Examination of Witnesses (Questions 640
WEDNESDAY 16 JANUARY 2002
MP AND SIR
640. What powers do you have? You have been
talking about the areas where you could be influential, but what
actual power do you, as Secretary of State, have to influence
the future prosperity of regions? After all, you are the Secretary
of State for the Regions.
(Mr Byers) Absolutely, and it is a responsibility
that I take very seriously. The power I have, the influence I
have is to be the advocate for the English regions at the Cabinet
table and in our discussions with the Treasury, and that is what
we do. That is the role that we play and when the Spending Review
comes out later this year, people will be able to judge how successful
we have been on behalf of the regions.
641. When we asked this question to Nick Raynsford,
he said this was all a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Was he wrong?
(Mr Byers) Well, it is a matter for the Government
and the Chancellor will be responsible for the Spending Review
2002, which we have begun. I will discuss with him the priority
that needs to be attached to the regions as well as to transport
and other areas for which I have responsibility, and ultimately
it will be a Government decision that will be made. The Chancellor
will obviously make recommendations.
642. Who ultimately will take the decisions
about regional issues in terms of financial allocations?
(Mr Byers) In terms of the amount of money that will
be received, it will be a Government decision.
(Sir Richard Mottram) Can I just offer an illustration
on this in relation, for example, to the regional development
agencies. From next year onwards we are going to have a single
pot for the money which they spend which was a programme which
was worked on by the old DETR when we sponsored those agencies,
but much of the money that those agencies spend is actually money
which comes off our votes and we have direct influence over what
they are going to spend that on and the way we are going to work
the capital pot, the single pot, is that they have to provide
their corporate plans which are considered by all the key spending
departments, so we and the Secretary of State will influence how
they spend their money, what they spend it on, et cetera, even
though we no longer sponsor those agencies, and those decisions
will therefore be taken by the key Ministers with those regional
spending responsibilities, the Secretary of State, the Secretary
of State for Trade and Industry and so on. They are collective
decisions which are taken about our strategy for the regions.
643. On the comparisons between parts of England
and Scotland, and we will come on to the details of the SSA reforms
later, it is pretty obvious that MPs are going to be drawing comparisons
between Sheffield, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle to see how
they do. Do you not equally believe that MPs are going to say,
"How do Sheffield, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle do against
Edinburgh and Glasgow?", and that Ministers should be prepared
to come to the House and select committees and not actually say,
"Oh, it is the Treasury's responsibility", but actually
to justify the expenditure for those different authorities, and
accept that comparisons should be drawn and that Ministers should
be prepared to justify them?
(Mr Byers) Comparisons will be drawn and rightly so
because we are a united kingdom.
644. And that Ministers should come and not
say, "Oh, it is the Treasury's responsibility"?
(Mr Byers) And explain why those differences exist,
645. When will Scottish constituencies be the
same size as English ones?
(Mr Byers) Well, we now have responsibility for electoral
matters and there is a commitment to reduce the number of Scottish
constituencies by the time of the next Election and we are working
on that timetable.
646. Minerals Planning Guidancewhat has
happened to the proposals to revise it?
(Sir Richard Mottram) Well, what has happened on that
is that we were working on a revision, in particular I think it
is Guidance Note 6, from memory.
647. That is right, and you started in 1994
(Sir Richard Mottram) Well, we have had such guidance
and we were committed to revise it.
648. You were committed in 1994 to revise it.
(Sir Richard Mottram) Yes, and we have been proceeding
on the basis that we are going to revise it. The position we are
currently in is as follows. Inside the Department we were preparing
revised guidance in relation in particular to Guidance Note 6.
