Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 30:

Page 3, line 27, at end insert (", and
( ) have regard to, and promote, regional planning guidance and local authority development plans").

The noble Lord said: In Clause 7 we move to an extremely important aspect of the role, function and responsibilities of the RDAs; that is, strategy. Like many words, there are different ways in which to interpret it, but I see strategy as being the ability of a body to take an overview and to embrace work, plans or progress by a number of other bodies.

Perhaps the words of my amendment and what I am saying now do not describe what the Government have in mind. I strongly support the concept of the RDA and I would go further than some of the views which have been expressed this evening. I want to see strong, responsive and successful RDAs. That may not happen immediately as a result of this Bill because it may take two or three years before one sees the benefits.

Amendment No. 30 seeks to add words to Clause 7(1) which states:

    (a) formulate, and keep under review, a strategy in relation to its purposes, and

    (b) have regard to the strategy in exercising its functions".
I seek to add that it shall,

    "have regard to, and promote, regional planning guidance and local authority development plans".
All Members of the Committee who speak in these debates have experience of how the planning nexus impinges upon the raison d'etre of a council. We are all extremely concerned and receive good advice from our council offices about how to draw up a plan; what should be included and excluded; who should be consulted. At the end of the day, we have a satisfactory structure and framework which this country and the people of this country enjoy in respect of planning guidance.

When the RDAs begin to function, they will have not only the functions as described but will operate in a situation in which there are pre-laid down structures. For example, in every RDA there will be in existence regional planning guidance, a transport strategy and a waste strategy. Those have extremely important implications for sustainable development.

The purpose of this amendment is not only to improve the effectiveness of the RDAs but it is important also that the economic strategies do not conflict with those which are already in place. It may be said that surely such matters can be talked through. Of course they can be. But people sometimes dig in their heels. I believe that at the end of the day, the Government have a responsibility to say to the RDAs that they are responsible for ensuring that there is no conflict between the strategies which the people of this country have put in place. The CPRE, the Local Government Association and the RSPB have issued

7 Oct 1998 : Column 518

a statement, an aspiration, of which I have a copy and which I support. We would like to see the Government strengthen the role of the RDAs to ensure that there is a "knitting together" on all matters, especially those which affect sustainable development.

When the White Paper, Building Partnerships for Prosperity, was produced there was a particular welcome for the statement that RDAs will place the principle of sustainable development at the heart of their programmes and the commitment to give RDAs a specific statutory objective of furthering the achievements of sustainable development.

However, Clause 4(1), which includes sustainable development, lists five purposes and then says that this should apply only where it is relevant. I ask my ministerial friends to recognise that there is a job to be done and if, at the end of the day, somebody needs to be given a little bit of muscle or a little bit of push, I think that the RDA is ideally situated to do it. I do not think that is much to ask.

If one looks at Clause 4 which talks about activities one sees how the role begins to be spelt out:

    "(a) to further the economic development and the regeneration of its area,

    (b) to promote business efficiency, investment and competitiveness...

    (c) to promote employment...

    (d) to enhance the development and application of skills...

    (e) to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development in the United Kingdom where it is relevant to its area to do so".
We see sustainable development as one of the major core duties of the RDAs. In doing that we do not want them to ride roughshod over existing plans. They will be different people with different imperatives. We think that the RDA has a useful role to play.

I say to the Minister that we may not have the words right, but we may well be as one in the objective. The purpose of this amendment is to provide the Minister with something that may be helpful to others outside the Chamber. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: Before I come to my own amendment in this group, from these Benches may I warmly support the amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. I know that there has been a discussion in another place about the relationship between the exercise by the RDAs of their functions, purposes and the existing planning guidance and development plans. As the noble Lord says, of course there has to be a continuing dialogue between all partners. But I firmly believe that it is right that the work of the RDAs follows and observes the guidance and the plans constructed in the ways in which we know they are. The planning authority, in other words, must remain the planning authority.

One reason for my saying that is that the process of planning at its best, involves local communities to a great extent. Although I do not suggest that RDAs will not go out to their own communities, perhaps there will not be the same imperative there. Their objectives are rather different. It seems to me that it is quite right to say that development plans and regional planning guidance are simply not to be ignored.

7 Oct 1998 : Column 519

Amendment No. 37 proposes that in the exercise of its functions--which is the subject of Clause 7 and for which guidance and directions are to be given under the clause--there will be provision in the guidance and the directions as regards both freedom of information and access to information. We have already heard that the RDAs will be carrying out functions which would otherwise be carried out by the Government. I believe that they should be subject to the fullest scrutiny.

The question of freedom of information was a matter which I raised earlier this year in the context of the Local Government (Experimental Arrangements) Bill, the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tamworth. At that time, the noble Lord in promoting the Bill and the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, on behalf of the Government, were helpful in coming up with a method of referring to freedom of information even before the Freedom of Information Act was on the statute book or had even started as a Bill.

We are looking forward to the progress of that legislation but would be happy to find ways of getting references into legislation as early as we can. I know that draftsmen, if they accept the thrust of an amendment, generally prefer to redraft it themselves. However, I hope that the Government will accept that the intentions in this amendment are the right intentions and that it would be right to refer to freedom of information.

I have also mentioned access of information. Although I appreciate that there are provisions for making annual reports, those reports are inevitably limited. Provisions for access of information allow those who are interested to dig rather deeper than they can do simply by reading what any entity chooses to include in its report.

8.45 p.m.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: I support my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton in his Amendments Nos. 30 and 33. I congratulate the Minister on stressing earlier in this debate the Government's commitment to sustainable development and pointing out that sustainable development is about "joined up" thinking and "joined up" government. I wonder if I could press him further on that point?

We already have in existence some important mechanisms for sustainable development in the form of original planning guidance and local authority development plans. We are seeing an encouraging development with some regions already beginning to put together sustainable development strategies. That, I would hope, is a process that the Government will be pushing.

The valuable mechanisms for ensuring that development is sustainable are already there. The question is how we can ensure that RDAs, when they come on the scene, are part of joined up government and take full account of those in drawing up their strategies. The Government have acknowledged in another place that it is important that there is integration between all of these mechanisms, but they were rather imprecise about how that was to be achieved.

7 Oct 1998 : Column 520

I am sure that the Minister will tell me that it is self-evident that these statutory mechanisms already in existence will be taken fully into account by RDAs in drawing up their strategies. Perhaps I can just widen this issue a little further. Throughout the passage of the Bill, and indeed in our discussions on previous amendments, we have continued to hear concern from a variety of quarters about the sustainable development function of RDAs. We have continued to hear regular assurances from Government about the fundamental importance of sustainable development for RDAs and yet a marked reluctance to specify in any detail how that is to happen on the face of the Bill.

I think that this particular area would be one where there could be considerable comfort given about how RDAs are to go about their sustainable development duty. I hope that we can see some movement towards specifying that they do need to take into account the joined up thinking that is already around in the form of regional planning guidance, local authority development plans and emergent sustainable development strategies.

I wonder if we could press the Minister into a little more joined up thinking than is already evident on the face of the Bill.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page