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House of Lords

Tuesday, 22 January 2013.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds.



2.37 pm

Asked By Baroness Cox

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what further representations they have made to the Government of Sudan regarding bombardment of civilians and denial of access to humanitarian aid.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we regularly raise the Government of Sudan’s conduct of military operations and make it clear that the targeting of civilians is wholly unacceptable. We have pressed the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North to negotiate a cessation of hostilities and unfettered humanitarian access in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. We will continue to work with our partners in the UN Security Council and with the African Union to achieve this.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Is he aware that I have just returned from Blue Nile and South Kordofan, where I witnessed daily aerial bombardments by the Khartoum Government that directly targeted civilians with 500-kilogram and incendiary bombs, destroying villages, markets and schools, inflicting death and injury on women and children, forcing thousands to hide in caves with deadly snakes and to die from hunger and disease with no health care; and causing nearly 200,000 refugees to flee to camps in South Sudan? Will Her Majesty’s Government assist with the provision of life-saving aid to these regions? Our NGO, HART, has used reliable ways of sending food and medical supplies to people dying of hunger, injury and disease. In response to the reluctance of other donors to send life-saving aid, one local doctor emphasised that:

“Deliberately to refrain from sending life-saving aid can be construed as a crime against humanity”.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I am well aware of the noble Baroness’s recent visit to the region. It is a constant experience for those of us on the government Front Bench to answer Questions from noble Lords who have much more detailed knowledge of what they are asking about than those of us who answer. I thank the noble Baroness also for sending me a report of her findings, which are a stark reminder of the appalling conditions that the people of these regions now face. Somewhere between 750,000 and 1 million people have been displaced. Some of them have crossed the frontier and some are living in caves and elsewhere. The impact on the civilian population of indiscriminate military tactics, food shortages and lack of access to basic services is of course completely

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unacceptable. The Minister for Africa will attend the AU summit this week. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary at DfID is currently in Sudan. We are making our concerns very clear to the Government of Sudan, as well as urging the AU to lead the way in resolving the issue over the next few months with our full engagement.

Lord Elton: My Lords, the noble Lord said that we were exerting ourselves on the United Nations Security Council. Surely this is a clear case of genocide and should be treated by the Security Council as such. Will the noble Lord undertake to get the Government to urge the Security Council to treat it as such and to set up a committee of inquiry to establish what is going on and to secure free access of humanitarian aid?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we have to be very careful before we use the genocide label. There are some very nasty conflicts going on across the new and still not entirely settled border between South Sudan and Sudan. Some aid is going into the region from South Sudan but it is a dangerous area to cross. NGOs that have done so have found themselves in considerable difficulty. We need, therefore, also to work with the Government of Sudan to achieve, as far as we can, an end to the conflict.

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: Does the Minister agree that, while Darfur no longer commands the headlines, no one should assume that there is peace and security in that region of Sudan, where the peace is being regularly violated and civilians are attacked on the ground and from the air? Is the Minister aware that the International Criminal Court prosecutor has told the UN Security Council that it has failed to take decisive and tangible action on Darfur and that she is considering further investigations and additional arrest warrants? Will the UK Government support this approach?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we are well aware that the situation in Darfur is also unresolved. There are, of course, outbreaks of conflict in Jonglei in South Sudan. Part of the problem is that neither of the Governments in Sudan or in South Sudan entirely control their own territories or necessarily entirely control their own Governments and armed forces. There have been two agreements between the heads of Governments and state of Sudan and South Sudan in the past four months: whether or not they will be accepted and implemented by those who are asked to do so is not entirely clear.

Lord Chidgey: Is my noble friend aware that both Sudan and South Sudan and the AU High-Level Implementation Panel are less than convinced that they made any progress in their negotiations last week in Addis? With the UN now describing the humanitarian status in Abyei as truly appalling, with thousands dying from hunger and disease, will the Government make it clear that without progress the UN will be called on to reconsider Security Council Resolution 2046 for more robust and effective action when it meets on 25 January—this Friday?

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, as I have already said, the two presidents meet and say that they have agreed and that matters will now be implemented—and then too little has happened. We are fully engaged with the Government of Sudan and with the Government of South Sudan and are working with others to bring as much pressure to bear as we can.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: Although the Minister is anxious about using words such as genocide, does he recall that it is exactly year ago when Dr Mukesh Kapila, who is one of our senior officials in Sudan—indeed, he was an official at the United Nations—used precisely that word to describe what is happening in South Kordofan and Abyei? Having listened to my noble friend a few moments ago describing what is happening now, a year later, in a regime headed by Omar al-Bashir, who is a war criminal indicted by the International Criminal Court, surely we should be stepping up the pressure for at least the ICC investigations, to which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred earlier, to be extended to cover Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we have already stepped up the pressure and are very much engaged. We are working with the African Union and the high-level group, with Mr Mbeki as the co-ordinator, to see what pressure we can bring to bear on all concerned. We are all conscious that this conflict is taking place across the great dividing line between the Arab world and the black African world—a situation that we see also in Mali—and this is an area where we have to engage actively but carefully.

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I would say with respect that I do not think that the Minister is going far enough. The warrant has been around for some time and I can say from first-hand experience that the one thing that President al-Bashir was consistently concerned about was that someone might act on that warrant on any occasion when he was outside Sudan—and he is outside Sudan reasonably frequently. What pressure will we exert at the United Nations to ensure that he is arrested when he is outside Sudan?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, our first priority at this point has to be to find a way of resolving the interconnected conflicts between Sudan and South Sudan. We also have to be concerned not to drive the current regime in Khartoum further into the arms of Iran. As the noble Lord will know, an Iranian ship has visited Port Sudan and there are various reports of Iranian financial support for the current Sudanese regime. That is our priority at the present moment.

Children: Suicide and Self-harm


2.45 pm

Asked By Baroness Benjamin

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking in the light of the ChildLine report, Saying the Unsayable: What’s Affecting Children in 2012,

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which highlighted a significant increase in the number of children contacting ChildLine about suicide and self-harm.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, helplines provide a vital source of support and advice for children who are suffering abuse, worried about something or concerned about someone they know. For the period 2011-15 the Government have invested £54 million in the Children and Young People’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies project to transform mental health services for children. For 2011-15 we have awarded the NSPCC a grant worth £11.2 million for investment in ChildLine and the NSPCC helpline.

Baroness Benjamin: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging Answer. Over the past 25 years, ChildLine has saved the lives of many children and young people. However, there are serious concerns that, last year, 92% more counselling was given to girls on self-harm than in the previous year, mainly because of depression, bullying and sexual abuse, especially for those who do not comprehend the nature of grooming and blame themselves. Will the Government put greater emphasis on tackling suicide and self-harm, focusing on prevention and the implications for schools, support agencies and professionals working with children who are vulnerable to sexual exploitation, to give these young people hope, confidence and self-esteem?

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My noble friend has raised important issues and I assure her that the Government take them very seriously indeed, including the alarming stories about the grooming of young girls. However, each case of self-harm is the result of a complex mix of problems and there is no quick fix. Departments and services are looking actively at joining up information in order to provide integrated care and personalised services so that an individual’s problems can be tackled together and they are supported in finding a way out of self-destructive patterns of behaviour.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, what percentage of schools have access to either a school counsellor or a school nurse? Can the Minister also say whether that percentage has gone up or gone down? I realise that this is a fairly technical question, so if she does not have the figures now, perhaps she will write to me.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: I thank the noble Baroness. In fact, I do not have the statistics in front of me, so I will write to her. However, we do of course recognise the incredibly valuable work of school nurses and others in performing a pastoral role within schools.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds: My Lords, from successive reports, has the Minister noted the role of alcohol in the phalanx of causes of self-harm among children? What is being done to reduce the availability of alcohol to teenagers?

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Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate will be aware that the question of how one can reduce the incidence of alcohol consumption has been under discussion for some time in other departments. In almost any town or city centre these days one can see young people, particularly young girls, under the influence of alcohol. I would say that broadly it comes under the same scope of giving young people self-respect and trying to encourage a sense of their own worth through improved behaviours delivered by proper education and guidance.

Baroness Walmsley: Is my noble friend aware that the cluster of young suicides in Bridgend, south Wales, was no coincidence? It was preceded by the dissemination of very worrying images of suicide not just on internet sites but also in films and plays? What can the Government do to make theatre and film companies aware of the potential for damage to young, vulnerable and immature minds when these dark subjects are explored, so that it is done responsibly, if at all?

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My noble friend raises wider issues in this debate, which are of course entirely relevant but must always be balanced with freedom of speech and of information. That is a delicate balance to strike. Ministers from three departments—the Home Office, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Education—are working with the media and with the internet industry, particularly through the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, to try to find ways of keeping children safe online. The Department of Health is also involved in that. The broader debate about further media is one that could be very profitably taken up within that.

Lord Laming: My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that the Government will do all they can to ensure that attempted suicide, or suspected self-harm, is taken seriously by all the services and ensure that the proper range of counselling is provided for these young people at a critical stage in their lives?

Baroness Garden of Frognal: The noble Lord raises a very important point. It is increasingly vital that the different departments and services that work with children join up the information so that a holistic picture of a vulnerable child can be built up, and to avoid information slipping through the net, as has happened in one or two high-profile cases.

Baroness Hughes of Stretford: My Lords, we know that speedy access to psychological and therapeutic services for distressed children is extremely difficult in some areas, and likely to get worse when responsibility for commissioning children’s health services is broken up between different organisations, as will happen under the Government’s health service reorganisation. Can the Minister tell the House which organisation, in future, will be responsible for commissioning and improving psychological and therapeutic services for children?

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Baroness Garden of Frognal: Again, I am afraid that I cannot directly answer the noble Baroness. However, I know that there is an increasing amount of joined-up discussion between departments to try to ensure that such issues are covered, and I will of course write to her if I can get a direct answer. I know that the Chief Medical Officer has put a high priority on well-being, particularly among children and young people. It will be a cross-departmental responsibility to ensure that happens.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, I have watched the work of ChildLine with great interest and admiration over the years. It has been quite remarkable in changing the attitudes and sensitivities that children face when they are abused. I am also delighted that the founder of ChildLine, Esther Rantzen, has now started another line, called the Silver Line, for abused or damaged older people. Can the Minister assure us that this will be taken seriously and the same level of encouragement and support given to it in the future as has been given, quite rightly, to ChildLine?

Baroness Garden of Frognal: I can reassure the noble Baroness that abuse of any vulnerable person, whether a child or an adult, is taken very seriously by the Government and any measures that are proposed to counteract it will be supported. As she says, ChildLine has developed its services to meet the needs of children today. One of the reasons why the number of children approaching it has increased is that there is now an online facility, and many children find it easier or more acceptable to express their troubles online than over a telephone. That is providing a very helpful and vital service to vulnerable children.

Bank of England


2.53 pm

Asked By Lord Barnett

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they agree with Mark Carney, the new Governor of the Bank of England, that the Bank’s target should be changed from inflation to nominal gross domestic product.

Lord Newby: My Lords, the Chancellor set the remit for the Monetary Policy Committee at Budget 2012 to target inflation at 2%, as measured by the 12-month increase in the consumer prices index. The Government have no plans to change the inflation-targeting framework.

Lord Barnett: That was not really an Answer to my Question. I understand what is in the current Monetary Policy Committee target and that it has not changed. However, is the Minister aware that the ONS has recently found that GDP—real GDP, that is—was 3% less than it was before the recession and that growth, as most forecasters are saying, is not likely to be very good? So at least it would be helpful—if anybody can

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do anything about it—if the man whom the Prime Minister described as the best in the world was given these additional powers. Does this mean that if the Governor took those powers to himself, the Chancellor would override them with the current powers that he has?

Lord Newby: My Lords, the Question that has been raised, about whether to change the inflation target, is an important one. Before any change is made, however, the question that we have to answer conclusively is: what could the MPC do under that target that it cannot do now? A debate is currently going on that is academic in part and in which all the commentators are involved. For the time being, however, we see no reason to change the current framework.

