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Lords Chamber

Volume 657: debated on Thursday 22 January 2004

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House Of Lords

Thursday, 22 January 2004.

The House met at eleven of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Southwark): The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Major Ian Hill: Inquest

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as honorary parliamentary adviser over many years to The Royal British Legion and a friend of Ian Hill.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response to the coroner's findings at the recent inquest into the death of Major Ian Hill, a veteran of the 1990–91 Gulf conflict.

My Lords, we are aware of the Cheshire coroner's conclusion of 24 November 2003 on the death of Edward Ian Hill. To facilitate our understanding of the Cheshire coroner's conclusion, officials wrote to him on 19 December 2003 under the Coroners Rules 1984 requesting copies of reports of the post-mortem examination and any special examinations, notes of evidence and documents put in evidence at the inquest. We understand that delivery of the letter was delayed. The coroner has confirmed that he is dealing with our request, and we expect to receive the papers shortly.

My Lords, while I am grateful to my noble friend, as ever, is it not shaming that there was so much haggling over this good and courageous man's case, even while he was terminally ill, regardless of its doubly distressing effects on his disabled wife and daughter?

Now that the coroner has established that Ian died of Gulf War-related illness, who can doubt that his death was linked also, as Ian himself said, to the battery of 14 and more vaccines, one of them unlicensed, to which our troops were subjected; the appalling lack of medical records; and failure even to observe vaccine protocols? Does not this deeply worrying case shout the urgency of the need now for the public inquiry called for by The Royal British Legion?

My Lords, I accept and acknowledge the feeling that the noble Lord, Lord Morris, brings to the Question, as he was extremely close to Mr Hill and is extremely close to his widow. So far as the coroner's findings are concerned, I shall read from what is described as a formal note headed:

"Inquisition—Conclusion of the Coroner as to the death".
It should be put on record, particularly because of misleading reports in today's papers. It states:
"Edward Ian Hill died from Natural Causes to which service as part of the 1991 Gulf Campaign contributed".
Those are the words that the coroner used in his formal document.

I do not think that the way in which this case has been dealt with is shameful. As my noble friend will know, exemption 12 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information prevents me, as it would any Minister, disclosing details of any actual pension paid to Mrs Avison, the widow, as that is of a private and personal nature. However, I can say that war widows' pensions are paid when death is deemed to be due to service, and that the widow has to raise only a reasonable doubt for claims to succeed. Mr Hill's death was regarded as due to service under the war pensions scheme. Armed Forces occupational pensions may also be paid regardless of whether the death is attributable.

My noble friend asked about a public inquiry. The Government's position is clear: we are not convinced that a public inquiry would help. The possibility that we may look again at the matter has not been ruled out but, in present circumstances, it is only through the programme of research initiated by this Government that we are ever likely to be able to establish the causes of Gulf veterans' illnesses.

My Lords, what would the legal implications be if the Government finally recognised that Gulf War syndrome existed?

My Lords, because we have discussed the matter in this House on many occasions, the noble Lord knows that we of course accept that some veterans of the first Gulf War have become ill, and that many believe that some of that ill health is unusual and related to their Gulf experience. A great number of pensions and compensations have been paid on the basis of those who became ill during the Gulf War. We do not accept that there is Gulf War syndrome at the moment, because all the medical research at present suggests that there is not. I very much doubt whether it would make very much difference to the generous amounts of pension and compensation that have already been paid.

My Lords, would the Minister not agree that, whether the block term "Gulf War syndrome" is accepted or not, any veteran of that war who incurs a neurological condition of which the symptoms started to occur soon after that war should now, in view of all the hard evidence coming to light, automatically be eligible for an attributable pension, and a widow be provided for accordingly?

My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord tempts me by sympathetic questioning into a response that I cannot make. Of course we have to be sympathetic, and I hope that my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, indicated that we have been. However, cases have to be decided on an individual basis, case by case. We are obliged to do that as the legislation stands.

My Lords, I remind the House of my peripheral interest. Do scientists understand why Gulf War illness is not apparent among French veterans?

My Lords, not for the first time the noble Earl has surprised me with a question. I am afraid that I do not know whether British scientists are surprised by what has happened to French veterans. It is a fair question, and I shall find out and write to him.

My Lords, what research is currently going on? What does the Minister anticipate will be its result?

My Lords, I shall certainly not anticipate the result of any research. To do so would be somewhat foolish. We look forward to the research when it arrives. The portfolio of research into ill health reported by veterans includes two major epidemiological studies, a programme of clinical tests, research to investigate the possible adverse health effects of a combination of medical countermeasures used in the Gulf to protect British troops against the threat of biological and chemical warfare agents, and a systematic review of research literature on Gulf veterans' illnesses. We expect to spend at least £8.5 million on the research.

Euro: Ec Enforcement Of Budgetary Rules

11.9 a.m.

Whether they support the legal action taken by the European Commission to enforce the budgetary rules underpinning the euro.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport
(Lord McIntosh of Haringey)

My Lords, it would be inappropriate to comment on either the Commission's decision or the possible or likely outcomes of the case.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that unsurprising Answer. I am sure that he will not want to comment on the results of the case. However, if the case were decided in the Commission's favour, would the Government then back the enforcement of fines against France and Germany?

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is sensible to have rules providing for a balanced budget over the cycle; that it is counter-productive to apply those rules rigidly; and that the key to a sensible system would be to apply much stronger moral pressure on states that fail to run a healthy budget surplus at a time of boom?

My Lords, I can respond to that best by citing the conclusion of the Economic and Finance Council of 25 November, which states:

"The Council…undertakes to strengthen the implementation of the Pact by reinforcing budgetary discipline over the cycle and fostering structural reforms aimed at increasing growth potential".
We agree with that conclusion.

My Lords, but is it not a fact that the Government, including the Chancellor, would prefer the stability and growth pact to be replaced by the Chancellor's golden rules?

My Lords, the Chancellor has always made it clear that we believe in a prudent interpretation of the stability and growth pact. Our prudent interpretation, like the golden rule, would allow for those matters to be considered over the economic cycle.

My Lords, does not the Commission deserve our deepest sympathy, because either it enforces what Mr Prodi called a stupid law or it acquiesces in the breaking of the rule of law? What does one make of a pact which, once it is broken wide open, causes the euro to go through the roof? Could it possibly be that Mr Prodi was right?

My Lords, I do not think that I should express a view on why the euro should, as the noble Lord describes it, go through the roof. I am not even sure that that is an accurate representation of what happened after the ECOFIN meeting and the Commission's decision to undertake legal action.

My Lords, does not the noble Lord agree that the case being brought by the Commission is a bit of a sideshow? Far more important than addressing—or failing to address, as he has done—our views on that, ECOFIN should be concentrating on making the growth and stability pact more flexible and, above all, making it work during a period of upswing in the economies, which is just beginning to show signs of starting. Its failure to work during the previous upswing was the reason why, when the downswing came, it worked even worse.

My Lords, I largely agree with that. I have indeed resisted answering questions about the legal action, partly because I do not think that it is the most important issue facing Europe. The Commission has published three pillars for reform of the stability and growth pact, as the noble Lord well knows. The member states will need time to reflect on them, but our first reaction is that some of them, at least, move in the direction of the prudent interpretation that the Chancellor has always supported.

My Lords, I think it is the turn of our side.

Does the Minister agree that when it comes to law-breaking, it is not just a question of the euro and the stability pact? France is far the biggest breaker of EU laws and far the biggest offender in failing to implement them. Indeed, the cases against it add up to more than those of all the other member states put together. Should we not be careful before siding with those who break EU law? Is it not in our interest to support a law-based European Union, instead of one run by bureaucratic whim or political considerations?

My Lords, that question is not only wide but very wide of the original Question. I must respond to the extent of saying that no one could accuse us of siding with those who break European laws.

My Lords, is my noble friend as amused as I am that those on the Conservative Benches used to complain about the weakness of the euro and now complain about its strength? Can he clarify the basis of the European Commission's proposal? As I understand the Maastricht criteria and rules, where a country breaks either the budget debt or GDP debt of 3 per cent or 60 per cent respectively, it is wholly within the Council of Ministers' discretion to decide not to exact fines. That is playing by the rules as set down.

My Lords, on my noble friend's first question, it is not for me to defend or attack the Opposition's ducking and weaving on those matters. On his second question, I refer him to Article 104 of the treaty, which sets out the progressive steps to be taken in circumstances where there is a risk or actuality of breach of the stability and growth pact. In particular, Article 104c.7, 104.8, 104.9, 104.10 and 104.11 sets out a progressive process that he summarised rather accurately.

Rural White Paper 2000

11.15 a.m.

What progress has been made on achieving targets set in the rural White Paper of 2000.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
(Lord Whitty)

My Lords, considerable progress has been made on the programme set out in the rural White Paper. The creation of Defra, with a clear remit for rural policy, and a Cabinet committee on rural regeneration significantly strengthen the rural agenda across government. The recent rural White Paper review, available on Defra's website, alongside new evidence from our rural research centre, shove s that the vision continues to command widespread support.

I must apologise that copies of the review were not placed in the Library on the day of release. They have been placed there this week, but that should happen automatically and I regret the failure of the system in this case.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response, but he must be disappointed that of the aims and targets set, only 48 per cent have been achieved to date; that, according to the report, a further 35 per cent are in hand; and that 17 per cent have not even been commenced. Does that not reflect the Government's lack of priority on rural living and lack of understanding of the different needs of rural communities, especially with regard to distance and sparseness? Further, are not the Government now under an obligation at least to give the House government time to debate that important rural White Paper, which was produced back in 2000 and which the Government have given no time to debate?

My Lords, our figures in the rural White Paper review state that 83 per cent of all the commitments are either completed or on track. Of the remainder, there is some slippage in about 13 per cent. Those are our figures. Where there has been slippage, that clearly needs to be addressed. However, huge resources have been deployed for rural schools, policing, post offices, childcare and Sure Start, support for village enterprises and rural transport. There has been a substantial shift of resources to rural areas on all those matters. As I said, rural-proofing is now a significant part of assessment of government policy right across the board.

My Lords, it is a pity, then, that even with all that increased funding, rural post offices are still closing at an even faster rate than when the Government entered office. However, to deliver part of the programme requires regional development agencies to have a strong rural programme. Is the Minister aware that in the very rural south-west region, the funding for rural areas that should be on stream from the regional development agency, far from being on stream, appears to be behind a dam? The rural renaissance funding is simply not getting through.

My Lords, I also know that a significant programme for rural enterprise has been established by the South West Regional Development Agency. It is true that deployment of some of those resources has not been as quick as either we or the RDA would like; I regret that that is true in some other areas as well. Nevertheless, the commitment of the South West RDA and other RDAs is clearly to have a major rural stream as part of their regeneration programme. The Government strongly support that.

My Lords, I declare a direct financial interest as a woodland owner. Can the Minister hold out any prospect of prices for timber and up-take of forest products recovering to their level of 10 years ago?

My Lords, that is probably well beyond my powers. I am afraid that, by and large, the price of timber is set by international markets. Regrettably, even Defra does not have jurisdiction to determine the prices traded on world markets. But there has been strong support from Defra and the Forestry Commission for the development of all sorts of woodland enterprises.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that, for rural areas to be sustained, we need a lot of imagination from councillors elected to represent those areas, who sometimes show undue parochialism in inappropriate attempts to keep open individual schools, whereas they might better be clustered for the future prosperity and strength of their area?

My Lords, I must admit that short-sightedness by local councillors in rural areas has been known to exist. On occasion, councillors have turned down what seemed perfectly sensible planning proposals that might have generated jobs and prosperity in rural areas. More creative approaches to the loss of services in rural areas, both private and public sector, would have maintained those services had we clustered them in various ways. Greater creativity and a more flexible approach to at least part of the planning arrangements in certain difficult rural areas would help to recreate rural prosperity.

My Lords, can the Minister elaborate on what the Government are doing to provide affordable broadband access to the rural community?

My Lords, it is a very important issue. It is important that all citizens of this land have equal access to broadband, which is not the case at present. The Government strongly support BT's commitment that 100 per cent broadband coverage of every UK community should be achievable by 2005.

My Lords, is the Minister satisfied with the current progress of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme? Many farmers appear to be taking advantage of it, and there is movement, but can Defra cope with the requests being made? What effect will it have on future incomes related to the reduction of subsidies through CAP?

My Lords, by and large, the Countryside Stewardship Scheme has been a success. Clearly, there have been problems at the margins, but, in general, the take-up and delivery of the scheme have made an important contribution to the improved environmental performance of agriculture and provided an income to those farmers taking part.

As noble Lords will be aware, the Government are committed to creating an entry-level environment scheme, to which there would be relatively easy access, that would deliver both environmental benefits and income. Although there will be changes to the CAP, the exact details of which the Government will announce in several weeks' time, the total amount of money for agriculture remains by far the biggest support given to any industry. Although the nature of the subsidies may change, they represent a large element of support for the future of agriculture.

Middle East Road Map: Israeli Security Fence

11.23 a.m.

Whether the road map for a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians makes provision for limiting or demolishing the wall being built by Israel on Palestinian territory.

My Lords, the quartet road map, while not including a specific provision on the construction of the fence by Israel, does call upon the Government of Israel to take no actions undermining trust, including the confiscation and/or demolition of Palestinian property. It is important that, in implementing the road map, all parties refrain from actions that obstruct the search for peace. My noble friend Lady Symons is currently visiting the occupied territories to see the situation on the ground for herself.

My Lords, I hope, as we all do, that the noble Baroness's visit is successful. Although one recognises Israel's need for security, is not the construction of the wall contrary to international law and to a recent resolution by the United Nations General Assembly? In addition, does it not make immeasurably more difficult the task of the Palestinian Prime Minister in securing agreement to a ceasefire from Hamas and similar organisations? What are the quartet countries doing to resolve the situation, and what is President Bush doing to fulfil his undertaking to use, in resolving the problem, energy similar to that which the Prime Minister has used on Northern Ireland?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his good wishes to my noble friend Lady Symons on her visit this week to the occupied territories. She felt that it was important to see for herself the situation and to meet key players, now that the new administration under Abu Ala has been established.

I agree very much with the noble Lord that the UK has made clear its views on the fence. While always recognising Israel's legitimate security concerns, we consider the building of the fence in the occupied Palestinian territories to be unlawful. As the noble Lord has said, it threatens the prospect of a two-state solution and is very much an obstacle to peace.

The noble Lord asked about US engagement. The US. together with all other members of the quartet, continues to press both sides to implement their obligations under the road map.

My Lords, will the forthcoming elections in the United States not detract from US engagement with the road map? Does my noble friend agree with me that it was noticeable that President Bush did not mention the road map in his State of the Union address? What are the implications of that for future work on the peace process?

My Lords, I hope that I can reassure my noble friend that the United States and President Bush are very much engaged with the road map and its success. President Bush clearly reiterated his determination to move forward on the peace process following his state visit here in November. During that visit he said:

"Israel should freeze settlement construction, dismantle unauthorized outposts, end the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people, and not prejudice final negotiations with the placements of walls and fences. Arab states should end incitement in their own media, cut off public and private funding for terrorism, and establish normal relations with Israel".

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that, in the run-up to the war in Iraq, we were assured by many American policy-makers that, to quote Henry Kissinger, for example,

"the road to Jerusalem lies through Baghdad",
and that the replacement of Saddam Hussein would make implementation of the road map a great deal easier? What parts of the road map have yet to be implemented? Our understanding was that part of what our Prime Minister hoped to have got out of the Bush Administration in return for the public support that we gave them was a commitment to press ahead rapidly and determinedly with implementation of the road map. Sadly, there is very little evidence that that has been done.

My Lords, I share the noble Lord's frustration and concern at the slow process of the road map. As he knows, the road map is in three phases. We are concentrating on phase one, which is still to be implemented. We are gravely concerned about prospects for peace. Failure matters more than ever now, because the clock is ticking on a two-state solution. The priority now is visible Palestinian efforts to stop violence and degrade terrorist capabilities. In parallel, Israel also needs to make an investment in peace, fulfilling its road map responsibilities to freeze all settlement activity, to remove settlement outposts and to improve the humanitarian situation in the occupied territories. I agree very much with the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord.

My Lords, is not the situation even more serious than the noble Baroness indicated in her previous answer? Do not the daily pressures of the occupation, including the construction of the fence, have the effect of flaking away the authority of the Palestinian Authority, which was never very great, and making it almost impossible for it now to take effective measures to stop the suicide bombing, so that you get a complete stalemate?

Everyone understands the difficulties of American efforts between now and November—the noble Baroness would not wish to brush that aside. But can Her Majesty's Government continue to bring home to the Americans, and everyone else concerned, that if the present situation is allowed to continue—it is not just a stalemate; it is a steady, daily deterioration—something that is now tragic for all sides could become dangerous for peace, even disastrous?

Yes, my Lords; I agree. We are constantly speaking with our friends in both Palestine and Israel about the urgency of this situation. My noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean is, at this moment, speaking with our Palestinian friends about the efforts that they must make. I agree that the drip, drip, drip of repression in the occupied territories makes it difficult to give impetus to the peace process.

Fishery Limits (United Kingdom) Bill Hl

Read a third time; an amendment (privilege) made; Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

Planning And Compulsory Purchase Bill

11.31 a.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee. —(Lord Rooker.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]

Clause 3 [ RPB: general functions]:

Page 2, line 35, leave out "must" and insert "may"

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to try to moderate the language of the Bill. As it stands, this subsection demands that regional planning bodies give out information to other bodies if they think that this would aid the fulfilment of the regional spatial strategy.

The main problem that we have with this subsection is that although we agree that the regional planning bodies should be more than willing to share information, give advice and be ready to offer their expertise in order to succeed with their spatial strategy, the wording of this subsection is too tight and far too demanding. The word "must" seems to put the onus on the regional planning body to second guess who would want or need advice. This would lead to the planning body having constantly to identify any new organisations to give advice to. That would add considerably to their workload, as they would also require some kind of protocol or process to determine what sort of advice should be given to what kind of organisation, should this advice be unsolicited.

Do they have any powers of enforcement if this advice is not taken up? That would surely detract from the work of the regional planning bodies and what they would do with the existing partners in the strategy process. We therefore suggest that it would be more desirable to permit regional planning bodies to tender advice, which would enable much better working relationships between all parties involved. We suggest that the word "must" be replaced with "may" in this context. I beg to move.

We have put our names to the amendment, not just for the usual reasons of autonomy and discretion, but because it seems both hugely prescriptive and rather odd, as if in the circumstances that the subsection addresses, the regional planning body would not communicate, not be in touch with and not offer advice in a general sense if that seemed appropriate.

I am concerned what statutory obligations might be imposed on the regional planning body, which could open up claims that it is not giving advice when it thinks—and presumably reasonably thinks, or should reasonably think—that it would help to achieve the implementation of the regional spatial strategy. In a world where various parties are not working together effectively, having this expressed as a duty could cause more problems than it solves, because of the difficulties of interpretation of the clause and the possibility of some sort of claim.

Amendment No.31 amends Clause 3(6) to turn the requirement for the regional planning body to give advice to anyone, if it thinks that this will help to achieve the implementation of the regional spatial strategy, into an option to do so.

I suspect that this amendment is rooted in a concern that the regional planning body will be overwhelmed by requests for free advice. I reassure the noble Baroness that Clause 3(6) already safeguards against this. The regional planning body is required to give advice only if it thinks that to do so would help to achieve the implementation of the regional spatial strategy. Implementing that strategy is one of the key functions of the regional planning body.

It is quite proper that it should be required to provide advice that will help to secure delivery of the policies of the regional spatial strategy. However, this is not a charter for the regional planning body becoming a free consultancy service. If it does not think providing advice will help to achieve the implementation of the regional spatial strategy, it is under no obligation to provide it. I hope that with that explanation the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

It was not the noble Baroness, but the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, who moved the amendment. Is the Minister in a position to answer my question? Perhaps I did not put it clearly enough. Does the Minister think that a statutory duty—I am not talking about the burden of numbers of requests for advice; I can see that the Government might have thought that that was in my mind—with the difficulty of interpreting what is meant by "thinks" and what is meant by "advice", might not lead to trouble?

The Minister did not deal with my point. I wanted to put "may" instead of "must", to make the Bill more acceptable to people who read it and to the regional planning body, so that it has options, rather than having "must" all the time throughout the Bill. The Minister did not answer that either.

I find it rather odd that the Government should have any difficulty with this. In purely syntax terms, the word "if" is a conditional word, and the word "may" goes much better with "if—than the word "must".

I know that it is a terrible thing to get into syntactic debates in the House. I always feel at a bit of a loss; probably it is a failing in my education. We have got the language right; I understand some of the sensitivities that have been expressed. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, if I failed to answer his precise point. Obviously, we are happy at all times to continue to look at the language of our legislation, and we are wise to do so. I cannot go any further than that this morning.

I thank the Minister for that. There are several "musts" in the Bill, and we may come back to them at a later stage. However, this morning, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 agreed to.

After Clause 3, insert the following new clause—

"STATUTORY PLANNING ROLE FOR COUNTY COUNCILS IN REGIONAL PLANNING

Each RPB shall be advised on the preparation, review and monitoring of the implementation of the RSS in relation to its region (or any part of it) by such authorities within the region as fall within section 4(2)."

The noble Baroness said: Government Amendments Nos.35, 37, 41, 42, 44 and 45 are grouped with my amendment. I left a message for the Minister late last night saying that I would be happy not to move my amendment, if he felt that it would make for a better debate if he led off on the matter. The message may not have got to him. I shall move my amendment, which, if I can put it that way, is concerned with where thinking and negotiations about the role of county councils had got to, before the Government announced their new clauses at the end of last week.

My new clause is the same as that proposed in Amendment No.34, which is in the next group, except for part of the heading. I will not press the amendment, as we have the Government's version, but, having started the debate, I ask the Minister to comment on Amendments Nos.35 and 37, which relate to the powers of county councils and, I suppose, unitary authorities in this context. It has been suggested to me that it is doubtful that the local authorities have a power to engage in commenting on general matters that arise from the regional spatial strategy. Their degree of involvement would be restricted to their ability to fulfil their own responsibilities. I believe that the Government are aware of that concern.

Even if it is not, in fact, a problem, and such authorities were intra vires in responding, concern about the situation might discourage the counties from becoming involved and offering their assistance. On the whole. local politicians are not discouraged from offering their views to the Government. Do the Government think that it would be appropriate to distinguish between a duty to advise on matters that affect their own functions and a power to advise on any of the subject matter of the regional spatial strategy, coupled with a requirement for the regional planning body to have regard to the advice tendered.

The amendments to Clause 4 talk about the exercise of a local authority's function, but that is not necessarily the same as a matter in which it is interested. It seems narrow. It might be helpful if the functions in question could somewhere be listed in writing, so that there is less confusion, either in Hansard or, perhaps, in guidance.

The Minister will explain his amendments. I am glad to see where they have got to, although it will be obvious from the amendment to which the Committee agreed on Monday, which we moved, that we do not think that they go far enough. So far as they go, they are welcome. I beg to move.

11.45 a.m.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for moving Amendment No.32. That way, we can proceed with the Government's amendments; otherwise, we would have had to do the next group first, which would not have made sense. I shall not address Amendment No.32, if that is okay. I shall speak to the Government's amendments and move them in the appropriate place.

I could, if need be, quote them verbatim, but, by way of introduction, I must say that the Local Government Association and the County Councils Network, which represent practitioners in local government— I pay due respect to the senior practitioner sitting opposite me and, for that matter, to the noble Baroness—have signed up to the Government's amendments. To the best of my knowledge—I have read their letters again—they have not raised any of the caveats that were raised by the noble Baroness. That is not to say that those questions are not legitimate, but I want to put it on record that those from the Local Government Association and the County Councils Network who expressed concern are fully signed up and appreciate the Government's movement on the issue.

