Relations Between the Board and the Agency

Orders of the Day — Development of Rural Wales Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st November 1976.

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'In all cases within the area in Wales for which the Board is responsible, when there is a dispute or conflict of interest between the Board and the Welsh Development Agency, such dispute or conflict of interest shall be subject to adjudication and decision by the Secretary of State'.—[Sir R. Gower.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

10.34 p.m.

Photo of Sir Raymond Gower Sir Raymond Gower , Barry

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time. [Interruption.]

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. It is not fair to the hon. Gentleman who is addressing the House if hon. Members leaving the Chamber do not do so quietly.

Photo of Sir Raymond Gower Sir Raymond Gower , Barry

In view of the lateness of the hour I shall abbreviate what I intended to say in support of the new clause. The general objective and function of the Board set up for rural Wales as prescribed in the early part of the Bill is: For the purpose of promoting the economic and social well-being of the people in the area of Wales for which it is responsible under this Act. In subsection (5) there is a more detailed explanation of the Board's powers and functions.

In Section 1(2) of the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975 a similar array of functions is set out. It says:

  1. "(a) to further the economic development of Wales or any part of Wales;
  2. (b) to promote industrial efficiency and international competitiveness in Wales;
  3. (c) to provide, maintain or safeguard employment in any part of Wales; and
  4. (d) to further the improvement of the environment in Wales (having regard to existing amenity.)"
It can be seen that there is a similarity between the powers given to the new Board and those given to the Agency. But the remit for rural Wales is much narrower. The powers are restricted to the three counties mentioned at the beginning of the Bill, which form a small part of the Principality. For the time being the area covered by the Board will remain a small part, although I recognise that the Secretary of State may later approve its extension.

The Board is obviously intended to do in this smaller area things not dissimilar to those that may be done in industrial parts of Wales by the Agency. The Minister told us during the passage of these two measures that the Agency would probably have most of its resources and energies employed not in the whole of Wales, and certainly not in rural Wales, but primarily in the industrial parts. Therefore, I surmise that the main activity in the rural area of Mid-Wales will be by the new Board.

In these circumstances there could be a difference of opinion between the Board and the Agency on how to ensure the future prosperity of the area. The Agency will be acting more freely, without the direct supervision of the Secretary of State. The Minister may tell me that this will be balanced by the fact that in most cases the Board will be referring its proposals to the Secretary of State, as explained in the detailed functions set out in Clause 3(1)(b): from time to time to prepare and submit to the Secretary of State for his approval proposals (whether of a general or specific character) for the economic and social development of the area or any part of it". Nevertheless, I can see possibilities of a difference of opinion between the Agency, with its wider responsibilities, and the new Board, with its remit concerning the comparatively localised area of the three counties specified in the Bill.

The new clause is partly substantive and partly probing. If there is a conflict between the two authorities I should like the Secretary of State to act more as a referee, judge or arbiter to balance the different views and make a judicial decision.

Although the wording of the clause may not be perfect, I hope that the Minister will not rely on that fact alone in seeking to defeat the provision on technical grounds. I believe that the clause will be a valuable addition to the Bill because the decision will have to be made by the Secretary of State, who is accountable to the House. In cases of conflict, the Secretary of State should be able to consider the different views put forward by the Agency and, in some circumstances, by the Board, and should be able to adjudge the matter or to refer it to an adjudicator. I hope the Minister will feel that some provision of this nature should be added to the Bill.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Edwards Mr Nicholas Edwards , Pembroke

We now come to an important objection to the fundamental nature of the Bill. I wish to make one or two general observations about the course adopted by the Government in putting forward this measure and to give our reasons for thinking that it may not work satisfactorily.

I am not sure that the clause moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) will remove our fundamental objections or ease the uncertainties created in people's minds by these provisions, although the clause seeks to ameliorate some of the consequences. I wish to emphasise that we believe that the structure of the Bill is fundamentally unsound, but I shall put my points more fully in the brief Third Reading debate.

Let me merely say at this point that we believe that there is plenty of room in the Bill as drafted for uncertainty about geographical boundaries and responsibilities accorded to the Agency and the Board. We believe that this will cause considerable difficulties in future, but I shall not be urging my hon. Friends to press the matter to a vote, unless my hon. Friend the Member for Barry wishes to do so.

10.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Welsh Office)

The hon. Members for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) and Barry (Sir R. Gower) might be at odds over the new clause. There is no reason to expect conflict here. The Development Board for Rural Wales will have its own specific functions, like those relating to new towns—advance factories, housing and COSIRA functions for small industries—while the Agency will get on with the main business of giving direct assistance to industry, and, in the second arm of its activity, the environmental functions.

To try to reassure the hon. Member for Barry, I would remind him that the Chairman of the DBRW will join the WDA Board. I hope that this will persuade the hon. Member that harmony will be promoted and the conflict he fears avoided.

As the Bill is drafted, the Secretary of State can direct the Agency under Clause 1 and the Board under Clause 2. Those powers can be used to avoid any conflict which arises. I would advise the House to reject the new clause, but I hope that the hon. Member will consider withdrawing it.

Photo of Sir Raymond Gower Sir Raymond Gower , Barry

Although I am not entirely satisfied, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.