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Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, this is one of those occasions when the Minister has really convinced me of the rightness of my argument.

I am not sure that I have managed to get everything down. He said that the amendment is overly prescriptive and a burden; I could have been much more prescriptive. He said that it would be a drain on time and resources; I shall discuss resources later. He said that it would be a drain on time; is four months so much time in the context of work that is setting the strategy for a region, on which the local development documents will be based and which will affect major planning decisions for the region? It seems to me that four months is not a great deal of time and is certainly not in the disaster area, which seemed to be suggested.

The regional planning body will receive a lot of advice from the authorities, which will be inconsistent. Surely that supports and, indeed, makes much stronger the case for responding publicly. There is much less need to explain in a transparent fashion why you are not following advice if the advice is consistent, unless you are ignoring all of it. The role of the regional planning bodies is to weigh up and make a balanced judgment, but they should do so in a public fashion. The Minister said that they cannot ignore the advice.

I appreciate that this is Report stage, so perhaps this needs to be pursued afterwards, but as he spoke it occurred to me to ask how the public and the county and unitary authorities will know how the advice has been considered and weighed against other advice. Will that be by public document, which will go to the regional planning body and is subject to the current local government access to information arrangements? I realise that that is something which perhaps I should know. Given the new freedom of information provisions which will shortly come into force, it may be that the situation will change in any event. All of this needs to be public. It is a matter of public interest.

The regional planning body will be answerable at the examination in public. It seems to me that what I suggest would help rather than hinder the EIP. I thought that the Minister was going to say that the regional planning body would be answerable to the Secretary of State.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I think that the noble Baroness may be missing the point I made. The regional planning body has to submit its statement to the Secretary of State. It will be clear from that with whom it has consulted and how it has consulted, and the documents will be open to scrutiny. I do not see that that will be a closed process. I am not sure what it is that the noble Baroness seeks that is not already there.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, it may be open to scrutiny and examination when it is too late to do

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anything about it, although that did not seem to be the thrust of what the Minister said when he referred to the examination in public.

Finally, the Minister is concerned that if there were tiny differences, every piece of advice would need to be set out in full. It is quite normal and usually adequate, provided that the job is done fairly thoroughly and conscientiously, for reports in response to consultations to state, "On such and such an issue there have been concerns about the following, which fall into the following categories" and to set out the competing arguments. I do not think that what I suggest goes quite as far as the Minister's response seemed to assume.

This is an important point and clearly there is a difference between us. For that reason, and because of the access to information point which occurred to me as we were debating this, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment at this stage, but it is something to which we may want to return.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 11A:


    Page 2, line 34, at end insert—


"( ) The authority may give the RPB advice as to the exercise of the function on matters not covered under section 5(2) but which relate to the area that is covered by the authority."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I apologise for the fact that this amendment was tabled late. It was composed early but got lost in the system.

The amendment takes us back to a point which I raised in Committee, which is to be certain that in giving advice under the Government's new provisions in Clause 5 the authority has the power to do so. The Minister stated:


    "On the vires, my advice from a legal assessment is that it would be perfectly all right and there should not be any problems".—[Official Report, 22/1/04; col. 1155.]

I have only just noticed that attached to the notes I had on the last occasion are some unfamiliar pages with a sticker attached stating, "Brief, Lord Rooker". I do not think they cover this point. I doubt that there is anything there that did not appear in Hansard.

I am pushing the point in the hope that we can get a rather fuller response than, "It's okay, don't bother". The counties and unitaries are required to give the regional planning body advice as to the exercise of the regional planning body's function to the extent that the exercise of its function is capable of affecting the exercise by the authority, county or unitary, of any function that it has; in other words, the exercise of the authority's function.

I asked in Committee what were the functions in question and whether, indeed, they could be spelt out in a fuller way so that there is no doubt that the counties and unitaries have the power to give advice, which is distinct from the duty under the Bill. I apologise for being rather technical on this point but I said before that we are concerned that there should not

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be elephant traps here. It would be very helpful to have something fuller than the single sentence that we heard last time round. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I shall try to give a fuller explanation and perhaps that will comfort her more.

The amendment would provide a power for county councils to give advice on matters not caught by Clause 5(2) but which relate to the county council's area. The noble Baroness said in Committee that she was concerned about the reference to the functions of county councils in Clause 5(2) or the functions of other authorities in Clause 5(3), and that the worry was that some might see this provision as restricting the advice the authorities could give.

I shall try again to reassure her. The trigger for the county council or any other authority to have to give advice is that one of its functions is directly or indirectly affected. I think that that is a fairly wide definition. Off the top of my head I cannot think of an example where the authority would have no duty to give advice on a matter that affected its area.

It is important that we refer to the functions of the authority not its area because the latter would be too restrictive. The exercise of an authority's functions may be affected by proposals in an emerging regional spatial strategy relating to areas beyond the authority boundary. For example, the provision of new housing on one side of the boundary would in all likelihood have implications for schools and transport on the other. We do not want the asking for and the giving of advice to be restricted by narrow geographical provisions in those sorts of circumstances. So, if that example gives a flavour of how we see this issue, I hope that it is helpful.