I shall proceed through the amendments. Some are consequential, so I will not spend a lot of time on them. Amendment No.35 amends Clause 4 to require the regional planning body to seek the advice of county councils, metropolitan district councils, unitary authorities and national park authorities that fall in whole or in part within the regional planning body's region, when preparing, keeping under review and monitoring the implementation of a revision of the regional spatial strategy. The amendment places a corresponding duty on those authorities to give advice to the regional planning body in respect of such matters to the extent that they may affect directly or indirectly the exercise of any of the functions that they have.

Amendment No.37 provides for the regional planning body to enter into arrangements with authorities and district councils that fall in whole or in part into the planning body's region for the discharge of any of the functions of the regional planning body. The Government's amendments will replace the provision in Clause 4 that requires the regional planning body to consider whether it would be desirable for any such authorities to assist in carrying out any of its functions and, if so, to seek to enter into arrangements with them for the discharge of those functions.

The other government amendments—Amendments Nos.41, 42, 44 and 45—are minor consequential amendments to include the word "council" as well as "authority" and update the cross-referencing in the revised clause. I do not propose to spend any time on them; I shall devote my time to the substantive amendments, Amendments Nos.35 and 37.

As I said, our amendments address the concerns expressed by the Local Government Association, the County Councils Network and others, which were echoed in the House at Second Reading. I reported back to my colleagues the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of State for Housing and Planning, Keith Hill, that the Bill had received a drubbing; in fact, I have a speaking note somewhere—the "drubbing" speaking note. Clearly, they had been considering the issue. We had been in discussion with representatives of local government and other parties, ever since the Bill appeared. It goes back to the time when the Bill was my ministerial responsibility. We have been trying to find a form of words that would satisfy the genuine points made by the county councils, without duplication and so that we could maintain that third tier.

I shall give a little more detail on Amendments Nos.35 and 37. I need not labour the point. By guaranteeing an advisory role for county councils and other authorities with strategic planning expertise, Amendment No.35 puts things right and satisfies the requirements. Those authorities will give advice on keeping the regional spatial strategy under review, the preparation of a draft revision of the regional spatial strategy and monitoring the regional spatial strategy implementation. We expect the asking for and provision of advice to be carried out constructively. The amendment is not a charter for obstruction and delay and does not require the regional planning body to seek advice before every decision, however small. All parties must be reasonable, and I fully accept that that is the spirit in which the discussions have taken place. The revision of the consultation draft of planning policy statement 11 on regional planning will set out how that will work in practice.

Government Amendment No.37 ensures that the regional planning body can enter into partnership arrangements, beyond the statutory requesting and giving of advice function, with county councils and other authorities with strategic planning expertise, and with district councils. The provision replaces a similar one in existing Clause 4. It gives the regional planning bodies the freedom that they need to obtain, for example, technical analysis to assist in the district level distribution for new housing. The detailed nature of those arrangements will be for the parties concerned to negotiate, depending on the particular circumstances. I am confident that we have here the basis of widespread and productive partnership working, which need cause no flight of planning expertise from county councils.

My amendments have the public support of the Local Government Association and the County Councils Network. I assume that Members of the Committee opposite have received copies of the correspondence, but, if not, I am happy to quote from the correspondence and put it on the record. Similarly, I hope that the Committee will welcome the guarantee of county council involvement in the regional planning process and the practical approach to the arrangements between the regional planning bodies and local authorities that the amendments provide.

There will always be those people who argue that the amendment does not go far enough. Some might claim that the regional planning bodies would be able to ignore county councils' advice. They would not. The regional planning bodies, as well as the authorities, would be under an overarching duty to act reasonably in all circumstances. That is an overarching duty. Therefore, if an RPB obtains advice, it cannot simply say, "No. We do not accept it". If a regional planning body fails to take proper account of the advice given by county councils and other authorities under this clause, that could ultimately be subject to legal challenge.

However, our expectation is that RPBs and those authorities will work together and not operate in a state of mutual antagonism that will benefit no one. The final version of planning policy statement 11 will set out in more detail how we see the asking for and the giving of advice working out in practice. I feel that we have met the overall concerns of county councils in this respect. It has always been a substantial cause of concern that they have put to us quite vigorously, in many forms, on an all-party basis. There has been no distinction of a partisan approach. I am extremely grateful for the way in which they have conducted the final outcome of discussions with my right honourable friends in the other place. I am therefore happy to bring these amendments to the Committee.

I thank the Minister for tabling the amendments, which have gone some way to relieve county councils about their future role in the planning process. But I shall be moving a set of amendments later because we do not think that these have gone far enough.

I should like to make a few comments about the process. There is one very important issue, already referred to when we discussed Part 1. At present, county councils get revenue support in the FSS for their planning departments. They have planning departments with considerable expertise—probably some of the best planning departments in the country. The Minister kindly referred to me as having some expertise in planning as leader of Essex County Council. Perhaps I should also declare an interest that until last year I was vice-chairman of the Local Government Association and that I am involved in the County Councils Network.

Obviously, we still have to finance those departments in county councils. One of the big issues that we have been concerned about is that this considerable expertise would be broken up. Certainly, in my own county where we still have considerable growth and the potential development of the largest airport in the world, we would have to retain a considerable planning department. Therefore, I should like to ask the Minister whether it will still be part of revenue support or whether it will be totally discretionary support. That would mean that the whole cost would fall on the council tax payer rather than, as now, be paid partially by grant and partially by the council tax payer. I should like the Minister to respond to that very important point.

I have been aware of the negotiations that have taken place. I am concerned that the people negotiating were told that the Government would not budge on this point. The negotiators did not realise that there is a democratic process which involves this House too, and that there could be discussions on amendments here. Various people to whom I have spoken who were part of the negotiations, which I welcome as well, are very pleased, but they said that there was no chance of the Government going any further. Obviously, there is a chance of the Government going further because we must debate and, in due course, vote in this House on these amendments. I feel that we have a very important role and that we must continue to talk about the issues.

I should like to give an example that the Minister knows very well. As leader of Essex County Council, we are required to deliver many more houses because of the community strategy of the Government. We are also—I repeat—looking at the development of an airport. The county council can deliver those things for the Government. A regional spatial strategy and a regional planning committee will never deliver. These are cross-district, sub-regional issues. If the Government think that they will speed up the planning process and deliver in the east or the south-east—I repeat, a region the size of Austria—or in the south-west, which is a very diverse area, they are totally wrong. The planning process may be different in Yorkshire arid Humberside where there is a co-ordinated area, or in the north-east where Newcastle is in the middle.

Essex County Council can deliver for the Government, but the eastern region cannot. I cannot understand the Government's thinking on that at all. It will not work. I have been around local government long enough to know how we can deliver and how we can help the Government. Perhaps we shall learn as we go through the Bill how the Government expect to speed up the process or hope to attain more houses in the south-east or hope to build an airport. Giving planning permission or just making a decision that something is wanted does not achieve it; someone has to sit down, design it, do it and make it work.

I recently had a meeting with the Minister about Essex issues. I went straight back to Essex and we started work. We can deliver. The eastern region, which is meeting tomorrow, will never deliver. Perhaps the Minister might comment on that and how he thinks that these processes might help him to do what he wants to do. I have posed a series of questions that I would like the Minister to answer in this part of the debate because we will be putting further amendments later.

I hope that my noble friend will forgive an intrusion from behind into an argument between the Front Benches. So far as I am concerned, I shall be very brief. I thought that the noble Lord was extremely accommodating and very helpful in the attitude that he took today. I thought that perhaps he was a little optimistic in assuming that after the Bill is passed everyone would sit down together cooing like doves in perfect amity and friendship. That would be too much to hope for. For myself, I accept that the Government have gone some way to ease the worries of county councils.

What bothers me is that this is a move that takes government further away from the people whereas they ought to be going in the opposite direction. My fear is that the new regional authorities will bully and oppress those beneath them and will expect to be sovereign over them to an intolerable extent. I may be wrong; I hope that I am. However, despite the very reasonable attitude that the noble Lord has taken today, I hope that he will realise that there still are some very considerable anxieties beyond those more detailed ones to which my noble friend referred and with which I agree.

I welcome what the Minister said. I also welcome the fact that the advice that was pressed upon Ministers and officials for a long time by the Local Government Association and the County Councils Network has been heeded. I am grateful for what he has said. I am sure that my colleagues in county councils will be too.

It is a much better solution than that alternative which I foresaw, that the regional planning authorities would use consultants to obtain the advice which is available within the county council. In so doing, probably consultants would cost a great deal of money and take staff away from county councils and make, as it were, yet another gap, another democratic deficit, which we have talked about before.

I reiterate that planning staff are an extremely scarce resource. They should be nurtured. There are adequate means of communication between the regional offices, wherever they are, and the county councils. It would make no sense in the communications chain to abolish the county councils and have someone else do the job. The county councils reinforce where there is two-tier government the relationship between themselves and the districts. That is a valuable link that would also need to be rebuilt if the county councils were removed.

I join the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, in his concern about how the county councils are going to pay for planning if it is removed from the financial settlement. As the Minister knows, local government finance is a minefield, which I do not propose to enter today. He is aware of the problems that we all face. Otherwise I am grateful to him.

Noon

I welcome the Government's amendments in this grouping, which I note have the approval of the Local Government Association and the County Councils Network. In requiring the regional planning boards to seek advice of each authority and its region, which is a council or authority falling within Clause 4(2), the Government are bringing the counties back into the loop and providing some much needed bottom-up input into the planning process at the regional level.

Government Amendment No.37 permits the regional planning board to make arrangements with an authority within subsection (2) for the discharge of any function of the regional planning board. Many Members of the Committee have expressed concern that the proposed arrangements would lead to a break-up of the highly experienced planning departments at county level.

Amendment No.37 would, it seems, allow for the planning departments to be contracted as agents of the regional planning boards to carry out the processing of planning applications in the areas of their jurisdiction. That could prevent the break-up of existing expertise and avoid the necessity of creating a new bureaucracy at the regional level, while it would not place at risk the two-tier process of planning approval.

I would like the Minister to tell us a little more specifically whether he sees this as a possible outcome of his Amendment No.37.

On the central issue about which I have been asked—money—I am pleased to announce that I have a first-class answer. It will remain part of the revenue support grant and we have no intention of taking away any money from the county councils as a result. I cannot make the matter more clear.

On the vires, my advice from a legal assessment is that it would be perfectly all right and there should not be any problems.

I thank the Minister and welcome that statement, which will be of considerable reassurance to many people.

I dare not get involved in a debate across the Dispatch Box with the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, about who will deliver given the ongoing discussions, particularly in view of the meetings that will take place tomorrow. I am grateful for his positive approach and I hope that there will be a similar positive approach at the meetings.

I appreciate that the noble Lord can operate as the leader of Essex County Council with executive action putting into place certain processes. By and large, because the district councils and the unitary authorities will operate in conformity with their development plans, which have to conform with the regional spatial strategy, they will carry out the delivery.

The noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, referred to planning applications, which are dealt with by the district council planning authority. It is not an issue of being site-specific in respect of where we are at the moment. He asked how the Government envisage Amendment No.37 working in terms of co-operation. It is early days, but the kind of arrangements we would envisage the counties and other authorities entering into with the regional planning body could include matters in relation to the counties and the other authorities where they have strategic planning expertise, such as assisting or taking the lead in sub-regional work such as the technical analysis to assist in the district level distribution for new housing, for example; and providing assistance on general conformity issues including assisting the regional planning body in making representations to local planning authorities. That is an area in which they would have considerable expertise. They would also provide technical expertise for the regional spatial strategy reviews.

I understand that there has been a bit of a blight regarding staff because of uncertainty with legislation going through that changes people's careers and work patterns, which is bound to cause some difficulties. We have made it clear throughout that county councils would play a central role in the new arrangements, even more so after the amendments are passed. A duty to provide certain aspects of work is written in the Bill.

I accept that the county planning function will change in some ways, but it will not change overnight. This issue should not cause difficulties. Counties will need a capability in spatial planning at regional and local level in their capacity as service providers in any event. These are not just warm words; they are made much more secure by our amendments. I agree that warm words from the Dispatch Box would not satisfy Members of the Committee, irrespective of what we had agreed with the practitioners outside.

If anyone is given the impression that a deal done outside does not come with the caveat: "By the way, Parliament's in the way here; there is a hurdle to cross called the House of Lords, which has a role in debating and agreeing the Bill, " I apologise, because it would have been said when I was involved in the discussions. I add the mantra that the Government have only 28 per cent of the votes in the House of Lords. Since the demise of some of my colleagues in December it is probably only 27 per cent. The Government do not run the House of Lords. I repeatedly say that so that people cannot run away with the idea that, because they have done a deal with the Minister, the House of Lords is taken for granted. That is not the case and I am sorry if anyone, by omission, had that impression.

I hope that I have been unequivocal about money, which is a key factor. There is no intention to take any money away from the county councils as a result of the changes. They will be fully included in the normal revenue support arrangements. The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, has doubts. I am not saying that everything will be swimmingly friendly, but there is a good degree of good will. In the big picture framework of us trying to modernise and, I hope, speed up the planning process to make it fairer and more predictable for developers and others and to give the public a greater voice in many areas, people will operate with goodwill all round.

But as I have said, the amendments are not designed to allow people simply to frustrate the process. It requires co-operation and good will and they have been drafted with that in mind. I hope that things will be well, even down in the West Country.

I do not understand the suggestion that the Local Government Association, the county councils network or individual authorities have sought this kind of amendment in order to be obstructive. That is not the case, and I take entirely the point about good will. On these Benches, our point remains that we would like to see a much bigger role than that encapsulated in the amendments.

The Minister has been helpful, but I want to respond to one or two of his points. On the concerns about staff being lost over a period, I do not think that a planner will derive adequate job satisfaction when he or she is put in a position where all they are asked to do is give advice to another body. That is not the same as writing the county structure plan.

The Minister gave assurances on the vires of this, but I should like to explore that a little further after our deliberations today. Having gone to so much effort to put together these amendments, it is important that they work adequately and that the term "its functions" can be interpreted widely enough not to frustrate the operation at a later date.

The Minister also said that the House of Lords is not to he taken for granted. None of us does that, either as individuals or as a body. That is why I end by saying that of course I shall neither press my amendment nor oppose the government amendments. But the overriding issue of the role of the counties and unitary authorities is one on which the Committee showed its view two days ago. No doubt this is something to which we shall have to return. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

12.15 p.m.

After Clause 3, insert the following new clause—

"ROLE OF STRATEGIC PLANNING AUTHORITIES
  • (1) This section applies to any authority which is—
  • (a) a county council;
  • (b) a metropolitan district council;
  • (c) a district council for an area for which there is no county council;
  • (d)a National Park authority.
  • (2) An authority to which this section applies shall be responsible for advising the Secretary of State, the RPB and local planning authorities upon strategic planning matters in their areas.
  • (3) Such authorities shall be responsible for the formulation of sub-regional planning policy in their area and may enter into joint arrangements with other such authorities or the RPB for the formulation of such policy."
  • The noble Lord said: I thank the Government once again for the previous group of amendments, but I come now to a major group of amendments all concerned to ensure that counties and other strategic authorities play a statutory role in the planning process. These amendments should be taken as a package because their individual elements do not stand alone.

    Perhaps it would be helpful if, at the outset, I run through the amendments tabled in my name. Amendment No.33 writes in the role of strategic planning for county councils and unitary authorities—below the regions and above the districts—and provides for them to take the lead on sub-regional planning policies. Amendments Nos.34 and 52 provide county councils and unitary authorities with a statutory role in the preparation and revision of regional spatial strategies. Amendments Nos.38 and 39 would require regional planning bodies to carry out functions jointly with the county councils or unitary authorities in their areas. Amendments Nos.40 and 43 ensure that authorities are reimbursed for functions they carry out on behalf of regional planning bodies. Amendment No.46 is a technical correction to make the drafting more precise. I shall comment on each of the amendments in turn.

    First, however, I should stress that the involvement of county councils, metropolitan district councils and unitary authorities in the formation and implementation of sub-regional planning processes is crucial. We welcome the government concessions on the statutory role of these authorities in the planning process, but I do not believe that they have gone far enough. Amendment No.33 would put on the face of the Bill a statutory role for strategic planning authorities in the formulation of sub-regional strategies in their areas. This is important for one key and one subsidiary reason.

    Throughout these deliberations, the approach of Members on these Benches has been to attempt to make the best of a bad job, and I have already indicated why I do not think that these proposals will either speed up or assist the planning process. We do not believe that the proposals set out in Parts 1 and 2 will improve the planning system.

    An issue of concern, one that was raised by many noble Lords at Second Reading, is the gap that these proposals will open up between regional and local planning. Some areas will have a planning framework for a small district and for a region the size of Austria. A leader I quoted the other day said that their area accounted for 1 per cent of the south-east region, but that region is the size of Austria. Who would envisage one planning policy for the whole of Austria? This is a recipe for chaos. As one noble Lord put it during a seminar held last week, it means that, in effect, between a district and the Secretary of State there will be no intervening fully democratic level of planning in this country. The amendment passed earlier this week might rectify the position, but that is how the matter stands at present. Further, regional assemblies for the whole of England look extremely unlikely in the short term.

    So, we shall have an enormous structural gap in the planning system between the districts and the regions. Ministers must recognise that that will not tend to lead to effective planning—a point that I have made repeatedly. Perhaps Ministers think that they will be able to continue to rely on the strategic authorities for sub-regional planning support, but that is not the case. However, without a statutory role for sub-regional planning, the reality is that many authorities will shed staff they can no longer afford and they no longer need to fulfil the Government's requirements. The Minister gave us a reassurance about money, but I still think that there will be problems, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raised the important point of job satisfaction in the work undertaken on the preparation of detailed plans.

    This will be a disaster because current capacity in the planning system does not lie within the regional chambers or the regional government offices. I want to repeat that strategic expertise, technical know-how and the wealth of experience of strategic planning, are based, not surprisingly, at the strategic authority level. To disperse and get rid of that pool of expertise, as the Bill as it stands will do, would be a terrible waste of one of the most valuable resources in our planning system.

    I hope the Minister will recognise that the success of sub-regional planning will play a large part in determining whether these proposals are successful. A statutory sub-regional dimension needs to be written into these provisions.

    Amendments Nos.38 and 39 are designed to ensure that the regional planning bodies, however constituted, place on county councils, metropolitan, unitary and national park authorities a statutory duty actively to assist in regional planning functions by carrying out those functions for their areas on behalf of the regional planning body. At present the Bill envisages no formal role for these authorities beyond them being statutory consultees under the regional spatial strategy process. We believe that that will be inadequate and ultimately will lead to bad forward planning.

    As I have said, county councils provide most of the expertise and capacity at the regional and local levels. The strategic planning function of county councils is a precious resource. We cannot risk passing legislation that would blithely consign the bulk of planning expertise in this country to the scrap-heap of another round of local government reorganisation. As a leader of a county council I constantly meet with staff. One of the first questions asked at any meeting is whether any form of reorganisation is envisaged. Staff do not like being continuously reorganised. We seem to have a passion for reorganising things in this country, whereas other nations just get on with the work.

    Failure to establish a statutory mechanism by which these authorities can contribute to the plans affecting their regions will leave strategic planning for England in limbo. The Government have indicated that county councils will contribute to the new system as a middle tier, but they have not explained how county councils are expected to provide input when the Government redirect funding from county councils to regional planning bodies—even though we have heard assurances about money; perhaps the Minister would like to comment further.

    These amendments address several of the problems raised by the legislation. They will strengthen the effective delivery of sub-regional planning. They will help to preserve a measure of accountability within the proposed new system. They will offer opportunities for public involvement. They will ensure that county councils are less handicapped when integrating their transport, waste and mineral plans, and they will ensure that capacity and expertise in the existing system are not lost.

    Amendments Nos.40 and 43 are straightforward. The former seeks to ensure that where authorities undertake the functions of regional planning bodies and incur expenditure in so doing, they will be reimbursed. This must be a statutory requirement and it is only best practice to make it legally watertight. I assume that there must be an unwitting drafting error in the Bill, otherwise it sends out the unwelcome message that when it comes to paying local authorities for the work they do on behalf of regional planning bodies, such payment is optional or voluntary.

    As to the funding arrangements for regional planning bodies, presumably they will receive funding to carry out their functions. Surely where these functions are performed by another authority on their behalf, the funding should be transferred to the relevant authority. Any other approach would be unsustainable. I assume that the Government did not intend to devalue the work of local authorities in this way.

    Amendment No.43 seeks to delete subsection (5). This would remove the prohibition on a regional planning body arranging for an authority to carry out the functions in Clause 5(6) on its behalf. These functions relate to publishing a draft revision to the regional spatial strategy, preparing a report on the sustainability appraisal of the proposals in the draft revision, publishing any further documents relating to the draft revision required by regulations under Clause 5(5)(b) and submitting those documents to the Secretary of State.

    The amendment seeks to create more flexibility in the system. It may be necessary for a regional planning body to delegate all or some of these functions to local authorities in order to match the right expertise to the right work. This would be pragmatic. It might be a helpful support mechanism in the transition period if regional planning bodies were to have this option available to them. It would still be for the regional planning bodies to choose whether or not they wished to delegate any part of these functions to other authorities. To leave them with no choice would demonstrate, once again, that central government interference stifles devolution.

    Finally, I hope the Minister will be able to answer this more general question: why do subsections (1) to (4) seem to encourage local authorities to assist regional planning bodies only for subsection (5) to undermine the principle by banning any assistance in various functions? All assistance between authorities and regional planning bodies should be encouraged. If there is to be a regional planning system, regional planning bodies will need as much help as possible.

    I have tried the patience of the Committee for long enough. I hope that noble Lords will understand that the grouping of the amendments was not of my devising. But they are very important and deserve to receive full consideration. I beg to move.

    I support what the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said. The Government have consistently underestimated the distributional work that county officers carry out within the planning process. Whenever an allocation is made within the existing regional plan—in relation to housing, gravel, waste disposal and so on—a brokering job needs to be done among the districts which make up the county or the unitary authority. They are different bodies, but most counties have districts.

    That brokering job constitutes a very delicate political process. Basically, people do not want houses built behind them or gravel pits, Gypsies and waste disposal facilities near them and a very delicate brokering job needs to be carried out. That job is largely done within the county planning function by sharing out the agony between various people. It is largely accepted because we try to give fair shares to all.

    I understand and support the principle that the county must be seen to be important. I hope that within the concessions that the Minister has made in this area—which are very welcome—the county will have an absolutely cast iron role to play in a function which will, apparently, largely rest with it. It must be seen in law to be the body that really exercises the function.

    As the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield said, this is an important group of amendments. Notwithstanding the welcome he gave to the government amendments in the previous debate, obviously he wishes to take the matter further.

    Let me make a couple of points on the issues he raised. First, we do not envisage a gap; the regional spatial strategy will have sub-regional policies where necessary. It may not be the overall case and affect everyone but, where necessary, certainly there will be sub-regional policies.

    The local planning authority's core strategy will set out the strategic objectives and key elements of the planning framework for an area and will be the central document in providing a link with the strategic regional policy set out in the regional spatial strategy and the local planning policies. It is a requirement that the core strategy, along with the local development documents, should be in general conformity with the regional spatial strategy. In providing the key strategic link at local level with the regional spatial strategy, the core strategy will also need to take account of the needs and aspirations of local communities. This is one reason why the local planning authorities will have to have regard to community strategy in preparing their local development documents.

    The local planning authorities can prepare work with counties as joint committees. This is allowed for under Clause 28. So there is a mechanism that institutionalises, if you like, an operation which will certainly ensure that there is not a gap but very close co-operation between the different levels of expertise. Obviously we shall come to Clause 28 in due course, but it is right that I should flag up that point at this time.

    I accept that Amendment No.33 is more extensive and prescriptive than our proposals. It would place a duty on county councils, unitary authorities, metropolitan district councils and the national park authorities to advise not only the regional planning bodies but also the Secretary of State and local authorities about strategic planning matters.

