Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I support the amendment spoken to by my noble friend Lord Hanningfield. In the days, long ago, when I attended the Harvard Business School, there was, in the first year, a course devoted to personnel activity, most of which seemed to me to be quite astonishingly obvious. But one thing was said to us during that course which struck me freshly, and I have remembered it ever since—namely, one's responsibility, in any human organisation, for playing the part of a participant observer.

Those of us who sit on the Back Benches in debates of this sort, who embark on what will quite clearly be a series of engagements of test match quality, but who do not represent any particular interest outside which requires them to express opinions, have the opportunity for reflection during such a process. Other test matches in which they have taken part in the past, analogous to the one in which we are currently engaged, come back to them. The one which has come back to me is the Licensing Bill, and of those noble Lords in the Chamber tonight, it will also have come back to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for he was a veteran of the same Committee stage.

My recollection of the Licensing Bill, which also ran into a reaction from local authorities which we sought to express during those debates, is that the legislation was unduly centralising and prescriptive. My recollection is

20 Jan 2004 : Column 962

that in that Bill, local authorities—which I substitute for the regional planning bodies and the regional spatial strategy in this instance—were obliged to produce policies in relation to their licensing activities. However, those licensing policies had to have regard to the advice which they received from the DCMS. Those were the very words to which, if my recollection is correct, my noble friend Lord Hanningfield referred in this amendment.

Lord Avebury: The noble Lord may appreciate that the guidance has still not been published, after all these months. It has not yet appeared.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I do not want to press my analogy too hard, but I am grateful to the noble Lord for drawing attention to that particular foible in the process.

The words in the Licensing Bill were regarded as unduly prescriptive by the local authorities and therefore, by definition, the words to which my noble friend Lord Hanningfield is objecting in his amendment are more prescriptive still. I totally appreciate that circumstances alter cases and that the history of planning may be quite different from the history of licensing. The Minister may therefore have arguments relating to planning history which invalidate the analogy I have made. But because I recall the reaction of local authorities to the way in which they felt they were being imposed upon by the Government in having to pay respect to a national policy, I certainly support my noble friend and will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say in reply.

Baroness Hanham: I pray in aid the consultation paper on draft planning policy PPS11 in this regard. It says that the regional spatial strategy should be specific to the region; while it should have regard to national policies, it should not simply repeat them. That is not what Clause 1 says. Subsection (5) says that the regional spatial strategy for a region,

    "is so much of a regional planning guidance relating to the region as the Secretary of State prescribes".

What we have been talking about throughout our debate is what is involved in the regional spatial strategy and its position. Either the guidance is wrong, in which case it should not say "should have regard to" but should state quite categorically that the regional planning guidance, as laid out by the Secretary of State, has to be part of the regional spatial strategy, or it is not what the Bill says. That is precisely what my noble friend has just described. I should have thought that the guidance should be correct. The policies will lay out the Secretary of State's regional planning guidance, and it should draw attention to that. Clearly, those will be subsumed into local plans—will be part and parcel of them—where practical and obvious. The Government have to get the matter right and they have to decide what we are discussing and what is to be the rationale.

20 Jan 2004 : Column 963

While I am on my feet perhaps I could ask the Government not to split infinitives. "To better develop" is a split infinitive and when I was at school that was an absolutely heinous crime.

Lord Bradshaw: I support the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. We have here the possibility that regional planning guidance will be written in Whitehall which will not be applicable to particular regions or a particular region. On the other hand, if those in Whitehall write the strategies for regions, what are the people in the regions to do, if they must take account of that? We need some clarification because people must have room to move. One cannot centralise everything and expect someone below to interpret matters.

Lord Avebury: As the Minister has explained, in the first instance, the regional spatial strategy consists of such parts of the regional planning guidance as the Secretary of State chooses to read across. Every part of the RPG that is relevant, goes into the RSS and there is no discretion there, according to the description that the Minister gave earlier today. If the Bill had said that, there would have been less anxiety about the centralising tendencies of the Bill. If all that is to happen on day one is that the RPG becomes the RSS and has statutory force, whereas the RPG does not, people will see that the opportunity existed at a later stage, when the RPG comes to do the first revision, for changes to be made on a much more democratic basis, as the Minister has outlined.

I believe that it would help the Committee enormously—and I would like to know the answer—if the Minister could say which parts of the RPG the Government intend not to read across. The Minister has already said that parts will not go into the strategy. That is why he was reluctant to accept the notion that one could alter the wording in Clause 1 so that it said precisely what he has said from the Dispatch Box—that it would consist of the RPG less whatever words the Secretary of State chose to leave out. That could have been expressed as giving the Secretary of State a power to transfer the RPG in total, less any words that he would designate by an order.

