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Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, from my point of view, the extent to which the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General has been able to bring forward proposals for dealing with this complex issue in such great detail, considering the time that has elapsed, is highly to be commended. Certainly, I appreciate it very much.

I am very concerned about the Family Division and the county courts' work on the family side. The Attorney-General was—I have no doubt—immensely helped in bringing forward today's proposals by the fact that the Crown Prosecution Service has overall responsibility for the criminal cases which are likely to be affected by this judgment; whereas in the family jurisdiction, particularly in view of what he has said about the Official Solicitor, there is much less of an integrated national system for finding out quickly which cases might be affected.

In children's cases—as the Children Act makes clear—unnecessary delay is very harmful from the point of view of the most satisfactory outcome. I understand fully and accept what the noble and learned Lord has said about the difficulty of uprooting

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children—who may have been wrongly removed in the first place—who have now settled down in their new situation and extricating them again because the original decision was wrong. I can see that problem.

However, in view of what has happened, some kind of system for looking at the cases where the fundamental reason for the intervention has been an allegation that a parent has harmed a sibling of the child affected by the custody or the care order is highly to be sought. I know that it is not the Attorney-General's direct responsibility to look after these matters, but I take the view—I think rightly—that the Attorney-General has a general remit for helping the Government to reach a proper result in matters of law. I am sure that advice will be available to the Ministers in what is now the Department for Education and Skills. The issue used to be dealt with in another department, but it has now been moved.

It is very important that a national review is put in place as soon as possible. I appreciate the difficulties and the obstacles there will be, but I think that people and families—mothers particularly—who have been affected by such judgments are entitled to have the situation reviewed with the interests of their children still being paramount and very much the principal interest.

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, I am particularly grateful to the noble and learned Lord for what he said at the beginning and also for his recognition of the difficulties that there are in the children's cases. When the noble and learned Lord held the high position of Lord Chancellor I know that that was a matter of great interest and concern to him.

I take the noble and learned Lord's point about there not being the same national system to enable cases to be identified as there is in the criminal system. That is the consequence of responsibility being with local authorities. I understand that point.

The noble and learned Lord makes important points about what should happen now. It is not possible for me to go further than to say that those very important points will be drawn to the attention of the relevant Ministers. Indeed, one is sitting next to me on the Front Bench. I know that careful consideration is now being given to the implications of the judgment in those cases.

On my own position, I have provided—and, indeed intend to provide—such advice and assistance to Ministers in that department as it is within my ability to give to help to solve these difficult issues.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, following on from a previous answer by the noble and learned Lord, perhaps he will tell the House how many of the 258 defendants were actually charged or could have been charged with the crime of infanticide, as distinct from murder or manslaughter?

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, I cannot. As the Statement says, the convictions are for murder, manslaughter and infanticide—in relation to infants under two. I do not know at this very early stage how

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many were for infanticide. I do not know whether any in the other categories might have been charged as infanticide. I suspect not, because that is a verdict to be preferred in a case where the conditions were met. But, if I am in a position to give a further breakdown once the review is completed, I will. Plainly, when we have broken down the issue, I shall want the House to know the number of cases affected by the judgment. If I can give some further breakdown in the way that the noble and learned Lord requests, I shall seek to do so.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords—

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I think that the Cross-Benchers have just had their turn.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it is the turn of the Conservative Benches.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of how deep and wide this evil runs? In my daily life, I see the little end of it, where the theories of experts are allowed to terrorise parents of children with special educational needs, particularly ADHD, dyspraxia, and the fringes of autism. All that needs to be mentioned is Munchausen's syndrome by proxy, and the parent is suddenly an evil person at the wrong end of social services and officialdom, without help and is suspected of being the one who is causing her child difficulties.

We have allowed the expert to start a witch hunt in a general way, which has terrorised tens of thousands of parents. They are among the most heart-rending things that I must deal with. Can we not use the terrible events that the noble and learned Lord has so rightly thrown light on to, and expressed an entirely admirable willingness to investigate, to reach down into the depths of our system and make sure that we offer relief in relation to not only these big cases but also the little cases? Can we ensure that we restore again the presumption that by and large parents care for their children and do not wish them harm? Will the Minister ask the Department of Health to withdraw their circular approving of this utterly discredited diagnosis of Munchausen's syndrome by proxy?

