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With regard to Amendment 168B, the ability to specify which region should consider the issue in respect of a national park that crosses regional boundariesand many do, such as the New Forestis, frankly, common sense. National parks all need to be considered as a whole. It is wasteful for the south-east and the south-west region to duplicate work. A regional strategy that does not comply with national policy to take account of the level of resources available is going to lack all credibility, so it would be a waste of time to produce those
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I am grateful for her reply. Am I to understand, therefore, that the intention is that in every case the whole of the national park will be allocated to one region for this purpose? That is probably sensible in most cases, but I am not sure that it is sensible in the case of the Peak District. That might be thought about. I am grateful for that clarification and for the promise of sending us even more correspondence; I look forward to it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The amendments are spread throughout this part, but they are all intended to make the same point: to either remove or qualify and restrict the powers that the Bill would give to the Secretary of State.
As one of the central tenets of this piece of legislation is that authorities are empowered to work together to come up with a strategy best suiting to the local area, then it does not follow that the Secretary of State should have the power to amend or scrap the work that has been done and enforce an alternative Regional Strategy.
Earlier, the Minister said that the Government want to keep central Government out of the process as much as possible. I have no doubt that she will assure us again of the Governments good intentions, that these are reserve powers to be used only as a last resort, and so on.
However, the Bill gives the Secretary of State considerable powersnot just the present Secretary of State and not just the present Government, but any Secretary of State and any Governmentfor as long as it remains on the statute book. Therefore, I ask the Minister not simply to assure us of the Governments good intentions, which we all readily accept, but to explain what safeguards local authorities have should we have a future Secretary of State and Government
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As I have said in relation to so much local government legislation, we legislate for the worst councilswe have been debating that at great length throughout the Committee. I want some reassurance about how we prevent legislating for bad Governments. That is what I want to hear from the Minister: not the good intentions of this Government, which I happily accept, but how we safeguard local authorities from the bad intentions of future Governments. I beg to move.
Lord Hanningfield: We have two amendments in this group: Amendments 167 and 168. They are on very similar lines to those which the noble Lord, Lord Tope, just set out. I very much support his amendments, but ours specifically remove Secretary of State and insert, regional development agency and Leaders Board. Whatever we think of the new arrangements, at least that takes the powers away from the Secretary of State and leaves them more locally. Throughout the Bill, we have talked the whole time about the powers of the Secretary of State. I have done that during discussion of several pieces of legislation, but this time more than with others. I commend the amendments.
Baroness Andrews: This is an important group of amendments. I know that noble Lords have raised these issues because they fear that the Secretary of State is going to use the powers to ride roughshod over the wishes of regional authorities. The amendments reflect that concern. I shall do my best to reassure noble Lords that this is not the case and to answer the questions posed by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, about how we can be sure that a bad Government would not do these things; rather like bad King John. I am not entirely certain that there will ever be such a bad Government.
The most important thing that I want to stress is that there is nothing new in these powers. With the exception of the powers attached to the leaders board, which are new, they are all powers that exist in broad terms under the PCPA. They are sometimes expressed in different language, but they are the same powers that cover the present regional spatial strategies. For example, the Secretary of State publishes the RSS, incorporating any changes she has made, and she puts it out to consultation. She can prepare an RSS if the regional planning body fails to do so; she can revoke all or part of an RSS if it is necessary and expedient to do sowhich is exactly the same languageand she was given the power to prescribe how much of the pre-existing regional planning guidance would become the first RSS. These powers have not only not been abusedthey are there as a last resortbut powers such as taking over the drafting of the RSS or revoking it, which is the most draconian power, have never been used, and we do not expect them to be used for the regional strategy. That is not to say it is not prudent to have them as a fall-back for the worst scenario.
The powers in the Bill are minimal, but are included to deal with two significant risks that might arise. First, despite all the good will and preparation for joint responsibility and duties between local and regional government, there is a real difficulty about what the strategy and the long-term vision should be. There could be disagreement between local authorities, RDAs and business, or there could be disagreement between urban and rural authorities. We have to ensure that there is an optimal strategy and, in the last resort, we need to have the power to arbitrate.
The second risk is that the regional strategy does not reflect government policy, by which I mean the imperatives that as a Government, we have to make sure that we have enough houses, a robust economy, the best education and skills policy and so on. In circumstances where somehow the regional strategy is reluctant to accept those broad imperatives and does not take account of the funding available, it is unlikely that it could be implemented. To be effective, this has to be a collective endeavour, and there must be partnership not only between local authorities, which will have so much more purchase and possibility under the new arrangements than they did under regional assemblies, but also between regional authorities and the Government. For example, if a strategy included the need for a new motorway to improve transport links, but no funding was available, there would be no point in having it in the strategy because it would not be deliverable. The Government have a responsibility to ensure that solutions can be found and strategies are thus effective.
