I beg to move amendment No.6, in
clause 3, page 2, line 20, leave out 'may be expected to'.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) has asked me to move an amendment, which is a very risky manoeuvre and one that he may come to regret. I hope not; I think that I understand what is required of me, but I shall hear from him afterwards if I do not.
The amendment seeks to remove the words ''may be expected to'' from clause 3(2), so that it would read ''The RPB must keep under review the matters which affect'' rather than
''the matters which may be expected to affect'',
as it does at present. I think that the words ''may be expected to'' are either unnecessary or make the provision far too wide. The Committee can take its pick of which argument it prefers.
So far as I can see, something either affects a matter that concerns the RPB or it does not. To say that it may or may not affect it is unnecessary. I accept that the RPB must keep under review ''matters which . . . affect'' such concerns. That makes sense to me, and, I hope, to the entire Committee. It should not be difficult to know what matters do or do not have an effect. On the one hand, then, the argument is that the words ''may be expected to'' are quite unnecessary, and I should be interested to know why the Minister thinks that they add something.
On the other hand, an argument could be made that those words give planning bodies the right simply to announce, ''We think this might affect us, so we shall poke our nose into it''. I should be opposed to that. Who is to say whether such a matter will or will not have an effect? If someone on a planning body makes the subjective assessment that in their view, at some stage in the future, it may affect that body, then they will be able to become involved, interfere and take their remit as wide as they choose.
The Bill—this returns us to previous arguments—is about land use and town and country planning, not social engineering. I see ''may be expected to'' as another opportunity for somebody to get up to mischief, should he or she so wish, and to say that they will take their remit as wide as they like to interfere in whatever they like, dragging into that remit all sorts of matters that do not have any direct bearing on land use planning.
There are therefore two possible reasons for the amendment: either the words that it would delete are unnecessary, or they go too far. I invite the Committee to take its pick, but whichever reason appeals to them, I trust that they will vote for the amendment.
I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne
(Mr. Wilshire) says. Whatever disagreement there may be about the contents of any Bill, let alone this one, I am sure that we are united in our duty to put on the statute book a measure that is unambiguous, exact and, so far as we can achieve it, precise. I feel that the phrase ''may be expected to'' contradicts that aim. Like my hon. Friend, I wonder whether it is necessary. I shall listen to the Minister's reply with interest, but if he does think it necessary, I wonder whether it is too wide-sweeping.
That imprecise phrase has been echoed in the two clauses that we have previously examined. We discussed the phrase ''however expressed'' during our consideration of clause 1(2). Incidentally, the Minister will remember that I asked him last Thursday whether that has been included in any previous legislation.
Clause 1(4) includes the phrase ''so much of''. When we examined clause 2(5), we discussed whether it should include ''may'' or ''must''. I felt that it should be ''must'' because the Bill must be precise. No doubt we shall discuss other examples of such language. In all sincerity, I ask the Minister whether it is necessary to include the phrase ''may be expected to''.
This is, I am afraid, another example of sloppy drafting. Clause 3(2) states:
''The RPB must keep under review the matters which may be expected to affect''.
The question is, ''may be expected'' by whom? Is it the RPB? Is it the man on the Clapham omnibus? Is it a planning QC? Who might it be expected to be and what level of knowledge will that person have? My hon. Friends are on to a good point. We need the Minister to clarify what clause 3(2) means.
To the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman), may I say that the exposition about legal precedent or otherwise is on its way for clause 1? I suspect that we are chasing shadows because, as the hon. Gentleman will find out shortly, I can give him legal precedent for clause 3 without having to write to him. Amendment No. 6 would require the regional planning body to keep under review matters that affect development in its region, or any part of its region, and the planning of that development. The Bill confines that duty to matters that may be expected subsequently to affect the development of an RPB's planning.
There is absolutely nothing to be gained from amendment No. 6. If an RPB thinks that a matter affects the development of its region, it must keep it under review. That is not a licence to interfere with other bodies, but it is putting that duty on a statutory footing for the RPB. By using the term ''may be expected'', the RPB must also look ahead to see whether it can predict that future matters will affect development and must therefore keep them under review. Would that the world were simplistic and straightforward enough clearly to summarise in black and white every single possible matter that might affect the future of an RPB and its work, but life is not like that. In practice, an RPB will need to establish arrangements for keeping under review a range of matters, including economic development,
regeneration, housing and transport, to ensure that it has robust and comprehensive information.
I suspect that the hon. Member for Spelthorne is partly right and, following on from last Thursday, will be consistent in his detestation of anything that nudges things beyond the parameters of a simply focused land use function in the planning system, which is exactly what clause 3 is about. Clause 3 goes to the heart of spatial strategy, which is distinct in being more comprehensive than a structure plan or a unitary development. However good a job each RPB is doing, some circumstances affecting a region and its development will become clear only with hindsight. Similarly, circumstances that appear likely to affect a region's development may, in hindsight, not have done so.
The duty in clause 3(2) is modelled on—in essence, lifted from—the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which has stood the test of time. Amendment No. 6 would leave the RPB open to the risk of failing to discharge a statutory duty simply because what it expected to affect a region's development or the planning of that development did not do so.
