HL Deb 22 January 2004 vol 657 cc1146-80

11.31 a.m.

The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee. —(Lord Rooker.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 3 [RPB: general functions]:

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 31:

Page 2, line 35, leave out "must" and insert "may"

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to try to moderate the language of the Bill. As it stands, this subsection demands that regional planning bodies give out information to other bodies if they think that this would aid the fulfilment of the regional spatial strategy.

The main problem that we have with this subsection is that although we agree that the regional planning bodies should be more than willing to share information, give advice and be ready to offer their expertise in order to succeed with their spatial strategy, the wording of this subsection is too tight and far too demanding. The word "must" seems to put the onus on the regional planning body to second guess who would want or need advice. This would lead to the planning body having constantly to identify any new organisations to give advice to. That would add considerably to their workload, as they would also require some kind of protocol or process to determine what sort of advice should be given to what kind of organisation, should this advice be unsolicited.

Do they have any powers of enforcement if this advice is not taken up? That would surely detract from the work of the regional planning bodies and what they would do with the existing partners in the strategy process. We therefore suggest that it would be more desirable to permit regional planning bodies to tender advice, which would enable much better working relationships between all parties involved. We suggest that the word "must" be replaced with "may" in this context. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee

We have put our names to the amendment, not just for the usual reasons of autonomy and discretion, but because it seems both hugely prescriptive and rather odd, as if in the circumstances that the subsection addresses, the regional planning body would not communicate, not be in touch with and not offer advice in a general sense if that seemed appropriate.

I am concerned what statutory obligations might be imposed on the regional planning body, which could open up claims that it is not giving advice when it thinks—and presumably reasonably thinks, or should reasonably think—that it would help to achieve the implementation of the regional spatial strategy. In a world where various parties are not working together effectively, having this expressed as a duty could cause more problems than it solves, because of the difficulties of interpretation of the clause and the possibility of some sort of claim.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

Amendment No.31 amends Clause 3(6) to turn the requirement for the regional planning body to give advice to anyone, if it thinks that this will help to achieve the implementation of the regional spatial strategy, into an option to do so.

I suspect that this amendment is rooted in a concern that the regional planning body will be overwhelmed by requests for free advice. I reassure the noble Baroness that Clause 3(6) already safeguards against this. The regional planning body is required to give advice only if it thinks that to do so would help to achieve the implementation of the regional spatial strategy. Implementing that strategy is one of the key functions of the regional planning body.

It is quite proper that it should be required to provide advice that will help to secure delivery of the policies of the regional spatial strategy. However, this is not a charter for the regional planning body becoming a free consultancy service. If it does not think providing advice will help to achieve the implementation of the regional spatial strategy, it is under no obligation to provide it. I hope that with that explanation the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee

It was not the noble Baroness, but the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, who moved the amendment. Is the Minister in a position to answer my question? Perhaps I did not put it clearly enough. Does the Minister think that a statutory duty—I am not talking about the burden of numbers of requests for advice; I can see that the Government might have thought that that was in my mind—with the difficulty of interpreting what is meant by "thinks" and what is meant by "advice", might not lead to trouble?

Lord Hanningfield

The Minister did not deal with my point. I wanted to put "may" instead of "must", to make the Bill more acceptable to people who read it and to the regional planning body, so that it has options, rather than having "must" all the time throughout the Bill. The Minister did not answer that either.

Lord Marlesford

I find it rather odd that the Government should have any difficulty with this. In purely syntax terms, the word "if" is a conditional word, and the word "may" goes much better with "if—than the word "must".

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I know that it is a terrible thing to get into syntactic debates in the House. I always feel at a bit of a loss; probably it is a failing in my education. We have got the language right; I understand some of the sensitivities that have been expressed. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, if I failed to answer his precise point. Obviously, we are happy at all times to continue to look at the language of our legislation, and we are wise to do so. I cannot go any further than that this morning.

Lord Hanningfield

I thank the Minister for that. There are several "musts" in the Bill, and we may come back to them at a later stage. However, this morning, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No.32:

After Clause 3, insert the following new clause—

"STATUTORY PLANNING ROLE FOR COUNTY COUNCILS IN REGIONAL PLANNING Each RPB shall be advised on the preparation, review and monitoring of the implementation of the RSS in relation to its region (or any part of it) by such authorities within the region as fall within section 4(2).

The noble Baroness said: Government Amendments Nos.35, 37, 41, 42, 44 and 45 are grouped with my amendment. I left a message for the Minister late last night saying that I would be happy not to move my amendment, if he felt that it would make for a better debate if he led off on the matter. The message may not have got to him. I shall move my amendment, which, if I can put it that way, is concerned with where thinking and negotiations about the role of county councils had got to, before the Government announced their new clauses at the end of last week.

My new clause is the same as that proposed in Amendment No.34, which is in the next group, except for part of the heading. I will not press the amendment, as we have the Government's version, but, having started the debate, I ask the Minister to comment on Amendments Nos.35 and 37, which relate to the powers of county councils and, I suppose, unitary authorities in this context. It has been suggested to me that it is doubtful that the local authorities have a power to engage in commenting on general matters that arise from the regional spatial strategy. Their degree of involvement would be restricted to their ability to fulfil their own responsibilities. I believe that the Government are aware of that concern.

Even if it is not, in fact, a problem, and such authorities were intra vires in responding, concern about the situation might discourage the counties from becoming involved and offering their assistance. On the whole. local politicians are not discouraged from offering their views to the Government. Do the Government think that it would be appropriate to distinguish between a duty to advise on matters that affect their own functions and a power to advise on any of the subject matter of the regional spatial strategy, coupled with a requirement for the regional planning body to have regard to the advice tendered.

The amendments to Clause 4 talk about the exercise of a local authority's function, but that is not necessarily the same as a matter in which it is interested. It seems narrow. It might be helpful if the functions in question could somewhere be listed in writing, so that there is less confusion, either in Hansard or, perhaps, in guidance.

The Minister will explain his amendments. I am glad to see where they have got to, although it will be obvious from the amendment to which the Committee agreed on Monday, which we moved, that we do not think that they go far enough. So far as they go, they are welcome. I beg to move.

11.45 a.m.

Lord Rooker

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for moving Amendment No.32. That way, we can proceed with the Government's amendments; otherwise, we would have had to do the next group first, which would not have made sense. I shall not address Amendment No.32, if that is okay. I shall speak to the Government's amendments and move them in the appropriate place.

I could, if need be, quote them verbatim, but, by way of introduction, I must say that the Local Government Association and the County Councils Network, which represent practitioners in local government— I pay due respect to the senior practitioner sitting opposite me and, for that matter, to the noble Baroness—have signed up to the Government's amendments. To the best of my knowledge—I have read their letters again—they have not raised any of the caveats that were raised by the noble Baroness. That is not to say that those questions are not legitimate, but I want to put it on record that those from the Local Government Association and the County Councils Network who expressed concern are fully signed up and appreciate the Government's movement on the issue.

I shall proceed through the amendments. Some are consequential, so I will not spend a lot of time on them. Amendment No.35 amends Clause 4 to require the regional planning body to seek the advice of county councils, metropolitan district councils, unitary authorities and national park authorities that fall in whole or in part within the regional planning body's region, when preparing, keeping under review and monitoring the implementation of a revision of the regional spatial strategy. The amendment places a corresponding duty on those authorities to give advice to the regional planning body in respect of such matters to the extent that they may affect directly or indirectly the exercise of any of the functions that they have.

Amendment No.37 provides for the regional planning body to enter into arrangements with authorities and district councils that fall in whole or in part into the planning body's region for the discharge of any of the functions of the regional planning body. The Government's amendments will replace the provision in Clause 4 that requires the regional planning body to consider whether it would be desirable for any such authorities to assist in carrying out any of its functions and, if so, to seek to enter into arrangements with them for the discharge of those functions.

The other government amendments—Amendments Nos.41, 42, 44 and 45—are minor consequential amendments to include the word "council" as well as "authority" and update the cross-referencing in the revised clause. I do not propose to spend any time on them; I shall devote my time to the substantive amendments, Amendments Nos.35 and 37.

As I said, our amendments address the concerns expressed by the Local Government Association, the County Councils Network and others, which were echoed in the House at Second Reading. I reported back to my colleagues the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of State for Housing and Planning, Keith Hill, that the Bill had received a drubbing; in fact, I have a speaking note somewhere—the "drubbing" speaking note. Clearly, they had been considering the issue. We had been in discussion with representatives of local government and other parties, ever since the Bill appeared. It goes back to the time when the Bill was my ministerial responsibility. We have been trying to find a form of words that would satisfy the genuine points made by the county councils, without duplication and so that we could maintain that third tier.

