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I am concerned that the local authority might be required to carry out major research into the markets of the firms which it was encouraging to come into those units and that unless it had done so and could demonstrate that it had done so, it would be failing to take into account the implications of sustainable development for the United Kingdom as a whole.
I am not against what my noble friend says is the objective of the amendment; namely, that we should look at the implications of sustainable development for the UK as a whole. But I am concerned that it might create the expectation of an enormous research effort going into what could be quite small decisions with relatively minor implications. I want to be reassured that in practice local authorities will not find that their use of the power is hamstrung by a requirement to carry out a major exercise in demonstrating whether or not sustainable development in the United Kingdom as a whole, or in different parts of the United Kingdom, is affected by the subsection.
Lord Whitty: Clearly, the interpretation of the clause is giving rise to concerns which I do not believe should exist. We are certainly not attempting to use the clause to override the ability of local authorities, as part of their own sustainable development, to engage in some degree of competition with other local authorities. That is bound to happen. We are saying that local authorities must have regard to the broad objectives of sustainable development in the country as a whole.
It is clear that further guidance will be needed, and we intend to issue guidance. We shall consult widely with bodies with which my noble friend Lord Harris is extremely familiar in order to reach consensus. But we believe that some reference to the objective should be made on the face of the Bill and I hope that the guidance will clarify the matter.
Lord Smith of Leigh: I thank my noble friend for the undertaking to issue further guidance. However, I hope that he will follow up the point made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, because I have some sympathy for what he said. We all support the principle of sustainable development and wish to see it included as an objective in the Bill. Those of us who have served on local authorities know that such matters may become the subject of legal challenge by individuals or groups who very effectively use the processes of the law to delay and damage developments. It is right that local authorities should consider sustainable development but we do not want
The noble Lord said: I hope that the Committee will forgive me for what I consider to be a thoroughly bad amendment. I do not mean that in the sense of my intentions but it is the most appalling alliteration. I did not realise that until I had tabled the amendment. In fact, the word "ascertain" would be better than the word "determine".
Lord Harris of Haringey: On the last amendment, I expressed concern that we might be creating a lawyers' playground and I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, agreed. He now seems intent on making that lawyers' playground potentially worse by requiring that local authorities determine or ascertain the effects of sustainable development on the United Kingdom. I suggest that that makes the clause even more of a potential minefield in terms of litigation. When the noble Lord listens to my noble friend's response, I am sure that he will rapidly wish to withdraw the amendment.
However, the position is as my noble friend Lord Harris indicated. What is proposed is a much more onerous requirement on local authorities to engage in precisely the degree of detailed research into specific proposals which my noble friend feared would
Clearly, we want local authorities to have regard to the broad objective of sustainable development. We do not wish to impose on local authorities a huge research task to ascertain, determine, or whatever, the precise effect on all other local authorities throughout the United Kingdom. That would be too much. I do not suggest that, and I hope that the wording on the face of the Bill does not suggest it.
Baroness Hanham: I believe that the mischief lies in the words, "in the United Kingdom". The more I am told that there is to be guidance on the matter, the more nervous I become. I question--and I hope that the Minister will take this into account--whether each individual local authority will have to ascertain, determine or look at everything that is going on in the United Kingdom before it takes any decisions under this power. By removing the words, "in the United Kingdom", you remove the lawyers' paradise. You make a perfectly reasonable statement that local authorities should pay attention to sustainable development. At present it is almost like asking them to pay attention to sustainable development in Europe. The Government are making it nearly as bad by inserting the words "in the United Kingdom". Rather than adding another 15 pages to the large and voluminous guidance already issued, perhaps we should just omit those four words.
Lord Bridges: This amendment seems to trespass somewhat on the territory of environmental impact assessments that are already obligatory in certain spheres of local authority activity including planning applications. I am not sure how the amendment will affect the existing situation.
Lord Whitty: Perhaps it is in order for me to speak again. In part, I take the points made in relation to this matter. If sustainable development is to be looked at only within the area of a local authority, that will constrain the aim of the clause. Clearly, quite a number of decisions will affect at least enabling authorities and perhaps beyond. I do not believe that the amendment is intended to have quite the ramifications suggested by noble Lords. I am happy to consider what has been said in this debate and to look at whether there is a better way of dealing with the matter. I believe that noble Lords understand the objectives behind the clause and I hope that some anxieties have been allayed.
Lord Dixon-Smith: I am again grateful to the Minister for his reply. His words will become part of the record and, therefore, they will have validity and an importance beyond this Chamber. In that sense I am grateful to him. After a useful little debate,
The health of the local population ought to be, and already is, a matter of importance to local authorities. Many local authorities already have quite important powers in the field of public health. Their responsibilities in housing, planning and social services can have considerable impacts on the health of local people. They now have an obligation to co-operate with local NHS organisations on health matters. The health of local people, like benefit to the environment, provides an excellent litmus test of the wider impact and benefit of the exercise of powers to promote economic, social or environmental improvement. Noble Lords have discussed exactly that in relation to the previous amendment.
A government amendment introduced a similar provision to the GLA Act. During its passage, we introduced amendments to give powers to the mayor to create a health strategy for London and/or to publish a regular report on the health of Londoners. In responding to those amendments, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, said on 21st June 1999:
Our amendment does not go quite as far as that. Despite what the Minister has said in reply to my noble friend, we submit that this duty should apply to all local authorities and not just to the GLA. If the amendment is accepted, the clause would be almost identical in its wording to the relevant provision--Section 30(4)--in the Greater London Authority Act. I beg to move.
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