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Determination Of Planning Appeals

Volume 591: debated on Thursday 9 July 1998

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. Where the determination of planning appeals on planning applications under town and country planning legislation has been transferred to the Assembly by an Order in Council under section 22 of this Act, the standing orders must include provision for this function to be exercisable by the presiding officer.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we return to an amendment that I withdrew at some unearthly hour the other night because noble Lords felt it appropriate that I should do so. The purpose of the amendment is to make sure that planning appeals are dealt with as quickly and efficiently as possible. It has to be admitted that that is not the case today. I hope, therefore, that the assembly will take note of this problem.

When I moved a similar amendment in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, pointed out that because I proposed that the final decision should be taken concurrently with the Secretary of State and the assembly, it would complicate matters. I entirely accept the noble Lord's point and I am grateful to him for pointing out my mistake.

However, I am not at all happy with the noble Lord's suggestion that the matter "might" be dealt with by the assembly. He acknowledged that there was a problem to be solved. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, also acknowledged that there was a problem, which I believe he described as quasi-judicial.

The need to solve the problem is in part caused by the present need for farmers to diversify. That is why have tabled the amendment. A recent survey indicated that no less than 40 per cent. of farmers were surviving only because of diversification. I must declare an interest in that I number among that 40 per cent.

However, diversification nearly always requires some form of development—or, as planning law says, change of use. That is where the trouble comes. For under every stone lurks a "Nimby", whose sole purpose, aided and abetted by certain societies, is to stop any development. Unfortunately, Nimbys have more spare time and are considerably more articulate and literate than the usual entrepreneur. They know every trick in the book to prevent development, often by the use of delaying tactics. As noble Lords will know, time is often critical, indeed vital, in any commercial development.

The first stage gives the protesters the opportunity. When the application goes before the local planning authority, great pressure is put on councillors, who, as a result, often ignore planning guidelines. If the entrepreneur—the farmer or businessman—has the stomach (and I can tell noble Lords that it takes some stomach) and the financial resources, he can then go to appeal. If he has a legitimate case, and I emphasise the word "legitimate", the inspector will rule in his favour. My experience of planning inspectors is that they operate the planning laws in a very responsible way because they have to follow the guidelines, as opposed to the councillors, who follow NIMBY pressure.

Noble Lords may think that the battle, indeed the war—I feel very strongly, having been involved in these matters—is then over. But that is not necessarily the case. The final decision rests with the Secretary of State. In 99 per cent. of cases the Secretary of State will uphold his inspector's decision. But—and this is the point of my amendment—his decision will now be taken over by the assembly. I fear the worst in that case. Like councillors, members of the assembly will inevitably be pressured by their NIMBY constituents.

I accept that the assembly may well delegate that responsibility. However, I am most anxious that this decision-making is done by one individual, someone as impartial as possible. That is why I have suggested in the amendment that it should be the presiding officer.

I do not therefore believe it correct or sensible for noble Lords to leave this decision to the assembly. The pressure will be on members of the assembly at this early stage in office to fudge the issue and appoint a committee. All committees love sub-committees, albeit of three. Three is two too many for sound and quick decisions, which commercial entrepreneurs need. I therefore hope that the Government will accept the reasons why I propose that the presiding officer should do this job. However, if the noble Lord has another individual—I emphasise "individual" not a committee—in mind, I should be happy to hear from him as to who it should or should not be. I beg to move.

My Lords, a substantial number of planning appeals have a political dimension. It would thus be unwise to give the presiding officer, who is politically neutral, such a responsibility. The National Assembly Advisory Group has discussed this matter. It came to the conclusion that responsibility should go to the first secretary, and perhaps through him to a relevant subject committee. It may be the wish of the first secretary or the subject committee to appoint a panel drawn from national assembly members to hear such appeals. I do not believe that will find much accord with my noble friend. That procedure would allow political matters to remain the responsibility of politicians.

My Lords, I have great sympathy with the views expressed. I know that, in many cases, getting planning permission takes three to four years. Even if a building is falling down and is totally obsolete, to get its change of use approved so that it can be developed takes an incredible length of time. If the Government can in any way shorten that lengthy period it would be a tremendous help.

My Lords, in supporting my noble friend Lord Stanley, I should point out that I am a local councillor. He accused us of being "nimby". I think that is the truth. From time to time, local consideration clouds our judgment.

What I see happening in the national assembly is that many of its members will be drawn from the ranks of local councillors. They will go into office with the same sort of political ideas. I strongly support my noble friend's idea that there should be one person in the national assembly who will determine the appeals—not just for the sake of expedience, but for political considerations, to get away from "nimbyism".

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.

9 p.m.

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.

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 Lye11, to determine planning appeals. I recognise that that point does not go to the substance of the matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, raised two important points. The noble Lord's amendment does not deal with the vast majority of appeals. We all know that most planning appeals are dealt with by planning inspectors on behalf of the Secretary of State and are familiar with the usual announcement at the beginning, "I have been appointed by … to determine", not "to make recommendations". There is a gap there that would need to be looked at.

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.

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 friend the Chief Whip at ease by saying that I do not intend to divide the House on this amendment, as I had intended to do, because of the noble Lord's remark that he accepts that there is a need for a decision at the end of the day by—I think I have understood correctly—one person. I do not mind whether it is the first secretary or the Secretary of State; but it must be one person. I do not accept the suggestion of my noble friend that it should be a panel; that would be a disaster.

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.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 10 [ Amendments of Health Service Commissioners Act 1993]:

Page 117, line 35, leave out ("an investigation by") and insert ("a complaint to").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have already spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Page 118, line 8, at end insert—

("( ) 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").

Page 122, line 5, leave out ("of the Assembly").

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.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 113 [ Relations with local government]:

[ Amendment No. 210 not moved.]

Schedule 11 [ Relations with local government: supplementary]:

Page 126, line 35, leave out ("of the Assembly").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 114 [ Relations with voluntary organizations]:

Page 59, line 17, leave out ("of the Assembly").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 115 [ Consultation with business]:

Page 59, line 20, leave out ("such consultation with representatives of business") and insert ("consultation with such organisations representative of business and such other organisations").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this group consists of Amendments Nos. 213 and 214. Amendment No. 213 represents the Government's response to the amendment moved in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. He proposed a definition of "business" and I said we would consider that sympathetically and return, which the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas has not—that is, he has not returned, though he may have considered the matter sympathetically.

Our amendment includes within the range of consultees, organisations representative of business and such other organisations as the assembly considers appropriate. That clearly is likely to include trade unions, although it may not be the case that they should or will be consulted in every circumstance; and it equally could include other bodies. We have deliberately left the matter at the assembly's discretion to tailor the practicalities of consultation to specific circumstances. But we are quite clear that the assembly will wish to consult representative organisations of business regularly, since the subject-matter of consultation is the impact on business of the exercise by the assembly of its functions. And no organisation will be better equipped to advise the assembly on that than business organisations.