    The unitary authorities, metropolitan and district councils and the national park authorities are planning authorities under the Bill and may, in effect, end up being required to advise themselves. But that is a point I make in passing.

    Perhaps I may make a point about the Thames Gateway. I know it may be somewhat different from the point the Minister is making, but the Thames Gateway covers three regions—the eastern region, the south-east region and London.

    As he knows, my county council is very supportive of the Thames Gateway and is doing all it can to further its aims. Unfortunately, we are handicapped. The eastern region is ahead of the south-east region, which has not even established a regional planning committee and so on; it is a year or two behind. For some reason, we have started the process in the eastern region. This is probably because we were split into two regions before and Essex was included in the London SERPLAN.

    It has been much easier for Kent because it can operate directly. My counterpart in Kent, Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, is as old as I am. I am trying to be helpful but we are handicapped because often we have to go through the eastern region. But the only part of the Thames Gateway in the eastern region is in Essex; it is not anywhere else in the eastern region. It would therefore be better if its dealings were with Essex rather than with the eastern region. More progress could be made because, as happens in Kent, it would be operating within one county.

    The Government are building into the system hurdles which they do not understand. It would be much better in the Thames Gateway to deal only with Essex rather than with the eastern region. When the Minister refers to joint committees, it sounds awful. One has a vision of another joint committee of the eastern region and Essex trying to deliver the Thames Gateway.

    We are trying to be helpful. I am sorry that I have to give these kinds of instances but it is important that people understand the complications that are being built into the legislation.

    12.30 p.m.

    Unless I misunderstood the note that I received, I was referring to local planning authorities working in joint committees with the counties. I was not envisaging Essex having to work with the eastern region for the Gateway. Essex would work with Basildon and Southend, which I assume are district council planning authorities. However, I fully accept the point that as regards the Gateway, there is more in common between south Essex and north Kent, which are in different regions, than there is with the rest of their regions. The northern part of the eastern region is not at all interested in the Gateway. They may be interested in the infrastructure and related issues, but not in the commonality of interest in dealing with the Gateway. There is a third region, London, at the eastern end.

    The Gateway is a long-term project and we are going to get cracking with it once we set up the delivery vehicle. A considerable amount of money has already been allocated amounting to over £300 million in the current spending round out of £440 million. I do not know what the future will be for delivery of the Gateway. It deals with many authorities and three regions. It is a very substantial infrastructure project. In the past 12 months a Cabinet committee has been created chaired by the Prime Minister for the Gateway delivery. It has now extended to other growth areas. Who can say what the future holds? I was envisaging Essex working with its district planning authorities rather than it having to turn to the eastern region as regards the Gateway.

    Amendment No.33 would place a duty on these authorities to formulate sub-regional planning policy and provide for them to work jointly with other authorities or the regional planning body. Amendment No.34 is identical: Amendment No.52 is very similar to Amendment No.32, which was spoken to earlier. I spoke to the government amendments although we did not have large debates on the issues.

    The next set of amendments in the group—Amendments Nos.38 and 39—deal with arrangements between the regional planning bodies and the authorities. Together, they would require the regional planning body to enter into arrangements with the authorities to exercise functions jointly instead of a power to make arrangements with all the categories of local authorities, if it chooses to do so.

    Amendment No.40 would convert the power of the regional planning bodies to pay the authorities as part of an arrangement into a duty to do so. Amendment No.43 would remove the provision which prevents the regional planning body making arrangements for a local authority to publish a draft regional spatial strategy revision and submit it to the Secretary of State. Amendment No.46 would alter the way in which the Bill provides for Section 101 of the Local Government Act 1972 to bite on arrangements between the regional planning body and these authorities.

    As drafted, the Bill states that these arrangements "must be taken" to be Section 101 arrangements. The amendment would provide that these arrangements "shall" be Section 101 arrangements. We do not agree that county councils and other authorities with strategic planning expertise should also have a statutory duty to advise the Secretary of State and local planning authorities. What purpose would there be in advising the Secretary of State? It is difficult to see what purpose it would serve. His role is to set the national planning policy and to take ultimate responsibility for the regional spatial strategies. In both cases the voices of these authorities will be heard. There is no question but that the Secretary of State has to be reasonable otherwise he will be subject to legal challenge. The voices of the authorities will be heard through the arrangements set out in the Bill and the regulations and guidance that go with it and when the Secretary of State consults on a change to national policy.

    As regards advising local planning authorities, the draft guidance on local development frameworks, which is PPS 12 in the jargon, makes it quite clear that the county council should be consulted by the local planning authority. That is backed up by requirements in the draft regulations. There is also the option of the county council becoming a member of a joint committee to take on a role in preparing local development documents to which I referred in Clause 28.

    Concerning sub-regional planning policies, I have made the position clear that where sub-regional elements are needed, which will not be everywhere, they will be in the regional spatial strategy. In the kind of regional partnership arrangement we want to work, there has to be voluntary co-operation and flexibility and not compulsion.

    As regards reimbursement, if the regional planning body proposes arrangements that do not provide adequately for any extra cost that any authority would incur, I would expect the latter to tell the regional planning body to go away and return with a better offer. Money is an issue. The problem arises within government departments occasionally when one department approaches another and money is not offered to provide what is wanted. In those circumstances one is told to go away and find the money and then discussions can take place about a joint delivery. That is part and parcel of normal negotiations. We can provide the money where there is a duty and where the work has taken place. It has to be paid for.

    There are two other issues to cover which are raised by Amendments Nos.44 and 46. The prohibition on a regional planning body arranging for an authority to carry out the functions under Clause 5(6) is vital to guarantee the true regional ownership of the key regional strategy. I believe that that was a point which I laboured considerably in the early stages after the publication of the Bill. We want clarity of ownership, which is absolutely crucial for stopping procrastination in future notwithstanding the good will and the amendments which the Government have brought forward. We must reserve certain key functions for the regional planning body. It must take final responsibility for draft revisions of the regional spatial strategy, the report of the sustainability appraisal and any other documents required by the regulations. Therefore, this amendment goes way beyond anything that I would be able to accept.

    In Amendment No.46, the words "must be taken to" rather than "shall" are used because the regional planning body is not a local authority. The wording in Amendment No.46 would be right only for arrangements between local authorities, but not in this case. I probably did not set that matter out as clearly as I should. I did miss out some words in brackets.

    As regards Amendment No.46, the words "must be taken" rather than "shall", namely, the arrangements under Section 101 of the Local Government Act 1972, are used simply because a regional planning body is not a local authority. The wording would only be right for arrangements between local authorities. That is not the case here where we are dealing with a regional planning authority. I suspect that we shall return to this issue at a later stage, but in the mean time I hope that I have said enough to enable the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

    I thank the Minister for that reply. I believe. as many people do, that, if we are going down the road of regional spatial strategies, there should be a statutory role for lower tier authorities, involving not just counties but metropolitan boroughs, unitary authorities and others, thus giving them a greater say in ownership; in other words, a more democratic process instead of this top-down approach with one planner in the whole country—namely, the Secretary of State. Giving people the feeling of being involved not only at the development control level but also in the development of plans would make the whole process work. I hope that we have a chance to change the Government's mind on these issues. Having looked at the matter and understanding that that kind of planning is to take place, it would be better to have a system that works, one in which people feel involved and which delivers some of the Government's and other people's objectives in the localities.

    I am disappointed that the Government will not go further on these issues although I thank them for going this far. I hope that we are going to be able to persuade them, during the course of this Bill, to go a little further in creating a role for other people, rather than adopting this nationalisation approach from the Secretary of State with which people are not happy. We will return to the matter, but for now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    [ Amendment No.34 not moved.]

    Clause 4 [ Assistance. from certain local authorities]:

    Page 2, line 38, leave out subsection (1) and insert—

    • "( ) For the purpose of the exercise of its functions under sections 3(1) and (3)(a) and 5(1) the RPB must seek the advice of each authority in its region which is an authority falling within subsection (2).
    • ( ) The authority must give the RPB advice as to the exercise of the function to the extent that the exercise of the function is capable of affecting (directly or indirectly) the exercise by the authority of any function it has.".

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    Page 3, line 6, at end insert—

    "(e) an area of outstanding natural beauty conservation board created under section 86 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (c.37) (establishment of conservation boards)"

    The noble Lord said: This amendment in my name is one of several amendments that I am putting forward to improve active collaboration between local authorities and the areas of outstanding natural beauty in their boundaries. The issue was discussed when we dealt with the CROW Act 2000, but the Act itself did not go as far as I had hoped. In terms of landscape quality, there is no distinction between the territory of a national park and that of an area of outstanding natural beauty. As has already been said, there is a formal difference in that a national park has its own planning authority, which is not the case with areas of outstanding natural beauty. We need much greater collaboration between local authorities and the AONB within their own territories.

    I speak as a vice-president of the Council for National Parks and a resident of the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB. The lack of protection enjoyed by our AONB was graphically evident in the controversy over the future of the Royal Air Force base at Bent waters, a redundant American Air Force base within the AONB. When the USAF gave up the base, the local planning authority was disposed to agree with the Ministry of Defence's proposal to sell the base to the highest bidder as a major commercial airport. The authority did not appear to heed the status of the AONB, although the proposal for the airport was not consistent with the local plan. Fortunately, the latter came up for review at the critical time and the county branch of the CPRE, of which my wife and I are active members, made forceful objections which were upheld by the inspector at a public inquiry.

    None of that need have happened if the local authority had been an active participant in managing the AONB. That is the purpose of these amendments, about which I have been advised by the National Association of AONBs. They are not controversial but they are very necessary. I beg to move.

    12.45 p.m.

    I support the proposition of the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, for reasons that we have discussed at length in the debates so far. It is a matter of collaboration between various parties. As we said the other day, the AONBs bring together many such groups. I use the example of my own particular interest in the Cotswolds, as president of the AONB in that wonderful area. One of the challenges for us lies in the collaboration between parties. Three regions and six counties are represented on that body. However, much progress has been made in bringing everyone together and forming a conservation board in the Cotswolds. Conservation is a word that we removed some time ago in the interests of AONBs, but which is back again as a proposition.

    A range of benefits that the board might bring have been discussed at both county and district council levels and by various organisations—the National Farmers' Union and the CLA, for example. The board would: raise the profile and status of an AONB and its communities; be used as a more effective lobbying body for the needs of those areas giving an improved voice for joint operations; influence and tailor grants so that they meet the needs of the AONB; and access grants direct from the Government or the charitable sector.

    We have a partnership at the moment that is working but it would become more active and ambitious. It is envisaged that the partnership would have increasing reference back to the 17 local authorities in my AONB. I suggest that a conservation board of 40 members, operating with an executive committee of 12 and a staff around 12, would be more effective in its decision making.

    Reference was made the other day to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, in his review of rural delivery which highlighted some potentially good news for AONBs. They are designed to help with schemes and delegate grant-making decisions to the local level. It is therefore envisaged that a conservation board would be able to exploit more opportunities to greater effect than the existing partnership. I therefore hope that the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, can be supported. It would strengthen the associations and create greater representation within areas in the interests of bringing further development and planning much closer to the people. Much was said earlier this morning about the bottom-up approach. I firmly believe in it because, if it is bottom up, it is coming from the people who are concerned and who represent the people who will be affected by these decisions.

    I strongly support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, for the simple reason that AONBs are every bit as important in this country as national parks. It is sometimes assumed that the quality of the landscape and the importance of its protection and preservation are greater in the national parks than in AONBs. That is not so. The history of the designations explains why they are separate. Essentially, national parks are, as the Minister knows, areas of natural wilderness. As part of our heritage, AONBs rate just as highly in landscape terms as national parks. That is why it is important that, as the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, says, we should add AONBs. I cannot think of any reason why that should not be done.

    I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, for introducing this group of amendments this morning. I pay tribute to him for doing so. From my own practical political experience, the area in which I live—Brighton—is surrounded by areas of outstanding natural beauty. The designation of parts of the South Downs as AONBs has played an important role in ensuring that we have access to beautiful countryside and proper protection and consideration of the area's landscape needs.

    That said, the objective underlying the amendments is in part already secure. I hope that my remarks will give some assurance to the noble Lord. It is important to deal with some general issues on AONBs.

    I wish to make clear at the outset that the Government place great importance on AONBs and wish to ensure that they are protected through the planning system. The draft of the new Planning Policy Statement 7 (PPS7) confirms that AONBs share the same high level of protection as national parks. Great weight should be given in planning policies and planning decisions to the conservation of the natural beauty of these areas and major developments should not take place in the areas except—I stress the importance of that—in exceptional circumstances. I am sure many of us will have come across those exceptional circumstances.

    However, it is one thing to ensure proper protection for AONBs through our planning policies; it is another to change our plan-making structures by giving a statutory role in the process to AONBs.

    As the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, said, we considered some of those issues during the passage of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. At that point the Government made clear that it was not our policy that AONBs should have their own planning powers. I understand that many noble Lords from all sides of the House were concerned that planning powers should not be removed from local authorities and passed to AONB boards. It would serve little point to transfer planning responsibilities to the AONB boards because where there are no conservation boards the relevant local authorities manage the AONB.

    Even in the case of the conservation boards we consider they should not have planning powers for four important reasons. First, we have a strong policy framework to provide protection through PPS7, as I outlined earlier. Secondly, there is a general view that it is undesirable in principle to remove powers from democratically elected local authorities; and we have had much stress laid on the value and importance of democratically elected local authorities as planning authorities in these matters. Unless there are very good reasons, we cannot support giving them to another body. Thirdly, there is the problem of practicality in that it would introduce another set of plans into the system. Fourthly, there is the question of local ownership, given the size of the AONBs, some of which have 15 or more local authorities within their boundaries. Planning at the AONB level will start to become somewhat removed from the local level. That would be exacerbated if an AONB conservation board had local planning powers.

    It may help Members of the Committee who are adding their weight to the proposition if I explain how AONBs will fit into the new arrangements in Parts I and 2 of the Bill. We have discussed consultation and stakeholder engagement in the revision of the regional spatial strategy and sub-regional planning. We expect the regional planning body to involve AONB management boards and conservation boards on issues that affect their areas both as preferred options are developed and when the draft RSS is issued. We shall make that clear in the guidance published.

    AONBs, as areas with a distinct suite of issues and needs, are the sort of areas that we would expect our sub-regional approach to be applied to. An AONB may be treated as a sub-region, in the sense of an area with its own specific policies as well as, or instead of, some of those applicable across the whole region, even within the regional spatial strategy. Where that is the case, we would expect the management board or conservation board of the AONB to be a key partner in developing those sub-regional policies.

    At the local level, all local authorities will be required under our draft regulations to consult the local authorities in adjoining areas on their draft local development documents. This will allow consideration of cross-AONB issues. If a conservation board is established, we would expect that board to be consulted and we shall make that clear in our guidance.

    I hope that I have said enough to offer assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Bridges. I recognise the value of AON Bs as part of the planning process. It would make for a more complex and somewhat muddled set of arrangements if we depart from the important principles underlying the Bill. In terms of protecting the quality of landscapes, it is important that AONBs are brought in, worked with in partnership, and consulted on all those planning issues which fit into our overall structure for planning at the regional level.

    I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

    I was grateful to the Minister for his kind words at the beginning of his remarks. However, my heart sank as he proceeded. He has not understood what I seek to do. I do not suggest that AONBs should have their own formal planning status but that the management of the AONB should include representatives of the local authority. That has been lacking in the past. I do not think that any particular constitutional innovations would require that. It is more an administrative measure which has the force of a statute.

    I attempted to insert this provision into the CROW Bill. There had been a helpful side note stating, "AONB—importance for local communities". I sought to insert the measure into the Bill and was assured by the Government Front Bench at the time that it was a constitutional innovation which simply could not be contemplated. There seems to be a barrier somewhere inside the Minister's department which is keen to ensure that the AONBs are not enabled to proceed closely with the management in their hands in collaboration with the local authorities.

    I found the Minister's remarks gravely disappointing. I shall indeed return to the matter at a later stage when I hope to hear him sing a different song.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    I have to tell the Committee that if Amendment No.37 is agreed to I shall be unable to call Amendments Nos.38 and 39 by reason of pre-emption.

    Page 3, line 7, leave out subsection (3) and insert

    "(2A) The RPB may make arrangements with an authority falling within subsection (2) or with any district council the whole or part of whose area is in the region for the discharge by the authority or council of a function of the RPB."

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    [ Amendments Nos.38 to 40 not moved.]

    Page 3, line 10, after "authority" insert "or council"

    Page 3, line 11, after "authority" insert "or council"

    On Question, amendments agreed to.

    [ Amendment No.43 not moved.]

    Page 3, line 12, leave out "(I)" and insert "(2A)"

    Page 3, line 13, leave out "(3)" and insert "(2A)"

    On Question, amendments agreed to.

    [ Amendment No.46 not moved.]

    Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.

    [ Amendments Nos.47 and 48 not moved.]

    1 p.m.

    Clause 5 [ RSS: revision]:

    Page 3, line 23, leave out paragraph (c).

    The noble Baroness said: Grouped with this amendment are Amendments Nos.50, 51 and 76. I had asked for the Question that Clause 9 shall stand part to be included in the group but it is not. Amendment No.49 makes no sense without that. I sent the Minister a note to that effect. I hope that if I deal with the issue now it will be for the convenience of the Committee and not too confusing.

    Amendment No.49 is—I can think of no other word—pre-sequential. It follows from my objections to Clause 9. Its purpose is to take out the reference to the clause at an earlier stage. Clause 9 is not extraordinarily prescriptive—we are becoming used to prescriptions in the Bill—but it is highly prescriptive. The Secretary of State can tell the regional planning body what to do. He can tell it when to do it. He can do it himself. He can revoke what the regional planning body has done. I suppose he can revoke his own regional planning guidance in its new status as regional spatial strategy, although I would expect that to be covered by the revisions process. We object to Clause 9 standing part of the Bill because we need to hear at length from the Minister why the clause is as necessary as the Government obviously think it is. I beg to move.

    1 p.m.

    Amendment No.49 is grouped with Amendments Nos.50, 51 and 76, to which I shall speak. The five-year long-stop that I am advocating in Amendment No.50 is designed to ensure that the revision of the RSS is put into effect expeditiously. It is vital that the regional spatial strategy is kept up to date. Local plans are currently required to be updated every five years and there is no reason why there should not be an equally rigorous requirement in relation to the updating of the RSS. The Government regard the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill as a key element in their agenda for speeding up the planning system and it is vital that planning decisions are taken against the backcloth of an up-to-date RSS.

    Amendment No.51 aims to remove an unnecessary word that makes poor reading. Amendment No.76 would require the Secretary of State to give his reasons for directing a regional planning body to prepare a draft revision of a regional spatial strategy and to give his reasons why he revokes a part or all of the regional spatial strategy.

    In moving these amendments I come back to the two principles outlined in my previous amendments: transparency and utility. On one hand, it is simply right that the Secretary of State should make clear and explicit why he thinks an RSS should be revised or withdrawn, either in whole or in part. Let us not forget that the regional spatial strategies will have been through a lengthy process of formulation, presumably involving a number of stakeholders. The process of formalising and agreeing the regional spatial strategy might take many months, even years. Surely, if the Secretary of State is minded to direct revision of the whole of a strategy, some indication should be given as to the reason why.

    On the practical level, those responsible for drawing up the revised regional spatial strategy will surely benefit from knowing the Secretary of State's reasons for wanting a revised draft to be drawn up. That will aid them in preparing their revision. After all, the regional spatial strategy is the policy of the Secretary of State however expressed, as we have debated. He might as well give them as much help as possible, rather than relying on them to guess what is in the Secretary of State's mind. I hope that the reasoning behind the amendments is clear.

    I have three paragraphs on Clause 9, so I shall put those on the record first before I reply to the amendments. I received the note from the noble Baroness, for which I am grateful.

    Clause 9 enables the Secretary of State to direct a regional planning body to prepare a draft revision of the regional spatial strategy. Such a direction may specify which aspects of the strategy are to be revised and within what time frame.

    Where the regional planning body fails to act in accordance with such a direction made by the Secretary of State or relevant regulations, the clause also enables the Secretary of State to prepare the draft revision himself. I want to make it absolutely clear that these powers are intended only as a safeguard, to ensure that the regional spatial strategies are kept up to date. It is also important to note that where the Secretary of State himself prepares a draft revision of a regional spatial strategy, the clause requires that as far as possible exactly the same procedures must be followed as when the regional planning body prepares the draft revision.

    The clause enables the Secretary of State to revoke a regional spatial strategy or parts of it. It also enables the Secretary of State to order that steps taken towards the preparation of any part of regional planning guidance may have effect as steps taken towards a revision of a regional spatial strategy. It is intended that, if appropriate, on-going reviews of regional planning guidance will continue as revisions to the regional spatial strategy. I realise that Clause 9 is drafted with overarching powers of the Secretary of State, but it is not quite like that. I shall add that the Secretary of State would, of course, tell a regional planning body why he was directing it to prepare a draft revision. He must act reasonably and therefore he must give reasons. I hope that covers some of the points.

    As far as the details of the amendments are concerned, I hope that the Committee will find my response helpful. Amendment No.49 would amend Clause 5 to remove the requirement on the regional planning body to prepare the draft revision of the regional spatial strategy if it was directed by the Secretary of State, using his powers, to do so.

    Let me say at the outset that we would not expect the Secretary of State ever to need to direct the regional planning body to prepare a draft revision. As I have said, it is included as a safeguard. Of course, what happens in practice now will continue to happen in the future. The regional planning body, in the light of monitoring information, changing circumstances in the region or a new national policy, will consider whether a revision of all or part of the regional spatial strategy is necessary. The regional planning body will discuss this with the Government Office of the Region. Together they will come up with a project plan for the scope and the timing of the review.

    Revisions of regional spatial strategies are not something that will be governed by central diktat. That is such a good sentence, I shall read it again. Revisions of the regional spatial strategies are not something that will be governed by central diktat. But it is sensible that we have some safeguards in the Bill to ensure that the regional spatial strategy is kept up to date. This is something on which I believe that we are in agreement across the Floor. But let me explain why I believe that the reserve power is a better means of achieving this than Amendment No.50, which would amend Clause 5 to require the regional planning board to prepare a draft at least every five years.

    The regional spatial strategy provides a broad development strategy for the region for at least a 15-year period and addresses a wide range of issues and policy areas. A comprehensive revision of the regional spatial strategy is, in consequence, a major exercise. Draft Planning Policy Statement 11 on regional planning sets out a timetable for a comprehensive revision of the whole of the regional spatial strategy in a little over two and a half years. We would not want, by prescribing the fixed five-yearly revision cycle, to compel the regional planning body to spend more than half its time revising the regional spatial strategy from start to finish, even when it is not necessary. A fixed review would reduce the flexibility. It certainly creates unnecessary work, that is for sure.

    Amendment No.76 would amend Clause 9 to require the Secretary of State to give reasons. As I have said, our approach throughout the Bill is to require the Secretary of State to give reasons when he is making changes to substantive documents and when he proposes changes in the draft revisions. I do not believe that directing the regional planning body to prepare a draft revision of the regional spatial strategy or revoking all or parts of the regional spatial strategy falls into this category. It is essentially about procedures.

    The Secretary of State would use his powers to direct only in exceptional circumstances. He may want to use the power if, for example, for whatever reason, the regional spatial strategy or part of it became seriously out of date, such as when a change in national policy was not taken into account. As a matter of good practice the Government give reasons for their decisions. That is our policy.

    Amendment No.51 simply removes the word "But" from the beginning of Clause 5(2). As it would appear to have no substantive effect, there seems to be no reason to amend the Bill in this way. Funnily enough, the removal from the Bill of a word that makes no difference would mean one less word in the legislation. I do not have a good reason why the Bill should be shortened by one word. I say that just in case anyone raises that point. I have no authority to accept such a major amendment.

    I think that a later clause starts with "But", and not necessarily "But" in received pronunciation.

