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Mr. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

11 pm

Mr. Straw: Of course, in a moment.

I hope that, in the light of those clear undertakings, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby will see fit to withdraw the amendment.

My hon. Friend asked whether any of the island authorities could incorporate into their domestic law the fourth protocol of the convention, even though it is not being incorporated into the Bill. The answer is that they cannot incorporate any part of the convention that the United Kingdom and the Crown, as high contracting party to the convention, have not accepted. That important part of our relationship with the islands gives the Crown and the United Kingdom Parliament ultimate authority over them: we, and not they, enter into all international obligations, which are then binding on the islands.

That said, it would none the less be open to each of the island authorities and Parliaments, should they want to, to write the terms of the fourth protocol, or of any other protocol not incorporated into the Bill, into their domestic law.

Mr. Cousins: My right hon. Friend's remarks have been extremely helpful--indeed, fascinating--but may I draw his attention to the fact that the third protocol of the treaty of accession to the treaty of Rome, which was passed by the United Kingdom Parliament, specifically exempts the Crown dependencies from participating in the European Union for the purposes of people, finance and capital? They participate in the EU solely for the purpose of movement of goods for trading. Is he satisfied that the rather anomalous position of the Crown dependencies within the EU provides the right constitutional foundation for fully satisfying the terms of the Bill?

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. I shall not detain the Committee, because we are due to finish this business in 10 minutes, except to say that, as part of the somewhat onerous duties of the presidency of the European Union, I spent two and a half days in Brussels last week as President of the Justice and Home Affairs Council. A lot of time was devoted to the extent to which the islands were subject to various treaties under the treaty of Rome. We are dealing with a convention arising not under the treaty of Rome and the European Communities treaties, but under the Council of Europe, of which we have been a member for many more years than we have been a member of the European Communities.

The position in respect of the European Union and the islands is complicated, not only because of what the islands desire, but because of difficulties for Gibraltar and other places--not dependencies of the United Kingdom--over how such territories should be dealt with in those treaties. Similar problems arise in respect of Spanish dependencies, for example, but in the Justice and Home

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Affairs Council last week, we agreed that a convention on a European judicial network should apply to the islands. That will not directly impose obligations on them, but will give them some discretion.

As we had been unable to consult, I did not accept a proposal from other member states that the islands should, without consultation, be made subject to the Eurodac convention on the fingerprinting of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, and to the convention on driving disqualifications.

Sark has been referred to. I had to point out to some colleagues in the Justice and Home Affairs Council that, whatever else one may worry about on Sark, driving disqualifications should not keep us up all night. As I think the Committee famously knows, there is only one vehicle on Sark, which I understand is a Daimler.

In the light of what I have said, and the clear undertakings given by the island authorities, I hope that my hon. Friend will seek leave to withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): I speak, as a good Tory grammar school boy--not, as the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) suggested, a Tory public school boy--to support the Home Secretary in his opposition to the amendments. I thought it particularly sad that the hon. Member cited the Marine, etc., Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967 as a reason why Parliament should impose legislation on the states of Jersey and Guernsey and the House of Keys. The 1967 Act had a direct impact on me, although I was very young at the time. I remember who introduced the legislation: the notorious John Stonehouse, the then Postmaster General.

One of the reasons for my opposition to the implementation of the legislation on the islands is the fact of their independence. I felt that, in some ways, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby was rather xenophobic in his remarks about Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man--although, of course, xenophobia is not the right word in this context, because it means a fear of foreigners. Those islanders are not foreigners at all; they regard themselves very much as part of the British isles, although not of the British isles.

I am not even convinced that whether those islanders choose to adopt the convention will make much difference. Two years ago, a constituent of mine, Stan Allsop, a truck driver, was arrested and held in France, which is a signatory to the convention. He was held in solitary confinement for 11 weeks. For five weeks, his wife, children and grandchildren were not even informed of his whereabouts. As my former right hon. Friend Malcolm Rifkind said to me at the time, France provided a marvellous example of habeas without the corpus. The convention clearly gave Mr. Allsop no protection.