We would expect consultation to be undertaken on behalf of the assembly by the relevant assembly secretary, whose decisions will be informed by that consultative process. It will be he who will be directly accountable to the assembly both for the consultative process and for the decisions informed by it. There will, therefore, be a reporting-back mechanism, to that extent, integrated into the consultative process. We are proposing to give the assembly flexibility as to the process of consultation but, of course, its decisions on how consultation should be organised will need it to be reasonable, offering relevant organisations, particularly those representative of business, a fair and proper opportunity to express their view. That is the overriding principle.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, who is hopefully engaged in fishing, described me as "crafty enough to see that a small amount of movement would be a good thing", and I was deeply shocked. We did listen to the arguments. I am sorry that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, is not present, but he will read it in Hansard tomorrow. We did respond to the arguments and I think that the adoption of this amendment would be an improvement.

Perhaps I can prospectively resist Amendment No. 214 and it is probably helpful if I do it in this way. This draws attention to the particular need for the assembly to consult trade associations representative of business in rural areas. I believe that it is best left to the assembly. If one makes this amendment then, in due time, someone will wish to make representations for a particular amendment to deal with trade associations in urban areas.

I do not think we should go down that route. The assembly, self-evidently, will want to consult with associations of the type mentioned in the amendment and with associations representing other categories of business as well. It ought to be free to do so, without being divisive and without the apparent fear that it is in some way giving priority to one type of association (namely, rural) over another (namely, urban).

I beg to move my own amendment and, in due time, prospectively, invite the noble Lord to withdraw his.

9.15 p.m.

My Lords, I knew it was a terrible mistake to be kind enough to say to the noble Lord that I would not have my amendment grouped with his because it allowed him to make those remarks; but that it is not quite in line with what I was going to say.

My amendment follows the debate in Committee on my noble friend Lord Mackay's Amendment No. 247ZA (cols. 1333 to 1379) and resulted in the Government's amendment today that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, has just mentioned. Certainly, the noble Lord expressed sympathy. I have to tell him that I am a farmer. I am getting a little worried about his sympathy with no money on the table. We may have trouble at Third Reading. That is all I am saying.

The noble Lord certainly expressed sympathy with the proposal put forward by my noble friend and indeed by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, who understandably is not here, that the assembly should consult with representatives of business. Of course, I count agriculture as a business. Unfortunately, the Government do not really tackle the particular issue. I took particular note of the remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Williams. He said:
"No assembly ought to be required to carry out consultation with representatives of business which it does not consider to be appropriate".—[Official Report, 15/6/98; col. 1338.]
I gained the impression from that remark that if the assembly did not like something then it should not do it. Indeed, I go further than that, in that as the Bill is written—and I shall be interested to know if the noble Lord puts a different view on it—there is no need for the assembly to consult business on anything whatever if it does not think it appropriate. Of course, I am sure that the noble Lord will say that if it took such a line it would soon be out of a job—and maybe eventually the electorate would so decide—but I am not so sure. As I said before, the wishes of the business world and the public particularly the NIMBYs—and I am sorry to come back to them—are often at cross purposes. It might, therefore, be a political decision for the assembly not to consult business and to put its head in the sand, which I am sure we have all done at some stage in our careers.

To return to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, it would not be appropriate to force the assembly to consult. I can, of course, give the noble Lord examples in previous statutes where that has been the case, but he said it was not necessary. I do not really want to go through all the examples that I have been given by my helpers, but perhaps I shall give one because it relates to a person whom we all worship in agriculture; that is Tom Williams. He was the Minister of Agriculture, as no doubt the noble Lord knows, in 1947 when in farm price reviews Ministers had to consult with bodies such as appeared to them to represent the interests of producers in the agriculture industry. I can give the noble Lord many more examples if that is what he wishes.

I come back to my overriding concern. The balance of the assembly is being directed to everything other than business and the production of wealth. It really worries me when I see the difference in the standard of living in farming in Amlwch where I farm and in Oxfordshire. I want the assembly to take this problem on board and to devote if not all then a great deal of its energies to getting us off the poverty line. We are on the poverty line. I do not think the noble Lord realises that. I do. I travel between both farms and I travel up to London. The assembly will not do this unless business—and agriculture is concerned here—is always at the front of its mind.

This is a very small House of Lords amendment towards that. I hope the noble Lord will accept that, after 25 years here, I know the difference between a House of Lords amendment and a wrecking amendment. This is not a wrecking amendment. I would have preferred the amendment moved in Committee by my noble friend Lord Mackay. The Government would not accept it, so I have tabled this very modest one. I am sure the noble Lord will realise that I have borrowed the words of my amendment from Clause 66 where it states that consultation with business must take place where the costs of complying are likely to be significant. I beg to move.

My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend Lord Stanley. Despite the Government's amendment, the most striking fact about this clause is its brevity compared with the clauses relating to local government and voluntary organisations. Brevity is no bad thing in legislation, provided that the key points are fully covered. Clearly, my noble friend Lord Stanley does not think that the clause is adequate. He has put down his own extended clause with an emphasis on business in rural areas. Those areas are already suffering an imminent threat as a result of the decline in farming incomes. My noble friend's concern is fully justified and I share it.

There is a broader threat to business, not confined to rural areas, from the recessionary pressures that are now building up in the economy. Successive rises in interest rates and the consequential strong pound are causing difficulties to Welsh businesses generally, especially to the inward investors from overseas, the major part of whose output is exported.

The recession, threatening though it may be according to many observers, has not really hit us hard yet with rising unemployment on any significant scale, but such a situation could develop very soon. I hope it does not happen but I cannot close my mind to that possibility. I do not think the Government should do so either.

During a recession our dependence on wealth producing businesses becomes apparent, especially if they begin to falter and fail. Their substantial contribution to our spending programmes tends to be taken for granted in prosperous times; and of course business likes to be left alone. But there should be close consultation with business in Wales at all times and the assembly should certainly participate in it. That is acknowledged by the Government in their newly-published Pathway to Prosperity: A New Economic Agenda for Wales, about which we heard earlier in the day. The document states that,
"Little can be achieved if everyone is pulling in different directions. The National Assembly for Wales will provide the mechanism for creating consensus and working to common goals".
There are some very good lines in the document such as,
"The public sector in Wales must be clear that its role is to support wealth creation not control it".
The document then goes on to talk about the need to develop partnerships and extend them,
"beyond narrowly defined industrial, commercial or institutional interests".
But it is curious that there is not more about partnership with business in the Bill when there is so much about partnership with local authorities. There is a whole clause and a whole schedule. One can understand the political importance of local authorities and harnessing them to the assembly through partnership to secure co-operation and to avoid possible conflict. The Government have gone to great lengths to achieve that objective. Similarly, the voluntary organisations are also being shepherded into the assembly's fold.