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, this is the wrong moment in the debate to get into such controversial issues as the noble Lord raises. Much in what he says would not be accepted by the department, but now is not the time for me, or anyone else, to attempt to deal with it.

Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill

3.52 p.m.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Rooker.)

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On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 1:


    Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause—


"APPLICATION OF PART 1
Part 1 shall apply only if an elected assembly for the region has been established."

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I will speak also to Amendments Nos. 14, 15, 134 and 135.

In his disarming speech when he wound up at Second Reading, the Minister described the Bill as having had a drubbing. He also said that he recognised the concern about the democratic deficit, and he said that he had got the message. If the message that he then identified led to the government amendments on a democratically elected sphere of government having a role in regional spatial strategy—we will debate them later—something has been lost in translation.

Many of us are enthusiasts for devolved government. Everyone in this House would say that we want to see government at the lowest practicable level, although our differences would be in identifying where that level is. Few in this House would say that powers should be transferred upwards and become more centralised. Yet, we have a Government who have promoted devolution and had the guts and the energy to enact a lot of it. Those of us who would have liked to go further are ready to acknowledge that. The Government have produced a version of devolution that transfers powers and responsibilities from an elected sphere—the counties—to, bluntly, itself.

There is not merely a democratic deficit in the new proposals; there is a loss of democracy. I am genuinely sad to have to start the detailed work on the Bill on this note. There is much in the Bill that I support. When I said yesterday to the Minister that I was coming round to seeing the virtues of some of the later proposals, he told me not to apologise for that. Among the things that I support are regional and sub-regional planning. We have a regional spatial strategy, which in its first incarnation as the Secretary of State's regional planning guidance—I understand the Government's need to avoid a vacuum—is to be revised by a regional planning body that is designated by the Secretary of State.

The draft regulations for the composition of the regional planning body provide that recognition—and the Government are honest enough to say that that means funding—is dependent on at least 30 per cent of the membership with voting rights being from other than local authorities. I would have some reservations even if 100 per cent were from local authorities in this model. That comes from my experience of an indirectly elected body. For eight years, I chaired the London Planning Advisory Committee, which dealt with London planning issues after the abolition of the

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GLC. The members, who were members of borough councils, did the job with interest and with some application, but it was not their prime responsibility, and reasonably so. Their first responsibility was for their own boroughs. One would routinely encounter members having to leave meetings early and some being less focused on strategic issues than they were on local issues. That response was entirely reasonable, but it is an inevitable outcome of one being indirectly elected.

I am sure that the Minister will later remind the House of his amendments and the Deputy Prime Minister's statement in announcing them. That is the role of the local authorities. I am delighted that the Deputy Prime Minister was able to say that the Local Government Association and the County Councils Network have agreed to give,


    "full support to making the new regional planning arrangements a success".

Their members are reasonable and responsible people—of course they want to make the new arrangements a success. That does not mean that the government amendments are the best or the only way to deal with the democratic deficit that I have identified.

Our amendment is a sunrise provision to the effect that the regions should take on the functions of regional spatial planning when there are elected regional bodies to do so, working with the counties and the districts. Until then, let us find a way—the way that we are proposing is the right way—of observing the principles of democracy and accountability. That would mean retaining the status quo on the role of the counties. The Minister may say that we will have the status quo, because regional planning guidance will become the regional spatial strategy. Structure plans will be saved—that is the term—for three years. That does not meet our concern, but it makes it clear that there is an opportunity to get the structure and responsibilities right. I make it clear to the noble Lords opposite who, among others, may feel that by starting off in this way we are setting out the wreck the Bill. That is not so, and our amendment is not as devastating as it may be painted. In another place the Minister, Mr McNulty, said that some of the matters that I am referring to are matters for a regional powers Bill. Quite so.

