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It is important to have an organisation such as DPTAC because in 492 days and 525 days-just 70 and 75 Wednesdays-we will have the Olympics and Paralympic Games in the UK. There is no doubt that the Games will be wonderful but, as a country, we will be assessed on so much more than the athletics achievements at Games times; we will be assessed on how we move people around the city. I declare an interest in that I sit on a number of LOCOG committees looking at athlete engagement and diversity. I am also a board member of Transport for London. During Games time we will have more disabled people in London than ever before at any one time. There will be significant numbers of disabled tourists and large numbers of disabled volunteers, who have been actively encouraged by LOCOG.
In addition, we will have 4,500 disabled athletes for the Paralympic Games who, I accept, will be using dedicated Games transport much of the time. That in itself will require considerable stakeholder consultation and work. However, those athletes will be using other modes both inside and outside London around Games time to get to pre-Games training camps and to return later. The expectation in the UK is that we will have an incredibly accessible country. For me, it is essential that we have a body such as DPTAC that can influence pre-Games. We can also learn from the experience of moving significant numbers of disabled people around so that after the Games we have a truly meaningful legacy for disabled people for transport.
Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, my name is not on this amendment. I might have kept my head down had the noble Lord, Lord Low, not blown my cover by indicating that I had been conspiring with him over this matter in the period since we last discussed it. I ought to declare an interest in that I have my own problems these days. However, what is prompting me to intervene is that I have had a long experience of
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I do not have quite the same problems as the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilkins and Lady Grey-Thompson, because I am still able to get about to a significant extent. As far as the railways are concerned, I pay tribute to the almost unfailing courtesy of the staff at railway stations, who in many cases do not wait to be asked but come and say, "Do you need some help?". However, if you want to know where the limitations still are, let me tell you that Ipswich station in Suffolk, where I have been twice today-the county town of a sizeable though not macro county-has no means of getting someone like me or the two noble Baronesses from one platform to the other, except what you might call a man with the red flag to see you across the line when there are no trains about. I have missed connections as a result. It is true that they are building lifts at the moment, but they are two months late.
What should have been available today is not going to be available for another couple of months. That is a two-month delay in six. Network Rail does not appear to think that this is a matter of any great consequence, from what they are reported to have said to one of the Suffolk MPs. There are plenty of problems that need to be tackled, and I have some experience and knowledge of them. I certainly do not think that they can be dismissed, and they vary enormously from one form of disability to another. That is the other key point with which I think the noble Lord, Lord Low, would agree. The sorts of things that someone like me requires are one thing, but if you are wheelchair-bound it is another thing. If you are deaf, blind or suffering from one of a variety of other conditions, another set of things are required. It is crucial that whatever arrangements are put in place should reflect and represent that diversity with real knowledge of the differences between various forms of disability. That is one of the key things here. I hope my noble friend will be able to respond constructively once again so that I can applaud him and stop being a nuisance.
Viscount Slim: My Lords, I speak because of my work with veterans. I remind the Minister, if he needs reminding, that a veteran can be an old fellow like me or he can be a young man of 18 or 19 with no legs. There are many people who use wheelchairs, who are blind or who are otherwise incapacitated. Having listened to what has been said, I wonder if the Government have really thought this problem through. I have to say that, until I hear the noble Lord speak, I support the noble Lord, Lord Low, and the others very much in what has been said so far. I am not sure that the Government have really gripped this problem.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I support of each of these amendments, so effectively moved by the noble Lord, Lord Low, and spoken to by the noble
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The Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee has played a vital role in advising government and industry on accessible transport systems. Its focus on ensuring that disabled people have the same access to transport as anyone else has been key to many improvements over the past 25 years. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Freud, acknowledged in Committee, despite considerable improvements in access to all modes of transport over that period, there is still much to do. We heard some of this just this afternoon. My noble friend Lady Wilkins talked about those with learning disabilities. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, said that it is difficult for disabled people to be spontaneous and spoke with great authority about the high expectations in the UK in relation to the Olympics.
We know that RADAR has pressed the point that major investment in accessible transport has not yet been matched by a major increase in confidence among disabled people in getting out and about. A huge amount of awareness-raising remains to be done because we have not yet delivered a truly integrated system that guarantees independence and safe mobility. Of course, this is essential if disabled people are to have proper access to services and jobs.
We were told in Committee that issues around disability and transport had moved on, as it were, since DPTAC was put on a statutory basis, and these matters were embedded in the core approach of the Department for Transport. That is as it should be, but it is not a reason to abandon DPTAC; in fact, it would seem to be an acknowledgement of its success and its relevance. It has its statutory functions and is a statutory consultee when rail vehicle accessibility regulations are to be introduced. The Minister might tell us what, if DPTAC is to go, will replace those arrangements. DPTAC has not just been passive, sitting back and waiting to be consulted; its strength is that it has been proactive and an independent voice, mirroring the debate that took place under the last amendment.
The Minister has a high hurdle to overcome if he is to convince us of the merits of his case. We have agreed that disabled people are the experts in their own lives and it is their voices that we should be listening to this afternoon. DPTAC has been a success; it has knowledge, experience, commitment and a track record, so why try to fix what is not broken? Cynics may say that Ministers have to meet their quota of quangos to be dealt with. If the Government are determined to destroy DPTAC, we must know before they do so, as the noble Lord, Lord Low, made clear when speaking to Amendment 21, what is to replace it, the process by which that judgment is to be made and, in particular, how disabled people and their families and carers have been engaged. We should know their views on what is proposed.
The Government would be wise to draw back from removing DPTAC, and I urge them to do so. If they do not, and the noble Lord, Lord Low, is minded to test the opinion of the House, he will have our support.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, for introducing this amendment and for the discussions that we had between Committee and this item coming up at Report. They were very useful and focused the Government's mind on the importance of disability. All Members of the House will, I think, share the view that while much has been achieved in making the world a better one for people with disabilities, so much more remains to be done. I hope in responding to this debate that I can convey how the Government intend to approach this task and give an example of how the process of abolishing DPTAC is an opportunity for the Government to focus in future on tackling the task of the world of the disabled.
It was really very useful to have the contributions from all noble Lords from around the House on this issue. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, said that there needed to be a new focus not only on the physical world but on the behavioural world in which disabled people had to live. While disabled people make use of the facilities that may be there, operatives and members of the public may not be aware of the necessity for behaviour also to adapt to others' disabilities. I am grateful for the involvement of my noble friend Lord Newton of Braintree, because I think in the Ipswich model he shows that there is so much still to be done-albeit the lifts are there. There is a huge task in making the world of the disabled less disadvantaged than it is for others, as the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, pointed out when she graphically drew the attention of the House to the contrast between the world of the able-bodied and the challenges facing those with a wide range of disabilities.
Lord Newton of Braintree: I had not really thought about mentioning Ipswich until I got up, but it is not just disabled people who are affected. I once stood on one side of Ipswich station with a lady with a baby in a pushchair who could not use the stairs and a woman with a suitcase nearly as big as she was who could not use the stairs, either. I do not think that the other two wanted to go to London, but I did-and I stood and watched the London train come in and I stood and watched the London train go out. This is just not sensible in this day and age. It is not just disabled people who are affected.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: Well, I think that Members of the House would acknowledge that and would acknowledge from their direct experience of their own family and friends how difficult sometimes the physical world can be.
I acknowledge the contribution made by the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, and the role of veterans. They are individuals to whom we owe such a great deal and who find themselves, through their sacrifice, in the world of the disabled. Often the fittest and most robust of individuals find themselves having to cope with the world of the disabled and the contrast of that world.
I want to demonstrate that the Government's approach to disability has moved forward substantially since 1985, when the DPTAC was established, and the important
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The Department for Transport intends to issue a discussion document before the summer to inform its proposals in this regard. This will enable the Government to take the concerns of stakeholders into account in the development of successor arrangements. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Low, and other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, are concerned to ensure that the details of successor arrangements, supported by relevant stakeholders, are in place before an order to abolish DPTAC is laid before Parliament, and I was grateful for the opportunity to meet with the noble Lord, Lord Low, and my noble friend Lord Newton of Braintree prior to Report to discuss their concerns. I am delighted that this proposed amendment gives the Government the chance to put on record the fact that the Department for Transport does not intend to bring forward an order to abolish DPTAC until, following a substantial consultation process with a wide range of stakeholders, the department has a clear proposition as to the successor arrangements that will be put in place.
I can further assure noble Lords that, under Clause 10, the explanatory document laid with any draft order will need to set out how a Minister considers that the considerations in Clause 8(2) have been met. These considerations, alongside existing legislation such as the Equality Act 2010, will require Ministers to consider equalities issues when bringing forward an order under the Bill. Until those successor arrangements are established and firm proposals are in place, there is no question of abolishing DPTAC. Given this, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken, in all cases with a great deal more eloquence than I did myself-and also with greater transparency, because most noble Lords who spoke declared an interest, and I did not do so myself. I shall waste no more time and declare my interest as a disabled person.
I thank the Minister for his response. I am not completely persuaded by the mainstreaming argument. I have always thought-indeed, I have always found-that when everyone is given a responsibility, it can all too easily turn out to be the case that nobody has a responsibility. I do not have a problem with everybody having a responsibility, but-especially if the responsibility is a specialised one, requiring specialist expertise-it is
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I think that, having listened to the debate, the Minister can be in no doubt about the strength of feeling from all parts of the House that robust arrangements need to be put in place to replace DPTAC. The Government, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, have a high hurdle to clear if your Lordships are to be satisfied that it would ever be appropriate to abolish DPTAC. However, from what the Minister has said, it is clear that the Government have it in mind to put in place successor arrangements to provide the specialised advice which is needed in this case. We still do not know what those arrangements are, but the Minister has made it clear that the Government intend to publish proposals and consult on them and that an order to abolish DPTAC will not be brought forward without a document explaining how the safeguards in Clause 8(2), as well as other equalities considerations, have been met.
I hope that I can also take it from the Minister's remarks that the Government would not wish to bring forward proposals for successor arrangements until they were sure that they had the support of relevant stakeholders. In the circumstance that there will be no order to abolish DPTAC and that there will be a full opportunity for consultation-indeed, that there will be opportunity for your Lordships to scrutinise the Government's proposals and how adequately they fulfil the function presently carried out by DPTAC-and given the Minister's assurances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, the effect of these two amendments would be to move Consumer Focus-the National Consumer Council, as it is probably better known to the House-from Schedule 1, in other words the list to be abolished, to Schedule 5, whereby its functions would be transferred elsewhere. It is clear from everything that the Government have said that they do not wish to abolish the role, functions and duties of Consumer Focus, nor, indeed, to lose its expertise and specialist market understanding. The plans as set out are to merge all these functions and duties under two independent charities, Citizens
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The intended transfer of such functions therefore stands quite appropriately, as the Government envisage it, within the powers of Clause 5, which is the power to transfer functions. I see no reason for it to be within the powers of the Minister under Clause 1, which is the power to abolish. Indeed, given that Consumer Focus was set up by an Act of Parliament, with the full support of this House, as late as 2007, with its role, remit, powers and responsibilities well debated and agreed at that time, it would seem the most extraordinary use of the Clause 1 powers to abolish it without primary legislation. It is not, in the words of an earlier debate, a dead duck or anything like it.