I do not believe that the Bill will have any impact on the United Kingdom, which will accept it; nor do I believe that we should impose it on the islands of Jersey and Guernsey and the Isle of Man. To do so would not set a precedent, because such legislation was imposed on those islands when the 1967 Act was implemented, but I think that, in the new generation that has grown up over the past 10 years, the Bill creates a dangerous precedent. The islands have secured independence; we have chosen not to involve them in our law, and I think that to do so now would be wrong.

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We should also remember the islands' special place in the European Union. They are not part of the EU as such; they have independence in the sense that they are not part of the customs union, and we respect that. I think we should say that they should either be incorporated totally in the EU, or not at all. To do it piecemeal would be completely wrong. Whether the Home Secretary is right to induce them to absorb the convention is for the House of Keys and the Jersey and Guernsey Parliaments to decide, but I feel that it should be their decision and not that of the Committee. For that reason, I oppose the amendments.

The long catalogue of personal objections raised by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby about why Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man should have the legislation imposed on them seemed to be more related to personal slight by agencies or spin doctors than to any legal reasons. I therefore oppose the amendments.

Mr. Mitchell: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) for sharply stating his objections. I am also grateful to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for his good reply, and I commend him for the efforts that have been put into persuading the islands to pass the legislation in their own way. I would prefer it to be done our way because that avoids delays, which will occur, and any backsliding, which might occur. I trust the Home Secretary more than I trust some legislators. Guernsey had to be pushed into this fairly rapidly.

The image of the islands might be "Bergerac", but the reality is lax financial and tax regulation which gives rise to scandals such as money laundering and BCCI. Some day, we shall have to grasp the nettle of this so-called independence. I am grateful to the Home Secretary, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

To report progress and ask leave to sit again.--[Mr. Kevin Hughes.]

Committee report progress; to sit again tomorrow.

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Local Agenda 21

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Kevin Hughes.]

11.11 pm

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): I am delighted to be able to debate the topic of Local Agenda 21. It is ironic but pleasing that it is sandwiched between yesterday's debate on electoral reform and tomorrow's debate on the modernisation of the House. Local Agenda 21 and its constituent parts shows what is happening in the wider political field. It shows that there is much democratic engagement outside this place, and we must recognise that and view it as an opportunity and not as a threat.

Many hon. Members will know about Local Agenda 21, but it is important to discuss it and to speak about my experiences in my constituency and in Gloucestershire. The Government have already picked up the ball on the agenda and if in some small way I can help the process along, I am willing to do so. It is not for me to pre-empt what the Minister will say, but "Opportunities for Change", the Government's consultation document on sustainable development and sustainable local communities for the 21st century on why and how to prepare an effective Local Agenda 21 strategy, is an important statement. The Government have shown how the debate can be advanced.

What is Local Agenda 21 and its true meaning? It derives from the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, the so-called Earth summit, which was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. At the conference, 179 countries, including, of course, the United Kingdom, signed up to an agenda for change in the 21st century, known as Agenda 21. Local Agenda 21 reflects the important part that was played by local government and local democracy at that conference, and important requirements were placed upon them to produce the necessary local change. That was not an imposition, but rather an evolution of what was happening and what could be achieved. The key element is the drive towards sustainable development that is most attainable locally.

As has been said:

My experience relates to Vision 21 in Gloucestershire, which is how we refer to Local Agenda 21 there. Local Agenda 21 was welcomed in my county. Since 1993, an enthusiastic group of individuals have gradually moulded into a successful team, and have steered the local agenda process with a remarkable amount of achievement. It was originally parented by the Rendezvous Society, and, for that, all of us who have been involved in the process owe it an enormous debt of gratitude.

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Vision 21 is now held up as a model of what is possible, and I know that other local agenda teams have drawn heavily on its experiences. If, as the Government suggest, there is much to be learned by the spread of good practice, there appears to be no better place to use as an exemplar.

As part of Vision 21, many thousands of different individuals have come together to engage in this most worthwhile of pursuits--to plan our future society on the basis of a sustainable development approach. Many of those individuals may have attended only one event, such as a conference or campaign activity. However, their contribution has always been welcomed and valued.