But at the end of the day business, as a major provider of employment and resources, may well be more important than either local authorities or voluntary organisations to the success of the assembly, because it will be judged by the people of Wales by the extent to which Wales prospers or fails in its care. It is therefore essential that the assembly understands the needs of the business community and promotes its well-being. The assembly must certainly not regard business as a milch cow; a bottomless well of resources; otherwise the assembly may well find that business reacts adversely and either ceases to expand or even begins to withdraw from Wales as the climate becomes too hostile.

My Lords, there is no argument that the views of business representatives must be considered by the assembly when exercising a function in the interests of business. That is provided by Clause 115. When we discussed this clause in Committee, I was particularly concerned about the meaning of the word "business". I wanted clarification that it would include, in appropriate circumstances, consultation with the trade unions representing those employed in business. Therefore, I am grateful to the Government for having tabled Amendment No. 213. It meets my concerns.

My Lords, I do remember Tom Williams, because my uncle was a farmer in Llanfarian. The mantra was constantly drummed into me as a child that Tom Williams was the best Minister of Agriculture that there had ever been. Others, more sceptical, had a different view, on the basis that the farmers were extremely pleased with what he secured on their account.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, and I are in agreement. He quite rightly said what I had sought to say earlier, that pressures of regulation and economic hardship are—and I quote his words—"not confined to rural areas". That is precisely the sort of point I was seeking to make, because the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, place particular importance on rural areas. I entirely agree with him that agriculture is a business, and that is why our redraft in Clause 13 is intended to deal with these circumstances. I do not regard the noble Lord's amendment as intended to be, or indeed wished to be, a wrecking amendment. I simply point out that I believe our clause covers all reasonable circumstances.

It is necessary and helpful if I remind your Lordships that if there are existing functions relating to agriculture which are transferred from the Secretary of State to the assembly, and where those existing functions carry with them a duty to consult the relevant bodies, when the functions go to the assembly they go subject to the particular duty to consult. I do not want to go into it in any detail, but one should not overlook the protection given to business by Clause 65 as regards consultation where subordinate legislation may have significant effects. That is not to be overlooked either.

I think that Clause 115, as amended by Amendment No. 213 if your Lordships so agree, is a model of drafting because it bites on the problem and tells the assembly what it must do, which is to carry out such consultation as it considers appropriate. Circumstances vary infinitely. It may be right to consult rural interests in one context together with urban interests in the same context, but sometimes they should be dealt with quite distinctly. We are devolving power and we need to devolve discretion, as well as avoiding over-prescription.

Therefore, I invite the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, to conclude that our amendment gets it about right, particularly when one thinks of what is provided by way of relief and the fact that consultative obligations, when transferred from the Secretary of State, will still inure to the assembly, and when one bears in mind the provisions of Clause 65.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

9.30 p.m.

Page 59, line 20, leave out from ("out") to end of line 22 and insert ("consultation with organisations representative of business, including trade associations representative of business in rural areas, where the impact of the exercise by the Assembly of functions on the interests of business is likely to be significant, and shall carry out such other consultation with business and other organisations as it considers appropriate.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I now have an opportunity to reply to the noble Lord, Lord Williams. I suppose that I can start in this way because I was brought up in Wales. I have a long background in Wales in that my family has lived there for a very long time and, if I may put it this way, I "suffered" under the culture of Wales—and I do not regret that at all.

I am trying to point out to the Government that we only have culture as a result of money. My noble friend Lord Roberts has also tried to put that point. The emphasis of the Bill is wrong. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, is not in his place because I would have a real go at him over this. It is fine to have the culture of Wales. I am delighted by the Welsh language and by Welsh culture. My family has been in Wales for many centuries and I do not want to destroy Welsh culture, but we shall destroy it unless there is enough money. That is basically what my amendment is about. It is about consulting and listening to business

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, led the House slightly off the track when he tried to point out that the assembly has to consult "as appropriate". I tried to say to my wife at breakfast the other day that that was an oxymoron and I was told that it was not—and she is always right; it is not. However, it is very similar to an oxymoron. The provisions say,"You must consult, but only those whom you wish to consult". That means that the assembly can say, "We don't want to discuss this matter with business", and so it does not have to do so.

I am deeply unhappy with the Minister's reply, but I am certainly not going to seek to divide the House on this. I know that my old friend the Chief Whip would be very cross if I invited noble Lords to express an opinion on this matter. I have already spoken to him. However, I advise the Minister to make no mistake about this: I shall bring back a similar amendment on Third Reading, but for now I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 120 [ Equality of opportunity]:

Page 62, line 10, leave out ("of the Assembly").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 121 [ Sustainable development]:

Page 62, line 29, leave out ("of the Assembly").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 12 [ Minor and consequential amendments]:

Page 128, line 17, at end insert—

("( ) in the entry relating to urban development corporations, after "corporations" insert "established for urban development areas wholly in England",").

Page 128, line 20, leave out from ("Wales") to ("and") in line 21 and insert ("(within the meaning of the Government of Wales Act 1998).",").

Page 128, line 26, at end insert ("(within the meaning of the Government of Wales Act 1998)."").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 126 [ Extension of functions]:

Page 63, line 28, at end insert ("and

("(c) at the end there shall be inserted—

"The Agency's purposes apply as much in relation to the rural parts of Wales as in relation to the non-rural parts of Wales.".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the permission of the noble and learned Lord, Amendment No. 220 is to be dealt with separately from Amendment No. 223. I find it simpler and perhaps quicker to deal with it in this way. This amendment refers to the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975. Section 2 lists the functions of the agency. In subsection (4) it is provided:

"In exercising their functions the Agency shall have regard to the requirements of agriculture and efficient land management".

I believe that it would reassure rural parts of Wales and farmers if my amendment was included to make explicit that the work of the agency applied as much to the rural parts of Wales as to non-rural parts. I do not ask for a particular balance but I ask that that should be considered. The noble and learned Lord may say that the subsection that I have quoted deals with the problem. However, I differ on that point. As I have been endeavouring to point out throughout our discussions, agriculture has a very different and broader remit from just the growing of crops and breeding of lambs, as much as I would wish that. That activity is now all-embracing. My amendment seeks to emphasise that point. I beg to move.

My Lords, Amendment No. 220 was originally grouped with Amendment No. 223. We are quite content that it should be dealt with separately.

