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Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I should make it clear that noble Lords on these Benches do not support regionally elected assemblies. We shall not campaign for "Yes" votes in the three areas where there are referendums. However, we support democracy. If those three areas vote "Yes", and then all other areas vote for regionally elected assemblies, those assemblies will be democratically elected.
I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said that stakeholders were very important. It is important to hear stakeholders' opinions. I know the stakeholders in my region well. They often hold their own individual views, but they are not democratically elected. If they can combine to defeat the democratically elected people in a region, it is not good for democracy, and any such action is not representative of the people who are elected to a county council, a district council or any other body that considers plans. We support the amendment. We do not support regionally elected assemblies, but we support democracy. At the moment, we have elected county councils and elected district, regional, borough, metropolitan and London councils. The people elected to those bodies should have the direct, most obvious say in the planning process on behalf of the people they represent.
The Minister referred to the County Councils Network. I thank the Minister and the Government for the concessions that have been made. Indeed, the concession regarding the county councils having an advisory role is important. However, the councils were happy to accept that because they were told that the Government would not accept anything else. However, we are talking about Parliament now. There is the Government, and there is Parliament. These processes have to go through Parliament. I told the county councils that Parliament might have slightly different views on regional spatial strategies.
I make it clear that no oneas everyone knows, I am very much involved in county governmentis suggesting that the county structure plans are the right way forward. We need to tackle that matter differently and more speedily. The Minister has never heard me say during the whole debate on the Bill that I want to retain county structure plansI do not. We want a modern system of planning and therefore we support many of the Government's objectives on that. However, we want to make it work. We want a democratic process in making it work. Later I shall move further amendments which ensure that we keep the democratic processes at the forefront. The
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I express sorrow at the Government's attitude to this matter. It seems that in a funny sort of way the Government somehow believe that the higher the level at which the strategic planning is done, the better. We all agree that strategic planning is essential in these matters. One almost feels that the Secretary of State would ideally like to do the whole thing himself, but he is prepared for the regional authorities to be involved. However, we know that in their present format those authorities have a severe democratic deficit because of a lack of what many would regard as a better election system.
We believe that you must have a sub-regional inputa legitimate and fully accountable and accounted-for sub-regional inputto this crucial strategic planning element. It is not good enough for the Government to say that it has to be done at the regional level. The Minister says, "Of course, if there is a regional government, the Secretary of State would have no input". That in a sense makes the point that I am trying to make; namely, that even though you need planning on a big scale, you nevertheless need elected input into it. The amendments, as they left this House, provided for that and should not be removed. I support my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.
I have something to say, tongue in cheek, in reply to what I heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. I would obviously never dream of accusing anyone in this place of bad faith; it would not cross my mind. However, there are those outside who, on one hand, are quite happy to sit down with government Ministers and agree reasonable concessionsthere has been a big concession from the Government, as I fully appreciate, from how the Bill was drafted. Then we are told that those people say, with a nod and a wink, "Okay, we're happy, but we'll get what we really want through the back door via the unelected House of Parliament, not the elected House". If they do not blink at that, it seems to border on dishonourable conduct in the negotiations by the outside bodies with central government. People cannot have it both ways.
Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I am not saying that. If well meaning officials of the LGA or a county council go to see government officials and are told that the Government will not budge, they are only officials,
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I did not mean the officials. However, I shall take it with a strong pinch of salt next time I see letters signed by the elected leaders of the LGA and the County Councils Network. It was not officials who wrote letters saying, "We're content with this", but the elected leaders. I am not arguing about officials; we are talking about elected leaders. I am not in the business of blaming either civil servants or officials outsidefar from it. My remarks are headed towards the elected leadership outside.
I want to give some examples to highlight the sort of things said by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. As I said, I agreed with him, and there is a common view on the matter. I have three examples of where regional planning is tackling issues that county plans could not. In the east Midlands, work has started on the development of a sub-regional strategy for Derby, Leicester and Nottingham. Those are, of course, traditionally very much competitor cities in the area, although each is in a different county. The regional assembly and development agency have identified an opportunity to build on existing interrelationships, and to develop complementary roles and services that will promote a more sustainable pattern of development and improve the economic performance of each city. That could not be done if one did not have a regional package with a sub-regional agenda underneath it. In the past that would not have been a runner as each city is in a separate county.
In the south-west, the regional planning body is promoting a "city region" approach that recognises the cross-boundary links. It is not an area of the country that I know, so I shall stick to my brief; others are more expert than me. Structure plans have historically allowed development in west Wiltshire and north-east Somerset towns that has fed Bath's labour market and created unsustainable patterns of movement. Looking at that area as a single sub-region is allowing strategic choices to be made to ensure that development is sustainable.
My final example is the south-east. Studies in the western corridor and the London fringe have been undertaken to provide coherence across regional boundaries in a manner that simply did not exist beforehand. Although there was liaison across the London boundary between authorities, it was not translated into effective and co-ordinated interaction. The studies are still at an early stage but they are already demonstrating the value of the approach.
To say that the Government made a concession is too strong, because it looks as though it had to be dragged out of us, but I suppose that in some ways it did. The point is that we always knew, from day one, that there was a sensitive issue about county councils. We understand that; hence what was proposed alongside a programme of possible elected regional assemblies, as one cannot be certain. We need to get ownership of the spatial strategies because two bodies claiming ownership is a disaster and a recipe for inaction. Conservativeswith a small "c"might want to conserve what we have and not change anything. That is a very unfair attitude to put on the radical Conservative Front Bench. Nevertheless, we want some movement. The present system of planning in this country does not serve our fellow citizens. The provision is a contribution to making substantial changes and progress.
Our approach is that the regions need planning policies specific to their circumstances. I forget who made the point, but someone referred to the Secretary of State wanting to do everything; he does not. The provisions in Clause 1(2) that specify that the regional spatial strategy must set out the Secretary of State's spatial policies do not prevent such an approach. Those provisions are not a straitjacket. They are not the Deputy Prime Minister saying, "This is what will happen".
The relationship between the Secretary of State's national planning policies and the regional spatial strategies needs to be clarified. Clause 5 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 regional planning guidance. We want the regional planning bodies, which are much wider than the elected areasthat is why the point about 30 per cent is importantto articulate in the regional spatial strategy a spatial vision of what the region will look like at the end of the period of that strategy. That vision should be unique to that region, not the next-door region. It is not simply a subset of the national picture, so is not the Secretary of State laying down what he wants.
The regional planning bodies have the freedom to set out the policies that will work in their regions to turn the vision into a reality. The national planning policies are there to provide a framework. They are the big picture, not a straitjacket. The existing system allows for significant flexibility between regions. When preparing revisions of regional planning guidance now and regional spatial strategies in future, the regional planning bodies may, if they wish, depart from national policy and make the case for a variation at the examination in public. I repeat: this is not the Secretary of State laying the law down from the centre.
It is true that Ministers will reach a view on the final form of policies and have to take into account the case made and the report of the panel from the examination in public. Amendment No. 2 is therefore neither acceptable nor sensible. The Secretary of State has regional planning policies and is accountable for them
The issue is to get ownership of the regional planning strategies so that they are owned by one body and there is transparency and accountability. If we try to act any other way, two bodies will end up claiming ownership of the strategies. That is a recipe for not only disaster, but basically total inaction. No one outside would thank this House for that.
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