    I understand that these are very largely reserved powers. However, I cannot help but observe that the Secretary of State is the one who designates the regional planning body and also—this is a serious point—that public confidence in the new bodies requires letting them get on with doing the job. The Minister describes this as an overarching clause, but I think that I would describe it as overegging. It is not a point that I shall pursue now, but I am certain that we will continually refer to the issue, as it characterises the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Page 3, line 23, at end insert "; and

    (d) in any event within five years of the publication of the RSS or a revision of it"

    The noble Lord said: I simply want to add to the comments made just now by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. The Minister said that he saw no reason to remove one word. In our proceedings on Tuesday we wanted to add one word to the Bill. Perhaps we can do a swap and keep the Bill at the same length. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that the Secretary of State would give reasons why he was requiring changes or revisions and why he was withdrawing something. However, I think that the Bill should state that. I echo and endorse the noble Baroness's comments that these reserve clauses seem draconian. The flavour of the Bill is all the worse for that. I hope that the Government will reflect on the possibility of adding words to the effect that, "The Secretary of State will give reasons", and so on. The Minister's answer just now was much better than the words that are in the Bill. It is a pity that the Bill cannot reflect his words. I hope that the Government will think again.

    [ Amendment No.50 not moved.]

    [ Amendments Nos.51 and 52 not moved.]

    Page 3, line 27, leave out "and advice contained in guidance"

    The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment designed to give the Government an opportunity to clarify whether subsection (3)(a) implies that advice contained in guidance is not itself actually national policy. I am sure that the Minister will agree that if we are to make a distinction between national policy and advice contained in guidance, this could have very significant consequences for planning decisions up and down the country. However, if planning guidance is still best understood as national policy, there is no need for the words "and advice contained in guidance" to be in subsection (3)(a). As always, whenever additional language does not clarify any point of law, it is best to be as concise as possible. I beg to move.

    1.15 p.m.

    The noble Lord questions the need for the phrase "and advice contained in guidance". We have used that formulation for a simple reason. It is clear that the Government have planning policies which are set out in planning policy guidance notes or planning policy statements under our new approach. So as I said in our debate on Tuesday, there is a set of documents that are guidance. Although that guidance is not in the Bill and is not statutory, it is issued under legislation. Those documents have to be taken into account, certainly by planning inspectors, to show that the approach being taken is reasonable. It may be appropriate for us to issue guidance on procedural matters which we would expect a regional planning body to take into account.

    Those who wish to argue semantics could say that this is not policy because it concerns a process. By using the phrase "advice issued in guidance" we avoid that sort of problem. It covers both kinds of guidance. My note says, and it is absolutely true, that there is nothing sinister in this. It does not mean that we will be sneaking out important policy statements or directing regional planning bodies by the back door. We would never dream of doing such an appalling thing. Where we bring forward new policies that may impact on the regional spatial strategy we will consult on them as we do now.

    I therefore hope that the noble Lord will recognise that this is not devious drafting. It is simply a sensible way of bringing clarity to those issues. As I say, although we have planning policy set out in guidance, we may use guidance for procedural matters. This form of words brings clarity to the issue and does not allow people to argue the toss about it.

    I am fascinated by the words used in legislation. In our previous debate on the Bill we had a gritty discussion about the words "have regard to". We wanted to insert those words in place, I think, of the words "the Secretary of State must". That rather tendentious argument was all about the regional spatial strategy and the regional planning guidance. I am now amused to note that the revision by the regional planning bodies need only "have regard to" national policies. National policies, of course, will be regional planning guidance. So is this going to be a mandatory inclusion? Will a regional spatial strategy—which as we understand it is as much or as little of the regional planning guidance as the Secretary of State directs—now be a mandatory part of the regional spatial strategy or will it be something to which the regional planning bodies can have regard? There needs to be consistency about this. At the moment there is none.

    Perhaps I may ask a question before the Minister replies to that point. Would it not be best to say here, "advice on procedure", instead of, "advice contained in guidance"? The noble Lord said that advice on procedure, which is not policy, would be contained in guidance. However, there does not seem to be any statutory reason why that would necessarily be the form in which the procedures would be outlined; it could be in some other form of document issued by the Secretary of State. The point that the noble Lord was seeking to make was that if advice on procedure was given by the Secretary of State, that should be taken into consideration, just as the RPB should have regard to the policy guidance which is in guidance. At the moment the wording of Clause 5(3)(a) makes it appear that advice contained in guidance could be concerned with national policies. The noble Lord has explained that it is not and that the point of having these words in the Bill is simply the procedural one. So let us make that clear on the face of the Bill.

    With all due respect, it is clear on the face of the Bill. I am not a lawyer, but it ought to be possible for the regional planning body—indeed it must be possible in terms of the conduct of public administration—to show in its own processes how it has had regard to those issues. In other words, it ought to be clear that it can make its own statements to show that it has taken into account and had regard to such matters. If, on the other hand, it did not have regard and ignored them, it ought to be clear that it has ignored them. Of course, then it would be acting outwith the requirements of the legislation. It would in any event be completely unreasonable for a public body simply to ignore the matter.

    It ought to be possible to show that a body has had regard, because it will come up with its own solutions to regional issues. The solutions will not be the same for each regional body. There will be national policies, but the regional planning bodies deal with the regions, so their policies will not be the same. A body will therefore have regard to certain policies for its region to a greater or lesser extent than the planning body for the adjoining region. It ought to be quite easy for a public body to show that it has had regard to that and that it has taken it into account in coming to its proposals.

    We use the phrase to avoid certain problems. It may be appropriate to issue guidance on procedural matters. We have not necessarily done that at the moment, but there are all kinds of procedures that planning inspectors and others have to follow. I will take further advice on this matter, because I need to be clear on it. I think that I have got it right and I do not think that a case can be made for this amendment. However, I will certainly have it looked at again just to make sure. If the words are needed, then we should keep them in the Bill to avoid doubt in the future.

    I have been looking at the draft PPS 11. Annexe F deals with guidance on national core output indicators. I cannot say that I have read the whole document during this debate, but if this is the sort of guidance to which Clause 5(3)(a) refers, then perhaps I should put into the pot the fact that that guidance includes things such as,

    "the proportion of new dwellings on previously developed land and through conversions of existing buildings by county, district and unitary planning authorities".
    The guidance goes on to give density figures and mentions economic development and the proportion of floor space. It also mentions percentages of each type of development on previously developed land and the area of undeveloped flood plain lost to inappropriate development. The annexe goes on for two pages and what it sets out strikes me as being a little more than the sort of procedure to which the Minister referred. I accept that there are lists of items that need to be addressed, but those lists are very prescriptive as to the type of issues and as to the consideration that the regional planning body should he giving them. For example, the bodies must consider housing built at a density of fewer than 30 dwellings per hectare, between 30 and 50 per hectare and above 50. In any given region, the planning body might not want to use quite those thresholds. I suggest that the guidance is perhaps a little more complicated than the Committee has so far heard.

    With respect, I do not accept that the guidance that I have considered is prescriptive. Also, I do not think that any of it is unreasonable. No regional planning body or its professional advisers would want to ignore it. It covers the very issues that need to be taken into account in terms of the national core output indicators. The guidance includes the regional services, minerals, waste and coastal management. None of the guidance is prescriptive. Hardly any of the sentences is longer than about eight or nine words. One cannot argue that there is a massive amount of detail for people to go through for all nine of the subjects listed. As I have said, I will double check that we genuinely need the words for the purposes that I have explained.

    We have had an interesting debate in which several issues have been raised. I sought clarification of the issue and the Minister tried to give that. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has raised more detailed matters and we can be grateful that the Minister will look at the matter again. Many of the amendments tabled are designed to clarify the Bill so that we understand it. The Minister has been helpful and I reiterate that I am pleased that he is considering the issues again. I hope that at the next stage we will have reached a better position on the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Page 3, line 32, at end insert—

    "( ) the desirability of sub-regional strategies consistent with the objectives of the RSS;"

    The noble Baroness said: I have worded the amendment in such a way because I do not want to be too prescriptive. That is why I have used "desirability". However, I wanted to raise the issue of sub-regional and cross-regional strategies that would recognise that in practice the needs and opportunities of any area do not necessarily coincide conveniently with administrative boundaries. Perhaps that is rather trite but it is true. By this I am suggesting operating at a level that is more than local but less than regional—as that term is defined by the Government. Strategic work is necessary of a scale that would allow for detailed consideration of major proposals and a level of public involvement.

    It occurred to me that this issue should be raised before the Council for the Protection of Rural England published earlier this month a report entitled Mind the Gap. No doubt it had occurred to me because I have had the benefit of the views of at least one of the authors over a period. I was struck by a number of the conclusions in the report. Among them was that there was a pressing need for metropolitan sub-regions to undertake a cross-regional approach. Coming from Manchester, I have been aware during recent years that Manchester and Liverpool, which have very different and distinct identities, seem to have a growing awareness of the benefits of joint working on some matters. That was not the case when I lived there.

    Another conclusion was that there was a need to look sub-regionally at spacial matters without separating them from other emerging sub-regional arrangements and sectoral strategies. We have touched on that at a regional level already.

    We have also talked about keeping strategic planners interested in their jobs and contributing. That is another area of work that I would foresee the bodies undertaking. I would also see some part of the work of the body as adding to accountability. I have galloped through a hugely important subject. I am mindful of the time—some noble Lords have come into the Chamber for the next item of business. I have probably not been able to do justice to the matter, but I would be glad of the Minister's comments. I beg to move.

    1.30 p.m.

    I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her explanation, but we think that the amendment would represent a rather odd addition to the list of matters to which the regional planning body should have regard, as set out in Clause 5(3). Those matters are other key documents that the regional spatial strategy needs to be closely inter-linked or consistent with, such as national planning policies or the regional spatial strategy of neighbouring regions, not things that it thinks desirable.

    What really matters with the amendment is not its proposed position in the Bill, but the approach that it assumes to the sub-regional planning structure and all that is implicit in it. Regional spatial strategies will contain a new emphasis on sub-regions. Where parts of the region have a particular and common set of needs—for example, those involving growth or regeneration—it may make sense for those sub-regions to have a specific set of policies beyond or instead of some of those applicable to the region as a whole. I want to make the issue clear on two counts. We expect sub-regional strategies, in the sense of parts of the region having a distinct set of policies, to be the exception not the rule, and that those sub-regional strategies will form an integral part of the RSS.

    We cannot afford to see a proliferation of plans under the guise of sub-regional strategies that are poorly integrated and serve only to create confusion and uncertainty for local communities, local planning authorities and, importantly, the developers. That is one of the real problems with the existing system, as I am sure that most Members of the Committee familiar with planning will concur.

    There may be occasions where sub-regional and cross-regional boundaries exist. The Milton Keynes south Midlands growth area may be an obvious example. In that case, it makes sense to have a separate sub-regional strategy document. However, it is worth remembering that that is prepared by the three regional planning bodies affected and will be adopted as alterations to their three regional spatial strategies.

    If the amendment is simply intended to ensure that the regional planning body thinks about where it might need a sub-regional approach within the regional spatial strategy, I support it in principle. The Government would be entirely happy with that. However, in practice we regard it as unnecessary. Draft planning policy statement 11 is clear about what we expect in regard to sub-regions within the regional spatial strategy and the role that we expect county councils and other authorities with strategic planning expertise to play in undertaking any sub-regional work. Our concern, however, is that the amendment actually promotes a series of free-standing sub-regional strategies that will end up re-creating the very confusion and uncertainty that often arises with and through the current system of structure plans. That is something that we want to reduce—an overall objective that has been greatly welcomed.

    The end of my brief states:
    "I beg the noble lady to withdraw the amendment".
    I hope that I do not have to beg the noble Baroness, but that she will feel very comfortable about withdrawing it.

    Before my noble friend responds to the Minister, can he tell us what a sub-region is? I try to look at such matters in practical terms, to work out in my mind how new legislation will apply in the region that I know best, which is the north-west. It is a huge and very diverse region extending from the Scottish border to Mow Cop, and from the Irish Sea right into the heart of the Pennines where I live.

    At the moment, we have five large counties—Cheshire, Lancashire, Cumbria, Merseyside and Greater Manchester, the last two of which are far more than just Liverpool and Manchester respectively. In such a region, how many sub-regional strategies would the Government expect to emerge as part of the regional spatial strategy? What sort of size are we talking about? Are the Government saying that the sub-regions should essentially be based on geographical size or the number of people who live there? Is it all a matter of difference? Cumbria, with the Lake District, is clearly a very different place from Salford in the heart of Greater Manchester.

    Curiously, "sub-region" is quite commonly used in the part of the world where I live. It is used to refer to not even the whole of Lancashire, and not west Lancashire or north Lancashire round Lancaster, but east Lancashire, which is the area from Blackburn to Colne, the Ribble Valley and so on. Can we expect a sub-regional strategy for east Lancashire, the whole of Lancashire, or what? What will the provision mean for those of us who will care about the policies and strategies in the areas in which we live?

    I would be rather reluctant to say that east Lancashire should have a sub-regional strategy, although it may be entirely relevant for it to have one. Is that not something best left to be determined in the locality? If we were to start dictating from the centre what a sub-region might look like, might we not be accused of taking even more authority to the centre? I am not sure that that is desirable, and the noble Lord probably does not see it as such. Different issues may well have a role in a sense, so that something might be a sub-region on economic matters but not in terms of geographical issues. I am very reluctant to start trying to define from the Dispatch Box what a sub-region might be. That is best left to the region as a whole to determine, perhaps based on the issues that arise in that region.

    I expected various descriptions of the amendment, but "odd" was not one of them. Again, the Government seem to be afraid, or certainly to be avoiding, a bottom or middle-up approach. We have had discussions about one sub-region—the Thames Gateway—on a number of occasions already during our proceedings. The point that I particularly want to make is that such planning should have an evolution; it should evolve and perhaps be organic.

    The Minister talks as though we would have one plodding stage of revising the RSS, and then perhaps have sub-regional strategies coming along. One would expect more than one revision to the RSS. By that time, sub-regional strategies may have been created, preceding a subsequent revision of the RSS.

    I accept that the amendment may not have been the way to raise the subject but, on the substantive point, lunch precludes my complaining further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving the Motion, I suggest that the Committee begin again not before 2.38 p.m.

    Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

    House resumed.

    Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

    1.39 p.m.

    rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they subscribe to the World Health Organisation international classification of diseases for myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) under ICD 10. G93.3—neurological disorders.

    The noble Countess said: My Lords, first, I must declare my interest as patron of a number of charities that represent people with myalgic encephalomyelitis. ME is not a new disorder. There are many reports in medical literature dating from at least 1934. ME has been classified by the World Health Organisation in the international classification of diseases (ICD) as a neurological disorder since 1969.

    In 1978, the Royal Society of Medicine accepted ME as a distinct entity with discrete signs and symptoms. In 1988, the Department of Health and Social Security and the British Medical Association accepted ME as a legitimate physical disorder. In 2002, the Chief Medical Officer stated that ME should be classed as a chronic medical condition alongside multiple sclerosis and motor neurone disease.

    Conversely, the WHO Guide to Mental Health in Primary Care, produced under the auspices of the Institute of Psychiatry, classifies ME as a mental disorder. I should explain that the Institute of Psychiatry is one of the World Health Organisation collaborating centres in the UK and, as such, is legitimately entitled to use the WHO logo. To the deliberately expedient or unwary, that can result—and, in the case of the classification of ME, has resulted—in confusion with the WHO in Geneva. Despite the fact that a senior civil servant in the Department of Health has confirmed that it works to the ICD 10. G93.3 definition of ME/chronic fatigue syndrome, Ministers are providing false information to MPs by advising that it is the WHO itself that has reclassified ME as a mental disorder.

    That is untrue. The WHO has confirmed in writing that the WHO Guide to Mental Health in Primary Care does not carry WHO approval and that it is "at variance" with the WHO's position on ME/CFS. The WHO has never classified ME as a psychiatric disorder and has confirmed that it has no plans whatsoever to do so.

    Since 1992, one of the terms listed in the ICD as an alternative for ME is chronic fatigue syndrome. It is that term that is now used by international researchers and which has given rise to the confusing terms of ME/CFS and CFS/ME, a confusion that has served well the aims of a group of psychiatrists who assert that, whatever term is used, ME/CFS is simply medically unexplained chronic fatigue and that it should be classified as a mental disorder over which they should exert control.

    How has that situation arisen? A very small group of UK psychiatrists, known colloquially as the "Wessely school", led by Professor Simon Wessely of Kings College, claims to specialise in ME—a discrete term denoting a discrete disorder, but a term that it uses interchangeably with chronic fatigue or tiredness; with psychiatric states of ongoing fatigue; with its own interpretation of chronic fatigue syndrome; and even with neurasthenia—all different terms representing different conditions but which that group insists are synonymous. That is despite the fact that chronic fatigue has been shown time and again to be biologically different from ME.

    The group has gained dominance in the thinking about ME/CFS. Wessely is politically astute and, in conjunction with his colleagues, has gained respectability in medical and political establishments by producing vast numbers of papers that purport to be about ME. I am glad to inform the House that the matter may soon be settled once and for all. A new paper from Jason et al from the US demonstrates that ME is clinically distinct from CFS and that the current criteria for CFS do not select those with ME.

    Since his arrival on the scene in 1987, Wessely has repeatedly and persistently played down, dismissed, trivialised or ignored most of the significant international biomedical evidence of organic pathology found in ME because it does not fit his psychiatric model of the disorder, for which he claims to have developed a more intensive form of the psychiatric intervention known as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). That consists of using intensive, mind-altering techniques to convince patients that they do not suffer from a physical illness. It also includes forced regimes of graded exercise to be supervised by a Wessely school-trained psychotherapist aimed at getting patients hack to fitness.

    Wessely school psychiatrists are about to receive £11.1 million, including £2.6 million from the Medical Research Council, in an attempt to strengthen the weak evidence that his regime actually works for those with ME. Among his 53, largely undeclared, interests it should be noted that he is a member of the supervisory board of a company, PRISMA, that is supplying such rehabilitation programmes as CBT to the NHS for those with ME, even though such regimes have been widely shown, at their best, to be of limited and short-lasting benefit and, more importantly, at their worst, to be actively harmful to those with the disorder.

    The constant theme running through the Wessely School's published papers is that ME does not exist, that CFS is a psychiatric disorder and that the factors that play an important role in the perpetuation of the disorder include female gender, too much focus on normal bodily sensations, discrete personality traits, avoidance behaviour, learned helplessness, faulty thought processes, lack of motivation, secondary gain, inadequate coping strategies, interpersonal conditioning and contagious sociological hysteria.

    Wessely states that patients belong to,
    "a cult recruited from the environmental subculture",
    and that those with ME,
    "feel no guilt about their condition: sufferers from mysterious illnesses that lie outside conventional medical practice no longer consider themselves to be oppressed by spirits and demons but by mystery gases, toxins and viruses".
    Wessely has made numerous statements about the non-existence of the disorder that can only be described as savagely cruel to the ME community. For example, he refers to ME as a "myth". He believes that it,
    "should not be dignified by [its] own formal case definition and body of research".
    He asserts that symptoms found in M E,
    "have no anatomical or physiological basis",
    and that "muscle weakness is simulated". He advises that, to the majority of professionals, ME symptoms,
    "are indeed all in the mind".
    I can provide corroborative evidence of all those statements.

    Neither the fact that they may be wrong nor the well documented errors of psychiatrists in the past who authoritatively misdiagnosed Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, diabetes and thyrotoxicosis as mental disorders before medical science revealed their true aetiology, seem to have occurred to the Wessely school. It is certain that it, and it alone, is right. As the world-renowned psychologist, Dr Dorothy Rowe, pointed out:
    "People who know absolutely that they are right are very dangerous".
    The group's activities have stifled access to research funding for any UK researchers who want to consider organic causes of the disorder. Crucially, researchers have shown that ME may be either virally or chemically induced. There is substantial and significant published evidence not only of neurological deficits, including cerebral hypo-fusion and hypo-metabolism, but also of endocrine dysfunction, immune system dysfunction, vascular disturbances and convincing laboratory evidence of serious abnormalities in muscle, including abnormal recovery after exercise—not the result of de-conditioning through voluntary lack of use, as Wessely claims.

    There is evidence of pathology of both the central nervous and the immune systems. In particular, there is new evidence of changes in about 50 genes involved with the immune system. As long ago as 1994, Professor Paul Levine from the US National Cancer Centre stated that,
    "the spectrum of illnesses associated with a dysregulated immune system must now include ME/CFS".
    The recently published Canadian case definition, based on a study of more than 20, 000 ME/CFS patients, provides definitive evidence for clinicians to assess and diagnose patients accurately. Wessely, the self-proclaimed "world expert" in ME/CFS, does not accept that case definition. He has said that the authors, who are universally recognised world-class experts, are not "unbiased scientists" and that there is no need for any more "poor quality science".

    Some of Wessely's studies and trials are known to be seriously flawed and his claims have been described in the British Medical Journal by Angela Kennedy, lecturer in social science, as,
    "unfortunately incomprehensible, incoherent, and empirically inadequate".
    Wessely's response is that those who disagree with him are "radicals" who are fighting for a "lost cause" with "lies and gross distortion". Such is that man's influence that, when faced with ME patients, clinicians now collude with each other to ensure that patients receive no investigations, support, treatment, benefits or care—in fact, nothing at all. Patients are effectively abandoned. They have been badly let down by their main charity, Action for M. E. It is now supporting the Wessely "management" programme and is, I see, to be actively involved in the development of the new treatment centres. I have serious reservations about the activities of that organisation, but now is not the time to air them.

    Wessely has, rightly, been compared with Professor Sir Roy Meadow, who is currently in the news. He has stated that children do not get ME. When confronted by a child with ME, medical practitioners, social workers, teachers, policemen and lawyers have all been conditioned by Wessely and his like-minded colleagues to believe that the illness has been fabricated by the child's mother.

    I need not elaborate on the consequences of the scenario. Press reports are currently full of heartbreaking histories—histories that I have been hearing and seeing for years, and which successive Ministers have refused to investigate properly.

    I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Turnburg, has put his name down to speak. I wonder whether he can recall just how many times ME sufferers or their carers wrote to him while he was president of the Royal College of Physicians, asking him to withdraw the notorious document, the Joint Royal Colleges' report on CFS published in October 1996. That was internationally acknowledged to be biased and flawed. I wonder whether the noble Lord recalls some of his responses. Is it still the case that "We will have to agree to differ" and that "It is unhelpful continually to return to areas of disagreement which can only perpetuate polarised views"? Will the noble Lord explain why those with ME are banned for life from being blood donors, when those with psychiatric disorders are not?

    Will the Minister ensure that the newly produced second edition of the WHO Guide to Mental Health in Primary Care is withdrawn from circulation until it can be reprinted without ME/CFS listed as a mental disorder, given that the Department of Health accepts that it is not? Will he also ask the Chief Medical Officer, as a matter of urgency, to circulate to all medical practitioners and the NHS information authority the correct classification for ME/CFS and to withdraw the current advice?

    1.50 p.m.

    My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Countess, Lady Mar, for introducing this important topic. I am afraid that we must continue to disagree. I can answer directly her question about the response some years ago to the report by the Royal College of Physicians on CFS/ME. We had few, if any, adverse comments. In fact, as a result of the report, I was asked to write the foreword to a patients' advice booklet by a CFS/ME patient group, so the report received a favourable response in some quarters at least.

    It is an unfortunate fact that, despite a lot of research and speculation, we do not yet know the cause or causes of chronic fatigue syndrome or myalgic encephalomyelitis—I hope that noble Lords will not mind if I call it CFS/ME. But the important point is that, whatever the cause, there is no doubt that it is a serious and debilitating disorder, and patients suffer severely from it. I am sure that the noble Countess, Lady Mar, will agree with that, at least.