In different ways, the amendments address all those concerns. This is not about some centralising agenda. These powers are based on arrangements currently in place for regional spatial strategies. The first reserve power to revise a regional strategy spells out the circumstances in which this power would apply: where the responsible regional authorities had failed to revise the strategy at the time specified in regulations or by a direction. In such unlikely circumstances, the Secretary of State could arrange for an EIP, must consult such persons as are considered appropriate and must take account of the EIP report and representations. The second power is the power to revoke, which has never been used. Both of the powers replicate existing reserve powers under Section 10 of the 2004 Act. We have had no reason to resort to either power.
If we did not have the power to revokethe necessary and expedient powerthe strategy could be revoked only through a further revision. There may be circumstances where a further revision would not be appropriate, so that is a practical reason. The Government, or some future Government, might want to move on from regional strategies as a policy tool, but they would be unable to do so without this power and they would remain in place. So there is a practical reason for this. Our expectation is that the partnership arrangements we put in place, the embedding of the local democratic conscience in local authorities and the leaders boards, will anticipate and deal with any problems, which is one reason why we have the EIP at the front end of the process. However, there must be a fall-back position. Amendment 180E would remove the power of the Secretary of State to make regulations on the single strategy. I know it is a probing amendment,
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Amendments 167, 168, 166C, 166D, 177A and 177B all address the ability of the Secretary of State to resolve, if necessary, any significant contradictions between the existing strategies when they become the regional strategy. It is obvious that we want a smooth transition and this, again, is a fall-back power. We would expect that in almost every case the RES and RSS would, in combination, form the regional strategy without modification. A great deal of effort has gone into aligning the RES and the RSS. However, if there were differences, the RDA and local authority leaders boards would agree how they should be resolved and make recommendations to the Secretary of State. It is only at that point that the Secretary of State could make a direction to resolve those differences. As I say, this is a fall-back power.
There are amendments to remove the requirement for a direction and instead leave it to the RDA and local authorities to slog it out and decide which elements of the existing strategies would form the regional strategy. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, agree that the Secretary of State should not be involved, but feel instead that the existing regional economic and spatial strategies should stand as they are and that we should rely on the responsible regional authorities to work around any policy conflicts. I think we are all agreed that responsibility should rest with the RDA and the local authorities to sort out any contradictions, if they exist. However, it would not be right for the regional authorities to be able to amend the RSS without clearance from the Secretary of State, given that the RSS is published by the Secretary of State, having gone through a rigorous process to become part of the statutory development plan. It has been a partnership.
It is important that, as we move towards a single strategy as quickly as possible, there should be no unnecessary delays. We also have to consider that there may not be a leaders board in all regions at that point. The procedure set out in the Bill is designed to deal with that. I hope this reassures noble Lords that the existing strategies will normally become the regional strategy without modification and that only where there are serious differences of substance would any change be considered. In such cases, the process for resolving them should normally be bottom up.
Amendment 168A is on the same subsection, but has a different purpose. It seeks to resolve a perceived inconsistency in that changes to the RSS require a direction, while changes to the RES do not. That is because the RES has always had a different status; it is not signed off by the Secretary of State and is not part of the statutory development plan. Amendment 175ZA is closely related and requires the Secretary of State to prepare and publish a statement of her reasons for a direction under Clause 65(6) to specify which parts of the RSS and RES should become the regional strategy. This amendment was placed against the wrong clause, but reading it attached to this clause, while I sympathise
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Amendment 177D amends Clause 71 on matters to be taken into account when preparing draft regional strategy revisions. This adds a requirement for the Secretary of State to consult before making regulations specifying other matters that should be taken into account under Clause 71(1)(j). I have no issues with that. Transparency is very important, but the Secretary of State would normally consult on any draft regulations in this group. Finally, Amendment 179A would require the Secretary of State to consult the responsible regional authorities and so on as appropriate. The noble Lord seeks to ensure that regional authorities are consulted, and I have no quarrel with that, but it is rather counterproductive to the spirit of consultation as it would make the clause more specific about which persons the Secretary of State needs to consult before finalising further changes to the draft regional strategy. The current provision in Clause 72(3) states:
Lord Tope: I am once again grateful to the Minister for her full reply, but she has not managed to reassure me about misuse by a less benevolent future Government. The fact that all these powers already exist and have never been used is not a reassurance that they will never be used, nor a reassurance regarding the circumstances in which they might be used. We are talking about a future Secretary of State and what he may or may not want to do. Clause 73(2) states:
may but not must. That is inconsistent with what was in the Bill earlier. I would not have it there at all so I am not advocating that it should say must. I just ask where the reassurance is made in that provision. Subsection (2)(b) states that the Secretary of State,
we do not have a long list of the persons to be consulted, as in other parts of the Bill. I seem to remember moving an amendment to include the words if any and having it roundly rubbished. The paragraph continues,
A malignant Secretary of State in some inconceivable future world may not have an examination in public. He may conclude that nobody is worth consulting and just rewrite the regional strategy. These may sound like far-fetched circumstances, and I hope that they are. I keep saying that we are legislating for worst-case scenarios, and I want to turn the tables and consider such scenarios from a local authority point of view. I am grateful to the Minister and not in the least surprised that she has failed to reassure me. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Greaves: In this bumper bundle group I shall speak to Amendments 168E to 168G, 170A to 170E, 172AA, Clause 68 stand part and Amendment 180A in Clause 72. Further amendments have been tabled by my noble friend Lady Hamwee and from the Conservative Benches.
