My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Rooker.)
In moving this amendment, I will speak also to Amendments Nos. 14, 15, 134 and 135.
In his disarming speech when he wound up at Second Reading, the Minister described the Bill as having had a drubbing. He also said that he recognised the concern about the democratic deficit, and he said that he had got the message. If the message that he then identified led to the government amendments on a democratically elected sphere of government having a role in regional spatial strategy—we will debate them later—something has been lost in translation.
Many of us are enthusiasts for devolved government. Everyone in this House would say that we want to see government at the lowest practicable level, although our differences would be in identifying where that level is. Few in this House would say that powers should be transferred upwards and become more centralised. Yet, we have a Government who have promoted devolution and had the guts and the energy to enact a lot of it. Those of us who would have liked to go further are ready to acknowledge that. The Government have produced a version of devolution that transfers powers and responsibilities from an elected sphere—the counties—to, bluntly, itself.
There is not merely a democratic deficit in the new proposals; there is a loss of democracy. I am genuinely sad to have to start the detailed work on the Bill on this note. There is much in the Bill that I support. When I said yesterday to the Minister that I was coming round to seeing the virtues of some of the later proposals, he told me not to apologise for that. Among the things that I support are regional and sub-regional planning. We have a regional spatial strategy, which in its first incarnation as the Secretary of State's regional planning guidance—I understand the Government's need to avoid a vacuum—is to be revised by a regional planning body that is designated by the Secretary of State.
The draft regulations for the composition of the regional planning body provide that recognition—and the Government are honest enough to say that that means funding—is dependent on at least 30 per cent of the membership with voting rights being from other than local authorities. I would have some reservations even if 100 per cent were from local authorities in this model. That comes from my experience of an indirectly elected body. For eight years, I chaired the London Planning Advisory Committee, which dealt with London planning issues after the abolition of the GLC. The members, who were members of borough councils, did the job with interest and with some application, but it was not their prime responsibility, and reasonably so. Their first responsibility was for their own boroughs. One would routinely encounter members having to leave meetings early and some being less focused on strategic issues than they were on local issues. That response was entirely reasonable, but it is an inevitable outcome of one being indirectly elected.
I am sure that the Minister will later remind the House of his amendments and the Deputy Prime Minister's statement in announcing them. That is the role of the local authorities. I am delighted that the Deputy Prime Minister was able to say that the Local Government Association and the County Councils Network have agreed to give,
"full support to making the new regional planning arrangements a success".
Their members are reasonable and responsible people—of course they want to make the new arrangements a success. That does not mean that the government amendments are the best or the only way to deal with the democratic deficit that I have identified.
Our amendment is a sunrise provision to the effect that the regions should take on the functions of regional spatial planning when there are elected regional bodies to do so, working with the counties and the districts. Until then, let us find a way—the way that we are proposing is the right way—of observing the principles of democracy and accountability. That would mean retaining the status quo on the role of the counties. The Minister may say that we will have the status quo, because regional planning guidance will become the regional spatial strategy. Structure plans will be saved—that is the term—for three years. That does not meet our concern, but it makes it clear that there is an opportunity to get the structure and responsibilities right. I make it clear to the noble Lords opposite who, among others, may feel that by starting off in this way we are setting out the wreck the Bill. That is not so, and our amendment is not as devastating as it may be painted. In another place the Minister, Mr McNulty, said that some of the matters that I am referring to are matters for a regional powers Bill. Quite so.
In 1998 the Government identified problems with the production of regional planning guidance. Your Lordships should not be too impressed that I am about to quote from a document. I went to the website to see which documents were relevant to the Bill, and printed one off before I realised that it was five years old. However, it identified the following, and I think it is worth considering these criticisms.
According to the document, regional planning guidance lacks regional focus and vision and spends too much time reiterating national policies; apart from housing provision, it lacks targets which can be monitored and reviewed; it is too narrowly land-use orientated; it lacks sufficient environmental objectives and appraisal; it takes too long to produce; it does not command commitment from regional stakeholders, and the process of producing it is insufficiently transparent. I agree with much of that critique, but it does not seem to us necessary to reduce the role of elected representatives in order to meet those criticisms.
There is a practical aspect, too. It was expressed to me by a county councillor from North Yorkshire as follows: the likely outcome of the Government's proposals is that county council resources and expertise will slowly wither away and that political commitment will decline as a core function at the present time becomes, at best, an ancillary activity in future years. On Second Reading, many of your Lordships expressed concern about the lack of planning expertise and about expertise leeching away.
Amendments Nos. 14 and 15, which propose that an elected regional assembly shall be the regional planning body, follow on from this. Amendments Nos. 134 and 135 are also consequential. It took me some time to find in the Bill how county structure plans were being dealt with and, having found the references, I thought I would add them to the amendment. But the more serious point is that buried in a schedule are these unusual provisions which say, in effect, that unless an authority has got to such and such a point in its structure plan, it shall do no more. That is an interesting approach to what is very close to the repeal of primary legislation.
No doubt we on these Benches will be teased because we have been vociferous advocates of regionalism. Indeed we are—but of devolved, elected regional government, not of the emasculation of counties and certainly not of centralisation. I beg to move.
I want to make it clear at the outset that I support the noble Baroness's amendment. While we are not at all in favour of regional government—and that was made very plain in our discussions on the Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill—we are equally completely opposed to the proposals for an arrangement whereby a body, which is still largely unidentified, made up of largely unknown persons, produces a document of such significance as a regional spatial strategy. In particular, it will have to contain the regional guidance as laid out by the Secretary of State.
Where the Secretary of State is becoming involved to such an extent, there must be not only scrutiny of his policies but effective decision-making by elected members on the applicability of those policies. This is a paramount requirement, particularly when the Secretary of State's guidance may, and almost certainly will, include such matters as the provision of large-scale housing developments, infrastructure provision in the region—possibly including new methods of energy provision and the siting of wind farms—and the identification of preferred areas for housing.
The Secretary of State's policies under Clause 1 appear to be mandatory—a mandatory part of the spatial strategy—and his directions unchallengeable. Without elected members' input into these documents, they will be put together, presumably by the civil servants of the regional government offices. Unless amendments regarding the county councils are agreed later in the Bill's proceedings, their role, which was formerly to deal with the structure plans, will be confined to assisting—I think that was the word used by the Deputy Prime Minister—the regional planning body. I am aware that the Minister will be moving an amendment to give the county councils this statutory advisory role. We will discuss then whether that is an appropriate and strong enough commitment. But I am bound to say that unless the Minister's words change my view, I do not believe that that is sufficient.
It still means that the primary work will be done, at best, in conjunction with the regional planning body, whatever that ends up as being. At worst, it will be done only by the Civil Service.
If the regional planning body were to be the regional assembly, that, too, would be unsatisfactory, as only a small proportion of the membership of those bodies is made up of elected members. The rest are appointed from business, the unions, environmental organisations and other interested organisations. While they are of course extremely interested and extremely valuable in the role they play at present, they are not democratically accountable for what is produced on their behalf.
All in all, we believe this to be extremely unsatisfactory. The impact of regional spatial strategies on communities could be immense. The means whereby those communities can play any part in vetoing any aspects about which they are concerned or do more than comment, in an advisory capacity, is opaque. For this reason, we believe that in the event that there is no elected regional assembly, there should be no possibility of Clause 1 being implemented. I support the amendment.
I declare an interest as an Oxfordshire county councillor. County councils are, in most places in the country, the absolute epitome of democracy. There are high turnouts in county council elections, even in the years when there is no parliamentary election coincident with them. Admittedly, turnout was more than 80 per cent last year but normally it is well over 60 per cent in the county I represent, which is higher than in very many elections. Usually, the results of those elections are fairly proportional across a county, as between parties, which is not the case at parliamentary elections.
Most county councillors are known to a high proportion of their electors. Most of my colleagues attend meetings of parish councils once a month, and some attend as many as 13 or 14 of these meetings each month. There they give their reports and they hear questions and comments from members of the public assembled there. On planning matters, large numbers will often attend.
County councillors represent and serve people, and reflect their views in the council chamber, on structure plan working parties, and are well aware of housing pressures, educational difficulties, school and social services problems and matters affecting the police, the fire service and the libraries, to name some of their responsibilities.
I acknowledge that there is some place for a regional spatial strategy—there has to be one below central government. However, my main point is that I sincerely believe that the severing of the link between the electorate and those responsible for the structure plan will be a problem for the Government—and I strike a note of great caution here. We often make unpalatable decisions which we can sell to the electors because we know who they are; we can talk about trade-offs and everybody takes a share of what is unpleasant because they can see fairness within the county. However, the Government run the risk that taking those decisions away from the county will leave local people alienated and disaffected because they will see results and decisions being imposed on them by an unelected regional assembly to which, in most cases, they have no sense of belonging.
My support for the amendment should certainly not be taken as support for elected regional assemblies. To my mind there is absolutely nothing whatever to be said for them. I have always suspected that the Minister agrees with me, but because of the position in which he sits he cannot say so. Elected regional assemblies at best will be an expensive waste of time and at worst will hasten the Balkanisation of Great Britain.
The amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is very useful, if only because it is a timely reminder of the sharp practice in which the Government are indulging. I believe that all along the Government's plan has been to give regional bodies powers that they should not have anyway, and then to plead that now that those bodies have the powers, there is deficit of democratic accountability, so we must have regional assemblies. That is the argument behind all that they have been advancing. Therefore, the obvious course is not to have regional assemblies, but to try to demolish the bureaucracies that at present are being created in regional government up and down the country.
In the regions, which are completely artificial creations and which in no way reflect natural loyalties or communities of interest, regional bureaucracies are already blossoming and one has only to read the Guardian to see the non-jobs that are being advertised for them. I have invited noble Lords before to take an interest in what is going on in the government office of the East Midlands. As long ago as 2002 that government office was advertising for the post of director of infrastructure and community affairs. The fatuous job description said:
"The holder of the job would have responsibility for ensuring GOEM delivers the step-changes we are seeking in the implementation of joined-up policy throughout our own geographical structure".
Such utter rubbish goes on and on. The Government should be busy dismantling such bureaucracies now rather than arguing that because we have them we should have some kind of elected assemblies to try to embark on the impossible task of knocking them into shape.
The passage of the Bill will perform a useful purpose if it reminds people of what lies behind it and the link between this Bill and the Government's plans for regional assemblies. The passage of the Bill will perform a useful purpose if it wakes people up to the fact that the Government's plans for the regions do not involve devolving power from central government to the regions; they involve robbing existing authorities like the county councils of powers such as planning powers. In other words, powers that have been part of our local government structure for generations will be taken away from authorities. That structure is well known to people and they can relate to it. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, on the fact that our local authorities are well respected and work extremely well as democratically elected bodies. Powers will be taken away from those well respected bodies and given to new authorities that will be more remote from the people. What good will come of that? I can see no good whatever coming from that.
I declare an interest as a county councillor in Suffolk and I inform the Committee that I have been a local authority member since 1991, involved both at district council level with development control and with the more strategic planning functions at county council level.
I support my noble friend Lady Hamwee. I should be grateful to the Minister if he could address a practical issue that has caused me some concern. In the east of England we are, by the Government's own calculations, at least seven or eight years from an elected regional assembly, assuming that the people of the east of England want such a body, which is open to question. At the moment there is an embryonic planning function at regional level but because it is a very small operation and because there is no real elected or effective regional body, there is a very small staff and, in the main, the technical advice for the regional planning function comes from the county council.
I believe that the diminution of the county council's role to that of an advisory body, although it is now to be statutory, will have two effects. First, I believe that it will lead to a massive haemorrhaging of experienced planning staff from county councils who will be able to see their future role disappearing and therefore they will move away. Secondly, and more worryingly, county councils with a lot of pressure on their budgets will simply lower the level of resource that they put into what now is to be simply an advisory function. If that happens we shall have the worst of both worlds: we shall have an emasculated county council planning function but no robust regional planning function to take its place. I should be grateful if the Minister could explain to me and to the Committee how that problem is to be addressed.
I support the amendment moved very ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I declare an interest: I am a local councillor on the Borough Council of King's Lynn and West Norfolk, although I am not a member of the Development Control Board.
I support the amendment for three reasons. First, planning is very prescriptive and therefore should take place as close as possible to the local area. The Bill replaces local plans, which have been developed very well since being introduced by the previous government. It gives developers and local people much more certainty of what would receive permission. That, in turn, leads to the speeding up of the planning process and allows many more decisions to be delegated to the officers of the council if the application falls within the guidelines. The local plans work well; they deliver the right kind of targets; and they are updated constantly by local people subject to the planning guidelines handed down by regional planning guidance or by the Secretary of State.
The new development framework, as proposed in the Bill, which is to be made up of local development documents, is the old development plans with a nasty new twist, which is that the Secretary of State is to be given powers to intervene in the preparation stage in a way that is wholly unjustified. What right has the Secretary of State to direct the local planning authority to make amendments to the scheme as he thinks fit?
My second reason is that the introduction of a regional spatial strategy is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, has just mentioned, an attempt to give legitimacy to the shadow regional planning bodies that currently exist, without any form of authority, but which still wield power. The problem of giving power but no democratic legitimacy is that it creates huge resentment in the tiers below. At Second Reading the Minister said:
"The counties will be consultees on regional plans, and will continue to be responsible for transport, waste, and mineral plans. The regions can use the counties as agents on sub-regional planning".—[Official Report, 6/1/04; col. 100.]
With a swipe, the power of the council is removed from the elected bodies and transferred to an unelected regional planning body that is directly under the control of the Secretary of State. An example of the danger in that policy—it was mentioned by my noble friend on the Front Bench—is likely to be the attitude taken to wind turbines. I am quite certain that it will become a regional planning policy directed by the Secretary of State, and local councils and county councils will not have any voice in its implementation.
Norfolk is designated to produce more than 10 per cent of its energy requirements by renewable resources, excluding what might be generated out at sea. It will require a veritable forest of wind turbines to generate that amount of energy. Without the consent of local people, that will be deeply resented.
Thirdly, in attempting to reform local government, the previous Conservative government tried to do away with many counties and local authorities and replace them with unitary authorities. I am sure that the Minister will recall that. There was an outcry from almost every part of the country, and different solutions had to be found. It would be wrong to go down the route that the Government propose without the consent of the people in the form of a referendum. Let us trust the people for a change.