    CFS/ME is not alone in being baffling. We do not know the cause of most cancers and many inflammatory diseases, from arthritis to colitis, from asthma to Alzheimer's, but that lack of knowledge has not stopped us seeking the best forms of treatment that we can muster. Indeed, many of those diseases are treated well, and some are cured, although we do not know the cause. But we seem to have got ourselves into a semantic argument that, to all intents and purposes, is irrelevant to what patients need and want. They want treatment and cure, and need more research into potential causes so that more accurate diagnoses can be made and better treatments developed. Meanwhile, they want the best treatments currently available.

    In the old days, when we did not know the cause of a disease, we named it after a doctor or patient—for example, Parkinson's disease or Crohn's disease. If noble Lords will forgive me, I am reminded of the story of the little boy who, when asked what his dog's name was, replied, "I do not know his name, but we call him Rover". Perhaps we would do better to call CFS/ME "Mar's disease" or even "Wessely's disease". As we do not know the cause, I prefer to refer to it as chronic fatigue syndrome, because at least the term describes how patients feel. Myalgic encephalomyelitis suggests that there is an inflammation of the brain, when there is no evidence that patients' brains are any more inflamed than anyone else's. I certainly would not focus any arguments on the issue. Indeed, most authorities now seem content with the term CFS/ME—sitting on the fence.

    Be that as it may, most of those in the field who have studied the disease agree that, as with every other illness, there is likely to be a mixture of physical and psychological disturbances. To deny that patients may be depressed when they have a chronic long-term debilitating illness seems to fly in the face of experience. Just as it would be unwarranted to deny a depressed patient with cancer or rheumatoid arthritis an anti-depressant, so it would be unwarranted to deny an anti-depressant to a patient with CFS/ME who is also depressed. It is quite different from suggesting that depression is the cause, because it clearly is not.

    I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for going on about the issue, but there is a tendency to believe that it is somehow a betrayal of patients even to admit a psychiatric component in the suffering of patients with CFS/ME. I cannot subscribe to that view because I know that there is always a psychological component in every illness, even if it is only a response to that illness. That is not to deny that there may he physical components in CFS/ME—almost certainly there is—but the problem is that, at present, we do not know what it is, or what they are. Efforts to uncover an inflammatory, infective or immunological cause have given tempting glimpses, but nothing clear has emerged. Clearly, more research is needed. Perhaps equally unfortunately, no new treatments based purely on those types of possible causes, and that make any difference, have emerged. Antibiotics, antivirals, vitamins, supplements, anti-inflammatory drugs and even steroids do nothing unless they are specifically indicated.

    Despite anecdotes to the contrary, I am afraid that the only treatments that have shown any benefit in large-scale carefully controlled clinical trials are: cognitive behaviour therapy, which involves a careful, encouraging confidence-building effort with slowly increasing exercise based on what patients can achieve, without symptoms at the time; and antidepressants, if the patient is also depressed—it is no wonder that many are. Those are currently the only treatments shown to be effective. Many—but, unfortunately, not all—patients are helped by that approach.

    It so happens that Professor Simon Wessely and his colleagues, whom the noble Countess denigrated so mercilessly, have led the field in that form of therapy. I have the greatest respect for the noble Countess, but on this matter I must disagree profoundly with her. Rather than doing a disservice to patients, Wessely is doing them an enormous service and has devoted much of his life to caring for them. That is why large numbers of patients flock to his clinic, probably the largest in the UK, from all over the country in the hope that he might be able to help them, and he often does. He is the first to admit, as he does in his many writings on the subject, that treatment for those unfortunate patients is difficult and imperfect, and that not everyone is helped, but enough are to make it worthwhile. Until something better comes along, that is the treatment of choice.

    Wessely set up the first NHS clinic and service devoted solely to CFS/ME patients and has been active in service developments ever since. The NHS Centre for Previews and Dissemination and the Cochrane Centre have endorsed his approach as best current practice, as have American reviewers. Furthermore, the largest patients' charity, Action for ME, is working closely with Wessely and his colleagues on new research initiatives funded by the MRC and the NHS. He has been given a research medal by the Royal College of Physicians for his work on the disease and a commendation in the last research assessment exercise. He published the first evidence of neuroendocrine abnormalities that clearly differentiate CFS/ME patients from those with straightforward depression. He is busily engaged in a research programme into the biochemistry. immunology and neuro-imaging of those patients. That does not sound to me like someone who either denies the existence of the disease or believes that: it is all in the mind—surprisingly, it is something of which he is accused. Wessely's articles in prestigious journals such as the Lancet strongly attest to his view that both the physical and psychological components of the illness are important. This is a man absolutely committed to caring for those patients, and if anyone came up with new or better treatment I am sure that he would grab it with both hands.

    The noble Countess's Question focuses on how the condition should be described. I hope that I have said enough to suggest that it is rather more important to be concerned that more research is carried out into the cause of this distressing condition, whatever it is called, and that meanwhile we should treat it as best we can.

    1.58 p.m.

    My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Countess for introducing this subject. I hope that I will not waste the House's time. Having listened to the debate so far, I have an awful feeling that perhaps I will be a little controversial. I am delighted to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, may speak in the gap—no doubt, he will tell me whether I am right or wrong on that. I do not know the answer to the question that the noble Countess asks. Perhaps the Minister could pre-empt the debate by saying "Yes", but I do not know what he will say. I wish briefly to support the concept that ME is a neurological disease and should be classed as such.

    We have heard that ME is a chronic, disabling illness, which affects 100, 000 or more people in the UK. The noble Countess said that it was recognised by the World Health Organisation in 1969. I thought that it was more recently than that that the WHO classified it and recognised it as a disease of the nervous system. While victims of the illness are slowly winning the battle for recognition of ME as a genuine illness, there is still disagreement about the best way to treat it.

    In 1948, a polio-like illness in New York State resulted in the identification of a new virus that was called Coxsackie, after the town on the Hudson River. The disease was called atypical polio because its symptoms identified it as a kind of polio, despite the virus being different. This kind of polio has since been renamed ME and more recently chronic fatigue syndrome. It remains a type of polio, despite the change of name. Technology has shown the generic similarities of the most frequent agent that causes it. These techniques place Coxsackie, the virus most often implicated in ME, into the polio family tree, along with so-called echo viruses. Coxsackie has been further subdivided into types A and B. In total, there are at least 72 enteroviruses. Maybe there are more viruses now, if the research has moved on. Some of the points that I am making are based on research by Jane Colby, who wrote a book called ME—The New Plague

    True ME, as opposed to fatigue symptoms, is clinically polio-like, and has often been diagnosed as non-paralytic polio. Patients have weakness, back pain and they are systemically ill. It has been unfortunate that some of these patients have been labelled as having chronic fatigue, as true ME is a neurological condition that usually originates with a gut virus infection such as Coxsackie, which in some cases can be demonstrated. The requirement to put off diagnosing ME for six months after the patient falls ill has made this difficult. If the tests are not done quickly, it is too late to identify the virus. Research now supports the view that ME is probably a persistent viral infection causing inflammation throughout the central nervous system and disturbance of hypothalamic function.

    If ME is a type of polio, why does everyone exposed to the viruses not develop ME, just as they did with polio? In fact, only a small number of those with the polio virus became paralysed. About 90 per cent did not realise that they were suffering from anything more than a cold or flu. With both polio and ME, the state of the immune system governs susceptibility.

    By altering the population's resistance to particular organisms, we alter the balance of infectious agents in the environment. Polio has declined through vaccination, but this has left us open to other polio-related viruses. It is therefore not surprising that since the late 1950s the incidence of ME has risen. Many experts have predicted that it will be the neurological disease of the 21st century. By suppressing the spread of a few enteroviruses, we have opened the door to the rest.

    Papers investigating the epidemiological aspects of ME/CFSS have revealed further convincing parallels between the behaviour of this disease and polio. ME is described as being ushered in by a minor, flu-like illness which is identical to and has all the features of the minor illness of abortive poliomyelitis. In comparisons with epidemic polio, we see similar features, including the incidence of the disease decreasing between January and the summer, and peaking between August and October.

    ME, or atypical polio, is a serious and debilitating multi-system malfunction leading to such profound weakness in some children that they are unable to speak and must be tube-fed—but they can breathe. Enteroviruses have an affinity for certain tissues, and many do not attack the respiratory centre causing its paralysis, as in polio itself.

    What are we doing to our teenage ME sufferers when we force them back to school, deny home tuition and tell them to exercise as a form of therapy? What will happen in 30 years to children now getting ME in a climate where they are disbelieved and told to pull themselves together? The condition post-ME, which we are now seeing in adults, may occur many years after infection, like post-polio.

    This is far too complex a subject to be debated in one hour. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that ME is now classified as a neurological disease. I was delighted to read in the Times a couple of days ago that new centres are being put in place to undertake new research. I hope that he can confirm that they will be for research and treatment. If polio victims had been able to breathe, would we have ever taken that disease seriously?

    2.5 p.m.

    My Lords, I apologise to the House for the fact that it was not until late yesterday evening that I felt able to contribute briefly to this debate. I am grateful for the opportunity to do so at this stage. I declare an interest as a practising neurologist until 12 years ago. During my career, I saw many patients diagnosed with ME. Also, when I was president of the World Federation of Neurology, I consulted on behalf of that organisation with the World Health Organisation on the revised international classification of diseases, ICD-10.

    Medical diagnosis is not an exact science. One of the problems with ME is that attitudes and views about its nature, causation and treatment have continued to change profoundly over the years. As the noble Countess said, diseases that were so diagnosed began to emerge in the 1930s, and then many more occurred in the 1950s. There were a number of notable epidemics in various countries across the world, so that in certain circumstances the condition became known as Icelandic disease. There was the notable epidemic in the Royal Free Hospital in London among the nurses, and subsequently the medical staff, in the 1950s.

    I and my colleagues in Newcastle-upon-Tyne studied an outbreak which was believed to be "the Royal Free disease", in a closed community of trainee teachers in a convent in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. We subsequently published an article in the Lancet, "An Epidemic of Benign Myalgic Encephalomyelitis in Newcastle-upon-Tyne": "benign" because patients ultimately recovered, but they were left with considerable fatigue; "myalgic" because many of them complained of muscle pain; and "encephalomyelitis" was based on a much less secure foundation. There was no evidence in these cases, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, said, of any consistent abnormality in the cerebral spinal fluid. Variable abnormalities were seen in the blood, but no consistent viral aetiology was ever demonstrated in these cases in the way that had been demonstrated in patients suffering from Coxsackie A and Coxsackie B infections to which he referred.

    Unlike pre-paralytic or non-paralytic poliomyelitis, in which there were always abnormalities in the cerebral spinal fluid, abnormal cells and so on, none of these patients showed that kind of condition. Apart from finding certain curious electromyographic abnormalities, meaning abnormalities on electrical examination of the voluntary muscles, no consistent neurological signs were ever clearly demonstrated in these patients. My experience over the years convinced me that there was often an organic component, commonly post-viral, so that the condition later became known as post-viral chronic fatigue syndrome. "Post-viral" was subsequently dropped, so that it is now called chronic fatigue syndrome.

    In many cases, there was a profound psychiatric disturbance. Looking back, I am satisfied that much of what I saw in that closed community in Newcastle was based on a chronic hysterical reaction, preliminary to an early viral infection. In the many other patients whom I subsequently saw, I found that a number, as the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, said, responded effectively to anti-depressant medication. That is not to say that the condition was caused by depression.

    I share with the noble Lord my admiration for the work of Simon Wessely, because it is the most solidly based and well-founded research that has been done on this condition. That there is an organic component I am in no doubt, but equally, in many cases, there is a profound overlay of psychiatric manifestations. The greatest hope lies in the kind of treatment to which the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, refers.

    2.10 p.m.

    My Lords, I must admit to feeling as if I have put my head in a noose. We have medical disagreement raging across the Chamber and the use of words that I will not even attempt to understand. One thing is clear: the noble Countess's historical basis for complaint is solid. There is a tremendous tradition, when we do not know the medical or physical causes of something, of bringing in the quacks, to put it bluntly. That has happened on numerous occasions.

    I shall give the House an example to add to the one that the noble Countess gave. Dyslexia is the one that I know most about. I can remember being told in the mid-1970s that my inability to read and write at the same rate as others was due to the fact that I came from a single-parent family. There are others examples, so I suggest that we take a sceptical look at things. With regard to the noble Countess's speech, I suspect that there are many libel lawyers who, on hearing our debate, will react in the same way as someone on a diet looking at a cake shop window. It is a lovely feast that they cannot get at.

    We must face facts. There have undoubtedly been occasions on which mental health problems have been suggested for things that turned out to be physical conditions. That has occurred. The fact that ME has a physical component—an initial physical component, at least—has been agreed by, I think, everybody here. If the noble Lord wants to correct me, he can.

    My Lords, I wanted only to say that I am in entire agreement, and so is Dr Wessely. There is a physical component, and it would be nice to get a grip on it.

    My Lords, it is nice to know that I was not as lost as I thought.

    The fact remains that, if treatment is going on, we should be very sure that we do not say to people that we are just dealing with a perceived or psychological disturbance. I believe that this is at the heart of the noble Countess's criticism. It is a perfectly normal side-effect for someone to have depression because he cannot move or function in his job. That is all that it is: a side-effect. Those with disabilities and debilitating illnesses probably have more to get depressed about than others. It is natural. It is in that secondary light—I hope that the Minister will confirm this—that treatment should be offered, not as the primary mover. That is a key consideration.

    Will the Minister give us some assurance that children who are faced with the condition will be given guidance that means that they are not placed under extra stress? From the limited reading and research that I have done on the subject, stressful situations and the inability to handle them seems to make the condition worse. Every effort must be made to reduce that risk. If that means that children must be taught at home, that must be done. If it means that they must be taught by distance learning or with a reduced syllabus, it must be done.

    I do not care what Doctor X says to Doctor Y; I do not mind how they rage and tear at each other. The fact is that children who are placed in stressful situations will fail, if they are placed in an educational situation that they cannot handle. It would be better for someone to pass a few subjects and develop core skills so that they can pick up their education later than for them to be told, "You can do it" and receive extra work. I come back to the example of dyslexia. People are told, "Work harder and you will achieve". I am sure that that is a way of bringing on a stress-related illness for people who, in fact, have a different learning pattern. It happens. The Minister should make sure that people are given learning patterns which they can actually achieve. That should be done, and the Minister can give us some assurances on it.

    Other than that, when can we expect to have a definitive—I hope—study programme in place? When can we expect the reports, at least? I say that because generally in such arguments, one side is eventually battered into submission but will still have a few adherents who go on until their dying day. That is the usual pattern. What emphasis has been given to finding definitive answers? It strikes me that labels are getting in the way of effective treatment. If people are told that this is a predominantly psychological condition, when it is a secondary one, as seems to be the consensus—I am surprised that there is consensus, but there seems to be—that will get in the way of effective treatment. If that can be established and made plain to everybody involved, we will probably achieve a way of living with the condition, even if we go on researching it for a long time. I call for that assurance from the Government. They may not be able to change the progress of scientific knowledge, but they can certainly establish a pattern for dealing with the by-products and effects of a condition that we have identified as a real one.

    2.15 p.m.

    My Lords, this is an unusually difficult debate for non-medical parliamentarians such as myself, who come cold or nearly cold to what is, by any standards, a highly technical subject. However much background reading I may do on the clinical character of ME—I have done a good deal—I am aware that it does not qualify me in any way to pontificate on those matters and certainly not to pronounce on the essentially aetiological issues underlying the noble Countess's Question. The noble Countess, on the other hand, is in a quite different position, as she is of course steeped in the subject. She deserves to be listened to with particular care; and it is not surprising that I should find myself impressed by what she has said today.

    In trying to summarise her concerns, I hope that it is not too colourful to say that we are looking at a doctors' battleground; for it is apparent that, for some years, there has been a sharp division of opinion in the world medical community about what ME actually is. Since 1969, as the noble Countess said, ME has been formally classified by the WHO in its international classification of diseases as a neurological disorder—in other words, an organically based condition, albeit with psychiatric components. To others, it is first and foremost a psychiatric or behavioural diagnosis, albeit with a range of physical symptoms that are psychosomatic in origin. I hope that that is not too simple a way of describing the essential difference of view.

    It is a difference, as we have heard, that has profound implications. For legal and medico-administrative purposes, the formal classification of a disease determines who treats the patient and how—in other words, whether one is referred to a psychiatrist or to another specialist such as a neurologist. If ME is an organic, physical illness, a psychiatrically oriented response, particularly one focusing on cognitive behavioural therapy, might not, to a layman, appear to get to the root of the difficulty, although I take note of everything that the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, said in that context.

    The WHO guide to primary care is one of the key sources of guidance for English-speaking doctors in general practice. That is why it was with surprise that patient groups noted a couple of years ago that the guide and its associated web guide appeared to take a stance completely opposite to the official WHO line, classifying ME under the heading of "Mental and Behavioural Disorders". The diagnostic criteria for ME as listed in the guide were totally inconsistent with the internationally accepted criteria, omitting to mention numerous biological abnormalities and placing undue emphasis on lifestyle factors. How were such inconsistencies to be explained? It turned out that that part of the WHO guide had been compiled by the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College Hospital, London, and the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University, where a number of the proponents of the "psychiatric abnormality" school of ME are based. In September 2001, the WHO issued a statement effectively repudiating the classification of ME in the WHO guide and on the website.

    When I was in the Ministry of Defence, I heard nothing but good about Professor Simon Wessely, and it is no purpose of mine to make his position difficult. I take no pleasure in, and set no store by, the suggestion that Professor Wessely effectively hijacked the WHO logo to give credence to his own view of ME as a mental illness. Nevertheless, I am uncomfortable that the professor does not appear to be doing his utmost to clear the air on this issue.

    The noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, was kind enough to give me some papers that defend Professor Wessely's position, the tenor of which he reflected in his speech. I have to say that I did not find those papers as useful as I had hoped. While making clear that the professor does indeed regard ME as a real condition—I accept, of course, that he does—they not only gloss over many of his numerous published pronouncements but also skirt around the key issue of what he regards the nature of ME as being. That is important because of the very considerable influence exercised over government policymaking by those who believe that ME is an inherently mental illness.

    If in the UK not enough emphasis is being placed on the WHO definition, it is likely that research on ME, which everyone agrees is vitally necessary, may be wrongly balanced. I should be interested to hear from the Minister how much research is being directed to the possible neurological and physical causes of ME as opposed to other possible causes.

    There are other consequences too. If the UK, for some reason, departs from the long established WHO line, there is an obvious potential impact on disability benefits. I understand that, at present, the mobility component of DLA is not available to physically incapacitated individuals diagnosed with ME. It would be helpful to hear from the Minister why that is.

    I am concerned, too, that if the definition of ME as a mental disability gains further ground, there will be profound implications in the context of the reform of the Mental Health Act. The Government's original proposals included a power to enable doctors to impose compulsory treatment orders on adults and children. I have considerable difficulty with the concept of compulsory treatment orders in any case, without the thought that they might capture those who should not be classified as being mentally ill in the first place.

    Reputable doctors of my acquaintance will say that in treating a patient with ME, the best approach by far is a holistic one, involving mind and body, in which the patient feels that the doctor has a real empathy for him and that all his concerns are being taken seriously. But that is far from being the universal experience. There is a risk of my being too anecdotal, but I have read numerous accounts of patients who have presented to their doctor with the debilitating and distressing physical symptoms that are ascribed to ME, and who have been told, in essence, that the symptoms are psychosomatic and that they should stop making a fuss and go home. Once we get onto that kind of territory we are on a dangerously slippery slope.

    I have a particular concern for children with ME. A child presents with symptoms consistent with ME and is classified not as having an illness with an organic cause, but as being mentally disturbed. So the question is asked: what is making him mentally disturbed? All too often, the answer is that it is the parents; that is, that a parent is in some way inducing the symptoms in the child. If a parent is inducing them, the cause is clear. What is behind it is Munchausen syndrome by proxy—that ill-founded diagnosis which is so flimsy yet so powerful and which, as recent criminal cases have shown, has been instrumental in bringing about desperate travesties of justice for mothers and families. So instead of asking how the child should be treated, the question becomes: is the child safe to be left with the parent? Should care proceedings be considered? That is a train of thought that in general practice and social services is far from uncommon; and all because children who are genuinely physically ill are classified as though they are not.

    Those are the issues that we have to confront. I hope that the Minister will do so head on and that in his characteristically thorough way he will take away with him the many important questions raised in this debate and ensure that they are followed up with a proper reappraisal of this distressing and complex condition, and the guidance that is given on it. What matters is that patients with ME are treated appropriately and well. In turn, that depends on clarity from academics and evidence-based treatment guidelines. It is clear from this debate that we have some way to go before that point is reached.

    2.24 p.m.

    My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Countess for initiating this debate, primarily because it provides me with an opportunity to state the Government's position on CFSS/M E. I know well the noble Countess's particular interest in ME and her commitment to improving the experience of people with this condition. I share the same predicament as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, of not being an expert in this subject. However, I shall pluck up my courage and nervously tiptoe into what he called the medical background. As regards his point about disability living allowance, I do not know the answer, but I will make enquiries and write to the noble Earl.

    I begin by recognising how distressing and debilitating this condition can be for individuals, their carers and their families. I will go on to outline the actions that we are taking to improve services for this patient group. I am sure that we all agree that the most important thing is to ensure that patients receive the treatment and care that they need. It is certainly difficult to disagree with the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, that, in these circumstances, a holistic approach probably is the right way forward.

    I must emphasise again that my primary concern is the treatment of patients and the research associated with the condition, and not a semantic argument, as my noble friend Lord Turnberg eloquently explained. I certainly defer to the scientific and historical knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Walton, in what I thought was a very helpful and clear set of remarks. We should all have regard to his background and knowledge in this area.

    I understand that there are a wide range of views about the most appropriate ways of providing care and treatment for patients with CFSS/ME. We want to gain a better understanding of this condition and the best ways of treating it. I hope that we can all acknowledge that, in general, doctors and of her professionals working in this field are highly committed to providing the best possible care for their patients. It is worth putting clearly on the record that therapies such as graded exercise, cognitive behaviour and pacing came from an independent working party. They were not all invented in the head of Professor Wessely.

    I turn now to Professor Wessely who has featured rather prominently in our debate, and on whom the noble Countess launched a rather unfair personal attack. He has a very good reputation for the work that he has done over many years, which my noble friend Lord Turnberg explained and, rightly, defended Professor Wessely's reputation. His research has taken forward our understanding of CFS/ME in many respects and has widespread respect from the medical/scientific profession. He has received a research medal from the Royal College of Physicians—not, I hasten to add, the Royal College of Psychiatrists; he has been elected to the Academy of Medical Sciences; and he has received a commendation in the last research assessment exercise, all for his CFS/ME research.

    I must tell the noble Countess that I met Professor Wessely after her last attack on him and tried to understand what might have upset her about his approach. I came away impressed by his responses, arguments and deep concern for the welfare of patients. I think that noble Lords should also be aware that Professor Wessely started the very first NHS service solely for CFS/ME patients, and has been active in service development and NHS care for CFS/ ME ever since. I understand that he has also worked closely with Action for ME, also attacked—again, I thought, unkindly—by the noble Countess. I believe that we should focus on the best ways to assist and support patients with CFS/ME and not on attacking individual clinicians.

    I turn now to the issue of classification and stress that it is not the Government's role to endorse or otherwise the classification of individual diseases. That is something that is best decided by the WHO following consultation with interested parties. Of course, the UK plays a full part in the work of the WHO through its membership on its executive board where the UK's representative is Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer.

    The WHO's internationally recognised international classification of diseases—ICD—is a system that enables deaths, injuries and diseases to be identified and monitored in a consistent and comparable way over time and across geographical boundaries. It is not diagnostic criteria and it is not used by clinicians as such. The current version, ICD-10, classifies CFS in two places: as neurasthenia in the mental health chapter, F48.0; and as myalgic encephalomyelitis in the neurology chapter, G93.3. The diagnostic criteria used in ICD shows that the WHO has essentially put the same condition in both places, apart from an explicit mention of viral causation in G93.3. That is the WHO's formal position.