Amendment No. 220 reflects an entirely laudable concern for the needs of rural parts of Wales to be embraced fully in the work of the Welsh Development Agency. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, made a valuable contribution on this issue during our debate in Committee on 2nd June. I repeat the assurances given at that time that the Government have a clear commitment, which will be inherited by the assembly, to meet the needs of rural communities whether or not they fall within the area currently administered by the Development Board for Rural Wales. One need look no further than Pathway to Prosperity, which Mr. Ron Davies published on Monday 7th July, for a clear and unequivocal statement of the Government's intention to spread prosperity throughout Wales and in particular to ensure that the rural areas and the South Wales Valleys begin to enjoy the economic success which the north east and south east of the country have seen in recent years.

However, there is no need to amend the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975 in the manner proposed by the noble Lord. With the greatest of respect to the noble Lord, there is no need for Amendment No. 220. I am also conscious of the contributions which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, has made to our debates to the effect that we should not put into the Bill unnecessary matters because they make it too long. By providing in the Bill for the Welsh Development Agency to assume the geographic responsibilities as well as the functions of the Development Board for Rural Wales, the Government intend that the economic development needs of all areas of Wales shall be given equal consideration as part of an overarching economic strategy for Wales. However, it would not be feasible to make an amendment as proposed by the noble Lord which could be construed as requiring the Welsh Development Agency to devote an even-handed and equal approach to the rural and urban parts of Wales.

The needs of rural Wales are undoubtedly important—I stress our commitment to that—and will be addressed by the agency's new rural policy unit within the context of the overall work of the agency. However, there will be times when the potential gains to the Welsh economy are greater if more resources are devoted to a particular urban project. For example, the LG project will provide over 6,000 direct jobs in Newport and the surrounding areas including the extremely needy South Wales Valleys, but in addition there will be jobs in companies providing services and equipment to LG. It is questionable whether a development of such magnitude would be either practicable or desirable in a rural area. I am sure that many rural dwellers would be horrified at the thought of a large factory sprouting up in their midst. I see the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, nodding.

What the agency will be required to do is to assess the needs of different areas and address them in ways that will be beneficial both to the local community and to the Welsh economy as a whole. The regional directorates of the agency will have the task of considering the different needs and how to make the most of the advantages of each part of Wales.

Perhaps I may emphasise that my comments do not manifest a lack of support for the rural communities of Wales. I am only too aware that parts of rural Wales, particularly the more peripheral areas, are greatly in need of sound economic development assistance, just as parts of urban Wales need assistance in tackling the problems they are encountering.

The problems of rural Wales and the problems of urban Wales would not be served by an amendment of the type proposed by the noble Lord. In the light of that, I respectfully ask him to consider withdrawing it.

My Lords, I regret to say that I am much irritated by the noble and learned Lord, because I have to accept his argument, and that is humiliating. I refer in particular to his remark that "all matters" should be considered equally. I accept what he says. I am not prepared to accept everything else his noble friend is prepared to say, but on this occasion I believe that the noble and learned Lord had the better of the argument. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 13 [ Welsh Development Agency: land provisions]:

Page 138, leave out lines 32 to 34 and insert—

("shall not be used for any other purpose unless—

  • (i) the land has been acquired compulsorily for that other purpose, or
  • (ii) the land has been acquired by the Agency from a local authority which could lawfully have used the land for that other purpose without the need for additional statutory procedures or authorisation apart from planning permission, or
  • (iii) in any other case, the Secretary of State has made an order authorising that other purpose.
  • (1A) Section 19 of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981 (special provision with respect to compulsory purchase orders under that Act relating to land forming part of a common, open space or fuel or field garden allotment) shall apply to an order under sub-paragraph (1)(iii) as it applies to a compulsory purchase order under that Act.").

    The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 222 and 224. Amendment No. 221 was moved in Committee by my noble friend Lady Anelay. In response, the noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General made two objections: first, he believed that the amendment would inhibit the freedom of the landowner to sell for development land which would accord with the needs identified in the adopted local plan. He argued that it would be inappropriate to extend to land sold by agreement the legislation that applies to compulsory purchase. Secondly, he pointed out that my noble friend had not given full reasons why the extension of the law should be applied.

    My noble friend is unable to attend the House this evening. I shall therefore put forward why it is believed that the amendment is necessary. I shall attempt also to explain in more detail than was presented in Committee why an extension of the law should be applied in this case. I therefore apologise in advance for taking more time than I would usually take to move the amendment. It is a complex matter, and it is important to put the reasons on record so that the Minister may make a considered response.

    The fact that my other two amendments are grouped with Amendment No. 221 will mean that my remarks may be lengthier, but overall I hope that by grouping them I will save the time of the House. I am aware that the Minister and several noble Lords have received advance notice of the argument. The Open Spaces Society has very properly circulated in advance of the Report stage a brief to Ministers and other noble Lords, giving details of the legal reasons supporting the amendment.

    Schedule 13 paragraph (2) inserts a new Section 21A into the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975. The Open Spaces Society informed me that the proposed subsection (2)(b) of the new section will enable the WDA to acquire by agreement, or, with the Secretary of State's authorisation, compulsorily, land that may be given in exchange for land forming part of a common, an open space or a fuel or field garden allotment, but there is nothing in the schedule or the 1975 Act to compel such an exchange.

    The WDA will have complete discretion on whether to use this power, except in circumstances which my noble friend detailed in Committee at col. 1361 of Hansard. However, if the land required by the WDA need not be acquired compulsorily but can be purchased by agreement Section 19 of the 1981 Act would not then apply; and paragraph 8 of Schedule 13 would allow the WDA, subject to planning permission, to use or develop common or open space land for other purposes even if the previous owner—whether a private or public authority—could not have done so without other procedures.

    Paragraph 8 is intended to carry forward a power given to the Development Board for Rural Wales most of whose functions are to be given to the WDA. But the comparable provision in paragraph 37 of Schedule 3 to the Development of Rural Wales Act 1976 states:

    "Any land to which this Part of the new towns code applies which is or forms part of a common, open space or fuel or field garden".

    That schedule, based on new town legislation, would appear to have its origin in the powers exercised by the land authority for Wales. It may also derive from the functions given to the Development Board for Rural Wales under which it was to establish new towns in areas to be designated as such. A new town is a type of comprehensive redevelopment that almost invariably results in a greater amount of public open space within the site of a new town which existed previously. The WDA is not inheriting powers to establish further new towns and the provision such as is now contained in paragraph 8 has never previously been available for unlimited use.

    It is proper to question whether this provision should be available to a body which is not subject to direct democratic accountability and control. I argue that no one, least of all me, is attempting to stop landowners, whether private or public, from selling their property by agreement to the WDA even if it wants the land for purposes which are not in the adopted local plan—and that plan does not limit the extent of the ultimate planning permission. However, I recognise that others may have an interest in the land. If they are tenants they have such rights as are contained in their leases or tenancies. But let us suppose they have common rights or are members of the public who use the area for quiet recreation. They would have no say except through the representations that they can make on a planning application.

