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Lord Whitty: Once again the objectives set out in this group of amendments are shared by the Government. For example, I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton that all these bodies must work together. There is obviously already substantial strategic work being undertaken at regional level before the creation of the RDAs; in particular, a relationship needs to be built up between the RDAs and regional planning guidance. Regional planning guidance forms the framework for land-use planning decisions, and the RDAs' strategies relate to that. The right relationship is essential to our task of providing for more coherent and more effective working at the regional level.
The difficulty with Amendment No. 30 and some of the subsequent ones is that we are at the stage of dealing with institutions which do not yet exist or which are only in the process of being developed, such as regional transport planning. To specify too clearly in statutory form could prevent the organic development of relationships between the various forms of new institutions and processes.
I do not feel therefore that the face of the Bill is the best place for those relationships to be spelt out. I say "those" relationships rather than the specific relationship dealt with by my noble friend's first amendment because there are a number of complex relationships that will involve the RDAs at national, regional and local levels. Moreover, the amendment raises a legal difficulty by not limiting the reference to regional planning guidance to guidance issued by the Secretary of State, though clearly that is the intention behind the amendment.
We have put nothing in Clause 7 about specific matters RDAs should have regard to and issues that must be taken into account in drawing up their regional strategies. That will be dealt with in guidance. We will shortly be publishing for public consultation draft guidance to the RDAs about the formulation of their strategies. I very much hope that the draft guidance will be published
Regional planning guidance, together with the local authority development plans, sets out the planning framework for the region. Like any other body, an RDA will be expected to work within that framework. This is not at issue. Anxieties were expressed about RDAs taking over planning responsibilities. That will not be the case. But RPG is a developing spatial planning framework. Under the Government's new arrangements, the regional planning body will in future take the lead in the preparation of draft RPG. Another institution is involved, therefore, whose relationship with the RDA will need to develop over time. In many regions the two documents will be developed in parallel, and both documents will need to be reviewed regularly. The regional planning body will therefore be a key regional partner with which the RDA will need to work closely.
The regional planning guidance and the regional economic strategy do, however, have different purposes. It is of course important that the messages of both are compatible and consistent. And, to achieve that, it will be important for the RDAs as they develop their regional strategies to have due regard to regional planning guidance and the developing thinking of the regional planning body. In turn, through their work and the advice they will be able to give, RDAs will provide a vital input to the review of regional planning guidance. Those putting the strategic thinking together will need, on both sides, to have regard to the views and needs of the other. However, the achievement of both objectives will develop over time. In our view, it would not be sensible to specify that on the face of the Bill at this stage.
Amendment No. 30 would also require RDAs to promote regional planning guidance. It is not entirely clear what my noble friend means by that, but I believe that that would not be appropriate. RDAs do not have the levers to do that. As I said, land-use planning is not one of their responsibilities, though they must pay due regard to it. The amendment therefore could be too prescriptive and it is unnecessary in the sense that much of this will be covered by guidance and by developing relationships at the regional level.
As regards the relationship between RDA strategies and existing or proposed regional sustainable strategies--Amendment No. 33--further thought is needed on that. My noble friend Lady Young, in an earlier debate, referred to the fact that we have a plethora of sustainable development initiatives being undertaken at regional level, and that is all to the good. However, given the different initiatives being taken and the different institutions involved, it is difficult to specify on the face of the Bill the statutory forms and processes with which the RDAs should relate to the developing sustainable initiatives. We want joined-up government in that area. Guidance will provide some indication to RDAs in their initial stages as to how to relate to the proposals. Again, hopefully over time organic links will be built up between those who are developing sustainable development plans
My noble friend need have no concern that we are not moving in the same direction. He is correct that RDAs should take account of strategies on sustainable development produced by other bodies. We will have the powers to give them guidance or directions on this matter under subsection (7)(2) of the Bill, and we intend to use those powers.
Amendment No. 37 deals with a slightly separate issue in relation to freedom of information and access to information. I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that it is my department's policy and practice to require all our non-departmental public boards to operate in an open way. In the case of RDAs' strategies, I explained in relation to an earlier amendment that regional strategies will be public documents. They will be compiled with the help of and are aimed at a range of regional stakeholders. They could not fulfil their purpose unless they were publicly available.
On the more general issue of freedom of information, Members of the Committee will be aware that we are committed to the principles of freedom of information. The Home Secretary announced on 29th September further steps to take forward our commitment. He undertook to publish a draft Bill early in the new year and announced the allocation of additional staff and resources to work on that Bill. That Bill will take the steps necessary to apply freedom of information principles across the public sector.
In our view, therefore, it would not be right in this Bill to do anything that might cut across any wider developments. For the time being, accordingly, I hope the noble Baroness will accept my reassurance that the key documents of RDAs will be in the public domain; that RDAs will comply fully with best practice and current statutory requirements for access to information, and that in doing so we will take account of moves towards the fuller freedom of information regime which we intend. RDAs will be subject to the full rigours of the proposed new statutory requirements for freedom of information.
Baroness Hamwee: Before the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, responds, perhaps I may encourage the Minister in his turn to encourage officials working with Ministers to produce the draft guidance before Report stage as he hopes. So much of what he said will depend on what we see in that guidance.
I make the point now because the Minister's response to the noble Lord, Lord Graham, left me less reassured about the requirement on RDAs to observe what is being done to forward sustainable development and so forth through regional planning guidance and local authority development plans than I was before he started. I became confused about the distinction between what is
Lord Whitty: Perhaps I may clarify the position on guidance. It is our intention to try to produce guidance on the strategies for RDAs which will include broad references to all those areas in time for Report. The more detailed guidance--on sustainable development and rural development, to which we have referred this evening--will probably not be ready for Report, but should not be long delayed after that. I believe that even the strategic guidance will give some reassurance. On the point about sustainable development, I assure Members of the Committee that many of the concerns raised by the noble Baroness and my noble friend will be met.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: I am grateful to the Minister. I sympathise with his inability to be more helpful. Having been a Member of both Houses and considered many Bills, I know the importance of appreciating goodwill and good intent, such as has been professed by this Minister and his colleagues. One can either trust him or not--and I trust my noble friend and his ministerial colleagues. We may not get exactly what we want in the way that we want it when we want it, but as I sense from what my noble friend said that there is wide agreement with, and sympathy for, the objectives of my amendment, the raison d'etre of which is the need to synthesise strategies across the region, it would be churlish of me to take any further action tonight or before we have had the opportunity to return to this matter.
I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister. I believe that most of us understand the dilemma--I shall not say, "of making policy on the hoof", but of having to make policy in changing and fluctuating circumstances. As I see it, we have got the best that we can. You are going to get nowt more out of this Minister tonight! He has done his best. I am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.