As always, while some of our involvement has been minimal, others have worked relentlessly to make Vision 21 the success that it has become. It is never possible to mention many by name, but I should like to make special mention of Lindsay Colbourne, Julia Bennett, Alison Parfitt, Conrad Young, David Christmas, Sue Porter, Diana Ray and Richard Keating, who have done so much to drive Vision 21 along. If I have left out others who should be mentioned, I apologise, but I feel that at least some should be recalled by name, such has been their contribution to democracy in all its form, particularly from Gloucestershire's perspective.

One of the most pleasing aspects of the whole exercise has been the way in which people from across the political divide have combined for the benefit of their constituents--likewise, the manner in which professionals have worked with amateurs, activists from particular pressure groups have combined with generalists from the political class, and the fact that age, class, gender, physical or mental capacity or ethnic origin has been no barrier to participation.

Much has depended on the willing involvement of local government officers, who have given so generously of their time, much of it voluntarily. I pay my respects to my local authority, Stroud district council, and to Gloucestershire county council, which have had a lot to do with the success of Vision 21. All in all, that has shown how it is possible to build consensual relationships, and, if managed properly, how powerful they can become.

Enough of the plaudits. What did Vision 21 set out to achieve, and how can its outcomes be measured? To start with, six big issues were identified as the key challenges facing the county: first, to enhance the physical environment, biodiversity and natural resources; secondly, to introduce new value systems that reflect the importance of the quality of life and environment, rather than simply monetary considerations; thirdly, to embrace the new economy and new ways of working that value the formal and informal sectors; fourthly, to adopt new decision-making processes and structures that promote power sharing, co-operation, local participation, empowerment, democracy and an holistic long-term approach; fifthly, to increase awareness of sustainability and improve access to the quality, scope and aims of education, information, communication and monitoring; lastly, to bring about widespread behavioural and attitudinal change.

The means of meeting those challenges were set out via a series of major conferences, campaigns, local consultations and events. The on-going work was carried out through eight working groups, which covered the following sectors: natural resources and countryside;

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the built environment; energy, transport, waste and pollution; health and social issues; the economy and education; community and involvement.

The working group agenda followed three different stages. First, where are we now? Secondly, where do we want to be? Thirdly, how do we get there? While the context was essentially local and regional, national and global contexts were always referred to where appropriate.

Several underlying themes arose through the work of each group: the importance of rural dimensions; the need for vision; changes in employment and livelihood; critical environmental balance; the dislocation of supply and demand for natural supplies and the increasing role that conservation would play; and how important community values would be for solving problems.

What has been accomplished? In terms of measurable outcomes, the very fact that Vision 21 has continued to grow and evolve five years on speaks volumes. The true value will be seen with regard to how it is assimilated into structure and local plans, new modes of activity affecting the arts, recreation and people's quality of life, ensuring that future generations are active citizens, and raising the general level of awareness through communication of ideas and educational advancement. Most of these will take many years to come to fruition, but many of us in Gloucestershire feel that a valuable new beginning has been made.

Major stepping stones were laid, which could be seen from a series of publications. "Sustainable Gloucestershire--a general handbook"--which gives an overview of what has happened--and "Sustainable Gloucestershire--an agenda for urgent action for local government" are two worthy of mention, but there are others. The regular editions of "21 Today" newsletters are worth emphasising. Wider communication with both the general public and specialist constituencies has been a crucial element and aim throughout Vision 21's deliberations.

Additionally, a major conference was held on "Accommodating Gloucestershire" which took the housing debate forward and allowed for a perceptive discussion on how much, where and what type of housing should be provided for the county. I have had recourse to this in am earlier Adjournment debate. Other conferences are planned for transport and the local economy. Vision 21 has also launched many practical projects. Three taken at random are a sustainable parish regeneration project, a sustainable energy centre and a rickshaw taxi service--we have everything in Gloucestershire.

Finally, the programme has spawned some community initiatives, including the community planning conference in my town of Stroud. This involved a massive investment of people's time and effort, spread over both weekday evenings and weekends. Its remit was to look to replan the town of Stroud and its immediate environs with practical ideas such as providing a new cinema, regenerating the town centre, setting up the community health forum and greening up the urban area.