Lord Bilimoria:My Lords, the Government should be congratulated on appointing Mark Carney and for the first time bringing in somebody from outside the United Kingdom to serve as Governor of the Bank of England. It shows not only what an open country and economy we are but that we can get a fresh input of ideas—such as the suggestion that we should look at GDP as a target as well as interest rates. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, probably meant to ask whether the Bank of England should look at inflation targeting as well as targeting GDP—as the Fed in America always has—to help growth in the economy.

Lord Newby: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord. The House will be aware that under the Bank of England Act the MPC has to meet, or aim to meet, an inflation target. Subject to that, it has to aim to promote the Government’s broader economic objectives. It is worth pointing out that in the past 20 years, the vast bulk of which have been conducted under the current regime, we have had an inflation target of 2%, inflation having been one of the main economic problems facing this country over recent decades. Against a target of 2%, the outturn has been 2.1%, so it has been a pretty effective target.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords—

Lord Peston: My Lords, would the Minister care to reflect on the irony of what he and government spokesmen are generally saying? The Europhobes on the government Benches are terribly upset with the idea that Brussels wants to get, and is getting, too involved in the determination of our economic policy, but is not our economic policy being driven by a quite different group—namely the credit rating agencies, which have no democratic legitimacy whatever and whose operations would not bear the slightest scrutiny if ever we were able to examine them properly? Is it not about time that the Government put the needs of our economy first and not the needs of the credit rating agencies?

Lord Newby: My Lords, the Government do not put the needs of the credit rating agencies first. The Government are seeking to promote growth within a stable framework while reducing the deficit. We do not know what the credit rating agencies are going to do,

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but I can assure the noble Lord that people in the Treasury are not spending every night awake worrying about them. They are expending their efforts on promoting growth on the basis of a reducing budget deficit and a credible long-term macroeconomic policy.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, is it not obvious to everyone that inflation targeting has failed? The Bank of England has consistently failed to meet its inflation targets and we have zero growth in the economy. Would it not be sensible for the Government to listen to Mr Carney’s suggestions?

Lord Newby: My Lords, the Government will listen to Mr Carney’s suggestions. Mr Carney has said that he will not comment on the position in the UK until he arrives. His key speech on this issue was made in February last year before he was appointed. In that speech, he said among other things that,

“if nominal GDP targeting is not fully understood or credible, it can, in fact, be destabilizing”.

There is no quick and easy answer—

Lord Wigley: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Newby: There is no quick and easy answer to dealing with these issues, but the Government will listen very carefully to what Mr Carney says when he arrives.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, is it not abundantly clear that monetary policy can only do so much and that the whole question of the rate of inflation is marginal to our position in terms of the need for growth in the economy, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, indicated? When will the Government realise that, as we tremble not on our fiscal cliff but on the brink of the possibility of a third recession, it is necessary to address the real economy and abolish plan A?

Lord Newby: My Lords, I do not think that people struggling to make ends meet think that inflation is irrelevant. Keeping inflation down is a central aim of government policy. In terms of what is happening in the broader economy, I remind the noble Lord that the CBI industrial trends survey published today echoes the views of the British Chambers of Commerce quarterly economic survey published a couple of weeks ago: namely, that there is an improvement in confidence; that orders are increasing; and that employment expectations are improving. The noble Lord should not overdo the doom and gloom.

Helicopter Flights: Central London


3 pm

Asked by Lord Faulkner of Worcester

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will review the extent of helicopter flights over central London.

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Earl Attlee: My Lords, helicopter operations in central London are strictly controlled, and last week’s accident was the first fatal helicopter accident in London since civil aviation records began in 1976. We are waiting for the Air Accidents Investigation Branch to complete its investigation to ensure that the reasons for the accident are understood before we consider whether any further measures are necessary. There is no reason to believe that helicopter operations over London are unsafe.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, the safety record of helicopter flying in London has indeed been very good, as the Minister said, but does he not agree that the number of new high-rise buildings around Vauxhall Cross has made the approach to Battersea heliport increasingly hazardous? Can he give an assurance that the inquiry into last week’s accident, which could have been so much worse, will include consideration of whether that heliport should continue to operate?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, it is not for me to prejudge the result of the investigation or to tell the Air Accidents Investigation Branch how it should conduct its operation, as I am sure the noble Lord understands. The Civil Aviation Authority is closely involved in the planning process, and it is unlikely that planning permission would be granted for a high building in the face of opposition from the Civil Aviation Authority.

Lord Glenarthur: My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the British Helicopter Association, which is the trade association for the helicopter industry. Does my noble friend agree that there should be no knee-jerk reaction to this tragic accident? We need to understand the facts. These are always complex, and the Air Accidents Investigation Branch will be able to deduce what all the reasons were. Does my noble friend also accept that helicopter flying into and over London provides health support through the work of the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service, security through police helicopters and some of the military, and also contributes to the wealth of the capital through general helicopter traffic in support of business?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I agree with everything that my noble friend has said. In addition, I point out that the Civil Aviation Authority considered the operation of helicopters over London in 2005, and we are currently operating under the regime it recommended.

Lord Berkeley: Are not these helicopters known to everyone as being incredibly noisy? Surely, apart from the police and health helicopters, there is no argument for having a commercial heliport in central London. There is a perfectly good public transport service within London. Cannot these very important people use airports instead?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, we are not aware of any horrendous problem with helicopter noise, although I have answered an Oral Question in your Lordships’ House about it. The number of helicopter flights over London has almost halved over the past few years, and

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the level of noise disturbance has reduced accordingly—although, of course, the economic situation may be impacting on that. It is also clear that helicopters benefit the city both by supporting the economy and by providing essential support to the emergency services.

Lord Broers: My Lords, can the Minister tell us how often the charts are updated and whether pilots are tested for their knowledge of the charts? That building has been there only a few months. I declare an interest in that I live right next to it. I have just been waiting for this to happen.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, first, I am confident that the charts are up to date. Secondly, when any new structure —or a very tall crane—is put in place, if it is necessary aviators are warned about it through a well understood mechanism.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that the planning application for the very tall tower into whose crane the helicopter may have crashed was turned down by Lambeth Council following massive objection from local residents? It was then passed by the Planning Inspectorate. I declare an interest as a local resident. Do the Government think that the criteria used by the Planning Inspectorate should take more account of local objections before overturning local authorities’ planning decisions, and does not this disaster demonstrate that local people usually know what they are talking about?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, when we have a disaster such as this we need to look at the technical aspects and listen to the advice from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch and the Civil Aviation Authority. As to the planning system, that is a rather different question; we have debated planning quite a lot recently in your Lordships’ House.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, one feature of the response to the crash was the speed and efficiency with which the emergency services dealt with the accident. Is the Minister aware that the fire appliance that arrived there early came from Clapham fire station, which, under the mayor’s proposals, is due for closure? Will the inquiry examine that point? Does not this crash indicate how dangerous it is to cut back on our essential emergency services?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, it is for the Air Accidents Investigation Branch to choose whether or not to comment on this matter. Provision of fire cover in London is a matter for the mayor under the legislation introduced by the party opposite.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom: Does my noble friend accept that many of the helicopter flights over London are carried out by the police when they carry out surveillance? It is an astronomically expensive way of doing it. Have the Government considered using drones for this activity?

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Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am not aware of whether the police have considered using drones; that is a matter for them. I did ask whether balloons could be used rather than helicopters. The difficulties are, first, that balloons are more vulnerable to wind conditions and, secondly, that the helicopter needs to be able to manoeuvre over a street to get a good view of it. The advice I received is that a helicopter is the ideal way to undertake surveillance operations.

Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill

First Reading

3.07 pm

The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Partnerships (Prosecution) (Scotland) Bill [HL]

Membership Motion

3.08 pm

Moved By The Chairman of Committees

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following Lords be appointed to the Special Public Bill Committee on the Partnerships (Prosecution) (Scotland) Bill [HL]:

E Attlee, L Bates, L Browne of Ladyton, L Cullen of Whitekirk (Chairman), V Hanworth, B Liddell of Coatdyke, E Lindsay, L McAvoy, D Montrose, L Stephen, L Wallace of Tankerness.

That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records;

That the Committee have power to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom;

That the evidence taken by the Committee shall, if the Committee so wishes, be published.

Motion agreed.

Arrangement of Business


3.08 pm

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Astor is shortly to repeat a UQ from another place under our new procedure, which was approved by the House. It is only the second day on which it has occurred; it is an experiment until the springtime. I am told by those who participated last time that it worked very well. That may have something to do with the fact that a great number of the Opposition managed to get their questions in.

The procedure is as follows: my noble friend Lord Astor will repeat the Statement made by a Minister in another place and it is only after he has sat down that a 10-minute period is started by the clerks. In that period, we operate as if it is an Oral Question so questions are put to the Minister. When this was agreed by the House, the expectation, the House said, was that the

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first question may normally be asked by a member of the opposition Front Bench. That was observed very well last time round.

Of course, on occasions such as today, when a Minister for Defence will be carrying out this procedure, sadly, it may be that we must mark the death of those who fight on behalf of their country. I am sure that if that is indeed the case today, as I suspect, colleagues will do as we always wish to do: to remain seated until my noble friend has read out the names of the fallen.

Armed Forces: Redundancies


3.09 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): My Lords, first, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to Kingsman David Robert Shaw of 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, who died in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham on Wednesday 16 January 2013 from wounds received in Afghanistan on Monday 14 January, and Sapper Richard Reginald Walker of 28 Engineer Regiment, attached to 21 Engineer Regiment, who was killed in Afghanistan on Monday 7 January. My thoughts are also with the wounded and I pay tribute to the courage and fortitude with which they face their rehabilitation.

In reply to the Unstarred Question asked in the other place today, my honourable friend Mark Francois said:

“As the House will be aware, the Government announced the process and outline timetable for the Armed Forces redundancy programme on 1 March last year, the need for the programme being born out of the Strategic Security and Defence Review and subsequent activity to balance defence books. While in an ideal world we would not need to run a redundancy programme, defence, like all areas of government, must live within its means.

Today’s announcement represents the start of the third tranche of that programme and affects only Army personnel. Announcements about who has been selected will be made on 18 June this year. Applicants will then be given six months’ notice and non-applicants 12 months’ notice before they leave the service. While we need to make up to 5,300 Army personnel redundant, the programme will not adversely affect operations in Afghanistan. As with previous tranches, there are a number of important exclusions from the programme. Critically, those preparing for, deployed on or recovering from operations on 18 June will be exempt from the tranche. Similarly, those personnel who are below the necessary medical standard for continued service will be ineligible for redundancy and, if necessary, will be discharged through the standard medical process.

The House will wish to note that because of the drawdown in Afghanistan that we have already announced, a final decision on those who will be deploying there in autumn this year will not be made until April. As a result, the final decision on personnel who are excluded as a result of preparing for operations will not be made until then.

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We expect, at this stage, there to be a further tranche of redundancy in 2014. This would likely affect Army personnel and a small number of medical and dental officers from the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.

Throughout the process, the Army will seek to maximise the number of applicants. At the same time, we have cut back on recruiting as far as it is safe to do so but, as the House will recognise, the services are recruited from the bottom up, and therefore a steady inflow of Army recruits will continue to be required.

It is worth highlighting at this stage that the majority of those leaving the services as a result of tranches one and two have enjoyed significant success in moving to civilian jobs. All those who have been made redundant, whether applicants or non-applicants, will enjoy the benefits of the career transition programme. This includes career transition workshops; up to 35 days of paid resettlement training; and financial support, education and training up to 10 years after leaving. This programme has proved very successful in assisting service leavers to find work outside the Armed Forces. Historically, 93% of those who look for work are in full-time employment within six months of leaving, rising to 97% after 12 months. To that end, 91% of tranche one applicants—that is over 1,500 people—have already found employment, this being testament to, and a reflection of, the training and quality that we as a nation continue to find in our service personnel”.

3.14 pm

Lord Rosser: My Lords, I express our sincere condolences to the families and friends of the two brave members of our Armed Forces who have lost their lives as a result of action in Afghanistan in the service of our country.