Clause 3 provides the RPB with the tools, in the form of clear and sensible statutory duties, to do its job. The amendment would put every RPB at risk of failing to carry out its review functions properly. It is not acceptable, and I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw it.
I said at the beginning that the amendment is chasing shadows. There is nothing sinister, untoward or devious about the clause, which is rooted in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. I would not go so far as to say that the Bill is an attempt at social engineering, but if, like the hon. Member for Spelthorne, one is entirely against including anything other than land use, it would be entirely legitimate to oppose the clause root and branch—legitimate, but entirely wrong.
The clause is part and parcel of the development of spatial strategies rather than just narrowly defined land use and development control plans. Such strategies are at the heart of the Bill and at the heart of the comprehensive and integrated planning system that the country needs for the future.
Over the weekend, being conscious that there are courses for speed reading, I tried to find one for speed listening, because I wanted to do justice to the Minister's comments. I am beginning to understand that the Government Whips Office decides how many sittings are necessary on the basis of which Minister is taking the lead and how quickly he or she will get through the briefs that are prepared by civil servants. However, I caught the drift of what the Minister said.
The Minister said that I was absolutely right—I knew that, because I am always absolutely right. However, when a Labour Minister admits it, begin to doubt my judgment, and I have had to think carefully
about that comment. He asked me to be consistent. I am always consistent, as he will discover, except when it suits my purpose not to be. I believe that he will not be disappointed on this occasion.
The Minister said that there is a legal precedent and cited the 1990 Act. I am not a lawyer and am not, therefore, as impressed by precedent as lawyers are. I always regard the argument that we have done something before as similar to the argument about beating one's wife—that if it has been done before, it is legitimate to do it again. I do not agree with that one, either. The provision dealt with in the amendment is either necessary, or it is not. What might have been necessary in 1990 is of little interest to us now.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold was absolutely right to ask, ''expected by whom?'' If it is the experts, I am worried—I should far prefer it to be the person on the Clapham omnibus.
The phrase ''expected by whom'' refers initially to any reasonable person—I am sure that reasonable people ride the Clapham omnibus—but ultimately to the courts for legal interpretation.
The phrase ''any reasonable person'' could keep us going for the rest of the morning, but I shall resist the temptation to pursue it further.
The only comment made by the Minister that worried me deeply was his announcement that there was nothing devious or sinister about the wording. With the greatest respect, I must note that all members of the Committee are politicians, and when a politician asserts that there is nothing devious or sinister about what he is doing, it is usually an admission that there probably is.
On this occasion, however, I have listened carefully and caught all the words. We now have enough in Hansard, if it ever appears, to satisfy people in the future about what the Government intended. That said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
With this, it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 59, in
clause 7, page 4, line 25, at end insert—
'The final adopted version of the RSS must contain a statement of the extent of community involvement.'
No. 37, in
clause 10, page 6, line 14, leave out subsection (2)(c).
No. 116, in
clause 5, page 3, line 25, at end insert—
'(2A) Before preparing a draft revision of the RSS the RPB must set out proposals to ensure appropriate public consultation on the contents of the RSS in accordance with such guidance as is specified by the Secretary of State.'
Amendment No. 140 is intended to create the requirement for a statement of community involvement at regional level that the Bill requires at local level. Perhaps the Government accidentally
omitted that. I am sure that they meant to ensure that regional planning was as publicly accountable as local planning. There is little justification for arguing that there should be less regional accountability, particularly as the bodies concerned will initially be unelected and, in some regions, may remain so rather longer than we would wish. The need for a statement of community involvement is even greater in the case of an unelected RPB. If there is to be little public scrutiny or ability to influence decisions at regional level, we shall be moving away from having a greater public say, especially as some powers will rise up from county councils, which are elected and undergo scrutiny at present.
Amendment No. 140 is intended to let the Government add something that I am sure they meant to include. The Minister will probably say that I am putting it in the wrong place and that the amendment is drafted wrongly, but I find it hard to believe that the Government did not mean to include a statement of community involvement at regional level. Amendments Nos. 59 and 116 assist in correcting the omission.
I am somewhat worried by amendment No. 37, which would remove the Secretary of State's powers—I say that as someone who tried to remove all his powers earlier—to determine
''the nature and extent of consultation with and participation by the public in anything done under this Part''.
A regional body might issue a statement of community involvement that simply stated that it would not consult the public. In those circumstances, I would like the Secretary of State to have sufficient reserve powers to be able to step in and say that there are minimum levels for those statements.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold can speak for himself, but my reading of the amendments is that if amendment No. 59 were accepted, amendment No. 37 would be unnecessary. That amendment must not be read on its own, but in conjunction with our other two amendments.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. Clause 10(2)(c) enables the Secretary to make regulations to make provisions as to
''the nature and extent of consultation''.
Amendment No. 59 follows on from amendment No. 140 in the sense of insisting that there should be a statement of community involvement. It does not set out minimum levels. Although I do not like the Secretary of State to have too many powers, in this instance removing the power would cause a problem if a regional chamber decided that its statement of community involvement should state that it would have very little of it. If the Government cannot accept my wording, I hope that they will accept the need for a statement of community involvement at a regional level. I am sure that that is what they intended, and I hope that the Minister can reassure us on that point.