    This type of land is often a site of special scientific interest, or a nature reserve. The Countryside Council for Wales should have a strong influence when a planning application is under consideration. But its view may not always prevail upon the planning authority which, given a permission on economic or social grounds, it might believe overrides any other designation. At present anyone who wishes to erect a building or a fence, or to construct any other work on common land must obtain the consent of the Secretary of State under Section 194 of the Law of Property Act 1925. He or she is obliged to consider the interests of the commoners and the benefit of the neighbourhood. He or she may require a public inquiry to consider various points of view.

    Paragraph 8 of Schedule 13 to the Bill would enable the WDA to ignore that safeguard but put nothing in its place. If the local authority wishes to appropriate a common in its ownership for other purposes, it must first obtain from the Secretary of State an order authorising that under Section 229 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Such an order is subject to compliance with Section 19 of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981. The proposed new subsection (1)(a) in my amendment is based on that. I hope that the Minister may either accept the amendment or be willing to recommend a more skilfully drafted alternative. I hope that the Government will bring forward an amendment on Third Reading with the same intention.

    I turn now to Amendment No. 222. I shall be brief on both this and my remaining Amendment No. 224. In a number of Acts in recent years, bodies which have been given statutory powers have also been required to think positively about conservation. I understand that Section 1(2)(d) and subsections (3)(h) and (i) of the WDA Act 1975 already recognise the importance of the environment generally. But I am advised that they may need strengthening in line with more modern legislation. This amendment is a simplified version of Section 3 of the Water Industry Act 1991. It has been put in Section 1(4) before agriculture for ease of drafting. As my noble friend Lady Anelay explained in Committee, there is no intention at all of implying that agriculture is lower down the list in the order of importance. The priority is not to rush into a change from the present state which is irreversible.

    When my noble friend spoke on this amendment in Committee, the Minister seemed to think that it was intended to duplicate those functions of the Countryside Council for Wales and Cadw. My noble friend stated then that she had no intention of abolishing either of those organisations, both of which she recognised as carrying out excellent work. I am glad to have the opportunity to add my congratulations to those two bodies on the quality of the work that they do on behalf of us all. I understand of course that the WDA will remain fully subject to environmental and planning law, but the WDA and planning authorities are subject to many pressures and the proposed additional duty is simply there to ensure that the WDA considers carefully its own environmental responsibilities and does not just leave it to others to raise objections.

    Finally, I turn to Amendment No. 224. This amendment was also moved by my noble friend Lady Anelay in Committee. It seeks to make clear that businesses may include a recreational activity. There can be no doubt that that is a legitimate function of a public authority which will be permitted under the amended WDA Act. It will often be a legitimate commercial activity that can also be encouraged, but occasionally it may be organised or sponsored by a commercial body or a charity in a manner which is not obviously part of the business of that body or charity.

    The amendment is put forward solely to remove any doubt which might lead to hesitation by the agency on whether it can support the project or to ward off an unwarranted suggestion that it may be ultra vires. In Committee, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, kindly offered to contemplate that issue further. Subsequently the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, wrote to my noble friend Lady Anelay on the subject and has placed a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.

    The Minister pointed out that paragraph 10(2) of Schedule 14 would amend Section 27(1) of the 1975 Act so as to define "businesses" as,

    "any industrial, commercial or professional activities (whether or not with a view to profit)".

    He states that the intention here is that that the charitable and voluntary sectors may fall within the scope of that definition. Thus he argues that the legislation would not preclude the agency from offering assistance to non-profit-making organisations.

    Can the Minister confirm tonight that the charitable and voluntary sectors will—and I stress, again, the word "will"—fall within that definition? I am concerned that this legislates only that they "may" fall within it. It is important for this matter to be absolutely clear. I should also like to draw the Minister's attention to the penultimate paragraph in his letter. I believe that he may have overlooked Clause 126(2)(a) of the Bill, which adds to the purposes of the WDA the "furtherance" of the "social" development of Wales. I question whether that can be achieved without there being a clear remit covering recreation on the face of the Bill. I should be grateful if the Minister could address those points.

    I appreciate that the amendment may not fully resolve the problems that I have raised, but I shall be prepared to return to these issues on Third Reading if the Minister feels unable to resolve them tonight. I beg to move.

    My Lords, oh dear! I am somewhat concerned about Amendment No. 222 which is tabled in the name of my noble friend, but I am not concerned about the others in the group. Indeed, I am not concerned about it; I do not like it at all. My problem is that I want the Welsh Development Agency to be a forward-thinking, progressive and business-orientated organisation helping industry and farmers to diversify and remain in business. If, every time it tries to promote a new venture, it has to take account of the birds and the bees—which, I am sorry to say, is what my noble friend is talking about—it will find its hands tied and will spend its time being worried about the do-gooders who, I hope unbeknown to them, crucify employment and productive work.

    I dealt more fully with the problem of trying to diversify and encourage employment when I moved my amendment to Clause 112. However, I should like to repeat that wherever or whatever development takes place, there is always a detrimental effect on the environment and culture of the area. That cannot be helped. I make no bones about the fact that my life—and we are all biased by it, I suppose—and work has always favoured production and employment rather than culture, hereditary matters and the birds and the bees. I do not see how you can look after these things and the environment without first making money.

    Before your Lordships castigate me as a Philistine, which I certainly am, perhaps I may say rather sheepishly in retaliation—although perhaps I ought not to—that I may be the only Member of this House, probably because of my wife, who has won an award for conservation on my farm. But the point is that that was only after I made it profitable and had taken out a hedge or two, or three; or, indeed, four, if you wish. Therefore, I cannot agree with Amendment No. 222 tabled in the name of my noble friend. All I can say is that he has made me feel considerably happier and younger because it is quite a long time since I disagreed and crossed swords with my own party. I feel much the better for it. I leave it to the Minister to be Solomon between us.

    10 p.m.

    My Lords, I have some sympathy with the amendment which has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick. I thank him and the Open Spaces Society for having drawn the attention of the House to this distinction between common land which is acquired compulsorily and that which is acquired by agreement. If it is acquired compulsorily the procedure must comply with the Acquisition of Land Act 1981. That offers a degree of protection to the rights of the public and those of commoners which are attached to the land.

    In contrast, if the common land is acquired by agreement, as I understand it, there is no statutory provision to safeguard such rights as are attached to the land. Amendment No. 221 is based on Section 229 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. As I understand it, it would extend the law so as to protect the rights of the public and of commoners which attach to common land which has been acquired by agreement. I am sure there is no need for me to remind the House that open spaces are—and I believe have been for about 120 years—in a special position as they provide the general public with access to open country which is designated as common land or an open space. They need to be preserved, wherever possible, for the benefit of future generations.

