1ABecause it is not appropriate to restrict the application of a regional spatial strategy only to regions which have elected assemblies.

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 26th April 2004.

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Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions 3:15 pm, 26th April 2004

My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 4B and 5B.

I agree very much with one thing that the Minister said, about the concessions that the Government have given on much of the Bill and in this part of the Bill, dealing with regional spatial strategies. In fact, I believe we debated this matter only once, because it was, unusually, agreed at Committee stage. But—there had to be a "but"—the reason that we have from the Commons is that the amendment to which your Lordships agreed,

"is not appropriate to restrict the application of a regional spatial strategy only to regions which have elected assemblies".

That could be expressed differently. It could be said that it was not appropriate to remove powers to make such strategies from the only bodies directly elected by the people directly affected by them.

We acknowledge the advisory role that has been given to the counties, but it is advisory only. The Minister said that he had not had complaints from the County Councils Network or the Local Government Association. He has raised that matter before. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, who is a part of the County Councils Network answered the point quite clearly. The advisory role is better than nothing, but it does not amount to agreement that this is the right way to go ahead.

We have all, I think, throughout this Bill been conscious of the role of planning in the wider governmental and political context and especially of the need to restore trust in government at all levels and reverse the alienation from the political process, which I know distresses all of us.

I acknowledge that speeding things up and tackling inefficiencies has a major role in that, and that is why we have supported the proposals in the Bill for local development. But this amendment is about a democratic deficit—about the deficit that there will be if regional spatial strategies are the creation of the Secretary of State through his agent, the regional planning body. I dare say that the Minister will object to that description, but without Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 the Secretary of State will give directions to recognise regional planning bodies or, indeed, withdraw their recognition and exercise their functions himself.

We have draft regulations that explain how the regional planning bodies will be created and who they will consist of, but regulations, as we all know, are not primary legislation. Indeed, the current draft regulations do not wholeheartedly inject democracy into the regional planning bodies. Thirty per cent or more of their members must not be members of local authorities, so even a public-spirited businessman or woman who is a member of a parish Council is disqualified.

Stakeholders in a region of course have a role, but to suggest that that is equal to the role of elected councillors or elected representatives diminishes the validity of elections. Of course, all the members of the regional planning bodies, including the 30 per cent plus, are entitled to vote, and their votes carry equal weight.

Those who come from an elected base are not directly elected under this model. So who do they represent for this purpose? We have talked—at any rate I have—about the less than complete adequacy of indirect election. There is confusion and a difficulty about the mandate, and a genuine difficulty in the mind of people who are elected to one body and find themselves on another where their primary responsibility is to the perhaps small group of people who elected them in the first place.

I think that the Minister referred to our all being good democrats, as, indeed, we are in this place, despite being the objects of patronage. I hope he will take the message back that, without proper devolved regional government, this model for designing regional spatial strategies will not do. In Committee, we heard from those whose faith in the counties was greater than the Government's and who raised some important practical problems: the haemorrhaging of staff who see their role disappearing and the lowering of resources which the counties will apply because they have merely an advisory role.

I would never suggest that we should lightly dismiss the views of another place, but severing the link between the electorate affected and those responsible for strategic plans would be serious—serious for effective planning and as another brick in the wall between politicians and citizens. I do not myself—as I am sure do none of your Lordships—want to contribute to building up that wall. We want to pull it down. I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that this House do not insist on its Amendment No. 1 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 1A, leave out "not".—(Baroness Hamwee.)