I oppose the amendment, although I assure Members of the Committee that there will be many times during our proceedings when I shall be critical, as I would like to see many changes in the Bill. On this occasion, however, I oppose the proposal. I declare an interest in that I am the director of two businesses involved in the development world and consultant to a number of others.
The amendment says that Part 1 should not come into force unless there is an elected regional assembly. A number of the speeches seemed to indicate that that was a wrecking move, because if there were no elected regional assembly, there would be no Part 1. The question is, what is Part 1 trying to achieve? There is a need for a regional spatial strategy on a statutory basis. Such a strategy should be drawn up by a body that has its heart and soul in the development of that region. Regions vary considerably across the country, and solely leaving everything to regional guidance from central government has failed in the past, and continues to fail, to do justice to the regional variety and dynamics of the regions throughout England.
In my view, we need a regional spatial strategy that is based as firmly as possible within each region. I would much prefer that to be a body that is part of and responsible to a directly elected assembly. If, on the other hand, people from different regions decide that they do not want a directly elected assembly, that does not in my view diminish one jot the fact that we need strong regional strategies. It is best if they are drawn up, taken through and led by elected bodies but, if they are not, we still need such regional strategies.
The amendment, as I read it, says that if there is no directly elected assembly, no regional spatial strategy will be drawn up by people largely or entirely drawn from the individual regions. That would be a great loss. In my own region of Yorkshire and Humber, it is not simply a matter of county councils—as much as I admire and respect the role of the local county council in North Yorkshire. It is a great mix of large cities, all-purpose authorities, county councils, district councils and so on. That does not result in a coherent, strong regional policy—and nor will it, in my view.
Therefore, I oppose the amendment, which is a wrecking amendment in some parts, and expresses a desire to put one's credentials on the line in respect of directly elected assemblies. I would love to see them throughout the regions, and certainly in my own region. In the absence of that, the amendment would effectively wreck putting a regional spatial strategy on a statutory basis, drawn up by and driven by people who are genuinely interested in taking their region forward. In my view, that would be a great mistake on the part of noble Lords.
I support my noble friend's amendment, and I do so from a slightly different point of view, although I agree with everything that she said. I also agree with one thing that the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said. He said that there was a danger that under the Government's proposals for the regional assemblies, for which it is intended that we shall have referendums in three northern regions this autumn, the regional assemblies would be an "expensive waste of time".
I take a diametrically opposite view of regional government to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, as I believe very strongly in effective, strong regional government based essentially on devolution of powers from the highly centralised state based in Whitehall and Westminster. However, my concern about the Government's proposals for regional assemblies is that they will be weak, will not have anything to do, will be expensive for what they do and that they are basically taking powers upwards from local government rather than devolving them from London. That is a concern, and a concern held by many people in my region of the north-west. I wish that concern was not there.
The amendment gets to the heart of one issue. If the people in the north-west, and in Yorkshire, are to be persuaded to vote for the Government's regional assemblies later this year, there will have to be seen to be a clear difference between what happens when there is a regional assembly and what happens when there is none. Merely having an elected body of probably quite well paid politicians who are not seen to do very much will not be a difference that people will appreciate.
People will have to see reasons why there should be an assembly. I have tabled Amendment No. 10, which does a similar thing to this amendment but in a less drastic way. This amendment says that, when one has a regional assembly, the position is quite different, because the region will have something important to do, and that when one does not have a regional assembly, it will not. That is a basic issue that the Government will have to think very hard about across all sorts of policy areas in the next few months. We are discussing planning here, so we will talk about planning.
I remember vividly that during the Committee stage of the Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill, the Minister kept repeating a mantra: "no more powers, no more money". I believe that there ought to be more powers where there is an elected regional assembly. In this case, the regional spatial strategies will not simply consist in taking over what exists at the moment in terms of regional planning guidance at regional level, but will take powers upwards from local government in the form of the structure plan powers. Not only the county councils but the unitary authorities will be involved, such as the area of Leeds which the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, represents very well in a general sort of way. Leeds will lose powers to the new regional assembly or to a non-elected regional assembly, under the Government's proposals. Powers will go upwards from all local government, and not just the counties. If that is going to happen, the only possible justification for it is if the body that is taking over at regional level is elected.
The democratic arguments apply, but so do the practical arguments. I do not believe that the Government will persuade people in the north-west to vote for their regional assembly, unless it has an important series of jobs to be done. We can address the planning issue here by passing my noble friend's amendment.
I support the amendment and the remarks of my noble friend Lord Ullswater. I take heart when I listen to the Prime Minister talking about the introduction of democracy to Iraq. I wish that he would bring that same sentiment closer to home and be as fond of democracy in the United Kingdom and this Chamber. However, democracy is a dirty word as regards application in this country. What is important is to pass powers upwards: to have things dictated by people who are sufficiently expert and broad in their vision to take decisions which, in the Government's view, need to be taken without bothering to consult people too much.
It may well seem to people who do not live in Norfolk that during the 50 years or so while we wait for global warming to transform it into a marina it would be a good idea to build a few wind farms there. One cannot impose such decisions on people and maintain a respect for and agreement to government. Governments depend on our agreeing to be bound by the strictures that Government put on us and to feel that it is government with our consent. Things that happen locally require decisions to be taken locally or we shall lose the feeling of consent.
It is a problem for the police. They have lost their local presence. They have lost the local policeman. Therefore, the police are alien to us. When they stop us for some minor offence they are not our police but the state's police. That is not constructive. It leads to a gradual diminution of people's enthusiasm for involvement with the state, with public processes, and a commitment to the way in which they are governed. If we allow this sort of thing to continue, it will have great consequences. The only way to stop it continuing is to deal with each of its minor appearances. We are here talking about imposing things on people which need not be imposed. We can gain consent locally albeit a little more slowly and with a little more trouble. Some areas may say no and create difficulties. But it is important to involve people and obtain their consent.
The development industry and the Government will find that inconvenient from time to time. But unless we proceed with people's consent, in the end we will damage our democracy. We are prepared to fight for that elsewhere; it should be an issue for which we are prepared to fight little battles here.
I declare an interest as chairman of the Campaign for Yorkshire Devolution. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, that natural loyalties and communities of interest are strong and flourishing in Yorkshire. I point him towards the front page of today's Financial Times which shows the underperformance of all our great provincial cities of Britain compared with the equivalent great provincial cities of Europe—and if we had had the same report on the great provincial cities of the United States, alas, we should have seen the same thing. The difference between those countries and ourselves is that they have elaborate regional democracies in place and we do not.
The objective of the campaign is to raise the democratic process by assuming substantial powers away from Whitehall. If that does not happen, we shall have failed in our efforts. Secondly, it is to call to account the unelected quangos—I am a member of one or two—about which the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, is understandably concerned. The only way to call them to account, if we have any regional structure, is to have regional democracy alongside us. We have to tackle the bureaucracy which, rightly, worries most of us, particularly around Whitehall. The purpose of such devolution is to undermine that bureaucracy and the second guessing which takes place. The basis for that regional democracy is a strong alliance between the county councils and the regional democracies, to strengthen the local authorities in their role in our modern government.
I believe, therefore, that the Government's proposals in this respect work best when devolved government is in place. I hope that Yorkshire will, not for the first time, show an example to the rest of the country in the referendum later in the year and that lessons will be learned from the success of devolution in Yorkshire so that the poor people of the east of England will be encouraged to follow with great enthusiasm in the years to come.
I shall speak in favour of the amendment but not because I have been involved in local government. I seem to have been electing various authorities all my life. Sometimes I have agreed with them; sometimes I have not.
I am a great believer in democracy. I can assure the Committee that the feeling on this issue of citizens who have not been directly involved in local government is very strong. They wonder where democracy is going. I do not talk as a Londoner. In London we have an elected authority. I am not certain which party the mayor is in; perhaps we know now. But it is at least an elected authority and I have no right, therefore, to complain about what my fellow citizens want on the London plan.
However, I live in the east of England, in Essex. We do not know what is going on other than that unelected bodies will change our lives completely. Two or three nearby local authorities agree with what the village community says on, for example, protecting the green belt. Essex County Council also agrees. But they are pushed to one side by a body which most of the people in the village had no idea existed until this issue arose. We shall now fight democratically in every way possible. But when considering such overruling, if we are asked to believe in democracy we cannot.
I suspect that during debate on the Bill we shall discuss the Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Act ad nauseam. People want to keep re-visiting it. The Liberal Democrats do not believe in choice anyway. They would impose regional government on the remainder of the country. They can shake their heads all they like. I am on my feet now and I shall not give way.
We seek to do it a different way. Some regions may not want regional elected government. We are giving the people the choice. The first three referendums will be held later this year. One cannot assume what will happen after that. The Liberal Democrat policy is clearly to impose regional government.
Having listened to noble Lords, there has been a big squeal of vested political interest in virtually every speech. People listening to our debates could be misled. No noble Lord mentioned that the planning authority which will deal with the planning applications for the citizens of this country is the elected district council. Nothing is changing. Anyone would think that we are wiping out the district councils: they are the planning authorities which will make the decisions on the planning applications. No one mentions that because we are having a different debate: one of political vested interest from the county councils. Heads may be shaken but that is the reality.
I wonder whether the Minister heard my speech. I devoted at least a third of it to local development plans and queried the need for the Secretary of State to involve himself personally in the new development framework. Local development plans which I said have worked well have already been mentioned in the debate.
I have not come to that. We shall have similar debates about the accretion to the Secretary of State of so-called powers which, frankly, is not of the scale which has been alleged compared with the status quo. There are no substantial massive changes there. The district councils are the planning authorities. They are democratically elected. When citizens put in a planning application, they will deal with their local council as they do now. Nothing will change. But the debate so far is clearly designed to prevent the reform of the regional planning system, which is what we are talking about here, and not development control. It is a fair point to make; it is a fair way to begin debate on the Bill. I do not object to that.
If the noble Lord believes in regional government and calls his regional government Essex, that is his choice. I do not think that anyone, including the noble Lord the leader of his county council would claim—I invite him to do so—that Essex is the region. One has to be realistic. I do not believe that that is a realistic proposition. Nevertheless, many legitimate points have been made and I shall do my best to answer them.
The bottom line is that this group of amendments, important though they are, is designed to prevent the reform of the regional planning system, which is what the Bill is about. To that extent, they are wrecking. I do not mean that in a pejorative sense, but it would simply undermine the whole purpose of the Bill.
So far as I am aware, the noble Earl was not here for most of the speeches that I have just listened to. Therefore, I am in no position to look into the window of his mind to see what he thinks I am about.
I have not been belligerent at all. I have made the point that I have heard a lot about political vested interests. I do not think that anyone is denying that. There are people here representing county councils, which they see as under threat. I do not see it that way, but it is a legitimate point to make.
I think the Liberal Democrats take the view that there ought to be regional government. They say that; indeed, they would impose it. We want to give people a choice on regional government. There is nothing belligerent about that. I do not have to sit here, listen and accept everything I hear. I want to try to make a legitimate response to what has been said. I have no hidden agenda: everything is out in the open. I am not trying to sugar-coat the Bill. I would not try to do that anyway.
The point about this group of amendments is the proposition that there should be regional spatial strategies and regional planning bodies only in areas where we have elected regional assemblies. I do not want to go over the previous Act now, but it is a step-by-step process if people decide whether they even want to have a referendum. One cannot assume what the end-game might be. Everyone knows that there will be three referenda later this year. That is the effect of this new clause in Amendment No. 1.
Amendment No. 14 would require the elected regional assembly to be the regional planning body. Amendment No. 15 would remove the provisions that relate to setting the criteria for recognising a body as the regional planning body in regulations, the powers of the Secretary of State to withdraw that recognition by direction and his power to exercise regional planning body functions where there is no regional planning body in place. Amendment No. 134 would alter the transitional arrangements for structure plans. It would provide for authorities to continue with alterations or replacements of structure plans provided no elected regional assembly was in place.
To say that I am disappointed by these amendments is a fair assessment of the situation, though not in any kind of belligerent way. They offer no solution whatever to the problems with our planning system and our system of plans. They appear directly to undermine the reforms. The existing system is bogged down by too many plans that are often out of date—we have heard some examples of that in previous legislation—and not in line with one another. We also have three tiers of plans, which we believe to be simply too many.
We accept—and I do not think there is any difference between any of us on this—that we need strong regional planning. For the avoidance of doubt, when I say "regions" I am talking about the regions as set out by the previous government, not the counties. Regional planning policies that form part of the development plan are needed to address the particular opportunities and challenges faced by an individual region. In effective regional planning policy, we think it is vital to tackle the historic regional disparities that exist and to respond to the challenges of a modern economy. The point made by my noble friend Lord Haskins is wholly legitimate in this respect, given those figures that I, too, saw this morning on the front page of the Financial Times.
We need strong local plans at a level where the community can really engage with the process of plan making, where proposals to develop particular sites can be properly debated. That situation is absolutely fundamental. We want to make regional spatial strategies statutory and so part of the development plan. We do not think we should continue with a system where outdated lower-level plans can take precedence over more up-to-date regional plans in key planning decisions. That is the position that exists today. We want a system for strategic planning that is based around areas that are interdependent on the ground, not one constrained by administrative boundaries. I believe I said in a previous debate that when I visited the Thames Gateway, I flew over it at 500 feet as a lot of it is inaccessible. The great advantage of that is that you do not see administrative boundaries. You see it in a completely different way. I am not knocking the boundaries, but the fact is that we are tied down to some of the historical administrative boundaries and we need policies that are not necessarily constrained by those boundaries.
The county boundaries do not work as the basis for effective strategic planning. That may be a point of disagreement between some of us, and we can have lots of debates about it. But, by and large, there must be a consensus between the two Houses to make the point that counties cannot work as the basis for strategic planning at the level required. Many strategic planning issues—I do not claim all—cut across county boundaries and are best dealt with at a regional or a sub-regional level, certainly not at the county level.
The regional planning process needs to be driven forward by a body able to represent the region and to take a strategic view. The regional chambers are best placed to fulfil that role. I do not accept that some sort of democratic deficit now arises as a result of regional chambers having responsibility for regional planning.
This does not represent a new departure. Responsibility for preparing regional strategies already rests with regional planning bodies which, since
Under the existing system, county structure plans should be in line with and follow the strategic planning framework set in the regional planning guidance. What we are doing is removing a filter that has slowed down the expression of strategic regional planning policies in local plans. We are clearing out a system that allows out-of-date structure plans to take precedence over up-to-date regional plans. Now, hands up anybody who is in favour of that continuing? It is barmy. You cannot explain to the public that out-of-date structure plans, years old in some cases, should take precedence over up-to-date regional plans. You would have a hell of a job explaining that to the general public when they were concerned about their particular locality.