I thank the Minister for repeating as a Statement the Answer given in response to the Urgent Question asked in the other place on Armed Forces redundancies. With these further redundancies, how will the Government ensure that the specialist skills that will be required more than ever in future in, for example, North Africa, in intelligence capability and foreign languages, as well as in our Special Forces, are retained, not lost in the continuing reduction in the size of our Armed Forces?

Secondly, the reduction in the size of our Regular Army also assumes an increase in the size of our Reserve Forces. That will require incentives for employers to employ and retain reservists and cast-iron guarantees for reservists that they will not be discriminated against in their employment. What assurances can the Minister give on these two points, without which achieving the required strength of our Reserve Forces is likely to prove very difficult?

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his comments at the beginning of his speech. He asked how we ensure that we retain the skills that we need. There are certain pinch-point skills that will be excluded from the redundancies. Off the top of my head, they are the intelligence corps, a certain number of Royal Engineers, particularly IEDs, language skills, which the noble Lord mentioned, and, of course, the Special Forces, which we do not talk about. They will be excluded.

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Turning to reservists, as the noble Lord knows—we had a debate on this subject the other day—we expect to have a White Paper on this issue in the spring. We spent a lot of time debating this issue. This is a subject in which I personally take a great deal of interest. I have been involved with the reserves for a number of years, and I am confident that we can do everything possible to get up to the number we want, which is 20,000 by 2018.

3.17 pm

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill: My Lords, from these Benches, I join the commiserations expressed by my noble friend. In the short time available, perhaps I may say that the Government are rightly proud of getting the inherited defence budget in balance, but unfortunately events take place and nothing has more events than defence. Does the Minister not think that the Prime Minister’s Statement yesterday about the willingness to use force in Mali and other places shows that you cannot use a budgeting system on defence in quite the same way that you can in other departments because events take place that need action or no action? With a force depleted to 82,000 personnel, the headlines today of what we are probably going to do in Mali might not be possible in two years’ time.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point. We prepare for events, and we are confident that we can handle most things that are thrown at us. Certainly, the National Security Council is meeting as we speak and considering the situation in Mali. I am confident that we can prepare for any eventuality.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, did the National Security Council review the strategic defence and security review 2010 in the light of the Arab awakening, the Libya crisis et cetera? If it did, did it then agree that there should be a further £1.3 billion cut in the defence budget, which is, in fact, what has happened?

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, it is my understanding that the National Security Council meets on a very regular basis and considers every eventuality, but it is not for it to decide the cuts. They are a matter for the Treasury.

Lord Dannatt: My Lords, I know that Members on the Cross Benches would like to be associated with the message of condolence to the families who have lost loved ones in recent operations. With regard to the matter in hand, does the Minister accept that everything practical and affordable is being done to ease the transition of those who are going to be made redundant, either voluntarily or compulsorily, under this round?

Does he also accept that there is a need, to which other noble Lords have already alluded, to keep current world events under close review in the forthcoming comprehensive spending reviews and the work towards the next defence review? If the world does not looks as safe in the next five, 10 or 15 years as one might perhaps hope, is there not a need for the numbers in our Armed Forces, particularly in our land forces, to

22 Jan 2013 : Column 1007

be kept under review? Must not the possibility of increased spending in defence, maybe from somewhere else across government, be a possibility and not always the downward effect that we seem to see?

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, as I said earlier, the National Security Council is meeting at this moment. It will obviously be considering world events as they evolve. We are confident that we have the members of Armed Forces to deal with any situation. As the noble Lord knows, we are reducing the numbers next year, coming back from Afghanistan. We have plenty of members of the Armed Forces to deal with these eventualities.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords—

Lord Davies of Stamford: My Lords, the Government’s record in this area is not a good one. Within a few months of getting rid of our carrier strike capability, we found ourselves regretting the absence of a carrier in the Libyan operation and were forced to spend even more money hiring an Italian naval base and providing in-flight refuelling which we would not otherwise have needed. In the present state of affairs, is there not all too great a chance that we might soon regret this hasty decision to reduce our Army, which was taken in rather different circumstances a couple of years ago?

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I am sorry to hear that from the noble Lord. These redundancies are not new, and were part of the difficult decisions that had to be made to tackle the multi-million pound defence deficit which we inherited from the previous Government.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the challenge faced by the Ministry of Defence and the Army now is whether they can produce the number of reservists who are to take the place of those made redundant from the regular Army? That will need to be kept under review.

Is not the lesson of current events—not least in Mali and perhaps leaking over into Algeria—and of events in Afghanistan that there is definitely a time limit for the use of foreign troops in other people’s countries? The real challenge here is to make sure that we can train local military competence, whether in west Africa or elsewhere. Increasingly, they are the people who want a more ordered and stable world. The local people will increasingly have to be responsible for their own defence.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, on the first part of my noble friend’s question about reservists, we are confident that we can get up to the number of 30,000, which is our ambition. When my noble friend was Secretary of State, the numbers were about 72,000, of which 30,000 is less than half.

My noble friend makes a good point on training. Much more of the emphasis of our Armed Forces in future will be on training and mentoring our allies throughout the world.

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Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, in the light of previous questions about the funding of unanticipated deployments—action is potentially necessary in Mali— can my noble friend confirm to the House that such eventualities are dealt with through funding from Treasury reserves and not from the MoD’s assessed budget? If he does not have the answer here, can he please write to me to explain?

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I will certainly write to my noble friend on this issue. It is my understanding that most of these events are covered by the Treasury reserves.

Lord Stirrup: My Lords, the Minister has said that the Armed Forces should have sufficient numbers to deal with most eventualities in future. Those numbers were set out as part of Future Force 2020 in the defence review. Will the Minister reconfirm to the House that, as the Prime Minister stated when he announced the outcome of the review, it would only be viable if we had real-terms increases in defence expenditure from 2015 onwards? Without those real-terms increases, Future Force 2020 will not be achievable.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I can confirm to the noble and gallant Lord that that is indeed what the Prime Minister said. I cannot envisage the outcome of the next SDSR, which will be after the next election, but I very much hope that that is what will happen.

Growth and Infrastructure Bill

11th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee

Committee (1st Day)

3.24 pm

Relevant documents: 11th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 10th Report from the Constitution Committee.


Moved by Baroness Hanham

That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, on the Motion to go into Committee, perhaps I may raise a concern of which I have given the Minister notice. At Second Reading, the noble Baroness undertook to send noble Lords important material relating to the proposed shares-for-rights scheme in Clause 27. In particular, she said that we would be sent the draft guidance for decision-makers in DWP in respect of benefits claimants who decline to accept jobs with no rights and who stand to lose their benefits in consequence.

On 8 January, at col. 109 of the Official Report, I took the noble Baroness to say that we would be able to discuss the guidance in Committee because we cannot properly discuss Clause 27 without it. We are now in Committee and noble Lords have heard nothing from the noble Baroness either about the DWP guidance or in reply to my letter of 9 January, in which I set out a number of other essential factual matters in respect of Clause 27 on which we need information for our examination in Committee. The noble Baroness has

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not even acknowledged my letter, still less replied to it. She is the last person to be disrespectful to the House, so perhaps she could tell us what is going on.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving me notice that he was going to raise this point. I also apologise that he has not received a reply to his letter of 9 January. Unfortunately, it was forwarded from my office to BIS, which is responsible for this clause, and I understand that my noble friend Lord Younger is in the process of replying now. I admit that the discourtesy is mine for not having told the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, that, and I apologise.

Of course, we will not be discussing Clause 27 very soon. I suspect that it will be towards the end of Committee. Therefore, I probably just about fulfilled my obligation when I said that I thought we would be able to discuss it in Committee. Clearly, we will not be able to do so today. The noble Lord has not had that information. However, also clearly, Clause 27 will not be debated today. Perhaps I may stick to the assurance that I gave him at Second Reading when I said that by the time,

“we reach Committee stage, we will be able to deal with some of the more detailed points”.—[

Official Report

, 8/1/13; col. 109.]

I stand by that.

Lord Adonis: Clarity is very important on this matter. Will the noble Baroness undertake that the DWP guidance for decision-makers in respect of those who stand to lose their benefit will be available to us by the time we get to our discussions on Clause 27?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I am not going to make a firm promise. As I have said, I will do my best to ensure that it is. It is not entirely in my hands, but I understand the point and I will make sure that we should be in a position to be able to do it.

Lord Adonis: I am sorry to take the time of the House again but it is only right that I give the noble Baroness notice that there will be very significant concern on the part of noble Lords across all parts of the House if this absolutely vital information is not available to the House by the time we come to discuss the clause to which it refers.

Baroness Hanham: I hear the noble Lord.

Motion agreed.

3.30 pm

Clause 1 : Option to make planning application directly to Secretary of State

Amendment 1

Moved by Lord Tope

1: Clause 1, page 1, line 8, at end insert—

“(za) the local planning authority has been given 18 months prior notice by the Secretary of State ahead of their designation for the purposes of this section;”

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Lord Tope: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 32 in the name of my noble friend Lord Greaves and to which I have added my name. Clause 1 gives the power to the Secretary of State to designate a local planning authority as deemed to be failing, thus enabling applicants for major projects to apply direct to the Planning Inspectorate should they so desire. I said at Second Reading, and I will say again, that I am very grateful to Ministers in the other place for the assurances that they have given for the criteria that have been proposed and for the reassurance that the clause is not quite as bad as it seems. But I still say that it is directly contrary to the spirit of localism, which we have spent many happy hours discussing in this House.

I understand that the Government are determined to keep the clause in the Bill and, of course, I respect that. The Local Government Association has described it as using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I am bound to say that I am inclined to agree with that description. However, if we are to have the clause, it is the role and duty of this House to make it as workable as it can be—some might say, to make it as harmless as it can be. The Government have said that they wish to keep the clause as a deterrent. I would feel happier if we could approach this on the basis of keeping it as an incentive. The latter approach calls for a different state of mind. The Government are adopting a sort of target-led approach whereby an authority that does not meet certain criteria will be designated. I think we all accept that there have been, are, and sadly probably always will be some local planning authorities that do not perform as well as they should. There is a different debate to be had about exactly what we mean by performance and how we measure it, but let us start from that basis.

I believe that the best way to improve a poorly performing authority with regard to planning as to most other things is first and foremost through what is normally called sector-led improvement to enable it to improve itself, not to punish it in some way by taking away its authority. The purpose of Amendment 1 is to require the Secretary of State to give 18 months’ notice of designation. That 18 months would allow the local authority to look at how it can improve its performance and then to be judged on the way in which it improves, not on the way in which it has performed in the past.

I am aware that Amendment 32, to which I have given my support, suggests a period of 12 months rather than 18 months. At this stage I do not want to get too hung up on the difference between 18 months and 12 months. The important principle with this amendment is that the Secretary of State should give a lengthy period of notice to enable a local authority to improve itself, helped and assisted by other local authorities and, indeed, by the Local Government Association. The Local Government Association thinks that 18 months is probably a more appropriate period, primarily because it enables better and more realistic data collection so that we can see the direction of travel that that authority is taking. Is it gradually improving? If it is improving over that period, designating it would be a considerable disincentive, not an incentive. If it is making no improvement, or indeed even getting worse, that is more justification for the designation.

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A poorly performing local planning authority may well need to recruit better planning officers and better staff to enable it to improve its performance. However, it takes considerable time to recruit and embed those staff and for the improvements that we hope they can bring about to work and be seen. It takes time, of course, to engage effectively with other helpful authorities or outside sources in order to improve. For all those reasons, the Local Government Association thinks that an 18-month period is more appropriate. However, the important point is that we have a lengthy enough period—be it a year or 18 months—to enable a local planning authority to improve itself before the imposition of the final, and frankly draconian, measure of designating and taking away its right, and therefore the right of the local people, effectively to decide their own major planning applications. I beg to move.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, we have Amendments 36 and 37 in this group, which I shall come to in a moment. If I may respond directly to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, he said that the Bill is not as bad as it seems. We may part company on that proposition but I think that we share company in wanting to mitigate its worst effects, if we cannot get rid of it in its entirety.

