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Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 31:

Page 3, line 27, at end insert (", and
( ) assess the environmental implications of its strategy and make such assessment publicly available").

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 35. Amendment No. 31, which is also to Clause 7 and deals with strategy, proposes to ensure that the regional economic strategy is assessed for its environmental impact and seeks to help to deliver the sustainable development objectives of the RDAs. I am bound to say that such an amendment would not be necessary if the environmental purposes that we debated earlier were included in the Bill in the form discussed.

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A strategic environmental assessment would, one hopes, identify potential conflicts at a very early stage and enable alternative options to be explored to avoid adverse environmental impacts. We have discussed whether particular concerns should be paramount. My amendment proposes a mechanism to try to avoid conflicts between different interests.

The Minister in another place indicated that a strategic environmental assessment may be carried out. He said that where there are likely to be significant environmental impacts, environmental appraisals need to be carried out. Yet again, one comes to the word "may". Such assessments should be routine. They should not be optional.

I have referred to avoiding conflict. Consensus between all those who have an interest in the decision-making process is obviously desirable. Indeed, the more that appeals can be avoided (with all their inherent delay) the better--that is, if there is resort to appeals under the planning system.

This may be another matter on which the Minister will refer us to guidance. If so, I hope that the guidance will recognise that conserving biodiversity is a key test of sustainable development and that the RDAs will therefore need to set environmental targets and indicators and to appraise their economic strategy--in other words, to monitor their economic strategy against such matters. I look forward to such assurances as the Minister can give on that.

My second amendment requires RDAs to report on their performance in achieving sustainable development and to set sustainability targets and indicators. It would be helpful to have some specific provisions on that.

My attention has been drawn to the Welsh Development Agency, which has been mentioned several times today. Its annual report includes performance targets. It would be most helpful if the RDAs were to set targets following that example and published how they met them. As we all know, there is not a lot of point in having good intentions unless you are precise about assessing whether or not you have carried out those intentions and unless you monitor what you are doing.

I hope that we can be given some assurances that even if there is nothing on the face of the Bill in that regard, the guidance will deal with the sustainability targets and indicators, and with reporting their performance against the regional economic strategy. I beg to move.

Lord Whitty: Once again, I feel that I can express total sympathy with the objectives of the noble Baroness while not conceding any change in the Bill. I understand the concerns behind the amendment, but I can reassure the noble Baroness that the guidance will make it absolutely clear to RDAs that they must include in their regional strategy an appraisal of the contribution that the total strategy will make to sustainable development. Therefore, we are not putting it as an "add-on"; we are ensuring that the regional strategies of RDAs will routinely make an appraisal not just of their environmental effects, as we might previously have put it, but also of their wider achievement as regards sustainable development.

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Amendment No. 31 also seeks to make any environmental assessment publicly available. I have already assured Members of the Committee that the regional strategies of RDAs will be public documents: they will be compiled with the help of and aimed at a range of regional stakeholders. Therefore, they must be public documents. As I said, we intend the strategy to include a clear assessment of its contribution to sustainable development. So, again, the assessment will be publicly available and, indeed, needs to be to enable the RDAs to carry out their tasks. Given that assurance, I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendment.

Amendment No. 35 seeks to make it clear on the face of the Bill that such guidance and directions may include sustainability indicators and targets. There are some technical problems in that this is an amendment to Clause 7(3), which relates to geographical areas and not to subjects upon which guidance can be given. In addition, the amendment is probably unnecessary because Clause 7(2) already gives the Secretary of State the power to give an RDA guidance and directions in relation to any matter. Therefore, the purpose of the amendment could be covered by that subsection.

In terms of what lies behind our position on indicators of sustainable development, I can say that we are currently working on a set of national headline indicators. We intend to publish these later in the autumn. In terms of whether we should be giving guidance to RDAs on what indicators they should use regionally, whether sustainable development indicators or anything else, we have not yet taken a final view on whether the Secretary of State should prescribe them, as suggested by the amendment, or whether we should leave it to the RDA to decide what indicators are appropriate for its region, having regard to the headline national indicators. That remains to be considered. Indeed, in some ways this Bill is in a sense a decentralising process and we ought to use prescription only where there is a strong case to do so. As drafted, the amendment would require the Secretary of State to set regional indicators, whereas some flexibility is needed for RDAs in the light of what we are doing nationally. Having once again expressed my good intentions, I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that she need not pursue these amendments tonight.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: I wonder whether we could press my noble friend the Minister a little further as regards the guidance which he has reassured us will be coming soon and which will satisfy all our concerns about sustainable development. I was slightly concerned to hear that the guidance might be delayed until after the Report stage. It has been referred to so frequently during the passage of the Bill that it would be most reassuring--and I am sure that we all echo the exposition of my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton as regards trusting the Minister--to see it in print. That would reassure us all greatly.

