Clause 88 - General functions of the commission

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 27th January 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions, Young People, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities 4:00 pm, 27th January 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 15, in clause 88, page 68, leave out line 4.

I am almost nervous to continue because of the dancing on pinheads we have just had. Amendment No. 15 seeks clarification from the Minister on what CABE will be charging for—it currently charges for some of its services. As the Minister has said, there will be no change. I assume that it will continue to charge for some of its services, but it might be useful for the Committee to hear which services are charged for.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making clear the probing nature of his amendment. I would have been nervous if it was intended as a serious amendment that might lead to the removal of CABE's authority to make charges in respect of providing facilities, services and advice on architectural or built environment matters. Had the hon. Gentleman pushed it to a vote and put that capacity at risk, it would have been a bad decision.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman should not presume on these matters. CABE is funded primarily to provide advice and services in England, where it will have a duty to discharge its functions and currently provides most of them free of charge. However, it charges for some services; for example, training and publications. That is entirely consistent with the policy   on the selling of Government services, because it enhances the use and value of public assets and exploits their commercial potential. For departmental public bodies such as CABE, such activity can generate valuable additional resources for their core objectives. The provision that is made here is similar to statutory powers granted to other bodies in this sector, for example, English Heritage.

Looking at the activities that take place at the moment, CABE has successfully sold services to a number of bodies—operating income generated in 2003-04 was over £500,000. In surveys, it scores highly for customer satisfaction, so CABE has the potential to generate useful additional resources for itself and for its purposes. CABE will also be able to operate outside England, but will not be funded with that intention. CABE's help has already been sought by devolved administrations in other parts of the United Kingdom and by foreign countries. Unless it can charge, it will either be unable to undertake some work or will have to take work out of the funding provided clearly for the purpose of giving a service in England.

So I hope that the hon. Member for Ludlow will be encouraged by that explanation and be prepared to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions, Young People, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities

I am pleased with the Minister's explanation and on the basis that it would be nice to get through every amendment in a couple of minutes in this way, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

I seek clarification because I understand from earlier contributions that this commission will be carrying out the same functions as the old commission. I have no problems with that whatever.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

Stroke of genius, really. Clause 88(2) states:

''The Commission must discharge its functions in relation to England and may also discharge them in relation to any other place it thinks appropriate.''

I assume that that is similar to the original Act.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

That is precisely the point that I covered a moment ago in response to the hon. Member for Ludlow. In explaining why CABE is able to charge, I said that it had already been asked for help and advice by countries overseas and by the devolved Administrations. It is not funded for those purposes, but it is important that it is allowed to undertake that work so that its expertise can be made more widely available.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

I am grateful for that explanation. When I originally saw the word ''England'', I thought that ''other places'' meant other parts of the United Kingdom. Then I started to think more widely and I   thought that the term might mean the British overseas territories and other parts of the world. I am extremely grateful for the Minister's explanation.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

I was advised by your good self, Mr. Forth, that this would be the appropriate place to debate CABE's general functions. Clause 88 sets out those functions, as well as defining the built environment and intellectual property, but perhaps the Minister can clarify what specific role CABE will have in planning policy and planning proposals, because there is some debate about that.

The Library note—[Interruption.] If I could continue, the thrust of my argument will become clear. CABE's job has been to improve design, and that has included commenting on major developments at the planning stage. However, the Library note says:

''Approval by CABE may encourage a planning authority to approve an application although of course an application might be rejected on completely different grounds.''

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am just wondering whether the hon. Lady was out of the Room when I responded on this point a short time ago. As I made clear, CABE can offer advice on planning, and developers can seek advice in advance of a planning application, but any advice that CABE offers is non-binding. It is up to the authorities to deal with the planning application, and it is up to those making the application to prepare it. CABE is merely available as a source of advice on best practice.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

I should like to press the Minister further. He did say that, but if the advice is not binding, that raises the question of what role the commission does fulfil. Subsection (3) states:

''The Commission may, for any purpose connected with the discharge of its function . . . provide, or assist in the provision of, public works, services and amenities''

''take any other steps it thinks appropriate.''

Will that have any planning implications?

The hon. Member for Stroud referred to the complementary role played by English Heritage, and it was quite vociferous in its evidence to the Select Committee in that regard. It noted that the Committee had commented in one of its reports that

''there are concerns that the functions of CABE and EH overlap and that they are not working closely enough together and providing consistent advice on planning applications . . . In some instances CABE and EH are giving conflicting advice. EH tends to favour conservation while CABE prefers a modernist approach.''

It then noted that the Committee had recommended that the position be clarified and that

''the relationship between CABE and EH needs to be reinforced in order to rationalise their operations, to minimise duplication and to ensure their advice is consistent.''

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

I would be most grateful to hear from the Minister whether clause 88—[Interruption.] I am asked from a sedentary position what that has to do with the Bill. I understand that English Heritage is a statutory body. We are told that there will now be another statutory body, CABE, giving advice, which is not binding, although I think that the advice of   English Heritage is binding. As those points were submitted, I believe, at the time of the consultation, that raises the question whether they were taken into account in the drafting of clause 88.

Photo of Mr Matthew Green Mr Matthew Green Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions, Young People, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities 4:15 pm, 27th January 2005

I shall briefly speak to the clause, as the hon. Lady would not take an intervention. I struggle to see the difficulty with two bodies, coming from different areas, giving different advice. It is advice; it is not binding. When planning applications are submitted, many people give advice. Even MPs might sometimes say, ''Oh, that's a good scheme; the planning committee should vote for it.'' I therefore struggle to see why two different bodies, which were set up to do two different things, should not give separate advice. It would worry me greatly were CABE and English Heritage giving exactly the same advice, because then people would question why two different bodies existed.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman has given an excellent reply to the debate on the clause. The evidence of the Select Committee was given before publication of the Bill, and was of course taken into account in deciding what should be in the clauses. It was decided that CABE should be established, on the basis that it has existed as a non-statutory body. I do not see a problem. I share the hon. Gentleman's view that it is good to have particular expertise. CABE has expertise on the built environment; English Heritage gives advice on England's heritage. At times, the two may run closely together and support each other; at other times, there may be different perspectives. The fact that people do not have to take a piece of advice does not make it any less important. It is right to have advice from important perspectives, such as that provided by CABE. Like the hon. Gentleman, I do not understand the hon. Lady's difficulties, and I urge the Committee to agree that the clause should stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

I have nothing further to add other than to commend the Select Committee report, which flagged up the difficulties. It clearly thinks that there is a problem. I am heartened that the Minister believes that the Committee's criticisms were taken into account. We shall return to the Select Committee and see whether we can develop the arguments further at a later stage.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 88 ordered to stand part of the Bill.