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Baroness Maddock: Having listened to the noble Baroness and to earlier contributions, I am somewhat confused as to where the Conservative Front Bench stands on regional development and devolution. We heard earlier that it wished to have as much devolution as possible. I know that it has had great difficulty in Bournemouth this week. Their party is divided about whether we should have an English parliament. I am still confused after listening to the recent contribution. The amendment would limit the powers of the regional development agencies and give more power to central government. I had understood that the Conservative Front Bench did not want that.

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Perhaps I may make clear our general attitude to the legislation. My noble friend Lady Hamwee mentioned earlier how we view the Bill. We may not have gone about the matter in the same way as the Government. However, if the RDAs are to be set up--we know that it will happen as soon as possible--we support in general the legislation. But in doing so we wish to press for accountability, openness and the ability for local decision-making and strategies within the context of the Bill. It is not surprising that we view the removal of these parts of the Bill as going against those principles.

However, I agree with the noble Baroness as regards the ambiguity of the part of the clause that she wishes to delete. I shall reserve my further remarks on housing to the amendment that I am about to move. My amendment will deal with the point she made. Having said that, we do not want to see those parts of the Bill removed.

7.45 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, unwittingly produces an evocative response. She accused the Government of being adept at producing the fine print of a holiday brochure. While the pleasure of being in your Lordships' House is great, the fine print on the holiday brochure for my holiday on a Greek island in the sun was absolutely accurate. The holiday was superb. Just occasionally, I wish that I had believed that fine print and stayed longer.

Amendment No. 21 is helpful. I hope that discussion on the amendment will clarify some of the issues on a crucial part of the Bill: that part which enables RDAs to do what they need to do in order to fulfil their purposes. At Second Reading, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, gave notice of her concerns about Clause 5. She argued then, as now, that we were giving a blank cheque to RDAs; and that most certainly is not our intention. I welcome the opportunity that the amendment provides to help clarify the situation.

Clause (5)(1) is designed to make clear that these public bodies have the power to do what is necessary in order to achieve their statutory purpose. RDAs will have the powers given to them by the Bill. The Bill is therefore drafted in positive terms--what the RDA is to be allowed to do is specified--rather than in negative terms as to what it is not allowed to do. The word "only" is implied in every piece of legislation enacted by this House because without the legislation nothing could be done.

The noble Baroness also raised the issue of reasonableness. It may be helpful to deal with that now. If the RDA does not act reasonably, it is open to judicial review, as is any administrative body or elected authority. The provision is designed to remove any doubt about the position. It would be open to RDAs, as bodies corporate, to do anything they considered expedient for their purposes or incidental to them. As I have said, Clause (5)(1) puts that beyond doubt.

That said, we think that it is only right and proper that in certain areas we put limitations on what RDAs do. Those limitations are set out in subsections (2) and (3) of Clause 5.

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The noble Baroness gave some examples at Second Reading of what an RDA might or might not be able to do. She wondered whether under this power RDAs could divert a road or a river or order a business to move. The answer is a resounding "No". RDAs will be subject to the panoply of English law, just as other organisations and individuals are. Clause 5 does not give them the right to do anything which any other body corporate could not do. What they do has to be expedient to their purposes.

This amendment can almost be said to be wrecking. It goes to the heart of our flexible approach and removes a key power for RDAs. I trust the Committee will join me in rejecting it.

Clause 5 sets out the limits to RDAs' powers, and subsection (3) refers to the agencies' remit to provide housing. RDAs will not be housing bodies and may only facilitate the regeneration of housing or acquire existing housing on a temporary basis, for example, for their own relocated staff.

I was asked about the use of the term "temporary". It means provision which is not permanent. The difference between permanent and temporary accommodation is understood by most tenants. The RDA cannot provide long-term housing in the way that a local authority or housing association does. But it can provide interim accommodation, for example, for staff moving to the area, or for people who are being moved to the development site to give them time to find permanent accommodation. Rather like the elephant, people know when they see it. However, Amendment No. 22 would remove these limitations and as a result RDAs would be able to provide housing for any reason as long as it was incidental to their main purposes.

We do not wish the agencies to become housing bodies. Housing is already provided in the public sector through local authorities and housing associations, and through private landlords. We do not need to create another housing provider. However, we appreciate that in a few cases there may be a need for the agencies to provide housing on a temporary basis, for example when staff transfer from one of the existing bodies to the agencies. In addition, the transferring bodies may have a facilitating role. English Partnership, for example, aids the provision of housing by providing sites for suitable development. That is why we have given the limited power that is currently in the Bill. We see no case for enabling RDAs to provide housing on a permanent rather than on a temporary basis, or for enabling them to create new housing accommodation. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, I am slightly puzzled because I can envisage that had the Bill enabled them to become housing authorities the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, would have said that that impinges on the roles, rights and remit of local authorities. Therefore, for the reasons I have outlined, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: The noble Baroness gave an answer with regard to temporary not being permanent. On that amusing note, I can do no less than read carefully what she said and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 22 not moved.]

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Baroness Maddock moved Amendment No. 23:

Page 2, line 38, leave out from ("housing") to ("for") in line 40.

The noble Baroness said: Amendments Nos. 23 and 34 deal with our concern about the housing powers of regional development agencies. In the light of the previous discussion, I hope that the Government will find Amendment No. 23 helpful. We support them in believing that the provision of housing should be by local authorities as a district responsibility. That is the level at which people know best the housing needs of their locality. The role of the regional development agencies is not to be housing providers. However, we also recognise that in carrying out wide duties and responsibilities, as the RDAs will be doing, there may be times when it is necessary to provide houses, perhaps for employees.

Subsection (3) of the clause is extraordinarily worded. Indeed, we had difficulty wording the amendment so that it made sense. I believe that our amendments make a great deal of sense and do not detract from the Government's proposals. I recommend the amendments on the ground of common sense.

Amendment No. 34 highlights the importance of recognising the role of housing in economic development. Regional development agencies need to be aware of that. The Minister in another place described the strategies of the RDAs as one of the core functions. The Minister also said that it could be described as their most significant role. That is true, but we on these Benches believe that housing is inextricably linked to economic development. Indeed, the availability of housing, both public and private, is central to achieving the Government's objective of sustainable regeneration.

Where inward investment is attracted and jobs are created it is sensible that account is taken and an audit made of the availability and quality of housing. Equally, we need to look at the socio-economic profile of the people living in those houses. If economic regeneration occurs in an area where there is not a significant supply of housing there may be certain problems, such as increased pressure on transport infrastructure. We could see an increase in new employees using their own personal transport. There might be an over-supply and excessive demand for housing in certain localities. That can bring problems associated with excessive house prices, deflation and inflation. Furthermore, existing communities could find themselves excluded from training and employment if the right housing is not in the right place.

Where housing availability is taken into account land sites should be made available for economic regeneration and used efficiently across the region. Although we do not see RDAs providing housing, it is important that they take the matter on board when putting forward their strategies for economic development. Discussions here and in another place show concern that RDAs may well be led and staffed by people who are committed to economic regeneration but who may not appreciate the matters I have raised, in particular the importance of the social policy agenda being integrally linked to the economic agenda.

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The Secretary of State is to approve the strategies. Therefore, the purpose of the amendments is to ensure that this aspect is included in the strategy. We may then go some way towards ensuring that the social policy and housing agenda is taken on board at all stages when the strategies are being formed and put to the Secretary of State for his comments and approval. We hope that the Government agree with us and will give some encouragement on that. I beg to move.

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