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Lord Greaves: I am grateful to the Minister for that long and detailed explanation in reply to my point. I am grateful to the other Members who took part in the debate. Although the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has already gone, I will still say that he hit a crucial issue in this Bill. There is real concern that enhancement of the countryside is being downplayed. That concern goes right back to the genesis of the Bill, which now seems a long time ago.

As everyone knows, the Bill was at least in part a result of pressure being put on the Government by development interests, if I can call them that, to say that

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development in this country is not easy enough. It is being restricted. As the Minister said, the system is wide open to people who wish to frustrate development. Clearly, there must be a balance. One of the reasons why this Bill started off through its various consultation processes was a belief that development ought to be made easier, in the interests of national economic growth. That concern is a thread that will run through the discussions on the Bill.

The noble Viscount suggested that these proposals were too restrictive. There are two views and purposes of legislation. One is to allow people in authority, in particular the Government, to do what is thought to be necessary and to give rules and instructions and powers over people in the country to allow things to happen. The other view of legislation is that it is there to restrict the activities of people in power, including Ministers, to those areas that are thought to be necessary. Beyond those that are thought to be necessary, or perhaps highly desirable, they should not be allowed to do what they want, how they want in an arbitrary way. That is why, having listened to the debate, I still think that it would be a good idea to define this phrase in the Bill.

Can the Minister tell us of anywhere else in planning legislation where a phrase as important as "regional spatial strategy" is included but not defined? I do not want an answer now; I am happy to have one afterwards. It is an unusual process to say that they will put the words in legislation and then the Government, Ministers or civil servants will write it all down on pieces of paper and tell people what the legislation means. It might trip up the courts to do that. It is unusual. Where else in planning legislation does that happen?

As far as the difference is concerned, I understand now what will happen on structure plans. They will continue to exist as separate entities until they are superseded by the new sub-regional strategies. The Minister is nodding, so I understand how that will happen. How will the sub-regional strategies differ from existing structure plans, apart from boundaries? I understand that they may not follow the existing local authority boundaries, although not following them is a recipe for more confusion and more chaos. Again, I am happy for the Minister to tell us afterwards, or perhaps write to us. How will they differ? In what ways will they differ from structure plans? If we picked up a document, and it did not have a heading, would we read it and think that it was a structure plan, because it is simply the successor to those present plans? I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Turner of Camden): If Amendment No. 4 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 5 to 7 or Amendment No. 10, because of pre-emption.

Baroness Maddock moved Amendment No. 4:


    Page 1, line 7, leave out subsections (2) and (3).

The noble Baroness said: People will probably realise that, given what happened with the first amendment, this amendment is philosophically in the

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same vein, and I think that we will have to consider a bit further how to deal with the issue. I am not really going to pursue it tonight. Nevertheless—Part 3 is related to Part 2, so they are connected—I would be interested in the Minister's response to the issue raised here.

Lord Hanningfield: I am not certain whether I can speak to Amendment No. 5, because the Deputy Chairman said that it could not be called if we agreed to Amendment No. 4. As they are grouped together—I will speak to it. This is an important amendment, so I want to go over it.

As the Bill stands, a regional spatial strategy is conceived as nothing more than a planning document that states the Secretary of State's policy agenda for a particular region. We all recognise the importance of the Government's role in giving strategic leadership to the planning system. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said during the debate on Amendment No. 1, Parts 1 and 2 of this Bill basically amount to the nationalisation of the planning system, and that is a very bad idea indeed.

This amendment is aimed at freeing up the regional planning bodies, via the regional spatial strategies, from being simply the mouthpieces of Whitehall policy. This is not a political point. This amendment addresses the concern, expressed by many interested parties, that unless there are changes in the way the regional spatial strategies are established in legislation, there will be no space for local accountability as planning policy is implemented on the ground.

We all want to help to speed up planning decisions. Centralised planning, while perhaps speeding up the system, will inevitably mean bad planning. Our current planning system needs reform, because it is too slow. We all agree on that. At least it has the distinct advantage of maintaining local accountability. As was mentioned at Second Reading, local responsibility for planning has meant that the quality of planning decisions has generally been good. At Second Reading, most noble Lords said that we probably had the best planning system in the world. Good quality planning must continue to be the key objective of any planning legislation.