That is not what had been planned, in so far as we have been told. Its statutory work on behalf of consumers, young people, old people and those in rural areas-the vulnerable throughout the United Kingdom-is projected to continue. Consumer Focus's powers to seek market information and to represent users' interests in the setting of prices, the taking up of complaints and of super-complaints on behalf of all consumers-all these, we understand, are destined to remain and simply to be transferred to Citizens Advice.
Your Lordships are well aware of the superb record of the National Consumer Council-the Minister was, of course, a prior chair-and, more recently, of Consumer Focus. We are all aware of the savings in energy bills that it has made for millions of consumers. We also know of its work in establishing ombudsman schemes and in improving markets to work better for consumers. It has statutory powers to demand information from across all sectors of the economy, particularly in relation to energy and postal services. It has a statutory duty to have a particular regard to the needs of the disabled, the elderly, the poor and vulnerable workers and to represent consumers across all four nations by having a presence there. All of these will, we assume, be retained. So unless there is more that we do not know of, surely it is much more appropriate for Consumer Focus to belong in Schedule 5, not in Schedule 1. On that basis, I beg to move the amendment.
Lord Borrie: My Lords, in the course of many debates on the Bill, the question has repeatedly been raised, "If such-and-such a body is abolished, what is going to replace it? Who will do the tasks that the abolished body has performed?". That is a very significant question in regard to this amendment, appropriately put forward by my noble friend Lady Hayter, because although the Government have thrown out a few of what I might call titbits of information-that Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland will give a certain amount of advice and will be better resourced than they are at the moment, struggling though the Government are for resources on all sorts of matters-the Government have also indicated that, so far as enforcement of the law is concerned, where retailers or others have contravened legislation, the trading standards officers employed by local authorities are to do the job of helping the consumer.
Even if one accepts that to a degree and ignores the consumer work of the Office of Fair Trading-as noble Lords know, I have declared an interest as a past head, or director-general, of that body-there is still the huge problem that the National Consumer Council has over the years produced a great deal of research, many studies and publications which have informed the Government, informed the Office of Fair Trading and informed the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, as it now is. What is the substitute for that going to be if the National Consumer Council is abolished?
This week I noticed, because I got a large envelope in my post, that in the closely related field of competition policy the Government have worked out what is going to happen-in, at the moment, 100-plus pages of information. At the moment it is a Green Paper, next it will be a White Paper and then there will be legislation. There is a great deal of detail on matters that we might come to shortly on Report. We are to have a merger of the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission. They are to constitute a competition and markets authority, and a whole lot of the Government's Green Paper is taken up with how that is to be governed, what the governance is, how it is to work, various matters relating to antitrust merger policy and so on.
That is the sort of consultation detail-admittedly, the Government have not yet had the results of that consultation-that we in this House and the other place should have been given before the Public Bodies Bill was put forward listing whole hosts of bodies to be abolished without any explanation about any of them, except for a few titbits, as I have called them, of responses in this House and elsewhere by government Ministers about their reasons. We in this House are still very uncertain, even at the Report stage of the Bill, about why some of these bodies are to be abolished or merged or to have their functions transferred according to various schedules. Thank goodness that the Government have given way on Schedule 7 and withdrawn it; at least we do not have that huge pending tray of bodies that could possibly be abolished. Still, there is great uncertainty and, if she does not mind my saying so, I am sure that my noble friend Lady Hayter will agree that although the Government have said some things about this, they still have to do a lot of homework on what is to replace the work of the National Consumer Council.
The work of that body has been splendid. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, was a distinguished chairman. Another distinguished former chairman, the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, is sitting in her place. I am glad to say that the chairmen of the National Consumer Council, while always eminent and excellent people, were not necessarily Conservatives; Lord Young of Dartington, my noble friend Lord Whitty and others have been chairmen as well. A combination of political expertise and experience has been brought to bear on a body that has given advice over the years since it was set up in 1975, which is quite a long period now. Many Governments have benefited from that body. What is to replace it? Have the Government given a complete answer to that? I would be very glad if the Minister could say a little more on this amendment.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Borrie has hinted, I declare a recent interest as a former chair of Consumer Focus. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, is one of my predecessors, as is the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, who is here as well. This might seem to be a slightly esoteric debate, but it is not. Consumer Focus, the National Consumer Council and the other bodies that preceded Consumer Focus have done decades of work on behalf of consumers. They have influenced Governments, regulators, business behaviour and behaviour in the public sector. It is important that that role is preserved along with that level of expertise.
My noble friend Lady Hayter's amendments seem to go with the grain of where the latest indication of government policy suggests that the department and the Government want to be. I say that with some doubt in my voice because, as my noble friend Lord Borrie has indicated, the Government's exact strategy in this area has to a great extent been obscure, and I fear that the Minister's department has been buffeted by powers around Whitehall that might be greater than she and her colleagues are able to exert. Originally her department came out with a sensible discussion on all the statutorily based consumer bodies and their relationships with regulators and industries, and decided to have a landscape review. Its original intention was to bring some of those bodies together and rationalise the landscape because there were too many such bodies with conflicting, or at least overlapping, duties, and what was being achieved in one sector was not being reflected effectively in another. I applauded that approach.
It is also clearly the Government's view that the main part of Consumer Focus's activity should be carried out not by a quango but in the third sector. Some on these Benches would probably raise an eyebrow at that; I know that my noble friend Lord Borrie did not agree with me. In principle, though, I have no objection to the consumer interest being protected by a powerful and properly resourced third-sector body, its role recognised in statute. In some ways, that makes an enormous amount of sense.
We are not at that point, however; we are at the point where the research, policy, advice and educational functions of Consumer Focus are in limbo. We know that the Government's intention is to transfer them to Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland. However, the Government have not indicated which functions or powers will be transferred. Some of those powers are very effective, as my noble friend Lady Hayter has said-for example, the statutory power to require information. To date, the Government have not said explicitly that they are going to transfer all those powers to Citizens Advice. Likewise, Citizens Advice has not said that it wishes to accept or exert those powers. As noble Lords will know, the central function of Citizens Advice is also dependent on significant resources from the Minister's department, and those resources have been cut. Citizens Advice has to assess whether it can effectively carry out those extra functions, and we do not yet have an answer to that.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said that government Amendment 94 makes it explicit that functions transferred
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I am going quite a long way with the Government on this. It is not necessarily where I or the Consumer Focus board started from, but we accept some general strategy from the Government to bring some of these things together and place them in the third sector. There will be transfers. There will be a transfer of our functions to Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland, although they will be subject to the uncertainties that I have mentioned. Those uncertainties are made more difficult by the fact that the department originally indicated that a draft of the consultation document on this change would be before the public by this stage but we have yet to see such a draft. That uncertainty is only part of it, though. There will also have to be powers of transfer to the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland for our postal functions. In Scotland and Wales, as the Minister may be aware, parties in the devolved Administrations are saying that they want to retain something like Consumer Focus Scotland and Consumer Focus Wales.
There will therefore be multiple transfers. The Government have always said that they do not intend to lose these functions. It is therefore wrong that Consumer Focus should be in Schedule 1. Logically, according to the Government's own presentation of their strategy, it should be in Schedule 5. I have not heard Ministers or anyone in this House suggesting that any of the powers, functions or duties of Consumer Focus should be lost entirely. Therefore, they should be transferred. If the Government attempt to transfer to an organisation that cannot accept that transfer, and if they have exerted the powers under Schedule 1, the powers, duties, activities, expertise and potential to do effective work on behalf of consumers are lost until we return to a new piece of primary legislation which inevitably some Government at some point will have to introduce.
These two amendments-the switch from the abolition of Consumer Focus to a transfer of its functions-are in line with what we have been told is the Government's position and what we are told are the powers that the Government will need. It is counterproductive to the Government's own objective to retain it where it is.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, like many Members of your Lordships' House, I am an unqualified admirer of the work of citizens advice bureaux. I have quite a long personal association with it. I helped to found a branch of the CAB in a neighbouring borough in Wallsend on Tyneside in the early 1970s. From time to time, as a practising solicitor, I used to attend advice sessions in the bureau and have worked closely with a bureau in Newcastle for many years.
The proposal that is embodied in the Bill, however, is effectively the transfer of a strategic function currently carried out at national level by the national consumer body--as we have heard-to the CAB. This does not seem to be a sensible procedure so far as the bureau is concerned, particularly in present circumstances. At the moment, people up and down the country are facing extreme difficulties as a result of the financial situation in which local authorities find themselves. In Newcastle's case, for example, the grant to the CAB has been reduced by 20 per cent. At the same time, although there is apparently a temporary reprieve in government support for financial advice, there is a real problem about maintaining nine debt advisers, who are currently unemployed-indeed, they were placed on notice until a reprieve was given and the £25 million national funding was extended for another year. There is, however, still considerable doubt about this. Equally, we are in the middle of a recession at the moment. Unemployment is rising. Problems of all kinds flow from that and present themselves at the bureau.
My final consideration is that we are likely to see significant changes in the legal aid and advice system, which again will throw greater pressure on local bureaux. It is in dealing with people's individual difficulties and complaints that the work of the bureau is at its best and where it will need, I suspect, to be concentrated very significantly over the next few years against the very difficult background. The bureau is almost a franchise, in the sense that there is a national body but each bureau is independent. I frankly do not see how bureaux such as those in the north-east and elsewhere, facing the difficulties that they are, will be able to contribute significantly to the much more strategic consumer representational role that is envisaged under the transfer of responsibilities that will flow from the measures in the Bill. I urge that the matter be reviewed again. There is a great danger of undue responsibility being passed to an organisation that will simply not be capable of delivering but which will continue to provide a service to the very many people who require it now and will continue to require it in the future.
It is frankly the wrong choice for the bureau to have accepted to undertake the Government's offer to do the kind of work that they would like the bureau to do nationally. It is a diversion from its real responsibility. For that reason alone-quite apart from the very cogent arguments advanced by my noble friends and shared in different parts of the House-I am very reluctant to see the Bill go through in its proposed form.
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara: My Lords, we support the amendment of my noble friend Lady Hayter. I thank all the other noble Lords-noble friends in particular-who have spoken on this topic. I declare an interest. I was, like many noble Lords in the Chamber today, involved at some point with the National Consumer Council. I was also a member of the advisory committee and served briefly under the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I enjoyed the experience very much. I also declare an interest as the chair of the Foundation for Credit Counselling, which has a relationship with the citizens advice bureau in the area of debt management and advice, to which my noble friend Lord Beecham referred.
At the end of the excellent debate on 11 January, the Minister said that she would reflect on the debate. Anyone reading the debate would have realised that its quality and the extensive references that were made from all round the House to the work of the NCC and Consumer Focus and to the worries that people had about the transfer had borne in on the Minister. I have read her words and took from them that she would not only reflect very hard on what she had heard during that debate but that she would talk to the responsible Minister in the other place, who, she assured us, would also be following the debate very closely. We are owed the outcome of those discussions and debates and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say when she responds.
