|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Greaves: Certainly. The point that I was about to makeI suspect that it is the point that the noble Lord was about to makeis that there is a distinction between activities undertaken by individuals who happen to hold a position in an authority and the activities of the authority itself. A great deal of the promotional activity of the North West Regional Assembly has been undertaken not by the assembly but by, for example, Derek Boden, the leader of the North West Regional Assembly. He has the right to campaign in the region as an individual, even if, at the meetings at which he speaks, he describes himself as the chairman of the North West Regional Assembly.
Lord Greaves: As I understand it, the laws restricting overt campaigning by the regional assembly are the same laws as restrict overt campaigning by local authorities. I think that that responds to both interventions, but, if I am wrong about that, I will be pleased to be corrected.
I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, who asked what right the North West Regional Assembly had to give itself that name. A long time ago, when it was originally formed, I was a member of the North West Regional Assembly, representing one of the local authorities. It was called a regional assembly long before the concept of regional chambers was put into the law of the land, and it merely continued with the same name. I am not sure that there is a huge issue of principle there.
I do not know whether the North West Regional Assembly has stepped over the line. Equally, I do not know whether Lancashire County Council has stepped over the line or whether Essex County Council has stepped over the line in opposing what is proposed. If local authorities step over the line, there are remedies and ways they can be stopped. That is what should happen.
My second question is: is Amendment No. 24 the way to deal with a problem? I think not. It is clumsy; it is over the top. To conduct an investigation to determine whether two particular bodies in the regionnot all the other bodies in the region might be involved in campaigning, including local authoritieshave carried out activities which they do not have the power to carry out seems clumsy and over the top. The amendment is a way of raising the issue in Committee, but it is not sensible to include it in the Bill.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I have an implicit trust in the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, the Minister in charge of the Bill in this House. I would believe almost anything he told me under any circumstances. However, I have past experience with some of his colleagues and I am conscious that some of them are associated with legislation introduced by this Government. I incline my head towards the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley. I recall that during discussions on the National Lottery etc. Bill, which the then opposition welcomed, it was said that if we had a desire to redistribute lottery funds in different directions, there would be a debate in the House of Commons and the Government would take note of that.
I have some sympathy with the scepticism my noble friend Lady Blatch shows towards the process we are going through. Some Members of the Committee were present at the exhibition of Durer at the British Museum today where I learnt for the first time that although the elephant was to be found in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries, the rhinoceros has not been seen in Europe since the third century. Yet Durer, on the basis of information given to him by travellers from distant lands, was able to produce a fairly accurate picture of a rhinoceros.
If it is true that while debating a Bill entitled Regional Assemblies (Preparations) regional assemblies are already in existenceas my noble friend Lord Waddington implied and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, did not seem to denythe mythology that they are associated with Durer's rhinoceros is in some danger of being repeated. I am happy to support my noble friend.
Lord Rooker: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, for his first few sentences. This is an important issue and one which I hoped I had laid to rest, both at Question Time and in previous debates. But I failed; I shall therefore try again. There is an important distinction to be made on Amendment No. 24, which refers to the period of 12 months before the referendum. It states:
The Government genuinely believe that the provisions are unnecessary. The two organisations mentionedI shall deal with them separatelyare quite different in their responsibilities and their origins. The regional development agencies are non-departmental public bodies of the Department of Trade and Industry. They act within the constraints of legislation under which they were establishednamely, the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998. Because of their status they are audited by the National Audit Office and they are subject to the scrutiny of the Public Accounts Committee. As a former member of the Public Accounts Committeeindeed, the only Select Committee on which I servedI am a big supporter of the National Audit Office and the kind of scrutiny it carries out. It is an excellent committee. Its members hunt as a pack. There are no party divisions in the PAC. As no Minister appears as a witness, they coalesce to give the civil servants a bashing. That is basically the theory.
My point is that the regional development agencies are not in a position to carry out activities outside their powers. To ask the Secretary of State to issue a certificate when the PAC and the National Audit Office are their watchdogs is way beyond what we should be doing.
The regional chambers are a different kettle of fish. They are not statutory bodies; they are voluntary bodies. They have been designated for the purposes of the 1990 Act, but they are not statutory bodies. Each has its own constitution. They receive grants
Lord Rooker: I shall take advice, but I disagree with that. The matter of the designation does not alter the voluntary nature of the body. They are as different as chalk and cheese from the regional development agencies in the legal framework in which they are set up.
The money aspect obviously concerns Members of the Committee. The voluntary bodiesnamely, the chambersreceive grants from central government and have the powers to act as the regional planning bodies under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill currently being discussed in another place. In addition, they receive funds from local government. I do not know from where else they might receive funds. I believe it will be just central and local government.
What they do with the local government money is entirely up to them. I repeat that if it is misspent and misused, the complaint ought to be to the district auditor. What they do with the grant from my department is different altogether. After the allegations were made, Nick Raynsford, the Minister in charge of the Bill in another place, made it clear and put it on record that,
It is the chamber but has decided to call itself the regional assembly for whatever reason. The reasons may be those given by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I do not know. I have had no contact with it and I have
I do not know whether any complaints have been made. As regards my department, I know of no chamber going outside it. They have been informed of what Nick Raynsford said and we expect them to follow that.
Essentially, the chambers are voluntary bodies and can call themselves what they want. While it might be thought Orwellian or slipping through under the door to call themselves regional assemblies in advance of being set up, that is their choice. However, despite all the correspondence from and debates with Members on the Benches opposite, it is clear that open warfare is going on in those regions. That both underlines and undermines our previous debate; namely, that no one knows anything about this Bill. We see county councils having a go at each other and exchanging letters in the press. How can it be said that no one knows about this legislation?
I think that the amendment is unnecessary. While I understand why it has been tabled, I say again that the two bodies are quite different. Furthermore, as regards the regional development agencies, the Committee should rely on the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee to ensure that the rules are followed. Once more, I emphasise the fact that the district auditor should look at any complaints concerning the alleged misuse of local government money.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page