I see that we now have an offer from a Liberal Democrat.
Perhaps I may comment on that point before the Minister answers. With structure plans one could have county spatial plans. It has not been the county structural plans that have held up the system; it has been various governments who have put various timetables on it. The faults have not been with counties but with governments on timetables. You could have very speedy county spatial plans in a modern way. Therefore, we cannot agree at all with what the Minister has just said.
The short answer to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves—and the only one he is going to get—is "No". That is the answer to the question. We are going to argue about this, I suspect, for some time. I take the point.
I gave the noble Lord an answer. He asked me a specific question, and I answered him, "No". I am not going to elaborate. He may not like a one-word answer, but that is the answer I shall give however many times he asks the question.
What the Minister does not realise is that I am not going to ask the same question again. I want to point out that the whole of the Minister's argument has been based on his allegation that structure plans are always out of date and that the new regional spatial plans will always be up to date. That is the whole of his argument. He is asking: "Will people agree with that?" When I ask him whether that will always be the case, he says "No". So he has undermined his own argument, absolutely and completely in one word.
If the noble Lord checks Hansard tomorrow he will realise that he has put words in my mouth that I do not accept.
I know what I said and I did not say what the noble Lord claims I said.
I accept that the chambers are not directly elected and that that is a bone of contention. We are being realistic about that; no one is arguing to the contrary. On the other hand, although there are all kinds of democratic structures, the levels of directness of democracy vary widely. For example, the parliamentary second chambers of some of our European partners are not directly elected but are composed of people elected in a different way. I am not arguing that that is not so. Those chambers are not directly elected, but they are representative of both local authorities and stakeholders more widely in the region.
Local authority members represent their local authority on the regional planning board. Members from other stakeholder groups such as business or the voluntary sector will equally speak up for the interests they represent. They will have been put there through some kind of process for the particular body concerned. However, that is not democratic in the sense that we understand the term, at a local government ballot box. Nevertheless, they are there as a voice to ensure that we have the widest possible sounding board for the region. I think that that is legitimate.
Through legislation and guidance we are ensuring that everyone in the region with an interest can get involved in the regional planning process. There will be consultation, representations and, in all but the most exceptional circumstances, an examination in public conducted by an independent panel. For the first time we are requiring rather than encouraging consultation while the draft revision of the regional spatial strategy is being prepared. Ultimately, the regional spatial strategy is the Secretary of State's document and he is democratically accountable for it to the electorate and to the other place.
We have heard that we must delay our reforms—a point put by one or two noble Lords—until the elected regional assemblies are in place. However, knowing the process being undertaken, anyone who makes that case should realise that such a move will simply delay putting into place the more effective planning system that we so urgently need. Planning Bills are not often considered by Parliament but are a double-decade opportunity. Currently there are too many plans and too much confusion. Our reforms will produce a simpler, faster and more flexible system that creates plans and delivers policies at the right level. They are the right thing to do and it is about time that we made the changes.
On referendums, which I mentioned already, we have not yet set dates for the other regions. We clearly stated why we have not set dates when we debated the previous legislation. We have made it clear, however, that a referendum will be held in a region if there is sufficient interest in holding one. These amendments are a recipe for muddle because there is no guarantee that referendums will be held in a particular region. There would be different structures for plan making between areas with elected regional assemblies and those without. In short, we believe that our planning reforms will produce a simpler and more comprehensible system and that these amendments would just cause more confusion.
Where an elected regional assembly is established—where there is a successful referendum; and legislation will be introduced in Parliament if there is a successful vote in one of the three regions—it is unarguably right that it should take over responsibility for regional planning. However, we should not conflate that with reform of the planning system. That reform needs to happen now. We cannot wait for such reform until the creation of elected regional assemblies, if that is what the people in those regions decide. As I said, the matter depends very much on the choice of people in those regions.
The assemblies may come to pass or they may not. However, our planning reforms—I plead with the Committee—should not be dependent on decisions which will be taken for wholly different reasons. These reforms stand on their own. Although they may be connected to the reform and election of regional government, for heaven's sake, given the current difficulties with the planning system, they should not be dependent on that. I therefore hope that the amendments will not be pressed.
When asked how long I thought debate on Amendment No. 1 would take I said one hour. I shall therefore try not to extend the debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, and the Minister both used the word "wrecking" but then rowed back a little. This is not intended as a wrecking amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, described a body with its heart and soul in the region as the body to take responsibility for these matters. I wholly agree. Unfortunately, the criteria for the designation of regional planning bodies do not use that sort of language.
If there is no elected assembly then the Government's proposals will not be the way to go. If the Committee accepts the amendment some matters of detail will have to be considered. If the amendment is not accepted, a great deficit in the first part of the Bill will have to be addressed at the next stage. I did not try to rewrite the whole Bill for the Committee stage.
The main point is that there seems to be nothing to prevent the current regional planning guidance involving people in the region and becoming much more effective. That could trickle down in the way that the Minister says the Bill will allow. The Government themselves say that they will "save" structure plans for three years. So do we not have to an opportunity to get this right? In the Minister's presentation it seems that convenience overrides the issues of democracy and accountability to which so many noble Lords have referred.
The Minister suggested that noble Lords had perhaps based their arguments on a misunderstanding of how planning works, by ignoring the issues of development control and of dealing with individual planning applications. As the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, said, he did indeed deal with that. Furthermore, Clause 18—the provision that deals with local development—says that the local development document "must have regard to" the regional spatial strategy for the region. Is it not verging on the disingenuous to suggest that the regional spatial strategy has nothing to do with how planning applications are dealt with? From the moment that the Green Paper was introduced many practitioners said that many problems could be dealt with without primary legislation. I suggest that this is one area where we do not need to take the drastic steps that the Minister is asking us to agree.
The Minister said that the proposed regional planning body needs to be sufficiently inclusive. It is up to the electors to decide who should represent them through that body. Regulation 4 of the draft regulations states:
"The criteria prescribed for the purposes of"— the relevant clause of the Bill—
"are that . . . at least 30 per cent of the members of the RPB are not also members of a relevant authority".
This provision divorces the electorate from the body that is going to take the decisions.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said that we should be prepared to fight certain battles. This is not just a bone of contention, as the Minister described it; it is fundamental. This is a battle that we are prepared to fight. I should like to test the opinion of the Committee.
After the excitement of the previous debate one may have to change some of one's speaking notes regarding other amendments. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's response.
This is the first amendment that I shall move on this legislation. I look forward to working with the Minister and the Committee to try to improve the Bill. At Second Reading two weeks ago the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, pointed out that the Bill received a drumming. It has also received a drumming as a result of the first amendment on which we have just divided.
It is important to keep stressing the message that this legislation could ruin our planning system. As some noble Lords mentioned at Second Reading, this legislation will break up a planning system of which we should be proud. We agree with speeding up the planning process but not with throwing out the baby at the same time as the bath water.
During the past few weeks I have had many meetings with many professional organisations. There is widespread consensus that, if we are not careful, in three years or so a new Bill will be presented that is designed to sort out the problems caused by the one that we are discussing. It is important that the Government listen to the arguments now. It is all too easy to upset the balance between democracy and efficiency. It is all too easy to call the planning system old and deny its many strengths in order to put something new in its place simply for the sake of newness. However, it will be much harder to undo any damage to the planning system once it has been done.
On Second Reading I said that it would be much better to reform the current system—I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, also mentioned that—than to throw the whole thing up in the air. However, as we are where we are in the legislative process regarding this Bill, it is incumbent upon us all, regardless of our political hue, to do what we can to prevent the emasculation of the democratic element within the planning system.
We must be aware of paying lip service to democracy and community participation while casting these out with the county structure plans. We debated that matter just now. People must have a voice in planning decisions and those decisions must be made at as local a level as possible. The regional planning bodies must not simply be branch offices of Whitehall doing the Secretary of State's bidding.
Amendment No. 2 would require the Government to put on the face of the Bill a measure to ensure that regional spatial strategies include statements of community involvement. The purpose of having such a statement of community involvement in each regional spatial strategy is threefold but each element is fundamentally aimed at addressing the democratic deficit that lies at the heart of this Bill. First, a statement of community involvement would ensure that the regional planning body must engage with the community that it serves. Planning authorities must make decisions that serve the people of an area; that is, decisions that are representative of those people. If regional spatial strategies do not include statements of community involvement, we shall have no mechanism by which to relate plans to the people they serve.
Statements of community involvement must establish minimum standards that regional planning bodies will have to meet in order to have any democratic legitimacy whatever through the regional spatial strategies. Without those minimum standards many potential problems threaten to emerge. People may feel that regional spatial strategies are irrelevant to them as they have no input or stake in their preparation. They may feel quite legitimately that their democratic right to express their concerns about development has been taken away. Local people will inevitably feel frustrated if they perceive that unwelcome planning decisions have been foisted on them by the Secretary of State or a regional planning body located miles away.
The second purpose of including statements of community involvement in regional spatial strategies, and following on from the first, is that they will allow a more general scrutiny and accountability of regional planning bodies. Through the statement of community involvement it will become apparent if a regional planning body is able to involve the community in the decision-making process in a meaningful way, let alone whether it is doing it well. People have the right to know how the RPG can affect public decisions that affect their lives.
The third purpose of the amendment is that it will make a new planning system fairer and more consistent. Clause 17 requires local planning authorities to prepare statements of community involvement. How can the Minister justify the current logic of the Bill whereby local authorities must work out how they will engage their communities, while regional planning bodies are under no such obligation?
The Minister will be aware of the research conducted by the Local Government Association in September/October 2002. It asked planning authorities if it would be easy for regional spatial bodies to secure meaningful community involvement in regional planning—95 per cent of planning authorities said it would not be easy. Lest there should be any suspicion of counties wishing to do down regions, counties constituted less than 10 per cent of respondents to the survey. My speech could be changed following the debate on Amendment No. 1, but we are still possibly going to have regional spatial strategies in those elected regions and we have a long way to go on the Bill, so I wish to pursue my arguments. Among the experts and those currently involved in delivering planning locally, there is real concern about how community involvement will be achieved.
Those three reasons that I have outlined in some detail on this important part of the Bill are crucial to securing greater community participation and democratic accountability in the planning process. I beg to move.
My Lords, we also have Amendment No. 59 in the group. It approaches the matter in a slightly different way, but they have the same objectives. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, provides for a statement of community interest to be included in the regional spatial strategy. We suggest that a statement of community involvement and consultation—the first of the subsections—is part of the process in moving towards a regional spatial strategy. But the thrust is much the same.
At a regional level I acknowledge it is more difficult to ensure that all necessary views are collected, but that does not mean that there is no responsibility to do so. I prefer to think of such matters in terms of participation, because planning is one of the activities of governance. Like other such activities it requires public trust, credibility and support. The "experts" cannot know it all. Indeed, sustainable development and sustainability are unachievable without public involvement, because changes of attitude and behaviour are fundamental to sustainability. We all need to think of "we" and "our" responsibilities, not "they". It all takes time and effort, but that is well spent.
The draft consultation on PPS 11 includes an annex on community involvement. I hope that the Government are open to that. I am sure they are, because all Ministers know that in any subject the more participation from interested people, the better the outcome. If the Government support that approach then why not put it on the face of the Bill?
One can ponder on whether the amendments are helpful or not in their precise wording, but I hope that in responding to them my noble friend will not dismiss out of hand the thinking behind them. If one is to make a success of this new strategic approach, and I want to see the policy succeed, it is essential that the maximum good will is generated among those who carry the relevant responsibilities.
We all know how life develops in the public sphere. If people are not involved, there is a tendency for energy, commitment and professionalism to go into the negative rejectionist mode, instead of endorsing what is proposed. I hope that in all that is done and put forward, there will be a real drive to generate a momentum of public good will and involvement.
In saying that, I should declare an interest. I am an active vice-president of the Council for National Parks and a member of the north-west regional committee of the National Trust. I am also a supporter of various environmental agencies such as CPRE. Therefore, I hope—not because of my involvement in those agencies but because of the argument I put forward—that my noble friend will be able to make reassuring comments in relation to these amendments.
I was not present at Second Reading of the Bill, but I believe that no one quoted that memorable observation of the Deputy Prime Minister in the early stages of the previous Parliament in the context of the decision relating to Stevenage. In effect, he said of the administration that the green belt was the achievement of a Labour government and that they proposed to build on it.
I am the first to acknowledge that that should not be taken literally, but its spirit is bound to have aroused the suspicions of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the Minister must allow for us being vigilant during the passage of this Bill.
My suspicions are prompted by a further consideration. I was a veteran of the Commons Committee stage of the Greater London Authority Bill, as I told the Minister yesterday. The Mayor was responsible for ensuring the setting out of a large number of strategies. During the deliberations, I asked Glenda Jackson, who was at that stage leading for the Government, what would happen if the strategies were in conflict with each other. She memorably replied that they could not be because the Bill prevented them from being so. That did not seem to me to be a certain consequence of the relationship between human beings and legislation. I am wholly in support of the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Hanningfield to ensure a degree of restraint and contribution by electors within the regions concerned if the Bill were to become law.
I support my noble friend's amendment for many reasons. I have not today heard anyone refer to the areas of outstanding natural beauty. Those areas and their representatives are many. I declare an interest as president of the Cotswolds AONB and there are 17 local authority members. In addition, some 40 park wardens, all voluntary, work successfully in the areas in monitoring the activities there and the people who wish to visit such a wonderful part of the world. Those people need to be consulted because they are on the ground and are concerned.
I am concerned that on reading the Bill there appears to be some superimposing of yet another tier to govern the existing bodies. The areas of outstanding natural beauty, and that in which I have an interest, have with a good deal of support been built up over a short time. I remember saying at our first meeting, over which I was presiding, that it was remarkable that the representatives of some 17 local authorities were all in agreement.
They were in agreement on a matter of concern to them all and they are the people who really matter. Adding words to the Bill which would make it clear that full consultation must take place would be effective and would demonstrate to those concerned that they are to be consulted and involved.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, spoke of vigilance. If I were on the Back Benches, I would be watching myself here very carefully! That may be a Spoonerism, but I agree with him. There is no point of disagreement whatever. Furthermore, there is no departure between us on our aims. The Bill puts forward proposals for meeting those, together with background material, but there is no question that the involvement of the communities means that better quality decisions are reached. That is fundamental.