I support the hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green). His amendment is very much in line with our amendments Nos. 59 and 116, as he pointed out. Amendment No. 37 has somewhat the opposite effect and was intended to be a probing
amendment. In the event that the Government will not accept the hon. Gentleman's amendment and my other amendments, amendment No. 37 presents the reverse case and shows the absurdity of not including the community involvement element. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that argument.
I believe that the Minister has commissioned the consultants Llewelyn-Davies to advise on the framework for community involvement, as it stands in clause 17(1), (2) and (3). Clause 17 refers to the community involvement element that will be required in drawing up local development documents. Will the Minister confirm whether he has commissioned consultants? If he has, will he tell us when they will report and when Mr. Pike and the Committee will be able to see their conclusions so that we can discuss that area of the Bill in an informed way?
It is extraordinary that the Bill includes an element of community involvement in drawing up LDDs, which is the local authority part of the planning process, yet does not lay down any community involvement in relation to the regional spatial strategy, which is the higher process. The hon. Member for Ludlow made the point that that seems somewhat inconsistent. The Conservatives think that there should be some public involvement, and the amendments are intended to put that obligation in the Bill. Under clause 6(2), any person ''may make representations'' to the Secretary of State on the draft provision of the RSS. Under clause 6(3), the Secretary of State
''may arrange for an examination in public'',
but does not have to. That is not sufficiently positive. There should be an examination in public.
Clause 8(2)(a) makes it clear that if an examination takes place, the Secretary of State must consider the chairman's representations. The Secretary of State will then publish his revision. However, if the Secretary of State decides that no examination is to be held, there is effectively no community involvement in drawing up the RSS. That seems to be a lacuna in the Bill. After all, under clause 17, there must be a statement of community involvement when drawing up LDDs, so it is inconsistent not to have one when drawing up RSSs.
The catalogue of resentment will grow if the public perceive that they are being dictated to by a remote RSS adopted by a chamber composed wholly of indirectly elected members. Indeed, they may not even have an indirectly elected member representing their area because the numbers involved are such that a whole county council area might not have an indirectly elected member in the chamber. Resentment may grow to such an extent that it will start to discredit the whole of the Government's regional agenda. A lot of people will think that it is intolerable for an unelected regional chamber to hand down house-building targets without authority or without members of the public in the area having an automatic right of representation as to what is to be included in the RSS.
As we will find out, a local authority must consider what is handed down to it by the RSS when drawing up the local development framework. If the RSS is drawn up with no public involvement, there will be
resentment. There is a democratic deficit here, and I urge the Minister to consider seriously whether the Bill can include some more definite power, so that there will be community involvement in drawing up the RSS.
This is turning into something of a curious morning. I had not been here more than a few minutes before a Minister praised me for being absolutely right; I now find myself having to say that I agree with a Liberal Democrat, so the morning has become even more curious. What is even more curious is that I have been maligned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold. When my amendments are described as probing, it usually means that my Front-Bench colleagues do not approve of them. This has been a curious morning so far, and I am full of anticipation for what else may happen by 11.25 am.
My amendment No. 37—if I can be so bold as to say that it is mine, and therefore distance the responsibility from my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold—is not what it appears to be. It conforms with the earlier comments of the hon. Member for Ludlow in that I have tabled it for a straightforward reason. It may appear that the aim of removing the words
''the nature and extent of consultation''
is to make consultation unnecessary. However, I was concerned about the fact that the Bill says:
''The regulations may in particular make provision as to . . . the nature and extent of consultation''.
If the Secretary of State is making regulations, he may specify the extent of the consultation, which could be a good thing. However, apart from the Minister, who is neither devious nor sinister, I suspect all Labour Governments of being devious and sinister, and giving the Secretary of State the power to define the extent of consultations will allow him to limit consultation. He could say, ''I am prepared to allow consultation thus far, but no further.'' That worries me, but my amendment is probing, and if the Minister can reassure me that clause 10(2)(c) is not intended to enable the Government to restrict consultation, I will be happy not to move it.
It might help if the Minister indicated that it would be the Secretary of State's intention to state the minimum nature and extent of consultation. I am speaking with the benefit of hindsight, but I think that the missing word is ''minimum''. If the Minister agreed with that, many Members would agree with him. I share the hon. Gentleman's concern that the Secretary of State could restrict the nature and extent of the consultation, so I hope that the Minister will confirm that the Government's intention is to define the minimum consultation, and that they will introduce an amendment later.
I hope that the Minister does that, because if he put on record that the purpose of the subsection is to enable the Secretary of State to tell a planning body that its consultation has been
inadequate and that it should do more, I would support him. However, we need an assurance or a Government amendment that says that the Secretary of State may not order a planning body to carry out less consultation than it set out to carry out in the first place. That is my concern, and I hope that if I have not persuaded the Minister, I have at least persuaded my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold that my amendment No. 37 is reasonable and sensible.
Once again I can be brief, because much of what I was going to say has been said by my hon. Friends, and I do not want to detain the Committee for longer than necessary.