As someone who witnessed this at first hand, I can say that the quality and input given on a voluntary basis by many hundreds of individuals gave me hope for what could be accomplished by such an exercise. It is linked, where appropriate, with other community initiatives, especially a credit union, a local exchange trading scheme

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and incipient co-operatives. This groundwork provided the basis for part of a succesful bid for single regeneration budget funds, which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions was able to announce on her recent visit to Stroud.

By looking elsewhere, we can put all this into context. I was pleased to receive a letter today from the corporation of London, which asked me to mention some of the excellent things that it has been involved with. I know that it is one of many authorities which have taken this on board seriously.

I am indebted to the Local Government Management Board--which regularly investigates and evaluates the progress of Local Agenda 21--for the information it has sent. The LGMB has shown that, despite the difficulty in collating the information, there is a great deal going on across the country--much of which we can be inspired by. As it said in its executive summary:

It goes on to talk about local government using Local Agenda 21 as a vehicle for change in community participation, and new democratic structures arising accordingly. The LGMB shows how far local government has gone in terms of eco-management and audit schemes, and how much environmental awareness has been assimilated into this activity.

The LGMB is very explicit in identifying the many pluses--with some minuses--in terms of how it sees Local Agenda 21 performing so far. It also points out many lessons that can be learned and measures that can be introduced to help the process on its way. I am sure that the Government will take close notice of this, and act accordingly.

From my perspective, what has been the Government's response to the process? As I said, they have produced a number of important documents that are well worth highlighting. Vital to the process is the fact that Labour is willing to place sustainable development at the centre of what it is trying to do--whether in production and consumption, in building communities or in managing the environment and resources--by adopting radical new means of engaging in democratic structures, and by working in partnership with a range of different stakeholders.

Pleasingly, the Government have set 2000 as the target date for all local authorities to sign up to Local Agenda 21. In itself, that is an important move. They have placed clear obligations on all local authorities, prescribing action checklists and providing help in evolving strategies that move from the theoretical to the very practical. They have also signalled their willingness not only to listen but to act, and to use a range of tools, such as introduction of best value, to effect necessary change. Similarly, they will provide the nexus of new policy initiatives in transport, housing and social policy.

There are some criticisms of Local Agenda 21 that the Government will have to take on board. Some of the process, for example, seems to be rather introverted, and can occasionally be described as a talking shop. Nevertheless, if the process is allowed to follow its proper

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course, it will be very valuable in informing communities, and ensuring that people have a proper say in how they want their society to evolve.

What can the Government do to help? With so much already happening and appearing to go so well, it may seem churlish to ask them to do more. However, in seeking advice from those with whom I have worked in Vision 21, a number of points have been raised.

First, how can Local Agenda 21 enable active citizenship, without burying people in more bureaucracy? That is a real issue, and there is a need to fund research into and the dissemination of enabling structures, focusing especially on how local authorities can contribute to such structures. If that is to happen, the LGMB, the Government offices for the regions and the Local Government Association should be asked to work with grass-roots activists from Local Agenda 21--thereby helping to create a better understanding of the bidding process, which often militates against smaller organisations and local partnerships. Often, such bodies cannot get into the running, or waste enormous time resources on futile bids.

Secondly, how can local authorities' overload be reduced? The deluge of sustainability-related legislation and regulations--although valuable in its own right--is beginning to put local government under pressure, as each change demands an evaluation and response, and incorporation into existing policies. Authorities might be helped in adapting if there were a way of redefining the changes so that emphasis was placed on the process rather than on fixed outcomes.

Thirdly, how can help be given for community development and for capacity-building and parallel organisational development? There is a belief that insufficient effort is being placed on developing the whole organisation by meeting identified training needs, and on how such training could be used to encourage better collaborative working at lower skill levels and in higher-order skills, such as by developing new approaches to audit, evaluation and planning processes.

Finally, there seems to be some weakness in how Local Agenda 21 might be translated to the regional level--which, because of the Government's intention of devolving responsibility to the regions, could be so important.

I could make other points, but, as I know that the Minister would like to reply to the debate, I shall end there.

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