I shall deal with Amendments Nos. 2 and 59 together. I agree with all noble Lords that those with an interest in what the revised regional spatial strategy will look like should be consulted while it is being prepared. The regional planning body should from the very beginning plan for community involvement throughout the process. Perhaps the point of difference is how much we put on the face of the Bill and what is put in regulations and guidance. In terms of principle and practicality, there is no difference between us.
I want to remind the House of our existing proposals for community involvement in the context of the regional spatial strategies—
Someone will give me a note and I will then answer the noble Baroness's question. It is not relevant to the point I am about to make, but it is a relevant point overall. There is a procedure which we explained yesterday to noble Lords who attended the meeting with me at which officials were present to answer some of the technical issues. I made it clear that that will happen, but at some point today I will explain the connection and how one will become the other. The answer is fairly straightforward, but I do not want to get it wrong off the top of my head.
Perhaps I may remind the House of our existing proposals for community involvement. In addition to the duty we are placing on the regional planning body to seek advice from counties and other authorities with strategic planning expertise in Clause 4, we are placing extensive statutory duties on the regional planning body to consult in secondary legislation. The question is how much will be on the face of the Bill and how much in secondary legislation and other guidance.
Under the draft regulations to Part 1, to which reference has been made—
Perhaps I may pose a question. Why are the Government putting on the face of the Bill a statutory duty for local authorities, district councils and so forth but not for the regional planning bodies? If the duty should be in the Bill for one section, why not for the other? That seems logical.
That is the point that I shall explain. We do not disagree with the principle or practicality of the consultation. The question relates to what is in the Bill as opposed to how it comes about in a statutory way. I shall explain that and, because it is important for those outside who watch our proceedings, I shall stick fairly closely to the briefing. Therefore, I shall go back and start that paragraph again.
Under the draft regulations to Part 1 of the Bill, the regional planning body will have a duty to consult certain bodies while preparing the draft revision of the regional spatial strategy. To the extent that the regional planning body considers that it is affected by the revision, the RPB must consult a specific list of bodies—for example, county councils in or adjoining the region, local planning authorities in or adjoining the region, regional planning bodies for adjoining regions, and regional development agencies for the region and adjoining ones.
To the extent that it considers it appropriate to do so, at this stage the regional planning body must also consult organisations that represent the interests of particular groups; for example, voluntary sector bodies—exactly as the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, stated—ethnic minority communities or, indeed, businesses.
When the regional planning body publishes the draft revision of the regional spatial strategy, it must consult both the bodies that it has consulted during the preparation of the draft and any other bodies and persons which it thinks may wish to make representations.
Although they are too detailed to be set out on the face of the Bill, those statutory requirements are just the bare bones of what we expect to see in terms of consultation and community involvement.
The draft planning policy statement on regional planning—PPS11—sets out what that consultation should and could look like as initial ideas and options are turned into firm proposals. It will involve more than sending out draft documents and collating responses. We expect the counties and other bodies with strategic planning expertise to be closely involved or to take the lead on sub-regional studies or other work that will underpin the draft revision of the regional spatial strategy.
To involve the community more widely, planning policy statement 11 suggests that the regional planning body holds workshops or seminars across topics and themes in the review. Once the regional planning body has identified a preliminary list of issues for the revision, it should hold a one-day public conference to seek agreement that the issues identified are the right ones. It should consider establishing a group, chaired and comprised of people from outside the regional planning body and local authorities to be consulted at key milestones as the draft regional spatial strategy emerges.
The regional planning body should plan for consultation and community involvement from the very beginning. PPS11 requires the regional planning body, as part of its project plan for the regional spatial strategy revision, to set out how it will involve the community throughout. That involvement needs to be documented. Draft regulations place a duty on the regional planning body to submit to the Secretary of State, at the same time as the draft revision of the regional spatial strategy, a statement setting out how it has consulted stakeholders in the revision process and how the issues raised have been addressed in the draft revision document. That can be compared with what it said it would do in the project plan.
If I may just complete this part, I shall be glad to give way to the noble Lord. In testing the soundness of the regional spatial strategy, the extent of community involvement and stakeholder participation will both be taken into account in the panel's examination of the draft revision. The Secretary of State could reject the revision if he was not satisfied that it had been properly prepared.
We believe that that all adds up to a comprehensive package of community involvement in the regional planning process, with checks in place to ensure that it does take place. Given the way in which it will be carried out, we do not consider that a statutory statement would add value, bearing in mind the process that we are to undertake. I shall now gladly give way to the noble Lord.
Some of what the Minister has described is set out in draft planning policy statement 11 on regional planning. However, there is one point on which I should be grateful to receive the Minister's advice. The document states that, after discussing community involvement, as the noble Lord outlined, the RPB may also wish to consider the likely cost to participants and whether there is any scope for it or other stakeholders to provide financial support for community and voluntary groups in order to assist their ability to participate in the process. Does the Minister agree that that should not be discretionary and that, if one is to involve communities in the way that he described—I approve of everything that he has said thus far—there must be some financial burden on the RPB to assist that process?
I wholly agree with the point that the noble Lord makes. The short answer is that that is one reason why the Government have increased substantially the funding available for planning aid. This is a genuine issue. Off the top of my head I do not know what the figures are, but we have substantially increased the funds available for planning aid and for organisations in order to help in the exact circumstances identified by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.
Perhaps I may complete this part of my answer and I shall then turn to the points raised by the noble Baroness. I hope that it is fair to say that we need to get away from assuming that what is right at a local level might also be right at a regional level—that is, in terms of simple replication. A regional spatial strategy is a different document with a very different purpose from a local plan. To begin with, it will not be site-specific. The regional spatial strategy sets out the strategic framework for the region, and the local plan documents detail which sites should be developed. There is no reason why two such different documents should be subject to the same procedures in their preparation. However, in any event, community involvement is fairly important.
The statutory statement of community involvement is a case in point. Although it would not be valuable at a regional level, it would be valuable at a local level in setting out clearly for the local community how it would be involved in a plan-making process that might affect what its neighbourhood would look like in the years ahead. Local plans are literally much closer to home—that must be accepted—and the community has a far more direct stake in the process. Of course, members of the community may have an interest and want an input into the strategic policies in the regional plan. I go back to what the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, said and the example that he gave of 17 local authorities in one area. Those policies would not be site-specific, but the communities would be absolutely entitled to be consulted right at the beginning and throughout the process.
In principle, there is no argument at all between us in terms of what happens at the local and regional levels. It is a question of how much detail would be on the face of the Bill, bearing in mind that some of that detail would be statutory—that is, in secondary legislation. I cannot recall whether the procedure would be affirmative or negative. However, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee of your Lordships' House will bring forward suitable amendments to meet those recommendations in due course. I can say that now, without having the detailed report in front of me.
I have a list of the bodies which the regulations would require the regional planning body to consult. I shall place that list on the record, first, because it is important and, secondly, so that there is no doubt about the detailed attention that we intend to pay to this issue. Earlier, I gave a summary of the list but I shall now give it in full.
To the extent that the regional planning body considers that the draft revision affects a body, the RPB must consult: a local planning authority, any part of whose area is in or adjoins the RPB's region; a county council, any part of whose area is in or adjoins the RPB's region; a parish council, any part of whose area is in or adjoins the RPB's region; the regional planning body for each adjoining region; the Countryside Agency; the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England; English Nature; the Environment Agency; the Strategic Rail Authority; a regional development agency whose area is in or adjoins the regional planning board's region; any strategic health authority which exercises functions in the region; and any telecoms and infrastructure service provider which exercises functions in the region.
The RPB should also consult, as it thinks appropriate: voluntary bodies, some or all of whose activities benefit any part of the region; bodies that represent the interests of different racial, ethnic or national groups in the region; bodies that represent the interests of different religious groups in the region; bodies that represent the interests of disabled persons in the region; and bodies that represent the interests of persons carrying on business in the region.
Once the lawyers get to work on that list, it covers an incredible spread of opinion. Most organisations will fit one of those criteria because they will be found to have an interest in the region. It is just a question of what we put in the Bill. I agree that the Bill is too long and already too detailed. That is always a difficulty, and one draws a compromise. In this case, there will be regulations and secondary legislation.
I understand the Minister saying that the Bill already covers the community involvement issue; therefore there cannot be much incremental work. I therefore cannot understand why he resists the small number of words in the amendment; they at least would demonstrate that we support democracy upfront in Clause 1.
My noble friend has encouraged us to watch his back. I assure him—and he knows—that I am not watching his back with any sense of hostility on the issue. I have the feeling that he shares our concern and our objectives and it is a matter of how we get right the Bill's wording. It is good to have a Minister with such sensitivity.
Does my noble friend agree that the trouble with illustrative lists is that the organisations that do not appear on the list inevitably hold some significance? I refer to my interests on the previous amendment: for example, there are two organisations—the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, referred to areas of outstanding natural beauty, but I refer also to the national parks—that have tremendous responsibility on behalf of the nation, not simply the local community, for protecting and enhancing those assets for the nation as a whole.
I listened carefully—I have a problem with my hearing; however, I do not think that this was due to it—but I heard neither the areas of outstanding natural beauty nor the national parks mentioned in the illustrative lists the Minister gave. I hope that he can say something from the Government Front Bench to the effect that those specific bodies, which carry terrific responsibility, will be consulted in the development of any strategies.
It is not my job to make policy at the Dispatch Box; I am not the planning Minister, but the answer has to be yes. There is no question about that. They may fit the descriptions I have given—frankly I would have thought that they do. They may fit under the definition of local authorities; the national parks are planning authorities, so they are probably defined in the law—I see the Liberal Democrats nodding, so apparently I have got it right off the top of my head.
So while I am not making policy on my feet, the answer to my noble friend's question must be "yes". We do not have a point of principle or difference between us.
I was about to utter the immortal words, which are not on my brief: we will consider the matter. If anything has been missed out, that is no good because it undervalues what I have said. We need to be clear. As we are in Committee stage and at the moment the score is "county councils 1, Government 0", I will go back to the Deputy Prime Minister and Mr Keith Hill, the planning Minister, who proved to be good listening Ministers following the drubbing the Bill received on Second Reading. After Second Reading, we tabled massive amendments to Clause 4, to consider the matter and see whether we could accommodate the points I have made without adding masses of extra pages to the Bill.
In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, the Bill does not say that the regional planning board is to prepare the regional spatial strategy. The Bill creates the regional spatial strategies from the existing regional planning guidances under Clause 1. I do not have the Bill in front of me, but there is a redefinition that one instrument becomes the new instrument. As we explained yesterday, that was done so that there are not great delays that take years. We take the existing regional planning guidance, which becomes the regional spatial strategy. Its revision in due course will be covered by many of the points I made earlier.
There cannot possibly be a case for pressing the amendment on the basis of what I have said. I hope that we can move on to the next debate with a degree of goodwill.
Could I challenge the Minister a little further? I accept that the regional planning guidances will be at least part of the regional spatial strategy, but it does not say anywhere that they will be all of it. A number of discussions will ensue to shed light on what is involved in the regional spatial strategy.
It seems more than a little relevant that the regional planning board is responsible. The Bill does not say that it will do anything that the Minister said in his response. Clauses 2 and 3 give the RPB some general functions and say that it must keep the regional spatial strategy and the development of its regions under review and it must monitor and implement. It does not say anything about producing or about being responsible for the original implementation of the regional spatial strategy.
The regional planning bodies are being given a lacuna under the Minister's reply—I accept that the provision is in guidance, but it is not written in the Bill. Too often we rely on what goes into Hansard to justify the Bill and people have to go rummaging around to find the reference, when one subsection under Clause 1 would simply say that the regional planning body is responsible for introducing and implementing the regional spatial strategy. That is the reality of the situation, as the Minister indicated.
I am happy for the Minister not to reply tonight and to receive his reply at a later stage, but it would be helpful not only to us here, who are steeped in Bills and sentences and what people say. It is when it goes beyond here that we need to make clear what it is all about. I ask the Minister to review that provision and to ensure that we may return to it by putting it into a clause if he does not respond quickly. It is an important issue.
While I am on my feet, I declare the appropriate interests, such as being a member of a local authority and a member of a local planning committee, so that that is understood from the outset.
The declaration of interests in this place has always been a mystery to me. They are peculiar and I do not see why they have to be declared. I do not think that one has to apologise in this place for being a member of a local authority, but an apology is almost what a declaration of interest amounts to here. It has nothing to do with the Bill.
I have had a note that might help the noble Baroness. If there are any lacunas we will consider them. There will be nothing in the regional spatial strategy that is not in the regional planning guidance, but some parts of the existing regional planning guidance will not become the regional spatial strategy. It will be that way round. I am not sure about the mechanism for transferring one to the other; it may just be a direction. We will clear up those issues during the Bill's passage.
The Minister said that the existing regional planning guidance becomes the RSS, except for those parts that they decide to strike out. Could that be embodied in Clause 1(2)? Instead of giving the Secretary of State carte blanche to implement whatever policies he likes in the RSS, it could limit him to such of those policies as are embodied in the regional planning guidance at the moment when the Bill comes into effect, or something similar.
That sounds okay, but I think that my right honourable friends might have a problem with that, simply because the process of achieving regional planning guidance is one where there is a prescribed set of procedures which the Secretary of State has to ensure that he follows. So, I do not think that that will be a runner. However, it is a suggestion made in Committee and we shall consider it.
Before the noble Lord responds on his amendment, perhaps I should remind my noble friends, if no one else, of the amendment to which the Committee agreed a few moments ago. I for one will not roll over, accept this and say, "We know that this will be undone at the other end when the Bill goes back there". Clearly, there are knock-on effects as to who creates the regional spatial strategy, which, as I have said before, for reasons of practicality have not been addressed in all our amendments.
Perhaps I may add briefly to what has been said. If there is no reference on the face of the Bill to a statement of community involvement as regards the regional spatial strategy but there is, and I welcome it, as regards local development, it must be implicit that less weight is attached to it—even though it is spelt out at 15-page length in guidance—if it does not appear in primary legislation.
As regards the amendment I moved a few moments ago and the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I am grateful to the Minister for the way in which he pointed out what might be in secondary legislation and for going through all the consultees, and so forth.
