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Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 196:

Page 106, line 39, leave out ("by") and insert ("(in accordance with paragraph 17) by or on behalf of").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 196 I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 199, 200, 202, 203, 205 and 206. These amendments cover three issues relating to ombudsmen. Amendments Nos. 196, 199 and 200 are designed to clarify who may make a complaint to the Welsh Administration Ombudsman. Their effect is to make clear that complaints may be made by individuals or bodies of persons claiming to have suffered injustice in consequence of maladministration, and that in circumstances where the aggrieved individual or body cannot make the complaint, others may act on his or its behalf.

Amendments Nos. 202 and 203 slightly broaden the absolute privilege attaching to statements made in complaints to both the administration ombudsman and the health service ombudsman. As drafted, the Bill attaches absolute privilege to statements made between the member or member of staff of a body subject to investigation and the relevant ombudsman,

However, such statements may also need to be made before the formal investigation gets under way--for example, in preliminary inquiries to decide whether a full investigation should be made. The amendments are therefore designed to make that head of privilege consistent with the other heads set out in paragraph 23 of Schedule 9 and to make sure that absolute privilege attaches to all aspects of handling a complaint.

Finally, Amendments Nos. 205 and 206 are drafting amendments designed to apply to the appointment of an acting health services commissioner for Wales the same rules as apply to the appointment of a permanent commissioner; a person may not be appointed as a commissioner if he or she is a member of a health body subject to the health service commissioner's jurisdiction. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendments Nos. 197 to 202 en bloc:

Page 107, line 41, leave out ("(or, in the case of a government department, any of its Ministers)").
Page 108, line 16, leave out ("sub-paragraph (3)") and insert ("sub-paragraphs (3) and (3A)").
Page 108, line 18, leave out ("the person") and insert ("an individual").
Page 108, line 23, at end insert--
("(3A) Where a body by whom a complaint might have been made to the Welsh Administration Ombudsman is for any reason unable to act for itself, the complaint may be made by an individual, or another body, suitable to represent it.").

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Page 112, line 4, leave out ("(or, in the case of a government department, any of its Ministers)").
Page 112, line 9, leave out ("an investigation by") and insert ("a complaint to").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 202A:

After Clause 112, insert the following new clause--

("Planning appeals
Determination of planning appeals

. Where the determination of planning appeals on planning applications under town and country planning legislation has been transferred to the Assembly by an Order in Council under section 22 of this Act, the standing orders must include provision for this function to be exercisable by the presiding officer.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we return to an amendment that I withdrew at some unearthly hour the other night because noble Lords felt it appropriate that I should do so. The purpose of the amendment is to make sure that planning appeals are dealt with as quickly and efficiently as possible. It has to be admitted that that is not the case today. I hope, therefore, that the assembly will take note of this problem.

When I moved a similar amendment in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, pointed out that because I proposed that the final decision should be taken concurrently with the Secretary of State and the assembly, it would complicate matters. I entirely accept the noble Lord's point and I am grateful to him for pointing out my mistake.

However, I am not at all happy with the noble Lord's suggestion that the matter "might" be dealt with by the assembly. He acknowledged that there was a problem to be solved. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, also acknowledged that there was a problem, which I believe he described as quasi-judicial.

The need to solve the problem is in part caused by the present need for farmers to diversify. That is why I have tabled the amendment. A recent survey indicated that no less than 40 per cent. of farmers were surviving only because of diversification. I must declare an interest in that I number among that 40 per cent.

However, diversification nearly always requires some form of development--or, as planning law says, change of use. That is where the trouble comes. For under every stone lurks a "Nimby", whose sole purpose, aided and abetted by certain societies, is to stop any development. Unfortunately, Nimbys have more spare time and are considerably more articulate and literate than the usual entrepreneur. They know every trick in the book to prevent development, often by the use of delaying tactics. As noble Lords will know, time is often critical, indeed vital, in any commercial development.

The first stage gives the protesters the opportunity. When the application goes before the local planning authority, great pressure is put on councillors, who, as a result, often ignore planning guidelines. If the entrepreneur--the farmer or businessman--has the stomach (and I can tell noble Lords that it takes some stomach) and the financial resources, he can then go to appeal. If he has a legitimate case, and I emphasise the

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word "legitimate", the inspector will rule in his favour. My experience of planning inspectors is that they operate the planning laws in a very responsible way because they have to follow the guidelines, as opposed to the councillors, who follow NIMBY pressure.

Noble Lords may think that the battle, indeed the war--I feel very strongly, having been involved in these matters--is then over. But that is not necessarily the case. The final decision rests with the Secretary of State. In 99 per cent. of cases the Secretary of State will uphold his inspector's decision. But--and this is the point of my amendment--his decision will now be taken over by the assembly. I fear the worst in that case. Like councillors, members of the assembly will inevitably be pressured by their NIMBY constituents.

I accept that the assembly may well delegate that responsibility. However, I am most anxious that this decision-making is done by one individual, someone as impartial as possible. That is why I have suggested in the amendment that it should be the presiding officer.

I do not therefore believe it correct or sensible for noble Lords to leave this decision to the assembly. The pressure will be on members of the assembly at this early stage in office to fudge the issue and appoint a committee. All committees love sub-committees, albeit of three. Three is two too many for sound and quick decisions, which commercial entrepreneurs need. I therefore hope that the Government will accept the reasons why I propose that the presiding officer should do this job. However, if the noble Lord has another individual--I emphasise "individual" not a committee--in mind, I should be happy to hear from him as to who it should or should not be. I beg to move.

Viscount St. Davids: My Lords, a substantial number of planning appeals have a political dimension. It would thus be unwise to give the presiding officer, who is politically neutral, such a responsibility. The National Assembly Advisory Group has discussed this matter. It came to the conclusion that responsibility should go to the first secretary, and perhaps through him to a relevant subject committee. It may be the wish of the first secretary or the subject committee to appoint a panel drawn from national assembly members to hear such appeals. I do not believe that will find much accord with my noble friend. That procedure would allow political matters to remain the responsibility of politicians.

The Earl of Balfour: My Lords, I have great sympathy with the views expressed. I know that, in many cases, getting planning permission takes three to four years. Even if a building is falling down and is totally obsolete, to get its change of use approved so that it can be developed takes an incredible length of time. If the Government can in any way shorten that lengthy period it would be a tremendous help.

Lord Kenyon: My Lords, in supporting my noble friend Lord Stanley, I should point out that I am a local councillor. He accused us of being "nimby". I think that is the truth. From time to time, local consideration clouds our judgment.

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What I see happening in the national assembly is that many of its members will be drawn from the ranks of local councillors. They will go into office with the same sort of political ideas. I strongly support my noble friend's idea that there should be one person in the national assembly who will determine the appeals--not just for the sake of expedience, but for political considerations, to get away from "nimbyism".

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