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Viscount Ullswater: I wish to say something before my noble friend on the Front Bench decides what he is going to do with his amendment. The Minister is making a fundamental error. He has not accepted that current planning guidanceRPGsare there to guide the structure plans, which are open to examination and inspectors' reports. They are not structure plans; they are guidance. The Bill turns guidance, which for the
Lord Rooker: This is where we go into the areas where, in some ways, we need the lawyers at work. RPGs may be guidance, it is true, but my experience in the past couple of years or so with some of them is that they are treated as being almost statutory because we wish to change a figure or suggest a change here and there. I am not saying that they are more than guidance, but I say that because of the way in which they are produced, following public examination, because of the way in which I in my day job conduct discussions on the growth areas, particularly in the south-east, and because of the care, attention and detail that people bring to what is in them. I may be wrongI shall return to the issue if need bebut I do not get the impression that they are informal, casual guidance documents. They are treated much more seriously than that, even though they do not have the statutory back-up that they will get when converted to regional spatial strategies. I have probably dropped myself in it by saying that, but that is the impression that I get doing my day job.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: Well, indeed, the Minister's impression from his day job or night job is correct. However, I wonder whether he would accept that the reason why the guidance is taken so seriously is that it is currently put together by members of local authorities. The only structure available to produce the guidance comprises members of authorities who have been responsible for producing unitary development plans and county structure plans in their own authorities. One thing that makes us nervous about any proposal to lessen the involvement of county councillorsfor example, in planning in their areais that in the intervening period before the creation of some sort of elected regional body there will be a hiatus during which no one feels any real ownership. At that point, the Minister is in danger of losing the coherence that he has rightly identified.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: If my noble friend Lord Hanningfield will indulge me, I have a question similar to that asked by my noble friend Lord Ullswater. I am a bear of very little brain and, although I heard what the Minister said about regional planning guidance that was omitted from the generality of the list, I want to test my understanding. Is it simply a matter of chronology that the regional spatial strategy has already been dealt with by the mayor and is shortly to be published, so that the documents that have been eliminated become academic once the mayor has taken his action?
Lord Rooker: I do not know. I do not have the detail of the way in which the London plans are put together, as it is some time since I dealt with it. I do not know whether it is a matter of chronology.
The noble Lord's intervention has given me the opportunity to receive a note, which points out that the same people prepare the draft revisions of the regional planning guidance as the regional spatial strategy; in other words, the same people prepare the revisions. I hope that answers the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott.
Lord Hanningfield: I return to my original amendment, which would have removed the word "must" and put in the words "have regard to". We shall have a lot of discussions about the whole issue, during the passage of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and the Government do not seem to realise this, but we are here to help. We would all like planning processes to be speeded up, and we would all like local people to be involved. We shall have a discussion about the definition of "sustainable" at some pointbut we would all like to see the involvement of local people and sometimes difficult decisions taken that benefit communities.
We believe very much in a bottom-up approach, while the Government seem to believe that it would work to have a top-down approach. We do not believe that will work. The Minister was kind enough to make some kind remarks about me, and I had some meetings with him yesterday with my other hat on. That sort of discussion is what achieves resultsnot the Secretary of State saying, "You must do this" or "You must do that". That builds up enormous resentment locally, and will not achieve what the Government want.
I hope that in the course of our discussions in the Chamber we might improve the Bill, and that we will take away the "nationalisation" of the planning system, as it has been described, which is very much resented by local authorities, and even more resented by people in the localities. They want to be involved in discussions that go upwards and end up in development. It simply will not work otherwise; as I said earlier, we shall be back here in three or four years' time looking at another Bill. If the Secretary of State believes that he can impose regional policies, it will not work.
As my noble friend Lady Hanham said, there is conflict between what is said in the Bill and in the guidance, which we have just considered. There is a whole raft of things that need to be questioned and discussed, but we may end up speeding up the processes if the Government will only listen to us a bit more about local accountability, and the need for local people to be involved and for the process to go up rather than down the whole time.
We shall have many discussions along those lines in the next few days. I am sure that we shall return to the matter. Although I shall not press my amendment today, we shall have to pursue the matter further as the Bill progresses.
Baroness Maddock: I apologise for being rather careless about the way in which I introduced Amendment No. 4. I wanted the debate because of the amendments connected to it, and the debate has been very useful. However, for reasons that Members of the Committee can seeparticularly with the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Greaveswhat happened earlier this afternoon has caused complications. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: I wish to make it clear that I do not dispute the need for Secretary of State to have the right to inform the regional planning authority of the direction that he wishes it to takeif necessary in some detail. The Secretary of State already has such a right, and our planning system has worked well, with overall central control in the hands of the Secretary of State implemented on the ground by elected councillors. That is the system that I wish to see continued, but we must avoid unnecessary hazardand I believe that the words "however expressed", referring to the policies of Secretary of State, is such a hazard.
I give an example. Let us suppose that the Secretary of State has issued precise guidance on a controversial matter. He is invited to appear on the BBC's "Today" programme at eight o'clock and faces some critical, perhaps hostile, questions. He replies forcefully and well and may express himself with some freedom, perhaps exceeding the more cautious words in his more formal guidance. As I understand the phrase "however expressed", his words on the radio interview then have legislative effect. That is legislation by mouth.
Perhaps I may remind the Minister of a celebrated case in which one of his predecessors was involved. The year is 1947. The Minister is Mr Silkin. The issue is the designation of Stevenage as a new town. The decision to so designate the first new town had been taken before the necessary legislation had been enacted and had aroused fierce criticism locally. The Minister went to Stevenage to explain the decision and he had a rough time of it. At one point he said, "It is no good your jeering. It is going to be done". The Minister was taken to court and Mr Justice Henn Collins held that the order was not ultra vires but that the Minister had been biased in his consideration of the order and he quashed the order. Some weeks later, when the Bill had completed its passage through Parliament, the decision was reversed in the Court of Appeal by a committee presided over by Lord Oaksey.
I wish to avoid any such embarrassments in future. I hope that the Minister will understand my motive in seeking to delete the two unnecessary words. My intention is to be helpful to him by improving the text of the Bill. I beg to move.
Lord Hanningfield: We on these Benches support the amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, says, at a public meeting there could be some extraordinary expressions from the Deputy Prime Minister or the Secretary of State and we could have some very funny policies. One could have planning policy by e-mail, for example. They would be expressions of the Secretary of State.
Through this provision, the Government seek to give themselves maximum latitude in setting planning policies. The noble Lord must consider whether these words are appropriate. I hope that the Minister will say that these words are unnecessary. They seem extraordinary and somewhat absurd to most of us.
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