I shall give a little more detail on Amendments Nos.35 and 37. I need not labour the point. By guaranteeing an advisory role for county councils and other authorities with strategic planning expertise, Amendment No.35 puts things right and satisfies the requirements. Those authorities will give advice on keeping the regional spatial strategy under review, the preparation of a draft revision of the regional spatial strategy and monitoring the regional spatial strategy implementation. We expect the asking for and provision of advice to be carried out constructively. The amendment is not a charter for obstruction and delay and does not require the regional planning body to seek advice before every decision, however small. All parties must be reasonable, and I fully accept that that is the spirit in which the discussions have taken place. The revision of the consultation draft of planning policy statement 11 on regional planning will set out how that will work in practice.

Government Amendment No.37 ensures that the regional planning body can enter into partnership arrangements, beyond the statutory requesting and giving of advice function, with county councils and other authorities with strategic planning expertise, and with district councils. The provision replaces a similar one in existing Clause 4. It gives the regional planning bodies the freedom that they need to obtain, for example, technical analysis to assist in the district level distribution for new housing. The detailed nature of those arrangements will be for the parties concerned to negotiate, depending on the particular circumstances. I am confident that we have here the basis of widespread and productive partnership working, which need cause no flight of planning expertise from county councils.

My amendments have the public support of the Local Government Association and the County Councils Network. I assume that Members of the Committee opposite have received copies of the correspondence, but, if not, I am happy to quote from the correspondence and put it on the record. Similarly, I hope that the Committee will welcome the guarantee of county council involvement in the regional planning process and the practical approach to the arrangements between the regional planning bodies and local authorities that the amendments provide.

There will always be those people who argue that the amendment does not go far enough. Some might claim that the regional planning bodies would be able to ignore county councils' advice. They would not. The regional planning bodies, as well as the authorities, would be under an overarching duty to act reasonably in all circumstances. That is an overarching duty. Therefore, if an RPB obtains advice, it cannot simply say, "No. We do not accept it". If a regional planning body fails to take proper account of the advice given by county councils and other authorities under this clause, that could ultimately be subject to legal challenge.

However, our expectation is that RPBs and those authorities will work together and not operate in a state of mutual antagonism that will benefit no one. The final version of planning policy statement 11 will set out in more detail how we see the asking for and the giving of advice working out in practice. I feel that we have met the overall concerns of county councils in this respect. It has always been a substantial cause of concern that they have put to us quite vigorously, in many forms, on an all-party basis. There has been no distinction of a partisan approach. I am extremely grateful for the way in which they have conducted the final outcome of discussions with my right honourable friends in the other place. I am therefore happy to bring these amendments to the Committee.

Lord Hanningfield

I thank the Minister for tabling the amendments, which have gone some way to relieve county councils about their future role in the planning process. But I shall be moving a set of amendments later because we do not think that these have gone far enough.

I should like to make a few comments about the process. There is one very important issue, already referred to when we discussed Part 1. At present, county councils get revenue support in the FSS for their planning departments. They have planning departments with considerable expertise—probably some of the best planning departments in the country. The Minister kindly referred to me as having some expertise in planning as leader of Essex County Council. Perhaps I should also declare an interest that until last year I was vice-chairman of the Local Government Association and that I am involved in the County Councils Network.

Obviously, we still have to finance those departments in county councils. One of the big issues that we have been concerned about is that this considerable expertise would be broken up. Certainly, in my own county where we still have considerable growth and the potential development of the largest airport in the world, we would have to retain a considerable planning department. Therefore, I should like to ask the Minister whether it will still be part of revenue support or whether it will be totally discretionary support. That would mean that the whole cost would fall on the council tax payer rather than, as now, be paid partially by grant and partially by the council tax payer. I should like the Minister to respond to that very important point.

I have been aware of the negotiations that have taken place. I am concerned that the people negotiating were told that the Government would not budge on this point. The negotiators did not realise that there is a democratic process which involves this House too, and that there could be discussions on amendments here. Various people to whom I have spoken who were part of the negotiations, which I welcome as well, are very pleased, but they said that there was no chance of the Government going any further. Obviously, there is a chance of the Government going further because we must debate and, in due course, vote in this House on these amendments. I feel that we have a very important role and that we must continue to talk about the issues.

I should like to give an example that the Minister knows very well. As leader of Essex County Council, we are required to deliver many more houses because of the community strategy of the Government. We are also—I repeat—looking at the development of an airport. The county council can deliver those things for the Government. A regional spatial strategy and a regional planning committee will never deliver. These are cross-district, sub-regional issues. If the Government think that they will speed up the planning process and deliver in the east or the south-east—I repeat, a region the size of Austria—or in the south-west, which is a very diverse area, they are totally wrong. The planning process may be different in Yorkshire arid Humberside where there is a co-ordinated area, or in the north-east where Newcastle is in the middle.

Essex County Council can deliver for the Government, but the eastern region cannot. I cannot understand the Government's thinking on that at all. It will not work. I have been around local government long enough to know how we can deliver and how we can help the Government. Perhaps we shall learn as we go through the Bill how the Government expect to speed up the process or hope to attain more houses in the south-east or hope to build an airport. Giving planning permission or just making a decision that something is wanted does not achieve it; someone has to sit down, design it, do it and make it work.

I recently had a meeting with the Minister about Essex issues. I went straight back to Essex and we started work. We can deliver. The eastern region, which is meeting tomorrow, will never deliver. Perhaps the Minister might comment on that and how he thinks that these processes might help him to do what he wants to do. I have posed a series of questions that I would like the Minister to answer in this part of the debate because we will be putting further amendments later.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

I hope that my noble friend will forgive an intrusion from behind into an argument between the Front Benches. So far as I am concerned, I shall be very brief. I thought that the noble Lord was extremely accommodating and very helpful in the attitude that he took today. I thought that perhaps he was a little optimistic in assuming that after the Bill is passed everyone would sit down together cooing like doves in perfect amity and friendship. That would be too much to hope for. For myself, I accept that the Government have gone some way to ease the worries of county councils.

What bothers me is that this is a move that takes government further away from the people whereas they ought to be going in the opposite direction. My fear is that the new regional authorities will bully and oppress those beneath them and will expect to be sovereign over them to an intolerable extent. I may be wrong; I hope that I am. However, despite the very reasonable attitude that the noble Lord has taken today, I hope that he will realise that there still are some very considerable anxieties beyond those more detailed ones to which my noble friend referred and with which I agree.

Lord Bradshaw

I welcome what the Minister said. I also welcome the fact that the advice that was pressed upon Ministers and officials for a long time by the Local Government Association and the County Councils Network has been heeded. I am grateful for what he has said. I am sure that my colleagues in county councils will be too.

It is a much better solution than that alternative which I foresaw, that the regional planning authorities would use consultants to obtain the advice which is available within the county council. In so doing, probably consultants would cost a great deal of money and take staff away from county councils and make, as it were, yet another gap, another democratic deficit, which we have talked about before.

I reiterate that planning staff are an extremely scarce resource. They should be nurtured. There are adequate means of communication between the regional offices, wherever they are, and the county councils. It would make no sense in the communications chain to abolish the county councils and have someone else do the job. The county councils reinforce where there is two-tier government the relationship between themselves and the districts. That is a valuable link that would also need to be rebuilt if the county councils were removed.

I join the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, in his concern about how the county councils are going to pay for planning if it is removed from the financial settlement. As the Minister knows, local government finance is a minefield, which I do not propose to enter today. He is aware of the problems that we all face. Otherwise I am grateful to him.


Lord Cobbold

I welcome the Government's amendments in this grouping, which I note have the approval of the Local Government Association and the County Councils Network. In requiring the regional planning boards to seek advice of each authority and its region, which is a council or authority falling within Clause 4(2), the Government are bringing the counties back into the loop and providing some much needed bottom-up input into the planning process at the regional level.

Government Amendment No.37 permits the regional planning board to make arrangements with an authority within subsection (2) for the discharge of any function of the regional planning board. Many Members of the Committee have expressed concern that the proposed arrangements would lead to a break-up of the highly experienced planning departments at county level.

Amendment No.37 would, it seems, allow for the planning departments to be contracted as agents of the regional planning boards to carry out the processing of planning applications in the areas of their jurisdiction. That could prevent the break-up of existing expertise and avoid the necessity of creating a new bureaucracy at the regional level, while it would not place at risk the two-tier process of planning approval.

I would like the Minister to tell us a little more specifically whether he sees this as a possible outcome of his Amendment No.37.

Lord Rooker

On the central issue about which I have been asked—money—I am pleased to announce that I have a first-class answer. It will remain part of the revenue support grant and we have no intention of taking away any money from the county councils as a result. I cannot make the matter more clear.

On the vires, my advice from a legal assessment is that it would be perfectly all right and there should not be any problems.