There are two incontrovertible aspects of the Bill. The first is that the powers of the Secretary of State will be increased compared with the principal 1990 Act. I am not arguing that in some areas the powers should not be increased; I am only saying that they are being increased. Secondly, it is incontrovertible that the Bill introduces powers and functions for the regional planning boards, none of which—I stand to be corrected—have yet been directly elected. Therefore, it is essential that we include in the Bill the need for public consultation wherever practicable. That is why I support amendment No. 140, moved by the hon. Member for Ludlow, which mirrors our amendment No. 59.
My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne is being modest. I have examined his amendment No. 37 and our amendment No. 116, which would insert the words:
''Before preparing a draft revision of the RSS the RPB must set out proposals to ensure appropriate public consultation on the contents of the RSS in accordance with such guidance as is specified by the Secretary of State''.
I reckon that that means that clause 10(2)(c) is unnecessary, although I am prepared to correct myself. If I believe that a requirement for public consultation should be inserted into the Bill whenever practical, for the reasons that I have given, I shall see nothing wrong in keeping that subsection in. However, it was felt to be over-egging the pudding.
I shall make one final point, and I hope that I am not being too pedantic. My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne could argue that, just as the public consultation should be set out in specific detail, we might find the same with ''such guidance''. What guidance? There is a limit to what can practically be put in a Bill, so I think that the definition
''such guidance as is specified by the Secretary of State''
is perfectly in order.
''The Secretary of State may by regulations''.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if the Minister is to reject our amendments, he must at least give the Committee an indication of what he intends to put into those regulations?
I do not disagree with my hon. Friend. This is necessarily a complicated Bill. The
emphasis and weighting that one gives certain words and phrases say everything. I want a Bill to be as specific as it practically can be, but I accept that there must be sweeping definitions that cannot necessarily be spelled out. Within that, I agree with my hon. Friend.
I apologise for detaining the Committee for slightly longer than I had intended, Mr. Pike, but I strongly support amendment moved by the hon. Member for Ludlow, as well as those that we tabled.
I agree with Opposition Members that the amendments raise important issues, so I apologise if I detain the Committee slightly, to explain our position. I fully accept that there is nothing devious or sinister about the amendments, if the hon. Member for Spelthorne will accept that there is nothing devious or sinister about the clause.
Consultation and community involvement in a regional planning body's work, including statutory statements of community involvement and prescribing the consultation required in preparing draft revisions to regional spatial strategy, are important. I agree that community involvement in the RPB's work is vital and that there must be proper consultation on the preparation of revisions to the RSS. That is why consultation with and participation by the public are highlighted in the Bill as matters on which the Secretary of State may make regulations.
I happily confirm that we will not limit the consultation that the RPB can undertake in the course of RSS revisions, but it may assist the Committee if I explain the procedures that we envisage for community participation in the revisions.
Through guidance—a revised version of PPG11—we shall make it clear that the regional planning body should consider how best it can encourage community participation in the revision process and provide best practice advice. That will include the provision of free and readily available information about the preparation and content of the draft revision via newsletters and the appropriate RPB's website. In addition, we shall make a number of bodies statutory consultees, using the powers in clause 10, in particular subsection (2)(c). I do not want hon. Members to view those powers as embodying an either/or position. It would be inappropriate if we simply had a list of statutory consultees, ticked a box and said that that was sufficient for community or public participation. Equally, it would be inappropriate to have a broad notion that there should be community involvement and participation, to put that, through regulation, at the heart of the regional planning system, and still not give RPBs a statutory duty to consult a rich and varied list of statutory consultees who represent defined and clear interests above and beyond the norm for the wider public and community.
The guidance will emphasise that the RPB should also consider, via the county councils and the local planning authorities covered by the revision, how it can involve other developing networks, such as local strategic partnerships and community networks, in the review process—through the use of local planning forums, for example.
The person appointed to conduct an examination of the draft regional spatial strategy revision and the Secretary of State will expect the regional planning body to have provided opportunities for the community to be kept informed and involved, outside of the main stages of the more formal consultation. Although one should not underestimate the difficulties of securing effective community involvement in a regional strategy, the Committee should bear in mind that the existing non-statutory procedures for RPG have worked well, to an extent.
The Secretary of State has the power to withdraw recognition from the regional planning body, and the failure to involve regional interest adequately could result in such a withdrawal. That means that the criteria defining worthiness and the fitness for purpose of a regional planning body, to which I alluded earlier, include the notion of involving regional interests and stakeholders adequately. I interpret that as ensuring that at the regional level there is community involvement in any revisions. That is central to all that we seek.
For those reasons we see no pressing need to turn existing procedures into regulation, but the system is new, and it would be unacceptable not to have that as an option. Amendment No. 37 would therefore not be acceptable. It may be that over time, and with experience, it proves sensible to introduce additional consultation guidance over and above that I have already mentioned, but we feel that it is appropriate to see how the new system works in practice before coming to any final decision.
The Minister has made it clear that the Government intend to set minimum rather than maximum levels. We will deal with clause 10 in some detail later, I hope—or maybe not. I wonder whether the Government might consider making it clear that the provision sets a minimum level. I realise the current Minister's views on that, but some future Minister might use that power to restrict consultation. I am sure that that is not the Minister's intention.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I would—and I know that the draftsmen would—be loth to insert minima or maxima, because for every good authority or regional planning body that sets a minimum and aspires to go way beyond that, a range of others will see it as the level that they need to reach. If we made that change, it would weaken the Secretary of State's hand in saying whether an RPB has sufficiently represented the range of interests in a particular region in the context of community involvement. I am slightly wary of introducing minima or maxima because they are open to all sorts of interpretations, perverse and otherwise.