He also said that nothing can be inserted in the RSS which is not already in the RPG. That is equally important because it means that until the first revision, which is conducted under Clause 5 by the RPB, nothing can go into the RSS at the whim of the Secretary of State unless your Lordships choose to amend the Bill in such a sense. In this Committee we are perfectly free to instruct the Secretary of State to put matters into the RSS or to say that the RSS can contain certain matters, but the Minister has told your Lordships that the Secretary of State is to bar himself from putting anything into the RSS which is not already in the RPG. If that had been made clear on the face of the Bill in Clause 1 a lot of trouble would have been saved.

Lord Rooker: I am grateful to the noble Lord for his questions, which have enabled me to find what I hope is a satisfactory answer. I almost rose before the noble

20 Jan 2004 : Column 964

Lord, Lord Hanningfield, because the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, did not actually move the amendment. She specifically said that she was not going to pursue it. I thought that would be one debate that we would not have and all of a sudden we have had a debate. The words, "I beg to move" have not been uttered. I have been careful on this point. We are making laws under the Bill, and we have had a debate on a group of amendments. I have a very short speaking note and I hope I have an answer to the central issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and I will never come to an agreement on Liberal Democrat policy, but the whole thrust of all the speeches from Liberal Democrats in this Committee is that there will be regional governments in every region. That is the underlying assumption of every speech to which I have listened and I have listened to too many. That is why I made the point.

Lord Greaves: The Minister is mistaking party policy and our faith that if there is a referendum in any region on a decent regional government we can persuade people to vote for it.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Rooker: I shall stick to the issue. This group of amendments raises the issue of what is a regional spatial strategy. I realise that so far I have been inadequate in explaining it. The amendments raise the issue of whose policies such a strategy will contain and what those policies may address. As drafted, Clause 1(2) defines the regional spatial strategy as setting out the Secretary of State's policies, however expressed, in relation to the development and use of land in the region. Clause 1(3) clarifies that the regional spatial strategy may contain policies for sub-regions.

Amendment No. 4 would remove both that definition and the clarification. Amendment No. 5 seeks to alter the nature and contents of the regional spatial strategy. Instead of setting out the Secretary of State's spatial policies, it would simply have regard to those policies. Amendment No. 10 would specify that the regional spatial strategy would set out the Secretary of State's policies only if there were no elected regional authority for the region.

Noble Lords have made quite clear their view that they do not believe that there should be regional plans for which the Secretary of State is ultimately responsible. They want the regional plans only where there are elected regional assemblies. However, their approach would create and not solve problems. Our regions are not identical. Their circumstances and the challenges that they face are each different and unique. We need regional plans. Without the plans there would be a vacuum. It is only at regional level that we can sensibly address important strategic planning issues. Many of those issues are region-wide and those that are not—sub-regional issues—do not respect the boundaries of county areas. It is that latter point that demonstrates why Clause 1(3) is a vital provision in the Bill.

20 Jan 2004 : Column 965

It will not surprise noble Lords to learn that Amendment No. 5 is not acceptable. If an elected regional assembly were responsible for the revisions to the regional spatial strategy, the right relationship to the Secretary of State's policies would be that of having regard to them. But this amendment foresees two sets of regional spatial policies: those in the regional spatial strategy and those of the Secretary of State. I cannot imagine that the noble Baroness would want the Secretary of State to have policies for a region that had its own elected governance—that is a different issue—if that is the result of the referendum.

The regional spatial strategy must set out the Secretary of State's policies in relation to the development and use of land in the region. The regional spatial strategy can include different policies for different areas within a region. If there is any conflict between the policies and any other statement or information in the regional spatial strategy, the policies will prevail. All current regional planning guidance, with a few exceptions, will be converted to the regional spatial strategy in regulations. Those exceptions will be RPG3, which covers London; 3A, strategic views in London; 3B and 9B, the River Thames; and 9A, the Thames Gateway. Those documents will be replaced in large part by the Mayor's London plan and were not subject to public examination when they were prepared.

I wish I had been able to say that earlier. The notes were there for another debate and they are quite specific because reading the Bill as drafted, and with what I had said earlier, that cannot happen, but it might have appeared as though the Secretary of State, at a whim, on a hunch, or on a prejudice, could influence the regional spatial strategy in a way that would be wholly unacceptable to the Committee, to the other House and to anyone else who is a democrat. That cannot happen anyway under the rules for the regional planning guidance, and the way in which they are put together. There will be nothing in the regional spatial strategy that is not in the RPGs, but it may not include all that is in the RPG. I did not give examples of what is not in it because one could make a big policy change by omission—which is what the suspicion would be.

By making clear the specific exceptions, I hope that I have knocked on the head any suspicion, which would legitimately have been there—although it would be a very unfair aspersion to cast on the character of my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister. Nevertheless, in being specific about that, I hope that I have satisfied the points that were made. We shall obviously return to the issue, particularly in view of the Government's defeat earlier.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page