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Lord Bowness: My Lords, before I deal with the Minister's final point, perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, that my amendment is in no way intended to be mandatory on the Secretary of State. It may be badly worded, but if it was perceived as mandatory it was misunderstood. We should also bear in mind that those people with talent and experience, including a background in local government, who are appointed, will not be appointed from a list provided by local government. Local government may have been consulted but the appointments will, as the Minister pointed out, have been made by the Secretary of State. Indeed, as things currently stand, it is fair to say that were the circumstances I described in moving the amendment to arise, former colleagues of those appointees in local government and local government associations would have virtually no pressure to bring to bear.

Of course I accept that there are particular circumstances and of course I accept that people do not lose their expertise overnight. It would be foolish of me to suggest that and I do not want anyone to suggest it of me. One hopes it goes on for a little longer. However, I am grateful for the Minister's response. I accept that he understands the case I have sought to make and the position I am trying to protect. It may well be a way forward to deal with the matter through the letters of appointment.

We have had the Minister's assurances in this debate: they are on the record. I should like to read what has been said and, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 [Purposes]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 2, line 26, leave out ("where it is relevant to its area to do so").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 6 and 8 which stand in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer.

With these amendments we return to the question of sustainability. It may be worth reminding ourselves of the objectives set out in the White Paper. Paragraph 8.1 of the White Paper refers to the regional development agencies placing the principle of sustainable development at the heart of their programmes. It tells us that the Government will give them the specific statutory objective of furthering the achievement of sustainable development, which would be monitored closely; that they will integrate environmental, economic and social objectives; and that they will engage directly in regeneration projects and set a priority for bringing back existing sites into productive use. It talks of working sensitively within the existing built environment and of seeking new uses for redundant buildings which would become part of the urban or rural landscape. The introductory paragraph concludes by

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saying that in doing all these things the agencies will help to deal with growing pressures to bring greenfield sites into urban and industrial use. The White Paper also rightly points to the pressures on the environment which are wider than just local or regional. I accept that it is appropriate for the Bill to refer to sustainable development in the United Kingdom.

When this matter was discussed at Committee stage at col. 498 of Hansard the Minister contrasted the deletion of the words which are the subject of the first of these amendments,

    "where it is relevant to its area to do so"
--the condition limiting the purpose of achieving sustainable development--with the wording of the other subsections. I did not at that stage, nor do I now, propose to delete the reference to the United Kingdom. That may have been a misunderstanding at the previous stage. I do not propose that the clause should read:

    "to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development in its area",
which appears to be the basis of the response to my amendment. I propose that one of the agencies' purposes should be to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development, in the UK, without any limitation.

I have had sight of the draft guidance on the agencies' contribution to sustainable development, which I understand has gone to a limited number of organisations for consultation prior to more general consultation. The Minister may feel that he cannot win on this matter. Having seen that draft, and also the general guidance as to the agencies' strategy, I wonder whether it is appropriate to have separate sets of guidance. There has been a good deal of debate about integrating the agencies' purposes. Reading the two documents, I believe that there is considerable danger of projecting sustainable development as an add-on to the purposes of the agencies. In particular, paragraphs 7 and 8 of the wider draft guidance do not appear to bring the purpose of sustainability into the strategy at all, still less to place it at the heart of the strategy as the White Paper told us it would.

It is the question of integration that has prompted my Amendments Nos. 6 and 8. In Amendment No. 6 I propose that the agencies shall have regard to all of their purposes in seeking to achieve each purpose. In Amendment No. 8 I propose, in the clause dealing with strategy, that they should have regard to all of their purposes in exercising their functions. I do not suggest that it be a requirement that every project achieves every purpose but that with regard to every project the agency must not fail to address each of its purposes.

It is apparent from the draft on the general strategy that the economic work is moving ahead. I should like the agency to keep asking itself five questions based on the purposes in Clause 4(1). For example, how would the particular project further the economic development and regeneration of the area? How would it promote business efficiency, investment, competitiveness and so on? Your Lordships will get the point. I should like each agency to ask itself how each project will contribute to the achievement of sustainable development in the United Kingdom.

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Other noble Lords will have many examples of projects that can meet environmental as well as economic purposes. For example, there is much good work going on at the moment on energy efficiency measures that meet environmental objectives but also provide employment. I hope that my noble friend Lady Maddock, who has particular experience in this area, will be able to join in this debate and provide some examples.

