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Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill

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The Chairman: Order. We do not want to discuss New Zealand either.

Sir Paul Beresford: I was discussing Wales, Mr. Pike. Wales is green. It has a lot of sheep. The Welsh play quite good rugby, especially if they have an All Black trainer. They also have a lovely sense of humour, which I discovered at a recent All Blacks versus Wales rugby match. In dire circumstances, the sense of humour came through from the Welsh crowd as the All Blacks' score rapidly climbed. Perhaps the Bill is relevant to that. There is much in the Bill that is diminutive to common sense.

The Select Committee that discussed the English part of the Bill considered this matter. By sheer chance, the Minister with responsibilities for planning in the Welsh Assembly who, if my eyesight and memory serve me correctly, is listening to us today, came to address the Select Committee. Although I am from an opposite political position, I found myself thinking, ''This lady is talking common sense.'' The Select Committee appreciated her tactics, which are reflected in the Bill and the clause, and which we are testing with the amendment. I am sorry that she left after she gave evidence because she was followed by Lord Falconer, who was dramatic in a way that one would expect from someone on the stage. Everything was going to be changed. One of the things that Lord Falconer was going to change is reflected in the amendment, on which I am reluctantly and cautiously supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown).

I recognise that we do not have a regional assembly, but we have a Welsh Assembly that is regional to Wales. In many ways, it is the same style of assembly as Ministers would like to land on the rest of England—[Interruption.] I am sorry, I will correct that. I meant to say, ''on England.'' I hope that many of us will resist that. The Welsh have managed to get themselves in a position where they do not have to have the Secretary of State in the background looming over their shoulder. I would not wish anyone to have our Secretary of State looming over his shoulder. It is of great credit to the Secretary of State for Wales that he and his Ministers have resisted the temptation to go down that road because the simplicity would be lost, the direct control would be greatly increased and it would be an enormous disadvantage for Wales.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Has my hon. Friend noticed the paradox that the Government are prepared to trust the Welsh Assembly to a far greater extent than they are prepared to trust the English regions? That is a pretty poor start to a campaign to try to establish elected English regions.

Sir Paul Beresford: I thank my hon. Friend with a smile. I am sure that that is an issue that we can mention later. I am sure also that quality is duplicated on both sides. If I were a developer on the Welsh-English border, I would look across the border into Wales for possibilities because the planning system would be simpler. I would not have the direct controls and I would not face the prospect of everything being pulled in by the Welsh Assembly and the Secretary of State.

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I support my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold with considerable caution. He is testing the thinking of the Under-Secretary of State for Wales and the Wales Office on the prospect of having the English system landed on them. I hope that, at the end of the day, he will withdraw the amendment for the sake of the Welsh. I also hope that the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, who has been speaking on behalf of England and who should be sitting in his place riding shotgun for the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, has an opportunity to reflect on the matter as well.

Mr. Wilshire: I begin by welcoming the Under-Secretary of State for Wales. He has missed some fascinating debates. I am sure that he would have enjoyed them, and no doubt he will have read the report of the proceedings of the Committee with great care into the early hours of the morning. Our paths have not crossed much over the years that we have both been in the House of Commons. I hope that he has the eloquence of his predecessor as Member of Parliament for Islwyn because he will need it if he is going to persuade his colleagues to do a U-turn from what they have been saying until now to what he wants them to say. I wish him well, and it is a pleasure to be in the same Committee as him.

I have a dilemma—as a Bristolian, I should describe it as a ''dilemmol''—because for a long time I have consistently argued against the Government's jackboot approach to planning in England. At every turn, the Bill would impose things by diktat from the Secretary of State. Whenever we have moved an amendment to stop that approach, we have been told that the approach is necessary. The jackboot has been trampling over English planning for days.

3.15 pm

I suspect—if this is wrong, the Minister can leap up and say that he is happy immediately to accept the amendment—that the amendment will be opposed. He is not standing up, so my guess is probably correct. My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold, who speaks for the official Opposition, invites me to vote for the jackboot, which would introduce a procedure whereby the Secretary of State for Wales would deliver diktat. I occasionally have fits of compassion for the Government—they cannot help being as bad as they are—and think that I should try to help them. On this occasion, I urge the Minister carefully to think about the amendment, which has been drafted in a spirit of helpfulness and co-operation.

If the Government are nothing else, they should be consistent. We have spent weeks and weeks saying how important it is for the Secretary of State to do this, that and the other. If the Minister is to say that the Secretary of State for Wales should have nothing to do with planning, that would be inconsistent. He will not be inconsistent, however, because he believes that he is right. We have become used to various Ministers from various Departments saying entirely different things, but it is curious when that contradiction is in the same Committee.

I hope that the amendment will help the Minister, for whom I have regard, to persuade his colleagues to

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do a U-turn and rethink the Bill on Report in order to scrap the rubbish that they support as far as England is concerned.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Does my hon. Friend recall that virtually the only amendment that we have persuaded the Government to accept—they half accepted it—made clause 13 consistent with clause 12? Does that not sit oddly with their desire to make the Bill more consistent? Part 6 is very different from parts 1 and 2.