The fact that this is not on the face of the Bill is worrying. When we refer to regional spatial strategies, often we are referring to numbers of houses within a community. The Minister knows very well—earlier, he declared my interest as leader of Essex County Council rather than me having to do that—that I am involved in two particular areas: the M11 corridor and the Thames Gateway, where considerable amounts of housing and infrastructure development are planned. To say that the region would not consult and involve those communities in that area—my noble friend referred in the earlier debate to his involvement in a discussion on development in the region—is disappointing. We are not talking about many words here. To repeat what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, if it is included for local authorities why not for the regional spatial strategy?
We have heard what the Minister said and we shall read and consider it. But this is an issue to which we might have to return. However, I hope that the Minister will think again and include these few words in the Bill. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 1, line 6, at end insert—
"( ) The RSS shall consist of—
(a) a concise strategic framework for the spatial dimension of Government policies in delivering and maintaining sustainable economies, communities and environment in that region, including other regional strategies and programmes that have a bearing on the use of land such as (but not limited to) the regional economic strategy, the regional housing strategy and the regional cultural strategy;
(b) the regional transport strategy;
(c) policy and general proposals in respect of the development and other use of land in that region (including measures for the improvement of the physical environment and the management of traffic); and
(d) such other matters as may be prescribed."
The subject of Amendment No. 3 has been trespassed upon in a debate on the previous grouping. The same question arises as to what should be on the face of the Bill and what we should leave unsaid and assume will come out all right in the wash when all the guidance, instruments, and so forth are produced.
Regional spatial strategy is a relatively new phrase. It is used with increasing frequency and is at the very heart of the Bill. Yet nowhere in the Bill does it state what is meant by those three words. The purpose of tabling the amendment is partly to tease out from the Government what is meant by regional spatial strategy but also why it should not be set out clearly on the face of the Bill as previous planning legislation sets out, for example, the scope of a structure plan and other elements of the planning system.
The regional spatial strategy has been explained in various documents, in particular the annex to RPG11 and the information in PPS11, in other explanatory information and in interesting comments by the Minister. It is clear that the RSS will consist of two things which eventually will be the legacy of the two elements that will go into the RSS at the very beginning. The first is the regional planning guidance. In the debate on the previous grouping the Minister explained which parts of the RPG will become the bulk of the temporary RSS, the transitional RSS. The second part will be the successor to the existing structure plans in the case of county councils and to those parts of the unitary development plans in the case of unitary local government.
There are two clear sections to RSS. At the beginning they will be very obviously separate and different. It seems to me inevitable that that will continue to be the case even after the revisions have taken place. Therefore, we should set out what the RSS consists of. I do not claim that the words I suggest are the last words in perfection. But I have set out in paragraphs (a) and (b) what seems to me to be a concise summary of what the Government have stated in RPG11 and PPS11 will be in the RSS.
Paragraphs (c) and (d) contain the wording that applies to structure plans in the 1990 Act, with a little missed off the end. In other words, the Government state that this is what the RSS will consist of as it becomes the transformation of the RPG; this is what the RSS will consist of in so far as it will take on immediately the existing structure plans and, in due course, those structure plans will be turned into sub-regional strategic planning documents. That, as far as I understand, is how it will work.
Having read much of the Bill, much of the documentation and listened to the Minister, I am increasingly surprised that he claims that this will be a simplification of the system and will reduce the number of layers and complications. The more we look into it, the more complicated the whole issue seems to be.
I tabled the amendment to ask the Government, first, why the definition of RSS, which is so important and so fundamental to the Bill, should not be on the face of the Bill and, secondly, to probe as to how, once the transitional phase is over and we have the RSSs in all their new super-efficient up-to-date glory, they will differ from existing regional planning guidance. Obviously they will differ in detail, but how will they differ in scope and style, in so far as they refer to sub-regional strategic planning, from the existing structure plans?
The more I read about this, the more it seems to be about process. However, in 10 years' time the documents will not differ much from existing structure plans; they will just have been put together by different people in a different process. In the case of Lancashire, for example, if the North West planning body decided to appoint Lancashire County Council as its agent for sub-regional planning in Lancashire, which would be sensible and practical, the documents will be put together by the same people, the only difference being the political accountability. So how will RSSs differ on those two levels and why should this not be on the face of the Bill? I beg to move.
Amendment No. 7 stands in my name and is grouped with Amendment No. 3. It addresses the same basic point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves—what should be on the face of the Bill? We both believe that the Bill needs to be more specific about the issues that should be covered by the RSS. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has provided a detailed list of appropriate topics. My amendment is more concise, which should appeal to the Minister. It simply proposes the specific inclusion of major transport and infrastructure provisions. It seems to me that the reference in Clause 1(2) to development and use of land within a region is too vague. It does not seem necessarily to cover major regional planning issues such as motorway or trunk road construction and airport development. These are of major strategic importance at regional level. I look forward to the Minister's response.
When the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, moved his amendment, he said the objective was to tease out more information from my noble friend. I rather took it from that that this amendment would not be pressed to a Division. I hope that in replying to the interesting observations made from the Liberal Democrat Benches and the Cross Benches the Minister will say in the context of this debate what I have heard him say powerfully on other occasions; that is, that one of the key planning purposes in our overcrowded, over-stressed society is the enhancement of the countryside and not simply for the benefit of those living there. Psychologically and physically it is absolutely indispensable for the health and well-being of the whole nation. Will the Minister say authoritatively that all that is being done shows the Government's determination to ensure that this rich resource—the countryside—is enhanced as an asset for the nation?
On this occasion I rise to help the Minister by opposing the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said that it is a probing amendment. I hope he will take my remarks in the spirit in which they are made. I have always accepted that there should be regional planning guidance. Such guidance has informed the making of local plans and structure plans for many years and has been extremely successful. In another life I was Minister for Planning and therefore had a certain responsibility. I have already expressed my opposition to a statutory body such as the RSS without an elected assembly but I recognise that it is restrictive to put such constraints on the face of the Bill, as this amendment seeks to do. I hope that the Minister may find a way of writing into the Bill the fact that the RSSs will be the embodiment of RPGs instead of us having to rely on his words in Hansard. That would help the construction of the Bill and also your Lordships' understanding of it.
I should like to ask a question before the Minister comes to reply. I have read carefully the passages under the heading, "What is an RSS?" in the Consultation Paper on Draft Planning Policy, Statement 11. I see nothing in there about the specific question of wind power which has been quite controversial. Many applications for planning permission for wind turbines on land have been turned down on environmental grounds. While I accept entirely what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that the primary objective of the RSS should be the enhancement of the countryside, I do suggest to the Minister that there are many areas, which are neither areas of outstanding natural beauty nor national parks, where wind farms would be perfectly suitable. I say that in the context of agriculture in this country. The primary agricultural purpose of land has become unprofitable. Many farmers are looking to alternative ways of making money. In upland areas, one of them could be the use of land no longer suitable for sheep. Unless there is something in the RSS which specifically refers to it, will not local authorities continue to be as negative as they have been in the past?
I do not know the answer to the noble Lord's question except that I was minded to look into the Moses Room where the Energy Bill is being discussed. That would be my immediate reaction. On the point that he raises, I have no doubt that I will get a note to help me to respond.
To respond to what my noble friend Lord Judd said, the Bill deals only with certain aspects of changes. As I said in my closing speech at Second Reading, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is working to a master plan—the Sustainable Communities Plan published on
In the Sustainable Communities Plan there is a map on Page 43 which I have used many times at various meetings. It shows the amount of land in England covered by national parks, green belt, and areas of outstanding natural beauty. You can superimpose the urban areas. It is an interesting set of statistics. We have to be very careful. What we have said is that in building sustainable communities, particularly in growth areas, we may have to impinge on certain parts of the green belt. However, we intend to grow it and leave more statutory green belt than we started with. We have already done this. There are an additional 30,000 hectares of green belt land now compared with 1997. I realise a large part is in one area of the country but nevertheless it is statutory and far bigger than it was. I would also say that green belt is not the same as AONBs. Most green belt serves as a buffer around urban areas. It is not land of high visual quality; it is purely designed to stop cities and towns joining up, which is quite right. But green belt and AONB are not the same thing and are separate from the statutory national parks.
This is an important issue. Quite obviously noble Lords are testing the Bill to discover the Government's thinking behind these issues which legislation in the form of a Bill does not always set out. I shall try to set out our thinking and also address the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. Somewhere in my notes is a reference to regional housing boards and I can definitely say that I will cover the noble Baroness's point.
Amendment No. 3 would amend Clause 1(1) to provide that the RSS must consist of the following: first, a concise strategic framework for the spatial dimension of government policies in delivering and maintaining sustainable economies, communities and environment in the region. That would include other regional strategies and programmes that have a bearing on the use of land, such as the regional economic strategy, the housing strategy and the cultural strategy.
Secondly, it should include the regional transport strategy. Thirdly, it should set out the policy and general proposals in respect of the development and other use of land in the region, including measures for the improvement of the physical environment and the management of traffic. Finally, it should include any other matters that are prescribed.
Amendment No. 7 of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, would amend Clause 1(2) to provide that, among other things, the regional spatial strategy must set out the Secretary of State's policies for major transport and infrastructure provision in the region.
By what I have said previously, I hope the Committee can agree that the Government concur with much of what is said in the amendments concerning the content of an RSS. We differ on whether it needs to be set out on the face of the Bill rather than in policy pronouncements and guidance and, if necessary, in regulations.
Paragraph 1.3 of draft planning policy statement 11 makes clear that the RSS should set out the regional transport and major infrastructure proposals that are necessary to deliver the strategy set out in the RSS. Detailed policy and guidance on what the regional transport strategy should contain are set out in Annex B to the document.
It is crucial that the RSS sets out the regional transport and major infrastructure priorities. In issuing an RSS the Secretary of State will endorse the principle of these proposals as he sees appropriate, taking full account of the report of the panel following the examination in public into the draft proposals. There will then be an opportunity for people to make representations on the precise location of these proposals through the normal statutory routes. The procedures for doing so include a planning inquiry, a highways inquiry and an inquiry into a Transport and Works Act order.
The RSS must be careful not to stray into such site-specific proposals and thereby subvert these statutory procedures and the safeguards they provide.
So, we want to emphasise the role of the RSS in relation to establishing regional priorities. Proposals of national importance need to be considered at the national rather than the regional level. The principle of the need for nationally important proposals will have been established not in an RSS but rather—for example—in a White Paper or in debate in this Chamber. A good recent example that I have used elsewhere is the airports document. The Bill changes how major infrastructure inquiries will be dealt with, but the key to making that change is a clear statement of policy by government on what the issue is—whether it be airports or other matters. So that is necessary; otherwise, the system will not work.
I turn now to the detail of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. Paragraph 1.3 of draft PPS11 makes clear that the RSS should provide a broad development strategy for at least a 15-year period. It goes on to state that the RSS should, among other things, identify the scale and distribution of provision for new housing and priorities for the environment, transport, infrastructure, economic development, agriculture, minerals extraction and waste treatment and disposal. I think that demonstrates that if we were to prescribe on the face of the Bill what the RSS should contain it would have to say more than the selective references to such matters as,
"the improvement of the physical environment", to which the noble Lord's amendment refers.
I say that only because otherwise the legislation is left wide open to people who wish to frustrate development or misuse the proposals. All it does is to make loads of money for the lawyers and slows down the decision-making process. Whether the decision is yes or no does not matter; it slows it down.
Paragraph 2.8 of PPS11 makes clear that the RSS should provide the long-term planning framework for the three regional strategies—to which the noble Lord refers—and the other relevant strategies. I have already referred to the policy and guidance in PPS11 on the contents of the regional transport strategy and to the role of that strategy as an integral part of the RSS.
There is, therefore, no issue between us of what the RSS should contain but merely where we should say it. We are not arguing on any issue of what it should contain. In our view it would be a mistake to fossilise it on the face of the Bill because we would be making references to what matters the RSS should contain, which may change in the future. This is where I turn to the example and answer the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, refers in his amendment to a new type of strategy introduced last year after the Bill had been introduced—the regional housing boards. Who knows what the future may hold? If we put things in great detail in primary legislation, we are making a rod for our own back with other changes that may occur in the future. There is a procedure for doing this. There is the policy and the guidance and, if necessary, the power to use regulation to make good any items that are missing or changes that have come about. So it is only a question of where the issue is written down.
I have some specific answers to give to points raised by Members of the Committee, which I hope I can deal with adequately. The RSS is not site-specific and so would not identify areas for wind farms. It will define broad locations and criteria for wind farm development, to be taken forward by the local development framework. The RSS will plan positively for renewable energy—I think that we take that for granted—but it would not go into that detail.
The regional housing strategy assesses the regional housing needs of the region. This is a fairly new process, which is less than a year old. It will identify housing investment priorities. The information forms the RSS, which sets out the housing requirements for which the planning authority should provide. The point was well made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that these issues are very delicate and sensitive, but unless there is planning we end up with sprawl, unsustainable growth and unsustainable communities and we diminish people's quality of life. Therefore, there are some tough decisions to be made.
I hope that the noble Lord in his guise as a local government bigwig of some quality will help me with the communities plan in the growth areas. Of course, as I have told my colleagues, I am working with people of quality in this place—some more important than others—because they carry a lot of clout on the communities plan.
I shall deal with how RSSs will be different from structure plans. Many structure plans repeat what is already national or regional policy. They do not address planning issues that cross administrative boundaries; in other words where the problems are. I explained that matter earlier. We want to explore that area in consultation. The boundaries are important but they are not the be-all and end-all. We need to reach across them. The problems stretch across the boundaries.
It is not true that RSSs will consist of the regional planning guidance and Part 1 of the UDPs and the structure plans. RSSs will be the regional planning guidance and, through time, the sub-regional policies that are actually needed in the relevant areas. They are obviously different around the country. They will not be the same in every area. The RSSs will evolve over time. It is a question of where it is written down—it will be written down. That is the point, and I hope that I have made it clear. The issues will be written down; the question is where they are written down. They will be written down in such a way that people will not be able to avoid them. I am confident of that.
I am not sure that I am totally happy with that response. It is important that the Bill should state some of these important issues—the Minister mentioned the airport issue, which would clearly materially affect a region if central government decided that was to be done. I feel that RSSs must take account of these major national issues to the extent that they affect a particular region. I ask the Government to think about that. I will not be pressing my amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister for that long and detailed explanation in reply to my point. I am grateful to the other Members who took part in the debate. Although the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has already gone, I will still say that he hit a crucial issue in this Bill. There is real concern that enhancement of the countryside is being downplayed. That concern goes right back to the genesis of the Bill, which now seems a long time ago.