In this debate, we have again been reminded that the points that seem to come from the discussion around the Bill as it affects consumer areas is that this is about a transfer of functions and not about an abolition of those functions, which must continue. A good society requires proper concern for all consumers-vulnerable as well as ordinary. There are a vast range of statutory and other functions that need to be carried out. The thinking that needs to go into that appears to be only partially developed. We talk about a loss of capacity across the piece because the current functions will not necessarily continue.
The loss of advocacy that has been referred to is not just for ordinary consumers but for the vulnerable, as has the loss of accountability both to Parliament and to the wider society that is in statute in the current provisions but might not continue to be as we move towards a solution that involves charities. We will lose the ability perhaps to gain access to information held in private companies and corporations. This will be a serious loss to Citizens Advice should it take up these responsibilities, as it will not have those powers. However, if it does have these powers, it will be a very strange body indeed, with its ability to interrogate and hold to account those who have customarily been outside its remit.
These and other points seem to suggest-in the words of others who spoke earlier in this debate-that there is quite a high hurdle for the Government to overcome to convince us and the public more generally that what they are doing is in the best interests of the consumers they seek to serve. Although we accept, as my noble friend Lord Whitty admitted, that rationalisation was necessary in what was becoming a very cluttered landscape, the Bill does not provide the solution. We wish to hear how the Government think it does. As was evidenced in the contributions to this debate and in Committee, the loss of the NCC or Consumer Focus will be felt right across the piece.
As my noble friend Lord Borrie reminded us, and my noble friend Lord Whitty echoed, we still do not really know what will happen. Where is the consultation document that was promised in the spring? Spring, as those of you who have been able to go outside today, has arrived. Indeed it almost feels like early summer, yet we still do not have that piece of paper. We need to have an engaged consultative process because we need to know where these functions are going. This is important. It is difficult to see what is happening. The
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Baroness Wilcox): My Lords, the debate today has reiterated the concerns about the proposals for reform expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and other noble Lords in Committee in January. As then, I am grateful for their contributions. The Government will consult fully on these proposals and will pay close attention to the responses received, as well as to the points made today. I had hoped that the consultation would be issued before the restrictions placed on such publications by the forthcoming elections in Scotland and Wales on 5 May. That has unfortunately not been possible. Therefore, publication will now be after those elections have occurred, for which I am sorry, as I know are other noble Lords here today.
The Government firmly believe that the functions of Consumer Focus will be better carried out by the Citizens Advice service, comprising Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland. If these functions are transferred, there will be no need for the current Consumer Focus organisation to continue to exist. That is why it is in Schedule 1 to the Bill. The Citizens Advice service is widely recognised and trusted by the public. Its unique selling point is that it has local representation through the citizens advice bureaux in communities throughout the country. It offers a presence on the high street where people can call in to get advice and information. It can cater for those who need personal contact-people who may not be comfortable with an online or telephone service. It can also assist vulnerable consumers face-to-face, identify their problems and help with solutions. While Consumer Focus currently assists around 7,000 customers directly, the Citizens Advice service advises and supports millions of individuals every year.
The alternative that the noble Baroness raises through her second amendment-to include Consumer Focus in Schedule 5 to the Bill-would keep it in existence but create a power to amend or transfer some of its functions. As she has made clear today, her amendments question the Government's overall intent for the future role of the Citizens Advice service in research and advocacy on behalf of consumers. Therefore, I will say a little more about this.
Questions have been raised, in particular, about the capacity of the Citizens Advice service to engage at a national level with industry sector regulators and government and international bodies. On 5 March, Consumer Focus published a paper entitled Regulated Industries and the Consumer, which sets out its view of
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It is important here that I make the point that I am talking about the national umbrella organisations Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland, not the individual, locally organised bureaux, which are independent of these national organisations. Under our proposals, funding would follow functions. This will allow the Citizens Advice service to acquire the extra skills and capabilities that it will need. This will be particularly to develop further capability in research and to increase the depth of its engagement with sectoral regulators and international consumer policy organisations.
A key issue will be to develop an effective operational model. Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland have unparalleled intelligence about consumer detriment from the front line of advice-giving. Their evidence base will expand further when they establish a successor to the national Consumer Direct helpline. They will need to bring together this evidence with the national research capability that Consumer Focus currently has, as well as its contacts with sectoral regulators and international consumer organisations. I am pleased that the respective chief executives of the three organisations are actively working together to make sure that a robust and credible operational model is established. There is still considerable time left to work through the detail. Completing the transition to the new arrangements will take until 2013, so we are not hurrying.
On other aspects of our proposals, I do not wish to take up your Lordships' time by repeating what I said in Committee. However, I reiterate that the Government intend to provide sufficient funding for the Citizens Advice service to take on the consumer functions of the Office of Fair Trading, Consumer Focus and possibly other sectoral consumer bodies. Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland will be accountable to Parliament through this public funding, and to their trustees as independent charities.
Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: To be given all these powers and functions, and to carry them out well, they will need not just extra money but a lot of different training in the different branches of consumer affairs that they will have to deal with.
Baroness Wilcox: Indeed, and that is why the consultation has been in-depth, why it is continuing now and why the chief executives of the organisations are coming together to make sure that this changes over and happens well. These and other issues, such as whether and how statutory powers are transferred to
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The intention of the Government in making these proposals is to provide the best possible service for consumers, to be their champion at a national and international level, and to provide information and advice in ways that suit them best. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: I first thank my noble friends Lord Borrie, Lord Whitty, Lord Beecham and Lord Stevenson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes. As a former chair and Consumer Minister, she well understands the work of the organisation, as was indicated. I bow to her judgment. I agree strongly with my noble friend Lord Borrie that the whole move is still unsatisfactory. However, the point of this amendment is to help, rather than take on the whole of that issue. It is meant to help the Government by moving the NCC to Schedule 5, thereby increasing the flexibility that is open to them as they review the consumer environment.
As her own department is now finding out, and as my noble friend Lord Beecham has said, the CABs are already overwhelmed. My noble friend Lord Hunt said that in Birmingham all five are at risk, and there is to be a 20 per cent cut in Newcastle. All their energies will be put into what they do well at the moment. Advising individuals is simply not the same job as providing cross-market advice on how markets work for consumers. Someone yesterday said to me, "I like Citizens Advice. They are just like our local post office". As the Minister said, Citizens Advice is indeed trusted, local and it knows you. However, combining it with Consumer Focus is rather like putting the post office together with a merchant bank such as Goldman Sachs. Just because they both do the same thing-handle money-you do not merge them. Just because Consumer Focus and Citizens Advice are interested in consumers, you do not merge them.
However, that is not in the proposal in front of us. I had expected the review of the consumer landscape to be revealed. I am grateful for the information, although not the content, which we will not now receive until after 5 May. However, the Government, in advance of announcing their consultation, already wanted to put Consumer Focus into the abolition bucket. That undermines and misunderstands the work of Consumer Focus, which is about consumer input into consumer policy. As my noble friend Lord Whitty said, we risk the loss of the statutory powers if Citizens Advice is unable to take on those powers, and if Consumer Focus remains in Schedule 1. That is a big risk. As my noble friend Lord Stevenson said, we risk losing advocacy and representation.
The role of Citizens Advice is face-to-face. It is about individual consumers. It is not about national policy or taking on British Airways, Virgin, internet providers or big national organisations that can also treat consumers poorly. Although I welcome the reference to international and European consumer policy, that is quite different from representing individuals in need-over money, housing or family problems.
We are talking about a transfer of functions that were laid down in the 2007 Act. I fear that the Government want to abolish those functions; otherwise, why are they putting Consumer Focus in the abolition bucket? I have heard the words of the Minister, but there is an overwhelming case for not abolishing Consumer Focus, but for putting it into Schedule 5, under which some functions could be transferred if the review shows that that is the best way forward. I should like to test the opinion of the House.
The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, this is the first of three Measures before your Lordships' House this evening. It is the only one that changes existing law. The Care of Cathedrals Measure and the Mission and Pastoral Measure are consolidation Measures.
Earlier this afternoon we heard a reference from the Dispatch Box to the writings of PG Woodhouse. I was minded of that great chronicler of cathedrals and of clergy life, Anthony Trollope, who once wrote that a lawyer,
I am sure that that does not apply to any noble and learned Lords in this House. Those who have laboured on these three Measures-lawyers among them-have had quite the opposite intent. The Measures are about clarification, consistency and transparency. It may be convenient for your Lordships if I speak to all three of them now.
The Ecclesiastical Fees (Amendment) Measure amends the Ecclesiastical Fees Measure 1986. It is concerned with two matters. The first is parochial fees that are payable in connection with the occasional offices of the church, principally weddings and funerals. The second is fees that are payable to the ecclesiastical judges and the church's legal officers-chancellors, diocesan registrars and others-for carrying out their official duties. I will deal first with parochial fees. A quarter of a century's experience has shown that there are aspects of the current legislation that do not well serve either the church or those to whom it offers its parochial ministry-which means, in principle, every person in England. The 1986 Measure contains a definition of "parochial fees" that has proved to be rather obscure. The General Synod's Legal Advisory Commission found it difficult to say with certainty precisely what the current definition covered, particularly in the case of crematorium funerals, which are now very common. The commission advised that the definition should be amended to make it clear which matters were covered by parochial fees.
The Measure before your Lordships' House does that. The duties that give rise to the payment of fees are itemised in a schedule. They include marriages, which have always been the subject of parochial fees. Also itemised are the different types of funeral that take place nowadays, not just those that take place in church. The opportunity has also been taken to include some of the newer occasional offices for which the Church of England service books now make provision, including services of prayer and thanksgiving after civil marriage. This should mean that people who wish
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The Measure provides a power, subject to synodical and parliamentary control, to amend the itemised list by order should that prove necessary in future. A certain amount of flexibility has therefore been built in to the new legislative framework. Parochial fees orders will continue to be made by the Archbishops' Council, subject to the approval of the General Synod, and will continue to be laid as statutory instruments before both Houses of Parliament under the negative procedure. The existing practice has been for orders to be made annually so that the fees can be adjusted to keep up with inflation. The new Measure provides a useful facility to enable orders to be made for up to five years at a time, with inbuilt increases in the prescribed fees.
Another useful facility provided by the Measure is a power to specify the costs and expenses that are to be included in the statutory fees. Under the existing statutory framework, there is considerable variation between parishes on services that are charged as extras over and above the statutory fees. This can lead to the unsatisfactory situation, for example, where people who are getting married are surprised to be asked for substantial sums for administration, vergers' fees and so on, in addition to the published statutory fees, a situation which a nationally applicable table of parochial fees was always intended to avoid.
There are, of course, always some genuinely optional extras that people will ask for, such as professional music and flowers. It is not proposed that these should be included in the fees that will be prescribed in the parochial fees order. However, it is envisaged that in future fees orders will specify as included in the statutory fee certain costs and expenses that are necessarily incurred in making the church available for the service. As with parochial fees orders generally, the exercise of the power will be subject to the scrutiny of the General Synod and of both Houses of Parliament.
The other main change that the Measure will bring about, while legally significant, is essentially a matter of tidying up. Under the current statutory framework, parochial fees are divided into two categories: fees payable to the incumbent and fees payable to the parochial church council. Under the Measure, fees continue to be payable to parochial church councils but the incumbent's fee is replaced by a fee payable to the diocesan board of finance. This is not nearly as significant a change as it might seem. In practice, more than 90 per cent of incumbents assign their parochial fees by deed to the diocesan board of finance when they are appointed. They are then paid the full diocesan stipend. The small number of incumbents who do not assign their fees to the diocese in this way nevertheless declare their fee income to the diocese by sending in regular returns. Their stipends are then reduced accordingly. No one currently not assigning fees will be obliged to do so; there is a provision for them to opt out if they so wish.