This group is about leaders boards, which is the new invention that we have to understand and perhaps love in Clause 66. They had not been dreamt up at the time of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, but are nevertheless now thought to be essential to maintain the system and prevent it collapsing.
As I understand it, leaders boards are a response to complaints about the democratic deficit that was threatened with the abolition of regional assemblies and the power to produce regional plans going to the regional development agencies. That would have allowed the RDAs to carry out their own investment proposals. At least we now have some balancing element in the form of the leaders boards. However, for a lot of people in the regions and their local authorities, it will be seen to entrench a remote, regional elite that has little connection with them, and hence some of my amendments.
We now have a leaders board in the north-west, which goes under the exciting name of 4NW. No doubt the person who dreamt this up had spent too much time texting and came up with this rather dismal name. Nevertheless, there it is. It is chaired, no doubt admirably, by the person they describe as Lord Peter Smith: the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh. We are perhaps ahead of the game in the north-west. We have this thing, although we do not yet have much experience of how it may work.
The amendment would remove must and insert may in setting up leaders boards. It would provide that leaders boards may be set up if local authorities in the region want them, but if they do not want them, they do not have to set them up. The Government say that they are forced to have leaders boards whether they like it or not. Amendment 168D questions whether a leaders board should ever be an incorporated body. I understand that it is intendedthis is certainly mainly the case in the north-west, although there is some non-local authority representation on themthat a leaders board is a representative body of local authorities. As such, it is not clear to me why it should ever be a corporate body. It might be dangerous if it was. It is a step towards a new regional assembly-type body, but of a small and elite kind. The question is in what circumstances a leaders board might need to be
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Amendments 168E, 168G, 170A, 170B and 170D would remove participatingperhaps I should have done it in other places, tooand insert qualifying. This is because most local authorities in big regions will never participate in this body; they qualify to participate. They are rather like people who are qualified to stand for local authorities. They do not participate in those local authorities unless they get elected. The Bill suggests that all local authorities are participating when they are instead only qualifying to be on the body, should they be chosen by whatever system there might be. Approximately two-thirds of local authorities in the north-west are not members of 4NW, and most of them are not likely to be.
Amendment 168F would define the membership. The Bill talks about leaders boards, and there is an assumption that it consists of leaders of local authorities, but it never says so. It does not say whether people who are not leaders can represent a local authority on a leaders board rather than the leader. If these bodies are going to exist, the membership should be clearly defined.
This is a probing amendment to ask what scale of budget the Government anticipate these bodies will have. Amendment 170E probes whether the bodies will be able to put a levy on their participating or qualifying local authorities. Will they be able to impose a precept? I presume not, as that would require other legislation. However, will they be able to impose a compulsory levy on the councils in their region, or will councils be able to wash their hands and say, We have no influence here, theyre going to do what they want, so we wont have anything to do with it and well save our money? Those are important questions about the financing of leaders boards. I have no idea how the leaders board in the north-west is being funded. Presumably it is being paid for out of funds that were available for the regional assembly, by donations from the government office or by
Amendment 172AA probes what responsibility the leaders boards will have to communicate with and get feedback from their constituent local authorities. If the system is going to work properly, it is vital that there is a good system of communication back to local authorities, so that local authority members have the opportunity to put forward their views through their
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Finally, on the last group of amendments, the noble Baroness said that the reason why the Secretary of State has to have all this power is that he or she publishes the document. I tabled Amendment 180A to turn that the other way round. I believe that the regional authorities should publish the document, because they should own it. However, that goes with a different view of the development plan; I do not believe that the Secretary of State should have the power to approve or disapprove almost every element in the development plan right down to local level. I beg to move.
Lord Hanningfield: I have several amendments in this group, including Amendments 169 to 171, 182A and 182B. I do not want to go into enormous detailthe noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has put some of the arguments wellbut the amendments all probe questions about the leaders boards. I am sure that the Minister will tell us a lot about this in a moment, but we have not yet heard much about how the Government see leaders boards. In the eastern region, given that there are something like 50 authorities, there is a lot of discussion and argument about who will be on the board. I would like some clarification about whether the person has to be the leader or whether they could be the deputy leader. Exactly how do the Government see the arrangements to create the leaders boards?
Again, we have this sinister power of the Secretary of State, who will be able to sack leaders boards or rearrange them if he or she does not like them or thinks that they are not operating very well. If we are to have leaders boards, I do not think that the Secretary of State should be that involved with them once a decision has been made through the democratic process.
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