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Lord Whitty: I suppose I should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, for not reading out all 150 pages. Nevertheless, he rather misled the Committee in his description of the use of the guidance.
In this guidance the Government are attempting to provide a steer to local authorities as to how they should construct their plans and we will assess bids, which were previously assessed on a one-off basis, against their holistic approach to transport within their areas. It is something which sensible local authorities will be doing in any case and something which needs now to lock into the process which the Government are requiring. But it is not a straitjacket. It is not legislatively forcing local authorities to do something which it is not in their interests to do. They must have regard to the guidance. The bids--if we continue to call them "bids"--will be judged against their total approach to planning. But they will not be constrained, in the way that direct legislation may constrain them, to meet all the objectives of the guidance document.
The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, seems to be suggesting that we should delete all requirements to "have regard to". He also seemed to be suggesting that, in so far as the Government were to go down this line, all of it should be on the face of the Bill. That is entirely the wrong approach and a totally different argument from that put forward when we discussed local government legislation; namely, that local authorities should be given as much flexibility as possible. There should certainly be guidance and a general indication of what national policy is; but it should not be prescriptive in the way that both primary and secondary legislation are.
Guidance is the right approach. It is not intended to be unduly prescriptive. It seeks to guide local authorities on specific issues. The requirement that local authorities should "have regard" to guidance means that a local authority must not disregard it; but neither does it have to follow it slavishly. That is the purpose of guidance and the balanced approach of its effect. One of the amendments would delete that constructive relationship and the other would seriously constrain what could be put into guidance. Neither would be healthy for the relationship between the national and local transport policies.
One can argue as to the bits and pieces in guidance. But in that sense it is not binding. There will always be differences of emphasis. But the approach we have taken in the Bill is the most appropriate. Any other approach would be more prescriptive and less able to convey the relationship between national and local government decisions. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will not pursue either amendment.
Lord Dixon-Smith: The Minister misunderstood my motives in tabling these amendments. It was certainly not to put 150 more pages on the face of the Bill. It was to debate the issue of parliamentary supervision of statutory guidance. I am sorry that others chose not to take part in this debate. An issue arises in this regard which, on a day when we regulate and legislate in increasing detail across the broad spectrum of society, is wider than this Bill.
The Minister said that local authorities will continue to tender their bids because it is in their interests so to do. He is perfectly correct. If they do not tender their bids, they will not receive any money. But he who pays the piper also calls the tune. The Minister said that the Government, in considering the allocations, would consider the total plans. I have set out in these amendments a limited number of the things that the total plans must contain. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, pointed out that I described only two sections, and there are, in fact, 27. Every local transport authority in the land will sweat through those 27 because of the fear that, if they do not, they will not receive the money they require.
But it is worse than that. A local authority with independence of mind may disagree with the Government on certain policy issues and wish to treat the whole matter in a different way. It would be reassuring to know that a local authority that was sufficiently bold to hold its own opinions would still receive the money. But the way that governments have worked in the past does not give me confidence that that would be the case.
I listened to the Minister with a great deal of interest and there is a wide gap between us. I shall consider what he said. On the whole, at this stage, I feel that I should leave the matter of the guidance being on the face of the Bill. But I feel that I ought to test the opinion of the House on Amendment No. 128, which deals with the issue of the content of the guidance. For my part, the Minister has not given a satisfactory response to that issue which is much wider than the question of placing the guidance on the face of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
("( ) Guidance issued under this section shall be confined to that necessary to ensure consistency of information and presentation within plans, and consistency between plans and with national policy.").
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.