Lord Whitty: I am afraid that I cannot be as helpful as I would like to be to my noble friend. As I indicated a few moments ago, I can almost, but not quite, assure Members of the Committee that the strategic guidance will be

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available before the Report stage. Indeed, I may have gone slightly too far in that respect, but I believe that it will be available by that time.

However, I do not believe that we will have completed the internal processes to produce the sustainable development guidelines in time for the Report stage and that applies equally to those for rural development. I hope that we are sufficiently further advanced for me to be able to give a better indication on Report, but they will not be in anything like their final form and that form may be subject to further consultation.

Baroness Hamwee: I thank the Minister for his response. I did not mean to indicate any dissent from the proposition put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, that one trusts the Minister. Indeed, it is always some other Minister who might be in that position who is distrusted and not the one in the present position. I also take the noble Lord's point about the rather more centralising flavour of these amendments than I would normally be happy with. One wants to centralise to ensure that things are done well when one believes that they need to be promoted. I understand the temptation into which the noble Lord suggests that I may have fallen. At this point I can do little more than look forward to reading the guidance. However, if I can think of another way of skinning this cat before the Report stage, I may return to the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.15 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon moved Amendment No. 32:

Page 3, line 27, at end insert--
("( ) A regional development agency must show that it has consulted every local authority within the area of the agency before formulating or reviewing its strategy.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 32 I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 36. Like the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, we on these Benches certainly trust both Ministers on the Benches opposite. We understand the constraints under which they work. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, said that we shall get "nowt" more from the Minister tonight. I think that is how he pronounced the word. I very much hope that he is wrong because we have tabled many more amendments for consideration and it is a little demotivating to think that nothing good will come of them other than the giving of sympathy and understanding on the part of the Government.

Amendments Nos. 32 and 36 are similar in effect and are intended to introduce an element of consultation before strategic decisions are made either by regional development agencies under Clause 7(1) or by the Secretary of State under Clause 7(3). As regards the contents of the clause I stress that what we are talking about here are not merely administrative or day-to-day matters. We are talking about strategy. For the moment we have within each of the geographical areas allotted to each RDA a number of local authorities of various sizes. If RDAs are to have the powers to make strategic decisions and to formulate strategic policies, they must at

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least consult the local authorities which may have an interest in, or at least a view, on decisions that will affect them and the services they provide and the individual citizens and businesses within their jurisdiction.

This requirement for consultation with the local authorities will also facilitate individuals who are making representations via their local authority on these strategic matters. It will considerably strengthen the Bill if RDAs are obliged to consider local authorities' views. Currently local authorities are the only directly elected bodies in these nine regions. I may have the wrong word there; I think we are talking about the RDAs.

In a debate on a similar amendment in Committee in another place, the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning said,

    "We want regional partners to feel they own the strategy as much as the RDAs. It is to be a bottom up strategy".
He went on to say,

    "Regional partners will have a key influence on the strategy's content and they will often have to implement it. Therefore RDAs will work closely with all relevant partners including local authorities".
How can local authorities have a key influence on the strategy's contents if they are not consulted about it? How can a local authority be expected to work closely with its RDA if it is merely being required to carry out its orders on matters over which, contrary to the Minister's stated intentions, it had absolutely no influence, let alone a key one?

Even if my amendment is accepted, there is still every possibility that within the area of an RDA different local authorities may have different views. Certainly, purely because of limitations of size, many of the local authorities may not be represented on an RDA at all.

The Minister told the Committee,

    "We do not wish to list in the Bill various other interests that RDAs may wish to consult".
Local authorities from parish councils upwards are not mere pressure groups or single issue agitators. Whatever "various other interests" the Government may not wish to clutter up the Bill with, there is absolutely no reason why they should not put down in the Bill in black and white what they have said both in the White Paper and in the other place. The Minister similarly claimed that,

    ""there will be a strong incentive for RDAs to consult widely".
There can be no stronger incentive than for an Act of Parliament to tell them to do so.

