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Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 44:


The noble Lord said: My Lords, when I spoke to this amendment in Committee the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, hinted that I was a conspiracy theorist, so it is important that I clarify my reasons for coming back to this issue of who is the relevant Secretary of State for the purposes of regional spatial strategies. I reassure your Lordships that with this amendment I am genuinely questioning this legislation's adaptability in relation to future governance arrangements rather than pursuing a conspiracy theory.

I understand that the way Clause 12(4) defines the Secretary of State by function is unusual in a Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, did partly answer my query in Committee. The Minister explained that the purpose of defining the Secretary of State in this way was to ensure that Clause 2(2) cannot be interpreted as requiring policies prepared by any other Secretary of State to be included in the regional spatial strategy if those policies relate to the development and use of land in the region. So, for example, the regional spatial strategy will not contain the policies of Secretaries of State for Education or Health, because even though they relate to land use, they are not primarily concerned with it. I think that that is right and I have no argument with that aspect of Clause 12(4).

However, I remain concerned about why there is no mention of regions in the definition of "Secretary of State" in Clause 12(4). In subsection (4) the Secretary of State is defined as the Secretary of State who has for the time being,


    "general responsibility for policy in relation to the development and use of land".

At the moment that Secretary of State happens also to have responsibility for the regions.

We know that Prime Ministers and all governments rearrange ministerial responsibilities. So, if that situation were to change, would the Secretary of State who is in charge of general policy on planning always necessarily be the right Minister to lead on regional spatial strategies, as opposed to the Secretary of State responsible for the regions? There is my own situation with the Conservative shadow team. We now have a Minister responsible for the regions.

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Part 1 of the Bill deals solely with the regional spatial strategies. In other words, it deals with land use, planning, houses, infrastructure and so on for particular regions. It does not deal with general planning policy—those provisions come later in the Bill—for example, on compulsory purchase or major infrastructure projects or simplified planning zones. I would have thought that was a very good argument for putting regional spatial strategies firmly in the orbit of whichever Secretary of State happens to be in charge of the regions.

I would simply be interested to know from the Minister why the Government have chosen not to do that. If the explanation is simply that in the current circumstances it makes no difference, thus we need not worry about it, I ask why the regions are not added to the existing definition of the Secretary of State. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I understand that the noble Lord has a problem with the notion of adaptability. He says that at the moment it happens to be a happy coincidence that regions and planning are in the same place. That might not be the case in the future. I think that the answer is that we have to deal with what is in front of us. It is impossible to envisage every change of circumstances.

Currently we have that happy coincidence and it is important. In any event, I think that one could safely argue that a Secretary of State with overall responsibility for planning would always play a leading role in regional matters. So, I certainly understand what the noble Lord is saying and the point he is getting at. He has explained it rather better this evening than he did the last time we went around this course. I am not making any allegations here. It would be wrong of me to do so. I do not think that the noble Lord sees conspiracies everywhere; he is not that kind of person. I was being slightly facetious.

Our view is that whoever has general responsibility for the planning system—not the geographical units of those plans—must be finally accountable for the policies in a regional spatial strategy, particularly where there is no regional assembly. That is after all the key point of a system which is reliant on regional spatial planning.

So I understand the point, but I think that at the moment we are content with the structure we have set up. It falls to the Secretary of State with that responsibility to ensure that all others who have a bearing on regional planning in different ways are aware of their overall role in pulling things together, co-ordinating them and ensuring that the regions function well and in a coherent way. I hope that, having heard that, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. He obviously realised the point that I was trying to make. Perhaps I did not make it well the first time round. We are concerned, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has said several times, not just with the current situation. The previous planning legislation lasted for many years, although it may have been tinkered with. Once planning legislation has been set in

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place it is not changed lightly because that is a complicated process. It could well be that, as in the shadow Conservative team, the jobs are separated. I have noted what the Minister has said. The Government may like to reconsider the matter before Third Reading to see whether there should be slightly more clarity about any future circumstance. However, today I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9 p.m.

Baroness Maddock moved Amendment No. 45:


    Before Clause 13, insert the following new clause—


"COMMENCEMENT OF PART 2
Part 2 shall not come into force until the Secretary of State has published a guide to its provisions designed for the general public."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 45 inserts a new clause, which states that:


    "Part 2 shall not come into force until the Secretary of State has published a guide to its provisions designed for the general public".