Thus, it is vital that we establish more mechanisms for the exercise of community participation at the regional level—hence my earlier amendment and the long discussion that we had on that—and bolster the capacity of regional planning bodies to respond to local conditions. At the moment, this legislation simply fails to recognise the enormous differences and variations between and within regions—I know that well, in regard to the eastern region—in terms of local land use and the development of future needs.

As it stands, Clause 1(2) would lead to the accelerated fossilisation of regional spatial strategies, because they would have to constantly keep up with the rate at which new demands emanate from Whitehall in order to satisfy the requirements set out by the Secretary of State's policies. If the Government are serious about devolving power to the regions—we

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have had lots of debates about this—and if they are serious about devolution, then how do they square that with a policy that makes regional planning bodies—even after the establishment of elected regional assemblies—simply the agents of Whitehall and Westminster?

Not only is democratic accountability being sucked out of the system by transferring powers upwards away from counties, but it also leaks out at the regional level. Regional planning bodies might find themselves accountable for policies that they do not support and over which they can exercise no control. In the brave new world of devolution and elected regional assemblies, one cannot simply transfer the old accountabilities on to the new regional structure.

The regional spatial strategy should not be a vehicle for simply setting out government policy. It should be a strategic vision that meets the planning needs of local communities. Their elected representatives should agree it. Of course, regional spatial strategies will still have to have regard to the Government's priorities, and this involvement maintains that important dimension.

This amendment would ensure that regional spatial strategies are permitted the necessary flexibility to respond to conditions in their areas. It would go a small way towards restoring a better balance between local accountability and central control. Ultimately, by reasserting the principle of subsidiarity and reversing the tide of centralism found throughout the Bill, the amendment would ensure better planning decisions than would be the case otherwise.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Greaves: I should like to speak to Amendment No. 10. Noble Lords will not be surprised to hear that I agree with the sentiments expressed in favour of the two previous amendments in the group.

Amendment No. 10, like others in Clause 1, is now rather redundant, in a technical way, following the acceptance of Amendment No. 1. I had tabled it as another means of making a distinction between the situation in regions which had an elected assembly and those which did not. The distinction I was making was that where there is a legitimately elected body in the region, that body, rather than central government, should have control over the policy behind the regional spatial strategy. It would be a value-added feature of an elected assembly as opposed to a region which did not have an elected assembly. It is simply another means of making elected regional assemblies mean something in the regions that decide to have them; indeed, it could give them some meaning when people are being asked to vote for them.

While we talked about regional assemblies in debating Amendment No. 1, the Minister several times put himself forward not only as an expert on his own Bill—which he is, and has every right to be—but also as an expert on Liberal Democrat policy on the subject. He kept telling us that we were in favour of imposing regional assemblies throughout the country whether or not people wanted them. Since then, I have been able to get a copy of the motion that was passed

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at the Liberal Democrat conference the last time the matter was debated and party policy was made. The Liberal Democrat party still makes party policy in an open and democratic way at our conferences. Quaint and old-fashioned though that may now seem in the political system, we believe it is something we should do.

The motion was called "Creating Regional Government" and was passed at the federal conference of the Liberal Democrats in March 2002. I would love to read out the whole motion but it is about three pages long, so I will not. However, I am prepared to write to noble Lords and put copies in the Library if there is a demand. The relevant section says:


    "Conference therefore calls on the Government to . . . enable regional referenda to be held as soon as possible, and pass a Regional Powers Act"

to say what powers they could take up. It is quite clear from the policy document from which that is taken that the regional referendums would be triggered not by central government saying, "We think they'll do up north, but nowhere else, so they can have them whether they like it or not". Instead, referendums would be triggered by people in the region—a proportion of local authorities or by 5 per cent of the electorate—asking for a referendum. If there was a yes vote, they would get a regional assembly, with far greater powers, far more devolution and far more takeover of the regional quangos than the Government are proposing. But that is all for another day. If the electorate voted no, they would not get a regional assembly. I do not know where the Minister gets his information about Liberal Democrat policies from, but whatever his source, it is not very accurate.


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