Possibly contrary to public perception, parochial fees no longer benefit the incumbent directly-it is a long time now since that was the case. In providing for what used to be the incumbent's fees to be payable to the diocesan board of finance, the Measure simply puts current practice on a proper statutory footing. This change, which reflects the reality of the situation, is in the interests of transparency and will provide legal clarity as to the ownership of the fees.
Lord Cormack: I am most grateful to the right reverend Prelate for giving way. He has not mentioned the position of non-stipendiary priests, who frequently take funerals and marriages and so on. Many parishes, such as my own, have a non-stipendiary in charge of them. Can he clarify the situation? I believe that it was made clear during the Ecclesiastical Committee's deliberations that they will be paid directly as they are not receiving a stipend.
The Lord Bishop of Exeter: I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for raising that important point for clarification. This Measure will aid the process because diocesan boards of finance will now be encouraged to have a policy. That will mean that not only self-supporting ordained ministers but, for example, readers, who in certain rural areas in my diocese take a considerable number of funerals, will have provision made for their remuneration. Therefore, again, this is a useful outcome of tidying up the procedures.
I turn to the second aspect of the Measure-the changes relating to ecclesiastical judges' and legal officers' fees. Fees are payable to diocesan chancellors in respect of their judicial work-principally the exercise of the faculty jurisdiction in respect of church buildings and their contents. They are also payable to diocesan registrars for the wide range of legal work that they undertake for the bishop and other officials and bodies in the life of the diocese. These fees are prescribed annually in fees orders that are ultimately laid before both Houses of Parliament as statutory instruments. These fees orders are made by a specially constituted statutory body-the Fees Advisory Commission.
Under existing statutory provisions, the commission is constituted in such a way that half its membership consists of lawyers. The current balance was considered by the commission to be not entirely satisfactory. Following a review of its constitution and functions, two specific changes were proposed, and these are provided for in the Measure that is now before your Lordships' House.
The first of these changes is the reconstitution of the Fees Advisory Commission so that its membership consists of three elements: the users of the legal services, in the form of a bishop, a Church Commissioner and a chairman of the diocesan board of finance; the providers of legal services, represented by a chancellor, a provincial registrar and a diocesan registrar; and an independent element in the form of persons appointed by the Church of England's Appointments Committee.
A minor change is also made to the commission's functions. It will be required to keep itself informed of the duties of the judges and legal officers who receive the fees that the commission prescribes. This is intended
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As the material contained in the report of the Ecclesiastical Committee shows, the Ecclesiastical Fees (Amendment) Measure received detailed and thorough scrutiny during its passage through the Synod, both in committee and at the revision stage in full Synod. It received overwhelming majorities in all three houses of the General Synod at final approval. The Ecclesiastical Committee is of the opinion that the Measure is expedient and I am pleased to commend it to your Lordships' House.
I shall not need to detain your Lordships long on the other two Measures. As I mentioned, they are both consolidation Measures. They do not change the law; they simply consolidate in single Measures all the enactments relating to particular subjects. Perhaps I might add that this is something that Parliament itself might consider doing with secular legislation.
The Care of Cathedrals Measure consolidates the Care of Cathedrals Measure 1990, which made provision for the care and conservation of cathedrals, and a number of subsequent enactments that either added to its provisions or amended it. The Mission and Pastoral Measure consolidates the Pastoral Measure 1983-itself a consolidation of a number of enactments that were "designed to make better provision for the cure of souls"-together with a long list of subsequent enactments that have amended it in various ways. In fact, consolidation of the Pastoral Measure was first suggested by the chairman of the Ecclesiastical Committee, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, who has asked me to say how sorry he is not to be in his place this evening. If I may respectfully say so, that was a most helpful suggestion and it is one that we have been pleased to adopt. We saw the benefit of doing the same with the care of cathedrals legislation. I therefore also commend these Measures to your Lordships' House. I beg to move.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we are debating three ecclesiastical Measures tonight and I am most grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter for his very clear explanation. The Ecclesiastical Committee has considered these matters and is of the view that they are expedient. It is noticeable that in the General Synod there was unanimous support for the Care of Cathedrals Measure. There was also almost unanimous support for the Mission and Pastoral Measure. In relation to those two Measures, such support is clearly significant. With the Ecclesiastical Fees (Amendment) Measure, it is noticeable that in Synod the votes in the House of Clergy were 99 for the ayes and 10 for the noes, and, in the House of Laity, 115 for the ayes and nine for the noes, so there was clearly a moderate measure of disagreement. Perhaps the right reverend Prelate would be prepared to comment on the debate and on the reasons why some members of the Synod opposed the Measure.
I have of course taken note that in its 229th report the Ecclesiastical Committee is very clear on these Measures, as was the right reverend Prelate. The committee points out the defects in the current legislation and the recommendation of the Deployment, Remuneration and Conditions of Service Committee. Reading the
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I also noted from the deliberation that took place on 30 November that, in an answer to my noble friend Lord Bilston, we were reassured that payments to choirs, bellringers, organists, florists and suchlike are not covered by the statutory fees. My noble friend reminded noble Lords that he led a strike nearly 60 years ago, when he wanted to increase the stipend-I assume this was as a choirboy-from a shilling to two shillings:
"We had a very recalcitrant clergyman who wouldn't concede that point. I thought it was quite a legitimate increase. So we had to go and sit on the church wall for an hour during the month of March-as you know, the tax issues were very relevant then. I led the choir out to sit on the wall for an hour before the next marriage. We are talking about marriages or funerals. After the hour, the vicar came out and offered us the two shillings and we went back and sang with gusto".
Lord Cormack: My Lords, I will speak briefly. I was delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, quoted Lord Bilston. It made me feel very nostalgic for the Ecclesiastical Committee, on which I served for 40 years-probably a record. I also served on the General Synod for 10 years. I am bound to say that not every piece of legislation sent by General Synod to your Lordships' House and the other place had my warm approval. It is incredibly important, as we have an established church, that both your Lordships' House and the other place have a proper opportunity to debate the Measures that come before us. I am very glad to see that the noble Lord is nodding so vigorously in assent. I am very proud of the fact that we have an established church. Of course, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter made the point-very gently-in his extremely cogent and clear speech, that every single person in England is entitled to the ministrations and services of the Church of England. That is something which people of all faiths and none frequently have cause to be truly thankful for. It is important, therefore, that we should be debating these things.
I would make two very brief points. The first expands on what I said in my intervention. The Church of England, particularly in rural areas, is becoming increasingly dependent upon the services of non-stipendiary ministers and of lay people. There is something good about that, but there is also something that the church needs to devote very real and constructive attention to; the business of the retirement age of clergy. There are many clergy over the age of 70 who
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The second point I want to make very briefly is on the cathedrals Measure. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter did not really deal in any detail with this. He merely said it was a consolidation Measure, which it truly is-a very good one at that. I warmly commend it. It gives us an opportunity to reflect upon the centrality of the cathedral in every diocese; the fact that our cathedrals-particularly our great medieval cathedrals-are among the greatest, if not the greatest, buildings in this country. Who could imagine Ely without its cathedral; Lincoln or Durham without their cathedrals; Salisbury without its cathedral? Exeter? One could go on.
Lord Cormack: Chichester, indeed-a good interjection. In the 19th century its spire blew down, as I remember, and that underlines the vulnerability of any great but old and fragile building. The church does shoulder-very willingly, I am glad to say-the burden of sustaining these extremely wonderful buildings, but there is a national responsibility beyond that.
My very first parliamentary exercise was to introduce the Historic Churches Preservation Bill way back in 1971 in the other place. From that we got state aid for churches, and later we got state aid for cathedrals. Without the money that has come more latterly through English Heritage, our cathedrals would have been in a much more parlous state than they are, notwithstanding the dedicated service that those who minister within them give. We ought to register in this brief debate that no country deserves to call itself civilised if it neglects its greatest architectural glories.
It is good that in this consolidation Measure the church is tidying up its own approach, making it more cohesive and coherent-I warmly commend that-but there is also a continuing obligation upon us to ensure that the nation outside the Church of England plays its part in ensuring that these great marvels of ecclesiastical architecture can be enjoyed by future generations.
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I associate myself with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. We have had many opportunities in different capacities-in the arts and heritage group, once chaired by the noble Lord, through to many other hats that we wear-to see the increased pressure on cathedrals, with York, Canterbury and so on having bits literally falling off. One wag asked why we do not have the tower sponsored by Burger King. More seriously, the Church of England does not want to go in the direction of a state fabric authority as in France. There are very many reasons why France and Britain do not have the same history, but in this connection it might be a marker for the future; the situation is increasingly unstable. With 14 cathedrals knocking simultaneously at the door of every merchant banker in the country, we might ask whether or not it is proper for HMG to be more forthcoming about its public policy assessment of the scenarios for the future. I do not know what toes I am treading on in saying that, but these questions have very wide ramifications.
Lord Laming: My Lords, I also thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter for so expertly setting out the contents of these three Measures. The Measures referring to the care of cathedrals and the ecclesiastical fees might well be described as tidying-up pieces of legislation, but that in no way should detract from their importance. The way in which these items, which are most timely, have been handled-not only through Synod, which has been extremely thorough and careful over its deliberations, but also, if I may say, through the Ecclesiastical Committee-gives me confidence to commend these three Measures to the House.
Lord Newby: I begin by associating myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, about the immense amount of work that has been done to get the Measures tabled, and congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his introduction of them.
The Measures do not deal with the level of fees. They state how they are to be set-there is a great infrastructure for that-but there is a big issue about how we should set the fee. When I raised that question in the Ecclesiastical Committee, the response was that, at the moment, if anyone asked the church to justify the figures in terms of actual costs, it would be hard put to do so. An attempt was to be made to work up a realistic estimate of the cost of providing authorised ministry buildings, and so forth.
If I may say so, that will require the judgment of Solomon. First, the amount of authorised ministry-I declare an interest as a clergy spouse-varies so enormously from case to case. Certainly with funerals, the amount of time that can be taken where there has been a tragic death in the family is phenomenal, and is one of the most important things that the clergy do. That is extremely difficult.
I also hope that, without wanting to ramp the fees up, the committee or sub-committee that looks into it will not just look at the marginal costs. Going back to the point about cathedrals, you cannot have a wedding in a church unless the church has been kept up for the years before the wedding. Simply charging for so
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I also had a slightly mischievous thought when the right reverend Prelate was talking about a national table of fees. Some churches are extremely sought after, particularly for weddings. It is not because the population of the parish is particularly devout. It occurred to me that without necessarily adopting the Ryanair approach to pricing for churches, there is a different quality between a wedding conducted in a country church in July and in an inner-city church in January. I wonder whether it might be possible to contemplate seasonal variation.
Lord Newby: We might need to have a rebate in the event of rain. Some people get married in a particular kind of church at a particular time of year purely because they are paying for a better facility. In these harsh economic times, the church ought at least to explore that possibility.