Lord Hanningfield

I thank the Minister and welcome that statement, which will be of considerable reassurance to many people.

Lord Rooker

I dare not get involved in a debate across the Dispatch Box with the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, about who will deliver given the ongoing discussions, particularly in view of the meetings that will take place tomorrow. I am grateful for his positive approach and I hope that there will be a similar positive approach at the meetings.

I appreciate that the noble Lord can operate as the leader of Essex County Council with executive action putting into place certain processes. By and large, because the district councils and the unitary authorities will operate in conformity with their development plans, which have to conform with the regional spatial strategy, they will carry out the delivery.

The noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, referred to planning applications, which are dealt with by the district council planning authority. It is not an issue of being site-specific in respect of where we are at the moment. He asked how the Government envisage Amendment No.37 working in terms of co-operation. It is early days, but the kind of arrangements we would envisage the counties and other authorities entering into with the regional planning body could include matters in relation to the counties and the other authorities where they have strategic planning expertise, such as assisting or taking the lead in sub-regional work such as the technical analysis to assist in the district level distribution for new housing, for example; and providing assistance on general conformity issues including assisting the regional planning body in making representations to local planning authorities. That is an area in which they would have considerable expertise. They would also provide technical expertise for the regional spatial strategy reviews.

I understand that there has been a bit of a blight regarding staff because of uncertainty with legislation going through that changes people's careers and work patterns, which is bound to cause some difficulties. We have made it clear throughout that county councils would play a central role in the new arrangements, even more so after the amendments are passed. A duty to provide certain aspects of work is written in the Bill.

I accept that the county planning function will change in some ways, but it will not change overnight. This issue should not cause difficulties. Counties will need a capability in spatial planning at regional and local level in their capacity as service providers in any event. These are not just warm words; they are made much more secure by our amendments. I agree that warm words from the Dispatch Box would not satisfy Members of the Committee, irrespective of what we had agreed with the practitioners outside.

If anyone is given the impression that a deal done outside does not come with the caveat: "By the way, Parliament's in the way here; there is a hurdle to cross called the House of Lords, which has a role in debating and agreeing the Bill, " I apologise, because it would have been said when I was involved in the discussions. I add the mantra that the Government have only 28 per cent of the votes in the House of Lords. Since the demise of some of my colleagues in December it is probably only 27 per cent. The Government do not run the House of Lords. I repeatedly say that so that people cannot run away with the idea that, because they have done a deal with the Minister, the House of Lords is taken for granted. That is not the case and I am sorry if anyone, by omission, had that impression.

I hope that I have been unequivocal about money, which is a key factor. There is no intention to take any money away from the county councils as a result of the changes. They will be fully included in the normal revenue support arrangements. The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, has doubts. I am not saying that everything will be swimmingly friendly, but there is a good degree of good will. In the big picture framework of us trying to modernise and, I hope, speed up the planning process to make it fairer and more predictable for developers and others and to give the public a greater voice in many areas, people will operate with goodwill all round.

But as I have said, the amendments are not designed to allow people simply to frustrate the process. It requires co-operation and good will and they have been drafted with that in mind. I hope that things will be well, even down in the West Country.

Baroness Hamwee

I do not understand the suggestion that the Local Government Association, the county councils network or individual authorities have sought this kind of amendment in order to be obstructive. That is not the case, and I take entirely the point about good will. On these Benches, our point remains that we would like to see a much bigger role than that encapsulated in the amendments.

The Minister has been helpful, but I want to respond to one or two of his points. On the concerns about staff being lost over a period, I do not think that a planner will derive adequate job satisfaction when he or she is put in a position where all they are asked to do is give advice to another body. That is not the same as writing the county structure plan.

The Minister gave assurances on the vires of this, but I should like to explore that a little further after our deliberations today. Having gone to so much effort to put together these amendments, it is important that they work adequately and that the term "its functions" can be interpreted widely enough not to frustrate the operation at a later date.

The Minister also said that the House of Lords is not to he taken for granted. None of us does that, either as individuals or as a body. That is why I end by saying that of course I shall neither press my amendment nor oppose the government amendments. But the overriding issue of the role of the counties and unitary authorities is one on which the Committee showed its view two days ago. No doubt this is something to which we shall have to return. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

12.15 p.m.

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No.33:

After Clause 3, insert the following new clause— ROLE OF STRATEGIC PLANNING AUTHORITIES

  1. (1) This section applies to any authority which is—
    1. (a) a county council;
    2. (b) a metropolitan district council;
    3. (c) a district council for an area for which there is no county council;
    4. (d)a National Park authority.
  2. (2) An authority to which this section applies shall be responsible for advising the Secretary of State, the RPB and local planning authorities upon strategic planning matters in their areas.
  3. (3) Such authorities shall be responsible for the formulation of sub-regional planning policy in their area and may enter into joint arrangements with other such authorities or the RPB for the formulation of such policy."

The noble Lord said: I thank the Government once again for the previous group of amendments, but I come now to a major group of amendments all concerned to ensure that counties and other strategic authorities play a statutory role in the planning process. These amendments should be taken as a package because their individual elements do not stand alone.

Perhaps it would be helpful if, at the outset, I run through the amendments tabled in my name. Amendment No.33 writes in the role of strategic planning for county councils and unitary authorities—below the regions and above the districts—and provides for them to take the lead on sub-regional planning policies. Amendments Nos.34 and 52 provide county councils and unitary authorities with a statutory role in the preparation and revision of regional spatial strategies. Amendments Nos.38 and 39 would require regional planning bodies to carry out functions jointly with the county councils or unitary authorities in their areas. Amendments Nos.40 and 43 ensure that authorities are reimbursed for functions they carry out on behalf of regional planning bodies. Amendment No.46 is a technical correction to make the drafting more precise. I shall comment on each of the amendments in turn.

First, however, I should stress that the involvement of county councils, metropolitan district councils and unitary authorities in the formation and implementation of sub-regional planning processes is crucial. We welcome the government concessions on the statutory role of these authorities in the planning process, but I do not believe that they have gone far enough. Amendment No.33 would put on the face of the Bill a statutory role for strategic planning authorities in the formulation of sub-regional strategies in their areas. This is important for one key and one subsidiary reason.

Throughout these deliberations, the approach of Members on these Benches has been to attempt to make the best of a bad job, and I have already indicated why I do not think that these proposals will either speed up or assist the planning process. We do not believe that the proposals set out in Parts 1 and 2 will improve the planning system.

An issue of concern, one that was raised by many noble Lords at Second Reading, is the gap that these proposals will open up between regional and local planning. Some areas will have a planning framework for a small district and for a region the size of Austria. A leader I quoted the other day said that their area accounted for 1 per cent of the south-east region, but that region is the size of Austria. Who would envisage one planning policy for the whole of Austria? This is a recipe for chaos. As one noble Lord put it during a seminar held last week, it means that, in effect, between a district and the Secretary of State there will be no intervening fully democratic level of planning in this country. The amendment passed earlier this week might rectify the position, but that is how the matter stands at present. Further, regional assemblies for the whole of England look extremely unlikely in the short term.

So, we shall have an enormous structural gap in the planning system between the districts and the regions. Ministers must recognise that that will not tend to lead to effective planning—a point that I have made repeatedly. Perhaps Ministers think that they will be able to continue to rely on the strategic authorities for sub-regional planning support, but that is not the case. However, without a statutory role for sub-regional planning, the reality is that many authorities will shed staff they can no longer afford and they no longer need to fulfil the Government's requirements. The Minister gave us a reassurance about money, but I still think that there will be problems, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raised the important point of job satisfaction in the work undertaken on the preparation of detailed plans.

This will be a disaster because current capacity in the planning system does not lie within the regional chambers or the regional government offices. I want to repeat that strategic expertise, technical know-how and the wealth of experience of strategic planning, are based, not surprisingly, at the strategic authority level. To disperse and get rid of that pool of expertise, as the Bill as it stands will do, would be a terrible waste of one of the most valuable resources in our planning system.

I hope the Minister will recognise that the success of sub-regional planning will play a large part in determining whether these proposals are successful. A statutory sub-regional dimension needs to be written into these provisions.

Amendments Nos.38 and 39 are designed to ensure that the regional planning bodies, however constituted, place on county councils, metropolitan, unitary and national park authorities a statutory duty actively to assist in regional planning functions by carrying out those functions for their areas on behalf of the regional planning body. At present the Bill envisages no formal role for these authorities beyond them being statutory consultees under the regional spatial strategy process. We believe that that will be inadequate and ultimately will lead to bad forward planning.

