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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, when I sat on the Benches presently occupied by noble Lords, I used to say that any amendment I contended for was minor on the basis that it might well be accepted. The noble Lord is right: it is not an identical amendment because he now specifies one person rather than the presiding officer of the assembly.

We do not think that this is a matter for the face of the Bill. However, I reiterate that it is essential that all planning decisions, whether at first instance or on appeal, should be made without unnecessary delay; and, crucially, that they are seen to be transparent and impartial. One of the reasons that sometimes they are not is that one has an overpowerful monolith, whether in local government or in an assembly context. That is one of the important reasons why we wanted a proportional system which would give opposition parties a fair crack of the whip in the new assembly.

I can reaffirm that I believe the present system should be properly managed, efficiently and effectively. I do not refer simply to farming applicants for development because all applicants should be treated in the same way; I entirely agree with the noble Lord. An appeal or process that continues for two years is extremely expensive in terms of money, energies lost and dissipated, and perhaps employment chances which are lost forever. I can say--I hope that it is helpful--that my right honourable friend Ron Davies, the Secretary of State, shares those views.

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The real question is how we can best improve the planning system in Wales. We are waiting for the National Assembly Advisory Group's views. We expect those to be at hand in the next few weeks. Thereafter, the Secretary of State will use NAAG's report as a basis for preparing detailed guidance which he will put to the commission which is to prepare draft standing orders.

Those decisions are yet to be made. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, I am not sure that simply identifying one person will be the solution. It will not necessarily be so because it depends which person is identified. The noble Lord probably envisages that it may be the first secretary or a subject committee secretary; I do not know. I can only say that I entirely sympathise with his views. I believe that the planning regime at present is too slow, cumbersome and expensive and does not deliver the goods for those who are entitled to look to it. I do not refer only to applicants. Not everyone who raises an objection is of necessity self-evidently just a NIMBY. People often are rightly conservative in their views about changes to their habitat and environment.

On the principle, the noble Lord is pushing at an open door so far as I am concerned. I cannot prescribe what the assembly will do, but I can reaffirm the fact that the Secretary of State has every sympathy with his objective. However, I do not believe that we should put on the face of the Bill this narrow prescription that it should be only one person. After all, he or she might be someone entirely unsatisfactory to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley. It is a possibility.

Lord Stanley of Alderley: My Lords, it would be churlish if I were to divide the House on this issue because the Minister has come so far my way. I make one point. The noble Lord says that some conservative members do not like planning proposals. I should make it clear that it is "conservative" with a small "c". In most cases I would disagree with their views.

I am worried that NAAG will get the better of the noble Lord and the Secretary of State and will put in a panel. But the noble Lord has persuaded me that I am pushing at an open door. It would be foolish of me to divide the House and create a division between us. I think that there is little between us.

I thank the noble Lord for his efforts, the letters he has written, and the thought that he has put into the provision. I hope that he, I, and the Secretary of State will be successful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9 p.m.

Clause 76 [Role of Secretary of State for Wales]:

[Amendments Nos. 36 to 38 not moved.]

Clause 80 [Grants to Assembly]:

Lord Roberts of Conwy moved Amendment No. 39:

Page 41, line 41, after ("State") insert (", recognising the needs of Wales in relation to the needs of the United Kingdom as a whole,").

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, in a sense, this amendment to Clause 80 has been overtaken by events, in particular the Chancellor the Exchequer's Statement of yesterday announcing the planned increase in public spending over the next three years.

The application of the Barnett formula to the increase in education and health spending in particular means that Wales, too, will have increases. However, there is some doubt about how significant those increases are to be. They will be related to key targets which the Government and I might usefully define as "needs".

The realisation of those spending plans in Wales, as elsewhere, will no doubt depend on the progress of the economy. There are different predictions as to what the future holds in that regard and how the spending plans will be affected. However, your Lordships will be glad to know that I do not intend to engage in an economic debate.

I tabled the amendment in its revised form in order to make clear that when we discussed the needs of Wales on the second day of our Report stage we were referring to the needs of Wales in relation to the needs of the United Kingdom as a whole. Since then, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, has written to me. A copy of his letter has been placed in the Library. He expanded on the information given by his noble and learned friend as regards the Government's difficulties in accepting my amendment, with its requirement to recognise the needs of Wales and reconciling that with the continued application of the Barnett formula. As the letter puts the matter very succinctly, I shall read two paragraphs for the record. However, the Minister has yet another argument to adduce which I find less persuasive.

The argument that appeals to me is as follows:

    "The last Labour government undertook a review of the relative needs of Wales in the late 1970s, prior to the introduction of the block and formula arrangements. The Welsh baseline has since been uprated annually by application of the formula, as well as, of course, being subject to change when further functions have been devolved to the Welsh Office.

    To introduce an assessment of need into the annual payment mechanism--as your amendment would have required--would be radically to alter the formula, if not to do away with it altogether. Rather than simply applying the multiplier, the Secretary of State would have to determine the needs of Wales. This would effectively mean recalculating the baseline figure rather than applying a population-based ratio. Under this approach, there could be no consistent and automatic variations to the Block such as the formula provides, as the Block itself would necessarily be subject to continuous annual review. That, it seems to me, would make the formula effectively redundant".

That is a clear exposition of the key argument. The Minister knows that I do not wish to jeopardise the application of the formula, imperfect as it may now be. However, I shall continue to argue that if and when the Government come to revise it, the needs of Wales should be recognised in the context of the United Kingdom as a whole.

There is a need for a review such as was carried out in the late 1970s to take account of subsequent changes over the past 20 years or so and the present position. It may be for the convenience of your Lordships if I say that I do not intend to press the amendment to a

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Division. I shall simply reiterate my concern at the lack of principle, referred to in an earlier debate by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, behind the clause and the Secretary of State's absolute discretion in allocating grants to the assembly. The assembly will be dependent each year upon the good will and ability of the Secretary of State to secure a good deal for Wales. Yet in all probability he will have far less say in Whitehall after devolution. If he should belong to a party which does not control the assembly he will have little chance or incentive to fight for extra resources for his political opponents.

The amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith, to which he will speak soon, presents a fascinating proposition. I shall listen to him with great interest and to the Government's comments on his remarks. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, my Amendment No. 40 is grouped with Amendment No. 39. I should begin by apologising to the House for tabling an amendment of such substance at Third Reading. When I did so I was advised that it was outwith the custom of the House to discuss new business, which the formula is, at Third Reading. Indeed, I would not have tabled the amendment except for the terms in which at Report stage the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, dismissed my noble friend's amendment on the needs of Wales.

I should also explain to the House that I have tabled what I might call the elder brother of the amendment to the Scotland Bill. I had originally thought that with a bit of fortune and a fair wind, the Committee stage of the Scotland Bill would be completed before we reached the Third Reading of the Wales Bill. However, in a way, the Wales Bill is finishing with a strong sprint, whereas the Scotland Bill is still languishing in the early laps, steadily going round and round the track.

I was advised also that it is for the House to decide what is a matter of substance which should or should not be discussed. At this stage, I had better pause before I continue in case anybody would like to say that I am strictly out of court.

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