The Minister has already explained that the process is dynamic, and everyone involved will learn from experience. Surely we shall expect those involved to adopt best practice. Indeed, the Secretary of State will adopt best practice. Would it not therefore make sense to include a statement of community involvement for each RSS, so that we can see rapidly which RPB is adopting best practice, and spread that across all the other RPBs?
I think not, for the following simple reason. As I have already said, we feel that the revised PPG11 will achieve all of that and more, and leave the framework and powers in place for the Secretary of State to determine whether each RPB has sufficiently represented those interests. Community involvement at that regional level should be entirely distinct from community involvement at the coal face—as it were—in the development of local development documents, and the entire planning and development control process, for reasons that we shall consider later. There will be nothing to stop each RPB drawing up a statement of how it intends to involve the community in preparing future draft RSS provisions. I will happily encourage that through guidance.
Amendment No. 59 would require the RSS to provide an account of how the community has been involved. There are good reasons why statutory provision of that sort would not necessarily be appropriate. First, the RSS is a statement of the Secretary of State's policies for the region, so it would not be the right place for a statement of community involvement in RSS preparation.
Secondly, the extent of community involvement and stakeholder participation in the preparation of draft revisions to the RSS are matters that the Secretary of State and the person appointed to conduct the examination can take into account in deciding whether the policies and proposals are soundly based. Allowing the notion of participation and community involvement to permeate the entire process will be a far more efficient and effective way of securing that involvement at regional level than what is suggested in the amendment, however well intended.
The person appointed to conduct the examination might conclude that community involvement and stakeholder participation had been inadequate, and may have contributed to a draft revision that was seriously defective and not capable of ready correction—so the notion of involvement and participation is already in the process whereby revisions are considered. If a draft RSS revision were so defective, the person conducting the examination could recommend the Secretary of State to withdraw it, and require the RPB to come forward with a more soundly based revision, clearly containing evidence of stakeholder and community involvement.
Amendment No. 140 would require the RPB to prepare and implement a statement of community involvement. As I have already said, I am sympathetic to the intention there. The Bill requires local planning authorities to have statements of community involvement, as we shall see later, so at first sight, one might conclude that RPBs too should have them. However, there are important differences, to which I have already alluded. A local authority's statement of community involvement for local development documents serves two purposes. It deals with the preparation of local development documents and with the exercise of functions under part III of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, such as coal-face decisions on planning applications. Those, especially
the latter, are much closer to the local community than the strategic policies to be contained in the RSS.
There are many differences between local planning authority areas—such as whether they are urban or rural, and other matters that we explored last week. The statement of community involvement aims to ensure that suitable consultation takes place in each area. Those differences will be smaller between regions, and there will also be a strategic dimension at regional level, so there will be less benefit in having a statement of community involvement for regional matters.
I emphasise that through the utilisation of PPG11 and the other powers that date from the establishment of the regional planning body, we intended to—and have—put wider community and stakeholder involvement and statutory consultee involvement at the heart of the drawing up of RSSs, and of consideration of revisions. The lack of such community involvement is a bona fide reason for the person in charge of an examination in public, or even the Secretary of State, to explore matters further with the RPB and determine that a revision may be defective because that involvement has not been sufficient.
First, will the Minister confirm that he has appointed consultants to examine how the framework for community involvement will operate under clause 17? Secondly, will he consider further my point that individual members of the public will feel very aggrieved if they do not have a sense of ownership of their planning system? If they feel that their local authority has been dictated to by an RPB that has not properly consulted them, they will feel even more aggrieved, especially in such matters as house-building targets and numbers.
On the first point, which I was about to reach, we have appointed consultants to examine the framework and benchmarks for community involvement, and their report will be published soon. Short of having a crystal ball or a degree in futurology, I cannot determine when it will be published, or whether it will be published while we are deliberating the clauses to which it refers. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will do all in my power to ensure that it will be in the public domain and in the hands of members of the Committee before the Bill has concluded its parliamentary passage—I mean, of course, before the House of Commons has concluded its consideration of the Bill. That was not a cryptic allusion to what will happen to it up the other end of the building.
I agree in general with the hon. Gentleman's point about ownership. I fully understand how people will be disaffected or disinclined to support the bodies if there is no sense of legitimacy or ownership of the regional spatial strategies. In all seriousness, that is why we have put community, stakeholder and statutory consultee involvement—all three are crucial—at the heart of the regulation process at regional level.
We will also determine that regional planning bodies must include details of consultation, and how
they have conducted that consultation, in their annual reports during the genesis of an RSS. In that context, and with PPG at the revised RPG level in place, it is not entirely accurate to say that there will never be input from the public or the wider community if the Secretary of State does not direct an examination in public for revisions to the RSS. On no occasion will a revision of RSS not at least be put into the public domain for community response and wider public engagement. The examination in public will simply be part of that process, but there will be significant input before that, not least because of the criteria that originally established the RPB, and the serious criterion concerning taking seriously, and taking on board, an array of regional interests as part of the underlying integrity and legitimacy of the regional planning bodies.