As regards Amendment 1 and the 18 months’ prior notice, certainly the thrust of this amendment is one which we can support, although it begs the question of the criteria for designation. However, I know that we are going to come to that point in due course.

As proposed in the consultation document, a designation would follow automatically from the criteria. The first is planned for October 2013, based on performance data for 2011-12 and 2012-13. On this basis, an 18-month lead time would mean designation in January or April 2015—not necessarily a bad thing if the authority has to wait that long. Obviously, the 18-month notice would give it time to improve its performance, but there would be only one more year of performance data. Some process of representation on improvements is needed, and we have amendments to cover this.

Amendment 36 requires the Secretary of State to,

“serve a notice of intention to designate”—

a parallel proposition—and for the local authority in question to have the chance to make representations as to,

“why designation would be inappropriate”.

We should be clear that our preference would be for the clause not to proceed at all but, if it does, it has to have a range of necessary safeguards built in.

It is the Government’s expressed intention that designation will be automatic following publication of the statistics relating to speed of determination and levels of successful appeals, although there will be an opportunity in year one to correct gaps or errors in the existing data. It is accepted that this would have the merit—if one could call it that—of providing information to authorities on how close they were to being designated, but this approach would not impact all authorities equally, which is why we consider that the opportunity to make representations should be allowed. This might

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be particularly important for smaller districts where the numbers of applications for major developments might be quite small. Indeed, we received some data a short while before Committee today. I do not know if all noble Lords received it, but some authorities in the year to March 2012 received as few as two major applications to deal with. Others received more than 160. Therefore, this process will not impact on all authorities equally. One or two applications might have a significant impact on an individual authority’s metrics and the circumstances may be outside its control. The delay may be down to the applicant or consultees; indeed, if problematic applications are in the pipeline, someone might try to game the system to push an authority towards designation. The delay might also be down to community issues. Applications relating to Gypsy and Traveller sites seldom go through on the nod.

Amendment 37 requires the Secretary of State to bring forward an improvement programme before designation can take place. This is an alternative formulation to that in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Tope. The programme could be a sector-led improvement or a combination of processes to ensure that local authorities have the opportunity to improve. However, what we must be clear about is that the clause cannot stand in its current formulation, and we need, one way or another, a range of the sort of protections that are dealt with in these amendments.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, this is the first day of Committee and a new stage; according to the rules, I therefore need to repeat the declarations of interests that I made at Second Reading. I remind the House of my membership of a local planning authority and of two development management committees. I am also a vice-president of the LGA.

I have tabled Amendment 32, to which my noble friend Lord Tope was good enough to put his name, whereby if the Government wish to designate an authority they should set out a notice of intention to do so. There is agreement across the amendments in the group that this is a good idea. I have tried to flesh out the broad principle set out in the lead amendment and some others. My amendment states:

“Before designating an authority under this section, the Secretary of State must serve a notice of intention to designate … The notice must … specify the reasons for serving the notice, all of which must have regard to the criteria that the Secretary of State has published”.

It should,

“specify those actions by the authority which the Secretary of State believes are necessary to satisfy the reasons for serving the notice; and … give the authority a period of twelve months in which to take the specified actions”.

Whether the period should be 12 months is debatable but I took the view that the Government would not want it to be too long. The amendment continues:

“At the end of the twelve month period, the Secretary of State must publish a report which sets out the extent to which the reasons for serving the notice still apply or no longer apply”.

At that stage, the Secretary of State may confirm the designation and take over relevant planning applications or withdraw the designation because, in his opinion, the authority has pulled its socks up, or he may give the authority another six months in which to do so.

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It seems to me that this whole process, for the first time, takes away planning powers from local planning authorities and vests them in the person of the Secretary of State on the basis of alleged or perceived poor performance by a local planning authority. This is quite new and the process needs to be absolutely transparent. People need to understand why the decision is being made and how the situation can be remedied.

Like other noble Lords, I would much prefer this provision to be taken out of the Bill. However, if it is going to be there, there needs to be a clear choice between a degree of perhaps heavy-handed, detailed intervention in the running of an authority to sort out the problem and the draconian and complex process of an almost immediate central takeover of some of the development management functions of that authority. Surely the first of those must be the way forward. However few of these authorities there may be, the Government are proposing to nationalise some of their planning functions. It is interesting that a Government with a majority of Conservatives are sometimes so interested in nationalising things which up until now have taken place at a local level.

The amendment puts forward a gentle nutcracker, not a sledgehammer, if there is a nut to be cracked, and I hope that something along these lines will find favour with the Government. In particular, even if they do not want to put something on the face of the Bill, I hope that they will give very clear commitments along the lines of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, so as at least to give authorities the right to defend themselves and to explain what they can do, and also to give them a period of time in which to improve their performance so that we do not have to go through this rather draconian and undesirable rigmarole of the Planning Inspectorate—bless them—taking over detailed local planning functions.

Lord Beecham: My Lords, I also declare interests as an honorary vice-president of the Local Government Association and a member of Newcastle City Council. During my service on that local authority, I was leader of the council for some 17 years and was heavily involved in major development decisions. Subsequently, I was chair of the development committee and, after that, I served as a member of the development control sub-committee. Therefore, I have some working knowledge of the role of the local authority in planning.

I join my noble friend Lord McKenzie in broadly supporting this group of amendments as a way of ameliorating what seems to me a very badly drafted Bill. It would be preferable if the Government would abandon this whole proposal. I say that because there are many questions around the reasoning behind the Bill.

In the impact assessment there is reference to the financing costs to the development industry of the present planning system, which one Professor Ball estimates at £1 billion a year in respect of delays in planning permission and another £1 billion for, as he puts it, holding assets for which at the moment development does not seem to be possible. That seems to ignore completely the outstanding permissions—as I recall, some 400,000—which have not been activated

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by that industry. Therefore, it seems that the professor has a somewhat skewed view. Even if he were right, would the Minister be able to indicate what the impact of these proposals would be on the figures that the professor has produced, on which the Government seek to rely in the impact assessment? What would be the reduction from the £1 billion figure, or indeed the £2 billion figure, if one takes into account land which developers do not seem able to bring forward?

3.45 pm

There has been a besetting myth in British politics for some time—especially nurtured in the Treasury—that somehow the planning regime is responsible for the lack of economic growth and development. It seems to me that the evidence for that is, to put it mildly, minimal. I see one former Secretary of State nodding his agreement with me, which is something I shall remember because it has not always happened.

The impact assessment also refers to some of the benefits to be gained from the proposals contained in this clause. It states that they would, for example, promote fast and better-quality decisions. The two things are not necessarily synonymous: the quickest decision is not always the best decision. In any case, perhaps the Minister could enlighten us on what is meant by “better quality”, because in another part of the assessment, it is stated that applicants could choose to take the route of going to the planning inspector once an authority has been designated,

“if they expect … a quicker or more positive decision”.

It seems to me, therefore, that a “better-quality” decision means an approval. That may, in some cases, be right, but it should not be deemed axiomatic that a better decision is one that implies the grant of consent. In any event, where is the guarantee that decisions taken by the Planning Inspectorate—which, of course, is under great pressure—are necessarily better than those taken by local authority members, informed as they are by the views of local residents?

I cite a particular case in the ward I represent in the west end of Newcastle, which is an area containing a large regeneration scheme. The local authority, under two different administrations politically, went forward with the scheme; eventually an application was made for a compulsory purchase order and that went to an appeal. Most of the area was confirmed, but one particular property stood out like a sore thumb for many years. It was a large house occupied by a former doctor in the ward; the owners of the house and the land around it claimed that they had plans themselves and objected to the order. The planning inspector upheld the objection, so that house and land were taken out of the order. Several years on, the house stands; it is in a ruinous condition—a blight on the neighbourhood—and there is no sign of any proposal by the owners to develop that land.

I am reminded of the famous lines of Shelley’s “Ozymandias”:

“… Round the decayOf that colossal wreck, boundless and bareThe lone and level sands stretch far away”.

In this case it is mud and not sand, but the wreck is still there thanks to the decision of the planning inspector. Of course, that is only one example, but

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I venture to suggest that it is not necessarily the case that the Planning Inspectorate will always produce—or more often than not produce—decisions better than those made by local authorities. What support can the Minister adduce to encourage the House to support the clause as it stands?

We also need some indication of exactly how many cases are likely to be brought into the scope of this provision; otherwise, we could be passing a completely nugatory clause. The Minister, Nick Boles, has said more than once that the numbers would be “vanishingly small”; in which case, one reverts to Professor Ball’s analysis and asks where the financial benefit to be gained for the development industry is? The impact assessment itself refers to perhaps 90 applications being potentially subject to appeal, but says that only 45 would have to go through that process. How many planning authorities does the noble Baroness speculate would be the host of the apparently minuscule number of applications for which legislation is being sought?

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, referred to support that might be given to authorities that are not performing very well—I endorse his approach on that. Would it be better to look at the outcome of the planning development grant, which was available for several years and assisted a number of authorities in improving the quality of their performance and, to a degree, the timeliness of their decision-making? Would it not be better to look at that kind of approach rather than deploy the sledgehammer of the noble Lord, Lord Tope—or was it the sledgehammer of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves—to crack the nut? The reference was made but it is not his concept, of course. That would be a more constructive approach than to go overboard with legislation that cuts across the whole localism agenda and which might be thought to conflict with elements in the Localism Act, which, from a different perspective, would potentially reduce the role of local authorities with local planning referendums and matters of that kind.

If the House is to approve the clause as it stands, the noble Baroness must produce a good deal more evidence in support than we have seen so far. Failing that, I hope that noble Lords will support the amendments tabled to this part of the Bill to avoid legislation that will have little effect except to lay the groundwork for widening the breach once made in the role of local authorities. It is a real concern that, although this might be seen originally to apply to few cases, that in itself might generate demands for more action from the Government and a further erosion of the role of local authorities, which should not commend itself to the Committee.

Lord Deben: My Lords—

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I am grateful to my successor as Secretary of State for the Environment a good many years ago for giving way.

I was unable to speak at Second Reading because I could not be here, but I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and a joint president of London Councils. I have considered whether to make these remarks, which will have a somewhat different tone from what we have

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heard so far, now or leave them until the Clause 1 stand part debate. In the light of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, it seems to me that it would be appropriate to say what I want to say now.

Of course, I have read all the briefing and have had meetings with the Local Government Association, which has expressed clearly its view that it would very much prefer this whole clause not to be in the Bill. It has suggested a number of amendments that we shall come to later. I put it to the association that I do not think that it has paid sufficient attention to the significant volume of evidence that is set out in the impact assessment, published last month. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, referred to bits of it, and I shall do so as well, but perhaps drawing a somewhat different conclusion.

He referred in somewhat disparaging terms to the work of Professor Ball at Reading University, who has produced a report that seems to support the view that there is a very substantial body of opinion that regards the planning system as one of the barriers to growth. Professor Ball stated on page 12 of the impact assessment that the transaction costs of development control for major residential developments may be as much as £3 billion a year. He gave evidence recently to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee and advised that the actual costs were likely to be much higher than this. He went on to talk about the value of development that has been delayed by the planning system and stated that, taking into account both direct and indirect costs to the economy, the total cost of development control could be expected to run to several billion pounds. This is the view of a very respected academic who was consulted by the department and who gave evidence to a Select Committee in the other place.

I recognise the point made by the Local Government Association that planning is by no means the only barrier. Certainly the availability of finance, particularly for housebuilding and some forms of industrial and commercial development, has been a considerable problem. Of course, that is being addressed by the Government through a number of other measures that are not necessarily in the Bill. However, we all have evidence from bodies such as the Chambers of Commerce, the Home Builders Federation and the Confederation of British Industry. They are the investors who are affected by planning controls. Everybody seems to agree that what we need now is more investment in our infrastructure. They are the people who will do it and they have provided strong evidence, from surveys of their members, of the barriers posed by the planning system. On the measures taken in the planning Bill, in particular the National Planning Policy Framework document, I have nothing but the highest praise for my right honourable friend Greg Clark, who took it through. I notice my noble friend on the Front Bench nodding. Mr Clark did a splendid job. Despite that, these complaints are still being made. In these circumstances, the Government are right to take account of them.