As I have said, county councils provide most of the expertise and capacity at the regional and local levels. The strategic planning function of county councils is a precious resource. We cannot risk passing legislation that would blithely consign the bulk of planning expertise in this country to the scrap-heap of another round of local government reorganisation. As a leader of a county council I constantly meet with staff. One of the first questions asked at any meeting is whether any form of reorganisation is envisaged. Staff do not like being continuously reorganised. We seem to have a passion for reorganising things in this country, whereas other nations just get on with the work.

Failure to establish a statutory mechanism by which these authorities can contribute to the plans affecting their regions will leave strategic planning for England in limbo. The Government have indicated that county councils will contribute to the new system as a middle tier, but they have not explained how county councils are expected to provide input when the Government redirect funding from county councils to regional planning bodies—even though we have heard assurances about money; perhaps the Minister would like to comment further.

These amendments address several of the problems raised by the legislation. They will strengthen the effective delivery of sub-regional planning. They will help to preserve a measure of accountability within the proposed new system. They will offer opportunities for public involvement. They will ensure that county councils are less handicapped when integrating their transport, waste and mineral plans, and they will ensure that capacity and expertise in the existing system are not lost.

Amendments Nos.40 and 43 are straightforward. The former seeks to ensure that where authorities undertake the functions of regional planning bodies and incur expenditure in so doing, they will be reimbursed. This must be a statutory requirement and it is only best practice to make it legally watertight. I assume that there must be an unwitting drafting error in the Bill, otherwise it sends out the unwelcome message that when it comes to paying local authorities for the work they do on behalf of regional planning bodies, such payment is optional or voluntary.

As to the funding arrangements for regional planning bodies, presumably they will receive funding to carry out their functions. Surely where these functions are performed by another authority on their behalf, the funding should be transferred to the relevant authority. Any other approach would be unsustainable. I assume that the Government did not intend to devalue the work of local authorities in this way.

Amendment No.43 seeks to delete subsection (5). This would remove the prohibition on a regional planning body arranging for an authority to carry out the functions in Clause 5(6) on its behalf. These functions relate to publishing a draft revision to the regional spatial strategy, preparing a report on the sustainability appraisal of the proposals in the draft revision, publishing any further documents relating to the draft revision required by regulations under Clause 5(5)(b) and submitting those documents to the Secretary of State.

The amendment seeks to create more flexibility in the system. It may be necessary for a regional planning body to delegate all or some of these functions to local authorities in order to match the right expertise to the right work. This would be pragmatic. It might be a helpful support mechanism in the transition period if regional planning bodies were to have this option available to them. It would still be for the regional planning bodies to choose whether or not they wished to delegate any part of these functions to other authorities. To leave them with no choice would demonstrate, once again, that central government interference stifles devolution.

Finally, I hope the Minister will be able to answer this more general question: why do subsections (1) to (4) seem to encourage local authorities to assist regional planning bodies only for subsection (5) to undermine the principle by banning any assistance in various functions? All assistance between authorities and regional planning bodies should be encouraged. If there is to be a regional planning system, regional planning bodies will need as much help as possible.

I have tried the patience of the Committee for long enough. I hope that noble Lords will understand that the grouping of the amendments was not of my devising. But they are very important and deserve to receive full consideration. I beg to move.

Lord Bradshaw

I support what the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said. The Government have consistently underestimated the distributional work that county officers carry out within the planning process. Whenever an allocation is made within the existing regional plan—in relation to housing, gravel, waste disposal and so on—a brokering job needs to be done among the districts which make up the county or the unitary authority. They are different bodies, but most counties have districts.

That brokering job constitutes a very delicate political process. Basically, people do not want houses built behind them or gravel pits, Gypsies and waste disposal facilities near them and a very delicate brokering job needs to be carried out. That job is largely done within the county planning function by sharing out the agony between various people. It is largely accepted because we try to give fair shares to all.

I understand and support the principle that the county must be seen to be important. I hope that within the concessions that the Minister has made in this area—which are very welcome—the county will have an absolutely cast iron role to play in a function which will, apparently, largely rest with it. It must be seen in law to be the body that really exercises the function.

Lord Rooker

As the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield said, this is an important group of amendments. Notwithstanding the welcome he gave to the government amendments in the previous debate, obviously he wishes to take the matter further.

Let me make a couple of points on the issues he raised. First, we do not envisage a gap; the regional spatial strategy will have sub-regional policies where necessary. It may not be the overall case and affect everyone but, where necessary, certainly there will be sub-regional policies.

The local planning authority's core strategy will set out the strategic objectives and key elements of the planning framework for an area and will be the central document in providing a link with the strategic regional policy set out in the regional spatial strategy and the local planning policies. It is a requirement that the core strategy, along with the local development documents, should be in general conformity with the regional spatial strategy. In providing the key strategic link at local level with the regional spatial strategy, the core strategy will also need to take account of the needs and aspirations of local communities. This is one reason why the local planning authorities will have to have regard to community strategy in preparing their local development documents.

The local planning authorities can prepare work with counties as joint committees. This is allowed for under Clause 28. So there is a mechanism that institutionalises, if you like, an operation which will certainly ensure that there is not a gap but very close co-operation between the different levels of expertise. Obviously we shall come to Clause 28 in due course, but it is right that I should flag up that point at this time.

I accept that Amendment No.33 is more extensive and prescriptive than our proposals. It would place a duty on county councils, unitary authorities, metropolitan district councils and the national park authorities to advise not only the regional planning bodies but also the Secretary of State and local authorities about strategic planning matters.

The unitary authorities, metropolitan and district councils and the national park authorities are planning authorities under the Bill and may, in effect, end up being required to advise themselves. But that is a point I make in passing.

Lord Hanningfield

Perhaps I may make a point about the Thames Gateway. I know it may be somewhat different from the point the Minister is making, but the Thames Gateway covers three regions—the eastern region, the south-east region and London.

As he knows, my county council is very supportive of the Thames Gateway and is doing all it can to further its aims. Unfortunately, we are handicapped. The eastern region is ahead of the south-east region, which has not even established a regional planning committee and so on; it is a year or two behind. For some reason, we have started the process in the eastern region. This is probably because we were split into two regions before and Essex was included in the London SERPLAN.

It has been much easier for Kent because it can operate directly. My counterpart in Kent, Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, is as old as I am. I am trying to be helpful but we are handicapped because often we have to go through the eastern region. But the only part of the Thames Gateway in the eastern region is in Essex; it is not anywhere else in the eastern region. It would therefore be better if its dealings were with Essex rather than with the eastern region. More progress could be made because, as happens in Kent, it would be operating within one county.

The Government are building into the system hurdles which they do not understand. It would be much better in the Thames Gateway to deal only with Essex rather than with the eastern region. When the Minister refers to joint committees, it sounds awful. One has a vision of another joint committee of the eastern region and Essex trying to deliver the Thames Gateway.

We are trying to be helpful. I am sorry that I have to give these kinds of instances but it is important that people understand the complications that are being built into the legislation.

12.30 p.m.

Lord Rooker

Unless I misunderstood the note that I received, I was referring to local planning authorities working in joint committees with the counties. I was not envisaging Essex having to work with the eastern region for the Gateway. Essex would work with Basildon and Southend, which I assume are district council planning authorities. However, I fully accept the point that as regards the Gateway, there is more in common between south Essex and north Kent, which are in different regions, than there is with the rest of their regions. The northern part of the eastern region is not at all interested in the Gateway. They may be interested in the infrastructure and related issues, but not in the commonality of interest in dealing with the Gateway. There is a third region, London, at the eastern end.

The Gateway is a long-term project and we are going to get cracking with it once we set up the delivery vehicle. A considerable amount of money has already been allocated amounting to over £300 million in the current spending round out of £440 million. I do not know what the future will be for delivery of the Gateway. It deals with many authorities and three regions. It is a very substantial infrastructure project. In the past 12 months a Cabinet committee has been created chaired by the Prime Minister for the Gateway delivery. It has now extended to other growth areas. Who can say what the future holds? I was envisaging Essex working with its district planning authorities rather than it having to turn to the eastern region as regards the Gateway.

Amendment No.33 would place a duty on these authorities to formulate sub-regional planning policy and provide for them to work jointly with other authorities or the regional planning body. Amendment No.34 is identical: Amendment No.52 is very similar to Amendment No.32, which was spoken to earlier. I spoke to the government amendments although we did not have large debates on the issues.

The next set of amendments in the group—Amendments Nos.38 and 39—deal with arrangements between the regional planning bodies and the authorities. Together, they would require the regional planning body to enter into arrangements with the authorities to exercise functions jointly instead of a power to make arrangements with all the categories of local authorities, if it chooses to do so.

Amendment No.40 would convert the power of the regional planning bodies to pay the authorities as part of an arrangement into a duty to do so. Amendment No.43 would remove the provision which prevents the regional planning body making arrangements for a local authority to publish a draft regional spatial strategy revision and submit it to the Secretary of State. Amendment No.46 would alter the way in which the Bill provides for Section 101 of the Local Government Act 1972 to bite on arrangements between the regional planning body and these authorities.

