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Regional Development Agencies: Boundaries

Volume 597: debated on Tuesday 9 February 1999

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3.1 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I declare an interest as President of the Southern Tourist Board.

The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they regard it as desirable for the boundaries of the new regional development areas to coincide with those of the regional tourist boards.

My Lords, the boundaries of the regional development agencies, which were approved by Parliament in the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998, match those of the Government Offices for the Regions. It would be sensible for the boundaries of the regional tourist boards to be aligned with those of the RDAs. It is for the regional tourist boards themselves to determine their own regions as they are not government bodies.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful reply. First, in view of the significance of tourism for the creation of employment, will the Government ensure that the needs and potential of tourism are fully recognised by the RDAs, and that those interests are represented on their boards? At present, they are conspicuously absent.

Secondly, how will the Government ensure that important tourist attractions and destinations are not disadvantaged when the RDA boundaries within which they are located exclude the area in which they are best marketed for tourism? I refer, for instance, to Bournemouth which would like to stay in the south and not be in the south-west.

My Lords, I cannot accept that tourism is not represented on regional development agency boards. Tourism is not represented on all the boards but there is representation where it is an important part of the regional economy. If there are examples where tourism should be more widely represented, I should be glad to hear of them.

It is for the regional tourist boards to determine their own regions. In Cumbria, for example, a separate tourist board would rather be linked with the north-east than with the north-west. It would be sensible for it to maintain links with both boards which might have common interests with it.

My Lords, the Government assured this House that the boundaries of the RDAs were not to be "fixed in stone for all time". Will the Minister assure the House that the existing administrative regional boundaries will not be used as a fait accompli to prevent the boundaries for any future English development agencies being fixed by the Boundary Commission after full and proper consultation with the public?

My Lords, I am not sure that I understand the noble Baroness's reference to "English development agencies".

My Lords, clearly I should have read my notes. However, one is always frightened because Members yell "Reading, reading!". I refer to English regional assemblies.

My Lords, the Government have always resisted blandishments from the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Front Benches to anticipate what the boundaries of democratically elected English regional assemblies might be. We have resisted the temptation to assume that they would be the same as those of the regional development agencies because clearly it is of enormous democratic importance that regions in this country should determine their own boundaries by agreement.

My Lords, the Minister seems to imply that the Government support the introduction of regional assemblies in the English regions outside London. If that is so, can the Minister give some indication of when we may see some progress, if only to give the democratic support which the RDAs will need in order to maximise the economic potential of the English regions?

My Lords, government policy has not changed since we stated in our manifesto that the prerequisites for democratic regional assemblies in England would be the wishes of the local authorities and the wishes of the people in the region. That position has not changed. The justification for regional development agencies stands on its own legs in the sense that those are business creation economic regeneration organisations designed for a country where only London is a region with GDP per head above the European average.