Clause 5(2) is a broad provision. Having explained how we see it working, I hope that the noble Baroness will see that there is no need for Amendment No. 11A. We are trying to be helpful; we see the point she makes; and we think that our definition is broad enough to capture the issues and concerns to which she alluded.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I shall read what he said. In case there is any dispute in the future, it is obviously important to have the matter on the record. I have to say that a provision with even more chapter and verse than this would have been welcome. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Bridges moved Amendment No. 12:


    Page 2, line 40, at end insert—


"(e) an area of outstanding natural beauty conservation board created under section 86 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (c. 37) (establishment of conservation boards)"

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment No. 12 standing in my name. I feel that I owe the House an apology for the rather tortuous course I have pursued on this matter and should give an explanation on what I have been trying to do.

As I may have to make some rather severe remarks towards the end of my intervention, I should perhaps explain where I come from in the form of a declaration of interests. I live in the Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB. On retiring from public service in 1987, I had the good fortune to be made a member of the regional committee of the National Trust for East Anglia, where I spent nine fascinating years. I am now a vice-president of the Council for National Parks. My main activity, and that of my wife, is to be the Suffolk branch of the CPRE, of which she is a vice-president and the planning member for the county. I operate in a very auxiliary role in that connection.

When I tabled an amendment in Committee, I was principally concerned with the difficulty of getting the conservation boards in the AONBs to act in a coherent way. When these boards were first set up under the CROW Act, it was difficult for the county councils to find the time and money for the meetings and the places to hold them. If that was difficult for us, it was much more difficult for other AONBs where the number of local authorities represented on their conservation boards was numerous. I recently counted these. I found that in three areas of outstanding natural beauty there were no fewer than 12 local authorities. As a matter of interest, they were the Kentish towns, the High Weald and the Cotswolds. That was the purpose of my amendment. I have since discovered that things are working much better.

However, my amendment was not well expressed; my speech was clearly not well understood; and I noticed when the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, rose to reply, that the text from which he was reading assumed I was aiming at something much wider; namely, for the magnification of the local planning authority's role in this new planning system. That was not my intention.

So I drafted a different amendment, which I thought I had tabled by fax to the Public Bill Office on Saturday. It restated the principles on which the legal status of protected landscapes operate; that is, in a national park, the national park authority is responsible and in the AONBs it is the conservation board's duty to advise the new regional authorities being set up how that should operate.

By some strange method in the transmission a gremlin got into my fax. The result is the amendment on the Marshalled List, which is not particularly relevant to my purpose. My aim is that the protected status of these areas of special landscape interest should be preserved. There have been some rather disquieting developments, to which I shall refer.

I begin with a general word of caution. The Bill will make far-reaching changes to the planning system, extending into the distant future. The novelty is the new regional planning authority and the huge responsibilities that it will have. Sometimes, the authority may be inclined to give priority to other

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aspects of policy, such as employment or the growth of tourism, and the protection of landscape may seem of lesser importance.

We have recently had an experience in west Wales which has heightened my concerns. It was intended to build a large tourism centre extending from rural Pembrokeshire into the Pembrokeshire National Park. The matter came before the National Park Authority for it to reach a decision. It decided that it could not approve this permission. It had hoped its decision was final, but this turns out to be a matter of devolved responsibility in Wales. So it was taken to Cardiff and Cardiff voted it through. I am concerned that this problem might be replicated elsewhere.

My concerns are heightened on reading an official press release from Defra issued in the name of Mr Alun Michael, the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The headline is, "'Conservation Is Not Enough'—Minister Sets Out Living Community's Challenge For National Parks". It gives a full text of what the Minister said, including that,


    "conservation of itself is not enough; we want a living countryside",

and so on.

It occurred to me that it would be right to look up the text of the existing legislation both for the national parks and for the AONBs. I shall confine myself to the national park test, which is to be found in the Environment Act 1995. Section 62(1) states:


    "In exercising or performing any functions in relation to, or so as to affect, land in a National Park, any relevant authority shall have regard to the purposes specified in . . . this Act and, if it appears"—

this is important—


    "that there is a conflict between those purposes, shall attach greater weight to the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area comprised in the National Park".

The next paragraph reads:


    "For the purposes of this section . . . 'authority' means—

(a) any Minister of the Crown, (b) any public body, (c) any statutory undertaker, or (d) any person holding public office". So, it would seem that the Minister, Mr Michael, has transgressed as regards the terms of the Act in our statute book.

I suggest to your Lordships that there is a fundamental problem; namely, how should these specially protected landscapes function in this new scheme? If the Government wish to change the protection that they now enjoy, the sensible thing would be for them to introduce an amendment to the Act which I have just quoted rather than to issue policy planning guidance that appears to transgress it at the edges.

I regret having to make that criticism of the Government because both noble Lords, Lord Rooker and Lord Bassam, have been extremely kind and helpful to me. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, wrote a very nice letter on the remarks I made at the last stage.

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However, I feel that the issue is of some seriousness and that we should address it head-on. I do not intend to call a Division today as I think that further reflection is required and other noble Lords might be interested in taking part in the debate. But this is a significant matter which we should not overlook.

Of course, as a former civil servant, it would be possible for me to go so far as to advise the noble Lord how he might reply to this intervention. I think that the first thing a civil servant would say is, "Well, you have raised an entirely hypothetical question. Get lost. It's not real". The example I have quoted suggests to me that this is not a hypothetical question. We have an example and we should make up our minds about the matter. We need to consider the issue further and I shall be very interested to hear what other noble Lords and the Minister have to say. I beg to move.


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