I therefore have no problem with the nature of the debate or the amendments, probing or otherwise. However, for the reasons that I outlined, and given my assurances that we are taking seriously public participation and community involvement at regional level, we have determined that this is a more appropriate and effective way of getting to the heart of that involvement in the process, followed by an SCI in the LDD—if I may spit out the acronyms. I take seriously the points that have been made by the hon. Member for Ludlow and other hon. Members, but I urge him to withdraw the amendment.
The Minister's response was fascinating, and in many ways reassuring. He told us that many safeguards were built into the Bill. Interestingly, however, he never explained why the amendment should not be accepted. The amendment would enhance not detract from the measures that the Minister mentioned, which include specifying statutory consultees and other forms of community involvement.
The debate has thrown up two issues, both of which were raised by the hon. Member for Cotswold. They are both good reasons why the amendment should be accepted. The first is best practice, which would make the regional chambers, and ultimately the elected regional assemblies, state what their community involvement is. It would be much easier to analyse what each area is doing, and where regions are performing well in public consultation and where they are not—and it would make it much easier for the Minister to make regulations on the minimum levels of consultation, if he needs to. The public will be able to decide whether the elected regional assemblies consult them fully or do only the bare minimum. None of the Minister's reassurances help with that.
I concur with the hon. Member for Cotswold about public ownership. All the Minister's safeguards are present, but are not obvious and will not seem like safeguards to the public. For example, the Minister and inspectors have certain powers, but the public do not readily understand that.
One important aspect of a statement of community involvement—an aspect lacking in the Bill—is that it makes it clear to the public exactly what they can expect of their regional body. I am reassured about the existence of safeguards to ensure that public
consultation and consultation with other bodies is a key element of the regional planning process, but I am not convinced that the Minister has provided a good reason why amendment No. 140 should not be included in the Bill, and I urge the Committee to support it.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 8.
I want to make progress, because we have a great deal to discuss this morning and important amendments to move on to.
Subsections (4) and (5) stipulate that the RPB must produce a report on the implementation of the RSS in the region, which is burdensome and unnecessary. Subsections (2) and (3), under which the RPB has to keep matters under review, are already adequate to the task without the additional need to produce bureaucratic reports. If the Minister insists that the reports must be produced, we would like to prescribe what type of form would be most helpful—hence amendment No. 51. I commend the format of the old Department of the Environment reports, which contained four columns. One was a description of the target to be carried out, the second was the back year's target, the third was a reconciliation column, and the fourth dealt with any further action necessary in the coming year. That simple style of report made it easy to measure progress in respect of all objectives, and I commend it to the Minister.
I am a little disappointed that my Front-Bench colleagues do not believe that this amendment is as important as I do.
We constantly hear from the Government that they have a light touch and that they are giving freedom to local authorities, yet the Bill is riddled with examples such as those in subsections (5) and (4), which are to some extent overtaken by subsection (3). If implementation is monitored one would expect a report, but that is effectively redundant. The problem is the requirement that the RPB must report to the Secretary of State. What happens if local
authorities do not do so? How heavy will the report be? What sort of details will be required? What will happen if the Secretary of State does not agree? Will there be any consultation on the report? Will there be a reaction to the report from lower tiers, and will the Secretary of State take that into account? If the Secretary of State does not agree, will he change it? Will he interfere? What effect will that have on the status of the body producing the report? As my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold is in a hurry, I shall leave those questions in cryptic form.
The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Cotswold would remove the requirement for the planning body to report annually to the Secretary of State on the implementation of the RSS in the region. Not surprisingly, we consider the amendment to be unacceptable. Policies in the RSS are those of the Secretary of State—not those of the RPBs—relating to the development and use of land in the region. The amendment would not remove the RPBs' duty to monitor implementation of the RSS, to which the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) alluded, and consider whether implementation is achieving the purpose of the RSS. As a result, although the regional planning body would be informed about the performance of the Secretary of State's policies, the Secretary of State would not. That would be a bizarre state of affairs.
Amendment No. 51 takes a somewhat different line on the same issue, and seeks to add to the requirements for the annual report to the Secretary of State. It would require the RPBs' annual reports on the implementation of the RSS in their regions to consider action plans for the coming year, and progress in meeting action plans for the previous year. It is unclear what is meant by an action plan. I presume that it means a discrete set of proposals concerned with implementing the policies in the RSS over the coming year. On that basis I consider the amendment to be unnecessary, given the arrangements that we have provided in the Bill and the intended regulations and guidance.
In summary, a regional planning body has three main functions under the Bill: preparing draft revisions to the RSS, keeping the RSS under review, and giving advice to other bodies or persons if that would help to achieve implementation of the RSS. Clause 3(3) requires RPBs to monitor implementation of the RSS throughout their regions, and to consider whether the implementation is achieving the purposes of the RSS. We intend to set out in regulations under clause 3 the fact that the report should contain information on the degree to which the targets set in the RSS are being achieved, and if not, why not. As I have made clear—
In a simple, easy-to-understand and concise way, the mechanism prescribed in the old Department of the Environment reports did precisely what the Minister has just said. May I commend that format to him and ask him to examine it to see whether it could be incorporated?