In 1998 the Government identified problems with the production of regional planning guidance. Your Lordships should not be too impressed that I am about to quote from a document. I went to the website to see which documents were relevant to the Bill, and printed one off before I realised that it was five years old. However, it identified the following, and I think it is worth considering these criticisms.

According to the document, regional planning guidance lacks regional focus and vision and spends too much time reiterating national policies; apart from housing provision, it lacks targets which can be monitored and reviewed; it is too narrowly land-use orientated; it lacks sufficient environmental objectives and appraisal; it takes too long to produce; it does not command commitment from regional stakeholders, and the process of producing it is insufficiently

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transparent. I agree with much of that critique, but it does not seem to us necessary to reduce the role of elected representatives in order to meet those criticisms.

There is a practical aspect, too. It was expressed to me by a county councillor from North Yorkshire as follows: the likely outcome of the Government's proposals is that county council resources and expertise will slowly wither away and that political commitment will decline as a core function at the present time becomes, at best, an ancillary activity in future years. On Second Reading, many of your Lordships expressed concern about the lack of planning expertise and about expertise leeching away.

Amendments Nos. 14 and 15, which propose that an elected regional assembly shall be the regional planning body, follow on from this. Amendments Nos. 134 and 135 are also consequential. It took me some time to find in the Bill how county structure plans were being dealt with and, having found the references, I thought I would add them to the amendment. But the more serious point is that buried in a schedule are these unusual provisions which say, in effect, that unless an authority has got to such and such a point in its structure plan, it shall do no more. That is an interesting approach to what is very close to the repeal of primary legislation.

No doubt we on these Benches will be teased because we have been vociferous advocates of regionalism. Indeed we are—but of devolved, elected regional government, not of the emasculation of counties and certainly not of centralisation. I beg to move.

4 p.m.

Baroness Hanham: I want to make it clear at the outset that I support the noble Baroness's amendment. While we are not at all in favour of regional government—and that was made very plain in our discussions on the Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill—we are equally completely opposed to the proposals for an arrangement whereby a body, which is still largely unidentified, made up of largely unknown persons, produces a document of such significance as a regional spatial strategy. In particular, it will have to contain the regional guidance as laid out by the Secretary of State.

Where the Secretary of State is becoming involved to such an extent, there must be not only scrutiny of his policies but effective decision-making by elected members on the applicability of those policies. This is a paramount requirement, particularly when the Secretary of State's guidance may, and almost certainly will, include such matters as the provision of large-scale housing developments, infrastructure provision in the region—possibly including new methods of energy provision and the siting of wind farms—and the identification of preferred areas for housing.

The Secretary of State's policies under Clause 1 appear to be mandatory—a mandatory part of the spatial strategy—and his directions unchallengeable. Without elected members' input into these documents,

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they will be put together, presumably by the civil servants of the regional government offices. Unless amendments regarding the county councils are agreed later in the Bill's proceedings, their role, which was formerly to deal with the structure plans, will be confined to assisting—I think that was the word used by the Deputy Prime Minister—the regional planning body. I am aware that the Minister will be moving an amendment to give the county councils this statutory advisory role. We will discuss then whether that is an appropriate and strong enough commitment. But I am bound to say that unless the Minister's words change my view, I do not believe that that is sufficient.

It still means that the primary work will be done, at best, in conjunction with the regional planning body, whatever that ends up as being. At worst, it will be done only by the Civil Service.

If the regional planning body were to be the regional assembly, that, too, would be unsatisfactory, as only a small proportion of the membership of those bodies is made up of elected members. The rest are appointed from business, the unions, environmental organisations and other interested organisations. While they are of course extremely interested and extremely valuable in the role they play at present, they are not democratically accountable for what is produced on their behalf.

All in all, we believe this to be extremely unsatisfactory. The impact of regional spatial strategies on communities could be immense. The means whereby those communities can play any part in vetoing any aspects about which they are concerned or do more than comment, in an advisory capacity, is opaque. For this reason, we believe that in the event that there is no elected regional assembly, there should be no possibility of Clause 1 being implemented. I support the amendment.


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