As everyone knows, the Bill was at least in part a result of pressure being put on the Government by development interests, if I can call them that, to say that development in this country is not easy enough. It is being restricted. As the Minister said, the system is wide open to people who wish to frustrate development. Clearly, there must be a balance. One of the reasons why this Bill started off through its various consultation processes was a belief that development ought to be made easier, in the interests of national economic growth. That concern is a thread that will run through the discussions on the Bill.
The noble Viscount suggested that these proposals were too restrictive. There are two views and purposes of legislation. One is to allow people in authority, in particular the Government, to do what is thought to be necessary and to give rules and instructions and powers over people in the country to allow things to happen. The other view of legislation is that it is there to restrict the activities of people in power, including Ministers, to those areas that are thought to be necessary. Beyond those that are thought to be necessary, or perhaps highly desirable, they should not be allowed to do what they want, how they want in an arbitrary way. That is why, having listened to the debate, I still think that it would be a good idea to define this phrase in the Bill.
Can the Minister tell us of anywhere else in planning legislation where a phrase as important as "regional spatial strategy" is included but not defined? I do not want an answer now; I am happy to have one afterwards. It is an unusual process to say that they will put the words in legislation and then the Government, Ministers or civil servants will write it all down on pieces of paper and tell people what the legislation means. It might trip up the courts to do that. It is unusual. Where else in planning legislation does that happen?
As far as the difference is concerned, I understand now what will happen on structure plans. They will continue to exist as separate entities until they are superseded by the new sub-regional strategies. The Minister is nodding, so I understand how that will happen. How will the sub-regional strategies differ from existing structure plans, apart from boundaries? I understand that they may not follow the existing local authority boundaries, although not following them is a recipe for more confusion and more chaos. Again, I am happy for the Minister to tell us afterwards, or perhaps write to us. How will they differ? In what ways will they differ from structure plans? If we picked up a document, and it did not have a heading, would we read it and think that it was a structure plan, because it is simply the successor to those present plans? I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
People will probably realise that, given what happened with the first amendment, this amendment is philosophically in the same vein, and I think that we will have to consider a bit further how to deal with the issue. I am not really going to pursue it tonight. Nevertheless—Part 3 is related to Part 2, so they are connected—I would be interested in the Minister's response to the issue raised here.
I am not certain whether I can speak to Amendment No. 5, because the Deputy Chairman said that it could not be called if we agreed to Amendment No. 4. As they are grouped together—I will speak to it. This is an important amendment, so I want to go over it.
As the Bill stands, a regional spatial strategy is conceived as nothing more than a planning document that states the Secretary of State's policy agenda for a particular region. We all recognise the importance of the Government's role in giving strategic leadership to the planning system. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said during the debate on Amendment No. 1, Parts 1 and 2 of this Bill basically amount to the nationalisation of the planning system, and that is a very bad idea indeed.
This amendment is aimed at freeing up the regional planning bodies, via the regional spatial strategies, from being simply the mouthpieces of Whitehall policy. This is not a political point. This amendment addresses the concern, expressed by many interested parties, that unless there are changes in the way the regional spatial strategies are established in legislation, there will be no space for local accountability as planning policy is implemented on the ground.
We all want to help to speed up planning decisions. Centralised planning, while perhaps speeding up the system, will inevitably mean bad planning. Our current planning system needs reform, because it is too slow. We all agree on that. At least it has the distinct advantage of maintaining local accountability. As was mentioned at Second Reading, local responsibility for planning has meant that the quality of planning decisions has generally been good. At Second Reading, most noble Lords said that we probably had the best planning system in the world. Good quality planning must continue to be the key objective of any planning legislation.
Thus, it is vital that we establish more mechanisms for the exercise of community participation at the regional level—hence my earlier amendment and the long discussion that we had on that—and bolster the capacity of regional planning bodies to respond to local conditions. At the moment, this legislation simply fails to recognise the enormous differences and variations between and within regions—I know that well, in regard to the eastern region—in terms of local land use and the development of future needs.
As it stands, Clause 1(2) would lead to the accelerated fossilisation of regional spatial strategies, because they would have to constantly keep up with the rate at which new demands emanate from Whitehall in order to satisfy the requirements set out by the Secretary of State's policies. If the Government are serious about devolving power to the regions—we have had lots of debates about this—and if they are serious about devolution, then how do they square that with a policy that makes regional planning bodies—even after the establishment of elected regional assemblies—simply the agents of Whitehall and Westminster?
Not only is democratic accountability being sucked out of the system by transferring powers upwards away from counties, but it also leaks out at the regional level. Regional planning bodies might find themselves accountable for policies that they do not support and over which they can exercise no control. In the brave new world of devolution and elected regional assemblies, one cannot simply transfer the old accountabilities on to the new regional structure.
The regional spatial strategy should not be a vehicle for simply setting out government policy. It should be a strategic vision that meets the planning needs of local communities. Their elected representatives should agree it. Of course, regional spatial strategies will still have to have regard to the Government's priorities, and this involvement maintains that important dimension.
This amendment would ensure that regional spatial strategies are permitted the necessary flexibility to respond to conditions in their areas. It would go a small way towards restoring a better balance between local accountability and central control. Ultimately, by reasserting the principle of subsidiarity and reversing the tide of centralism found throughout the Bill, the amendment would ensure better planning decisions than would be the case otherwise.
I should like to speak to Amendment No. 10. Noble Lords will not be surprised to hear that I agree with the sentiments expressed in favour of the two previous amendments in the group.
Amendment No. 10, like others in Clause 1, is now rather redundant, in a technical way, following the acceptance of Amendment No. 1. I had tabled it as another means of making a distinction between the situation in regions which had an elected assembly and those which did not. The distinction I was making was that where there is a legitimately elected body in the region, that body, rather than central government, should have control over the policy behind the regional spatial strategy. It would be a value-added feature of an elected assembly as opposed to a region which did not have an elected assembly. It is simply another means of making elected regional assemblies mean something in the regions that decide to have them; indeed, it could give them some meaning when people are being asked to vote for them.
While we talked about regional assemblies in debating Amendment No. 1, the Minister several times put himself forward not only as an expert on his own Bill—which he is, and has every right to be—but also as an expert on Liberal Democrat policy on the subject. He kept telling us that we were in favour of imposing regional assemblies throughout the country whether or not people wanted them. Since then, I have been able to get a copy of the motion that was passed at the Liberal Democrat conference the last time the matter was debated and party policy was made. The Liberal Democrat party still makes party policy in an open and democratic way at our conferences. Quaint and old-fashioned though that may now seem in the political system, we believe it is something we should do.
The motion was called "Creating Regional Government" and was passed at the federal conference of the Liberal Democrats in March 2002. I would love to read out the whole motion but it is about three pages long, so I will not. However, I am prepared to write to noble Lords and put copies in the Library if there is a demand. The relevant section says:
"Conference therefore calls on the Government to . . . enable regional referenda to be held as soon as possible, and pass a Regional Powers Act" to say what powers they could take up. It is quite clear from the policy document from which that is taken that the regional referendums would be triggered not by central government saying, "We think they'll do up north, but nowhere else, so they can have them whether they like it or not". Instead, referendums would be triggered by people in the region—a proportion of local authorities or by 5 per cent of the electorate—asking for a referendum. If there was a yes vote, they would get a regional assembly, with far greater powers, far more devolution and far more takeover of the regional quangos than the Government are proposing. But that is all for another day. If the electorate voted no, they would not get a regional assembly. I do not know where the Minister gets his information about Liberal Democrat policies from, but whatever his source, it is not very accurate.
I support the amendment spoken to by my noble friend Lord Hanningfield. In the days, long ago, when I attended the Harvard Business School, there was, in the first year, a course devoted to personnel activity, most of which seemed to me to be quite astonishingly obvious. But one thing was said to us during that course which struck me freshly, and I have remembered it ever since—namely, one's responsibility, in any human organisation, for playing the part of a participant observer.
Those of us who sit on the Back Benches in debates of this sort, who embark on what will quite clearly be a series of engagements of test match quality, but who do not represent any particular interest outside which requires them to express opinions, have the opportunity for reflection during such a process. Other test matches in which they have taken part in the past, analogous to the one in which we are currently engaged, come back to them. The one which has come back to me is the Licensing Bill, and of those noble Lords in the Chamber tonight, it will also have come back to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for he was a veteran of the same Committee stage.
My recollection of the Licensing Bill, which also ran into a reaction from local authorities which we sought to express during those debates, is that the legislation was unduly centralising and prescriptive. My recollection is that in that Bill, local authorities—which I substitute for the regional planning bodies and the regional spatial strategy in this instance—were obliged to produce policies in relation to their licensing activities. However, those licensing policies had to have regard to the advice which they received from the DCMS. Those were the very words to which, if my recollection is correct, my noble friend Lord Hanningfield referred in this amendment.
I do not want to press my analogy too hard, but I am grateful to the noble Lord for drawing attention to that particular foible in the process.
The words in the Licensing Bill were regarded as unduly prescriptive by the local authorities and therefore, by definition, the words to which my noble friend Lord Hanningfield is objecting in his amendment are more prescriptive still. I totally appreciate that circumstances alter cases and that the history of planning may be quite different from the history of licensing. The Minister may therefore have arguments relating to planning history which invalidate the analogy I have made. But because I recall the reaction of local authorities to the way in which they felt they were being imposed upon by the Government in having to pay respect to a national policy, I certainly support my noble friend and will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say in reply.
I pray in aid the consultation paper on draft planning policy PPS11 in this regard. It says that the regional spatial strategy should be specific to the region; while it should have regard to national policies, it should not simply repeat them. That is not what Clause 1 says. Subsection (5) says that the regional spatial strategy for a region,
"is so much of a regional planning guidance relating to the region as the Secretary of State prescribes".
What we have been talking about throughout our debate is what is involved in the regional spatial strategy and its position. Either the guidance is wrong, in which case it should not say "should have regard to" but should state quite categorically that the regional planning guidance, as laid out by the Secretary of State, has to be part of the regional spatial strategy, or it is not what the Bill says. That is precisely what my noble friend has just described. I should have thought that the guidance should be correct. The policies will lay out the Secretary of State's regional planning guidance, and it should draw attention to that. Clearly, those will be subsumed into local plans—will be part and parcel of them—where practical and obvious. The Government have to get the matter right and they have to decide what we are discussing and what is to be the rationale.
While I am on my feet perhaps I could ask the Government not to split infinitives. "To better develop" is a split infinitive and when I was at school that was an absolutely heinous crime.
I support the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. We have here the possibility that regional planning guidance will be written in Whitehall which will not be applicable to particular regions or a particular region. On the other hand, if those in Whitehall write the strategies for regions, what are the people in the regions to do, if they must take account of that? We need some clarification because people must have room to move. One cannot centralise everything and expect someone below to interpret matters.
As the Minister has explained, in the first instance, the regional spatial strategy consists of such parts of the regional planning guidance as the Secretary of State chooses to read across. Every part of the RPG that is relevant, goes into the RSS and there is no discretion there, according to the description that the Minister gave earlier today. If the Bill had said that, there would have been less anxiety about the centralising tendencies of the Bill. If all that is to happen on day one is that the RPG becomes the RSS and has statutory force, whereas the RPG does not, people will see that the opportunity existed at a later stage, when the RPG comes to do the first revision, for changes to be made on a much more democratic basis, as the Minister has outlined.
I believe that it would help the Committee enormously—and I would like to know the answer—if the Minister could say which parts of the RPG the Government intend not to read across. The Minister has already said that parts will not go into the strategy. That is why he was reluctant to accept the notion that one could alter the wording in Clause 1 so that it said precisely what he has said from the Dispatch Box—that it would consist of the RPG less whatever words the Secretary of State chose to leave out. That could have been expressed as giving the Secretary of State a power to transfer the RPG in total, less any words that he would designate by an order.
He also said that nothing can be inserted in the RSS which is not already in the RPG. That is equally important because it means that until the first revision, which is conducted under Clause 5 by the RPB, nothing can go into the RSS at the whim of the Secretary of State unless your Lordships choose to amend the Bill in such a sense. In this Committee we are perfectly free to instruct the Secretary of State to put matters into the RSS or to say that the RSS can contain certain matters, but the Minister has told your Lordships that the Secretary of State is to bar himself from putting anything into the RSS which is not already in the RPG. If that had been made clear on the face of the Bill in Clause 1 a lot of trouble would have been saved.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his questions, which have enabled me to find what I hope is a satisfactory answer. I almost rose before the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, because the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, did not actually move the amendment. She specifically said that she was not going to pursue it. I thought that would be one debate that we would not have and all of a sudden we have had a debate. The words, "I beg to move" have not been uttered. I have been careful on this point. We are making laws under the Bill, and we have had a debate on a group of amendments. I have a very short speaking note and I hope I have an answer to the central issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and I will never come to an agreement on Liberal Democrat policy, but the whole thrust of all the speeches from Liberal Democrats in this Committee is that there will be regional governments in every region. That is the underlying assumption of every speech to which I have listened and I have listened to too many. That is why I made the point.
I shall stick to the issue. This group of amendments raises the issue of what is a regional spatial strategy. I realise that so far I have been inadequate in explaining it. The amendments raise the issue of whose policies such a strategy will contain and what those policies may address. As drafted, Clause 1(2) defines the regional spatial strategy as setting out the Secretary of State's policies, however expressed, in relation to the development and use of land in the region. Clause 1(3) clarifies that the regional spatial strategy may contain policies for sub-regions.
Amendment No. 4 would remove both that definition and the clarification. Amendment No. 5 seeks to alter the nature and contents of the regional spatial strategy. Instead of setting out the Secretary of State's spatial policies, it would simply have regard to those policies. Amendment No. 10 would specify that the regional spatial strategy would set out the Secretary of State's policies only if there were no elected regional authority for the region.
Noble Lords have made quite clear their view that they do not believe that there should be regional plans for which the Secretary of State is ultimately responsible. They want the regional plans only where there are elected regional assemblies. However, their approach would create and not solve problems. Our regions are not identical. Their circumstances and the challenges that they face are each different and unique. We need regional plans. Without the plans there would be a vacuum. It is only at regional level that we can sensibly address important strategic planning issues. Many of those issues are region-wide and those that are not—sub-regional issues—do not respect the boundaries of county areas. It is that latter point that demonstrates why Clause 1(3) is a vital provision in the Bill.
