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Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I am particularly grateful for the Minister's last comment. When considering responses on the draft guidance, I had intended to ask the Minister whether he might consider that the reference in paragraph 2 to proposals in RPG having to have regard to the strategy of the agency might perhaps be better if set out as, "proposals in draft RPG". In other words, that would reflect the contribution of the objectives of the agency and take into account its concerns as to how it can carry out its purposes in the framing of RPG, rather than RPG, once formed, being set on one side in some way.

I accept the point made by the Minister about particular development applications. However, my concern was not about applications. I appreciate that the usual planning arrangements will have to apply to particular developments. Indeed, my concern is that regional planning guidance once formed, and once that exercise of consultation with all the partners or--to use the current term--stakeholders has been completed, should have its place in something of a hierarchy to which the agency must have regard. Therefore, I do not to that extent agree with the Minister. I wished to have that on the record. However, having got it off my chest, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 8 not moved.]

Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 3, line 27, at end insert--
("(1A) In formulating a strategy in accordance with this section, a regional development agency shall carry out consultation with government departments, statutory bodies, organisations representative of business and such other bodies with an interest in its work as it considers appropriate.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I thank the Minister for sending me an up-to-date list of groupings. Noble Lords may find that there are two sets of groupings at present. I refer to the most up-to-date list. In moving Amendment No. 9, I speak also to Amendments Nos. 10 and 11.

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The Bill places a duty on RDAs to consult with regional chambers on the preparation of the strategies which they will have a statutory duty to formulate under Clause 7. I accept the importance of local authorities in furthering the agenda of RDAs. But they are not the only key players. A number of other agencies play an equally important role in enabling economic development in the regions. I refer, for instance, to government departments, the Environment Agency, passenger transport companies, the Ministry of Defence, and so on. The need to consult those bodies is recognised in the draft guidelines for RDA strategies which were placed in the Library on 20th October. I draw your Lordships' attention to paragraph 1b of that document which states:

    "to promote business efficiency, investment and competitiveness in their area".
I cannot see how the agencies can do so unless they consult with those organisations. Paragraph 20 is headed "Consultation" and states that,

    "in formulating its strategy the Agency should consult widely with Government and other interests nationally, and within the region".
However, as it stands, the Bill does not guarantee that that vital process will take place. My argument is similar to the one that I put forward on my last amendment.

Amendment No. 9 gives the RDAs a duty to consult government departments, statutory bodies, business organisations and any other bodies considered appropriate within the RDAs' discretion when they formulate their strategies. The amendment merely places on the face of the Bill the Government's intentions in respect of consultation on RDA strategies as set out in the draft guidance. I have enumerated two points from that guidance.

Amendment No. 11 is technical and consequential. I beg to move.

Earl Peel: My Lords, I support my noble friend. The objectives that he seeks to achieve are clearly in the draft guidance but that is not the same as being on the face of the Bill. If the RDAs are to get off to the start that we wish, proper consultation will have to take place with those groups and bodies to which my noble friend referred. It is important that that is done at an early stage; otherwise the strategies formed are likely to omit key ingredients which could contribute to those many interests and groups which wish the agencies to succeed.

It is important that all interests are considered and that different sectors do not feel that they will be discriminated against. Unless we have a provision like this on the face of the Bill, there is a danger that that may happen. My noble friend is right. I hope that the Government will accept what is a simple and straightforward amendment.

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6.15 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I speak to Amendment No. 11 which stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. It amends Clause 7(2)(b) by providing that social, environmental and other issues be taken into account in formulating the agency's strategy.

We debated this issue at Committee stage. Amendment No. 11 provides for reference in the strategy to social, environmental and other issues. I suspect that the Minister will say that it is unnecessary because that is what the Government will require in any event. If so, I shall give the usual response: if the Government require that, why do they not take the credit for saying so? How will the Government ensure that a future, perhaps less benign, Secretary of State will issue similar guidance?

At the previous stage the House accepted that social and environmental matters are of enormous importance and cannot be separated from economic matters. There have been many contributions on this issue. One of the most recent is Shelter's report on urban and rural renaissance.

The Minister said in Committee that he concurred with the view expressed by me, and far more eloquently, by the right reverend Prelate, and that we could be reassured that it was already government policy. He also said that to put the words on the face of the Bill might be misleading. Having read the Official Report, I cannot find an explanation for such references being potentially misleading. If those matters are not included in the Bill but are government policy--they may not be the policy of a future government--what good reason can there be for not including the references on the face of the Bill unless it is because they were not invented here. However, I am sure that the Government are not so small minded.

The Lord Bishop of Winchester: My Lords, I support all three amendments and speak to Amendment No. 9. In passing, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and urge that the words in her amendment are included on the face of the Bill.

I wish to make two points on Amendment No. 9. I am hampered by my failure to get hold of a copy of the draft guidance. The Printed Paper Office is having difficulty identifying the document. A number of individuals who have spoken to me are concerned that the guidance makes it difficult to measure the problems of rural areas. It is another aspect of the constant anxiety expressed to me in Hampshire and in material received by bishops from individuals in rural areas about proper representation of rural areas and rural issues.

I wish to make a substantive point in support of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley. However, I wish to broaden his concern. His amendment refers to,

    "government departments, statutory bodies, organisations representative of business and such other bodies".
I wish to include a specific reference in,

    "such other bodies with an interest in its work".

