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Baroness Hamwee: The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is coming up with some colourful examples of situations with which local authorities might have to deal. My query is quite simple: as I read subsection (2), it gives a power to the local authority to carry out actions. It does not say that a local authority must prefer certain groups of people to those which comprise its residents. It is in the spirit of supporting local government and the autonomy of local authorities that their scope for taking rounded decisions should be in the interests of all those who might properly seek to benefit from them. Simply to allow local authorities to take decisions for the benefit of persons resident but not for other persons who might be in its area would be a regrettable restriction.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I want to give the Committee two or three examples of large groups of people which, certainly in the south-west, would be massively disadvantaged if the noble Lord's amendment were to be accepted. Some examples which spring to mind are seasonal workers who come to work in horticulture or agriculture; students who frequently have to cross county boundaries, for instance, to go to appropriate colleges; or even tourists in the summer season. Such groups number far more than would occasional eco-warriors or terrorists.
Baroness Hamwee: My noble friend might have added homeless people and, indeed, people who are sleeping rough on the streets. I am sure that local authorities, among other agencies, would not want to be forced to ignore their interests.
Lord Whitty: I believe that on this occasion noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches have made my point for me. Clearly, the provision is not a requirement on local authorities to act on behalf of the North African terrorists mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, or Swampy and his friends; rather, it provides an ability to act on behalf of exactly the types of group to which the noble Baronesses, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer and Lady Hamwee, have referred. I believe that almost every local authority has some, if not all, of the groups which we have mentioned. Therefore, it is important that they have the power to act on their behalf.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I am grateful to the Minister for his reply because he has helped me, even if he believes that he has done so unwittingly. Of course, I accept all the examples that were given by the noble Baronesses on my right. However, the Minister has said that the provision is not a requirement. That will now be written into the record of the proceedings in this House because it will be reported in Hansard. If this matter becomes an issue in one of those ridiculous cases which I mentioned and of which we have all seen or know of examples, at some point the Minister's words in this House may be important. I am grateful to him for those words. They are helpful and, with that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: This is a simple amendment and one which, again, is designed to help the Minister and to be helpful to local government. To say that a local authority must have regard to the effect which the proposed exercise of the power would have on the achievement of sustainable development in the United Kingdom seems to me to ask the local authority to make a judgment on a matter which is for national government rather than for the authority. I do not in any way belittle the capacity of local government. I seek simply to avoid putting upon them a burden which is beyond their competence to discharge. Unless this duty is put upon local government so as to give the Minister a locus on which he can intervene and restrain the local authority in what it intends to do, I do not understand why the burden should be imposed. Therefore, I propose that it should not be. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say. I beg to move.
Lord Harris of Haringey: I have no difficulty with there being written into this part of the Bill references to the importance of the achievement of sustainable development. I believe that that is a fundamental objective towards which local government should be working. However, although I do not favour the
I believe that the intention is try to ensure that, in pursuing the well-being of the people of their area, local authorities do so in a way which does not have a major negative impact on, say, residents of surrounding areas, and that they pursue that well-being in a fashion which can be sustained for future generations. Those are important principles. However, I am not sure that the subsection as drafted will necessarily achieve that. I hope that my noble friend can satisfy me that my fears of how lawyers might interpret this issue are completely wrong.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: While I, too, am interested in the Minister's reply to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, on the intention of the drafting, we would certainly be sad if this clause were to be removed. Indeed, through our Amendment No. 36, to which I shall speak later, we express a wish to strengthen substantially the sustainable development duty of local authorities.
I had not read anything so sinister into the clause. I believed that it was attempting to make a building block of local authorities in an effort to make sustainable development occur nationally and to recognise that local authorities are the only building blocks that can deliver a national sustainable development strategy. They are, after all, the planning authorities. They will be responsible for how the Transport Bill is implemented. Virtually everything that they touch has an immediate bearing on sustainable development in the most obvious sense. Much of what they do has a longer-term and perhaps less obvious impact on sustainable development. Therefore, I believe that this subsection should remain. Indeed, we look forward to the sustainable development power of local authorities being considerably strengthened.
Regrettably, "sustainable development" is not a precise phrase. If we were to enter a detailed discussion--I hope that we shall not--we should probably find that there are as many meanings to those two words as there are Members in this Chamber tonight. Therefore, we believe that we should once again invite the Minister to help us to clarify precisely what is meant because local authorities rightly are subject to public supervision of their actions.
It is not inconceivable that one of the environmental pressure groups might choose to take a different view of what a local authority does in the context of the meaning of the two words "sustainable development". Having taken that view, they would, I believe, perhaps be entitled to call for a judicial review of the matter if they felt sufficiently strongly about the issue. Therefore, if we are not careful we could involve local authorities in considerable expenditure which really should not be necessary. If we can do anything at this or, indeed, any other stage of the Bill which will avoid that situation, we should do it. It is for that reason that I added my name in support of the amendment. I was not in collusion with my noble friend Lord Peyton. We find ourselves arguing the same point but from different perspectives. However, I believe, and very much hope, that the Minister will be able to help us.
Lord Whitty: As the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, pointed out, the decisions and actions of local authorities may well have repercussions well beyond their own boundaries. In particular, they may well have an effect on the infrastructure, climate and economic development beyond their own boundaries.
This clause merely provides that in reaching their decisions under this power, local authorities must have regard to the broader picture in relation to sustainable development. Having had that regard, they must take that reasonably into account. It does not say, as my noble friend Lord Harris perhaps implied, that were a decision of a local authority to come into conflict with the decision of another local authority, that decision would be overriden.
The Government, like those on the Liberal Democrat Benches, consider the objective of sustainable development to be very important. Once a local authority has taken a view as to how its actions would affect sustainable development, it must then act reasonably. Therefore, this provision writes into the decision-making process that local authorities must take into account sustainable development for the United Kingdom as a whole. It has no broader implication. We believe that it is important that that should be written in as part of the way in which local authorities should reasonably exercise the powers.
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