    My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt, but I have it in writing from the World Health Organisation in Geneva that ME/CFS is under neurological diseases and cannot be categorised in two places. The WHO does not categorise one disease in two different places.

    My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I was involved in the revision of the international classification of diseases. The international neurological community had no doubts about putting ME in the neurological chapter. It was a specialist in infectious disease who insisted on having a chronic fatigue syndrome of a post-viral nature in the section on infectious disease. So they were put there by two separate groups of scientists.

    My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord and the noble Countess. If she sends me her letter I shall certainly look into the matter. As a poor layman I am giving her the medical advice I have been given, and I will stand by it until I receive some evidence to the contrary.

    Following the publication of the WHO guide in 1996 an extensive programme of adaptation and updating took place in preparation for the next edition. Consensus multidisciplinary groups adapted each individual guideline for the UK, added the evidence base, made the guidelines more multi-disciplinary and added information about relevant charities and resource materials, as well as good general practice based material.

    Around 30, 000 copies of the guide have been sold. It has generally been found to be useful and helpful. The noble Countess made some serious allegations that the department has misled people in this area. If she will provide me with the corroborative evidence I will investigate.

    I turn to improving services for patients with ME. The independent CFS/ME working group in its report to the Chief Medical Officer in January 2002 made it clear that there was no simple cure, but that many patients had found it difficult to receive the treatment and care they needed to help them manage and to alleviate their illness. The Government welcomed publication of its report as the start of a process for improving awareness and understanding of CFS/ME.

    We now want to move to a situation where everyone with this condition obtains the treatment and care they need, when they need it and where they need it. I want to make it absolutely clear that we fully endorse the view of that working party that this is a chronic illness. Health and social care professionals should recognise it as such. Only this Tuesday, 20 January, the Government demonstrated our drive towards improving CFS/ME services when my honourable friend Stephen Ladyman announced 12 new centres and 28 local support teams for people with CFS/ME.

    Funded by the £8.5 million cash injection announced by my right honourable friend Jacqui Smith last year, the 12 centres will be based in Newcastle, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham/West Midlands, East Midlands, East Anglia, North London, Surrey, Bath/Bristol and Cornwall/Devon. The centres and local teams will champion and support the development of local services to improve the care and treatment of the many people with CFS/ME.

    The centres will be led by clinical champions who are local CFS/ME specialists and will provide access to specialist assessment, diagnosis and advice on treating the condition; develop education and training resources for health professionals to improve the knowledge and skills of staff; and support clinical research into the causes and treatment of CFS/ME.

    In addition, the 28 local support teams are spread throughout the country and will provide services and support to those individual patients who need their care, including a network of local domiciliary services that will help people who are house-bound or bedridden. There will be full support for children's services in the arrangements.

    These new centres and local teams are an important step in the development of NHS services and will bring real benefits to patients. I will send more details of the announcement to noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, asked about research. I reassure them that we fully support the need for more research into this condition on a wide range of aspects. We have asked the Medical Research Council to develop a strategy for advancing research on CFS/ME. I think that all noble Lords will accept the independent nature of the MRC, whatever its views on this condition.

    The MRC published its research strategy for CFS/ME in May 2003. it will enable researchers and funders to develop research proposals on all aspects of this illness. In response to the strategy the MRC announced two initiatives. One was a notice to the research community welcoming high quality proposals across the entire spectrum of CFS/ME research. The other was a scientific meeting to discuss the potential to use existing UK resources and infrastructures to undertake epidemiological studies in this country.

    I am sure that noble Lords are aware that it is a longstanding and important principle of successive Governments that they do not prescribe to individual research councils the detail of how they should distribute resources between competing priorities. That is something which researchers and research users best decide.

    The MRC also announced, in May 2003, funding for two trials that will look at the effectiveness of various treatments for CFS/ME. These will assess a variety of treatments and the results will help patients and their doctors to choose the best treatment. I hope that noble Lords will accept that the Government are committed to independent research of this condition and to obtaining the best possible evidence base for the way in which it is treated. We are determined to put in place, as I have outlined, treatment services and diagnostic services that meet the needs of patients with this condition wherever they may be.

    In conclusion, I hope that the noble Countess will agree that we are sympathetic to the needs of patients with CFS/ME. I appreciate her concerns over the classification issue, but I disagree strongly with her personal attack on Professor Wessley. The most important message is that we are investing in improved services for CFS/ME patients and in research and this should make a difference to the lives of the many people affected by this condition. That is the Government's priority.

    Planning And Compulsory Purchase Bill

    2.39 p.m.

    House again in Committee on Clause 5.

    Page 3, line 33, at end insert—

    "( ) the integration of land use planning with sustainable resource management and transport;"

    The noble Baroness said: Amendment No.55 covers much of the ground debated on Tuesday, which was perhaps not the happiest of debates. However, I raise the subject again in the context of the revision of the regional spatial strategy. I wondered whether to withdraw the amendment, but since I have included a reference to "sustainable resource management", I thought it worth leaving on the Marshalled List. While I understand that the Minister will not want to repeat all he said about transport integration issues and so forth, he may have something to say about resources and resource management. I am sorry that it has taken me over a minute to say those few words. I beg to move.

    This amendment would add to the list of matters to which the regional planning body must have regard in preparing a draft revision of the regional spatial strategy to include the integration of land use planning with sustain able resource management and transport.

    It is axiomatic that we all agree with the sentiment here, but I do not agree that either we need or should add to the list of matters to which the regional planning body must have regard in this way. The need for integration of land use and transport planning and consideration of sustainable resource management are set out in national policies and guidance which the Secretary of State has issued. Therefore, regional planning bodies are already required to have regard to these considerations under Clause 5(3)(a).

    Under Clause 5(4), a regional planning body is required to carry out a sustainability appraisal in preparing a draft revision to a regional spatial strategy. A key consideration in such an appraisal is the prudent use of natural resources. Detailed advice on how this should be assessed is set out in the Good Practice Guide on Sustainability Appraisal of Regional Planning Guidance published in October 2000 by the then Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

    Policy and guidance on how to achieve better integration between regional land use and transport planning through the regional transport strategy, which will be part and parcel of the regional spatial strategy, is set out in draft PPS11. I would refer the noble Baroness in particular to Annex B. Associated research has been commissioned to look at the processes by which transport and land use planning policies have been and are being developed at the regional and sub-regional level, to provide guidance on options for achieving closer integration.

    While I applaud the spirit of the amendment, it is our firm belief that it is unnecessary and I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw it.

    I thank the noble Lord for that response. I shall not labour our concerns about this issue now, although I am sure that we will return to them. Clause 5(3) seems to amount to a statement along the lines of, "I am the Secretary of State, so trust me. What I say on national policies and in my advice will cover issues on integration with other areas of concern, including regional policies. I am so good at the job of being Secretary of State that I shall ensure that they are all covered in my 'advice contained in guidance'".

    Without adding a whole new chapter to the Bill, some matters are important enough to be spelt out and given their proper status. However, I am sure that we shall return to these matters, both in the context of this clause and earlier provisions. For the moment, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Page 3, line 33, at end insert—

    "( ) the need to take account of access for those with a disability;"

    The noble Lord said: Amendment No.56 aims to ensure that, when preparing a draft revision to the regional spatial strategy, regional planning bodies take into account the access needs of people with disabilities. It is important to put this provision on the face of the Bill rather than to leave access for the disabled as a matter to be dealt with in guidance. Only a clear statutory duty will ensure a consistent and robust approach to disability access and inclusive design.

    Briefing notes from the Disability Rights Commission cite several examples where the courts have contradicted government planning guidance. This should seriously concern the Government. In order to take forward properly their agenda for equality of opportunity for all, the Government must demonstrate their commitment to access for the disabled. This Bill represents a golden opportunity to enshrine in planning law a clear mechanism through which regional government can play its part in delivering inclusive environments.

    At Second Reading the Minister that he would give full consideration to the needs of those with disabilities throughout the planning system. If he is not minded to support this amendment, I hope that he will be able to explain how the needs of disabled people will be taken into account if there is no statutory duty on the regional planning bodies. While I support the Government's provisions to increase support for planning aid, there is simply not enough on the face of the Bill to demonstrate to disabled groups that their needs are genuinely being considered from the outset of the decision-making process in regional planning. Further, there is not enough to inspire them more generally to believe that the planning system will become fairer and more inclusive as a result of this legislation. I beg to move.

    2.45 p.m.

    I support Amendment No.56 and wish to speak to Amendments Nos.57, 93, 130 and 131 grouped with it. These amendments are supported by the Disability Rights Commission, RADAR, RNIB, the Town and Country Planning Association, Habinteg Housing Association and the JMU Access Partnership.

    The purpose of Amendments Nos.57 and 130 is to ensure that, in revising regional spatial strategies, regional planning bodies outside London and the National Assembly for Wales have a positive duty to have regard to promoting inclusive and accessible environments for disabled people and other excluded groups.

    Physical exclusion from the built environment is one of the greatest barriers disabled people face when gaining access to employment, housing, education, healthcare, leisure and other services. The only way to tackle this and build inclusive communities is to plan for them.

    The Government have stated time and again that a key policy goal is to ensure that the needs of disabled people are properly considered as an integral part of the planning process. This is no less important at the regional level than it is at the local level. Now is the time to give legislative effect to those intentions, as recommended by the Disability Rights Commission in its first legislative review last year.

    Regional spatial strategies are of great importance to disabled people since they will determine whether we have easy access to well-located, inclusively designed health, educational, employment, shopping and leisure facilities with integrated, accessible transport links. They can also make provision for increasing the supply of accessible housing and the availability of "shopmobility" schemes. The draft London Plan and Supplementary Planning Guidance on access and inclusion is an excellent example of such a purposeful, positive approach.

    It is not clear to me what guarantees there are that the new system will prioritise these kinds of objectives since the Bill makes no mention of them. Too often, planning authorities, planning inspectors and the Government Offices for the Regions make the wrong assumptions that access for disabled people is a matter for building regulations—not for land use planning and spatial development strategies—which is precisely where attention is needed at an early stage to deliver inclusion in practice. Correcting that will, I believe, require more than government guidance.

    The purpose of Amendments Nos.93 and 131 is to ensure that local development plan documents and development plans in Wales include appropriate policies on inclusive access for disabled people and other excluded groups. These local documents and plans will have a major impact on development control decisions and it is therefore essential that they adequately cover disability issues.

    The good practice guidance published by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister urges local authorities to,
    "include appropriate inclusive access plan policies at all levels of the development plan supported by a specific strategic policy".
    It also highlights the importance of having such policies in place to avoid situations where planning permission is granted for buildings that do not achieve inclusive design:
    "Many development plans contain few or no requirements relating to inclusive design. As a result, both planning officers and applicants tend to overlook the need to achieve inclusive environments. In some instances where development plans have not included a requirement for inclusive design, applicants have claimed that access is not a material consideration, and have successfully appealed against a local authority's demands".
    At Second Reading, the Minister stated,
    "accession and inclusion must be addressed in the plan".—[Official Report, 6/1/04; col.162.]
    But I understand that at present there is no basis for this in statute. If we recognise access to the built environment and services without discrimination as a basic civil and human right, the proposal to include inclusive access policies in development plans cannot simply remain a good practice recommendation. Nor will enhanced planning policy guidance do. It needs to be the law. We need a key overarching policy to require all future development to meet the highest standards of accessibility and inclusion for disabled people and other excluded groups.

    This should then be augmented by specific policies on increasing the proportion of new homes built to "lifetime homes" standards and increasing the proportion designed to be accessible to wheelchair users, prioritising the needs of disabled and older people in transport policies, highway improvement schemes, traffic management schemes and improvements to the pedestrian environment.

    If we do not make explicit, positive provision in the Bill in support of inclusive, accessible environments we will have missed a huge opportunity and disabled people will simply not believe that the brave new planning system has anything to offer them. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively.

    My noble friend Lord Addington and I have added our names to Amendment No.93. We support all that has been said.

    At Second Reading I said that I should like to see these issues addressed as part of the question of what is "sustainability". We do not act in a sustainable way unless we ensure "access" in the widest sense of the word, not only for those who are disabled—the terms are quite difficult—but also for the elderly who are unable as well as disabled. It is a very wide issue.

    The noble Baroness referred to the draft London plan and the way in which it addresses such issues. I acknowledge that a great deal of it is contained in supplementary planning guidance—or draft guidance, as I suppose it still is—but it was important that the draft London plan took on these issues. I am happy to admit that the current Mayor is not all bad; it is a good piece of work.

    As the noble Baroness said, we are referring not only to buildings but to access in its widest sense and to developments in areas such as integration with transport and so on. I hope that the Minister will not only help to advance the debate on this issue and give assurances on how guidance and other subsidiary documents will deal with it, but that he will help to advance the whole culture of access and stress the importance of addressing these problems as headline issues, not as subsidiary ones.

    Perhaps I may support noble Lords who have spoken to the amendments with some comments on the difficulties of achieving better accessibility to housing other than via the planning system. In company with organisations such as RADAR and the Habinteg Housing Association, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, of which I am the chief executive, pressed for some years for Part M of the building regulations to be amended. We were very pleased with the changes brought in by the Government in 1999, thanks to the then Minister for construction, Nick Raynsford.

    As a result, all new house building must now comply with a set of accessible standards—level thresholds for the front door, wider doorways and corridors, a downstairs WC and so on—to comply with these building regulations. The arrangements do not go as far as the "lifetime homes" standards adopted by a number of housing associations and endorsed by the Greater London Authority, the Welsh Assembly and, indeed, in Northern Ireland, but the revised Part M of the building regulations remains a breakthrough none the less.

    However, research published by my foundation last year shows that some house builders have not been complying with these regulations and that sometimes building control inspectors, under pressure from the builders, have given approval to homes which do not comply. So the system is not working brilliantly even though it remains a vast improvement over the previous position when very little new housing was suitable for people with any kinds of disabilities.

    In answer to a question that I asked in the Chamber, the Minister explained that a review will be undertaken to establish what can be done to ensure compliance with these building regulations and to consider whether standards might now be extended toward the full "lifetime homes" provisions with which a number of us have become familiar. I am grateful to the noble Lord for that important undertaking.

    We have learnt from experience of the use of Part M building regulations that there are serious difficulties in trying to impose accessible standards on house builders—and, indeed, on those constructing other than residential buildings—through the inspectors. They look at nearly completed buildings and it is difficult at that stage to enforce proper accessibility. Changing the building late in the day can be costly for the builders. It is much better to ensure that everyone gets their heads around the question of accessibility at a much earlier stage—that is, when the development comes in for planning permission.

    This experience leads me strongly to support the amendments to the Bill, which should lead to scrutiny at the planning stage through the opportunity for planners to look at an access statement showing how good accessibility will be achieved.

    Perhaps I may draw the Committee's attention to an anomaly in the consultation paper on the new planning policy guidance note 11 which contains a reference to accessibility in relation to the regional transport strategy. Consultees are invited to express an opinion on, among other matters, whether the main aims of the regional transport strategy set out in Annex B are right and, if not, what changes or additions should be made.

    So there is an opportunity in the consultation process to comment on the question of accessibility with regard to the regional transport strategy—which of course forms part of the RSS—but there is not an invitation to consultees to comment on accessibility with regard to any of the other issues dealt with in the RSS.

    I feel that this is an omission and that the consultation process is flawed in that no one has been invited to express an opinion on the matters raised by the amendments except in relation to the regional transport strategy.

    3 p.m.

    I realise that this is not the only time we shall debate this issue. I say that because of certain things I shall be unable to go into. I accept that it is of fundamental importance and I am fully aware that we shall discuss the issues surrounding the provision for access statements at the appropriate place in the Bill. I shall confine my response at this point to today's debate, the thrust of the amendments and their relationship to the planning process. I hope that I shall be able to give some reassurances.

    The Government want the new system to ensure that local authorities promote an inclusive environment and give full consideration to the needs of those with disabilities throughout the planning system. We have to build that in from scratch so that every part of the planning system covers the needs of disabled people. Singling them out for special attention by planning authorities would create a long tick list. The system has to be able to take account of their needs and those of other groups as an integral part of the development process, not as an addition to it. We are seeking to ensure that that happens by what we are attempting to do in, and outside, the Bill. We certainly want to put sustainable development at the heart of the new planning system and to ensure proper, effective and wide consultation before anything is built.

    It is well known that Clause 38 places a statutory requirement on those preparing regional spatial strategies and local development documents in England, and the Wales spatial plan and local development plans, to undertake these functions with a view to contributing to the achievement of sustainable development. Clause 38(3) makes clear that in fulfilling this duty the regional planning body and the local planning authorities must have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales. That guidance will explain what we mean by sustainable development in that context. That guidance will be in Planning Policy Statement 1 (PPS 1) for England, and for Wales, it is in Planning Policy Wales.

    For England, planning policy statements are important because local planning authorities must take their content into account in preparing their development plans and in determining planning applications, that is to say, before anything is built. This guidance may be material to decisions on individual planning applications and appeals.

    Although planning policy guidance notes are not law, as I have already said in previous debates, it is a well established administrative law principle that a local authority should, when making its decisions, have regard to any material guidance in them. A decision which ignored an important material consideration might be open to challenge in the courts.

    The approach to the planning framework has always been to put the outline in legislation while many of the most important issues are dealt with in planning policy guidance and planning policy statements or other guidance and subsidiary regulations.

    For example, issues relating to renewable energy, planning out crime, design, brownfield rather than greenfield sites, and retail development, which is fundamental to where it is and access to it, are set out in guidance rather than in legislation. I do not believe that anyone would argue, and certainly not the people who would like to fill the green fields with supermarkets, that the PP6 does not carry substantial weight in administrative law. Greenfield policy itself is in Planning Policy Guidance 2, and all these issues have to be taken into account in the planning process.

    The Government are committed to developing strong, vibrant and sustainable communities in urban and rural areas. Regeneration of the built environment alone cannot deal with some of the issues relating to poverty, inequality and social exclusion. These will be addressed through the better integration of all the strategies and programmes, partnership working and community involvement. This integration is at the heart of spatial planning.

    The forthcoming draft of PPS1 will make clear that planning policies should promote sustainable development that builds socially inclusive communities. Policies should ensure that the impact of development on the social fabric of communities is taken into account. The planning policy should address accessibility for all to jobs, healthcare, education, shops, leisure and community facilities.

    Planning policy should also take into account the needs of disabled people, black and minority ethnic groups and other disadvantaged groups. Planning Policy Statement 1 will make it crystal clear that development plans should contain clear and comprehensive access policies. It will make clear that such policies should consider people's diverse needs and aim to break down the unnecessary barriers and exclusions in a manner which benefits the entire community.

    Our proposals for community involvement are also important. Local authorities must seek to involve the whole community in the preparation and review of all local development documents and significant control decisions.

    Planning Policy Guidance 11 and 12 also make clear the importance of access to documents and processes. The community cannot be fully involved if they cannot fully participate. This includes not only the accessibility of material in terms of clarity, but also in terms of different formats and, in the case of examinations in public, in terms of access both by public transport and the venue itself.

    Disabled people and the wider community will have an early opportunity to influence the content of regional spatial strategies and local development documents and therefore the development plan. Not only must the plans address the issue of sustainable development, the community can actually seek to ensure that this happens in reality and that the system builds in some future safeguards to ensure that it will happen.

    Local planning authorities must comply with the statement of community involvement when preparing the local development documents. We are legislating for a new system. Unlike the present one, the purpose of the examination of such documents will be to consider the soundness of the plan, which includes whether local planning authorities have complied with their statement of community involvement. If it does not, the inspector can recommend that it be withdrawn.

    In the case of the regional spatial strategy, the Secretary of State may withdraw a draft revision of a regional spatial strategy and can revoke it in whole or in part if he believes that it is necessary to do so.

    For Wales, Planning Policy Wales 2002 provides policy guidance on sustainable development and seeks to ensure accessibility for all in policy-making and planning decisions. The supporting Technical Advice Note on Design 2002 promotes good practice in inclusive design.

    As in England, current development plan guidance makes clear the importance of access to documents and processes. The proposed local development plan system within the national planning policy framework for Wales will be wholly consistent with the Government's aims which I stated earlier.

    Let us be clear: we want the new system to ensure that local authorities promote an inclusive environment and give full consideration to the needs of all people throughout the whole of the planning system. Everyone has to be able to share in the benefits which development can bring. Nobody should be treated unfairly. To that extent we want the new planning system to be inclusive. We remain concerned to ensure that the system fully reflects the needs of disabled people.

    As I have said, my officials are continuing to work with the Disability Rights Commission and others. People may comment on anything they want in responding to the draft PPS 11. There is no barrier to the level of response. It is not a question of what is included, but what may have been excluded.

    The draft regulations require that the regional planning board should consult those general consultation bodies it considers appropriate in preparing its draft regional spatial strategy. That includes, under Regulation 2, bodies that represent the interests of disabled persons. I must tell colleagues on all sides of the House who have spoken that there is no ambiguity about the matter. However, I cannot give chapter and verse at the moment because a lot of material ancillary to this Bill is in draft form. Furthermore, we will debate other wider issues in more depth than we can today when we reach Clause 38. I realise that this is a key part of the Bill but these issues will be explored—I want to explore them—in greater depth at that time.

    The point that I was seeking to make was not that people could not comment if they wished to on any aspect of the RSS, but that they were specifically invited to comment on the RTS ancl, in particular, on its proposals for the improvement of accessibility. The replies received from the consultation may well be skewed because people will look at the list of questions asked in the document and respond in terms of accessibility to the RTS question. They might think that, because there is no parallel question on the RSS as a whole, the Government are not seeking their views on that matter.

    I would put things the other way round. Given that people were invited to comment specifically on the transport strategy, that would invite people to offer their comments on the rest of the document. As the noble Lord said, they have been invited to comment on one aspect, therefore, they would take the opportunity to comment on all the other aspects regarding accessibility and people with disabilities. There has been no attempt to rule that out, and I make a positive invitation. The consultation is meant to be positive, not dismissive, just because that specific issue is not raised.

    It is true that transport is raised specifically and realise that there is a list of questions as a guide, but as the matter is raised in one part of the document, people have every legitimate right—and I invite them to do so—to comment on the rest of the document even though there is no specific mention. The rest of the document makes it implicit that we want people's comments. I cannot be more specific.

    I certainly take note of what has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee and the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Avebury, who have all given me a foretaste of the issues to which the Government must respond. We will have to define what we mean by sustainability in Clause 38 and other clauses. There are two other stages after Committee in which noble Lords can offer up amendments. That is the reality. This is a preliminary run around the course following Second Reading in which points were made robustly.

    We will come to other parts of the Bill that relate to disability. Believe you me, there is no attempt whatever to marginalise the issue, make it an add-on or regard it as an afterthought. The whole thrust of the way we intend to approach this issue is that nothing gets built unless these issues have been considered. Planning permission is not given unless the issues have been considered, because they will be built into the development of the regional spatial strategy. The documents and plans will have to follow that guidance or come to a full stop—people would be able to bring plans to a halt.

    We want to be wholly positive about this matter. I hope that I have given some reassurance about the way we intend to go forward. Quite clearly however, I will need to give further reassurances and provide further details on different aspects of the same issue when we come to later clauses of the Bill. It would be quite wrong for me to deviate today, but I wished to respond to comments about these initial amendments.

    3.15 p.m.

    I thank the Minister for that very comprehensive reply. Today is probably not the time to debate this issue further. We will read carefully what he said. However, as he mentioned, there will be other opportunities to debate this matter during the course of the Bill. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    [ Amendment No.57 not moved.]

    Page 3, line 36, after "sustainability" insert "and contribution to economic regeneration"

    The noble Lord said: We have mentioned several times the word " sustainability" during the course of the Bill and I think that we will mention it a lot more. The amendment is to tempt the Minister to define "sustainability" in some way. Economic regeneration is at the forefront of the planning system. PPG 4 states in paragraph 1 that:

    "One of the Government's key aims is to encourage continued economic development in a way which is compatible with its stated environmental objectives. Economic growth and a high quality environment have to be pursued together".

