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Lord Stanley of Alderley: Before the noble Lord sits down, I have a question on which the Minister may be able to help me. If I may say so without causing trouble in his ranks, I thought he did a better job than his honourable friend in another place in explaining the problem. He indicated that RDAs would not necessarily concentrate on the best return and that they would address the less well-performing areas, which at present might be agriculture and land management. That will presumably be included in the guidance. What happens if they do not? I can see the pressures on the RDAs to go for a good return, as always happens in the end. Perhaps the Minister can help me on that point.

Lord Whitty: The short answer is that the RDAs' plans will have to be authorised by the Secretary of State. Should there be a serious refusal to observe key aspects of the guidance, then resources will not follow. I hope, however, that such issues can be dealt with by consensus and negotiation. It is certainly our intention that the issues with which the noble Lord is concerned are specifically addressed in the broad guidance that we give to RDAs and that they will take it to heart.

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7.15 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: I thank the Minister for his response and thank other noble Lords for contributing to the debate.

To answer the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wade of Chorlton, I accept that the RDAs are not there to take on everything and that matters are to be dealt with by a wide range of other agencies. However I believe that their work should be in the context that I and other noble Lords have described.

The Minister said that the statutory purposes cover a wide spectrum. They do, but not quite wide enough. That was the very thrust of my amendment. He argued that because government policy is promoting the points that I and other noble Lords made we should accept that it is not necessary to refer to those goals, as the Government have described them, on the face of the Bill. But taken to its extreme, that is an argument for saying that practically nothing needs to go onto the face of the Bill because it is already government policy.

The Minister referred to the guidance and gave a specific assurance in relation to references to rural matters. It would be appropriate for me to wait for the draft guidance. However, I am not convinced by the arguments we have heard. We may consider another approach to this matter in the strategy provisions when we return to the Bill at a later date. For the present, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 16:

Page 2, line 24, after ("area,") insert--
("( ) to promote the environmental interests of its area,").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 standing in my name.

This amendment seeks to insert a specific purpose into the Bill; namely, the promotion of environmental interests of an agency's own area. I chose those words to follow the formulae in the earlier subparagraphs in Clause 4(1), which refer directly to an agency's area, because the reference in Clause 4(1)(e) is to,

    "sustainable development in the United Kingdom".
It would be inappropriate to spend time now re-rehearsing the arguments about the need to pay attention to environmental interests. It seems that that is widely accepted. The issue is whether the provisions of the Bill are such that one can point to them at a later date and prompt an agency which may appear to ignore environmental interests and say to it that that is one of its statutory purposes. There needs to be a direct reference to the environmental interests of the agency's own area.

Amendment No. 17 seeks confirmation from the Government as to what they mean by "sustainable development". I say that with some hesitation; I realise that in raising the question of terminology I could be starting an eight-hour debate. I hope that that will not happen, but that is a matter for the Committee.

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I find the term "sustainable development" difficult because the word "development" suggests that one is looking at development rather than the constraints on development which are sometimes required by a sustainable approach. The language is evolving and it must be difficult to find the terms that press the right buttons in legislation. I shall be interested in the noble Lord's comments on that term.

Amendment No. 18 relates to Clause 4(1)(e), which is an issue which has provoked much interest and concern. Clause 4(1)(e) provides that an RDA is,

    "to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development in the United Kingdom where it is relevant to its area to do so".
The relationship of two phrases in that paragraph is interesting. Are we saying that the relevance is to,

    "sustainable development in the United Kingdom",
or to "its area"? Surely sustainability is relevant to every area. If deleting the references to the United Kingdom and to relevance and referring just to the achievement of sustainability would solve the point, that would satisfy many people. The Government have already resisted that. I believe that the achievement of sustainability must always be relevant. I shall probably bring down the wrath of some lobbies on my head if I say that there may be circumstances in which it is not paramount, but I cannot believe that it is not on every occasion relevant. In other words, sustainability must always be considered even if other concerns eventually override it. The drafting accepts that it may not always be relevant. I believe that that reneges on the stewardship obligations which we all have at the outset of the work of the RDAs, and that is tremendously disappointing. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: I genuinely believe that these are arguments about drafting rather than about purpose. I hope I said enough on the previous group of amendments to demonstrate our commitment to a process of sustainable development very close to the philosophy which the noble Baroness enunciated earlier.

Perhaps I may deal with Amendment No. 18 first, because I think there is some misunderstanding here. That amendment seeks to remove the reference in Clause 4(1)(e) to,

    "where it is relevant to its area to do so".
Those words are a limitation on the scope of the RDAs' remit, as there are limitations on the other objectives set out in Clause 4. However, the limitations in relation to sustainable development are significantly less strict in order to reflect the fact that sustainable development considerations often do not respect RDA boundaries.

If we had simply expressed the sustainable development purpose on the basis of the model applied to the first four objectives, that would have given us the wording,

    "to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development in its area".
We took the view, however, that that was far too restrictive because of the implications that RDA decisions might have beyond their own area. Hence we broadened the formulation in this objective to require

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RDAs to contribute to sustainable development in the United Kingdom as a whole where it is relevant to an RDA's area.

The noble Baroness reflects a concern that in certain circumstances this formulation could be ambiguous and the suspicion that it might be open to an RDA to decide that sustainable development in general is somehow not relevant to the development purposes in its area and not a factor relevant to individual decisions. I am advised that that fear is wholly unfounded. If Parliament decides--as it will do if the Bill is passed in this form--that sustainable development is one of the five purposes for RDAs, then it will not be open to an individual RDA to set aside that intention and determine for itself that sustainable development is not a relevant purpose for its activities or decisions.

To reinforce that point we intend in our guidance to RDAs on sustainable development to set out how they should take account of sustainable development in all their work. Officials in my department will work closely with interested organisations in finalising that guidance. I hope that that will reassure the noble Baroness and that she will not press that amendment.

Amendment No. 16 seeks to add a sixth purpose to RDAs; namely, the purpose of promoting environmental interests. As I have indicated, we believe that that purpose is subsumed in the purpose of sustainable development.

I fear that Amendment No. 17, which seeks to alter the reference to sustainable development, would not be acceptable to us. I agree that some of this parlance is perhaps a little new to many of us and possibly quite new to the parliamentary draftsmen; and I agree that sometimes these terms ring different bells with different people. However, whereas "sustainable development" may not be in common parlance, it is a more precise term than "sustainability". Some people use those terms as if they were synonymous, but they are not. In the RDA context the emphasis on development is crucial for a body which is concerned with economic and social development and regeneration--but regeneration in a way which sustains environmental as well as economic objectives.

Incidentally, the words in the Bill are those used by the international community in most of its deliberations since the days of the Brundtland Commission. They are, of course, central to the national sustainable development strategy we are now producing after wide public consultation and which we shall look to the RDAs to help deliver. I do not think that removing this term from the Bill and replacing it with "sustainability" would be helpful. Indeed, it might be regarded in some circles as a retrograde step. I therefore urge the noble Baroness not to press that amendment.

In placing sustainable development alongside the other four purposes of RDAs and thus giving it equal status with those other purposes, the Bill makes it very clear that sustainable development is at the heart of the RDAs' activities. Given these reassurances and my

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explanation of the background to this issue, I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to withdraw her amendment.

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