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Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet) (Con): My hon. Friend quoted the Liberal peer, Lady Hamwee, who tabled amendment No. 1 in the other place. It is worth putting it on record that, for eight years, she was chairman of the London planning advisory committee, which was an unelected quango. Her occupation of that position means that we should take notice of her remarks.
Mr. Hayes: As I said, I do not praise Liberal Democrats lightly. No wise or measured man does. However, on this occasion, they have got it right. Our objection to the measure is not born of any support for regional assemblies but of the Bill's leading to an indefensible position, unless the Government, at the eleventh hour, accept the Lords amendments. The unamended measure would mean that power rested with officers and would be removed from local communities. It may lead to the crazy result that some parts of the country, which have regional assemblies, have a route to influencing power through elected representatives whereas other parts have no such opportunity. That is ludicrous. The Minister knows that. He made the case with charm but unconvincingly. His heart was not in it because he knew that he was arguing a pretty weak case.
David Wright (Telford) (Lab): If the Bill did not proceed, the existing regional planning structure remained in place and a regional assembly was accepted, does the hon. Gentleman believe that regional planning powers should pass to that elected assembly?
Mr. Hayes: I hope, and will work to ensure, that regional assemblies are not elected. I look forward to the day when we can dustbin the whole regional agenda and a Conservative Government will reinforce their commitment to local democracy through supporting county councils and district councils. I look forward to the day when we can say good-bye once and for all to regionalism. So I do not want to take the fanciful road, down which the hon. Gentleman seeks to lead me, of looking at a future that I do not believe will come to pass.
There is nothing wrong with fishing for compliments, particularly when we fish successfully and get them. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman agrees with my assessment of my strength of character.
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Of course the system should be democratised; of course there is a problem with a system that I have described as esoteric, cumbersome and bureaucratic, and in which people do not feel that they have sufficient influence over planning decisions. I want the planning system to be reformed, and the Government have the opportunity to do just that. So, yes, there should be democratisation of the planning system and greater public involvement. There should be many of the provisions to which the Minister claims to aspire, but none of them is contained in the Bill. Nothing in the Government's proposals will make the system more democratic. Indeed, if the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright) were to follow his principles and have the courage of his convictions, he would vote with us and with the House of Lords, which hasnot for the first timestood up for the people against a Government who have lost touch with the people they govern.
Mr. Redwood: I should like to draw to the attention of my hon. Friend the most likely outcome, which is that there will be no elected regional assemblies because he and I and our friends will be successful in persuading people that they would represent an unnecessary bureaucratic intrusion in their lives. Does he therefore agree that the House can tonight either vote for the Lords amendments, which would mean that we should not have these nasty regional planning bodies and their extra powers, or vote with the Government to establish the bodies, over which there would be no democratic rights or controls of any kind?
Mr. Hayes: My right hon. Friend is as incisive as ever. He is right to suggest that we are not being offered the chance to vote tonight for regional powers or regional elections; we are instead being encouraged by the Minister to vote against Lords amendments that would temper the Bill and to vote for a transfer of power or, at the very leastif the Minister will not accept the argument that these measures represent a transfer of powerthe maintenance of power at regional level with no guarantee of matching accountability through elected structures.
The Bill represents a challenge to proper local democracy. The hon. Member for Telford claims to be an advocate of good local democracy and, given his ability to judge character, he probably is such an advocate. I think that he is on the cusp of coming with us tonight and voting with those on the Opposition side of the House who really do support good, strong, healthy local democracy, and with those fellow travellers, the Liberal Democrats, who are going to vote with us. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Ludlow (Matthew Green) in his place, and I look forward to his speech, which I hope will be supportive of the arguments that have already been made.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting a cogent and amusing case. Does he agree that the Government's case for this proposal being more
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democratic has been completely blown out of the water by the Minister's statement today, and that of his predecessor, that the regional spatial strategy belongs to the Secretary of State? If it belongs to the Secretary of State, how can it possibly be democratic?
Mr. Hayes: Like a good prompter, my hon. Friend brings me to my next point. He is right; this is not simply about a lack of democratic legitimacy. It is not even just about the resulting bad planning decisions that are likely to emerge. The Lords have also properly recognised that the Bill greatly increases the power of the Secretary of State. They oppose that, as do we. It was recognised by my noble Friend, Lord Hanningfield, that the Government are seeking not only to suck power up from localities to regions, but to allow it, in his memorable phrase, to "leak" back to the Secretary of State.
When the Minister, to whose words I listen carefully, speaks of decisions being made at the "appropriate level" he does not mean the low level, as he described it, of communities; what he really means is his levelor perhaps not even his level, but a level above: a level to which he aspires, a level that he may expect one day to occupy so that he can exercise such powers. We say that not just the transfer of powers to the regions, but the further transfer of powers to the Secretary of State is unacceptable.