As drafted, the Bill states that these arrangements "must be taken" to be Section 101 arrangements. The amendment would provide that these arrangements "shall" be Section 101 arrangements. We do not agree that county councils and other authorities with strategic planning expertise should also have a statutory duty to advise the Secretary of State and local planning authorities. What purpose would there be in advising the Secretary of State? It is difficult to see what purpose it would serve. His role is to set the national planning policy and to take ultimate responsibility for the regional spatial strategies. In both cases the voices of these authorities will be heard. There is no question but that the Secretary of State has to be reasonable otherwise he will be subject to legal challenge. The voices of the authorities will be heard through the arrangements set out in the Bill and the regulations and guidance that go with it and when the Secretary of State consults on a change to national policy.

As regards advising local planning authorities, the draft guidance on local development frameworks, which is PPS 12 in the jargon, makes it quite clear that the county council should be consulted by the local planning authority. That is backed up by requirements in the draft regulations. There is also the option of the county council becoming a member of a joint committee to take on a role in preparing local development documents to which I referred in Clause 28.

Concerning sub-regional planning policies, I have made the position clear that where sub-regional elements are needed, which will not be everywhere, they will be in the regional spatial strategy. In the kind of regional partnership arrangement we want to work, there has to be voluntary co-operation and flexibility and not compulsion.

As regards reimbursement, if the regional planning body proposes arrangements that do not provide adequately for any extra cost that any authority would incur, I would expect the latter to tell the regional planning body to go away and return with a better offer. Money is an issue. The problem arises within government departments occasionally when one department approaches another and money is not offered to provide what is wanted. In those circumstances one is told to go away and find the money and then discussions can take place about a joint delivery. That is part and parcel of normal negotiations. We can provide the money where there is a duty and where the work has taken place. It has to be paid for.

There are two other issues to cover which are raised by Amendments Nos.44 and 46. The prohibition on a regional planning body arranging for an authority to carry out the functions under Clause 5(6) is vital to guarantee the true regional ownership of the key regional strategy. I believe that that was a point which I laboured considerably in the early stages after the publication of the Bill. We want clarity of ownership, which is absolutely crucial for stopping procrastination in future notwithstanding the good will and the amendments which the Government have brought forward. We must reserve certain key functions for the regional planning body. It must take final responsibility for draft revisions of the regional spatial strategy, the report of the sustainability appraisal and any other documents required by the regulations. Therefore, this amendment goes way beyond anything that I would be able to accept.

In Amendment No.46, the words "must be taken to" rather than "shall" are used because the regional planning body is not a local authority. The wording in Amendment No.46 would be right only for arrangements between local authorities, but not in this case. I probably did not set that matter out as clearly as I should. I did miss out some words in brackets.

As regards Amendment No.46, the words "must be taken" rather than "shall", namely, the arrangements under Section 101 of the Local Government Act 1972, are used simply because a regional planning body is not a local authority. The wording would only be right for arrangements between local authorities. That is not the case here where we are dealing with a regional planning authority. I suspect that we shall return to this issue at a later stage, but in the mean time I hope that I have said enough to enable the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Hanningfield

I thank the Minister for that reply. I believe. as many people do, that, if we are going down the road of regional spatial strategies, there should be a statutory role for lower tier authorities, involving not just counties but metropolitan boroughs, unitary authorities and others, thus giving them a greater say in ownership; in other words, a more democratic process instead of this top-down approach with one planner in the whole country—namely, the Secretary of State. Giving people the feeling of being involved not only at the development control level but also in the development of plans would make the whole process work. I hope that we have a chance to change the Government's mind on these issues. Having looked at the matter and understanding that that kind of planning is to take place, it would be better to have a system that works, one in which people feel involved and which delivers some of the Government's and other people's objectives in the localities.

I am disappointed that the Government will not go further on these issues although I thank them for going this far. I hope that we are going to be able to persuade them, during the course of this Bill, to go a little further in creating a role for other people, rather than adopting this nationalisation approach from the Secretary of State with which people are not happy. We will return to the matter, but for now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No.34 not moved.]

Clause 4 [Assistance. from certain local authorities]:

Lord Rooker moved Amendment No.35:

Page 2, line 38, leave out subsection (1) and insert—

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bridges moved Amendment No.36:

Page 3, line 6, 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)

The noble Lord said: This amendment in my name is one of several amendments that I am putting forward to improve active collaboration between local authorities and the areas of outstanding natural beauty in their boundaries. The issue was discussed when we dealt with the CROW Act 2000, but the Act itself did not go as far as I had hoped. In terms of landscape quality, there is no distinction between the territory of a national park and that of an area of outstanding natural beauty. As has already been said, there is a formal difference in that a national park has its own planning authority, which is not the case with areas of outstanding natural beauty. We need much greater collaboration between local authorities and the AONB within their own territories.

I speak as a vice-president of the Council for National Parks and a resident of the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB. The lack of protection enjoyed by our AONB was graphically evident in the controversy over the future of the Royal Air Force base at Bent waters, a redundant American Air Force base within the AONB. When the USAF gave up the base, the local planning authority was disposed to agree with the Ministry of Defence's proposal to sell the base to the highest bidder as a major commercial airport. The authority did not appear to heed the status of the AONB, although the proposal for the airport was not consistent with the local plan. Fortunately, the latter came up for review at the critical time and the county branch of the CPRE, of which my wife and I are active members, made forceful objections which were upheld by the inspector at a public inquiry.

None of that need have happened if the local authority had been an active participant in managing the AONB. That is the purpose of these amendments, about which I have been advised by the National Association of AONBs. They are not controversial but they are very necessary. I beg to move.

12.45 p.m.

Lord Plumb

I support the proposition of the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, for reasons that we have discussed at length in the debates so far. It is a matter of collaboration between various parties. As we said the other day, the AONBs bring together many such groups. I use the example of my own particular interest in the Cotswolds, as president of the AONB in that wonderful area. One of the challenges for us lies in the collaboration between parties. Three regions and six counties are represented on that body. However, much progress has been made in bringing everyone together and forming a conservation board in the Cotswolds. Conservation is a word that we removed some time ago in the interests of AONBs, but which is back again as a proposition.

A range of benefits that the board might bring have been discussed at both county and district council levels and by various organisations—the National Farmers' Union and the CLA, for example. The board would: raise the profile and status of an AONB and its communities; be used as a more effective lobbying body for the needs of those areas giving an improved voice for joint operations; influence and tailor grants so that they meet the needs of the AONB; and access grants direct from the Government or the charitable sector.

We have a partnership at the moment that is working but it would become more active and ambitious. It is envisaged that the partnership would have increasing reference back to the 17 local authorities in my AONB. I suggest that a conservation board of 40 members, operating with an executive committee of 12 and a staff around 12, would be more effective in its decision making.

Reference was made the other day to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, in his review of rural delivery which highlighted some potentially good news for AONBs. They are designed to help with schemes and delegate grant-making decisions to the local level. It is therefore envisaged that a conservation board would be able to exploit more opportunities to greater effect than the existing partnership. I therefore hope that the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, can be supported. It would strengthen the associations and create greater representation within areas in the interests of bringing further development and planning much closer to the people. Much was said earlier this morning about the bottom-up approach. I firmly believe in it because, if it is bottom up, it is coming from the people who are concerned and who represent the people who will be affected by these decisions.

Lord Marlesford

I strongly support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, for the simple reason that AONBs are every bit as important in this country as national parks. It is sometimes assumed that the quality of the landscape and the importance of its protection and preservation are greater in the national parks than in AONBs. That is not so. The history of the designations explains why they are separate. Essentially, national parks are, as the Minister knows, areas of natural wilderness. As part of our heritage, AONBs rate just as highly in landscape terms as national parks. That is why it is important that, as the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, says, we should add AONBs. I cannot think of any reason why that should not be done.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, for introducing this group of amendments this morning. I pay tribute to him for doing so. From my own practical political experience, the area in which I live—Brighton—is surrounded by areas of outstanding natural beauty. The designation of parts of the South Downs as AONBs has played an important role in ensuring that we have access to beautiful countryside and proper protection and consideration of the area's landscape needs.

That said, the objective underlying the amendments is in part already secure. I hope that my remarks will give some assurance to the noble Lord. It is important to deal with some general issues on AONBs.

I wish to make clear at the outset that the Government place great importance on AONBs and wish to ensure that they are protected through the planning system. The draft of the new Planning Policy Statement 7 (PPS7) confirms that AONBs share the same high level of protection as national parks. Great weight should be given in planning policies and planning decisions to the conservation of the natural beauty of these areas and major developments should not take place in the areas except—I stress the importance of that—in exceptional circumstances. I am sure many of us will have come across those exceptional circumstances.

