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Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am not sure that I followed what the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said. There seemed to be an assumption in what he said about devolution that this was the Secretary of State always getting his own way. I will make this absolutely clearunder our present governance arrangements, the Secretary of State has regional planning policies. He is accountable for them both now and under the changed system. However, if there were elected regional assemblies cutting out this function, the Secretary of State would not need any regional spatial policies. The issue of devolution means that you remove completely the Secretary of State's roleit would be for the regional planning body. This assumption that it is the Secretary of State all the while, even with devolution, is simply not true. If there has been a misunderstanding about that, I apologise. I obviously did not explain it clearly in Committee, but that is the reality. This is not an issue of the Secretary of State running riot.
Furthermore, when the regional planning bodies prepare revisions of the regional planning guidance now and of spatial strategies in the future, under the present arrangementwithout an elected regional assemblybecause they know better than Whitehall, if they wish to depart and divert from national policy and make the case for that in the examination in public, they are free to do so. Obviously, Ministers who then reach a view on the final form of the policies must take into account the case made in the panel report. It would not be possible, even if the examination in public came down in favour of the regional planning board deviating from national planning policy, for the Minister to then say, "No, I have got my own policy". That would be an unreasonable, irrational approach by the Minister, which would be subject to my learned friends in judicial review.
There is an underlying assumption in this amendment and in both the speeches that we have just heard that this is the Secretary of State laying down the rules and laying down the laws, whether or not there is devolution. That is simply not the case.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, why does the Secretary of State then have the power to override the inspector's report in Clause 9(6), where the Secretary of State if he thinks fit can strike out any provisions in the RSS that the inspector has agreed on the submission of the RPB?
Lord Rooker: My Lords, yes, but as I have just saidwe are talking about two different sets of circumstances here. If it is the case that there are devolved elected regional assemblies, the Secretary of State will not have any regional planning policies anyway. There will not be anything at the centre for the Secretary of State to have. The way in which the Bill is drafted covers both those sets of circumstances. Whether there are elected regional assemblies is a matter for the people to choose, initially in the three regions that we have all talked about, later this year. The fact is that he would not have a role to play, because he would not need any regional spatial policies in the first place, because they would be in the ownership of an elected regional assembly.
I make that absolutely clear, in case there is any doubt about this at all. We do not think that this is a straitjacket approach, which is the view that has been raised about the negation of democracy. That simply is not the case. The planning bodies still have the freedom to set it out, and I am not looking at a particular part of the Bill, but the Secretary of State cannot act on a whim or a hunch. He must act rationally. If he does not, he is subject to challenge in the courts. He cannot simply dismiss reports or dismiss evidence. I have given an example. If the panel report came out in favour of a departure from the national plan that the regional planning body had made, it would be difficult in those circumstances, unless they were most exceptional, for Minister to override. Their decision would have to be made in the light of the panel report. It is not a question of them simply dismissing this. Therefore, we do not think that this amendment is necessary.
I have a couple of paragraphs that would be worth putting on the record, for the avoidance of any doubt later on, and for those who follow our proceedings. It will only be a short one. I have made the point that the two arguments in the two speeches are based on a false premise. Our fundamental approach is that the regions need planning policies that are specific to the circumstances in each region. The provisions in Clause 2(2)which is what this amendment seeks to changespecify that regional spatial strategy must set out the Secretary of State's spatial strategies. This has been described as a straitjacket and a negation of democracy. It has also been argued that it is inconsistent with the provisions in the Bill that provide for the first regional spatial strategy for each region to be such regional planning guidance as the Secretary of State prescribes. There is another debate about that later on, so I will not go into detail.
We must be clear about the relationship between the Secretary of State's national planning policies and the regional spatial strategies. Clause 6 requires regional planning bodies to have regard to national policies in preparing a draft revision of a regional spatial strategy. That relationship is also true of the regional planning guidance. We want the regional planning bodies to articulate in the regional spatial strategy the spatial vision of what the region will look like at the end of the period of the strategy. That vision will be unique to that region and will not replicate other regions or be a subset of the national picture. The regional planning bodies will have the freedom to set out the policies that will work in their region to turn the vision into reality. The national planning policies are there to provide a framework, not a straitjacket. As I have said, in the case of devolution, where there is an elected regional assembly, if it is playing that role and that is its intention, the Secretary of State would not need any regional spatial strategies anyway. Game, set and match. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, we do not want to keep repeating throughout Report stage that the Bill is top-down, instead of bottom-up, and that the ODPM seems to be the only planner in the country. I was grateful for the Minister's answer. There were two scenarios: one with an elected regional assembly and one without. The Minister spoke about both, and it was interesting to hear what he said about the situation if there were an elected regional assembly. Going by what he said, he should not mind at all if the words in the Bill were changed from "must set out" to "shall have regard to". He gave an answer that I could have given, so we must test the feeling of the House on the issue.
Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, with this amendment we return to the issue of how the regional spatial strategy will fit and interrelate with other strategies in the region. Although our amendment makes reference only to the strategy of the regional development agency, because of the importance we attach to the relationship between spatial planning and economic planning, we are certainly not precluding ourselves from supporting the idea that the regional spatial strategy should provide the spatial framework for other regional strategies.
As a bland statement of how regional strategies would relate to one another in an ideal world, this would be clear and uncontroversial. However, given that this is not the caseI think here particularly of the examples put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, when we discussed this previouslywe are concerned that the Government's policy is based on little more than wishful thinking. To that extent, we are arguing for a more robust approach to this issue by the Government. By extension, we do not believe that regulations would adequately demonstrate the Government's commitment to regional spatial strategies being truly spatial frameworks.
In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, indicated that I supported the idea of a hierarchy of regional strategies, with the regional spatial strategy being pre-eminent. That was an understandable interpretation of my arguments, but my intention with this amendment is less concerned with establishing hierarchies than it is with bringing a bit of realism to the Government's thinking on this issue.
Let me be clear. This is not about regional planning bodies controlling what regional development agencies can do. It is simply a question of recognising the potential for conflict between the two and ensuring that the regional spatial strategy is exactly thatregional, spatial and strategicwhich it will not be if it does not set the spatial framework for the strategies of the regional development agency in its region.
As it stands, the Bill is silent on how all these various regional strategies will relate to each other. That seems to me to be a recipe for confusion. Furthermore, regional strategies are not automatically supportive of and
If we are to have RSSs, it is important that the different regional strategies are integrated and co-ordinated and that provision is made for this in the Bill. If it is left to guidance, the mechanism by which we can deliver joined-up policies at the regional level will remain unclear and will not be subject to proper debate in Parliament.
The drawing-up of planning responsibilities from counties to regional planning bodies in this Bill reinforces the importance of having one overarching spatial framework at the regional level. I do not believe in the utopian vision that all the regional strategies are somehow reflecting and correlating with one another. I think that there will be more conflict than the Government believe there will be, and it is only right that the professionals on the ground know where they stand when it arises. I beg to move.
The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, saidand the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield has referred to thisthat we were seeking to put the regional spatial strategy at the top of a hierarchy. That is not so. What we are seeking to do is to set a spatial framework for other strategies which are not in themselves spatial, or not primarily spatial. He said that the regional spatial strategygoing through all this is rather like trying to say "she sells seashells"!takes forward the regional housing strategy; that the regional transport strategy is part and parcel of the regional spatial strategy; and that, if there is an inconsistency, there will be an opportunity to iron it out. He said,