I now turn to Amendment No. 36. This adds a new subsection requiring the Secretary of State to consult all the local authorities in an RDA's area,

    "Before giving guidance and directions referred to in subsection (2)".
Subsection (2), as drawn, gives the Secretary of State sweeping powers in relation to the exercise of an RDA's functions about formulating and reviewing its strategy. It not only allows the Secretary of State to give what the subsection calls "guidance"--which one assumes the RDA could ignore if it chooses and its members are perhaps tired of their jobs--but it also enables the Secretary of State to give directions about every key component of an RDA's strategic planning. In Committee

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in another place my honourable friend the Member for South Suffolk described this power as extraordinary, inconsistent and irreconcilable with everything that the Government have said about both wishing to decentralise and at the same time to take into account the views of the regions. I cannot express it better myself. The Secretary of State cannot only say "no" to any strategic plan--which has to be fair enough since the ultimate responsibility is his--but he can decide which strategic aspects they can consider in the first place.

Subsections (2) and (3), taken together, make a mockery of the idea that RDAs are a form of decentralisation. My amendment is nowhere near as ambitious as that proposed by my colleagues in the other place. They wanted to throw out subsections (2) and (3) altogether. All my amendment requires them to do is to go through the motions of consultation with the local authorities that fall within their region. As I have pointed out, the Secretary of State is not bound by the results of any consultation, within the constraints of not being totally irrational and thereby triggering a judicial review under the Wednesbury principles.

The Minister in the other place claimed that the present proposals are,

    "no different from the 1975 legislation on the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies".
He went on to claim:

    "the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher, decided it was such a good idea that she introduced one in Northern Ireland".
There is the crux of the whole problem that the Government have regarding their regional strategy. They perhaps do not realise that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are each physically and historically self-contained geo-political entities, albeit part of the United Kingdom. England is also a separate entity. Despite that, the Government now propose to chop it up into a bunch of disparate, unconnected super-counties such as we have not seen since the days of the Saxon kingdoms.

I shall not repeat the arguments about the inappropriateness of the regions as defined by Schedule 1. The situation is simply that the Government are creating nine competing regions. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions said at Committee stage in the other place in relation to Clause 16:

    "If the practice [of competitive bidding for inward investment projects] is allowed to proceed unchecked public resources will be wasted. The cost to regions of inward investment may be bidded up--the regions might have secured such an investment at a lower price if bidding had not taken place--and I am sure all committee members agree that this has to stop".
I certainly agree with that sentiment. It is precisely what I warned your Lordships about in my speech at Second Reading on 18th May. Will the Minister, in replying, tell the Committee precisely how creating nine separate regional development agencies will lessen competition and waste rather than increase them? At the same time will he tell us how, again to quote the Minister in the other place, co-ordination and a cohesive and effective national approach will be achieved among nine separate regions, each trying desperately to justify its individual existence?

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If RDAs are supposed to have some degree of local autonomy, then the very least that the Secretary of State could do is to listen to any representations that local councils wish to make before he tells the RDAs which strategies they can formulate.

The Minister told Members in the other place that,

    "It is right and highly desirable that RDAs work closely with their regional partners".
How can they do that if they have to evolve strategies at the direction of the Secretary of State, who is not obliged to consult with anyone?

The Minister said:

    "It is our wish to decentralise decision making to the regional level wherever we can".
How is that possible when the key decision, the basic strategy, will be on the basis of a ministerial diktat, which may be made without consultation with the local authorities?

Finally, in the same passage, the Minister said:

    "We need to ensure that RDAs in formulating their strategies understand how they will fit into the national policy framework".
I certainly agree that the Minister got that right. In that one phrase he summarised the whole case against needlessly creating this bunch of quangos--it is a national policy that is required, not nine separate regions, each jealously guarding its own parochial interests. But we know that the Government are determined to take this course. The least we ask them to do is pay lip-service to the principles they claim to espouse--those of local autonomy. All they need to do is agree the very moderate Amendment No. 36 and agree to consult with the local authorities before telling the regional development agencies what they are allowed to do in their strategy.

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