However, it is one thing to ensure proper protection for AONBs through our planning policies; it is another to change our plan-making structures by giving a statutory role in the process to AONBs.

As the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, said, we considered some of those issues during the passage of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. At that point the Government made clear that it was not our policy that AONBs should have their own planning powers. I understand that many noble Lords from all sides of the House were concerned that planning powers should not be removed from local authorities and passed to AONB boards. It would serve little point to transfer planning responsibilities to the AONB boards because where there are no conservation boards the relevant local authorities manage the AONB.

Even in the case of the conservation boards we consider they should not have planning powers for four important reasons. First, we have a strong policy framework to provide protection through PPS7, as I outlined earlier. Secondly, there is a general view that it is undesirable in principle to remove powers from democratically elected local authorities; and we have had much stress laid on the value and importance of democratically elected local authorities as planning authorities in these matters. Unless there are very good reasons, we cannot support giving them to another body. Thirdly, there is the problem of practicality in that it would introduce another set of plans into the system. Fourthly, there is the question of local ownership, given the size of the AONBs, some of which have 15 or more local authorities within their boundaries. Planning at the AONB level will start to become somewhat removed from the local level. That would be exacerbated if an AONB conservation board had local planning powers.

It may help Members of the Committee who are adding their weight to the proposition if I explain how AONBs will fit into the new arrangements in Parts I and 2 of the Bill. We have discussed consultation and stakeholder engagement in the revision of the regional spatial strategy and sub-regional planning. We expect the regional planning body to involve AONB management boards and conservation boards on issues that affect their areas both as preferred options are developed and when the draft RSS is issued. We shall make that clear in the guidance published.

AONBs, as areas with a distinct suite of issues and needs, are the sort of areas that we would expect our sub-regional approach to be applied to. An AONB may be treated as a sub-region, in the sense of an area with its own specific policies as well as, or instead of, some of those applicable across the whole region, even within the regional spatial strategy. Where that is the case, we would expect the management board or conservation board of the AONB to be a key partner in developing those sub-regional policies.

At the local level, all local authorities will be required under our draft regulations to consult the local authorities in adjoining areas on their draft local development documents. This will allow consideration of cross-AONB issues. If a conservation board is established, we would expect that board to be consulted and we shall make that clear in our guidance.

I hope that I have said enough to offer assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Bridges. I recognise the value of AON Bs as part of the planning process. It would make for a more complex and somewhat muddled set of arrangements if we depart from the important principles underlying the Bill. In terms of protecting the quality of landscapes, it is important that AONBs are brought in, worked with in partnership, and consulted on all those planning issues which fit into our overall structure for planning at the regional level.

I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Bridges

I was grateful to the Minister for his kind words at the beginning of his remarks. However, my heart sank as he proceeded. He has not understood what I seek to do. I do not suggest that AONBs should have their own formal planning status but that the management of the AONB should include representatives of the local authority. That has been lacking in the past. I do not think that any particular constitutional innovations would require that. It is more an administrative measure which has the force of a statute.

I attempted to insert this provision into the CROW Bill. There had been a helpful side note stating, "AONB—importance for local communities". I sought to insert the measure into the Bill and was assured by the Government Front Bench at the time that it was a constitutional innovation which simply could not be contemplated. There seems to be a barrier somewhere inside the Minister's department which is keen to ensure that the AONBs are not enabled to proceed closely with the management in their hands in collaboration with the local authorities.

I found the Minister's remarks gravely disappointing. I shall indeed return to the matter at a later stage when I hope to hear him sing a different song.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Elton)

I have to tell the Committee that if Amendment No.37 is agreed to I shall be unable to call Amendments Nos.38 and 39 by reason of pre-emption.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No.37:

Page 3, line 7, leave out subsection (3) and insert (2A) The RPB may make arrangements with an authority falling within subsection (2) or with any district council the whole or part of whose area is in the region for the discharge by the authority or council of a function of the RPB.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos.38 to 40 not moved.]

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendments Nos.41 and 42:

Page 3, line 10, after "authority" insert "or council"

Page 3, line 11, after "authority" insert "or council"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No.43 not moved.]

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendments Nos.44 and 45:

Page 3, line 12, leave out "(I)" and insert "(2A)"

Page 3, line 13, leave out "(3)" and insert "(2A)"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No.46 not moved.]

Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.

[Amendments Nos.47 and 48 not moved.]

1 p.m.

Clause 5 [RSS: revision]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No.49:

Page 3, line 23, leave out paragraph (c).

The noble Baroness said: Grouped with this amendment are Amendments Nos.50, 51 and 76. I had asked for the Question that Clause 9 shall stand part to be included in the group but it is not. Amendment No.49 makes no sense without that. I sent the Minister a note to that effect. I hope that if I deal with the issue now it will be for the convenience of the Committee and not too confusing.

Amendment No.49 is—I can think of no other word—pre-sequential. It follows from my objections to Clause 9. Its purpose is to take out the reference to the clause at an earlier stage. Clause 9 is not extraordinarily prescriptive—we are becoming used to prescriptions in the Bill—but it is highly prescriptive. The Secretary of State can tell the regional planning body what to do. He can tell it when to do it. He can do it himself. He can revoke what the regional planning body has done. I suppose he can revoke his own regional planning guidance in its new status as regional spatial strategy, although I would expect that to be covered by the revisions process. We object to Clause 9 standing part of the Bill because we need to hear at length from the Minister why the clause is as necessary as the Government obviously think it is. I beg to move.

1 p.m.

Lord Hanningfield

Amendment No.49 is grouped with Amendments Nos.50, 51 and 76, to which I shall speak. The five-year long-stop that I am advocating in Amendment No.50 is designed to ensure that the revision of the RSS is put into effect expeditiously. It is vital that the regional spatial strategy is kept up to date. Local plans are currently required to be updated every five years and there is no reason why there should not be an equally rigorous requirement in relation to the updating of the RSS. The Government regard the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill as a key element in their agenda for speeding up the planning system and it is vital that planning decisions are taken against the backcloth of an up-to-date RSS.

Amendment No.51 aims to remove an unnecessary word that makes poor reading. Amendment No.76 would require the Secretary of State to give his reasons for directing a regional planning body to prepare a draft revision of a regional spatial strategy and to give his reasons why he revokes a part or all of the regional spatial strategy.

In moving these amendments I come back to the two principles outlined in my previous amendments: transparency and utility. On one hand, it is simply right that the Secretary of State should make clear and explicit why he thinks an RSS should be revised or withdrawn, either in whole or in part. Let us not forget that the regional spatial strategies will have been through a lengthy process of formulation, presumably involving a number of stakeholders. The process of formalising and agreeing the regional spatial strategy might take many months, even years. Surely, if the Secretary of State is minded to direct revision of the whole of a strategy, some indication should be given as to the reason why.

On the practical level, those responsible for drawing up the revised regional spatial strategy will surely benefit from knowing the Secretary of State's reasons for wanting a revised draft to be drawn up. That will aid them in preparing their revision. After all, the regional spatial strategy is the policy of the Secretary of State however expressed, as we have debated. He might as well give them as much help as possible, rather than relying on them to guess what is in the Secretary of State's mind. I hope that the reasoning behind the amendments is clear.

Lord Rooker

I have three paragraphs on Clause 9, so I shall put those on the record first before I reply to the amendments. I received the note from the noble Baroness, for which I am grateful.

Clause 9 enables the Secretary of State to direct a regional planning body to prepare a draft revision of the regional spatial strategy. Such a direction may specify which aspects of the strategy are to be revised and within what time frame.

Where the regional planning body fails to act in accordance with such a direction made by the Secretary of State or relevant regulations, the clause also enables the Secretary of State to prepare the draft revision himself. I want to make it absolutely clear that these powers are intended only as a safeguard, to ensure that the regional spatial strategies are kept up to date. It is also important to note that where the Secretary of State himself prepares a draft revision of a regional spatial strategy, the clause requires that as far as possible exactly the same procedures must be followed as when the regional planning body prepares the draft revision.

The clause enables the Secretary of State to revoke a regional spatial strategy or parts of it. It also enables the Secretary of State to order that steps taken towards the preparation of any part of regional planning guidance may have effect as steps taken towards a revision of a regional spatial strategy. It is intended that, if appropriate, on-going reviews of regional planning guidance will continue as revisions to the regional spatial strategy. I realise that Clause 9 is drafted with overarching powers of the Secretary of State, but it is not quite like that. I shall add that the Secretary of State would, of course, tell a regional planning body why he was directing it to prepare a draft revision. He must act reasonably and therefore he must give reasons. I hope that covers some of the points.