Lord Bates: Having read the Measures, I was intrigued particularly by Parts 6 and 7 and wanted to question a little further. My prompt for asking this question was a walk on Saturday through my home town of Gateshead. I walked past about six different church buildings with my father. As we were walking, we were estimating the congregations in each of those six different church buildings, which happened to include two Anglican, a Baptist, a Salvation Army and a Methodist church. We estimated that the congregations in the six buildings were in the region of 150 or 200 for all of them.
As this is a consolidation measure, which deals in Part 6 with the use of places of worship, one wonders about underutilisation of church buildings and how that could be addressed. When he comes to respond to this short debate, perhaps the right reverend Prelate can comment on what consideration is given to better use of existing buildings, because there are a lot of opportunities there.
That links with Part 7, which has some excellent language which talks about local ecumenical partnerships working with different denominations in pursuit of, in that quaint phrase, the cure of souls, in the local area. That provision within the mission in Part 7, if replicated in the building regulations in Part 6, could lead to some interesting collaborations which would be for the benefit of communities. There are now many ways in which those buildings could be used. They could be used for schools, going back to their original purpose. Why could not the church building be used for them? They could be used for housing.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Is the noble Lord aware that 40 per cent of all free schools are religious schools? Does he agree that in fact there is considerable concern about the nature of those schools-not, of course, the Church of England schools? I wonder whether he is right to encourage more free schools. I am not sure that that gets the balance right.
Lord Bates: Faith schools have an outstanding record. The churches were in education long before the Government ever got into the business. I would like to
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I am simply saying that there seem to be lots of opportunities, particularly in the age of the big society, for those marvellous facilities in the centre of communities to be used much more than they are. I would be grateful to know what consideration has been given to that in the preparation of the Measures.
The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in response to the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, asked about the Synod debate and was speculating on the reason why people might have voted against. It is perhaps worth saying that Synod is a large body of 470 members, but we have no Whips. I speculate, but it may well be that a few wish to register regret at what could be seen as the final logical stage in a long process stretching back over many decades. That would not be unknown in your Lordships' House.
I am very grateful for the reminder of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that the church is the church of the English people. Our word parish comes from two Greek words, It means "the dwellers alongside". I relate back to what the noble Lord, Lord Bates, said, about our churches. Some churches may have small congregations but we are not congregational churches, we are parish churches. Already, the provisions of Section 6 are enabling in many churches to be used much more creatively than they have in the past. Certainly, if you go back into the long distant past, they have been used for a whole variety of things-schoolrooms, yes, although I am not going to be tempted into a debate about schools-but other functions as well. Particularly in rural areas, but I could also take you to churches in urban Plymouth, churches are now used seven days a week in the service of the community, which is precisely what the parish church exists to do.
The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, reminded me that he has spent four years checking ecclesiastical legislation and declaring it expedient. So when I am in one of my grumpy old man moods, worrying about the pace of change, I now know who to blame.
I am also grateful to the noble Lord for pointing to the centrality of cathedrals in the life of the diocese, and the importance of us shouldering together the responsibility for maintaining these wonderful buildings. I say again that our church buildings are probably better maintained now than they ever have been. It is a huge tribute to those who worship within them, but also to the wider community. My own cathedral church is two-thirds of the way through raising £9 million. Much of that has been raised by the people of the wider community of Devon. We look to the support that we receive from agencies of the state, or associated with the state. I pay tribute to the work of English Heritage. A lot of us are hugely grateful for the continuation, albeit in a more limited way, of the listed places of worship grants scheme, which is a real help to many parish churches. I am grateful for those, and to the noble Lords, Lord Lea and Lord Laming, for making those same points.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Newby, for that recognition of the huge amount of work that goes into providing pastoral ministry and how it varies from place to place. It has never been the intention that a parochial fee should be set to realistically cover all those costs-including the dilapidation costs of the building, if you want to call them that. It is intended that it should be fair and affordable, and should not place any of these occasional offices beyond the reach of those who need them. The noble Lord tempts me into some interesting byways, with his suggestions of seasonal variations and perhaps a higher fee for a service taken by a bishop and a lower one for a service taken by a Lord Spiritual. I will not be tempted on that.
The only thing that I have not touched upon is the retirement age of clergy. As someone who could retire this summer, and will be forced to retire in five years' time, I am quite tempted to respond personally to that. The retirement age is at present prescribed by statute as 70, although bishops have discretion to allow incumbents to remain for up to two years. Indeed, archbishops can exercise discretion in relation to bishops, but only for up to one year. The church will consider that in the future, in the light of the raising of the retirement age generally, but change will require an amending Measure. It may be that your Lordships, having already heard me speak seven times this week, would like to keep the present retirement age enforcement. I commend the Ecclesiastical Fees (Amendment) Measure to the House.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, I am still surprised as to why the Government are seeking to move forward with local enterprise partnerships, leaving nothing at all at the regional level. I have been hoping for some time that there would be a measure of movement on the part of the Government, and I hope to hear about that from the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach.
The East Midlands Development Agency, better known as EMDA, was formed in 1999 and for the past 12 years has done a good job providing help and support to the economy of the East Midlands. It works regionally and sub-regionally where that is appropriate, so it is disappointing that the Government are seeking to abolish this RDA. I am not against reform per se, but it seems a bit over the top and creates a system that is unable to meet the needs of businesses and meet the regional challenges to create jobs and support the regional economy.
Noble Lords will be aware that the East Midlands is made up of six counties. It is the third largest and third most rural region in England, and has a population of 4.3 million people. There are well over a quarter of a million businesses in the region, and it is where I worked for many years. It is made up of largely rural counties with principal town and cities. I should say that I have great affection for the East Midlands. Compared with other parts of the United Kingdom, it is a region of relatively low wages and needs a measure of co-ordination and intervention at this level to protect jobs, boost job creation and enable businesses to flourish with the right sort of support. I am aware that other noble Lords who wish to speak in the debate will refer to the RDAs in their own areas, but I think that a recurring theme will be that at the regional level, this is a big mistake. Local enterprise partnerships on their own will not fill the gap. I beg to move.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 16A tabled in my name and in the names of several of my noble friends. Like my
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I turn first to the Government's response to the report of the Public Administration Select Committee entitled Smaller Government: Shrinking the Quango State. The response is brimful of bravado, which I would say is misplaced in this context, but I digress. I refer to paragraph 6 of the response, which deals with the £2.6 billion that will flow from savings on public bodies over the spending review period and the estimate of a reduction of at least £11 billion per year by 2014-15. It has been estimated in some quarters that it could cost as much as £1.4 billion to wind down the RDAs and complete existing programmes. Yet in his letter, the Minister tells me that it is not possible at this stage to quantify the costs of RDA closure. I am sure he is correct, but if so, how can the Government state categorically that total savings as a result of this legislation will be at least £2.6 billion during the spending review period? It would be helpful to have a more detailed breakdown of the savings, especially after the extraordinary hyperbole we heard at the beginning of the process-not, I hasten to add, from the Minister.
I turn now to the issue of consultation, which I raised in Committee. I welcome the increased consultation that is now a part of the Bill thus far, although my noble friend Lord Hunt will move further amendments on consultation in due course. But in relation to RDAs, the Minister told me in his letter that:
I hope that as a consequence of this Bill consultation will in future take place at the appropriate time-before announcements are made and legislation is introduced. I note from the Minister's letter that the Government are obliged to consult before laying any order to abolish the RDAs, assuming that they remain part of the Bill, and that they will meet this requirement. Personally, I think that such a consultation is far too late in the process. I also asked in Committee about the role of government offices. The Minister told me that BIS is working to put in place a new economic development delivery landscape and that this is the role that the network of small BIS local teams will be designed to fulfil. This is reinventing the wheel. In the main, the government offices do an excellent job at the moment. They may well need reforming but reform should not mean abolition; it should mean just some readjustment of the process which we have had thus far.
But what happens to the money if the assets are sold? The noble Lord told me what is going to happen vis-à-vis inward investment and UK Trade and Investment, which intends to procure a single national contract to co-ordinate and manage foreign investment propositions on behalf of the UK. That may be very good; I am not in a position to say. But the role that the RDAs played in inward investment as one-stop shops was truly invaluable and I should like reassurance from the Minister that there will be that sort of one-stop-shop process in any new system. That was instrumental in bringing industry and jobs to regions such as the north-west, the West Midlands and many others. The regions must be the motors for economic growth in our country. I am sure that the Minister will remind me that the policy of the Government is to have local economic partnerships, and indeed his right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced 11 new LEPs today. But I am still concerned that great swathes of the country will still not be covered, that not enough money will be available to support the LEPs, and that not enough attention will be given to strategic growth.
We all recognise that not all RDAs are as effective as they might be but that should not require the demolition of the whole system. On all sides of the Chamber there is clear recognition, for example, that the RDA in the north-east does a splendid job and has made a huge contribution to the economy and, consequently, to the fabric of society in the north-east. So why get rid of it? Like my noble friends, I continue to oppose the abolition of RDAs. I believe that innovation, employment, inward investment, new business, training and economic growth will all suffer, notwithstanding the creation of the LEPs and the additional LEPs which were announced today. Our economy and our society will suffer as a result.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, in Committee I dealt with the historical debate in the Labour movement and the very significant contribution made by my noble friend Lord Prescott and by Bruce Millan as a European Commissioner. I want to concentrate today on the future. I declare an interest in that my daughter-in-law works for Yorkshire First. However, my thoughts and comments are based on conversations with people in the north-west region and within the Northwest Regional Development Agency, which covered my former constituency following the creation of the agency in 1997.
My only interest in this issue is whether the new structures can deliver. I say that in the context of having spent almost 40 years of my life living in a region, or a sub-region, of the United Kingdom where historically there has been heavy unemployment. Delivery has been of primary concern to the Institute of Directors, which supports change but in its recent briefings has questioned whether LEPs have the resources, the focus and expertise to be able to deliver. In one of its most recent briefings, it states on resources that,
We need a far narrower focus. How can an organisation in the form of an LEP, with minimal resources, possibly cover a wide-ranging brief which includes transport, planning, infrastructure, housing delivery, development of growth hubs, local business regulation, skills in conjunction with Jobcentre Plus, leverage of funding from the private sector, development of financial entities for renewable energy projects and digital infrastructural projects? Some LEPs are talking in terms of inward investment initiatives, joint exhibition stands overseas and the organisation of European funding. In my view, they simply cannot do all that work with the resources that they have available and without the necessary expertise. They need far greater focus.
What I find really worrying is that the close relationship between larger regional employers and the regional structures is now in jeopardy, yet it is those links which more often than not have been the source of inward investment leads. Experience among agencies in the north shows that most of the foreign investment projects that came to the regions came through regional-partner contacts and not through the centre; that is, Whitehall. Many global players will simply not play ball with some of the more inexperienced LEPs, which they believe will lack the muscle to open the doors necessary to facilitate inward investment.
I accept that some LEPs will seek to be dynamic and ambitious, but a lot will not. Cash-starved LEPs will simply not attract the staff. In some areas of the country, regional policy and strategy will simply wither on the vine. I find it difficult to accept that a few BIS reps, genuinely committed to the regions as they may well be, along with the proposed UKTI-nominated single national contractor, will be able to maintain the contacts that the RDAs have so painstakingly built up over the years. The task requires more than a few well motivated and talented individuals from the centre, subject to Civil Service rotation, if regional strategies are to work, particularly in periods of recession.