As I said at the outset, the Minister has made a charming casehe is always generous, and his delivery is always silkybut a wholly unconvincing one. The Government's position is as unconvincing as it is inconsistent. If this is new Labour democracy, I say: bring back old Labour. If this is new Labour democracy, let us bring back Bevan and Benn. This will mean local councillors with little power and local people with less. Communities will be emasculated, and planning professionals either overridden or ignored.
Better still, let us bring on a Conservative teamconvinced about local democracy, committed to serving local communities and determined to deliver politics and planning on a human scale. My colleagues will support the Lords tonight, because the Lords speak for the people. The Government speak against the interests of the people. I look forward to seeing the whole House support us and our noble Friends.
Matthew Green: The Bill started off as a terrible muddle. When the Minister took over he cleared away a few of the muddles, and the Bill left its second Commons Committee stage much improved. The Lords have improved it further, but there is some way to go before it will be workable. If we cover that ground we shall have a Bill that will speed up the planning system, make it more accountable and democratic and better reflect people's needs. The Lords have made some excellent changes; if the Minister accepts them, he will find that he has a Bill that he can be proud of for the next decadefor I suspect that it will be a decade before the House gets round to amending the planning legislation again.
Lords amendment No. 1 attempts to let the Government live up to their own spin. "New localism" is a phrase that has been bandied around the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for the past year or so. If this
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part of the Bill is new localism in practice, the Government have not quite got it. I understand the term to mean people making decisions at the lowest possible level and being accountable at the lowest possible level, not decisions being made at the centre on a one-size-fits-all basis.
Unlike the Conservatives, I am a believer in regional government. We are arriving at the same point from two entirely different directions, but I am a firm believer in regional government because it can bring power closer to the people by taking it away from Westminster, not by taking it up from councils. I would be much more reassured by the route that the Government have taken if they accepted the sunrise clause, which says "Yes, transfer the powers, but do so when there is an elected regional assembly." If they did that, I would not have an argument with themwell, I might have a little argument with them over which powers should be where, but in general I have no problem with a regional tier of planning provided that it is democratically accountable and elected, which next year it will not be in most regions. I hope that we win the three northern regions: I shall certainly campaign for that, and I believe that they will be won. However, that will not involve the southern and midlands regions, which will have unelected regional planning bodies rather than elected ones.
The Government admit that those unelected planning bodies will not even be completely indirectly elected. Their draft regulations say that funding for those bodies will be dependent on at least 30 per cent. of the membership with voting rights being other than from local authorities. The Government want to maximise the element of the regional planning bodies that is not electednot even indirectly elected. It would be slightly more comforting if they said that 100 per cent. of those bodies were to be indirectly elected, but even that would not go far enough, as was alluded to by my noble Friend Baroness Hamwee in the other place. She served for eight years on, and chaired, the London planning advisory committee, a completely indirectly elected regional planning body, and she set out a good case for why such bodies do not work particularly well in the interests of people in the area.
I urge the Government not to resist Lords amendment No. 1, because it seeks to ensure that there is no democratic deficit, and that when the powers are transferredwe can argue the detail of which powers should be at which levelthere is democratic legitimacy. Surely the Minister wants to be remembered for having stood up for democratic legitimacy in the Bill.
Lords amendment No. 2 was a Conservative amendment, with a great deal of merit, which the Liberal Democrat peers supported. It would change the emphasis in the Bill in respect of what the regional planning bodies could do with national planning guidance. At the moment, clause 1 says that the RSS, the regional spatial strategy,
"must set out the Secretary of State's policies (however expressed) in relation to the development and use of land within the region."
It will have no choice about that, but must set those policies out. The amendment, moved in the Lords by Lord Hanningfield, would change that "must set out" to
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"shall have regard to". That is about democracy, and about trusting an elected regional assembly to take the best decisions for its area, in the context of guidance from the Government. To say that the body must have regard to those policies is a much better way of doing that than to say that it "must set out" those policies.
I am not going to go down the route of saying that we must take all planning powers down to the lowest possible level and decide on housing numbers at street level, because we would not then build the houses that we need. It is easy rhetoricI say this with all seriousness to the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes)to say that we should take all decisions down to the lowest possible level. The Conservatives did not do that when in government, and I suspect that if they were ever in governmentunfortunatelyagain, they would still not do so. That is because some things have to be driven from national level, and some from regional level.
It would be unrealistic to leave district councils to set out housing numbers. Virtually no houses would be built, because people do not want houses built in their area. If we walk down the average street, we will find that people say, "Oh yes, we need affordable houses for people. It is a great shame that young families cannot afford to buy houses these days". However, if we respond, "What about the field behind youwhy don't we put some affordable housing there?" they say, "No, no, we can't possibly put any there, it's beautiful countryside." There is always tension in the planning system, and it is foolish to pretend that there is not.
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