As far as the details of the amendments are concerned, I hope that the Committee will find my response helpful. Amendment No.49 would amend Clause 5 to remove the requirement on the regional planning body to prepare the draft revision of the regional spatial strategy if it was directed by the Secretary of State, using his powers, to do so.

Let me say at the outset that we would not expect the Secretary of State ever to need to direct the regional planning body to prepare a draft revision. As I have said, it is included as a safeguard. Of course, what happens in practice now will continue to happen in the future. The regional planning body, in the light of monitoring information, changing circumstances in the region or a new national policy, will consider whether a revision of all or part of the regional spatial strategy is necessary. The regional planning body will discuss this with the Government Office of the Region. Together they will come up with a project plan for the scope and the timing of the review.

Revisions of regional spatial strategies are not something that will be governed by central diktat. That is such a good sentence, I shall read it again. Revisions of the regional spatial strategies are not something that will be governed by central diktat. But it is sensible that we have some safeguards in the Bill to ensure that the regional spatial strategy is kept up to date. This is something on which I believe that we are in agreement across the Floor. But let me explain why I believe that the reserve power is a better means of achieving this than Amendment No.50, which would amend Clause 5 to require the regional planning board to prepare a draft at least every five years.

The regional spatial strategy provides a broad development strategy for the region for at least a 15-year period and addresses a wide range of issues and policy areas. A comprehensive revision of the regional spatial strategy is, in consequence, a major exercise. Draft Planning Policy Statement 11 on regional planning sets out a timetable for a comprehensive revision of the whole of the regional spatial strategy in a little over two and a half years. We would not want, by prescribing the fixed five-yearly revision cycle, to compel the regional planning body to spend more than half its time revising the regional spatial strategy from start to finish, even when it is not necessary. A fixed review would reduce the flexibility. It certainly creates unnecessary work, that is for sure.

Amendment No.76 would amend Clause 9 to require the Secretary of State to give reasons. As I have said, our approach throughout the Bill is to require the Secretary of State to give reasons when he is making changes to substantive documents and when he proposes changes in the draft revisions. I do not believe that directing the regional planning body to prepare a draft revision of the regional spatial strategy or revoking all or parts of the regional spatial strategy falls into this category. It is essentially about procedures.

The Secretary of State would use his powers to direct only in exceptional circumstances. He may want to use the power if, for example, for whatever reason, the regional spatial strategy or part of it became seriously out of date, such as when a change in national policy was not taken into account. As a matter of good practice the Government give reasons for their decisions. That is our policy.

Amendment No.51 simply removes the word "But" from the beginning of Clause 5(2). As it would appear to have no substantive effect, there seems to be no reason to amend the Bill in this way. Funnily enough, the removal from the Bill of a word that makes no difference would mean one less word in the legislation. I do not have a good reason why the Bill should be shortened by one word. I say that just in case anyone raises that point. I have no authority to accept such a major amendment.

Baroness Hamwee

I think that a later clause starts with "But", and not necessarily "But" in received pronunciation.

I understand that these are very largely reserved powers. However, I cannot help but observe that the Secretary of State is the one who designates the regional planning body and also—this is a serious point—that public confidence in the new bodies requires letting them get on with doing the job. The Minister describes this as an overarching clause, but I think that I would describe it as overegging. It is not a point that I shall pursue now, but I am certain that we will continually refer to the issue, as it characterises the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Hanningfield had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No.50:

Page 3, line 23, at end insert "; and (d) in any event within five years of the publication of the RSS or a revision of it

The noble Lord said: I simply want to add to the comments made just now by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. The Minister said that he saw no reason to remove one word. In our proceedings on Tuesday we wanted to add one word to the Bill. Perhaps we can do a swap and keep the Bill at the same length. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that the Secretary of State would give reasons why he was requiring changes or revisions and why he was withdrawing something. However, I think that the Bill should state that. I echo and endorse the noble Baroness's comments that these reserve clauses seem draconian. The flavour of the Bill is all the worse for that. I hope that the Government will reflect on the possibility of adding words to the effect that, "The Secretary of State will give reasons", and so on. The Minister's answer just now was much better than the words that are in the Bill. It is a pity that the Bill cannot reflect his words. I hope that the Government will think again.

[Amendment No.50 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos.51 and 52 not moved.]

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No.53:

Page 3, line 27, leave out "and advice contained in guidance"

The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment designed to give the Government an opportunity to clarify whether subsection (3)(a) implies that advice contained in guidance is not itself actually national policy. I am sure that the Minister will agree that if we are to make a distinction between national policy and advice contained in guidance, this could have very significant consequences for planning decisions up and down the country. However, if planning guidance is still best understood as national policy, there is no need for the words "and advice contained in guidance" to be in subsection (3)(a). As always, whenever additional language does not clarify any point of law, it is best to be as concise as possible. I beg to move.

1.15 p.m.

Lord Rooker

The noble Lord questions the need for the phrase "and advice contained in guidance". We have used that formulation for a simple reason. It is clear that the Government have planning policies which are set out in planning policy guidance notes or planning policy statements under our new approach. So as I said in our debate on Tuesday, there is a set of documents that are guidance. Although that guidance is not in the Bill and is not statutory, it is issued under legislation. Those documents have to be taken into account, certainly by planning inspectors, to show that the approach being taken is reasonable. It may be appropriate for us to issue guidance on procedural matters which we would expect a regional planning body to take into account.

Those who wish to argue semantics could say that this is not policy because it concerns a process. By using the phrase "advice issued in guidance" we avoid that sort of problem. It covers both kinds of guidance. My note says, and it is absolutely true, that there is nothing sinister in this. It does not mean that we will be sneaking out important policy statements or directing regional planning bodies by the back door. We would never dream of doing such an appalling thing. Where we bring forward new policies that may impact on the regional spatial strategy we will consult on them as we do now.

I therefore hope that the noble Lord will recognise that this is not devious drafting. It is simply a sensible way of bringing clarity to those issues. As I say, although we have planning policy set out in guidance, we may use guidance for procedural matters. This form of words brings clarity to the issue and does not allow people to argue the toss about it.

Baroness Hanham

I am fascinated by the words used in legislation. In our previous debate on the Bill we had a gritty discussion about the words "have regard to". We wanted to insert those words in place, I think, of the words "the Secretary of State must". That rather tendentious argument was all about the regional spatial strategy and the regional planning guidance. I am now amused to note that the revision by the regional planning bodies need only "have regard to" national policies. National policies, of course, will be regional planning guidance. So is this going to be a mandatory inclusion? Will a regional spatial strategy—which as we understand it is as much or as little of the regional planning guidance as the Secretary of State directs—now be a mandatory part of the regional spatial strategy or will it be something to which the regional planning bodies can have regard? There needs to be consistency about this. At the moment there is none.

Lord Avebury

Perhaps I may ask a question before the Minister replies to that point. Would it not be best to say here, "advice on procedure", instead of, "advice contained in guidance"? The noble Lord said that advice on procedure, which is not policy, would be contained in guidance. However, there does not seem to be any statutory reason why that would necessarily be the form in which the procedures would be outlined; it could be in some other form of document issued by the Secretary of State. The point that the noble Lord was seeking to make was that if advice on procedure was given by the Secretary of State, that should be taken into consideration, just as the RPB should have regard to the policy guidance which is in guidance. At the moment the wording of Clause 5(3)(a) makes it appear that advice contained in guidance could be concerned with national policies. The noble Lord has explained that it is not and that the point of having these words in the Bill is simply the procedural one. So let us make that clear on the face of the Bill.

Lord Rooker

With all due respect, it is clear on the face of the Bill. I am not a lawyer, but it ought to be possible for the regional planning body—indeed it must be possible in terms of the conduct of public administration—to show in its own processes how it has had regard to those issues. In other words, it ought to be clear that it can make its own statements to show that it has taken into account and had regard to such matters. If, on the other hand, it did not have regard and ignored them, it ought to be clear that it has ignored them. Of course, then it would be acting outwith the requirements of the legislation. It would in any event be completely unreasonable for a public body simply to ignore the matter.

It ought to be possible to show that a body has had regard, because it will come up with its own solutions to regional issues. The solutions will not be the same for each regional body. There will be national policies, but the regional planning bodies deal with the regions, so their policies will not be the same. A body will therefore have regard to certain policies for its region to a greater or lesser extent than the planning body for the adjoining region. It ought to be quite easy for a public body to show that it has had regard to that and that it has taken it into account in coming to its proposals.

We use the phrase to avoid certain problems. It may be appropriate to issue guidance on procedural matters. We have not necessarily done that at the moment, but there are all kinds of procedures that planning inspectors and others have to follow. I will take further advice on this matter, because I need to be clear on it. I think that I have got it right and I do not think that a case can be made for this amendment. However, I will certainly have it looked at again just to make sure. If the words are needed, then we should keep them in the Bill to avoid doubt in the future.