Nobody is arguing for a moment that this is a magic wand that will remove all difficulties. The Minister said that the Bill was not likely to achieve that by itself.

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However, it contains a number of measures that will improve growth in the economy and remove barriers to investment. In these circumstances, one has to look very carefully at amendments that are designed to make the process outlined in Clause 1 more difficult. I do not say for a moment that it is all right. I will listen to the debates on amendments. I have put my name to some of them and, when the Marshalled List is reprinted, it will be seen that I have added my name to others. At the same time, I do not want the Committee to feel that I share the views of those who would rather see Clause 1 removed.

Lord Greaves: My noble friend is eloquent and has a very established knowledge of these matters. However, if it is true, as Professor Ball suggested and my noble friend seems to accept, that there is a major problem of delay in the planning system in all sorts of places, how will that be solved by a clause in the Bill which, according to the Government’s consultations and the criteria that they are known to be thinking of setting out, will affect only a very small number of very small planning authorities?

4 pm

Lord Jenkin of Roding: I am grateful to my noble friend for raising that point. I am sure that, like me, he has studied the impact assessment and the consultation document, which was also published last month. The consultation period is now closed and I agree with the Constitution Committee’s recommendation that we must have the Government’s response to that consultation paper by the time we get to Report. I am sure that my noble friend has taken that very much on board.

I have mentioned only one or two parts of the impact statement, which further states on page 10:

“In 2011/12 councils determined 435,000 applications. The majority of these are determined in a timely manner and most are approved. In 2011/12 the proportion of minor and other applications determined within the statutory 8-week timetable was 85% and 93% respectively. However, performance against the statutory time frame for determining major applications”—

I am grateful to my noble friend for giving the most recent figures of the number of major applications that have been handled by local authorities—

“has been in decline. In 2011/12 only 58% of major applications were determined within the 13-week timetable compared to 71% in 2008/09”.

It goes on to say:

“There are very significant variations in the performance of different councils”.

A number of noble Lords have made the point, and it has been firmly stated by the Government, that the clause is aimed at those who fall significantly short of the standards required. I accept that. I also accept the Constitution Committee’s view that we ought to see more details about that in the Bill, but we may have to wait for the Government’s response to the consultation paper. However, that does not mean that there is not some value in putting additional pressure on local planning authorities to make sure that they recognise the problems created for investors by delays—long delays, in many cases—in applications for planning permission.

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Lord Adonis: The noble Lord referred to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee report on Clause 1 and said that it raised issues. Those issues are fundamental. The report states:

“The Bill specifies no criteria for designation … though each local planning authority might be designated individually, the power may be used by this or a future Government to designate a significant proportion of local planning authorities, based on criteria which have no relevance to poor performance”.

I assume that the noble Lord is not happy with that state of affairs.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: I have already referred to two recommendations in the Select Committee’s report which I support. My noble friend Lady Hanham made it very clear at Second Reading that the expectation is that, in the event, there will be relatively few—indeed, very few—local authorities for which a designation will be made. Surely the existence of the power will itself impress on local authorities the need to improve their performance. What is wrong with that?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, if that is the case, why does the Bill not say that designation is dependent upon poor performance? It does not say that at the moment.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: This is what consultation is about. I am sure the noble Lord has read the consultation paper. The consultation closed on 17 January and I have already made the point that I hope, and ask my noble friend to confirm, that the Government’s response to the consultation will be available by the time we come to deal with the clause on Report. They have spelled out quite clearly their thinking on the criteria for designation and that it is unlikely to apply to more than a very few local authorities. Indeed, Ministers have said that they hope there will not be any. But if there is a wide variation in the planning performance of different local authorities are the Government simply to sit back and to do nothing?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: The noble Lord raises an important question in asking whether the Government should sit back and do nothing. The answer is clearly no, but is not the right approach to try to put some resources into understanding what is happening to differential performance and why the metrics have declined in recent times? Those issues should be addressed rather than make the assumption that authorities that fail the test—it is all to do with the speed of dealing with applications and nothing much to do with the quality of decisions being taken—are somehow failing.

Does the noble Lord not think that the upheaval in the planning system in recent months may have had an impact? We have had the Localism Act, the NPPF, the demise of regional spatial strategies and all that goes with that. Those are very considerable changes, and of course local authorities are facing the horrendous cuts to their budgets, the worst that have been experienced for generations. Perhaps these factors are having an impact on what is happening. Is it not better to address them rather than make a spurious judgment that it is all to do with the speed of application? Is it not also right that, when there is non-determination

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within six months of an application, the Secretary of State has the power to call it in and deal with it anyway?

Lord Jenkin of Roding: I understand the points being made by the noble Lord. The question of the pressures on local authority finances and therefore on local authority staffing is important, but of course authorities do charge. My noble friend Lord Tope made the point that some local authorities could improve by hiring better quality staff. These are the kind of things where, if there is some form of longstop provision of the sort that is in Clause 1, minds will be concentrated. I am not saying that the clause needs no amendment and I have already made the point that I have put my name to several amendments that we will come to, but I would not be happy to join forces with those who would prefer to see it removed altogether. I thought it right to make my views pretty clear at this stage of the Bill.

The Bill is a miscellaneous set of measures rather than a large and comprehensive Act like the Localism Act that we have passed. It contains a number of disparate and separate measures that are aimed at meeting the increasingly vocal call for the Government to do something to improve the growth of the economy. None of the provisions is a golden one, likely by itself to make a huge difference, but taken together they are a brave attempt to try to find out what the obstacles are. Many noble Lords will have seen that there is plenty of evidence about the barriers, and I want to make it clear that in the interests of growth and of improving the planning system, the broad thrust of this Bill is right, as indeed is Clause 1. If it is put to a vote, I shall certainly support the Government.

Lord Deben: My Lords, I declare my interests as the chairman of a company that tries to help in terms of sustainable development, as an officeholder in the Town and Country Planning Association and as an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Above all, I was my noble friend’s successor as Secretary of State. I fear that I have to say to him that I disagree deeply with his assessment of the Bill.

I am sorry that we cannot have an automatic discussion about its Title because I am always suspicious of Titles which are difficult to vote against. It seems that more time has been spent on getting the Title of this Bill right than on any of the clauses because the difficulty we have here is that of a half-baked Bill. At no point do we have the information needed to make any of the clauses meaningful. I do not think that it is easy even to table amendments to this clause without understanding what the criteria will be. If it is possible to put criteria into the consultation, it seems to me that there ought to be a mechanism for then translating such criteria as survive the consultation into the Bill, so that we know where we are. I fear that we really do not know where we are.

I want to challenge that fundamental argument—a historic argument that has come from the Treasury since time immemorial—that the planning system is the only thing that you have to deal with if you want

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to get growth. I remind the House that the planning system is there precisely to make places better for the people who live there. There is a price to pay for that. If you have a planning system it will cost money in the sense that if you did not have one, developers would not have to pay the costs of putting forward a planning application. It seems to me that those figures are pretty much nonsense, because all they are is an adding up of what it costs to have a system in which the public have some say in the conditions and the places where they live. That is a fundamental part of the life of any community. My concern is that it is difficult enough now for communities to plan their future, and that this is going to make that significantly worse.

This comes at a time when we have just discussed and debated the Localism Act. I feel like putting down an amendment that asks for the repeal of the Localism Act, because that seems to be what this first clause actually says. It does not seem to sit with all the rest of what the Government have been putting forward—which is something that I have been going up and down the country defending and believing in. I know that it is difficult to be local and that people at the top know best, or think they know best, but in the end I want the people of Suffolk to have some say in the Suffolk of tomorrow, and not to be told by somebody outside that they have to have this because it is good for them or good, in a curious general way, for growth.

I remind the House that two things are important. First, there is no discernible distinction between good and bad planning authorities on party political grounds. I go round the country and I know that you cannot say that Labour authorities are better or worse than Conservative authorities. There are very good Conservative authorities and very much less good ones, and very good Labour authorities and very much less good ones. The Liberal Democrats of course find themselves, as usual, in every possible place. I cannot resist a lifetime of teasing.

The words of my noble—and real—friend seem to give away the reality of the matter, which is that it is always about people’s vocal belief that this is so. People are vocal and always have been. All the time I was Secretary of State—and I am the longest-serving Secretary of State—they were vocal about it. Everybody always is, in particular if they do not win. I am afraid that we have to put up with that vocality, if there is such a word. There are many things wrong with the planning system. I believe that large infrastructure projects should always be done centrally and that it is nonsense to have another debate about the safety of nuclear power every time you go round the country. That is barmy. It is barmy to accept that if you want to build a railway or something of a serious nature, you have to deal with every single bit, because it is not the bits that count, it is the whole. There are very obvious examples of that, which I support and am enthusiastic about.

My problem—which is why I support these amendments—is that this particular clause seems to be inapplicable, in the proper sense of that word. First, if we are not going to deal with more than a handful of authorities and a handful of applications, then it does not meet the vocality. It does not meet what people are

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complaining about, so they will go on complaining. No doubt, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said at Second Reading, we will have another Bill—because we always do—and there will be another way of not achieving what those who are vocal want. The reason is that it is not achievable. What they really want is something that distinguishes between planning applications not on the grounds of merit but on the grounds of speed. That does not seem a very sensible basis on which to do it. Of course, bigger planning applications take longer. Anyone can decide about a car port in a short period. A complex decision on mixed development in an area of outstanding natural beauty, with difficulties of infrastructure, takes time. If it happens to be in a small district council, it takes longer, because the district council is unlikely to have spare capacity to deal with it.

4.15 pm

We could of course say that we should not have so many small district councils. There is an argument for that and I think that we have all been through it—with most of us bruised from trying to deal with it—but that is what we have got. The issue is how this Bill will improve it. I suggest that it cannot do it by being applied to a sufficient number of occasions and cases to meet the needs of the complainants. Will it do it by being an exemplar, forcing people to do what they would otherwise not have done because it is there as the great atomic weapon? Is that what it is about? I find that very dubious democratically, because, after all, the local authority makes its decisions with some sort of reference to the people who elect it. That is its job. Is a local councillor now going to say, “I’m not going to listen as closely to the people who have elected me because there is this thing over here which may come and destroy what I have to say”? We already know the dangers that arise when local authorities fear to say no lest they lose on appeal and have a large bill. Will we have further problems on this issue? I fear that we will.

If this provision is going to be of any use at all—I have my doubts, but we could try to improve it, which is what this House is for—we should at least make sure that people know what the community as a whole, as represented by the elected Government, wants them to do. The problem with this Bill is that I have no more idea having read it than I did before, because it is not in it. Would it not therefore be sensible to say that we will find out about it through the workings of the Bill? That means giving proper notice to the local authority and saying, “We do not think that you are doing very well. Here are the reasons why we don’t think you’re doing well and you’d better get yourself better over the next 18 months or we will actually take the powers to ourselves”. I do not believe that that is a very sensible answer, but it is the answer that the Bill gives and it would at least give a chance for learning.

My worry is that if the Bill is passed as it is at the moment, I do not know what I shall say to Suffolk Coastal District Council, Mid Suffolk District Council or any of the councils with which I discuss matters of sustainable development about what they have to do in order not to lose their planning powers, because it seems that even with the consultation paper—and

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I hope that my noble friend the Minister will give us some help on this—these criteria will not be fixed for ever but could change and a different Government might think differently. I do not know what the local authority is going to do to understand that. The best way to do it is to give the local authority a proper period to consider what the Government have said and to see whether it can put it right or whether the authority will turn to its electorate and say, “We are not changing because we actually do not agree with the Government, and if the Government want to take it away from us, they will take it away because we are not prepared to do what it is they think they want done, because, in this locality, in this place, in this part of the world, which has given all the pleasures and powers of the Localism Bill, we think differently”. That is one result that might come if people are given proper advance notice. That is why I want there to be that 18 months.