Mr. Wilshire: My hon. Friend is right. It is remarkable that we have persuaded the Government to do anything. The Minister will not be aware that we were unable to persuade his colleagues to accept an amendment on a spelling mistake, which they felt it reasonable to leave in the Bill. If they will not accept changes on spelling mistakes, why should they accept our sound common sense?

When the Minister speaks against the amendment, he must answer this question: if he is against the Secretary of State having a role, what is the purpose of having a Secretary of State? What is the point of taking away from a central Government Minister, who is answerable through the Cabinet to the House of Commons, any responsibility for these matters? The Bill deals with town and country planning matters and future plans for England and Wales, but it is entirely inconsistent.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: My hon. Friend has hit on an interesting point. If the Minister does not accept our amendment, he is effectively saying to the Committee that he is doing himself out of a job. Fewer Secretaries of State and other Ministers would be involved in the Government, which might be a useful precedent.

Mr. Wilshire: My hon. Friend tempts me. I am mindful, Mr. Pike, of what you might say if I went down the road of it being a good idea to have fewer Labour Ministers and cutting their pay because they have got less to do. However, I shall not test your patience by broadening the debate. Suffice it to say that my hon. Friend is on to a good thing. I am sure that we will find an occasion when the Chairman of the day will not rule it out of order if we make the point that the Government should really sort themselves out.

The Under-Secretary must address the issue on the basis of a Welsh Office or a Wales Office—call it what he likes. That Office has a Secretary of State, an oversight role and a responsibility to the Cabinet. Why does it not have responsibility in this context, when it is considered perfectly proper for another principality—another part of the United Kingdom—to have such responsibility?

That brings me to my next point. My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold apologised in a way for referring to Wales as a region, and I understand why. I do not like to upset anybody and I certainly do not want to upset the Welsh but I, for my part, do not want to apologise for that. I mean no offence to the Welsh. I understand their pride in their past and their view that they are a Principality or country, and I respect that. However, in our debates so far we have been discussing regional issues, regional spatial strategies. We have not been talking about national identity. I have suggested that, but no Government

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Member has listened. I have said that a sense of regional identity is about how one feels, not artificial regional divisions. However, the Government have insisted until now that we have been talking about regions of the United Kingdom.

The debate has not been about England per se because Greater London keeps being left out of the proceedings. We have been discussing artificial regions of part of England. For the purposes of this debate, we must look at the issues for Wales—why we should exclude the Secretary of State there, if that is what the Government want—in the context of the concept of regions for which the Government have argued.

I understood your sensitivities, Mr. Pike, when my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet wanted to talk about the size of London boroughs. I found that issue fascinating, but I accept that this is not the occasion for that. However, we must bear in mind that the area of the Principality contains far fewer people than some of the artificial English regions. The south-east is a classic example. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander when it comes to a comprehensive discussion of a Bill on town and country planning. The Under-Secretary must get a grip on that and persuade me of why I am wrong, if I am to accept any of his arguments.

I think that we shall be told that there should be no role for the Secretary of State for Wales in planning considerations for a geographical area with about 2.5 million people. If that is what the Government want, they have every right to use their majority to bring it about. They can say that their principle for planning is that those 2.5 million people in a distinct geographical area, with a sense of identity, should be allowed to have their own spatial strategies and comprehensive planning approach.

That might be the Under-Secretary's argument, but the artificial region of the south-east of England, which contains many times more people than Wales, might one day, unfortunately—if I fail to stop it—have an elected regional assembly that will compare to the National Assembly for Wales in many ways, except that it will not be called ''National''. Why does the Under-Secretary want us to support the ability of an assembly elected by 2.5 million people to set its own strategies in this area when the artificial region in which the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) and I will be, with many more people who may elect an assembly in the end, will not be able to do that? Why should one democratically elected assembly be exempt from the jackboot of a Secretary of State when the assembly that will represent my hon. Friend and I will not be?

That seems inconsistent. I have tried to work out what is so different about Wales that it should be exempt from the Secretary of State's jackboot. That puzzles me. Can the Under-Secretary tell me why it should be exempt? Why are the exemptions so specifically targeted at Wales, rather than applying to England? The amendment is important because it flies in the face of the Government's regional policy. I stress again that by referring to Wales as a region in this

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context, I am being technical and specific in planning terms, not seeking to undermine the sense of pride and national identity that the Welsh have.

If the Secretary of State is not to have a role in Wales and if the National Assembly for Wales is to make its own decisions, another concern is what will happen with conflicts on the boundary between Wales and England. As I understand it, there will be a need to consult across the boundaries of neighbouring regions. I am sure that the Minister will confirm that. If there is a difficulty or dispute, the jackboot of the English Secretary of State will determine what happens on one side but the democratically elected assembly of the Welsh people will decide what happens on the other.

 
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Prepared 23 January 2003