    Of course I accept the need to achieve sustainable economic growth, particularly in Wales, but nevertheless there is also a need to protect open spaces for the benefit of future generations. I believe the WDA inherits its acquisition of land powers from the Land Authority of Wales. We are told by the Open Spaces Society that it is not aware that the Land Authority of Wales has used the power in circumstances which worry the society. We can take comfort from that statement. It must be borne in mind that under this Bill the WDA will be accountable to the assembly. I suggest that it is for the assembly to decide how the WDA is to exercise its land acquisition powers. I would like to think that the arguments which have been advanced this evening by the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, will be heard and considered by the assembly.

    My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, was kind enough to give us notice before this evening that she would not be able to move her amendments. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, for moving the amendment with such skill and for discussing the matter in such detail, particularly in relation to Amendment No. 221. It is an important amendment and I am glad to have the opportunity to, I hope, put his mind and that of the Open Spaces Society at rest.

    Amendment No. 221 reflects the association of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, with the Open Spaces Society and its perfectly legitimate wish to protect public rights over land acquired by the WDA. This was, of course, a matter which we debated in Committee with some interest, although the amendment now proposed, Amendment No. 221, goes somewhat further than the amendment moved by the noble Baroness in Committee.

    Amendment No. 221 relates to the provisions of Schedule 13 to the Bill which would insert a new Schedule 4 to the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975. As currently drafted, paragraph 8 to the new schedule does not provide for the extinguishment of common land or public open space rights. It merely provides that where planning permission would allow an alternative use to such land, that use may be implemented, notwithstanding any restriction in any public or local Act of Parliament which operates in respect of the land.

    The amendment seeks to impose further conditions on the alternative use of common land or public open space which has been acquired, either by agreement or compulsorily, by the Welsh Development Agency. The alternative use, although authorised by planning permission, would, if the amendment were to be successful, be possible only in three particular circumstances: where the land has been acquired compulsorily, where the land has been acquired from a local authority which could lawfully have used it without additional statutory procedures, or where the Secretary of State authorises, by order, such alternative use, relying on the procedures provided for in Section 19 of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981.

    I submit that there is no need for the amendment. Certainly, the proposed powers being made available to the agency will not permit it to act in a draconian manner going around Wales acquiring common land or public open space simply because such land may have a future for development purposes.

    The position is that the land acquisition powers set out in Schedule 13 to the Bill are those which have been exercised by the Land Authority for Wales since its inception under the provisions of the Community Land Act 1975. As your Lordships will be aware, the aims and functions of the Land Authority, upon its abolition, will be continued within the expanded Welsh Development Agency. Thus these land acquisition powers have been in existence for over 20 years and exercised by the Land Authority. It is a matter of government policy that the "new" agency will assume the responsibilities undertaken by, and the related statutory powers available to, the Land Authority.

    Under our proposals, the agency will be required, by virtue of the new Section 21A in the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975 to demonstrate, before acquiring land either by agreement or compulsorily, that it has given consideration to whether the land in question would be available for development if it did not act and has consulted the appropriate local authorities and the relevant National Park, as the case may be, where planning permission for the proposed alternative use has not been granted. It must also consider the impact of its development intention for the land on those engaged in the construction, agriculture and forestry industries in particular, and the community in general. These are safeguards which already exist and are a framework within which the Land Authority has successfully worked for over the past two decades.

    The amendment would be counter to the Government's policy, put in place unnecessary limitations but also impose, uniquely to the agency, that any acquisition of common land or public open space would have to follow the Acquisition of Land Act procedures that otherwise apply only in respect of compulsory acquisition. So in this respect the Welsh Development Agency would be placed in a unique position.

    With regard to the noble Lord's wish to protect Wales's open spaces, and therefore to prevent the WDA from insensitive or careless use of the natural environment, may I emphasise that the agency is, of course, bound by any designations under United Kingdom or EC or international law. In such instances, it may not attempt any development without consulting the Countryside Council for Wales, the Government's statutory advisers in Wales. So I submit that there are adequate safeguards already.

    I take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, who, for understandable reasons, expressed sympathy to some extent with the amendment but said also that the assembly will be there to see what the WDA is doing and will look to see how it exercises its powers. That is a further appropriate democratic protection.

    Turning to Amendment No. 222, the noble Lord has again manifested his concern for the natural environment and the built heritage of Wales. However, the amendment is identical to that which the noble Baroness moved in Committee. I cannot really add anything further to the comments I made at that time. Suffice it to say that the Government do not consider that the amendment is appropriate.

    I am sure that the noble Lord will recognise that, by seeking to turn the Welsh Development Agency into an omnipotent body with the same overarching responsibility for the natural environment as is properly the work of the Countryside Council for Wales, and for the built heritage that is the work of Cadw, the Welsh agency for the preservation of ancient and historical monuments, he is rather suggesting that these fine bodies should be abolished—for they would have nothing left to do were the WDA to take on their functions.

    It is incorrect to assume, however, that the agency does not pay regard to its environmental duties. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, stated in Committee that the Welsh Development Agency has,
    "actively pursued improvement schemes of benefit to … the general environment",—[0fficial Report, 15/6/98; col. 1355.]
    work which the noble Lord said had tended to be overlooked in the great publicity surrounding the agency's successful involvement in securing inward investment for Wales. I would not dispute what the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said.

    Furthermore, I am again indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, who so rightly pointed out in Committee that we must not forget that the main function of the Welsh Development Agency is to further the development of the Welsh economy and,
    "to promote business so that our people have work and can prosper".—[Official Report, 15/6/98; col. 1356].
    Although the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, put it in a slightly more graphic and self-deprecating manner, one could easily sympathise with parts of what he said in emphasising the need for the WDA to get the economy moving and for there to be a thriving economy. Of course, I would not sympathise with the noble Lord's comment that he was a philistine, save for the fact that he said it himself.

    I move on from Amendment No. 222 to Amendment No. 224. Again, this is a matter which we considered in Committee, and my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn, as the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, said, wrote to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, on 24th June, placing a copy of the letter in the Library of the House, explaining why it was not necessary to widen the definition as she had then proposed. That remains the Government's view.

    I fully appreciate that the thrust of the amendment now before the House is to protect the interests of charitable bodies and those in the voluntary sector for the valuable work which they undertake across Wales, most noticeably in the area of environmental protection.