One of the things that I find most suspicious about the whole provision is that nobody will tell me a single authority on which they would like to use this power. If you have a draconian answer, you really ought to have a draconian question. To cheer up the noble Lord opposite, who accused me of agreeing with him, which upset him enormously, let me give an example of a draconian question. There was an appalling time in Newcastle when the local government tax was driving people to bankruptcy, where it cost four times as much per square foot for John Lewis there as in Oxford Street. That was an appalling position, and the Government, quite rightly, produced a draconian answer. That was to say that the business rates could not be in the hands of people who did not appear to understand what business was about. My goodness, there was a good argument. I got up in Parliament and named the places; I was not ashamed. It did not make the noble Lord and I very good friends—although we got much more friendly afterwards when we discovered that we agreed on a lot of other things—but at least he knew, I knew and we all knew what the argument was.

I do not see how you can bring forward a draconian answer such as this without telling me which authorities are involved. Is it the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea? I have had a number of complaints about the speed of its planning. Is it Liverpool? Is it Newcastle? Is it Suffolk Coastal? Is it Forest Heath? Who is it? We need to see whether this is a suitable answer to a suitable question; or whether it is merely the only answer we can think of, given the pressure from the developers. Unless we can say that it is this, that or the other, everyone will believe what I fear I think, which is that this is an attempt to do something because something must be done. That is a very dangerous road to go down.

I say that after four years as Secretary of State for the Environment and a year before that as Minister of State—so I have five years of experience. I wondered whether this would be a good idea, but I said that it would not. That was because I could not see what criteria you could lay down except materialistic ones about time, and we have those already because you can call in an application if it is really a matter of time. I could not see what you could do which would not make this the subjective decision of a Secretary of

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State, as against the subjective decision of the chairman of the local planning committee. On balance, in general, with everything taken into account, I prefer the subjective decisions of 400-odd chairmen of planning commissions to the subjective decision of one Secretary of State. That is why I very much hope that the House will support the amendments.

Lord Burnett: My Lords, I start by declaring my interests. I have considerable sympathy with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding. From the tenor of the debate, I would say that it is a stand part debate. I believe that the clause, as possibly amended to ameliorate the time limits, could very well be a spur to improving the planning system.

The noble Lord, Lord Deben, asked whether anyone can suggest some draconian questions that should be asked of local authorities. I can suggest one or two. Some adopted local plans are lamentably out of date. That is a criterion of performance and one that developers find incredibly frustrating if it is not met. I understand the position of local councillors, although I have never been one. Some matters are incredibly difficult for them to decide. Sometimes cases go to appeal and the planning inspector will decide them. When you are trying to propose housing, commercial or shopping development, and so forth, you cannot really be expected, as a developer or a builder, to rely on a local plan that is seven, eight, nine or 10 years old. That is just impossible.

That could be one measure. Another that I referred to in my Second Reading contribution is that greater attention must be given to measures of housing need. With the demise of regional spatial strategies, each local authority will face the task of assessing housing need in its own authority. There should be a clear, intelligible and compelling basis for assessing need. The underlying basis and calculation should be publicly available—and should be available to challenge by the customers of local authorities. It is not good always going for the lowest number when in fact that is not appropriate.

In many parts of this country, the south-east and south-west in particular, a great many people do not want to see development for one reason or another. Perhaps that development is not appropriate, but just to deny need without proper evidence is not fair. It is not fair on the thousands and millions of people who are looking to get on the housing ladder and to buy houses.

I hope these two measures are two draconian questions that this clause will ask of local authorities and that they will ensure that adopted local plans are up to date and that there is a clear measure of housing need. All of us in this House want to see houses become more affordable. We all know that there is a severe housing crisis in this country. Can my noble friend the Minister give me some response on those two matters when she replies to this debate?

Lord Greaves: Would my noble friend be surprised to learn that his remarks about local plans and the delays to them are ones that I agree with completely?

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Does he agree, and would the Minister perhaps agree later on, that the main delays in the planning system are to do with the local plan system and the production and development of local plans, rather than in dealing with applications for planning permission?

Lord Burnett: I am extremely grateful to my noble friend. I feel supported and vindicated in the thrust of the points that I was endeavouring to make to the House.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I support the amendments spoken to by my noble friend Lord McKenzie this afternoon. Clause 1 gives the Secretary of State powers to take over planning application decisions, as I see it. Why? I thought that the Government were in favour of localism—a point that has been made by a number of speakers already. Planning applications are surely best handled locally. They should normally involve a consultation process involving the local community. That is certainly the situation in our area.

There is a housing crisis in London. Everything has become incredibly expensive, and developers have become very greedy indeed. They take over large houses when they become available and attempt to extend and develop them, often to the disadvantage of adjoining property. They are not developing affordable housing—quite the contrary. When local residents object, the local planning authority has to pay attention to what the local community has to say.

As a matter of fact, I have recently been involved in such a situation in an area where there are quite old houses, and where the developers are attempting to build basements in places that were never intended to have basements. This destabilises the houses next door, and of course the residents have all been objecting. If the Government really respected localism, they would not attempt to undermine the procedures that are provided by Clause 1. The residents in the case I refer to are certainly not against social housing. They are simply against a large fortune being made by developers trying to profit from scarcity, which is the situation in London.

In the circumstances that have been explained by a number of speakers this afternoon, the amendments submitted by my noble friend Lord McKenzie would substantially modify the provisions of Clause 1, and that would be to everyone’s advantage. It would give the local authority the right of representation before the powers were assumed by the Secretary of State, and there is provision in Amendment 32 for a proper consultative process. I therefore hope that the Government will look with some favour on these amendments, because they modify the thrust of Clause 1, I think to the advantage of everyone.

4.30 pm

Lord Best: My Lords, I declare my interest as president of the Local Government Association. We are not actually discussing the stand part debate at this moment. We have a bunch of amendments on which I detect that everyone, including both the previous Secretaries of State who have talked on this, actually

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agrees—namely, that if the Secretary of State is to have the power to take away powers currently in the hands of local authorities for planning, then we may need to put in place some constraints on the use by the Secretary of State of that new power. These amendments are all about putting some constraints on the Secretary of State, and they seem to be entirely reasonable and proper. Nick Boles, the Minister may get his way; he says quite clearly, and I am sure that he is right to do so, that Clause 1 is intended as a deterrent and that,

“it would, in fact, apply to very few authorities. Indeed, I hope it would apply to no authorities, should they improve their performance”.—[

Official Report

, Growth and Infrastructure Bill Committee, Commons, 27/11/12; col. 242.]

Fair enough; there may be a requirement on some local authorities to do better than they do at the moment. But if they can show that improvement, then I think we would all be clear that the Secretary of State would not be able to use a new power.

The consultation paper suggests that there are really two criteria here on which local authorities would be judged. The local plan does not feature very prominently but they are about the performance at appeal; quality, which is measured by the approval rate by local authorities; and speed—how fast they do it within the timetables that have been set. On the first of those measures, the performance at appeal, it is fair to say that no local authority at the moment would fail this test at all. If you take account of the fact that a local authority is quite entitled to come up with a negative view, even if the inspectorate goes against it later, it is only really where costs are awarded against a local authority that one could say that that local authority had not been behaving in a proper and sensible manner.

There are so very few cases of costs being awarded that I do not think anyone would fall on performance at appeal. It is speed—timeliness—on which local authorities are likely to be judged to be failing. Here it is possible for local authorities to change their ways in order to speed up. At the moment there is no intimation that those that are already demonstrating in their direction of travel that they are improving their performance will be acknowledged or taken into account. Northumberland County Council’s performance under the speed/timeliness measure has improved in the following way over the past 12 months, for example: it had 30% of its major applications determined within 13 weeks in the third quarter of 2011 and that was improved to 48% the following quarter, 52% the quarter after that and 57% the quarter after that. Improvements can happen. Clearly, local authorities need to be given the time, the space, the opportunity and the support to make those improvements before a very heavy-handed removal of powers ever takes place.

I offer here, as I think that I am mandated to do so, the helping hand of the Local Government Association in trying to secure those improvements. It has furnished me with a whole list of recommendations from local authorities that, in various respects, have been able to dramatically improve performance using the techniques, the peer-group opportunities, that the LGA brings. I think there is agreement in this House—and I hope the Minister will be able to go with this tide of approval—wherever we come from on the bigger point of principle, that there must be constraints and opportunities for

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local authorities to demonstrate improvement, given plenty of time and opportunity to do that, before the Secretary of State even contemplates doing what we are told he does not really want to do in the first place: use this new power.

Lord True: My Lords, I must also declare an interest as leader of a London local council that is a planning authority and as a member of the leaders committee of London Councils, but I should make it clear that I in no way speak on behalf of London Councils.

I shall not follow the Second Reading or clause stand part tone of the debate because I think the noble Lord, Lord Best, has summed up rather well the mood of the Committee on this. My noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding made a very wide-ranging speech which cited a series of people with great acronyms and of great importance, including a professor, saying that the planning system is a great economic drag on the country and we must do something. One could say such things of employment law, health and safety, transport regulations or any number of things. It is not in itself an argument to remove elements of a system. The question that we must ask in this Committee is whether the remedies are proportionate, whether their administration is going to be objective and whether, overall, they will be conducive to the public good. I actually think that some of the things in the Bill answer that test positively and a number, as I said at Second Reading, resoundingly negatively. We must find the balance in Committee.

I must apologise to your Lordships in advance that I will be limited in the time that I can be present in the Committee, which may come as welcome news to some. I have a council meeting this evening. Doubtless I shall pass the scoutmaster’s hut on the way to the council meeting—that was something for the chairman of my party to note. I will also be unable to participate in Committee sittings next week. I apologise to your Lordships and to the Minister for that. I know the Minister will be listening courteously, as she always does, to everything said.

I want to make a relatively narrow point on important amendments that my noble friend Lord Tope and the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, have tabled. We will come on to discuss the criteria in the next group. The point that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, made about the criteria is accurate. I made the same point at Second Reading. It is not enough for a current Minister to say, “I will only use these criteria”—which we have not yet seen—“for a limited number of purposes”. A future Minister given extraordinarily wide powers by your Lordships could use them in a very different way. I am sure that is something that we will examine later as we proceed. As Committees of your Lordships’ House have said, greater defences need to be built into the system.

I also think that a period of notice is a useful and important defence to build into the system, not only for the reasons that have been cited. I am not going into the question of whether it should be 18 months or 12 months or of what it should be, but what the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has put before us is a very important point, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, said. That period

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is a safety margin in which a local authority can improve, but it is also a brake on precipitate action by the Secretary of State. It may be that I can be disabused by the Minister either now or on Report, but it looks as though the Secretary of State can just pop up, presumably on the basis of the criteria that we will have seen by Report, and say, “Toytown Borough Council, you are hereby designated”, and the next day a developer can whack in an application to the Secretary of State and, heigh-ho, off we go, everybody is happy, particularly the developer. It may be that in existing law and in the Bill there are things that prevent that, but if that can happen, there is a great moral hazard in any Executive having this sort of power. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, used a phrase: he said that people might “game the system”. I do not know whether that is true, but I dare day that there are ways in which you could game a system to make it look as though a local authority was not performing well.

I am slightly more worried that somebody might play the system and say, “We are having terrible trouble with these people”. Perhaps they would go along to the Treasury or some other place and say, “Well, Toytown Borough Council is not performing. It needs to be designated”. Somewhere—I would prefer via Parliament by law, in either primary or secondary legislation—there should be some brake on the moral hazard of the Executive saying, “We are designating these people, and we are going to do it tomorrow”.

That is another potentially useful aspect of time. When we have a planning application before us, we have to put online all the representations that are made. Where will be the representations that are privately being made to Ministers about bad authorities? Will they be placed online by the department as they are submitted, prior to the Secretary of State making his decision? I do not know, but I think that this aspect of potential designation should be considered. A pause, a warning, or a period in which the Secretary of State can be challenged to justify the action he proposes to take, beforehand as well as afterwards, would be useful.