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There is a sad lack of reference on the face of the Bill to voluntary organisations. I include among those the Churches. It is an important issue to raise. The fact is--this takes us back to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee--that in rural and urban areas voluntary organisations across the whole range (the Churches included) will be better informed about pockets of detail, about issues of poverty, social exclusion, disadvantage and disability than are the statutory organisations, much as I respect their work and those who struggle to serve them. It is a serious matter that there is so little mention of the whole voluntary section at point after point in the Bill where it would be relevant. I want us to understand the words "such other bodies" in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, as referring specifically to the whole range of the voluntary sector.

That means that more serious consideration needs to be given to some specific engagement of the voluntary sector in the membership of regional chambers where, again, they need to be active parties. They bring a skill and often detailed experience of small geographical areas. However, that should not be left to the charity of others. The Government need to make some distinct commitment to and proper engagement with the voluntary sector across this whole range of issues.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, in speaking to the amendment perhaps I can begin by responding to the penultimate point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester regarding regional chambers. It is important to place on record that this legislation is not legislation to establish those regional chambers. As such, his point will be a matter for future legislation.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, for tabling Amendment No. 9 and allowing me the opportunity to make clear what we expect of RDAs in relation to consultation on their regional strategies. Consultation is an important aspect of this work, as several noble Lords stressed. The Government are quite clear that unless RDAs consult fully on their strategies--indeed, unless they promote a partnership approach to the formulation and the delivery of their strategies--they will not be successful. Moreover, it is very important that the strategies are drawn up in a way that enhances national policies, so that central government and national agencies will respect the strategies as they take forward their own policy thinking. The noble Lord has, in his customary way, hit on the heart of the matter.

This amendment would add to the face of the Bill a requirement that RDAs must consult with interested bodies and government departments, as they consider appropriate, when formulating their strategies. Clause 7 allows for the Secretary of State to issue guidance to the RDAs on a range of matters relating to the formulation of their strategies. Indeed, during Committee stage of this Bill my noble friend and I said that the Government intended to issue guidance on the formulation of regional strategies, for consultation. Several noble Lords referred to the fact that it was launched on 20th October. The guidance has been distributed widely and comments

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have been invited by the end of November. Copies of the guidance were also placed in the Library. Also, perhaps I can reassure the right reverend Prelate that the voluntary sector is referred to in the guidance on strategies.

Those noble Lords who have seen the draft guidance will see that it is not excessively prescriptive. That is in line with the Government's view that the guidance should provide a framework within which the RDAs can produce their strategies and should not dictate what the strategy should be or how the RDAs should go about producing it. It is important that there are regional solutions to regional problems: that is at the heart of the Government's wish to decentralise decision taking to the regional level. However, I hope the noble Earl, Lord Peel, will accept that the draft guidance stresses the need for RDAs, working within their own circumstances, to build consensus in their regions and to work closely with their regional partners.

During the course of this short debate several noble Lords referred to the people and organisations that they would like to include. But I suggest that the people and organisations listed may stand at six now, but at a later stage in the Bill the list may become extremely long and would never be capable of including all.

The draft guidance specifically covers the question of consultation during the preparation of the strategy. It says that the RDAs should consult widely,

    "with Government and other interests nationally and within the region".
It also says that RDAs should include in their strategies a statement on the consultation arrangements they made and a list of those consulted during the preparation of the strategy.

We envisage that it will include the Government Offices in the regions, which will be the normal liaison point between RDAs and government. Government Offices will have close contact with all government departments, including MAFF, which I hope will please the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley. As the substance of the amendment has been included in the draft guidance that we issued for consultation, I urge the noble Lord not to press his amendment.

Amendment No. 11 seeks to specify on the face of the Bill the Secretary of State's powers to give RDAs guidance on "social, environmental and other" issues to be taken into account in the formulation of their strategies.

RDAs are to be development agencies, set up, as our White Paper of the regions made clear, to promote sustainable economic development and social and physical regeneration, and to co-ordinate the work of regional local partners in areas such as training, investment, regeneration and business support. The purposes of RDAs are therefore essentially economic and their strategies will essentially be aimed at addressing the economic problems of their region.

The Government are quite clear that economic performance can be improved only by taking a broad approach to tackling the problems our regions face. We believe that solutions integrating economic, social and

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environmental issues are needed. That integrated approach will, in our view, be central to the success of the regional development agencies in improving the economic prospects of their regions.

The draft guidance for the RDAs on their strategies, on which the Government are currently consulting, commends that approach. The guidance highlights the broad spectrum of activity covered by the RDAs' statutory purposes and stresses that, in order to develop an effective strategy, RDAs will need to take an integrated approach to tackling business competitiveness and the need to increase productivity, but also the underlying problems of unemployment, skills shortages, social exclusion and physical decay.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, tempts me--but not a lot--with her suggestion that I should contemplate a less benign Secretary of State. I cannot imagine life without my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State and would not wish to do so. Therefore I cannot concede that there could be a less benign Secretary of State at any time in the future.

The draft guidance also makes clear that RDAs should include in their strategies an appraisal of the contribution that a strategy will make to sustainable development and how it will integrate social and environmental objectives. The provision in Clause 7(2)(b) empowers the Secretary of State to issue guidance on the issues to be taken into account in their strategies. It does not limit him to certain types of issues and would certainly encompass social and environmental issues. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel, as we do, that her amendment is unnecessary.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, it was the Prime Minister before last who talked about going on and on and so I would suggest a little caution in suggesting that any Minister, however benign, goes on and on. Experience shows that they do not!

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