    It follows that a statutory obligation to consider sustainability should be twinned with an obligation to consider economic regeneration. As I said, I am trying to tempt the Minister to provide a definition of sustainability, which I am sure will occur several times during the passage of this Bill. I beg to move.

    As the noble Lord said, Amendment No.38 would require the regional planning body, when preparing a draft revision of its regional spatial strategy, to undertake an appraisal of the proposals for the "contribution to economic regeneration". I can only agree. I could sit down, but I would not have given a proper response. Nobody would argue against economic regeneration. It is a key element of the Government's plan to deliver sustainable communities. The amendment is unnecessary, however, and I hope that I can explain why.

    The recently published draft of Planning Policy Statement 11, to which we have referred several times, sets out the Government's policies and guidance for regional planning, draws attention to the importance of the regional spatial strategy promoting sustainable economic development. Paragraph 1.3 of the document makes clear that a RSS should provide a broad development strategy for a region, and explicitly states that this should identify priorities for economic development.

    As I have made clear in relation to earlier amendments, Planning Policy Statement 11 also makes it clear that those bodies responsible for drawing up the regional spatial strategy, the regional economic strategy, the regional housing strategy and so on, should work together to develop a shared understanding of issues, objectives and opportunities, so that the RSS will clearly take account of economic development issues, including economic regeneration.

    The Government have four broad objectives for sustainable development, as I am sure I have already said. They will be set out in the forthcoming consultation draft of PPS1. They are: economic development; social inclusion; protection of the environment; and the prudent use of resources. That is not a menu. We cannot have points one and four or two and three. The policies optimise the delivery across all of the objectives. It is not a question of picking and choosing. I am sure that, later on in the Bill, I will be asked to tease out my definitions of "sustainable development", which will be a hot topic. I know that the amendment is well intentioned—I am not arguing about that—but it is unnecessary, bearing in mind what I have said. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will not pursue it today.

    I thank the Minister for his response. As he said, there will be other opportunities to debate the issue. I suspect that at a later stage of the Bill we shall want a clearer reference to sustainability on the face of the Bill However, I hear his remarks today and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    [ Amendment No.59 not moved.]

    Page 3, line 40, leave out "the subject matter of" and insert "subjects which (without limitation) must be addressed by"

    The noble Baroness said: Clause 5(5) states:

    "The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision as to …the subject matter of a draft revision",

    of the regional spatial strategy —I share the Minister's dislike of acronyms— and provides that the regulations can make provision as to subjects which, without limitation, must be addressed by the revision. It would be inappropriate for the regional planning body designated by the Secretary of State not to be able to determine the scope of the revision. We see the matter as being far too prescriptive. As a sop, and for the purposes of the amendment, I am prepared to acknowledge that the Secretary of State can properly have a say as to the subject matter but not to the exclusion of the regional planning body.

    If the regional planning body is to revise the regional spatial strategy when it appears to the regional planning body that it is necessary or expedient to do so —I refer to Clause 5(1)(a)—it is a little odd if, having come to that decision, it may be unable through the limitation to address in the revision the matters which led to the decision to revise them. I look forward to hearing from the Minister. I beg to move.

    As currently drafted, Clause 5 allows the Secretary of State, if he requires through regulations the regional spatial strategy to be revised at a particular time, also to make regulations setting out the subject matter of that revision. The amendment would alter this to change the Secretary of State's ability to set the subject matter of a revision to an ability to set a list of subjects for the revision that was not exclusive.

    I appreciate the suspicion about Clause 5. I shall give the longer answer because it is important. I hope that it will knock this issue on the head because of the stark drafting of the Bill. Perhaps I may explain why the powers for the Secretary of State to require a regional planning board to prepare a draft revision at a particular time and prescribe the subject matter of that revision are needed.

    First, these provisions are a safeguard. We do not expect that the Secretary of State will need to prescribe when an regional spatial strategy revision should take place or that, should he need to do so, he would wish to restrict the subject matter of that revision against the wishes of the regional planning body. We do not expect the Secretary of State to decide the content and timing of regional spatial strategy revisions. They will develop from the regional planning body's own analysis of what needs to be revised and their discussions with the government office about the timetabling.

    It is true that there may be occasions where, for example, it would be necessary to revise the regional transport strategy—an integral part of the regional spatial strategy—to a particular timetable in order that this could inform the revision of local transport plans to their own fixed cycle. That is why Clause 5(1)(b) and 5(5)(a) are in the Bill. But even in this instance we would expect the revision to be agreed through negotiations between the regional planning body and the government office. The Secretary of State's powers would be exercised only in the exceptional circumstances of no negotiated agreement being reached.

    Even if the Secretary of State were to prescribe the subject matter of a draft revision of a regional spatial strategy, this does not mean he would prescribe the content of that revision. The Secretary of State might determine that the revision should cover transport but he could not and would not determine what the regional objectives and priorities for transport investment and management should be. How could he do so from Whitehall? It is self-evident. The purpose of the process is as a safeguard. The policies in the draft revision of the regional spatial strategy are for the regional planning body to determine in consultation with stakeholders.

    Finally, if the intention is that the regional planning body should be able to look at other subjects as well as any prescribed by the Secretary of State, the amendment is unnecessary. Clause 5(1)(a) reads:
    "The RPB must prepare a draft revision of the RSS…when it appears to it necessary or expedient to do so".
    It can have what it wants if it thinks it expedient to do so. The amendment is unnecessary because that allows the regional planning body to add other subjects beyond those prescribed by the Secretary of State to any revision undertaken. That form of words is there as a safeguard.

    I hope that that longer explanation, bearing in mind the tremendous progress we are making, satisfies the noble Baroness and may avoid a return to the issue at the next stage of the Bill.

    I shall not bring everything back. Indeed, I may help with progress because I think that the Minister was probably prepared to give the same answer to my next amendment on content of the draft revision. They are on the same point.

    I am not wholly convinced. The Minister prayed in aid Clause 5(5)(a). I prayed it in aid of my argument. It clearly needs further thought. I shall read what he said and seek to relate Clause 5(5) not only to Clause 5(1)(a) but also to Clause 5(3) which must also be pertinent to issues of scope and content. I think that I thank the Minister for the explanation.

    In case any noble Lord had wished to speak on Amendment No.61, I indicate that I shall not move it. As no one leaps to speak, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No.60.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    [ Amendment No.61 not moved.]

    Clause 5 agreed to.

    Clause 6 [ RSS: Secretary of State's functions]:

    I am informed that Amendments Nos.62 and 63 have been incorrectly marshalled. Therefore, I have to call Amendment No.63 before Amendment No.62.

    Page 4, line 14, leave out subsections (3) and (4) and insert—

    "(3) Before publishing the revision of the RSS, the Secretary of State shall cause an examination in public to be held of such matters affecting the consideration of the proposals as he considers ought to be examined, unless the draft revision is minor and inconsequential."

    The noble Lord said: The Bill gives the Secretary of State discretion as to whether to hold an examination in public into revisions of a regional spatial strategy. The discretion is put in fairly general terms. He could decline to hold an examination in public in a wide variety of circumstances. This examination is an important part of the process. It enables local authorities and interested groups to argue the merits of a draft RSS before an independent person and to seek recommendation that changes be made. It should be only in respect of minor uncontentious changes—effectively tidying up—that an examination might be unnecessary. This seems, in practice, to be the Secretary of State's view. The consultation draft policy statement 11 says at paragraph 2.30:

    "There is a strong presumption that an examination in public will be held and it is only in the exceptional circumstances of a minor revision, and subject to the criteria set out in Clause 6(4) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill that the Secretary of State might decide that the examination is unnecessary".

    Our amendment better reflects the Secretary of State's intention, if that is the intention, than the present Clause 6(3) and (4). The Bill could be used to deny examinations in public on significant or contentious issues. Our amendment writes into the statute the important public protection that examinations will be held except for minor revisions. I beg to move.

    3.30 p.m.

    I imagine it is expected that Amendments Nos.62, 64, 65, 66 and 71 will remain grouped with Amendment No.63. The last four amendments are ours and are consequential on our Amendment No.62. They raise very much the same point as the noble Lord has just addressed. The Secretary of State is able to determine not just whether what the revised regional spatial strategy says is okay, but also what weight is to be put on representations. Our amendment would transfer the decision on this to the inspector. I do not know whether the Government are concerned about the expense and time of an examination, but it is not necessary for an examination in public to be very long and expensive. It could be quite short and limited. It depends on the circumstances, no doubt. However, if the regional spatial strategy is to be as important as we are all agreed that it is, it is not appropriate to curtail the procedure in any way.

    I am anxious about Clause 6(4)(c), which requires the Secretary of State to have regard to the level of interest shown in the draft before deciding whether there is to be an examination in public. As a matter of practicality, I can see that. However, all of this gives him or her a great deal of discretion where it would perhaps be better to have these matters out on the table.

    I shall take the group of amendments together, although I appreciate the technical hitch we had. I say at the outset that our policies are absolutely clear. There is a strong presumption that an examination in public will be held. It is only in the most exceptional circumstances of a minor revision and subject to the criteria set out in Clause 6(4) that the Secretary of State may decide that an examination is unnecessary. In some ways, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Since examinations in public were introduced, the Secretary of State has never decided that a public examination is not warranted. Our track record is 100 per cent. Since the procedure was introduced there has been no example where, for whatever reason, it has been said that we would not hold an examination in public.

    Nevertheless, the amendments deserve a response because I am not in a position to accept them. Not all draft revisions to regional spatial strategies will warrant an examination and it would not make sense for one to be held in all cases. Clause 6(4) sets out the criteria to which the Secretary of State must have regard when deciding what these cases are. Obviously, one of the criteria—the third—is treated with great suspicion by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. However, these four criteria are the extent of the revision proposed by the draft: the extent and nature of the consultation on the draft before it is published, the level of interest shown in the draft—here I have warning bells from the Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Act about measuring levels of interest. I am making the speech that the noble Baroness could have made, but did not, because of the suspicion of the words. I understand that and, of course, I refer to the catch-all phrase, "other such matters as the Secretary of State may think appropriate".

    Our presumption is that examinations will he held in public. The criteria are sensible and appropriate as a basis for making the decision because nothing would be gained by holding examinations into minor changes that generated no interest in the consultation process, or where any responses to consultation did not raise any important issues and, what is more, where they could be taken on board without the need for a further consultation.

    Amendment No.63 recognises this situation by allowing for there not to be an examination where changes were minor and inconsequential. I argue strongly that the other criteria are also appropriate. Amendment No.66 seems to assume that there is a risk that, because the reference to examination is not qualified by the phrase "in public", such an examination could be held in private. I assure noble Lords that there is absolutely no risk. It is quite clear in the way the rest of the clause is drafted that the examination is in public. Indeed, the title of the next clause, Clause 7, is "RSS: Examination in public". The examination could not be held behind close doors. We are always prepared to look at our drafting again to avoid any doubt whatever. If anyone thinks that we are trying to pull a fast one, we are certainly not. There is absolutely no doubt about that. The examinations will be in public.

    Amendment No.71 seems to say that, even if there is no examination, the Secretary of State has to consider a report from a person appointed to hold an examination. The intent is presumably that there should be an independent report into the regional spatial strategy, even if there has not been an examination. As I have already said, it is only in the most exceptional circumstances that there would not be an examination in public. There is no need for that safeguard to be put in the Bill. I hope that I have satisfied noble Lords.

    I appreciate that the wording of Clause 6(4)(c) probably sends shivers down the spine and I am more than happy, in relation to all parts of the Bill, to look at any form of wording that could be more precise and which could to lessen suspicion to any degree. We are always happy to have a look at that. That is not in my brief. One has to do things in response to what is said. That makes more work, but I am as interested as anyone else in getting this right. At the end of the day, I do not want to be hauled over the coals for a bit of slipshod legislation, or for a provision that could be misused. We have had debates in the past on other legislation, which has now been enacted, where we were desperately trying to define what was meant by "levels of interest". I had considerable difficulty, as did the House, with that but we came to a solution in the end. I am more than happy to have Clause 6(4)(c) looked at, just to make sure that it is as precise as possible and that it meets the purpose for which it is intended in this part of the Bill.

    I thank the Minister for those comments, I think they were very helpful. Obviously, the concerns I expressed are real and are felt not just on these Benches but among outside interests who have approached us on it. I thank the Minister. We shall certainly look at the words to see whether we can come up with a further improvement. Perhaps the Government will too, before the next stage of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    [ Amendments Nos.62 and 64 not moved.]

    Clause 6 agreed to.

    Clause 7 [RSS: examination in public]:

    [ Amendments Nos.65 and 66 not moved.]

    Page 4, line 26, after "person" insert "or persons"

    The noble Lord said: This is simply a technical amendment on which I need not detain the Committee for long. As I am sure Members of the Committee are aware, in practice, at any big planning inquiry the Secretary of State has the discretion to appoint more than one person to aid him with the inquiry. Indeed, under Section 35 of the Town and Country Planning Act, that provision exists in relation to structure plans. If it is in place for structure plans, I can see no reason why the Government should wish to remove it for regional spatial strategies. This amendment is simply directed towards enabling the Secretary of State to ensure that inquiries are held as efficiently as possible. I beg to move.

    I think that this is an easy amendment to deal with. If I heard the noble Lord right, he is seeking clarification on terminology. The amendment is unnecessary. As I understand it, it is a point of standard legal interpretation that the term "person" encompasses both "person" singular and "persons" plural. So the word means not only what it says but something else as well. I hope the noble Lord will be happy with that and feel able to withdraw his amendment.

    As that will be reported in Hansard and the Minister has made it clear that "person" means both person and persons, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Page 4, line 28, leave out subsection (3) and insert—

    "(3) The following may take part in an examination in public—
  • (a) the RPB;
  • (b)the authorities falling within section 4(2): and
  • (c)in any case, any person invited to do so by the person holding the examination or by the Secretary of State."
  • The noble Lord said: I find this part of the clause in its present form most worrying. As currently drafted, Clause 7 means that no one has a right to be heard at an examination in public. We do not dispute that basic provision; indeed we recognise why the Government may wish to have it in place. However, we believe that it would be helpful to add to the Bill a provision that the regional planning body, the sub-regional authorities as they are defined in Clause 4 of the Bill and any other person invited by the Secretary of State should be allowed to give evidence.

    This amendment would bring the Bill's provisions into line with the current arrangements for the county structure plans under Section 35 of the Town and Country Planning Act. In that Act, the examination in public of a county structure plan includes a wide range of interested parties taking part. Given the scope and impact of the regional spatial strategy versus, say, a county structure plan, I should have thought that there is surely a need for more public scrutiny, not less.

    Let us not forget that in many instances the regional spatial strategy might have been formulated by a body with very little democratic accountability. We simply do not yet know who or what will be recognised by the Secretary of State as a regional planning body in any particular region. Surely it is right that strategic authorities whose functions will be directly affected by the regional spatial strategy should have the opportunity on behalf of their communities to put forward their arguments.

    I turn to Amendment No.70. We have heard time and again from Ministers that one of the Bill's key objectives is to speed up the planning process. Sometimes that seems to he the Bill's only objective. However, leaving that to one side, the aim of this amendment is to require the Secretary of State to publish the inspector's report within two weeks of its receipt. At the moment, as I understand the Bill, there is no requirement on the Secretary of State to publish the report at all. I am not a lawyer; so unless subsection (7) means that the report has to be published, my understanding is that it does not.

    That seems incredible. How can something purport to be a transparent process without the publication of an independent inspector's report? Under current legislation pertaining to development plans, there is a requirement that the inspector's report should be published. Why should not the same measure of transparency be applied to inspectors' reports in this case? Furthermore, in a Bill whose purpose is to speed up planning process, I can see no justification for the Secretary of State sitting on such reports. Publication within two weeks of receipt seems a perfectly acceptable time scale and also one that might help the overall objective of speeding up the process.

    I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is in favour of open government. With that principle in mind, I look forward to his support on the amendment. I beg to move.

    3.45 p.m.

    Our Amendment No.69 is in this group. It seeks to substitute for the provision that no one has a right to be heard at an examination in public a provision giving the inspector the discretion to determine who will appear in person before him. Some hold the view that everyone who makes an objection should have a right to be heard. I do not subscribe to that view. I think that the examination should operate perfectly well if the inspector applies similar energy to that which I have seen applied to the London plan where the inspector can determine the issues and then identify objectors who not only articulate those issues but enter into a debate on them as part of the examination. However, I think that it should be made clear that the inspector has that right.

    The Law Society is concerned that there may even be a possibility of a legal challenge under the Human Rights Act if an individual does not have the opportunity for a fair hearing of his or her objections. Perhaps it is right to raise that point now. To my mind, the important point is for the objections to be taken into account and for the process to pick up the issues. Perhaps that is more important than how the point is made. We need to explore these important issues.

    I support the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in her amendment. However, I wonder whether it is strong enough. It seems strange to have something called an examination in public where the public are not allowed to participate. I wonder whether the Minister can explain why no person should have a right to be heard at an examination in public.

    Perhaps I may add my tuppenny-worth on this issue. Anyone who has been involved in the planning process and seen the problems with structure plans will be familiar with the problem of the democratic deficit and know the problems caused by these examinations. They can take a considerable amount of time and tend to be conducted between professionals. It is extremely difficult for the public to have any input to them at all. I therefore strongly support my noble friend in his proposal to remove the prohibition that no one has a right to appear. The prohibition seems exceptionally negative. Of course I understand the other point that has been made. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, one simply cannot conduct a regional spatial strategy examination in public—or a revision, or whatever it may be—on the basis that anyone in that huge area who has an objection also has the right to appear.

    After I became an ordinary Back-Bencher I was refused permission to appear at an examination in public for the Somerset structure plan. I thought that that was so outrageous that I put a certain amount of pressure on one or two of the Minister's colleagues. In the end wiser counsels prevailed and I did appear at the examination in public. I thought that some of the issues were relevant to my constituency, which was one of the five Somerset constituencies and should have been considered.

    The structure of an examination in public involves a number of public bodies. In the case of the county council, it involves the county council planning officers and the neighbouring counties, to ensure that the county in question—in my case it was Somerset and to do with housing provision which would have loaded more on to Devon or Wiltshire—is not trying to get away with something. It also involves agencies such as English Nature and the various statutory agencies that might be involved. If one is lucky it will also include the CPRE. That is about it, except for an occasional watching brief by bodies such as the RSPB. How does one get past that to achieve democratic involvement? My timid attempt to voice the voice of the people was greeted with absolute horror by the Department of the Environment, which said that under no circumstances could I possibly appear, otherwise MPs all over the place would try to make their views known. It was regarded as simply outrageous.

    I make that point because there is a real problem. It is almost impossible for the public to plug into the process. The length and complexity of the procedures work against that. People find themselves asked questions such as: "Are you referring to document 7(1)(b)? Were you here three weeks ago when we discussed this issue and why are you raising it now?". Such demands are made on some poor, hard-pressed person who turns up and tries to make a perfectly valid planning point.

    If it is difficult at a county level it is even worse at a regional level. I hope that the Minister will recognise the importance of securing flexibility. There is an opportunity for the Secretary of State to show some imagination, so that if people wish to be represented they have an opportunity to be heard. I hope that the officials—God bless them—do not say to the Secretary of State that Clause 3 protects him and that no one has the right to appear.

    One of the contributors at the examination in public of the draft London plan was an organisation called the London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies—an umbrella organisation for many amenity and residents' associations across London. It did a sterling job, but there was such a lot of work for one organisation representing so many local organisations. The strain on a particular individual was apparent—in saying that I do not mean to suggest that they did not do their job well. I was full of admiration for how somebody without technical support was able to take part in that long process.

    The involvement of that organisation provided a vivid example of the balances that need to be struck. The organisation put in a lot of evidence on behalf of its members. There should perhaps have been more latitude. The decisions on the London plan were in part driven by the size of the chamber and how many people could be accommodated. One wonders whether it could have been organised differently and made a bit easier for people to cope with.

    If I had been in the position of the noble Lord, Lord King, and I had been deprived of the opportunity of making some comments or representations to an examination in public into a draft regional spatial strategy I, too, would have got rather uppity. I understand and appreciate where noble Lords are coming from on this issue. However, we have to understand what we are looking at. We are not looking at a planning appeal or an adversarial forum. The process is like a round-table discussion about revision.

    The amendment is prescriptive in that it establishes that the authorities falling within section 4(2) and a number of other bodies should have hearing rights at the examination in public. It goes on to refer to "any other relevant body" or some such phrase. Currently, it is up to the panel—those conducting the examination—to decide who is invited and who it is considered relevant to invite. That will be subject to any representation and there is a duty for the panel to act reasonably in those circumstances.

    Clearly, in the situation referred to by the noble Lord, Lord King—his personal request to make representations as a constituency MP—it was considered right and proper that he should have the opportunity to do that. That seems to me to be entirely appropriate.

    It was not considered right and proper. I was refused permission twice and it was only subsequently that it was thought right and proper that I should be admitted.

    I appreciate the noble Lord's clarification. I respect that, but the noble Lord was in a position to make such representations and we should perhaps be getting to the root of that rather than being overly prescriptive. The current Town and Country Planning Act has flexibility. As it is, it appears that there is a presumption that there should be no right to appear, whereas in fact and in practice there is scope for representation, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has said. Amenity organisations have the opportunity, when invited, to make representations and they do a very effective job. No doubt they are assisted in that through the grant that the Government make available to organisations such as Planning Aid so that those representations can be made.

    It is worth reminding the House that we are putting in place extensive arrangements for county councils and other authorities to advise, influence and have their say on the contents of the draft regional spatial strategy revisions. We have had an extensive debate on that issue. The main purpose of an examination in public of a draft revision is to discuss and to test in public before the panel selected matters arising from the draft revision. It also provides the main basis for the Secretary of State to decide whether he needs to make any changes to the draft before publishing it as a revision to the regional spatial strategy.

    In common with the arrangements for current non-statutory regional planning guidance and structure plans, an examination in public into draft revisions to the regional spatial strategy will not be an examination of all the submitted proposals nor will it be a hearing. That is the difference in so far as the oral representations mentioned by some noble Lords are concerned.

    That approach is appropriate because the purpose of the regional spatial strategy is to provide a broad development strategy for the region rather than identify specific sites for development. It does not consist of a range of site-specific arguments. That is why we do not think it necessary for there to be a right to be heard at the examination either for particular bodies or authorities as proposed in Amendment No.68 or generally. The Bill should be clear on that point.

    Is not the fact that that is called an examination in public a problem of nomenclature? Would it not be better if it were called an independent review or something anodyne like that?

    That is an interesting point in the context of the debate. Is it a review or an examination in public? I have not had the benefit of making representations to an examination in public, but I understand that what happens is that it identifies the main issues. In that case, I am not sure that it could be described as a review. "Review" suggests something broader in scope. What an examination seeks to do is to identify the main issues in the revision process.

    It is now and will continue to be for the person appointed by the Secretary of State to select the participants at the examination in public. That is made clear in draft PPS 11. The Government do not think that it is necessary to specify that on the face of the Bill. Everyone will have the right to have their representations heard on the draft revision of the regional spatial strategy, but the chair and other members of the panel should properly be able to determine who should be able to speak to it. We have been given an example of an overly restrictive approach. Generally, the current arrangements in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 appear to have worked well and we see no necessity to amend that piece of legislation as suggested.

    Amendment No.70 would require the Secretary of State to publish the report of the examination in public within two weeks of receipt of that report. We are concerned here with a detailed procedural issue, which is more appropriately contained in regulations. The publication of the report is to be covered in the regulations which will amplify Part 1 of the Bill. In the draft regulations that we published for consultation, there is a requirement that a copy of the report must be available at the time that the Secretary of State's proposed changes are published. That does not prevent earlier publication but has been read to mean that, which was not intended.