    As the noble Lord is aware, the definition of "business" in Schedule 10 to the Bill makes explicit provision for the agency to assist not-for-profit organisations. The definition is,
    "any industrial, commercial or professional activities (whether or not with a view to profit)",
    so, clearly, the agency would not be precluded from offering assistance in the circumstances mentioned by the noble Lord. However, I am sure that he would agree that this would be a matter for the agency to determine, having regard to its own priorities.

    The key economic development function of the Welsh Development Agency does not mean that it should not have the scope to engage in social development activities where these could be a useful complement to its economic development undertakings. That is relevant to the underlying issue raised by the third amendment. That is why we have made provision for the social development powers of the Development Board for Rural Wales to be transferred, with the abolition of that body, to the "new" agency, and these powers will be available for use in all areas of Wales.

    I hope that I have dealt with all the points raised by the noble Lord, particularly in relation to Amendment No. 221, into which he went with skill and in commendable depth. If I see from Hansard there are points which I have not adequately dealt with, I shall write to the noble Lord. I hope that, in the light of the explanation I have given, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

    My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his courteous and full reply. I also thank my noble and philistine friend, Lord Stanley of Alderley, and the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, for their contributions. These are complicated matters. Like the Minister, I should like to read Hansard more fully tomorrow before deciding whether to take these matters any further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Schedule 14 [ Welsh Development Agency: other amendments]:

    [ Amendment No. 222 not moved.]

    Page 145, line 20, at end insert—

    ("( ) In section 2(3) (membership of agency) after "local government" insert "agriculture, rural development".").

    The noble Lord said: My Lords, I moved a similar amendment in Committee to provide that the Welsh Development Agency could—not "shall", which I think is where we went adrift before—have a member who has experience in agriculture and rural development. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, said in reply that my amendment would force the Welsh Development Agency to have on its board at least one member with expertise in rural affairs. I hope the noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong, but I do not believe that this amendment would do any such thing. It would merely

    add to those already mentioned in the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975. It is stated in the constitution and status in Section 2(3):

    "The members of the Agency shall include persons who appear to the Secretary of State to have wide experience of, and to have shown capacity in, one or more of the following, namely, industry, commerce, banking, accountancy, finance, the organisation or representation of workers, administration, local government and matters relating to the environment".

    My amendment merely adds the words "agriculture, rural development". Therefore it does not force the Minister to have such a person; it merely allows him to come into that category.

    I feel that this is a modest request. As Wales has such a rural character, such a person should be considered as a representative on the Welsh Development Agency. I beg to move.

    10.15 p.m.

    My Lords, I rise to support the thrust of my noble friend's amendment in support of agriculture and rural development. In particular, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to two documents. The first is Pathway to Prosperity, already published by the Government this week; the other is a paper prepared by Peter Medmore, Professor of Rural Studies at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, The farming crisis and its effect on Wales. That paper draws a grim picture of the plight of the Welsh rural economy as a consequence of the sharp fall in farming incomes. It goes on to refer to a predicted loss of some 5,000 jobs as a result of agricultural decline over the coming decade. One paragraph of the professor's paper is significant. It reads:

    "Besides the immediate economic implications, further consequences arise in terms of social infrastructure. Losses of population through migration, which will be heightened as a result of the initial losses of income and jobs, eventually reduce the current grant to local authorities by central government. These changes, together with other private services dependent on rural spending, will reduce the quality of life in rural areas, for instance, making it difficult to support small country schools, contributing to the so-called cycle of cumulative causation that keeps rural economies in a state of underdevelopment".
    All that supports what my noble friend has been saying throughout the course of this evening. The noble Lord, Lord Williams—the spectre of rural depopulation—appears to be with us once again, a spectre we had hoped to have exorcized in Wales.

    The point is that there is no real recognition of the gravity of the situation in the Government's paper, Pathway to Prosperity. On page 27 there is a section headed, "Action for rural Wales"; but what does that amount to? A Welsh Office junior Minister is apparently to,
    "chair a new Rural Partnership for Wales, with a remit embracing the broad sweep of economic, social, environmental and cultural issues of concern in rural communities. Supported by a new all-Wales rural unit in the enhanced WDA, the partnership will examine and prepare options for a rural strategy for Wales as a basis for consideration by the National Assembly. It will also move forward specific proposals to promote the rural economy and to help deal with current problems as and when they arise".
    They do not tell us what the proposals are to deal with these current problems, which of their nature are already with us and likely to get worse by the time the assembly is established. That is one of the reasons why the regional committees are so important. They will bring pressure to bear on the assembly and the Welsh Development Agency to act urgently to try to safeguard the rural areas. I hope that it will not be too late and that it will not be a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. One step that could be taken is to ensure that there is rather more agricultural and rural representation and thrust in the development agency itself and in its membership.

    My Lords, I think all parties are concerned about the threat to the heartland of rural Wales by the current agricultural crisis that has been so well documented in the publications to which the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, referred a moment ago.

    With the demise of the Development Board for Rural Wales, and its functions being transferred to the Welsh Development Agency, it seems to me that it is only common sense that there should be a representative, an advocate upon that board as a member of it. If such a member, representing agriculture and rural development, can be as effective an advocate as the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, has been in the course of this and other debates, then I am quite sure that the interests of the heartland of Wales will be maintained. I support the amendment.

    My Lords, as I said earlier in the course of the debate on Report, the Government fully recognise the needs of rural Wales, that they are undoubtedly important and that they should be addressed by the Welsh Development Agency.

    I would love to get into the debate about the rural economy as a whole, but your Lordships will forgive me for not being tempted down that path because I believe that the appropriate course is to address the particular amendment with which we are concerned just now; namely, Amendment No. 223.

    The present situation in relation to appointments of board members of the Welsh Development Agency is that the Secretary of State is required to appoint board members with a broad range of experience, and that includes industry which, of course, covers agriculture as well as matters relating to the environment, which clearly can include rural development. It would be a brave person indeed, particularly any one of your Lordships who has heard the speeches made by the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, in relation to the nature of agriculture and the business nature of agriculture, who would argue that agriculture should not be regarded as an industry. Thus, the very expertise, which the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, is seeking to specify, is already covered in the Bill as it is drafted.

    Furthermore, the House will be aware of the Secretary of State's intention to make appointments to the new WDA board through fair and open competition, having placed public advertisements seeking people from all walks of life to apply for appointment. I am told that over 200 candidates have made a positive response to being considered for board membership. It is expected that the Secretary of State will announce his decisions on the composition of the board in early autumn.

    I hope, in the light of my explanation, that the noble Lord will not feel obliged to press his amendment and will withdraw it.

    My Lords, in reply to the noble and learned Lord, I am sorry to say that most people do not consider agriculture to be a business, although the noble and learned Lord does. A large number of farmers do not consider it so. Therefore, I rule out his case.