The idea that local authority-driven LEPs can provide the levels of service required is questionable. Furthermore, it is my experience that large employers often steer clear of local authorities as they are often seen as too
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I find it extraordinary that we are all turning our back on the experience of regions throughout the European Union, which are doing precisely the reverse by developing and maintaining their regional structures as they compete for intra-Community infrastructural funds and inward investment. They will obviously place far more emphasis on regional GDP figures than will be the case in the United Kingdom. Our Government will no doubt concentrate on pushing national GDP as the measure of success so as to appease domestic concerns, thereby avoiding a more realistic focus on possible declines in regional GDP, which is what really matters. This is important because the RDAs have made a considerable contribution to the increase in regional GDP over all these years.
I find myself asking simple questions. Will efforts to secure regional funding from the European Union's various regional and sectional assistance pots be as vigorously pursued when they may become more dependent on Whitehall initiatives? We again cannot be sure. I note the assurances in the letter of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, but will the centre be as effective in driving the innovation agenda and the links with the universities? What about the handling of green and environmental infrastructural projects such as barrages, environmental parks and large-scale environmental clean-ups? These are often driven at a local level, but it is only with regional intervention that they seem to take off.
For example, in my former constituency there is a beautiful site for a potential large regional project-the RNAD dump at Broughton Moor. There had been some pollution on the site from munitions in storage after the Second World War. I managed to negotiate with Lewis Moonie-now the noble Lord, Lord Moonie-who was then a Defence Minister, for the local authority to take over that site for the sum of £1, which would compensate for the considerable funds that would have to be invested in environmental clean-up. Eleven years later almost nothing has happened.
There have been lots of false starts, and even today proposals for the site are still under consideration. What went wrong? The councils own the site. The Northwest Regional Development Agency had offered millions for its development as long as the councils could firmly establish the future development of the site for housing, leisure or something substantial. The council simply did not have the drive to pull the project together. In my view, if the Northwest Regional Development Agency had owned that site and had been responsible for its development, things would have been very different. With its funding, experience, contacts and drive, we would have been well on the
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What about the future of RDA work in the film and creative industries? I cannot see the LEPs getting their heads around project work in those sectors. Do we have confidence in the arrangements for business advice to SMEs? Do we believe that a national website, along with back-up from cash-starved, local authority-funded LEPs, can deliver business support services on the scale required in a downturn?
"RDA asset disposal plans have been developed taking account of the principles set out at high level in the Local Growth White Paper. These include maximising value for money from these assets, ensuring liabilities follow assets, and passing control down to the local level where possible".
"Maximising value for money" means selling off before assets fall further in value in the market that we are in at the moment. "Passing control down to the local level" means selling off to local authorities where they can afford to purchase. That is what I understand is going on at the moment. Plans are being laid for those purchases where possible.
If we want the measure of the real-world value of assets, we need do no more than look at what is happening in property auctions throughout the United Kingdom and in the property market more generally. What do we find? There are empty shops and offices all over the country. Commercial property is collapsing in value. Commercial rents in much of the country are falling. A lot of property companies are collapsing. A lot of factory leases are being sold off. The buy-to-let market is in difficulty. Repossessions in parts of the country are increasing. Large tracks of land-agricultural, agricultural with hope value, and residential land-are all coming on to the market. Just look in the auction catalogues. We can see what is happening. People are off-loading in a market that is going down. House prices are falling as the market seizes up-a market where we have very low interest rates. What happens when interest rates rise? That is the market in which asset sales are taking place. That should surely worry the Treasury.
We are talking about major assets-buildings, land, head leases, clawback assets, business and technology-related assets and the rest. I can only presume that the assets and liabilities working groups must have had a hell of a time sorting out the complicated business of sharing out assets and liabilities, although I know that the working groups have had great difficulty preparing the databases, identifying the extent of RDA overall assets and liabilities in both tangible and non-tangible form. In the case of the Northwest Regional Development Agency, I understand that it has joint venture projects with partnerships, termination and poor-performance payments based on final portfolio valuations. These must be extremely hard to value. It also has rights to income from the sale of land acquired under grant.
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Then there are the liabilities that arise in respect of CPO activities by the agency, such as the Ancoats development in Manchester and Kingsway in Rochdale. I am not altogether clear on the position, but these could carry substantial liabilities. We need to know how they are going to be sorted out. What about lease liabilities on properties currently leased to the Northwest Regional Development Agency for its own operational activities? Many of these properties do not include break clauses. Perhaps these problems have been sorted out. Again, I do not know what the final position is. What I do know is that the universal view across the north is that everyone wants to keep the assets in the region available for the use of the region. They do not want the ownership partnerships breaking up. They do not want a fire sale of assets in a collapsed market. They do not want the private sector to move in and take vast profits out of assets built up at the taxpayers' expense. This could easily happen on the back of hope-value assets. They want some form of successor body to be established, if necessary, for the handling of those assets, which for all sorts of reasons in the public interest should not be distributed at an early stage. They want to be assured-this is very important-that the survival of the Welsh and the Scottish development agencies will not place them at an advantage over the regional and national residual arrangements in the English regions for the attraction of inward investment, otherwise we will be placed at a disadvantage. That was the complaint of the English Forum of Regional Development Organisations in the mid-1990s. It cited marketing material in evidence for its accusations.
I keep asking myself, "Why destroy all this structure, which has been so painstakingly created?". I have learnt over my lifetime that it is very hard to build from scratch, anew. Think of the work that goes into the design of the product and the establishment of the brand name, the quality of the service and the development of a pool of expertise capable of delivering a viable service, in all senses of the phrase. Yet it is so easy to destroy it overnight-to destroy the product and end the service, breaking up the pool of talent and expertise, to put the padlocks and chain on the gate and close it all down and walk away. That is so simple; it is much easier than actually creating an organisation. I hope that that is not what is going to happen here.
Finally, it might be helpful if I remind the House what happened 30 years ago. History will repeat itself on occasions. After the election of the Conservative Government in 1979, the Conservatives went in with calls from their supporters for the closure of the Welsh and Scottish development agencies. Then what happened? The Government took stock and stood back to consider the implications of such vandalism; they consulted and finally relented, and both the WDA and the SDA survived. Rational thought took over from blind prejudice. They realised that the agencies had a real role to play.
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Lord Beecham: My Lords, I very much endorse what my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours said. I remind him that Marx stated that history repeats itself the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce. I am not sure whether if it repeats itself in this Bill it will be tragedy or farce. It certainly poses considerable threat to the regions of this country.
On the day that the Chancellor of the Exchequer announces what he describes as a Budget for growth, it is paradoxical that we should be debating the abolition of business-led regional development agencies that have played a significant part in both safeguarding and creating jobs. It is true, as my noble friend Lady Royall reminded us, that in reflecting different regional economies and needs their performance has necessarily been somewhat variable. However, as the BIS Committee pointed out, there was strong support for RDAs and regional structures from the private sector, and especially, and significantly, the Engineering Employers' Federation, particularly in the West Midlands and the north.
There are significant worries, expressed by the committee, about the loss of local knowledge and the risks of a "disorderly competitive scramble" within regions, as well as serious questions about the disposal of RDA assets which, in its view, are,
the LEPs, which the Government apparently see as successor bodies to RDAs. Yet these LEPs will have neither power nor resources, nor a role in inward investment, innovation or access to finance, nor the European funds, including in particular the ERDF.
These are arguments of general application, like those over the severely truncated funding reflected in the Regional Growth Fund, just about one-third of which was invested annually via RDAs. However, I want particularly to concentrate on the north-east, the very region singled out by Vince Cable last year, before his halo slipped a little, as the one with the strongest case for retaining a regional agency.
One North East has invested £2.7 billion across the region, from the Tweed to the Tees, over the past 11 years, attracting or helping to create 19,000 companies and creating or saving 160,000 jobs. It has led the way in developing the green economy, from support for Nissan and its electric vehicles, to wind turbine production and offshore wind power and, in the past year, a £60 million investment in a low-carbon initiative in the Tees Valley, and much else besides. It has promoted engineering apprenticeships; established a £125 million fund, Finance for Business North East; and attracted £100 million from the European Investment Bank and £300 million from the ERDF for the period 2007-13. In the past year alone, it attracted 55 foreign and five UK companies to the region, creating 2,000 new jobs and safeguarding 5,000 more. Its record on tourism has been remarkable. Tourism is worth about £4 billion to the regional economy, and the north-east has had the biggest growth in tourism of anywhere in the country outside London. Yet all this is now at risk due
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Today the Government have announced the creation of more enterprise zones, despite the doubts expressed about the previous round of such zones by, among others, the Work Foundation; Centre for Cities; again, and significantly, the Engineering Employers' Federation; and, despite the less-than-glowing experience within the north-east region itself, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool. Too often, as at Canary Wharf, the Metro Centre in Gateshead and other out-of-town developments, zones created in the 1980s produced retail and office developments with little in the way of the manufacturing industry now recognised on all sides as essential to the future prosperity of the nation.
What, one might ask, will be different this time, especially in the absence of strong, strategic bodies with the skill and resources to secure the kind of development and workforce skills so desperately needed? It is interesting to note, too, that today the Chancellor announced the welcome investment of £100 million in four new science facilities-at Cambridge, Norwich, Harwell and Daresbury-but I contrast that with a cut of £8 million which should have gone to the Newcastle Science City development, started by the previous Government, which the RDA had pledged but which it is not now able to provide.
This brings me to the question of assets, which I raised in Committee and which my noble friends Lady Royall and Lord Campbell-Savours referred to. I received no satisfactory answer to those questions-perhaps, in fairness to the Minister, because, as so often proves to be the case, decisions are made these days long before any consideration is given to, let alone any conclusions reached about, their financial consequences. I understand that the North East Economic Partnership-an unofficial grouping, as yet, of local authorities and business leaders in the region-has submitted a bid in relation to the retention of the RDA's assets for the benefit of the region. However, it seems that there is little likelihood of this bid succeeding, so the assets will not be transferred, thus denying the region a much needed resource.
"The Journal has been told the message coming out of Government is that the assets will not be passed on. Vince Cable's Department for Business is currently considering the future of the assets. If they are handed to the Partnership"-
I ask the Minister to tell us the current position. What meetings have Ministers held with north-east councils and business leaders about the issue of assets? What criteria will be applied in coming to a decision, and when will such a decision be made? Will he give an
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Finally, I turn to the question of the actual decision about abolition. Most of us have taken it as read that since the Government announced the abolition of RDAs last year and included them in the Bill, this was settled government policy. I was therefore surprised to read in the letter to my noble friend Lady Royall-which has already been referred to; and signed, of course, by the Minister-that not only have the Government,
Will he therefore assure the House that such a consultation will take place in every region and, most importantly, on the basis that the Government will be open to persuasion by business, local government and their social partners strictly on the merits of each individual case, such that they will not be in the position of either abolishing all RDAs or none?
