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Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. I follow the tenor of her argument. However, when that doubt has been expressed--as it was when the establishment of the RDAs was announced--it is sometimes necessary to rebut it. I agree it is axiomatic that RDAs must look after the needs of all parts of their regions.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I understand that point. I am perhaps making a philosophical point which concerns more than just this Bill. One wants to see the wording in legislation stand the test of time and not constitute too much of a knee-jerk reaction to current concerns. Further, in addition to rural concerns there are urban concerns. These constitute two sides of the same issue. I have never believed that it is practicable to deal with rural issues without at the same time attending to urban issues and vice-versa.
I think I have made clear my concern that the references to rural matters and to sustainable development are perhaps--it is harsh to say this--understandably regarded as a bit of window dressing. If they were truly thought to be central to the Bill, they would not have had to be superimposed. However, the Government will not win with their words but with their deeds. We shall see how the RDAs perform. No doubt these points will be
One technical but important area concerns the way in which RDAs and regional chambers interrelate and how each operates. Matters of accountability and openness were raised by my honourable friends in another place. On the Hunt Bill I raised similar concerns. I was pleased then that officials referred to forthcoming legislation on freedom of information, even though it had not been enacted. The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, was much involved with that matter. I hope that freedom of information, openness of meetings and other such matters will be referred to, as they were on that ill-fated Private Member's Bill. I also look forward to gaining a better understanding--perhaps by means of a probing amendment--of how the performance of the RDAs will be assessed. Is the Audit Commission to have a role? Are they to meet performance indicators? What will be published? We would welcome further information on those points.
The Minister referred to London. Like the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, I, too, think that we must expect some further legislation on London. London is a region within the first schedule to the Bill. There will be a Bill in the autumn to deal with London which will immediately amend this legislation. I should be grateful if the Minister could confirm that that will be the case.
I have another question to ask on behalf of my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. He wonders what the Government have learnt from the experience of the economic planning councils which were established more than 30 years ago. They were formed at about the same stage in the Wilson government as this Government have now reached. I am sure we shall be told that much was learnt and has been incorporated in this measure.
I have mentioned a number of concerns. We hope that in practice these agencies will be truly representative of their time and will reconcile the competing interests of sustainability, development, environmental concerns and social concerns with their important task of economic promotion and regeneration. We wish them well.
The Earl of Lytton: My Lords, I must first declare an interest as a chartered surveyor and landowner. I am president of the Sussex Association of Local Councils. I have put my name forward for membership of the board of the south east regional development agency. I commented in response to the White Paper. However, my views are fundamentally my own. I welcome the Bill.
When I wrote to the Minister in December last, one of the points I raised concerned accountability. This followed previous points I had raised on such matters as national park authority membership. In the Minister's kind response, for which I am grateful, I was given what I shall describe as part of the answer that I was looking for. But neither accountability of the RDA via the Minister nor an obligation towards a regional chamber--I am not quite sure of its composition--seem anything other than a rather indirect approach to the matter. However, I realise
The measure has fuelled much comment from local authorities who could perhaps be forgiven for wanting to see their local democratic base represented in force both at agency and regional chamber levels. There has also been comment from rural interests who fear their position will not be adequately represented as they are inherently in a demographic minority. Representation and accountability inevitably colour the deployment of resources whether one likes it or not. Although I take some comfort from Clause 4(2) which deals with the rural and non-rural balance, commitment to the RDAs' work will to some extent depend on how it is perceived that they maintain that balance. I feel that further guidance ought to be given. A guarantee of one rural RDA seat in each region--if that results in one seat alone--may not be terribly helpful. I am always concerned about guarantees of that kind.
If rural and non-rural areas are to be treated equitably--as indeed they must--for RDA purposes, it will nonetheless be a matter of practicality as to how that works out depending on the prevailing pressures in the region concerned. I foresee difficulties as regards attracting that difficult-to-achieve mix of impartial expertise among the membership that covers urban, rural and indeed suburban facets mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. That will be a hard mix of disciplines to achieve in an integrated way. But if the mix is not right, the choice of priorities--whether urban, suburban or rural--will not command confidence outside the RDAs even if there is unanimity within them. How is that expertise to knit and to co-operate with the normal diversity of opinion common in local politics? Certain local authorities aspire to some of the economic functions--indeed some carry them out--to be exercised in future by the RDAs. That issue must be addressed.
However, I welcome the clear remit for economic development and the intention to forge partnerships across the urban/rural spectrum. I shall say more about development later. I have crossed out the word "divide" in favour of "spectrum" which I feel is more neutral. I have long thought that there are too many administrative bodies, particularly as regards countryside matters. At the risk of offending some, I hope that there will be a further rendering down of functions performed by a number of different agencies.
For too long local authorities, in terms of their development plans, have implicitly or explicitly maintained that economic factors are not primarily their responsibility. I hope that we now have a clear indication that these economic factors will have to be relevant to planning in the future. If not, I have concerns that local planning authorities will go on claiming that it is none of their business because there is a new, distinct and formal structure for dealing with it as opposed to a rather diffused approach previously. Rural planning guidance and planning policy guidance, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, will need to be looked at in that context, and I say that not for the same reasons as those of the noble Baroness when she raised the point. Development is an unfortunate word.
I am not sure that I understand how regional chambers are being brought into being; nor what the RDAs' relationship with them should be in practice, particularly in the light of possible hard decisions having to be made. The chamber, we learn, will be composed of those who have "an interest" in the work of the RDA. It is obviously a very wide definition of potentially qualifying persons, possibly too wide. However, on the whole, I think that the Bill and the proposals to create RDAs should be welcomed. I am concerned that another template of administration may not always fit neatly over current practicalities and it would be disastrous if alienation from economic development initiatives pursued by some very able local authorities in the past was to take place.
I feel passionately that an alternative rural economic strategy is needed beyond what I can only describe as the pious hope of the CAP: more of that later in our last debate today. I will not dwell on that subject now. However, it is all the more important when dealing with severely less favoured rural areas, where environmental policies hold sway, that there is increasingly a severe economic deficit in what supports land use management. If genuine efficiency is to be gained by the new RDAs I would welcome and encourage the Bill and the agencies it sets up. I do not mind what shape or size that efficiency comes in or whether indeed it comes in a uniform-sized package.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made a point which struck a chord with me. Economic issues do not stop at the city gates; nor indeed, it should be said, at the village shop. We are inevitably all in this together. If the rural development agencies successfully address that point without having the divisions, or fostering the divisions, of the past it will be a major step forward, and if there is created a long-term strategy in the place of short termism then I give the Bill three cheers.
Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, there can be few Bills which have had such a widespread welcome as this one. To receive support from the CBI, from the Country Landowners' Association, the Local Government Association, trade unions and other bodies, while perhaps not unique, is certainly unusual and the Government are to be congratulated on introducing such a valuable and, if I may say so, comprehensive measure.
I was not sure when the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, spoke for his party, whether the Conservative Party agrees in principle with the regional development agencies. It would be nice to know. The noble Lord did say that while he agreed with the objectives he would
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