At the previous stage of the Bill, my noble friend Lady Hamwee introduced a debate on understanding and plain English. I know that at that time the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, had a great deal of sympathy with her point. He gave some assurances that, with officials in his department, he would discuss how we could get into the public domain a guide to the changes in the planning system that ordinary people—those who do not necessarily live with the matter day to day—could understand. Some of us have lived with the matter on a day-to-day basis for quite some time and it has become a little clearer. This is a new system and it is important that people understand it. If the community is to be properly involved in the consultation, people need to be able to understand it.

This amendment may not be the appropriate way in which to deal with the matter, but I hope that it will give the Minister a chance to tell us what action he has taken since we last discussed the issue. He said that he would take this back to his department as he believed that it was important that we had a plain English guide to the new system and to the new hierarchy in planning legislation. I hope that he will be able to report favourably on those discussions and that something will be forthcoming, even if not in the form of the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I have a simple and positive answer for the noble Baroness. We absolutely agree that there is a need for guidance for what I shall call the person in the street. In the past I would have said "the man in the street", but now we talk about persons. I am very happy to give an assurance that we shall work to produce a guide, not just for Part 2, but for the whole reform system for the person in the street in time for commencement. I cannot be clearer than that. I think it would be overkill to legislate for it in this way. I hope that my statement will be accepted.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, when my noble friend and I were talking

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about this amendment, I had no serious expectation that it would appear on the face of the Bill. As it is important, perhaps I can check what the Minister has said. He says, "We shall work towards that". Is that an assurance that the Government will publish before commencement? I am not trying to trip him up; I want to be clear about the assurance.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I understand the qualification. I am happy to give an assurance that we shall work to produce a guide, not just for Part 2, but for the reform system as a whole in time for commencement. We shall work to produce a guide for the whole Bill in time for commencement.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, my noble friend is whispering to me, "Does that mean that it will actually happen?" We will have to take the Minister at face value and hope that what he says will become reality. In view of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 46:


    Page 7, line 34, leave out from second "development" to end of line 35.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with this amendment we are back to county issues again. We are seeking to maintain the strategic dimension of the county planning function as it relates to undertaking a survey. I received a helpful letter from the Minister setting out exactly what a "county matter" means in the context of Clause 14. I thank the Minister for that letter, which was also sent to other noble Lords and the Library of the House.

The letter makes it clear that Clause 14(1) and (2) provide a survey function for county councils to underpin their responsibilities for mineral and waste planning only. The county councils' other responsibilities, such as highways and transportation, are not conceived as relevant to this clause. The letter goes on to say that when the county councils advise and are consulted on regional spatial strategies—this is slightly imprecise, surely the Minister means when county councils are consulted on the revision of regional spatial strategies, but I let that pass—and when they are consulted on local development documents, these are the processes through which the county councils properly influence plan-making and have their wide range of responsibilities taken into account in so far as they affect development and the planning of development in their area.

Clause 19(2)(g) provides for local planning authorities to have regard to county councils' community strategies in two-tier areas. I was pleased to see this part of the letter from the Minister that in the Government's view community strategies are particularly important. I know from my experience that a tremendous amount of work is going into councils' community strategies. They are totally relevant to everything that happens in a county area and partnerships with districts and voluntary

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bodies, and there is a tremendous amount of work going into these community strategies. They are very relevant indeed.

This is a comprehensive response, and we appreciate that these various processes are in place. However, the central question remains why the Government are curtailing the county councils' survey function so greatly. Why do they insist on pursuing policies that consistently undermine their own objectives for local government? This is not the way to achieve joined-up services. County councils have a general duty to seek to promote the economic, environmental and social well being of their communities, by drawing up community strategies that are focused not narrowly on particular functions, but are designed to be outward-looking.

We are attempting to use our place in the community to exercise leadership for all our citizens. Reducing this survey function does not help us, our partners or districts to achieve cross-cutting objectives or better service delivery. District councils might welcome monitoring support from county councils. This provision also threatens to undermine the retention of planning resources in the local government system. It is a bad idea, and I urge the Minister to give serious consideration to this amendment. I beg to move.


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