There is a case for Clause 1. I do not agree with those who would like to see no long-stop power. However, the line of argument which the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has opened up is very fruitful. It would be good for local authorities and the planning system, and it might be good for future Governments as well.

Lord Shipley: My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord True and support the four amendments in this group.

The report of the Select Committee on the Constitution, published on 18 January, refers to Clause 1 being,

“a novel provision in the context of town and country planning”.

“Novel” might mean “new”, but it might also mean, “very different and therefore very important”; I think that it is meant to be the latter. It is novel and, as a consequence, it must be properly understood. A centralised form of front-line decision making is being introduced at the expense of localism, as the Select Committee has made clear. I do not find that good. In particular, I draw your Lordships’ attention to the fact that there

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would be no appeals system other than judicial review to a decision taken by the Planning Inspectorate. In the context of democratic control of decision making, simply to pass a decision without the right of appeal to the Planning Inspectorate is not right.

I was then particularly concerned by paragraph 10 of the Select Committee report, which is important and says:

“We have consistently expressed the view that executive assurances about how statutory powers will be exercised are no firm basis on which to legislate. Constitutionally speaking, they are no proper substitute for clarity in the statutory provision”.

The Select Committee concludes:

“In our view, the Government’s own policy intention of designation under clause 1 only in exceptional cases”—

as Ministers have been making clear—

“should be made clear on the face of the bill. The House may also wish to consider whether the criteria and procedures for making or revoking a designation should be set out in secondary legislation”.

I think I have concluded that in both cases they should and I very much hope that shortly we will hear confirmation that the Minister at least will look at this question again. The Government’s aim should be never to use their powers.

4.45 pm

In that context, and in the context of this amendment which deals with an 18-month period, perhaps I may further suggest how important it is for the Government to take clear account of the trajectory of an authority’s performance over the previous two years. If it was poor and is getting better, that should be borne in mind. But that is not quite the same as, “It was pretty good and it is getting steadily worse”. Therefore, the four amendments in this group are important because they would give time for solutions to be found to those issues. Even if the trajectory is getting worse, it takes only about 18 months, or perhaps a bit less, for it to improve. Improvement can be delivered very quickly and peer-group support is a key element of doing that.

Finally, a consultation on this matter closed last Thursday. I, too, seek the Minister’s assurance that before Report there will be a conclusion to that consultation and that answers and explanations will be provided as to what everyone has said and what Ministers’ responses will be.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I do not know whether to start replying to a Second Reading debate or to a clause stand part debate. We effectively have had a round-up of all the aspects that appear in Clause 1. I am in some difficulty because some of what has already been said will be said all over again as we go through the full Committee stage. I am very tempted to do as the noble Lord, Lord Best, invited me to do; namely, to stick purely to the amendment which seeks to delay any designation for 18 months. Taking a short breath, I have decided that I will do a bit of both because some areas have come up that are relevant to the designation. I am sure noble Lords would agree that it probably is not appropriate for me to answer every single aspect at this stage, otherwise we might as well move on to Report now.

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I should like to draw the attention of noble Lords to what Clause 1 states:

“A relevant application that would otherwise have to be made to the local planning authority may (if the applicant so chooses) be made instead to the Secretary of State if the following conditions are met at the time it is made … the local planning authority concerned is designated … the development to which the application relates … or the development for which outline planning permission has been granted … is of a description prescribed by the Secretary of State”.

That does not mean, as many noble Lords have tried to indicate, that all the powers of planning are being taken away from local authorities. I tried to make that extremely clear at Second Reading. This is a very constrained part of planning changes. It is a contribution —if I can put it like that—to ensure that planning and development takes place. No one is saying that this is the one thing that will absolutely shift and move planning on and will make it easier for developers to achieve what they want. That is not the situation.

Lord Adonis: My Lords—

Baroness Hanham: I have barely got started.

Lord Adonis: Will the Minister tell us where in Clause 1 it says that the power is very constrained. It simply says under subsection (1)(a) of new Clause 62A to be inserted in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 that,

“the local planning authority … is designated by the Secretary of State”.

It does not say that it is constrained.

Baroness Hanham: Being designated is a constraint because when we eventually get to it, the noble Lord will know that the consultation lays out the criteria for designation, and we will discuss that. The designation by itself is the control and the constraint.

I was trying to say that this was not the only area and aspect that would help planning, development or growth. We have had suggestions at other stages that things such as mortgages and lack of finance are holding up and constraining planning, and I accept that that is the situation. However, concerns have been highlighted about the amount of time it takes for a limited number of authorities to get a planning application through or the quality of the application decision resulting in more appeals being allowed through the system than is acceptable. The purpose of the measure is to deal with a very limited number of authorities which are not measuring up to appropriate standards.

When the designation is made under the criteria which we will discuss at a later stage, it will be done against the background of the two preceding years. The figures will be taken from 2011-12 and 2012-13, so by the time we get to Royal Assent, the 2013 figures will be in. Those will be the two preceding years. The figures will be based on the criteria so we will be able to see what is coming up and local authorities will be able to judge whether or not they are likely to be designated. In terms of delaying the decision—

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Lord Greaves: I am very grateful to my noble friend. I know that she is always very diligent in listening to the House and this Committee. If the relevant years are the two previous years to the end of March 2013, which is only just over two months away, and a local planning authority cannot do anything about the figures in the time that is left, is it not unreasonable to tackle this issue in the way that is proposed, which is what these amendments are all about? One could say to a local authority, “Yes, the figures in these two years are those which apply but you now have a period of time”—12 months, 18 months or whatever—“to put things right”. Is that not the reasonable way to approach this issue?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, you can also approach this matter from the standpoint that the planning authority has not performed correctly over the previous two years and has been on notice of that. If you delay the designation for 18 months, you further delay the possibility of improvement taking place. I hesitate to suggest that we should agree to the delay proposed in the amendment as I think that designated local authorities will begin to improve their performance.

The noble Lord, Lord Best, and other noble Lords asked about peer help. We have already made it clear that we accept very much that the Local Government Association has a role to play in helping designated local authorities to improve, and to do so even within the period of designation. As we will discuss later, that period will be reviewed annually, so local authorities can get out of this situation in a very short time. This clause—

Lord McKenzie of Luton: If the Government are very happy to see local planning authorities supported through the LGA or whatever, why do that only once designation has taken place? Would it not be better to make sure that that support is available to help them to improve before they are designated so that they avoid this process, which, on anyone’s score, will be costly, convoluted and administratively complex?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, this is a matter of view between us. Our view is that things will become clearer over the coming months and local authorities will know whether they are bordering on designation. They will know that help will be available if they are designated and that they will be encouraged to improve. That will be the tension. The designation can cease following an annual review. I do not think that that will be too much of a tension if we decide not to accept the amendment and the promoters agree with that.

I have an enormous number of points here in front of me on questions that have been quite general. I could make a Second Reading response if the Committee would like that, but we are trying to deal with the performance of local authorities and planning authorities. We also note that some local authorities will receive only a small number of applications, and that is one reason for looking at the figures over two years. We accept that there are differences between one local authority and another.

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My noble friend Lord Deben, who is my real friend, also suggested that this power was anti-localism. It is not. It does not take away a local planning authority’s ability to continue to deal with planning applications, but it provides that if an authority is designated, a developer has the right to decide whether it wants the local authority to carry on dealing with the application or take it to the Secretary of State. Developers already have the right to go to the Secretary of State if an application is not completed within 13 weeks. That will of course be one means whereby local authorities can be designated if they are not performing within a statutory area.

Lord Campbell-Savours: I have sat through the whole debate and I keep asking myself a simple question: how can we be sure that there will be no political consideration when a Secretary of State decides who is to be designated? How would one authority know that it had been treated as fairly or unfairly as another, given that the information is to be held within the department regarding the extent to which an authority breached the criteria that are the subject of the consultation?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, that relates to the consultation, which we are moving on to in Amendment 2. Perhaps we might follow the amendments in order, because people have gone to a lot of trouble on that.

Lord Greaves: My noble friend rightly said that in a normal case, if a major application is not dealt with by the local planning authority within 13 weeks, the applicant has a right of appeal to the Planning Inspectorate. What happens if the inspectorate, on behalf of the Secretary of State, fails to determine an application within 13 weeks? What recourse does an applicant have? Can the application be sent back to the local authority to sort out? What will happen?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the expectation is that the Planning Inspectorate will perform against the statutory criteria.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, asked whether there would be democratic involvement as applications go forward. Local residents will have their normal ability to comment and all the normal planning processes can take place. All that will happen is that the decision will not be made by the local authority at that stage but by the Planning Inspectorate, which may very well have had to pick up the application if the local authority was not performing within the 13 weeks. There is nothing to be gained by delaying the designation. Our intention is to ensure that if a local authority is designated, it is in and out of that designation as soon as possible, given the help, support and encouragement that will be available from the Local Government Association and other planning means.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: Perhaps I may focus on one other point. Clearly, the criteria are going to be driven by the speed at which applications are dealt

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with. That is very clear from the consultation document. If, in the Government’s eyes, there is a delay in dealing with an application, why do they attribute blame only to the local planning authority? The cause could be due to the developer or other consultees in the community engagement. Why is blame attributed solely to the local planning authority? That is basically the conclusion to be drawn from what the Government are proposing.

5 pm

Baroness Hanham: That will not be entirely the case. There are usually reasons why planning applications are delayed, and one may be that an application will take longer than the normal consultation period. Before an authority is designated, it will be allowed to put that view forward and say that it has not been able to deal with certain applications because it has agreed that the process will take longer, or there may be some other reason. A portcullis will not just come down; discussions and explanations will be possible.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: There is a very important point—it may be a new point. I understand that, where performance agreements are entered into, they will be taken into account. However, is the Minister saying that there will be an additional process whereby a local authority can make representations about the prospect of it being designated because of circumstances that have occurred locally?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, before they are designated, local authorities will have the opportunity to explain, first, their figures and, secondly, if necessary, the length of time that an application has taken due to specific reasons. That will be the case with either a formal or an informal planning application, but they will have to note that that is what it is so that they can use that as an explanation.

Lord Deben: Would it not be better if that were set out in the Bill? If the Bill said, first, that the issue is largely one of timing—that would make me much happier, because I am worried about other criteria—and, secondly, that the local authority would have a period of time, whatever it might be, to have a discussion about it, I think that many of us would not be so unhappy about not agreeing to these amendments. The amendments are designed to put in place exactly what my noble friend has put forward, so would it be possible to have that in the Bill? It seems to me that we would all be very much happier if it were.

Baroness Hanham: My noble friend has greater experience than I have of putting forward legislation, and he will know that not all measures are put into a Bill. Some are in secondary legislation and some are in planning guidance. I have no doubt at all that it will be made clear to local authorities how that designation is going to come about and what they will be able to do to ameliorate it. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: A number of noble Lords asked whether we were going to have the Government’s response to the consultation with the details of the

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criteria before Report, which seems likely to be in about the middle of February. That does not give the Government a great deal of time because, as has been said, the consultation finished only last week. However, I think it would be much more helpful to the House if we could see the criteria. The Minister has laid great stress on the fact that local authorities will know what the criteria are, but will noble Lords know?

Baroness Hanham: My noble friend would know what they are if he had read the consultation document, which, knowing his experience, he will have done. The criteria put out to consultation are that local authorities will be designated if they should not have achieved the statutory requirement in 30% of applications and if they have had 20% of appeals overturned. I think that those are the figures in the consultation, and the consultation is where the criteria stand at the moment.

As regards the other information, the consultation has just closed. It will probably be quite difficult to get a full response by the time we get to Report, but we can certainly give noble Lords an indication of the responses to the consultation, which may be helpful. I am not going to guarantee that we can give the Government’s response by Report, because I think that it may require more consideration than the time available allows.