These amendments seek to put on the face of the Bill an acknowledgement of the integration of the purposes. I suggest to noble Lords that it is easy to use the word "strategy" in guidance but that it is the mechanisms that count towards the outcomes and that to acknowledge sustainable development in particular is never irrelevant.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I have been invited by my noble friend to support her amendment. I believe it is very important when considering regional development, particularly economic development, with sustainability in mind, that we look very closely at energy efficiency. Noble Lords may be aware that I have a particular interest in this subject. We now have a good deal of information about the energy efficiency of our homes. Legislation that has been introduced has enabled jobs to be created locally and local industries to be used in the area of energy efficiency. Various government schemes give money to such projects, and job creation has been at the heart of the provision of grant and assistance to help people to do just that. The Government have provided additional money to the Energy Savings Trust to ensure that projects of this nature are supported, and innovation is very much part of that.

On the previous occasion when your Lordships discussed this matter I referred to housing and the strategic role of regional development agencies in regional housing issues. This is yet another area in which it is important for regional development agencies to look at their properties and to promote not only better housing conditions but to enable local authorities to get schemes off the ground and bid for projects. I believe that in a regional context this is one of the main areas where regional development agencies can develop thoroughly in line with progress by government in other areas. One of the problems in the area of energy efficiency is that projects do not tie up. Here is a golden opportunity for the other projects that the Government promote in this area to be gathered together in a region so that they are much more effective.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: My Lords, in referring to these amendments I do not necessarily support the words that have been adopted to try to acknowledge on the face of the Bill a number of important concerns. However, the amendments reveal, in their tortuous language, real concern about the duty of RDAs to promote sustainable development, the extent to which they will integrate their requirements for sustainable development across all of their purposes and strategies and, in a later amendment, how far they have

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regard to regional planning guidance and local plans. This matter was raised at Committee stage. At that time my noble friend the Minister informed the Committee that it would be reassured by the guidance to be given to RDAs on the various matters that the noble Baroness has already mentioned. Some of that guidance is now out for consultation and the rest is in draft.

We remain to be assured. I believe we all acknowledge the importance of RDAs fulfilling some of their primary purposes to deal with decentralisation, to bring decisions to a more local level, to respond to regional needs and to develop real regional identities. Nevertheless, there needs to be more than a passing nod at some of the national and international commitments that the Government have already made and which should at least be reflected in the guidance if they are not on the face of the Bill.

The Government have given a strong commitment to a national sustainability strategy, which is in preparation. There is already a UK biodiversity action plan. Biodiversity and its fate will be a key test of whether regional development agencies make decisions that are truly sustainable for the future. I do not believe that the Government's commitments can be ignored by RDAs. It would be false to imply through the guidance that economic development was the only primary purpose of RDAs and that environmental and sustainable development outcomes were a bolt-on extra. That is the tone that the guidance is currently adopting. The indicators of whether RDAs will have been successful relate almost totally to economic outcome rather than to the environment or biodiversity.

We were not assured by the Minister's first assurance, so perhaps we will be assured by the finalised guidance. There is real concern that unless we achieve a rounded framework with the three legs of sustainable development--economic, environmental and social--we will be doing a bad job by setting the RDAs off on their very important task.

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, we had a relatively brief discussion of the sustainable purpose in Clause 4 of the Bill at Committee. Amendment No. 5 is a repeat of the amendment then tabled by the noble Baroness. She expressed concern then, as now, about the words,

    "where it is relevant to its area to do so",
which apply to the sustainable development purpose. Amendments Nos. 6 and 8 are about how the RDAs' purposes relate to each other. But of course the concern that the noble Baroness has, and which has led her to table these amendments, is how the sustainable development purpose relates to and will work in conjunction with the other purposes. So, if it will help your Lordships, I wish to explain more fully why the sustainable development provision is drafted as it is.

The RDAs' sustainable development purpose can be looked at in two ways. First, as one of the five purposes of the RDAs, it will inform the RDAs' actions in relation to all the other purposes where sustainable development is an issue. It will not be open to an RDA

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to decide that this purpose is "irrelevant" if it is in fact relevant, and where it is relevant, and an RDA must take sustainable development into account in taking a decision. It will not be possible to ignore the factor. It will be incumbent on each RDA in all actions it takes in pursuance of its purposes to take account of all its purposes and in particular whether and how its action will contribute to sustainable development. There will be some occasions when some of the purposes will have less relevance to a policy or action than others; not all the purposes will be equally relevant to all decisions. Different purposes may also suggest different decisions or policies. In such cases, the RDAs will have to strike a balance between competing considerations. But the point is that all the purposes must be considered--none can be ignored--and with the nature of sustainable development as an all-pervading concept, it is likely that it will feature to some degree in all decisions and policies. That point was raised by my noble friend Lady Young.

Secondly, RDAs will in practice be able to take action which contributes to sustainable development, even where that action does not fall within one of the other four purposes. It will be open to an RDA, for example, to host a conference specifically on sustainable development, which does not, of itself, further any of their other purposes. I hope that clarifies the position.

