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Lord Prys-Davies: My Lords, I support the opening sentences of the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Stanley. I very much agree that the determination of a planning appeal under the town and country planning legislation calls for the highest standards of objectivity. However, I am content to leave it to the assembly to decide in standing orders how that function is to be exercised. The noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, suggested one mechanism, but one can think of other options. I would be content to leave the matter to the standing orders of the assembly.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I rise to support my noble friends, who are clearly concerned about maintaining the integrity of the planning appeals system and indeed the planning system generally. I shall do that by asking a series of questions. How will the planning system work? Who will decide whether to call in a planning application? Who will consider an inspector's inquiry report on major applications of national significance where commercial confidentiality is important? What steps will be taken to safeguard the integrity of such decisions? Those are key questions in the new regime that will apply when the assembly takes over responsibility. We are all familiar with the system that has been in operation to date and are aware how sensitive that system has necessarily been, particularly with a view to maintaining its integrity and general faith in the system.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, all the points that have been made are extremely important. Undoubtedly, any planning system, including an appellate planning system, should be efficient in the sense of being as cheap and as prompt as possible. The kinds of delays that the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, spoke of are quite intolerable. Unfortunately, they are delays that are to be identified, and are notoriously well known, in the present system. It has always seemed to me that the present system could be made to work if one only managed it properly.
The terms of the amendment give the ability to determine planning appeals to the presiding officer of the assembly. I do not believe that that is suitable. It would be as if one were to ask the Speaker in another place to determine planning appeals, because the position of presiding officer is analogous to that of the Speaker; or as if one were to ask someone sitting in the seat presently occupied by the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, to determine planning appeals. I recognise that that point does not go to the substance of the matter.
The other point is the question of call-ins. Call-ins are rare, but their rarity implies their importance. They normally happen when issues of more than local importance are involved and where there are wider implications for planning policy.
However one worked through the noble Lord's amendment, one would have to distinguish between the present two categories, inspector decisions and call-ins, and I would include in call-ins decisions by the Secretary of State.
There is no reason in principle why the assembly should act in a different way from that which presently applies. That would include the integrity of the planning process and of decisions and respecting commercial confidentiality, which were the last two points that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, made. We believe that the way appeals and call-ins operate should be dealt with by assembly standing orders.
I recognise that the concern is a legitimate one. The Secretary of State's national assembly advisory group will make a recommendation following its own detailed deliberations of the underlying issues.
The decision-making process must be seen to be fair and equitable, free from any improper taint, free from corruption and reasonably prompt. We believe that standing orders are the way to achieve that. It is perfectly open to the assembly, by virtue of Clause 62, to delegate any of its functions to a committee. I can hear the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, sinking fast, and I notice that his head is shaking vigorously. The assembly might want to sub-delegate the Secretary of State's present function to the first minister. That would be a matter for careful consideration. It would have the advantage of not being a committee--it is always an advantage in Wales not to be a committee. It is possible that a single person making adjudications would do the work more quickly and would perhaps develop a more considered expertise than would a committee, the membership of which might change.
Certainly the presiding officer will not do. With great respect, a little more thought is needed as to how we should deal with inspector appeals. Ultimately, I think the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, is right in saying, first, that these concerns are proper ones and legitimately expressed; and, secondly, that ultimately it is for the assembly, through standing orders, to come to its own conclusion about different aspects of this problem. I recognise this to be a problem--not just for farmers.
Lord Stanley of Alderley: My Lords, the trouble with the noble Lord is that he can persuade anyone that a person is innocent or guilty, as the case may be, and I am just as susceptible as any jury! I wish to make one or two points. I will put the noble Lord and my old
We have discussed this Bill for a long time and, unfortunately--or fortunately--we all have Welsh blood in us. But we have so far achieved little and that is why I want an immediate decision. Let me be quite clear about this. I am an entrepreneur and my family has quite a record, on both sides, of being exceptional entrepreneurs. When one has an idea, one wants to take it forward. If we are put off, we will fight the first few battles, but may then lose faith. I have in mind a specific plan which in fact I won at the time, but would not consider now at the age of 70; I would be broken-hearted. I am sorry to bring money into this cultured debate in relation to the Welsh assembly-- I hope I have sympathy with the Welsh culture--but we need entrepreneurs and we desperately need them in Anglesey. Unless we have a simple system it will not work.
Bearing in mind what the Minister says, I shall not press this amendment tonight. My helpers--I was going to say "layabouts"--gave me many reasons why the presiding officer should make the determinations, but I will not go into them because it will delay the House. However, if the noble Lord will offer me suggestions, perhaps by letter--I do not mind if it is the first secretary--I will be happy. Otherwise, I shall bring the matter back at Third Reading with my suggestion, whoever that may or may not be. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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("( ) After the definition of "family health service provider" insert--
""financial year" and "first financial year of the Assembly" have the same meanings as in the Government of Wales Act 1998;".").
Page 119, line 42, after ("Wales") insert ("or acting Health Service Commissioner for Wales").
Page 119, line 46, after ("Wales") insert ("or acting Health Service Commissioner for Wales").
Page 121, line 35, leave out ("of the Assembly after the first") and insert ("after the first financial year of the Assembly").
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Page 122, line 16, leave out ("of the Assembly"). The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall move Amendments Nos. 204 to 209 en bloc. I beg to move.