Lord Tope: My Lords, I am very grateful to all who have taken part in this debate over the past hour and a half or so. I think it is customary, if undesirable, that the first debate on the first amendment in Committee tends to range just a little wider than the precise nature of the amendment. That has certainly been the case today and it has been none the worse for that.

The noble Lord, Lord Deben, has introduced me to a new word: “vocality”. Like him, I do not know if such a word exists, but I remember looking up “localism” in the dictionary and finding that it was not there at all, so I now look forward to the “Vocality Bill” in the next Session.

I will try to deal simply with the amendments, particularly Amendment 1 in my name. It struck me that when the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, got up to speak, she referred to it as the amendment which sought to delay designation. I thought that was quite telling; I have to accept that that is certainly the effect, but it is not actually the intention. The intention is to find a better way of dealing with the problem that the Government perceive. Its intention is to try to help the Minister achieve the aspiration of never having to use this provision. The designation is not about seeking to delay—although that is the inevitable effect—it is about seeking a much better and more effective way to bring about the improvement that, in fairness, everybody wants, not just the Minister.

The Minister will have heard—and I am sure that she will take this away from this debate—considerable concern on all sides of the House about the clause as it presently stands and the support from all sides of the House for these amendments in order to bring about the objective to which I referred: namely, to find a better and more effective way of bringing about the improvements that we all seek. Obviously we are going

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to return to this clause on Report; I do not know what will happen then or what noble Lords will say. However, if it is to be supported by many sides of this House, we need to have some reassurances in the Bill from the Government along the lines of those that we are talking about today.

We have proposed criteria which I am told would currently catch only six local authorities; I would be very interested to know which six local authorities they are. I wonder whether those authorities themselves know that they are, in effect, on a danger list. I would like to know what size of authority they are, and to what extent and in what way they are apparently failing to meet the criteria. Is the failure on the quality, if that is the right expression, of their losing appeals—I think not, from what the noble Lord, Lord Best, has said—or is it simply on the time measure? All these things are of interest and relevance.

The criteria are not going to be in the Bill, and it is certain that at some stage during the lifetime of the Act, when this Bill is enacted, those criteria will change; they are bound to change. It is equally certain that the Planning Minister will change in the lifetime of the Act; it is even possible that the Government may change in the lifetime of the Act, and we may find a time when we have a less benevolent Planning Minister, a less benevolent Secretary of State and even possibly a less benevolent Government. Therefore, when we legislate here, we need the assurances that these amendments seek to achieve. They may or may not be the right way or the best way to achieve them, but I discern from this debate that noble Lords on all sides of the House are seeking those assurances before we pass this clause. I hope the Minister will take that concern back to her ministerial colleagues and see what the Government can bring forward to meet the concern that has been expressed. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Amendment 2

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

2: Clause 1, page 1, line 9, after “designated” insert “in accordance with section 62A(8)(e)”

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendments 27, 28, 29 and 35 in the group. Amendments 2 and 35 have to an extent been the subject of some discussion on the prior amendments. The 11th report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee draws the provisions of Clause 1 to the attention of the House. Specifically, it emphasises the point that, whatever the declared intent, the Bill does not specify the criteria for designation or provide for them to be set down in an instrument subject to parliamentary procedure. That is what the amendment seeks to rectify. Amendment 35 requires that there is an affirmative procedure. To emphasise that point, Clause 1(8) states:

“The Secretary of State must publish (in such manner as the Secretary of State thinks fit) … the criteria”.

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It is good that they must be published and not kept secret but there is no parliamentary process attached. Whatever the Secretary of State wishes to publish in accordance with the Bill, he can do so.

While the clause has been represented as having very limited application, it enables a profound shift in process and, indeed, in principle by removing from democratically elected councils the first engagement with a planning application, undermining the role of local accountability. We will debate elsewhere whether such a designation process should apply and what the appropriate criteria should be, and we will pursue the point that planning should be not just about process but quality outcomes. The Delegated Powers Committee said that they must merely be published. Accordingly, although each local planning authority might be designated individually, the power may be used by this or a future Government to designate a significant proportion of local planning authorities based on criteria that have no relevance to poor performance. My noble friend Lord Adonis made that point. Essentially the door would be open for a fundamental undermining of the planning system as we have known it since 1947. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee was absolutely right to express its concerns.

In its consultation document, Planning Performance and the Planning Guarantee—the consultation has ended, as we have heard, although we may not get the full response by Report—the Government set out their view on the threshold for very poor performance, when,

“30% or fewer major applications have been determined within the statutory period or more than 20% of major decisions have been overturned at appeal”.

However, paragraph 45 of the document very clearly states:

“We also propose raising the bar for the speed of decisions after the first year”,

so who knows where this will end up if it is just up to the Secretary of State to publish what is in his mind at any one point? Whatever the current Secretary of State’s intentions we must not have such a wide and unfettered power unchecked in primary legislation.

Amendment 29 requires the length of the designation to be identified and, more importantly, what must be achieved for the designation to be removed. It should mean that a qualitative assessment must be made on a case-by-case basis of where a local authority is failing. LPAs that fail on the designation criteria in the Government’s terms will not necessarily all do so for the same reason. The government consultation suggests that designation will last at least for a year but will be subject to review before the end of the year. This is all very well, but if there is no initial assessment of the problems a local authority faces, how will improvement be judged? Speed of dealing with minor applications may be irrelevant; indeed, this aspect of activity may already be more than satisfactory on the Government’s criteria. Once designation is made, whether the local planning authority can show any improvement in handling major applications is entirely outside its control. The noble Baroness made the point in response to the previous debate that it will depend on whether any applicants choose to submit locally, and how many to the Secretary of State. Improvement should be about

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focusing resources, skills and culture, and performance, and it is also about the training of counsellors. If central government is to remove planning powers for a local authority it must be incumbent on the Secretary of State to make a proper case-by-case assessment of why and how the authority is failing, and how it can be supported.

Amendment 28 is very much by way of a fallback position. If the Secretary of State is to proceed by just publishing criteria, as the Bill currently allows, at the very least for that to happen, there must be a proper consultation. The Secretary of State may argue that one has just closed, but, sadly, it looks as though we will not see the full government response to it before we complete our deliberations. Amendment 27 rightly subjects these provisions to the need for a parliamentary process, which is provided for in Amendment 35.

There are three other amendments in this group, but I will not deal with them in detail until the noble Lords who tabled them have had a chance to speak to them. We support the thrust of Amendment 8, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and of Amendments 33 and 34, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, which spell out issues in a very helpful and focused way. I beg to move.

5.15 pm

Lord Tope: My Lords, Amendment 8, standing in my name, is in this group. It largely speaks for itself. It requires the Secretary of State to take into account improvements—or otherwise—that the planning authority has made in the five years prior to his considering it for designation. The purpose is that the Secretary of State should not just take a snapshot, or even just take into account the two-year period that has been referred to, but should look at the direction of travel of the planning authority. Has it remained poorly performing over a significant period? Has it got worse over that period? In that case, the Secretary of State must truly be looking at designation. However, if an authority is making significant improvements over that period—in our previous debate, the noble Lord, Lord Best, referred to Northumberland making significant improvements over time—it would be heavy-handed, and I would say quite wrong, to consider that it should be designated. If it shows evidence over a significant period that it is putting its house in order and improving its performance, surely the Secretary of State must take that into account.

Amendment 34 is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord True. As he explained in the previous debate, unfortunately he had to leave just now to attend a meeting of his local council, of which he is leader. As my name is on the amendment and I support it, I will refer to it and say that the concern is that time taken over legal proceedings under judicial review should not be counted in this regard. He would like the Minister to take account of this and will welcome her comments, which he will be able to read in Hansard, before we consider what action we may wish to take on Report.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: Encouraged by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, I will say something about Amendment 28. When I was Health Secretary, I had

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to suspend the Lambeth, Southwark & Lewisham Health Authority because it was refusing to live within its cash limits. That suspension was overturned by the High Court on the grounds that I had put no limit on the time of suspension. The embarrassing consequence was that I had to bring legislation before Parliament to validate what the commissioner whom I had appointed had done in the intervening period. Has my noble friend taken into account what the courts might say about what would appear to be an indefinite period of designation, or does she envisage that a designation will always include a time limit during which it could be considered, reconsidered and if necessary renewed? I was stung once, and one can use one’s experience to ask what I hope is a not wholly frivolous question.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, my Amendment 33 is in this group. I certainly support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Tope. Before I speak to Amendment 33, I will say that I strongly support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, which sets out that the criteria for making decisions should be in regulations that are subject to parliamentary approval. We can argue about whether approval should be by affirmative or negative resolution, which is the argument we normally have, but here we are arguing about whether the criteria should be in parliamentary regulations and statutory instruments or whether the Secretary of State should have the power to issue an order stating what the criteria will be, or simply to publish the criteria. This is unsatisfactory.

Many development orders made in the planning system are not subject to parliamentary approval. This is part and parcel of the planning system and relates sometimes to planning policy and often to the way in which the system works. This legislation is different because it would take away the statutory powers of authorities to carry out their planning functions and transfer them to the Secretary of State. It is on a different level from normal development orders and it is right and proper that the criteria should be subject to parliamentary approval—not the decisions as to which authorities should be designated but the criteria that the Secretary of State has to follow to carry out a designation. Unless they are, the opportunities for judicial review might be substantial simply on the basis of something that has been published. However, in principle, the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, is right.

My amendments seek to probe in detail some aspects of the criteria that the Secretary of State will look to when deciding whether or not to designate an authority, and particularly some of the criteria that will count against designation because they might be unreasonable. The Minister touched on some of these in her reply to the previous group of amendments but I hope that she will look at the amendments one by one and give the Committee an understanding of the Government’s thinking on them.

In the discussion on the previous group of amendments, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, referred to the wide variation in performance of local planning authorities. I have no doubt that, as in many other aspects of their work, there is a substantial variation in the performance of different local authorities. That

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is inevitable where you have hundreds of local authorities around the country carrying out their functions in different ways with different degrees of efficiency and effectiveness. It is part and parcel of local democracy.

However, in this area there are two issues involved. One is the genuine underlying difference in performance, which no doubt will and does exist. The other is what the statistics show and whether those that we have at the moment on delays in determining planning applications have any underlying meaning. In many cases, they are based not only on different levels of efficiency in dealing with planning applications but on the different practices of local authorities. For example, on major applications, the level and depth of the pre-application discussions that take place vary from one local planning authority to another. Some local planning authorities will wish to extend the pre-application discussions until they have got to a point where they think they can put an application through the system and probably get a decision in favour. That will mean that the submission and registration of the application will take place later than in other authorities which take the view, “Let’s get the application in and, once it is in, we can have a great deal of discussion and debate about it”. Of course, it will be more difficult to keep that within the 13 weeks.

Therefore, not all authorities that take longer than 13 weeks over many major applications are necessarily making the decision later than authorities that appear to make the decision within the 13 weeks. It is a question of when the application is submitted and registered. There will be authorities that register an application almost as soon as they get it, while others will accept the application when it is submitted, look at it, and then say, “You have not provided this and that, so we are not going to register the application until you have provided it all”. All this is done with the agreement of the applicant. The second group of authorities will fit within the 13 weeks more easily than the former group because they will spend time gathering information after the application has been registered.

Where an application is generally all right with only a few details to be sorted out, some authorities will give the developer a nod and a wink and come to an agreement that the application is rejected. Instead of lodging an appeal, the developer spends a little time sorting out the application and then resubmits it. I think that developers have a right to resubmit within 12 months without paying an extra fee. Different practices mean that authorities generate different statistics in terms of whether they deal with applications within eight or 13 weeks. The statistics are not based on differences in the underlying efficiency of authorities, but if the period of 13 weeks becomes more important because authorities do not want to be designated, they will use these processes to reduce to a minimum the work that actually has to take place within the 13 weeks and do as much of it as possible in advance. That does not mean that the final determination will be made any later or any sooner. All this is the practical stuff of how things happen. However, if people are given targets, they will find ways of achieving them. Some will do so by becoming more efficient and others will do so simply by changing their working practices and doing what other councils do.

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