    I should like to thank my Front Bench for supporting me. They do not always do so. I do not always support them, so why should they support me? Even more interestingly, I should like to thank the Liberals for supporting me. That was my family's party. They certainly very seldom support me. I hope the noble and learned Lord realises that on this occasion there are three people—myself; you might say a bolshie Back-Bencher, my Front Bench and the Liberal Party—who say that there should clearly be somebody representing agriculture and rural businesses who is available to go on the board of the Welsh Development Agency. I cannot understand why the noble and learned Lord still objects to that. I will come back to it later because, as the noble and learned Lord knows, I agreed with his Chief Whip that I would not be too awkward tonight. But I really am becoming a little short of patience with platitudes from the Front Bench saying, yes, they love me and they love agriculture; but no, they will not do anything about the rural economy.

    Let me make it clear that by Third Reading I expect the noble and learned Lord and his noble friend to become a little more accommodating. We feel very strongly about this. The noble and learned Lord and his noble friend keep saying that they feel strongly, but I want money on the table. I am a farmer. I want to see the colour of their money. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    [ Amendment No. 224 not moved.]

    Clause 142 [ Winding-down]:

    Page 71, line 26, leave out subsection (9).

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    Schedule 17 [ Audit etc. of Welsh public bodies]:

    Page 163, line 6, after ("all") insert ("or most").

    Page 163, line 9, leave out ("in respect only") and insert ("only or mainly in respect").

    On Question, amendments agreed to.

    Clause 147 [ Environment Agency]:

    Page 74, leave out lines 24 and 25 and insert ("or to").

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    Clause 151 [ Power to amend enactments]:

    Page 75, line 42, at end insert (", provided that they are made before the second ordinary election of the Assembly.").

    The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is one of 12 Henry VIII clauses in the Bill. In paragraph 8 of its report on the Bill the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee stated:

    "The Committee noted that this is, as far as it is aware, the first Bill to contain provisions which in effect define Henry VIII provisions in order to make them subject to affirmative procedure".

    The committee went on to say in paragraph 9:

    "The Committee considered the Welsh Office's justification for all the powers and saw no need to draw the special attention of the House to any of them".

    That is a very favourable report. Nevertheless, these powers are extensive and there are more in the Bill than in any other Bill considered by the committee. Although they are all subject to the affirmative procedure, we believe that their exercise should be time limited if possible. We therefore propose that the powers exercisable under Clause 151 should be confined to the first four years of the assembly's life; that is, in between the first two elections. The powers should not be necessary after the second election. That is certainly our view and I hope the Government will agree. I beg to move.

    My Lords, I understand the point behind the noble Lord's observations, but the purpose of Clause 151 is simply to allow minor technical corrections to other statutes to be made in consequence of the Bill without the need for fresh primary legislation. The noble Lord has, as always, extremely fairly cited the view of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. It is of some significance that the committee did not have any concerns itself.

    The Bill has a wide scope and it obviously has a potentially large impact on the rest of the statute book. We hope that we have provided for all such changes on the face of the Bill. We may have overlooked some. I would certainly hope that all such further changes should have been identified by 2003, but we cannot be sure. We think it is prudent that we should not have a time limit on this power.

    Perhaps I may stress this point because I think it may be of some assistance to the noble Lord. The power as it stands applies only to legislation passed before or in the same Session as this Bill. Therefore, there is no question of trying to use this power to modify new legislation in the longer term. It only relates to existing statutes or legislation passed within this Session. We believe that it is prudent to retain the power. Even in the review, for instance, that the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, made today, he rightly touched on many statutes. It is a possibility that there is a clause or subsection lurking somewhere which we have not found and which may not have been ferreted out by the year 2003. Therefore, on the basis of prudence, we believe that it is right to leave this clause unamended.

    My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. As he will agree, it is an astonishingly powerful clause. When he says that it applies only to current or past enactments, I would have thought that that was power enough for any Cardinal Wolsey who may be about. However, having listened to his comments, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Page 75, line 42, at end insert—

    ("( ) An Order in Council under section 22 may include any provision that may be included in an order under subsection (1).").

    The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment relates to the ability to enable an Order in Council under Clause 22 to include any provision that may be included in an order under Clause 151. As drafted, Clause 22(3) enables an Order in Council to include any appropriate consequential, incidental, supplementary or transitional provisions, amendments or repeals of enactments. But that only allows amendment or repeal of enactments in relation to powers transferred by the Order in Council.

    This amendment would enable such an Order in Council to include other amendments or repeals of enactments which may be appropriate in consequence of the Bill generally. This is a sensible step which will enable a single set of enactments to be covered in just one instrument under Clause 22 rather than have some under that clause and some under Clause 151. That does not extend to the overall scope of order-making powers or reduce the amount of parliamentary scrutiny. It simply allows greater flexibility. It avoids burdening your Lordships and another place with multiple items of subordinate legislation. I beg to move.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    Clause 153 [ Transitional provisions etc.]:

    Page 76, line 4, at end insert—

    ("( ) If section 107 comes into force before the Human Rights Act 1998 has come into force (or come fully into force), that section shall have effect until the time when that Act is fully in force as it will have effect after that time.").

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    Clause 154 [ Orders and directions]:

    Page 76, line 11, leave out ("or 144(8)") and insert (", 144(8) or 155(1A)").

    Page 76, line 24, at end insert (" 106(1B), 108(7A),").

    On Question, amendments agreed to.

    Clause 155 [ Interpretation]:

    Page 76, leave out lines 43 and 44.

    Page 77, line 6, at end insert ("and

    "Wales" includes the sea adjacent to Wales out as far as the seaward boundary of the territorial sea.").

    Page 77, line 7, at end insert—

    ("(1A) The Secretary of State may by order determine, or make provision for determining, for the purposes of the definition of "Wales" any boundary between—

  • (a) the parts of the sea which are to be treated as adjacent to Wales, and
  • (b) those which are not,
  • and may make different determinations or provision for different purposes; and an Order in Council under section 22 may include any provision that may be included in an order under this subsection.").

    Page 77, line 8, leave out from ("year"") to end of line 14 and insert ("means the twelve months ending with 31st March, and the first financial year of the Assembly is the financial year ending with the 31st March following the day of the first ordinary election.").

    On Question, amendments agreed to.

    Clause 156 [ Defined expressions]:

    Page 77, line 33, column 2, leave out (" 155(1)") and insert (" 107(5)").

    Page 77, line 42, column 1, leave out ("(in relation to the Assembly)").

    Page 77, line 43, at end insert—

    ("first financial year of the Assembly

    section 155(2)")

    Page 77, line 45, column 1, at end insert ("with an executive role").

    Page 78, line 13, at end insert—

    ("Wales

    section 155(1) and (1A)")

    On Question, amendments agreed to.