Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)

LORD FALCONER OF THOROTON, QC, MR MIKE ASH, MR JEFF CHANNING AND MR CHRISTOPHER BOWDEN

TUESDAY 18 DECEMBER 2001

  40. Where is the accountability?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The accountability comes ultimately from the Secretary of State producing the regional spatial strategy. He is part of an elected government. That is where the accountability comes from.

  41. The accountability is not to be in the region; it is to be with the Secretary of State.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) What the Secretary of State is seeking to do is to ensure that the document which is produced is one produced by a representative body within the region.

  42. As decided by the Secretary of State?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Ultimately, yes.

Ms King

  43. Can the Secretary of State just add people on or can he take people off?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It would be a consultative process. It would not be a formal selection of people. What the Secretary of State would do in effect would be to leave the regional players to produce the steering group. Only in the very exceptional case that it did not appear to be representative for a reason would he wish to intervene.

Sir Paul Beresford

  44. What sort of size will the steering group be?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It would vary from region to region. Let us hear views in relation to that during the course of the consultation.

  45. Every local authority or district authority is going to want a representative on it so we already running up to 60.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes. It will be a quite significance size in order for it to be adequately representative.

  46. It is going to make a decision that is going to be unanimous?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is going to produce a regional spatial strategy. At the moment, the way that regional planning guidance is produced is either by a regional chamber or by a coming together of all the local authorities with planning responsibility in the area.

  47. There is a whittling down system that moves in towards the centre to get that decision?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is a process by which currently they can come together and produce regional planning guidance. I have absolutely no doubt that it will be possible to put together a group at regional level that would be able to produce regional spatial strategies.

Mrs Ellman

  48. In this process, are you not removing the elected decisions of elected county councils as part of this proposal and not replacing them by an elected region?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is no different in terms of democratic accountability to the present system. Everybody agreed that when one spoke about how to reform the planning system you do need a regional planning level.

Chairman

  49. I do not think they wanted a series of tzars or tzarinas.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Nobody is offering tzars or tzarinas. That is not part of the proposal.

  50. Acolytes? What word would you say should be applied to a group of people chosen by the Secretary of State, decided to be representative or unrepresentative by the Secretary of State and ultimately handing to him the right to decide whether they have come up with the right answers?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I have not said that they would be chosen by the Secretary of State. What I have said is it is for the region to come together and decide what is the most representative body that can produce a regional spatial strategy. As Sir Paul says, that will include representatives of all the relevant local authorities but it will include other representatives as well.

  Chairman: Unspecified.

Mrs Ellman

  51. What would be the balance between the elected representatives and the non-elected representatives?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is a matter for each region to decide. Let us hear about it in the consultation. In regional chambers, I think it is 70/30 at the moment. That seems a perfectly reasonable breakdown but if people have different views let us hear them in the consultation. You need a regional level of planning. You need a process whereby you can get a representative view from the region in order to produce that document because the document has to have legitimacy within the region. What we are proposing is we think the best way to get that legitimacy, not by the Secretary of State appointing the body but the Secretary of State simply having a fall back power if the body that emerges from the region does not adequately represent the views of the region. If there is an alternative, we would be willing to hear it and take it into account in the consultation.

  52. I think the issue is about accountability at regional level, not whether there is a regional level. Can I turn to the question of major infrastructure projects? It is proposed that the decisions on the principle and location of major infrastructure projects would be taken by Parliament. How tightly would you define location in that context?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Pretty precisely. For example, in relation to terminal five, what would be envisaged is that the actual site would be designated on a plan which Parliament would have before it, before it made the decision. It would not be simply: should there be a fifth terminal at London Heathrow Airport and let the local planning authority decide where that might be. It would be identified on a plan where the particular project was going to go. Plainly, if it was a big, complicated project like a port, obviously there would be room for changes to be made about the precise size and diameter of things but in many cases the position of the project would be delineated by map before Parliament.

  53. If an issue of that detail went to Parliament, do you feel it would get proper scrutiny or do you feel that the whips by formal or informal means would impose the wishes of the government?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The proposals made for parliamentary scrutiny of the process involve a process quite similar to that used in relation to orders under the regulatory reform process. That involves a number of time limits, a process by which written representations are put in and a process by which parliamentary committees can scrutinise the detail of the particular proposals that are made, making such decisions as they, the committee, feel appropriate about hearing evidence. I do not think people think that the regulatory reform order process is one where Parliament does not adequately scrutinise the detail of those orders. I believe that Parliament would be able to give proper scrutiny to the sorts of proposals we have referred to but again the consultation document allowed for everybody's views in relation to that and in particular Parliament's.

  54. Would Parliament be permitted to amend the proposal or would it be a matter of accept or reject?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Under the regulatory reform proposals, what you have is a two stage process and after views have been expressed the promoter of the order can come back with an amended order. I am not sure that the same process could apply in relation to these sorts of things because if there is a promoter—for example, the BAA—promoting terminal five at London Heathrow it is really a question for the promoter of the proposals to decide whether or not he would want to go ahead if Parliament said, "We only want to do it if it is amended in a particular way." You are dealing with a slightly different process.

  55. You are making Parliament a planning body?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In relation to national infrastructure projects, you are saying Parliament must decide whether that project should be allowed in principle to go ahead.

  56. No, you are not; you going much beyond that. You are suggesting that Parliament has to agree on the specific location which you suggest should be fairly tightly drawn.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It could be in relation to things like terminal five. Yes, I am saying Parliament should decide that. In very many cases, Parliament could not make the decision without knowing with some degree of precision where the particular project was going.

Chairman

  57. The answer to the question, "Are you making it a planning authority?" is yes.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, because Parliament decides the principle; then there is the public inquiry on the detail.

  58. Does it decide in principle or does it decide on the specific site, because you have now said within the space of ten minutes both of those things are true. We are getting a little bit into Alice in Wonderland territory here.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is my fault for not being clear. It decides in principle whether or not T5 should be built there.

Mrs Ellman

  59. On a specific site?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It will be on a specific site.


 
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