It will not surprise noble Lords to learn that Amendment No. 5 is not acceptable. If an elected regional assembly were responsible for the revisions to the regional spatial strategy, the right relationship to the Secretary of State's policies would be that of having regard to them. But this amendment foresees two sets of regional spatial policies: those in the regional spatial strategy and those of the Secretary of State. I cannot imagine that the noble Baroness would want the Secretary of State to have policies for a region that had its own elected governance—that is a different issue—if that is the result of the referendum.
The regional spatial strategy must set out the Secretary of State's policies in relation to the development and use of land in the region. The regional spatial strategy can include different policies for different areas within a region. If there is any conflict between the policies and any other statement or information in the regional spatial strategy, the policies will prevail. All current regional planning guidance, with a few exceptions, will be converted to the regional spatial strategy in regulations. Those exceptions will be RPG3, which covers London; 3A, strategic views in London; 3B and 9B, the River Thames; and 9A, the Thames Gateway. Those documents will be replaced in large part by the Mayor's London plan and were not subject to public examination when they were prepared.
I wish I had been able to say that earlier. The notes were there for another debate and they are quite specific because reading the Bill as drafted, and with what I had said earlier, that cannot happen, but it might have appeared as though the Secretary of State, at a whim, on a hunch, or on a prejudice, could influence the regional spatial strategy in a way that would be wholly unacceptable to the Committee, to the other House and to anyone else who is a democrat. That cannot happen anyway under the rules for the regional planning guidance, and the way in which they are put together. There will be nothing in the regional spatial strategy that is not in the RPGs, but it may not include all that is in the RPG. I did not give examples of what is not in it because one could make a big policy change by omission—which is what the suspicion would be.
By making clear the specific exceptions, I hope that I have knocked on the head any suspicion, which would legitimately have been there—although it would be a very unfair aspersion to cast on the character of my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister. Nevertheless, in being specific about that, I hope that I have satisfied the points that were made. We shall obviously return to the issue, particularly in view of the Government's defeat earlier.
I wish to say something before my noble friend on the Front Bench decides what he is going to do with his amendment. The Minister is making a fundamental error. He has not accepted that current planning guidance—RPGs—are there to guide the structure plans, which are open to examination and inspectors' reports. They are not structure plans; they are guidance. The Bill turns guidance, which for the moment is guidance for the making of structure plans, into spatial strategy plans. Guidance now becomes statutory. What is unsettling is that something that is now a form of guidance is to become a statutory framework.
This is where we go into the areas where, in some ways, we need the lawyers at work. RPGs may be guidance, it is true, but my experience in the past couple of years or so with some of them is that they are treated as being almost statutory because we wish to change a figure or suggest a change here and there. I am not saying that they are more than guidance, but I say that because of the way in which they are produced, following public examination, because of the way in which I in my day job conduct discussions on the growth areas, particularly in the south-east, and because of the care, attention and detail that people bring to what is in them. I may be wrong—I shall return to the issue if need be—but I do not get the impression that they are informal, casual guidance documents. They are treated much more seriously than that, even though they do not have the statutory back-up that they will get when converted to regional spatial strategies. I have probably dropped myself in it by saying that, but that is the impression that I get doing my day job.
Well, indeed, the Minister's impression from his day job or night job is correct. However, I wonder whether he would accept that the reason why the guidance is taken so seriously is that it is currently put together by members of local authorities. The only structure available to produce the guidance comprises members of authorities who have been responsible for producing unitary development plans and county structure plans in their own authorities. One thing that makes us nervous about any proposal to lessen the involvement of county councillors—for example, in planning in their area—is that in the intervening period before the creation of some sort of elected regional body there will be a hiatus during which no one feels any real ownership. At that point, the Minister is in danger of losing the coherence that he has rightly identified.
If my noble friend Lord Hanningfield will indulge me, I have a question similar to that asked by my noble friend Lord Ullswater. I am a bear of very little brain and, although I heard what the Minister said about regional planning guidance that was omitted from the generality of the list, I want to test my understanding. Is it simply a matter of chronology that the regional spatial strategy has already been dealt with by the mayor and is shortly to be published, so that the documents that have been eliminated become academic once the mayor has taken his action?
I do not know. I do not have the detail of the way in which the London plans are put together, as it is some time since I dealt with it. I do not know whether it is a matter of chronology.
The noble Lord's intervention has given me the opportunity to receive a note, which points out that the same people prepare the draft revisions of the regional planning guidance as the regional spatial strategy; in other words, the same people prepare the revisions. I hope that answers the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott.
The answer to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, is "Yes".
I return to my original amendment, which would have removed the word "must" and put in the words "have regard to". We shall have a lot of discussions about the whole issue, during the passage of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and the Government do not seem to realise this, but we are here to help. We would all like planning processes to be speeded up, and we would all like local people to be involved. We shall have a discussion about the definition of "sustainable" at some point—but we would all like to see the involvement of local people and sometimes difficult decisions taken that benefit communities.
We believe very much in a bottom-up approach, while the Government seem to believe that it would work to have a top-down approach. We do not believe that will work. The Minister was kind enough to make some kind remarks about me, and I had some meetings with him yesterday with my other hat on. That sort of discussion is what achieves results—not the Secretary of State saying, "You must do this" or "You must do that". That builds up enormous resentment locally, and will not achieve what the Government want.
I hope that in the course of our discussions in the Chamber we might improve the Bill, and that we will take away the "nationalisation" of the planning system, as it has been described, which is very much resented by local authorities, and even more resented by people in the localities. They want to be involved in discussions that go upwards and end up in development. It simply will not work otherwise; as I said earlier, we shall be back here in three or four years' time looking at another Bill. If the Secretary of State believes that he can impose regional policies, it will not work.
As my noble friend Lady Hanham said, there is conflict between what is said in the Bill and in the guidance, which we have just considered. There is a whole raft of things that need to be questioned and discussed, but we may end up speeding up the processes if the Government will only listen to us a bit more about local accountability, and the need for local people to be involved and for the process to go up rather than down the whole time.
We shall have many discussions along those lines in the next few days. I am sure that we shall return to the matter. Although I shall not press my amendment today, we shall have to pursue the matter further as the Bill progresses.
I apologise for being rather careless about the way in which I introduced Amendment No. 4. I wanted the debate because of the amendments connected to it, and the debate has been very useful. However, for reasons that Members of the Committee can see—particularly with the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Greaves—what happened earlier this afternoon has caused complications. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
I wish to make it clear that I do not dispute the need for Secretary of State to have the right to inform the regional planning authority of the direction that he wishes it to take—if necessary in some detail. The Secretary of State already has such a right, and our planning system has worked well, with overall central control in the hands of the Secretary of State implemented on the ground by elected councillors. That is the system that I wish to see continued, but we must avoid unnecessary hazard—and I believe that the words "however expressed", referring to the policies of Secretary of State, is such a hazard.
I give an example. Let us suppose that the Secretary of State has issued precise guidance on a controversial matter. He is invited to appear on the BBC's "Today" programme at eight o'clock and faces some critical, perhaps hostile, questions. He replies forcefully and well and may express himself with some freedom, perhaps exceeding the more cautious words in his more formal guidance. As I understand the phrase "however expressed", his words on the radio interview then have legislative effect. That is legislation by mouth.
Perhaps I may remind the Minister of a celebrated case in which one of his predecessors was involved. The year is 1947. The Minister is Mr Silkin. The issue is the designation of Stevenage as a new town. The decision to so designate the first new town had been taken before the necessary legislation had been enacted and had aroused fierce criticism locally. The Minister went to Stevenage to explain the decision and he had a rough time of it. At one point he said, "It is no good your jeering. It is going to be done". The Minister was taken to court and Mr Justice Henn Collins held that the order was not ultra vires but that the Minister had been biased in his consideration of the order and he quashed the order. Some weeks later, when the Bill had completed its passage through Parliament, the decision was reversed in the Court of Appeal by a committee presided over by Lord Oaksey.
I wish to avoid any such embarrassments in future. I hope that the Minister will understand my motive in seeking to delete the two unnecessary words. My intention is to be helpful to him by improving the text of the Bill. I beg to move.
We on these Benches support the amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, says, at a public meeting there could be some extraordinary expressions from the Deputy Prime Minister or the Secretary of State and we could have some very funny policies. One could have planning policy by e-mail, for example. They would be expressions of the Secretary of State.
Through this provision, the Government seek to give themselves maximum latitude in setting planning policies. The noble Lord must consider whether these words are appropriate. I hope that the Minister will say that these words are unnecessary. They seem extraordinary and somewhat absurd to most of us.
They also appear in former Tory legislation which I presume Conservative Peers voted for in this House. Perhaps the noble Lord was not present then.
I give an example. While I fully respect the example given by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, it is not legislation by mouth. I understand the reaction—shock and abomination—on first seeing such words in legislation. It is not quite as bad as it seems. The amendment deletes the words. However, I hope to demonstrate that that would undermine our intention for a more integrated spatial dimension to policies. That is true: it is not just because it is stated here. The words are important.
We have used the word "spatial" a great deal. It is not a new idea. The concept of a "spatial strategy" is already on the statute book in the form of the Greater London Authority Act provision for the Mayor's spatial development strategy. Therefore, it is time to remind ourselves of what we mean by spatial planning and why it matters.
Spatial planning goes beyond traditional land use planning to bring together and integrate policies for the development and use of land with other policies and programmes which influence the nature of places and how they function. That includes policies which impact on land use, for example by influencing the demands on or need for development but which are not capable of being delivered solely or mainly through the granting or refusal of planning permission and which may be implemented by other means.
The current wording of Clause 1(2) makes it clear that the regional spatial strategies can contain such policies—that is, not those exclusively for land use. To delete the phrase "however expressed" potentially limits the scope of the regional spatial strategy to be what its title says it should be: that is, a spatial strategy for the region.
There is a good precedent. The words "however expressed" can be found in a number of Acts of Parliament, including relevantly—if I were to quote an Act which was not relevant to the Bill it would probably undermine the point—in paragraph 17(3) of Part II of Schedule 2 to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. This provision is not unique. It is not designed to allow the Secretary of State to operate "policy by mouth" in a radio interview; far from it.
The inclusion of the phrase absolutely does not mean that the Secretary of State can create regional planning policy outside the regional spatial strategy. He can issue national policy statements. They would affect the region. What it does mean is that those policies within the regional spatial strategy can properly be spatial, as I outlined earlier, and not within narrow confines. So the words have an important legal meaning with regard to the Bill and a genuine spatial strategy. There is a precedent in the Town and Country Planning Act which I suspect was not debated in this House when it went through Parliament in 1990.
I wish my noble friend Lord Greaves was present. This discussion is closely linked to the question he raised about what is a regional spatial strategy. The Minister's remarks will repay careful reading.
Although this point may not be right having heard his last sentence or two, what may be meant is "wherever expressed". It is about spatial strategy but it might not have the heading of regional spatial strategy. That is why I link it with the point raised by my noble friend Lord Greaves. I am so ashamed of myself. Schedule 2 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 has not formed part of my bedtime reading. The fact that terminology is already in legislation does not mean that it is unchangeable. It means that one should hesitate to change it. But if it is causing the confusion which still reigns in my mind, despite the answer, it bears closer examination.
I do not wish to prolong the proceedings. However, what the Minister has just said will confuse readers of the proceedings today when they look back to what has been said on previous amendments.
The noble Lord made clear that the initial RSS would contain nothing which was not in the regional planning guidance. Certain exceptions which are at present in the regional planning guidance—the Minister helpfully outlined what those are—may not appear in the RSS. How can one express something in addition to what is in the RPG? The words "however expressed" mean that at some point between the passage of the Bill and the first revision, dealt with under Clause 5, an idea might occur to the Secretary of State. He expresses it in whichever form he chooses. It may be an order or a speech in Parliament. It appears to give him a discretion and latitude which the Minister's previous remarks did not claim. He sought to tell the Committee—I found it reassuring—that there was no intention by the Secretary of State to lay down in an RSS anything which was not already contained in the RPG; and even that was not the totality of it because there were certain exceptions which the noble Lord outlined.
The words "however expressed" seem to indicate that the Secretary of State is giving himself the right, at some point in the future, to put things in which are not in the RPG, because otherwise there would be no purpose in having the words. The reference back to the 1990 Act, with great respect to the Minister, is not relevant in this context.
Contrary to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I am profoundly reassured, for personal reasons, by what the Minister said in response to the debate. I am genuinely fond and admiring of the Deputy Prime Minister, but even his closest friends would not deny that he has certain stylistic idiosyncrasies of personal expression. The fact that the Minister has been able to quote legislation, and particularly copper-bottomed legislation brought in by a Conservative government, indicates that there was no such consideration in those words in parentheses. I am greatly reassured that that is so.
I am grateful for the Minister's reply to my question. As I listened to the comments on my amendment, it seemed to me that the nature of the communication between the Secretary of State and the region will be of fundamental importance. Will it simply be an anthology of the existing guidance that he wishes to see reproduced—we were given that impression earlier this afternoon—or will he issue some more binding instruction? It is not altogether clear where we shall end up. I suspect that there will be further debates on this subject as the Bill proceeds. Therefore, I do not intend to pursue the matter further this evening.
However, there is another way of doing this. There is something to be said for a degree of formality in the communication between the Secretary of State and the regional planning authority. Indeed, one might go so far as to suggest that this should take the form of an order under a statutory instrument and that the Select Committee of the House that studies these matters might be able to give him some helpful advice on how that should be formulated. That degree of formality would not be very much in accord with the discussions that we have heard this afternoon, but the nature of this communication is, in itself, fundamental. We shall have to return to the matter at a later stage. For the present, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
In moving Amendment No. 8 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 95 and 103. Like the noble Lords, Lord Hanningfield and Lord Bridges, I have every intention of helping the Government. In these amendments I want to assist them in solving a planning problem that has plagued the country for more than 40 years. It is the problem of where Travellers and Gypsies can find to live in a countryside that is increasingly used for other purposes, where many of the stopping places which the travellers used to frequent have now become overrun by buildings, roads or other structures.
The number of Traveller caravans on unauthorised sites increased by about 600 between January 2001 and January 2003, according to the count which was made by the local authorities and published by the ODPM. This is the direct result of the repeal by the Conservative government in 1994 of the Caravan Sites Act 1968, which placed an obligation on local authorities to provide accommodation for Gypsies residing in, or resorting to, their area. Up to that point, and for the next few years after repeal, the local authorities had been getting on top of the problem. If they had continued to develop new sites after 1997 at the same rate as in the years before that date, then, as a matter of simple arithmetic, we would have 1,000 more pitches now than there actually are. It was impossible for the private sector to make up for this loss. We told the government then that a time would come when the losses would begin to show up in increased numbers of unauthorised sites. The then Labour opposition, led by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, agreed with us.