We on this side recognise, as I am sure other noble Lords will, that that there are relatively stronger and relatively weaker cases for retention. Will the Minister give us an assurance that each will be considered on its merits on a case-by-case basis, assuming, as I fervently hope to be the case, that the amendment moved by my noble friend is not lost?
Baroness Quin: My Lords, I support the amendment that my noble friend Lord Beecham has tabled and to which I have put my name. I strongly agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, who showed why many of us have doubts that LEPs would be capable of carrying out the many tasks that regional development agencies have carried out until now. Indeed, if they were able to carry out those tasks then the two would effectively be duplicating each other and causing the picture to be much more confused than it has been.
With regard to the north-east, the Government have said that they have a localism agenda. The simple message therefore has to be: if local people want this, why can they not have it? My noble friend Lady Armstrong of Hill Top described in an earlier debate how the original impetus for the north-east regional development agency had come from within the north-east itself. I pay tribute to a former Member of this House, Lord Burlison, who, along with industry in the region, brought trade unions and industry together in a cohesive way in order to create a development agency before one was officially sanctioned by the Government. That was an important experience which showed what the attitude was in the north-east.
During the course of these debates, various Members have said, "Well, the north-east isn't so cohesive". I remember the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, who is in his place, saying that Northumberland was very different from parts of Durham, and I think that the Minister concurred somewhat with that point of view. I was born and brought up in Northumberland; I live there now and have lived in different parts of that county. The history of Northumberland, particularly if you
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It is true, as others have pointed out, that the north-east did not vote for a regional assembly but, having campaigned in that election, I know that there was certainly no controversy over the regional development agency at that time. Generally there has been wide acceptance of the need for a regional development authority in the north-east. It helps manufacturing vocations in the north-east-its exporting vocation, which the noble Lord, Lord Bates, mentioned in an earlier debate-in such sectors as engineering, the offshore sector and energy, as well as the way in which universities in the north-east have collaborated with industry.
Lord Grantchester: I shall speak to Amendment 17A in the absence of my noble friend Lord Liddle. In doing so I declare my interest in the region, having served on the sub-regional body Cheshire and Warrington Economic Alliance, one of five sub-regional bodies under the Northwest Regional Development Agency.
In the run-up to the most recent election, early versions of the Conservative-led Government's regional policy seemed to suggest that both the north-western and north-eastern development boards would be retained, as there was general recognition of the benefits that each had brought to their regions. That recognition was reinforced by an independent evaluation undertaken by PwC, drawing attention to the strategic coherence brought and the GVA delivered.
It was therefore something of a disappointment when it was announced that all RDAs were to be disbanded. As a public-private partnership, the new Cheshire LEP is taking the coherency of the sub-region forward, but without any resources. It is undertaking some very worthwhile projects, such as with Liverpool University to explore the value of the equine sector in Cheshire West, and in rural housing, through a joint commission set up by rural regeneration and housing teams. That is all very worth while, but it is without the wider coherency of reciprocal support provided from the NWDA, following agreement on priorities across the whole region. The concern is that, without the wider regional strategy brought by the NWDA, policies will fracture into parochialism, with so-called local areas failing to see the bigger picture, to share best practice or to co-ordinate. I refer in this respect to the leadership shown on climate change policies and guidance that is so necessary if we are to meet our future obligations.
I will not repeat the debate in Committee, as my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours has spoken tonight
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To continue with the 2012 theme, there is a great risk that this opportunity cannot be grasped. For the visitor economy, there is a need to provide the national organisation, visitEngland, with support to fill the current gap, while existing visitor businesses need to engage with new organisations that will emerge, albeit that they will be much reduced in terms of both human and financial resources. Another disappointing consequence of the plan to disband the NWDA concerns the future provision of the EU funding provided through the economic rural development funds. This highlights the vacuum in the present Government's policy on regions. Instead of providing access to these much-needed rural development funds under Pillar 2 local arrangements at local level, the Conservative-led coalition seems to favour implementing these centrally, in direct contradiction to its localism agenda. The rural economy deserves better.
Finally, there seems to be no thought on what will happen on asset ownership, both physical and intellectual, and how the area can derive maximum benefit from their previous investments. There is still time to reconsider. I support my noble friend's amendment.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 18. Like my noble friend Lord Kennedy, I find it quite extraordinary that the Government have decided to abolish RDAs on a day when the growth forecast has been reduced yet again. It is a quite bizarre decision.
I speak from the particular context of the West Midlands, looking at the performance of Advantage West Midlands. The West Midlands is a great place to live, but recently our economy faces many formidable challenges. Advantage West Midlands has done a very good job in the past few years, drawing people together and identifying real projects to invest in. As a result, we can see the regeneration of Longbridge, after the collapse of the manufacturing industry there. We have seen the regeneration of Fort Dunlop, with 140,000 jobs safeguarded, 28,000 helped back into work and 160,000 people helped to get better skills. Over 100,000 businesses were helped to improve their performance. As Sir Roy McNulty, the chair of Advantage West Midlands said at its last AGM, it is clear that its abolition has been based on political reasons rather than on its actual track record.
Again, the CBI has singled out transport as a critical issue for improving economic growth. It concluded that LEPs need to find a way to replicate the ability of
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Let us talk about the resources needed for the development of major infrastructure. The number one priority for us is the extension of the runway at Birmingham International Airport. However, the Government's last-minute decision to change the rules and go only for short-term, quick-win projects for the first £250 million that was available meant that bidding for Birmingham airport expansion was stopped in its tracks. No wonder the Birmingham Post said in a leader on 27 January that the launch of LEPs has been,
The Government's admission that their policy is a nonsense relates to BIS's decision to recreate regional offices. What better indication could you have that the business department knows that the abolition of RDAs was a very silly decision which anyone concerned for economic development in this country could only oppose? The Government are making a big mistake in abolishing RDAs. Will the Minister respond to my noble friend Lady Quin, who asked why on earth those regions where there was a clear and strong consensus to retain RDAs, are not allowed to keep them going? Why should we be forced to downgrade, disrupt and undermine regional growth simply because there is some kind of doctrinaire political approach that says we cannot live with RDAs?
Lord Empey: My Lords, I had the opportunity to make some remarks on this issue at Second Reading. I do not believe that anybody in this House is not in favour of growth or strong regional policy; that is common ground. The point I tried to make at Second Reading was: is the present structure fit for current-day purpose?
I regret that I did not hear the beginning of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, but I heard several of them in what was a very passionate speech. In referring to one case, he commented that councils did not necessarily have drive. However, leadership in any organisation, whether it is an RDA, a council or anything else, will vary from body to body, just as leadership in a school will vary from body to body. I have to say that there are examples of local authorities doing very difficult things. In my own case, I was a member of a local authority that redeveloped the most polluted site in Ireland-a former gas works. It is now a thriving economic area. We developed the waterfront and brownfield sites. Where the right leadership is in place, you can do a lot of things. We were able to tap into ERDF and even ESF to train the local people who will, we hope, get some benefit from the redevelopment, instead of looking through the railings at the parked BMWs. We can do that if the leadership is in place.
I wanted to say one thing to the noble Lord. He said that it was more difficult to create a structure or organisation than to close one down. I have to take the very opposite view. I had the opportunity to create an organisation like an RDA. I had the opportunity to merge bodies together and the opportunity to close them. The easiest thing to do was to create them. It was more difficult to merge them, and the most difficult thing was to close them. That is why we have so many-not only RDAs but public bodies in general. Departments liked to put a body out there that could take the flak and the front fire to protect the department from taking the blame for things. The existence of a body, whatever it might be, and the ability to say, "These people have autonomy to deal with this", protects the Civil Service from its responsibilities. It is good to be able to put these bodies out there as a sort of barrage to protect the centre from local criticism, because there is always someone else to blame. That is why there are so many of these bodies.
Many of them have done excellent work. As has already been said, some of these RDAs have been good and some have been not so good; that is human nature. It is the human condition. That relates to the leadership they give, their policies and the opportunities that have been taken. However, we have to be mature about the whole issue of public bodies. Everyone admits that we have too many of them. No matter which one you touch, it is inevitable that a group of people will support it.
In many cases, some of the reasons that noble Lords have put forward have been perfectly plausible. However, the real issue, as I pointed out at Second Reading, is the change in Europe, where the resources that used to be available to this country will no longer be available post-2013, because the money is flowing east, as we all know. The economic profile of our economy has changed. We brought to bear solutions through these large battleship bodies with budgets of hundreds of millions of pounds. Those bodies were right at the time, just as the Agricultural Wages Board was right at the time. However, times have moved on. Europe's policy has changed. We now have to manage within our own resources.
I am not as pessimistic about the role that local authorities can play and what happens regarding the local enterprise partnerships remains to be seen. However, as always, a lot of this will come down to leadership on the ground. It is the same for the military, a company, a school or a business-and it is the same for a local authority or an RDA. We must look at an alternative model, because circumstances have moved on, and in trying to deal with the plethora of public bodies, you could almost come to a complete standstill if you did not make some attempt to bring about change.
There is no doubt that the biggest challenge we face is on growing our economy. We all complain about the lack of warships and aircraft carriers. Where is the money coming from to pay for them, if it is not coming from economic growth and wealth creation? Those are our only sources, other than borrowing-and we know where that got us. There is little alternative but to try an alternative. I take the points made by
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Lord Cavendish of Furness: My Lords, I crave the indulgence of the House in intervening in a debate in which I have not previously taken part. Just in case it is felt that the argument has been entirely one-sided, I remind your Lordships that in my part of the world on the Barrow-in-Furness peninsula, where I declare an interest in running a small business, the economy is driven by companies such as these, which employ some 100 or 200 people. I do not want to be unkind to the people in these agencies who have done their best, but in my part of the world it would be fair to say that there is no consensus that we want to keep them. Businesses of my size do not feel that the agencies are approachable or are the answer. We want government to get off our backs and leave us alone. I am reminded of my father, who told me: "My boy, if the Government offer you a grant, it is probably not worth taking".
Lord Hoyle: That might be the view of the noble Lord, but I am afraid that he is not living in the real world. How can he be when he has made a statement like that? Let him look at what has been created by RDAs. I will not speak for very long, because my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours made a very powerful case. However, I believe that we are talking to people who will not listen to the arguments that we are putting. I am pleased that the noble Lord intervened from that side, because he is the first to do so: it has been only us speaking.
The RDAs have done a wonderful job. I have a copy of a letter that was addressed to my noble friend Lady Royall. I was critical when the Minister was winding up last time and said that he was not answering the debate. He has now taken the trouble to try to answer the debate and I thank him for that. It is not always done. Having said that, I do not agree with most of the answers he gave; he will not be surprised about that.
I could go through every paragraph of the letter, but it is too late in the evening. I will refer to one paragraph that deals with the independent evaluation by PricewaterhouseCoopers that demonstrated that every pound spent by RDAs added approximately £4.50 to regional economies. In the case of the north-west, the figure was greater: £5.20. However, no answer is given in the paragraph. It simply states:
The issue is not whether we appreciate the work they have done, but who is going to pick up the mantle and do the work in future. There is no answer to the question of where we will get replacement agencies that will secure that kind of growth. As has been said often tonight, we are going back to localism instead of looking at regions as a whole.