I can certainly agree to consider whether that is appropriate when we draw up the appropriate regulations.
The other half of the equation is that in relation to current RPG, PPG11 clearly sets out the fact that the implementation of policies in the RPG through, for example, local plans and local transport plans, must be monitored effectively. Where appropriate, we want draft revisions to RSSs to propose output targets for areas in which policies will be implemented through the actions of other bodies, such as local planning authorities. Those targets will be central to the RPBs' ability to check that the strategy is being implemented as intended. PPG11 gives guidance to RPBs in that respect, and we shall give further advice in due course in the revision to PPG11.
It is important to repeat that we see the annual report as giving the wider public a report on the level of public involvement, consultation and so on in terms of any revision to the RSS. I alluded to that when discussing the previous group of amendments. An RPB should have a clear programme of implementation, with actions identified and targets set as an integral part of any draft RSS revision. The validity of the proposals can, of course, be properly examined.
On that basis, the annual report should be able to examine progress without being sidetracked into separate action plans. The monitoring process might trigger the need for the preparation of a draft revision of the RSS, or highlight the need for advice to be given to certain bodies on how they might assist in implementing the policies in the RSS. Clearly, as the hon. Member for Mole Valley mentioned, there is no point in monitoring the implementation process if there is no subsequent evaluation and feedback loop to stipulate what will be done if the monitoring shows up inadequacies.
We firmly believe that all those elements are in the Bill, or will be in the guidance, and that is why I consider that the clause as drafted achieves the purpose of the amendments without the need to impose additional and unnecessary duties on the regional planning bodies. In that context, without unnecessary alacrity or expedition, I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister for what—although I do not wish to offend my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley, and I agree that this is an important matter—I might describe as a somewhat long-winded response on a relatively simple matter. We consider the reports to be unnecessary; as I have already said, there are already sufficient requirements for the RPBs, without their having to produce those reports. However, the Minister gave an explanation for that.
As the Committee proceeds I am increasingly worried—my hon. Friends may have noticed—about how big the RPGs will become. It seems to me that everything bar the kitchen sink will be put into them, and that if we are not careful, the RPGs will become longer than the Bill itself. I would rather see more detail put into the Bill, so that we can discuss
democratically what should be within the powers and obligations of the RPBs, rather than having that detail included in the guidance. However, that is the way in which the Minister proposes to do it, and for the time being we shall have to live with that. I do not agree with what the Minister said, and I do not like the bureaucratic attitude that the clause imposes on the RPBs, but given the time constraints, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I cannot have done too bad a job, because I have been let loose again. Perhaps my hon. Friends believe that I need more practice.
It is easy to look at an amendment that proposes to change the word ''must'' to the word ''may'' and to glaze over and think, ''Here we go again.'' There is, however, a serious point behind the proposed amendment that I am sure that the Government can clear up for us, so that we will not need to press it to a Division.
When a planning authority is required to give advice to a person or body, I worry about the commercial implications. I sometimes have a suspicious mind, and can imagine that developers might see that obligation as a cheap way of getting advice on a difficult planning problem, whereas usually they would have to use their own staff or pay for expert advice. Under the proposed provision, a developer could say that the planning body was obliged to give him advice on how to get round a particular problem. I am sure that the Government do not intend to act as a free consultancy, but with the current wording the planning body would have to respond and give advice, even if that advice were commercially useful.
The Government should consider giving some discretion to the planning body so that it could say that for commercial reasons, it could not give advice in particular areas. If the Government do not like our approach they might like to reflect on the matter and come back on Report with their own amendment. That amendment could say that under appropriate circumstances—I accept that those circumstances would have to be carefully defined—the planning authority might charge for its advice, if it were asked to do commercial work under this provision. The Government should change the wording from ''must'' to ''may'', giving the authority the power to decline in certain circumstances—or they may prefer to word it differently on Report. No one here wants to set up a free consultancy agency for property developers, which would be entirely wrong.
I have difficulty with the provision that would be amended by amendment No. 7. Subsection (6) states:
''The RPB must give advice to any other body or person if it thinks that to do so will help to achieve implementation''.
It would be more appropriate if the person or body doing the asking considered that it would help. The power to refuse is in place, and no appeal against it is possible. The amendment would put the onus on the body or people who are asking, and they would be the judges of whether the advice would help, rather than allowing the RPB to decide. These are two genuinely probing amendments, and I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.
I shall risk the wrath of the Whip who introduced the amendments. I agree with him about the first one, because ''may'' is often more appropriate than ''must'', but I disagree about the second, to which the care in the community clause is relevant. People who wish to make trouble will cause enormous difficulties if the provision is changed. My hon. Friend will recall from his experience in local government the fact that some people have nothing better to do than to plague local authorities—and the amendment would give those people considerable power. A similar provision appears later in the Bill, and I shall vote against it at that stage.
Under the clause, the RPB has to work in partnership with others to further the implementation of the RSS. The RPB has a duty to give advice to others where it would prove useful to the attainment of implementation. It is not merely a discretion, as amendment No. 104 would assert.