One way of remedying that deficiency and preventing an indefinite increase in the number of homeless Travellers year on year in the future would be simply to restore the duty on local authorities to provide sites. That was, in effect, one of the main recommendations of the Birmingham University report by Pat Niner to the ODPM on which Ministers have said that they will comment in April. My impression is that they had already ruled this out before they brought in Mr Bill Forrester from Kent County Council to look at these issues. It would be very helpful if the Minister would tell us exactly what his terms of reference were.
But if local authorities are not to provide sites then they must at any rate grant planning permission for sites in the places where the Travellers are at present having to camp on the roadside, on somebody else's land, or on their own land without planning permission. That is a phenomenon that has caused a great deal of complaint. This morning, I was talking to officials of the Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council who are currently having difficulty with an unauthorised site that is occupied by about 21 Gypsy families, on which the local authority has obtained a court order for possession. The point there is that there is nowhere for these people to go. If they are driven off that site, the local authority is not making alternative provision for them but has told them that they have to seek land on which planning permission might be granted. We all know how difficult that is.
I am sure that it is not necessary to persuade the Government that circular 194 has been a failure. That was the Tory government's feeble attempt to persuade local authorities to have regard to the needs of Travellers in their development plans. Of course, hardly any of them did so. As a general rule, Travellers have been able to make only insufficient provision for themselves by purchasing land, applying for permission and then going to appeal when they meet the inevitable refusal. In spite of the clear evidence of the January counts, which show that this haphazard process is not delivering, the Government have been deaf to the suggestion, made to several Ministers since Labour took office in 1997, that we should monitor the rate of success of Traveller applications for planning permission and of appeals. Ministers have told me that the planning inspectorate has the figures—the Minister will recognise that phrase—but Donald Kenrick has shown that they are seriously inaccurate.
In the debate that we had last June on Gypsies and social deprivation, the Minister who replied, the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, offered some encouragement. He said,
"the Government are reviewing planning procedures, and gypsy and traveller provision will be looked at as part of that review".—[Official Report, 5/6/03; col. 1581.]
So this is the moment when the Government can deliver on that undertaking and also take into consideration what the Minister said on an earlier amendment; that is, that this is a once in a double decade opportunity. He is absolutely correct, because the last occasion when we had the opportunity of solving the problem of Gypsies at a single stroke, as it were, was after the report of Sir John Cripps in 1977. So 26 years have elapsed since then and if we do not take this chance that we have under the planning legislation, we may wait another 25 or so years for a solution.
The first of these amendments requires the Secretary of State to set targets for the regional spatial strategy in each of the regions for the amount of land which is to be allocated to Traveller caravan sites and group housing schemes in the same way as the Minister has described on an earlier amendment that there will be a numerical target set for the regions for the amount of housing that they will contain. I should perhaps explain that the phrase "group housing" refers to schemes that have been developed in the Republic of Ireland and which have since been extended to Northern Ireland. They have proved very popular with Travellers because they allow extended families to remain together, as their culture demands, while at the same time putting down some roots. Although many travellers still aspire to a nomadic way of life, or at least to be able to go to festivals up and down the country and family occasions, some are happy to settle down as long as it does not mean their separation from the extended family. We have not tried group housing in Britain, but it is an idea that I have been pressing on Ministers for some years. It was among the recommendations made by Pat Niner.
The Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Evans, also said in the June debate:
"The ultimate answer to homelessness is to have an adequate number of authorised sites for gypsies and travellers in which to camp".—[Official Report, 5/6/03; col. 1582.]
I suggest that in order to do that we need to look at the numbers who are at present homeless, and that means the number living on unauthorised sites who are by definition homeless according to the definition in the Housing Act 1996. It should be a simple matter of arithmetic to calculate how much land would be required to accommodate all the gypsies in a particular region just by taking the number on unauthorised sites and applying to them a density which we know is appropriate from the provision that has already been made.
The next question is how responsibility is to be divided among the local authorities in the region. That has always been the major difficulty because, even when the local authorities have a duty, every time that there was a proposal for a site there would be objections and councillors were reluctant to get into arguments with vociferous groups of their own constituents. It was always difficult to persuade residents within a particular locality where a traveller site was planned that a well designed and well managed site would be a much better alternative than an unauthorised site where there was no rubbish collection or proper sanitation, inhabited by people without a stake in the neighbourhood and that cause trouble.
In the planning system now being created by the Bill, as I understand it and as I think the Minister made clear earlier, the provision of housing in each local authority will be decided initially by the Secretary of State, no doubt after consultation, as the Minister has explained, with all the local authorities in the region. Since travellers normally live in caravans, I suggest that it would be a breach of the ODPM's obligations under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act if, in carrying out the function of preparing instructions for counsel for the drafting of this legislation, the department had not paid due regard to the need to promote equality between travellers and the rest of the population in terms of housing accommodation. That means that whatever provision they make for housing should be accompanied by an equivalent traveller site.
I should say at this point that although gypsies were defined in non-ethnic terms under the Caravan Sites Act 1968 there are now recognised groups of travellers who are defined in ethnic terms; those are the Romanies and the Irish travellers. It is considered by many that Scottish travellers are also a separate group, although that has yet to be clarified by the Scottish courts or the Scottish Parliament. It also follows that the descendants of marriages between members of these groups and the settled population are entitled to the same consideration under the RRA. Since there has been a great deal of intermarriage over the generations, it is best to assume that people claiming the status of travellers possess it. That would be in compliance with the OSCE's principle that to belong to a national minority is a matter of personal individual choice.
Therefore, if there is to be a development plan document for housing, then either it must detail the provisions that are to be made for traveller accommodation so that travellers are not disadvantaged by the travelling system, or better still, as the second of these amendments suggests, there should be a separate DPD spelling out the provisions to be made for travellers in each planning authority. That, as I say, is the purpose of the second of these amendments.
The development plan document is defined in Clause 36(3)as,
"a document which . . . is a local development document, and . . . forms part of the development plan".
The DPDs taken as a whole, plus the RSS—or in the case of London the Mayor's spatial development strategy—form the development plan as defined in Clause 37. I have to acknowledge that my scheme is incomplete because it does not require the SDS to contain a target for the amount of land to be allocated to traveller sites in London. That is because it may be appropriate for the Mayor to set that target rather than for Parliament to do it for him, though I have to say that I am uneasy about giving Mr Livingstone that discretion considering the lack of interest that he has displayed in traveller issues in the past.
The ideal would be for local authorities in each region to consult among themselves and decide what provision each of them will make in its DPD for traveller accommodation. If they do that, and if at the end of the process the contribution that they make collectively adds up to the target set in the RSS, then the shortage of traveller accommodation will be on the way to a solution. If there is any shortfall then my third amendment gives the Secretary of State the power to issue directions to any local authority requiring it to provide land for extra sites. Of course the Secretary of State already has a power of direction, but I am spelling it out in this amendment.
The power is modelled on a similar power that exists in the Caravan Sites Act, and that proved most effective when it was used sparingly in the last few years of the Act's existence. There, of course, the requirement was for the local authority to construct and to run the site. Here it is to allocate the land in a DPD and it would still be for private enterprise of an RSL or for the gypsies themselves to undertake the construction work and to operate the site.
In view of the fact that the Minister has been very sympathetic, and that we know that Miss Yvette Cooper, the Minister responsible in the ODPM for gypsies, has herself been touring the sites and seeing for herself at first hand the effects of the lack of provision, I hope that the Government will seize this opportunity and either accept my amendments or come forward with alternatives themselves to solve this problem once and for all. I beg to move.
In supporting these amendments, I am aware that the Government are carrying out a review of accommodation for Roma, gypsies and travellers, set out by my honourable friend Yvette Cooper in her letter of
I know personally of Roma families who cannot get authorised sites—I will not weary the Committee by detailing their insecurity. These people are our oldest indigenous minority and the prejudice and discrimination that they suffer is no less severe by being usually unacknowledged. It is seen in the higher mortality rates of their children, lack of educational attainment, even of attendance, poverty and ill health. I hope that my noble friend can help now.
I strongly support the words of my noble friend Lord Avebury except possibly for his views on the Mayor of London—who may not always be the Mayor of London and who, as my noble friend sitting next to me has pointed out, may even be the outgoing Mayor.
I was in local government when the first major changes regarding travellers were made. I think that we forecast what would happen. My noble friend Lord Avebury has very graphically explained it, and the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, has backed that up. I am fortunate that I live in the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed where the local authority has an absolutely excellent traveller site. Anyone who goes on the railway line can see it from the line—it is absolutely spotless. It is right in the middle of the town and we have no problems. I was also a councillor in Southampton where we also had a very successful site. Where the sites exist, it works. It is in the interests of the travellers. The children go to school and are enabled to live life as they wish to do. Given everything we have heard from the Government, I hope that they will take this opportunity to do something about it, even if it is not exactly what we are asking today.
I want to be as helpful as I can but I shall probably not be as helpful as noble Lords would wish at this stage of the Bill. I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for bringing forward the amendments which provide us with the opportunity to put some of the issues on the record regarding the accommodation needs of gypsies and travellers and how they might be addressed in the new planning arrangements.
There is no question that this is an important point; namely, how the needs of gypsies and travellers, both those wishing to settle on sites and those who still travel for a living, might be met under the new arrangements.
As the noble Lord knows, we are currently undertaking a review of our gypsy and traveller policies. The review includes consideration of how site provision will be secured under the new planning arrangements and we are taking close account of the ideas proposed by the Institute for Public Policy Research in its document Moving Forward which I understand will be published shortly. I certainly do not wish to prejudge the outcome of our review, but it might be helpful if I sketch out one of the ways in which gypsy and traveller needs might be identified and incorporated into the new planning regime.
The leading option we are considering is to assess the site and pitch needs of gypsies and travellers under a process similar to that used for housing need assessments—possibly as part of that very same process. Under such an arrangement gypsy and traveller site needs could be identified and incorporated into the regional housing strategy which, under our current proposals, is then reflected in the regional spatial strategy in terms of numbers of sites by local planning authority. The identification of where the sites should be in each authority's area would then be the responsibility of the local planning authorities in preparing their local development documents.
Clearly, once site and pitch requirements are identified in the regional spatial strategy they may be subject to public examination and the Secretary of State must agree the finalised strategy. It will, of course, be a requirement that local development documents are in general conformity with the regional spatial strategy. I should stress that our ideas of exactly how we will ensure the needs of gypsies and travellers will be met are at an early stage. But we are satisfied that we shall be able to integrate their legitimate requirements into the new planning arrangements without amending the Bill in this respect. I say that in Committee but certainly we have ongoing work in this respect.
The ODPM review of gypsy and traveller policy is reviewing all aspects of ODPM policy responsibility, including planning, site provision and managing unauthorised encampments. It is not the case that Ministers have ruled out an expansion in provision. I do not know where that rumour has come from. However, it would be quite wrong of me to comment on any particular planning case. I understand these situations. As I say, for a year I was the planning Minister at the ODPM and dealt with several cases. I have part of some correspondence between the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and Yvette Cooper, the policy Minister in the department. She indicated in a draft of the reply, which I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has yet received:
"We will be conducting some seminars on this issue in the very near future in Cambridge, Liverpool, London and Derby starting next week to run to probably nearly the end of February going over the issues of land use policy, planning consent for private sites, improving access to health, education and other services, public site provision and management and general issues including unauthorised camping".
We are in close contact with the organisations representing gypsies and travellers. Indeed, we shall let the noble Lord know the precise dates and locations of the seminars. If he wishes to take part in any of them, he will be more than welcome. I say that in a genuine spirit of helpfulness. I am not trying to avoid responding to the issues that have been raised. Some thorny issues will have to be tackled once we have conducted the policy review. I refer to the expenditure proposals and the 2004 spending round. Nevertheless, we treat the issue with the utmost seriousness. It is an important issue so far as the department is concerned.
I cannot go much further regarding that point tonight; otherwise, I shall go down the road that I hate going down; namely, that of referring to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Treasury and finance. The central issue is to establish the policy and to ensure that we put in place a process within the new planning system whereby it is not possible to avoid providing the required number of sites. The need must be measured and assessed openly. The connection between the regional spatial strategy and local development documents does not allow a local authority to opt out and say, "We are not having such a measure. We have no need of it". As I say, we shall ensure that local development plans by and large conform to the regional spatial strategy. We can solve this problem for the foreseeable future, not just for a few years. This is a generational issue for our fellow citizens. We shall do our best to come up with something that is acceptable to all parties concerned, including, of course, as a priority, gypsies and travellers themselves.
I am grateful to the Minister for that helpful answer and for inviting me to take part in the forthcoming seminars. I shall certainly take up that offer when the dates are announced, just as I shall take up the invitation from Yvette Cooper who has kindly invited me to discuss the matter personally with her. I very much value that opportunity.
As the noble Lord suggested, the Bill can take care of the accommodation needs of gypsies just as it takes care of the accommodation needs of the rest of the population. I agree with the noble Lord that one of the best ways of doing that is what he called the leading option; namely, to assess the needs of gypsies as part of ordinary housing needs and therefore to incorporate their requirements in the regional spatial strategy. As I understand it, the RSS will set an overall target for every region regarding the amount of accommodation that is necessary for people in the settled population. It will also add a separate element of accommodation for gypsies. That was one of the two alternatives that I mentioned.
Then, as the noble Lord says, local planning authorities will have to identify in the local development documents what contribution they will make to the attainment of those targets. As the noble Lord said, there is no opt-out there. As I understand it, local authorities in a region will collectively have to provide a total number of sites that equates with the figure set out in the regional spatial strategy.
The noble Lord did not mention the third leg of the policy. If the total number of gypsy sites within a region did not match the target set out in the RSS, a reserve power of direction exists in the legislation. I referred to that in a separate amendment. I suggested that the power should not be exercised in the first year after the coming into force of the Act so that local authorities have every chance to get together voluntarily to provide the relevant amount of accommodation. If they have not achieved that objective after 12 months, the powers of the Secretary of State will come into play.
I am sure that we ought not to take the matter any further this evening in view of the helpful reply that the Minister has given. Therefore, I shall withdraw the amendment and hope that it will not even be necessary to return to the matter on Report subject to my discussions with the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.