoint, as it were. Experience of local government is absolutely central to the RDA board's function but members do not represent local government in the strict sense of the word.
We shall look for people with a local government background who will have expertise in the development and planning areas. Similarly, we shall look for people from the business sector who can also offer experience of other sectors; for example the voluntary sector. We aim to appoint boards of just 12 members, including the Chair. To get the balance right it is more or less essential that members should have a breadth as well as a depth of background experience. Therefore, I cannot accept that the experience of serving as a local authority member would be wiped out overnight by an election defeat. A recently defeated former councillor will not suddenly become unaware of what local authorities are, what they do, or of their approach to regional economic development. Of course the councillor in question in any case may well bring broader experience to the RDA board than simply his or her local authority experience. That would be unaffected by a change in elected status.
However, I deliberately refer to a recently defeated councillor. I accept that to be fully relevant experience has to be current, or at least fairly recent. It is a matter of judgment how quickly it fades, but nevertheless it does fade. If, for example, an RDA board member still has several months to serve, and has made a strong contribution to the RDA's work, and is, for example, its main source of expertise on rural matters, I do not
On the other hand, it is possible in our democratic process--as George Brown said, democracy occasionally "democks"--that all four local authority members on an RDA board could lose their seats. All of them may still have three years of their appointments to serve. In that case we would need to review the situation to see what we could do to ensure that the RDA board continued to have some current experience from local government. Depending on the circumstances we could invite the four members concerned to put their RDA places at the Secretary of State's disposal. We might make additional compensatory appointments because, after all, we are allowed by the Bill to increase the size of a board up to 15 members. My noble friend Lord Graham referred to the situation where the local government association in the region brings at least moral pressure to bear on the members concerned to resign. Clearly Ministers would accept their resignations in those circumstances. Or, in consultation with the RDA and local authorities, we might look for other ways of ensuring that the board continues to benefit from current local government experience. We are therefore dealing with situations ranging from that in which there is a member with particular expertise in the board context who has only a few months to run before his mandate runs out, to that where people have two and a half years to run, all of whom are defeated. It is not sensible to place on the face of the Bill an absolute requirement that all those members in all the circumstances I have described should resign the minute they are defeated.
I take note of the concerns expressed by the Local Government Association and individual local authorities and in this Chamber. We will consider those concerns carefully. However, I hope that, at least at this stage, noble Lords will not push us into accepting the absolute requirement that is implied by both of these amendments, indirectly by the first and directly by the second part of my noble friend's amendment.
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