As the hon. Member for Mole Valley argued in respect of amendment No. 7, an RPB would be at risk of being tied up by requests for advice that would contribute nothing to its work—implementation of the RSS—and it might be unable to do its job properly. The amendments would also allow the RPB to opt out of giving advice to others even if it knew that that would help to implement the RSS.
I understand where the hon. Member for Spelthorne is coming from, and the amendments are useful in helping us to understand that in pursuit of implementation, it is appropriate to build a statutory duty into the Bill for the RPB to work with others. It would be inappropriate to make that discretionary. RPBs must give advice, but only where it would be helpful. If we made it discretionary, at the strategic regional level it could lead to all sorts of requests in the furtherance of commercial interests. The concerns of the hon. Member for Spelthorne are wide of the mark, because this is all about the regional spatial dimension, rather than site-specific queries that would further the commercial interests of particular developers.
In the context of the implementation of the RSS, it is appropriate to give the RPB a statutory duty to provide assistance where required. We all want to avoid a free-for-all, or the establishment of a publicly paid planning consultancy for all and sundry, which would be a greater risk if either amendment were accepted. That idea will not prevail under the clause, and the RPB will be obliged to render assistance to other bodies when the pursuit of the implementation of the RSS would be better achieved with that advice. I therefore urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.
On amendment No. 104, I readily accept the Minister's argument that there must be an obligation to work with others, and on that basis, I accept that changing ''must'' to ''may'' is not the right way to address the point. If I heard him correctly, he said that he could understand where I was coming from. I will happily give way to him if he would like to tell the Committee that he is prepared to reflect upon the possible abuse of that power. I am not asking him to undertake to come forward with something, but just to reflect upon a point that could lead to abuse. He may conclude that it will not lead to abuse, but there will be an opportunity on Report to examine how one can safeguard an RPB against being made to do commercial work—in return for which I would readily accept that ''must'' is a better word than ''may''.
I am happy to reflect on that point but I can say, with all the certainty that I can muster on this day at this time, that we have got it right. I will, however, happily reflect on it.
That deals with amendment No. 104.
On amendment No. 7, I have broad shoulders. This morning has been interesting and I have been doing well, but I have been chastised by my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley. Although it might be painful to be told off in public, I am grateful to him for reminding me of my true roots. Most of the time I would agree with his point but I have been indoctrinated into trying to be a spokesman for the nice party. On that occasion, I was perhaps trying to be too nice. He has a point, which I suspect to be relevant, and when the Minister agreed with him, I realised that I was isolated. I will not therefore bother to pursue amendment No. 7.
Given that the Minister is willing to reflect on the lead amendment, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Clause 3 deals with the functions of the regional planning bodies in the same way that clause 2 sets them up, and the two clauses are obviously linked. I have no doubt in saying that clause 3, as it has not been amended, does not sufficiently stress the need for public consultation. At the risk of repeating myself—on this point one cannot repeat oneself too much—since the Bill gives increased powers to the Secretary of State and since it sets up RPBs, which to date are not directly elected, it is vital that public consultation and the rights of the public in the planning process are stressed. Sadly, where clause 3 presents an opportunity to stress public consultation—there are further opportunities later in the Bill—it has not been stressed sufficiently.
As the hon. Gentleman has said, clause 3 requires an RPB to keep under review the RSS and those matters that may affect development in its region or the planning of such development. I draw hon. Members' attention to the regulatory route map that was circulated last week, which simply states that
clause 3(5) clearly allows the Secretary of State to determine the form of the annual report. I repeat that a revised PPG11, and the other elements that we have in place for RPBs throughout part 1 of the Bill, will make more than adequate provision for public consultation and involvement at a regional level.
I let this go earlier, but I cannot continue to do so if the point is going to be repeated: the Bill does not in the broadest sense give the Secretary of State powers to anything like the extent referred to by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet. I made it clear last week that the only substantive way in which the Bill gives new powers to the Secretary of State is on RPGs changing into RSSs. It puts in statute many of the range of powers that the Secretary of State already has in administrative law.
This is not a Henry VIII or other monarchically inspired Bill. The powers included in it are not being put abroad by diktat or jackboot, or whatever else we were discussing last week. Having nailed that canard, I commend clause 3.
I am more than happy to accept that the hon. Gentleman's phrase was general and sweeping, rather than applying simply to clause 3. With that in mind, I commend the clause to the Committee.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Before we move to clause 4, following the points of order raised at the start of this morning's sitting, I can say that the Hansard report for Thursday's morning sitting is now in the Room and can be collected by hon. Members. The position with the report for the afternoon sitting is being looked into.
On a point of order, Mr. Pike. I wish to stress how important it is that we have the Hansard reports the day before our Committee sittings take place. Statements from the Minister and others need to be checked, so that we may have an opportunity to ask the Minister questions about his statements. If we do not receive Hansard the day before, it is difficult for the Committee to do its job of scrutinising the Bill properly. Can you ask the authorities to do their level best to make sure that Hansard is available the day before the Committee sits?
It is not for the Chair to organise Hansard, but I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman's comments are passed on. There have always been difficulties in Committees being completely prepared on Tuesdays. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but I know that he and his hon. Friends and other members of the Committee are extremely skilful members of the House and do not completely rely on
the recorded word when they make their speeches. However, I shall see that the hon. Gentleman's comments are passed on to the appropriate people.