    Amendment No.70 provides me with the opportunity to clarify our policy on the issue. I want to make it quite clear that it is our intention to publish the panel report into the draft revision of the regional spatial strategy as soon as possible. I would indeed expect that to be done within two weeks. I shall repeat that: in most normal circumstances, we would expect that to be done in the two-week period, as I think is the purpose and intent of the amendment. I am happy to put that on record so that it is plainly understood. I hope Members of the Committee who have contributed to the discussion will appreciate that the logistics of printing what might be a long report and sending it out, in addition to putting a copy on the office's website, may mean that we cannot guarantee in absolutely every set of circumstances that that will happen.

    I can assure the Committee, however, that the regulations will be amended to make it clear that the panel report will be published in hard-copy form and made available on the office website as soon as possible after receipt.

    4 p.m.

    I thank the Minister for that. I seek clarification. Did he say that every report would be published within two weeks? Part of my amendment is a misunderstanding and suggests that the Secretary of State could withhold some reports.

    I thought that I said that, but let me say it in terms. We would expect every report to be published and, as a general rubric, that will be within two weeks.

    Having heard what I have said, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

    I thank the Minister for his comments on the first part of what we have proposed, as they were quite helpful. I was a little concerned that he thinks that some of the hearings might be cosy round-table chats. If we were revising the eastern regional spatial strategy at the moment, talking about airports and 500, 000 houses, the hearings would be not cosy round-table chats but rather difficult discussions. We will reflect on the answers that he has given. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    [ Amendments Nos.69 and 70 not moved.]

    Clause 7 agreed to.

    Clause 8 [ RSS: further procedure]:

    [ Amendment No.71 not moved.]

    Page 5, line I I, at end insert—

    "(3A) If after proceeding under subsection (2) the Secretary of State proposes not to accept any recommendations of the person appointed to hold the examination, he must publish—
  • (a) a list of the recommendations not accepted; and
  • (b) his reasons for not accepting the recommendations. "
  • The noble Lord said: As previous amendments have demonstrated, we believe that the reports of an inspector appointed by the Government to carry out examinations in public should be published, and we have just been assured by the Minister that they will be. Currently under the Bill that would not be the case, but it is to be clarified in regulations later. Any recommendations made by the inspector that the Secretary of State does not intend to accept should also be published. Furthermore, the Secretary of State must be obliged to give reasons for his rejection of an inspector's recommendations.

    There are a number of reasons why we believe that the amendment should be agreed to. First, there is a point about transparency. Under the arrangements currently proposed in the Bill, there will he a lack of clarity about the outcome of the examination in public. No one will know the conclusion reached by the examination or the reasons for reaching those conclusions. It will be up to the Secretary of State to disclose as much information as he thinks fit in providing reasons for revision that he makes to a draft RSS.

    In some circumstances, representations will be made in the course of an examination in public to have a draft RSS altered. The Secretary of State might determine, from the report of the examination, not to alter the RSS. The provisions in the Bill do not require him to provide any reasons for his decision under those circumstances. In fact, even if he goes against an explicit recommendation of an inspector, that need never be put into the public domain.

    Secondly, there is a point about utility. If a planning matter such as a spatial strategy were under public examination, it would seem helpful to know what conclusions had been reached by that examination and whether they found favour with the Secretary of State.

    There might be very good reasons why the Secretary of State had rejected a recommendation of the inspector. It would surely be helpful to know those reasons. That would undoubtedly help everyone involved in the process of understanding the parameters in which they operate. Under current planning arrangements, local authorities are obliged to give reasons for rejecting an inspector's recommendations. I cannot see why the same duty should not be applied to the Secretary of State.

    Amendment No.73 shows that we are not solely concerned with restricting the powers of the Secretary of State. That amendment actually broadens his powers, enabling him to hold a second examination in public if, in his opinion, the changes to the originally proposed draft are so significant as to merit a second examination. We believe that it is right that there be scope for a second examination if the Secretary of State believes that to be necessary.

    Of course, in a Bill that is to a large extent concerned with speeding up the planning process, the Government may not be inclined to accept the amendment. That is why we have left it to the discretion of the Secretary of State whether to go down that line. I hope that that meets any concerns that the Government have on the matter, and that Members of the Committee will support the amendment. I beg to move.

    I hope that I can satisfy the noble Lord, as I do not think that there is much between us on the matter. It might help if I explain what will happen with the report of the person holding the examination and any changes that the Secretary of State proposes to make to the draft revision of a regional spatial strategy prepared by the regional planning board.

    People and bodies that make representations on the regional planning board's draft revision are likely to propose a wide variety of changes. The examination will consider the most important issues raised. Clause 8(2) requires the Secretary of State to consider not only the report of the person appointed but also those representations that that person has not considered. In practice, the Secretary of State will need to consider all representations in order to be able to reach an informed decision on the recommendations of the panel report. So his proposed changes will be influenced by more than just the recommendations in the report.

    The report of the examination will certainly be published. Draft regulations under Part 1—draft Regulation 13—require the Secretary of State and the regional planning body to make available the report of the panel at the same time as the Secretary of State's proposed changes to the draft revision are published. We would expect publication of the proposed changes to be two to three months after the end of the examination. I have already undertaken that we will change our approach in regulations so that the report itself will be published as soon as possible.

    Clause 8(3) requires the Secretary of State to publish his proposed changes and reasons. Under the proposed regulations, the Secretary of State and the regional planning body are required to publish an explanation of the changes made. Draft planning policy statement 11—I draw the Committee's attention to annexe C, paragraph 51—makes it clear that the Secretary of State should also explain decisions not to make any substantive changes recommended by the panel. The regulations do not include a requirement to publish an explanation for every change proposed by the panel that has not been made, simply because that would be impractical. It would be unduly time-consuming for the Secretary of State to justify every small grammatical change that he decided not to follow.

    The Secretary of State will also send his proposed changes and reasons to statutory consultees and others who made representations on the regional planning body's draft revision. The regulations also provide for comments to be made on the Secretary of State's proposed changes. Following the consultation on the proposed changes, the Secretary of State will issue the final revision of' the regional spatial strategy.

    The approach that we have adopted throughout Parts 1 and 2 is that for the more significant, substantive powers of the Secretary of State it is right to place in the Bill a duty to give reasons. So, for example, when the Secretary of State proposes any changes to a draft revision of the regional spatial strategy, he must, under Clause 8(3), give his reasons. That is important because the final published version will form part of the development plan.

    In our view, given the significant, substantive nature of those powers, it is appropriate for the giving of reasons to be required in the Bill. We think that a requirement in the Bill for changes that are not to be made is a step too far. As a matter of policy, the Government give reasons for decisions, and that policy will apply here. In addition, if anyone is aggrieved by the policies in a regional spatial strategy revision, or the reasons given with respect to that revision, he can challenge the validity of the revision under Clause 109.

    The Bill, regulations and draft planning policy statement 11 on regional planning provide robust and transparent arrangements for the process. We do not agree that the Bill should require the Secretary of State to publish, with reasons, changes that he determines should not be made. It should already be clear why Amendment No.72 is therefore unnecessary.

    Amendment No.73 would provide a further examination in public to consider representations about the Secretary of State's proposed changes. Most of the changes that the Secretary of State will propose will flow from the appointed person's report. The presumption is that the Secretary of State will amend the draft regional spatial strategy revision in accordance with that report, unless there are good reasons for doing otherwise. Other, more minor changes may arise from representations not considered in the report. If the changes arise from the report, the issue will already have been considered at the examination.

    Therefore, representations on proposed changes will normally be in relation to matters already considered at the examination and, therefore, will not need a further examination. Or, if they arise in relation to the other, more minor changes, the representations themselves are likely to be of a more minor nature riot warranting an examination.

    A further examination into the same proposed changes may not be the most sensible way to proceed in the unlikely event that a major new issue arises after the Secretary of State's proposed changes have been published. An example might be the emergence or a radically different regional economic strategy produced by the regional development agency. If that happens, the Secretary of State will need to consider whether a further round of consultation can accommodate that or whether the change is so fundamental that a new draft revision needs to be produced by the regional planning body. If it is the latter, Clause 8(7) provides for the Secretary of State to withdraw the draft revision. The regional planning body would be able to consider its proposals in the light of the new information and prepare a new draft revision, which could then undergo the examination process afresh.

    If the intention behind the amendment is to clarify that the Secretary of State could hold a further examination in public, that is not how we envisage the process working—I hope that I have explained that. Amendment No.73 is unnecessary. Therefore, I ask the noble Lord and the noble Baroness not to press their amendments.

    I wish to make it abundantly clear that the presumption is that we will give reasons. We are conscious of the need to avoid the appearance that decisions by the Secretary of State have been made on a whim or hunch because no reasons have been given. It is axiomatic that we must give reasons at virtually every step. I cannot envisage circumstances, other than the minor grammatical issues that I raised, where the Secretary of State would not, and should not, give reasons for his decisions.

    I thank the Minister for that very comprehensive reply. We will have to look at it in detail. It answers quite a few of the points contained in my amendments. We may still wish to see some of our amendments made to the Bill, but I shall study the Minister's replies.

    The idea of giving the Secretary of State power to hold a second examination without going through the RSS process was suggested to us as desirable by outside legal representatives in the planning sector. In that regard, we are trying to help the Secretary of State, bearing in mind that we may have a Conservative Secretary of State, who may have to implement some of the Bill. I will reconsider the matter and read in Hansard what the Minister has said. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    [ Amendment No.73 not moved.]

    4.15 p.m.

    Page 5, line 16, leave out subsection (7).

    The noble Lord said: The amendment looks like a minor change to the Bill; in fact, it encapsulates some of the reasons why so many of us are so opposed to the legislation. In a nutshell, the issue is: who owns the regional spatial strategy? Clause 1 makes it clear that the policy in the strategy is the Secretary of State's. The provision implies that the document itself is the Secretary of State's; that cannot be the case. Regional spatial strategies are developed and prepared by regional planning bodies. The strategy is owned by them, not the Secretary of State. How can the Secretary of State withdraw a document that is not his to withdraw? The whole tone of the clause, and subsection (7) in particular, is of central control. With all its talk of the importance of regional government, it is strange that central government continues to operate in such a highly centralised manner. I hope that noble Lords will support the amendment. I beg to move.

    When I saw this amendment on the Marshalled List, I put a very large tick against it. That is an indication of my wholehearted support for the noble Lord.

    I would say that those views arise from the same misapprehension about the drafting of the Bill. The amendment is very unhelpful, for reasons that I shall explain. There seems to be a natural born suspicion about my Secretary of State that is wholly unjustified. The amendment would remove the Secretary of State's power to withdraw a draft revision of the regional spatial strategy at any time before he publishes the final version. I must make it absolutely clear that Clause 8(7) is not about enabling the Secretary of State to toss aside a draft revision of a regional spatial strategy on a whim. It cannot happen. I know it is written that people may have that natural suspicion, but it would not be allowed to happen. The purpose of Clause 8(7) is to prevent the revision process grinding on when circumstances have changed so fundamentally that it needs to go back several stages.

    For exactly the same reasons, Clause 5(7) gives similar powers to allow the regional planning body to withdraw a draft revision at any stage before it submits it to the Secretary of State. A draft revision of the regional spatial strategy may be prepared, representations made, an examination in public held on the basis of certain assumptions and then before the final strategy is published, important changes may occur. Examples of such changes include a significant change to a regional economic strategy or the publication of a major new policy on waste. Rather than trying to pick those up in future revisions or making later alterations through the proposed changes process, the most sensible approach may be to rethink the existing draft revision, give the public another chance to make representations and subject the revised draft to another examination in public. That seems wholly reasonable. When one reads subsection (7) in line with all the other "nasty" provisions to which noble Lords have drawn attention, it looks as though the Secretary of State could operate on a whim. Government is not like that in my experience. I know that I am young compared to some. The noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, was in government for many years—I have not clocked up seven years yet. Government cannot operate on a whim. You might want to drive some policy through on your own hunches, experiences and qualifications. That is a different issue. Operating on a whim, or a hunch, without reasonable cause does not happen. The machine is there to stop it happening. At the end of the day, there is always recourse to judicial review, if it looks as though the Secretary of State is acting unreasonably, has not given reasons, gone behind closed doors, it simply cannot happen.

    In the circumstances that I have given as to how or why this clause might operate, I challenge any noble Lord to say that the examples that I have given would not justify calling a halt to the process, going back a few stages, and re-examining it. That would be the sensible thing to do. Any government would be strongly advised to do that, and I am sure that any government would accept such advice. It would be sensible to take that advice, rather than tinkering around with late alterations without giving the public another chance to have a consultation and another examination in public. That is why it is there, and that is why the amendment is extremely unhelpful.

    The Minister has made a splendid argument for the integration that we have been discussing on other amendments. I cannot resist asking him whether he can think of the person who he would least like to be Secretary of State, either in his experience in opposition, or some time in the future, and would he still give the same answer?

    The Minister referred back to Clause 5(7), where the RPB is given power to withdraw a draft provision before it sends off this document to the Secretary of State. Is it the intention that up until the point when the RPB has submitted the document to the Secretary of State, the power should exclusively rest in the hands of the RPB, and that the Secretary of State's powers in Clause 8(7) should be exercisable only after the document has been presented to him? In other words, could he not intervene at an earlier stage, when the RPB still has the opportunity of withdrawing the document?

    In the example that he has given, where there is a substantial change in the strategy for dealing with waste, one can understand that that would require looking again at the provisions in the RSS that apply to waste. Is it necessary for the whole document to be withdrawn? Why could the Bill not be drafted in such a form as to allow the publication of the document as a whole, even if one section of it, which deals with an issue that has changed radically—as the noble Lord explained—has been referred back. If we are to go round the course again, it should be confined to the one issue that has caused the Secretary of State to be minded to withdraw the document.

    I am really surprised by that question from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. If his position is that there would be an opportunity to revisit—let us say for waste—the whole regional spatial strategy, but he does not want that to happen, I am surprised. I do not know if it is as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, envisages, although the way my notes are, and the way I read the Bill, the draft strategy would he withdrawn. It could he that the examination in public would be made subject to one part of the policy; that is, the reason why it had been withdrawn.

    Clause 8(7) is there to stop the process grinding on in circumstances that have changed fundamentally. In some ways, if there has been a fundamental change in the national policy, the regional planning body would probably be the first to say, "Hang on a minute, we have not done this yet; it makes sense, we have just done this". If for some reason it chooses not to do that, and it is of such importance, then Clause 8(7) is a back up. It could be done only in those circumstances. I would assume that it would be put back to examination in public to deal with the reasons why it had been withdrawn.

    It would be unwise of a campaigning person or organisation to curtail themselves, when they can have a second go at it. I am not offering hostages to fortune, but I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, would want to curtail it. Why would he want to curtail the opportunity to have a second chance to look at something that might be thought contentious? Obviously, if someone agrees with the strategy and does not want other people to have the opportunity, the boot is on the other foot. That is the difficulty.

    The kinds of reasons for which the provision would be used are as I have given. It would be used to stop the process grinding on when a change had occurred that was so fundamental that we should stop, have a look at it again and maybe go back one or two more stages, rather than trying to stick in a late addition or wait for the next revision, which might not, in the circumstances, be appropriate, as it could be some time away.

    I was not trying to limit the opportunities that interested parties had for representation. I was postulating a situation in which everybody in the region had agreed on everything that went into the RSS, with the one exception that the noble Lord gave as an example—a totally new national strategy for waste that made what was in the existing RSS inappropriate and needful of change. Why should there be a postponement of the publication of the RSS, which, in all other respects, is acceptable to everybody in the region?

    I thank the Minister for that exchange of views and those answers. I was intrigued and pleased to hear him admit that there are nasty bits in the Bill. Those were his very words in the debate on the amendments.

    We hear the Minister's answer. Much of it was what we wanted to hear. Still, we would like to see some of it in the Bill. I hope that the Government can still reconsider some of the centralising themes in the Bill. One can accept the answers that they give, so, perhaps, the Bill ought not to appear to be such a centralising Bill.

    We will read carefully in Hansard what has been said and decide whether we want to take the issues further at the next stage. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 8 agreed to.

    Clause 9 [ Secretary of State: additional powers]:

    Page 5, line 39, leave out subsections (7) and (8).

    The noble Lord said: The amendment would clarify the role of regional planning guidance after the commencement of the provisions in Part 1. Although, as previous amendments have shown, we oppose the process, we can follow the logic of the provision in Clause 1 with regard to the adoption of parts of the regional planning guidance as the regional planning strategy.

    We are not clear about the process that is described. Am I right in thinking that, if some piece of process with regard to regional planning guidance has been gone through and that piece of process corresponds to something that needs to be done with regard to a regional spatial strategy, the Secretary of State can, by order, provide for that part of the regional planning guidance to have effect as a revision of the regional spatial strategy? Is that what the provisions mean? If it is, we are concerned on two counts.

    First, what is the status of the regional planning guidance, once the regional spatial strategy is in place? The provisions relate to the revision of the regional spatial strategy. That means that they come into effect only once a regional spatial strategy exists. One would have thought that, once the regional spatial strategy existed, the regional planning guidance would cease to have any standing, unless the Government plan on updating regional planning guidance, even after we have regional spatial strategies. That would be an unwise and backward-looking step.

    Secondly, why should going down this route make it safe for the Secretary of State to bypass the procedures in place for regional planning bodies, including examinations in public? If that is the effect of these provisions, we are very uncomfortable about agreeing to them. I shall be grateful for clarification on those points. I beg to move.

    4.30 p.m.

    Amendment No.75 would delete the provisions from Clause 9 that allow the Secretary of State to make an order providing for any step towards the preparation of a draft revision of regional planning guidance to take effect as a step towards the preparation of a draft revision of a regional spatial strategy where he believes that the two steps correspond.

    It is our contention that those provisions are essential if we are to have a smooth transition from the old arrangements to the new ones under the Bill. Perhaps I may remind the noble Lord why that is. In every region outside London work is going on to revise all or part of the regional planning guidance. In some regions, such as the south-west, that work is at an early stage. In others, the revision is nearly complete. In the West Midlands, for example, the Secretary of State's proposed changes to the draft revision of the regional planning guidance have been published. The final document is due to be published this summer.

    The amendment would mean that where a final regional planning guidance had not been published prior to Royal Assent, the whole revision process would need to begin from scratch. So, in the case of the West Midlands, there would need to be another process of consulting stakeholders as the draft revision was developed, another draft revision document, another consultation on the draft revision, another examination in public, another report from the independent panel, another proposed changes publication and another consultation on top: all on the same issues. We do not believe that that is a sensible use of time.

    Perhaps the noble Lord is concerned that any revision of the regional planning guidance under the old arrangements will have failed sufficiently to involve the community or, perhaps, to have undergone sufficiently rigorous testing. On the latter point, I reassure the noble Lord that the procedures of the revision of a regional planning guidance, although on a non-statutory basis, are very similar to those that we are proposing for regional spatial strategy revisions under the Bill.

    Strengthening community involvement, particularly at the front end of the plan-making process is one of our key aims. Perhaps the noble Lord should not conclude from that that communities have been excluded up to this point. That would be quite wrong. There are good examples of involvement prior to the publication of the draft revision of regional planning guidance and consulting on the draft has become standard practice, as I am sure that the noble Lord would agree. We need to do more, but for communities to find that their earlier involvement had been wasted and that they had to go through the whole procedure again—I think that the noble Lord would agree—probably would be a very undesirable outcome for them, and perhaps they would disengage, which would be very unfortunate.

    In short, these are sensible, pragmatic provisions that will mean that good work will not go to waste. To prevent the conversion of stages undertaken in the regional planning guidance revision process to stages in the regional spatial strategy process would mean a delay in getting up to date regional spatial strategies in place. Our contention is that that would help no one. Having heard that explanation, and having understood our intent and the reasons for it, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.

    If I understood the Minister right, he is saying that these provisions in subsections (7) and (8) apply only at the stage when the Act comes into force. There are steps that already have been taken in connection with the preparation of the RPG which would continue until the process has been completed and the RSS for that region is published. But thereafter the process is taken over by the earlier clauses that deal with revisions of the RSS. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, has in the back of his mind that somehow these provisions continue in operation after the first revision of the RSS. Of course, it would be entirely inappropriate that the two issues should continue in parallel.

    My suggestion is that after the initial words, "Subsection (8) applies if", the words,
    "at the time that this Act comes into force",
    be inserted. That would make it clear that these two provisions are not for permanent application but for only the transitional situation that occurs immediately after the Act comes into force.

    The noble Lord is right that the arrangements are transitional. I argued that point earlier. I shall reflect on the words he suggests—I am not going to say "yea" or "nay" now—but I think that we have the situation covered without them.

    That last exchange was very sensible. The Minister had explained the arrangements as transitional to my hearing. If the Government could reconsider the way in which they present them there might be a way forward. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    [ Amendment No.76 not moved.]

    Clause 9 agreed to.

    Clause 10 [ Regulations]:

    Page 6, line 8, leave out "by regulations make provision" and insert "give guidance"

    The noble Baroness said: In moving the amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No.78. The amendments suggest that the provisions that are to go into regulations under Clause 10 should instead be the subject of guidance; a less prescriptive and heavy-handed approach. For example, Clause 10(2)(j) refers to,

    "monitoring the exercise by RPBs of their functions".

    Is it really necessary to have regulations about monitoring what the Secretary of State's own designees are going to do? That seems as over the top as many of the other prescriptive provisions that we have discussed. I beg to move.

    I appreciate that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, prefers guidance to regulations. She will no doubt be aware that we have recently finished a consultation on the draft planning policy statement 11, which provides guidance on all aspects of the new regional planning process. It will be published in its final form once we have taken into consideration all the consultation responses and the Bill has received Royal Assent. It will be out well before commencement of the parts of the future Act, so that everyone involved in regional planning will have a first point of reference for what they should do and when.

    But there is a place for regulations. There are matters that are too detailed to clutter up the Bill or which may change over time, but for which we need statutory provision to make absolutely sure that they are adhered to. The approach we have taken here, as the noble Baroness is aware, has a long history. The draft regulations, like policy planning statement 11, have been out for public consultation for three months. We are not doing anything by stealth. I will remind the Committee of the issues covered by the regulations: who the regional planning body must consult before the submission of the draft revision of the regional spatial strategy to the Secretary of State; and, once it has been published, who the Secretary of State must consult on his proposed changes; the documents that the regional planning board must submit to the Secretary of State along with the draft revision; the period for making representations on the draft revision and the proposed changes; the publicity requirements for the various stages of the revision process; the requirements for making documents available; the criteria for the recognition of a body as a regional planning body; the minimum requirements for the content of an annual monitoring report and a draft revision of a regional spatial strategy; and further matters to which the regional planning board must have regard when preparing a draft revision of the regional spatial strategy.

    The list is not exhaustive and I know that it does not cover subsection (2)(j) which has upset the noble Baroness—
    "monitoring the exercise by RPBs of their functions under this Part—
    and which is equally important. However, we think that regulations and not guidance are the right place for these provisions. They are not suitable to put on the face of the Bill, but there are certain matters on which we need the guarantee of performance that a statutory requirement brings. There would be no equivocation: Parliament has approved this and Parliament requires it to happen. I do not apologise for that because we have a range of weapons in the armoury ranging from the Bill to regulations and guidance. So far a substantive case has not been made for shifting a provision from one area to another.

    There is a role for regulations and a role for guidance. It is our view that the subject matter set out in Clause 10 is more suitable for regulations made under Parliament's statutory processes than it would be for guidance. I hope therefore that the noble Baroness will not pursue the amendment.

    I agree with one point made by the Minister: I certainly do not suggest that there has been any stealthiness here. It did not enter my mind. I believe that we face a big philosophical difference here, but it is one which has been rehearsed fairly thoroughly. We should move on because we are almost at the end of Part 1. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    [ Amendment No.78 not moved.]

    Clause 10 agreed to.

    Clause 11 [ Supplementary]: