Regional Development Agencies Bill — 14 Jan 1998
[Relevant document: The First Report of the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, Regional Development Agencies (HC 415).]
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
One of the commitments that we gave in our manifesto, which the British people overwhelmingly endorsed on 1 May last year, was to address the economic under-performance of the English regions. We promised each English region a strong development agency--agencies that would provide for effective and properly co-ordinated regional economic development, underpin the wider regeneration and enable the English regions to improve their competitiveness.
The Bill provides the means for doing that. The RDAs will play a major part in the future economic success of the United Kingdom. The Bill will give the regions the tools they need.
The success of the United Kingdom in improving its economic performance and its competitiveness depends on the success of all its regions. I can tell the House that, in our regions, there is an overwhelming desire for the opportunity to play a full part in revitalising the nation's economy. We must compete as a nation in the global marketplace, and to do that, all our regions must maximise their potential. That means finding more imaginative ways of tackling the problems they face.
For far too long, the English regions have been disadvantaged compared with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We need to put all the regions in a position to perform at the level of the best. Many of our regions are performing well below the European average, and that is simply not good enough. Out of the 10 English regions, only two marginally come up to the productive average of the European regions.
Since I became Minister for the Regions in May, I have visited the English regions and initiated a dialogue with the regional stakeholders. During my visits, it was evident to me that the regions are working hard to improve regional performance. Unfortunately, however, the previous Government gave them little support, for the Conservatives do not believe in regional autonomy. They centralised power and denied the regions the opportunity to prosper. They drove policy from the centre, as if the rest of the country did not exist. In effect, they put the regions off the map.
The Tories produced programmes that lacked coherence, particularly at the regional level. They consistently ignored the views and advice of those in the regions, who, after all, are best placed to find the solutions to their own problems.
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I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
"this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Regional Development Agencies Bill because it deplores the enormous increase in ministerial power bestowed by this Bill and the accompanying erosion of the role of local authorities and because the Bill fails to reflect the concern expressed by many consultees, including local authorities of all political persuasions, about the lack of regional accountability of RDAs; regrets that policies which have successfully attracted record levels of inward investment into Britain are now being abandoned; fears that the interests of the rural community and the countryside have not been properly taken into account; and calls on the Government to withdraw this Bill until its true long-term plans for the creation of a new and additional tier of government in the form of regional assemblies have been clearly set out in detail for debate by the House and by the public. "
Question put, That the amendment be made:--
The House divided: Ayes 148, Noes 388.
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