In parallel, we were working on the Planning Green Paper and one
of the things which came out of the Planning Green Paper, on which
we are now obviously consulting, was the feeling that some of
our guidance notes are too detailed, so what we have decided to
do is to go away and think a bit more about Planning Guidance
6 in relation to the main Minerals Planning Guidance, which is
number 1, if you are still with me, but in the meantime the bit
that is really out of date is the national and regional guidelines
for aggregate supplies, how much we need and where we might get
it from, and we are proposing to take that out and to deal with
that separately and to consult on that in the spring of 2002,
so the real reason why we are now going a bit slow on the guidance
itself is that we want to streamline it as part of our approach
to planning guidance following the Planning Guidance Green Paper.
649. So the streamlining process means that
it will take ten years to get the revision out?
(Sir Richard Mottram) Certainly not.
650. Well, you started in 1994, so you are confident
you will have it in two years' time?
(Sir Richard Mottram) I will set myself that target,
651. Can I take you to the Planning Green Paper
itself now. We asked Lord Falconer why he thought that current
planning restricted the development of clusters of the IT industry
and evidence from your Department shows that it does not. Your
evidence provided seems to indicate that that is not the case.
Is the policy being evolved, therefore, on the basis of evidence
or just simply on the basis of hearsay?
(Mr Byers) It can, but it depends which parts of the
country you are looking at. In some parts of the country, there
is a greater belief that the development of clusters is more important
than the economic regeneration of that
652. Sorry, I am not talking about beliefs,
I am talking about evidence, and the evidence of the planning
of clusters seems to indicate the contrary, does it not?
(Mr Byers) Well, there is some evidence, but evidence
goes both ways. I remember when I was at the Department of Trade
and Industry, there was some evidence there which we commissioned
which showed that planning was standing in the way of the development
of clusters and I think people will be aware of that fact, so
there is evidence in both directions.
653. Could you send us a copy of that evidence?
(Mr Byers) Of the work in the DTI, yes, of course.
654. Just to quote briefly from this document,
if I may, it says, "From our case studies", your case
studies, "real planning issues relate not so much to business
development". That is what it says at point 7.9 on page 57.
(Mr Byers) Is that specifically in relation to clusters?
655. That is specifically in relation to clusters.
(Mr Byers) Well, as I say, there is other evidence
which will conflict with that and I am firmly of the view that
in some parts of the country the planning process has stood in
the way of the development of business clusters.
656. Okay. Moving on, when will proposals for
the parliamentary procedures for considering major infrastructure
developments be defined and presented?
(Mr Byers) Well, we are consulting at the moment,
as you will be aware. We have produced a consultation paper just
before Christmas and we will not make any decisions until the
consultation process is complete.
657. Have you got a definition of what a major
infrastructure development is? Lord Falconer seemed uncertain
whether a nuclear power station was a major infrastructure development.
What is your view?
(Mr Byers) That certainly would be a major infrastructure
658. That is progress.
(Mr Byers) That is an interesting definition of progress.
659. Progress in clarity. You have very little
time to get a Planning Bill in the Queen's Speech. Is the consultation
basically a formality and a farce?
(Mr Byers) No. My approach to planning is this, which
I think is probably worth putting in this context: I happen to
believe that planning and the use of land is one of the key levers
that we have got both for social renewal and economic regeneration.
One of the great achievements of Attlee's 1945 Labour Government
was actually to put in place a proper system of planning which
was used to achieve those objectives. Since then, the planning
system has moved away from achieving those objectives and what
I want to do is to use it once again as a key lever for economic
regeneration and social renewal. Now, to do that, you need to
build a consensus around what you are trying to achieve. A planning
system will not work if people feel they are being excluded from
the outcome and you have to get people to buy into it. Now, I
happen to believe, partly from my own constituents' experience
and partly from what happens elsewhere in the country, that local
people, if there is a big planning application, they do not feel
they have got a role to play because you get barristers coming
from London, QCs paid enormous expense and local people just feel
intimidated by the whole process. They do not feel they are involved
and that has got to change. Now, the Planning Green Paper is about
actually involving local people right at the very beginning with
their own local development plans about what they want to see
in their own area.