Baroness Hamwee

I have been looking at the draft PPS 11. Annexe F deals with guidance on national core output indicators. I cannot say that I have read the whole document during this debate, but if this is the sort of guidance to which Clause 5(3)(a) refers, then perhaps I should put into the pot the fact that that guidance includes things such as, the proportion of new dwellings on previously developed land and through conversions of existing buildings by county, district and unitary planning authorities". The guidance goes on to give density figures and mentions economic development and the proportion of floor space. It also mentions percentages of each type of development on previously developed land and the area of undeveloped flood plain lost to inappropriate development. The annexe goes on for two pages and what it sets out strikes me as being a little more than the sort of procedure to which the Minister referred. I accept that there are lists of items that need to be addressed, but those lists are very prescriptive as to the type of issues and as to the consideration that the regional planning body should he giving them. For example, the bodies must consider housing built at a density of fewer than 30 dwellings per hectare, between 30 and 50 per hectare and above 50. In any given region, the planning body might not want to use quite those thresholds. I suggest that the guidance is perhaps a little more complicated than the Committee has so far heard.

Lord Rooker

With respect, I do not accept that the guidance that I have considered is prescriptive. Also, I do not think that any of it is unreasonable. No regional planning body or its professional advisers would want to ignore it. It covers the very issues that need to be taken into account in terms of the national core output indicators. The guidance includes the regional services, minerals, waste and coastal management. None of the guidance is prescriptive. Hardly any of the sentences is longer than about eight or nine words. One cannot argue that there is a massive amount of detail for people to go through for all nine of the subjects listed. As I have said, I will double check that we genuinely need the words for the purposes that I have explained.

Lord Hanningfield

We have had an interesting debate in which several issues have been raised. I sought clarification of the issue and the Minister tried to give that. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has raised more detailed matters and we can be grateful that the Minister will look at the matter again. Many of the amendments tabled are designed to clarify the Bill so that we understand it. The Minister has been helpful and I reiterate that I am pleased that he is considering the issues again. I hope that at the next stage we will have reached a better position on the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 54:

Page 3, line 32, at end insert— ( ) the desirability of sub-regional strategies consistent with the objectives of the RSS;

The noble Baroness said: I have worded the amendment in such a way because I do not want to be too prescriptive. That is why I have used "desirability". However, I wanted to raise the issue of sub-regional and cross-regional strategies that would recognise that in practice the needs and opportunities of any area do not necessarily coincide conveniently with administrative boundaries. Perhaps that is rather trite but it is true. By this I am suggesting operating at a level that is more than local but less than regional—as that term is defined by the Government. Strategic work is necessary of a scale that would allow for detailed consideration of major proposals and a level of public involvement.

It occurred to me that this issue should be raised before the Council for the Protection of Rural England published earlier this month a report entitled Mind the Gap. No doubt it had occurred to me because I have had the benefit of the views of at least one of the authors over a period. I was struck by a number of the conclusions in the report. Among them was that there was a pressing need for metropolitan sub-regions to undertake a cross-regional approach. Coming from Manchester, I have been aware during recent years that Manchester and Liverpool, which have very different and distinct identities, seem to have a growing awareness of the benefits of joint working on some matters. That was not the case when I lived there.

Another conclusion was that there was a need to look sub-regionally at spacial matters without separating them from other emerging sub-regional arrangements and sectoral strategies. We have touched on that at a regional level already.

We have also talked about keeping strategic planners interested in their jobs and contributing. That is another area of work that I would foresee the bodies undertaking. I would also see some part of the work of the body as adding to accountability. I have galloped through a hugely important subject. I am mindful of the time—some noble Lords have come into the Chamber for the next item of business. I have probably not been able to do justice to the matter, but I would be glad of the Minister's comments. I beg to move.

1.30 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her explanation, but we think that the amendment would represent a rather odd addition to the list of matters to which the regional planning body should have regard, as set out in Clause 5(3). Those matters are other key documents that the regional spatial strategy needs to be closely inter-linked or consistent with, such as national planning policies or the regional spatial strategy of neighbouring regions, not things that it thinks desirable.

What really matters with the amendment is not its proposed position in the Bill, but the approach that it assumes to the sub-regional planning structure and all that is implicit in it. Regional spatial strategies will contain a new emphasis on sub-regions. Where parts of the region have a particular and common set of needs—for example, those involving growth or regeneration—it may make sense for those sub-regions to have a specific set of policies beyond or instead of some of those applicable to the region as a whole. I want to make the issue clear on two counts. We expect sub-regional strategies, in the sense of parts of the region having a distinct set of policies, to be the exception not the rule, and that those sub-regional strategies will form an integral part of the RSS.

We cannot afford to see a proliferation of plans under the guise of sub-regional strategies that are poorly integrated and serve only to create confusion and uncertainty for local communities, local planning authorities and, importantly, the developers. That is one of the real problems with the existing system, as I am sure that most Members of the Committee familiar with planning will concur.

There may be occasions where sub-regional and cross-regional boundaries exist. The Milton Keynes south Midlands growth area may be an obvious example. In that case, it makes sense to have a separate sub-regional strategy document. However, it is worth remembering that that is prepared by the three regional planning bodies affected and will be adopted as alterations to their three regional spatial strategies.

If the amendment is simply intended to ensure that the regional planning body thinks about where it might need a sub-regional approach within the regional spatial strategy, I support it in principle. The Government would be entirely happy with that. However, in practice we regard it as unnecessary. Draft planning policy statement 11 is clear about what we expect in regard to sub-regions within the regional spatial strategy and the role that we expect county councils and other authorities with strategic planning expertise to play in undertaking any sub-regional work. Our concern, however, is that the amendment actually promotes a series of free-standing sub-regional strategies that will end up re-creating the very confusion and uncertainty that often arises with and through the current system of structure plans. That is something that we want to reduce—an overall objective that has been greatly welcomed.

The end of my brief states: I beg the noble lady to withdraw the amendment". I hope that I do not have to beg the noble Baroness, but that she will feel very comfortable about withdrawing it.

Lord Greaves

Before my noble friend responds to the Minister, can he tell us what a sub-region is? I try to look at such matters in practical terms, to work out in my mind how new legislation will apply in the region that I know best, which is the north-west. It is a huge and very diverse region extending from the Scottish border to Mow Cop, and from the Irish Sea right into the heart of the Pennines where I live.

At the moment, we have five large counties—Cheshire, Lancashire, Cumbria, Merseyside and Greater Manchester, the last two of which are far more than just Liverpool and Manchester respectively. In such a region, how many sub-regional strategies would the Government expect to emerge as part of the regional spatial strategy? What sort of size are we talking about? Are the Government saying that the sub-regions should essentially be based on geographical size or the number of people who live there? Is it all a matter of difference? Cumbria, with the Lake District, is clearly a very different place from Salford in the heart of Greater Manchester.

Curiously, "sub-region" is quite commonly used in the part of the world where I live. It is used to refer to not even the whole of Lancashire, and not west Lancashire or north Lancashire round Lancaster, but east Lancashire, which is the area from Blackburn to Colne, the Ribble Valley and so on. Can we expect a sub-regional strategy for east Lancashire, the whole of Lancashire, or what? What will the provision mean for those of us who will care about the policies and strategies in the areas in which we live?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

I would be rather reluctant to say that east Lancashire should have a sub-regional strategy, although it may be entirely relevant for it to have one. Is that not something best left to be determined in the locality? If we were to start dictating from the centre what a sub-region might look like, might we not be accused of taking even more authority to the centre? I am not sure that that is desirable, and the noble Lord probably does not see it as such. Different issues may well have a role in a sense, so that something might be a sub-region on economic matters but not in terms of geographical issues. I am very reluctant to start trying to define from the Dispatch Box what a sub-region might be. That is best left to the region as a whole to determine, perhaps based on the issues that arise in that region.

Baroness Hamwee

I expected various descriptions of the amendment, but "odd" was not one of them. Again, the Government seem to be afraid, or certainly to be avoiding, a bottom or middle-up approach. We have had discussions about one sub-region—the Thames Gateway—on a number of occasions already during our proceedings. The point that I particularly want to make is that such planning should have an evolution; it should evolve and perhaps be organic.

The Minister talks as though we would have one plodding stage of revising the RSS, and then perhaps have sub-regional strategies coming along. One would expect more than one revision to the RSS. By that time, sub-regional strategies may have been created, preceding a subsequent revision of the RSS.

I accept that the amendment may not have been the way to raise the subject but, on the substantive point, lunch precludes my complaining further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Rooker

I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving the Motion, I suggest that the Committee begin again not before 2.38 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.