The regions did benefit. The noble Lord, Lord Cavendish, said that he had an interest in Barrow-in-Furness. When the floods hit Cumbria, the RDA brought help to local businesses in need within four days. That was not matched by any other body, and it will not be matched by any new bureaucracy that is going to be established.
I will repeat what has been done for the north-west by the Northwest Regional Development Agency: 220,000 jobs have been preserved, 23,000 new businesses have been created and £3.2 billion of private investment has been brought in. These are huge sums. The agency has looked at the region as a whole. If we split it up, we will not get that sort of aid.
I will not go on. I thank the Minister for replying, but ask him to reply also to the debate tonight, because too much is at stake in the regions: too many jobs and too much inward investment. Why should the RDAs be destroyed because of a political decision that I believe is wrong? Not only do I believe that it is wrong, but many other Members of the House believe that, too. More importantly, people and businesses in the regions believe that it is wrong. If the Minister is saying that we can do the job with other organisations, can he tell me what funding will be given to the new bodies? As I understand it, there is no funding, and if there is no funding they will not be able to do the job. Will the Minister reassure me that adequate funds will be made available?
Lord Clark of Windermere: My Lords, I support the case made by my noble friends through their various amendments. In doing so, having spent many years in public life, I reflect that there are certain constant difficulties and challenges. In our previous debate on this issue, I remember the case being made for the establishment of the northern development agency, including the northern part of the north-west and the north-east of England. The one overarching pressure on the NDA was how to challenge what was clearly going to be a devolved nation in Scotland. That was a very powerful problem. Unless you live in a frontier-type economy, you do not really appreciate the rather different problems that might be experienced compared with the rest of the country.
I remember how the development agencies in Scotland in the early 1980s constantly tried to offer inducements to companies in the north of England to relocate in Scotland with grants, which the local authorities-because there was no development agency then-could match. That was one of the prime reasons for the almost universal support for the agency in the north of the country-a point made by my noble friends Lady Quin and Lord Beecham. That problem will still exist. It is eight miles from Carlisle to the border and it is easy to relocate if you get financial inducements. We have to face up to that challenge. Therefore, I park with the Minister the thought that that problem will not go away.
Perhaps I may raise two specific issues. My noble friend Lord Beecham pointed out how important tourism was becoming to the north-east of England. It is just as important in the north-west, especially in Cumbria. Work was initially carried out on how to create more
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In order to succeed, you need leadership, and sometimes that involves investment. Of course, since the North-West Development Agency has gone, the funds have dried up for Cumbria Tourism. It has already had to reduce its staff from 45 to 19, so there is a serious problem there. However, it is not only a problem of attracting tourism; it is also a question of trying to compete against the equally attractive tourist resorts just over the border in Scotland. That takes me back to the problem of living in a border economy-things are different compared with other parts of the country.
I conclude by raising the issue of the assets and contractual commitments of the development agency. In a letter to me dated 1 March, Robert Hough, the chair of the Northwest Regional Development Agency, said that he believes:
I raise a specific point with the Minister that disturbs me greatly. It is why, in a sense, I am opposed to this move that the Government are proposing this evening. One of the problems of the north-west of England is the amount of derelict land. I believe that it has more derelict land than any other region in the country-all the disused coal spoil heaps and the industrial bases. The Northwest Regional Development Agency's economic appraisal came up with the conclusion-surprise, surprise-that the way forward was to green these areas, to enhance their environment, to make them more attractive to inward investment, and to improve the health and the lives of the people who live there.
As a result, the Northwest Regional Development Agency entered into partnerships with the Forestry Commission, the Wildlife Trusts and local authorities. As a result, there has been a huge greening in the north-west of England in the old industrial areas. I repeat what I said before, but it just gives me so much pleasure to say it. Over recent years we have planted over a million trees in Wigan, over a million trees in Moseley, over a million trees in Ellesmere Port, 2 million trees in Vale Royal, and 2 million trees in Warrington. This is a mammoth undertaking that has revolutionised the environment and will do so increasingly in that part of Lancashire. It will also make it more attractive potentially for inward investment.
This was done through partnership, commitment and investment by the Forestry Commission, and through long-term leases with various charities and local authorities. As a result, the Northwest Regional Development Agency has an ongoing commitment to the year 2029 of roughly £6.6 million. Who will pay that money? Who will accept the liability? How will the funds be paid to the main recipient, the Forestry
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Lord Prescott: My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to talk about the RDAs; I played some part in their creation a number of years ago. I must apologise to the Committee because I am not as briefed as perhaps I should have been. I was in the Council of Europe today and I realised that the debate was on this afternoon. We need to understand what was inherited when the Regional Development Agencies were created. People have so easily forgotten. We were talking about 3 million unemployed, about massive disinvestment in public services, and about a growing disparity and growing inequalities between the north and south in jobs, education and investment. If anything was to be done about this, we felt that we had to do more than simply leave it to the market. What was the solution? The noble Lord, Lord Lawson of Blaby, was the Chancellor in charge of a great deal of the economy at that time and the results that we were left with were quite disastrous, frankly. I will not repeat them, or go into detail, but it was totally unacceptable to us. We came to power doing something about employment.
The employment was not just in the north and south, although the disparities had grown. I recall, when I produced my alternative regional strategy, going to the northern region and saying that we were going to have a regional development agency for every part of the UK. It was suggested to me that as a northern politician I should just think of the north and not the south. It was a very complicated meeting, but I pointed out that with a million unemployed in the south, we could not be indifferent to that, whatever the growth rates and differentials between each of the regions. We needed to develop the expertise, the partnership and the public and private sector, and set a body up that could take a regional analysis to do something about it. This was welcomed by business. In fact, business today still has very warm words to say about the RDAs, particularly when compared with the organisations that the Government now propose to set up if they abolish the RDAs-and they are on the way to doing so.
It was important that business chaired every one of the RDAs. We thought that it was very important to have business chairmen who got the co-operation of the local authorities and the various bodies and developed, as their first priority, a regional strategy for the assets of a region to see how they could best develop them to the advantage of the region, and not to compete, as was often the case in regional policy before. Governments, including Labour Governments, went round offering bags of gold to industry to move the motor car industry from A to B. That was basically the strategy. In some cases, that brought jobs, but it did not deal with the most important thing: to develop the assets of the region and the economy.
If you look at the record, the judgment of the Audit Commission, parliamentary groups and businesses themselves looking impartially at each of the regions
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What worries me now is what the strategy is. A noble Lord said that we should look at what happened in Scotland and Wales. I remember arguing about this in the other place. They said, "We are going to abolish the Scottish and Welsh development agencies", and they did not. As soon as they came to power they realised their success and the demand from the local and regional area to keep their RDAs. Admittedly, the Government recognised that at the time and refused to abolish them. Why did they not abolish them? Because they were doing a good job. Why did we think the RDAs were needed in the English regions? Because they had done a good job in Scotland and in Wales. They had improved their economies while ours had gone down and down, and it seemed that a significant feature of that was the regional development agencies, so we wanted them in all our regions. Even if the growth in the south-east was always higher than in the north-east, there was still a need to develop the regional assets. Regional development bodies can do that, and they did.
The only time there was any move to make some change was after the Toxteth riots in 1981. The noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, was sent up with a busload of bankers to look at what they could do in Liverpool. One result was that they developed these garden centres-I cannot remember their name.
Lord Prescott:Garden centres, garden festivals, you can pick the word you want. I think that the one in Liverpool collapsed after its show and still nothing has been built on that ground. We have to develop in a more effective way, although to be fair to the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, I agreed with him that the development at Canary Wharf was significant. Transforming the docks into new industrial developments and commercial centres has been a success. That was intervention.
I recall, when we came to power in 1997, meeting Mr Walker-I am not sure whether he was a Lord or not-who was in charge of English Partnerships. He said, "We are not a body of intervention". I said,
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By the way, most coalfield areas are rural areas. Enterprise centres are now being talked about. That was all done before. I notice from the list here that very few of them are in rural areas; they are in the cities. Fine, but there is a lot of high unemployment in rural areas as well, and those enterprise zones are designed to help urban development. You do not get a balanced development. You might help the cities in a marginal way, but what you want from regional development agencies is balanced development. Only the RDAs can do that. They are also important for bringing in money from Europe. Before the RDAs in Britain, most of Europe did not bother. The recognition was of the county authorities. The county authorities were not big enough to deal with the actual decisions that had to be taken. You needed a body that was recognised at the regional level, because we were the only country in Europe that did not have a regional body. You needed to co-ordinate those resources, to bring the strengths together and to make it important.
Now it is basically proposed to abolish them. Frankly, I agree with our amendment. I am not against reform. RDAs came out of reform; we did not like what was there, we changed it, and that has been effective. Apparently, being successful is now a real problem; we abolish you. What worries me most of all is that they are being replaced with the old structures that we had before and that failed before. The Government seem to believe that it is just the market. I heard the Chancellor today talking about "growth, growth, growth". The trouble is that he is not achieving it. We are creating the same kinds of problems that we had before. We do not maximise growth, but unemployment. That is what will come out of this.
A number of noble Lords have said in these debates that, looking at what will happen to some of these areas with RDAs, we are already beginning to witness confusion coming about due to the setting up of local enterprise partnerships. I have got them in my area. I notice the enterprise zones in these areas, and now there is talk about partnerships. Problems are already beginning to develop.
I finish on this point, because I have already seen it in Hull. Hull is an area of high unemployment. That reduced under Labour, but it is still an area of high unemployment. We now have a problem that was brought to my attention about a week ago, with a company in my former constituency that produces modular bathrooms. It has been highly successful. It is manufacturing. It employs hundreds of people. It wants to expand on an existing, empty, two-acre industrial estate where the road has been half done but not
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I hope that the Minister will look at this. I am sure that he wants to see jobs. Certainly, the Chancellor says that he wants to see growth. Well, he could make a decision tomorrow that will bring that about, not all that waffle we have heard in the Commons today. I am sure that there are many other examples from around the country, but I would not have to come to Parliament for that. RDAs did that all the time. They made those decisions, created the jobs and co-ordinated the public and private investment. That is what the RDAs did. We had 10 years of them showing their success. Now the Government are coming along with these silly ideas to abolish them. The result will not be that waffle, it will be more on the dole and less growth. We will be back in the circumstances that we inherited many years ago, which led us to set up the RDAs.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, there might be a change of tone with my contribution to this debate. This is a serious matter and I approach the topic with humility, but with a determination to demonstrate the reasons for the Government's decision. It is a political decision; we make no apology for that. It is a political response to the economic situation in which this country finds itself. I hope that noble Lords will give me the opportunity to explain the origins of that decision and what the Government intend to do to maintain a programme of growth announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in circumstances in which the vast sums of money that were available to sustain the regional development agency structure are no longer available.
I am not at all surprised at the passion that has been vented this evening. I am a provincial myself. I come from the east Midlands and I am very proud of my background. I have to say that I rather share the experience of my noble friend Lord Cavendish when it comes to the impact of the regional development agency for the east Midlands in my part of the world, but perhaps that is because I live in a relatively remote rural area and our problems are not at the top of the agenda. We have learnt to rely on our own resources probably a good deal more than other communities can afford to do.
I agree with noble Lords that the RDAs did some good work in their time, but as I listened to the debate
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