The point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, about energy efficiency is important to sustainable development. The development of the technology relating to energy efficiency may well form part of that category. On the other hand, the RDAs would not be housing authorities, so the component would need to be taken into account. Against that background, let us consider the two limitations on the RDAs' sustainable development purpose in Clause 4(1)(e); that action should contribute to sustainable development and that it should be relevant to the RDA's area. These limitations will in practice have an effect only in relation to decisions and action under the second scenario; that is, when the sustainable development purpose is the sole driver of action by an RDA. The limitations are not relevant to the first interpretation--when sustainable development is influencing action under the other four purposes--because any action under the other four purposes which was relevant to sustainable development would also be relevant to sustainable development in the UK and relevant to the RDA's area. Thus, for example, in furthering the regeneration of its area, an RDA will have to have regard to the need for development to be sustainable development. It will, in doing this, clearly be contributing to sustainable development in the UK; and it will clearly be relevant for the RDA to do this.

If we removed the limitation "where it is relevant to its area", as Amendment No. 5 proposes, we would allow an RDA (indeed, give it a duty) to take actions contributing to sustainable development which were not relevant to its area. I am sure your Lordships will agree that that would not be sensible.

The whole purpose of RDAs--as is clear from Clause 4--is that they will take action which is relevant to their particular areas, rather than action which is relevant only to the rest of the UK.

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On the other hand, a limitation which confined RDAs to action only within their region would be too restrictive. There may be projects where action outside the region would be relevant to sustainable development within it. A good example of this might be in relation to transport links between regions; for example, across the Pennines, or between the West Midlands and Wales. Limiting an RDA to action physically within its region might jeopardise projects of that kind.

So, given that it is sensible to restrict the relevance of some of the RDAs' actions, we think we have a provision which enables RDAs to make an appropriate contribution to the achievement of sustainable development, without unduly restricting them to action and effects solely within their individual areas.

I ought also to remind the House that we intend to issue guidance to the RDAs on the operation of the sustainable development purpose. I note the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about whether it should be outwith the general guidance or treated separately. At this early stage in formulating the guidance, consultation being ongoing, changes might be made to the draft as the process continues. I hope that the noble Baroness accepts that we are listening to her points about the process and contents of the guidance.

English Nature and other interested bodies, such as the Environment Agency, the CPRE, Friends of the Earth to name but a few, are actively participating in the consultation.

Officials are currently working on an early draft. It is important to reassure the noble Baroness that it is not our intention through procedure or guidance to marginalise the sustainable development consideration or the development of the strategy within it.

The draft guidance stresses the need for an integrated approach. The aim of the provision on sustainable development in the draft guidance will be to ensure that we develop the best strategies for ensuring that sustainable development is taken seriously. The guidance will seek to explain how an RDA should seek to meet its statutory duty under Clause 4, making clear in particular the need to consider alternative options, to assess the impact of policies, programmes and projects on society, the economy and the environment and stressing the importance of consultation and public scrutiny in the decision process.

The current draft is very much work in progress. We know that a number of organisations will continue to offer their thoughts on what the guidance should say. I shall ensure that your Lordships are kept informed about the development of the guidance and that when, in due course, the department consults formally on the guidance, I shall ensure that a copy is placed in the Library.

I apologise for speaking at length but this is an important issue. There is quite clearly a widespread knowledge of and concern about sustainable

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development and the role it will play in RDAs. I hope that I have managed to reassure the noble Baroness and that she will not press her amendment.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, not entirely, although I shall not push the matter further at this stage. However, I take this opportunity to make a few points and to ask a question. First, I hope that in view of the concerns about the relevant weight of what may be two documents, the consultation on both of them will run absolutely in parallel and that neither will be concluded before the other. That would disable the Government from taking account of responses in one area in that integrated approach to which the Minister referred.

I accept entirely that the test in Clause 4(1)(e) is objective. It is not a matter subjective to each agency to decide whether or not sustainable development will be relevant to its area. I have not sought to overturn that. My point is to ask whether it can ever not be relevant. If the wording of the Bill accepts that there may be circumstances in which it is not relevant then--I use the noble Baroness's example of the balance between competing interests--that makes it easier for an agency to say that, in those particular circumstances, the balance is against an environmental concern.

As the Minister was describing the complexity of expressing those thoughts in wording which will stand up in legislation--and I can quite see that that must have been a challenge--I wondered whether the difficulty was as regards the term "where it is relevant", and I do not mean that in the sense of the narrow geographical "where". I wondered whether the draftsman had considered referring to sustainable development "which is relevant". Rather than detaining your Lordships on that point, perhaps the Minister may be prepared to write to me on the detail or perhaps discuss the matter with me before the next stage of the Bill.

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