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 Lord Hanningfield Lord Hanningfield Conservative 3:15 pm, 26th April 2004

My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I should make it clear that noble Lords on these Benches do not support regionally elected assemblies. We shall not campaign for "Yes" votes in the three areas where there are referendums. However, we support democracy. If those three areas vote "Yes", and then all other areas vote for regionally elected assemblies, those assemblies will be democratically elected.

I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said that stakeholders were very important. It is important to hear stakeholders' opinions. I know the stakeholders in my region well. They often hold their own individual views, but they are not democratically elected. If they can combine to defeat the democratically elected people in a region, it is not good for democracy, and any such action is not representative of the people who are elected to a county council, a district council or any other body that considers plans. We support the amendment. We do not support regionally elected assemblies, but we support democracy. At the moment, we have elected county councils and elected district, regional, borough, metropolitan and London councils. The people elected to those bodies should have the direct, most obvious say in the planning process on behalf of the people they represent.

The Minister referred to the County Councils Network. I thank the Minister and the Government for the concessions that have been made. Indeed, the concession regarding the county councils having an advisory role is important. However, the councils were happy to accept that because they were told that the Government would not accept anything else. However, we are talking about Parliament now. There is the Government, and there is Parliament. These processes have to go through Parliament. I told the county councils that Parliament might have slightly different views on regional spatial strategies.

I make it clear that no one—as everyone knows, I am very much involved in county government—is suggesting that the county structure plans are the right way forward. We need to tackle that matter differently and more speedily. The Minister has never heard me say during the whole debate on the Bill that I want to retain county structure plans—I do not. We want a modern system of planning and therefore we support many of the Government's objectives on that. However, we want to make it work. We want a democratic process in making it work. Later I shall move further amendments which ensure that we keep the democratic processes at the forefront. The Government are democratically elected, as are local councils. Planning is about people. People elect other people. There is no more personal thing in local government than planning. The Government should not think that they can ignore the democratic processes. I agree that there should be consultation, but in the end the matter is the responsibility of the elected members of local authorities. I support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.