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House of Lords

Tuesday, 12 March 2013.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.

Crime: Stalking

Question

2.36 pm

Asked By Lord Kennedy of Southwark

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to ensure effective implementation of the stalking offences under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Taylor of Holbeach): My Lords, the new stalking offences have been in force for just over three months. On implementation, the Home Office published a circular providing advice on the interpretation of the new offences. Before then, and subsequently, we have worked with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to update their training and guidance. We continue to engage with partners to ensure that the offences are being used effectively.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, 10 months ago, legislation was enacted which, for the first time, made stalking a specific criminal offence. The two new stalking offences have been in force for almost four months and yet we hear from campaigners and victims of stalking that the Government have done next to nothing to ensure that the criminal justice system, police and victim support services are properly trained in the use of these new offences, that the training varies from police force to police force and that many officers are not even aware that the stalking offences exist. Will the Minister tell me what mandatory training the Government have introduced for police officers and criminal justice professionals in relation to the new stalking offences and what input victims and stalking charities have had in its development?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord clearly was not listening to my initial Answer because, as I have explained, the Government are in continuous engagement with both police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service on the effectiveness of the new offences. On 8 March, we published a new, updated action plan to deliver our strategy to end violence against women and girls. The plan includes specific new actions on stalking, which provide commitments to raise awareness of stalking and to monitor the implementation of these new stalking offences. Data on these new offences will be published in May 2012, which will help inform further action.

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Baroness Brinton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a serious concern about those stalkers who have continually breached restraining orders—that is, no-contact orders—but have time and time again not received custodial sentences? Many have breached restraining orders on many occasions, but the police and courts have not taken this into account in the suffering of the victims who continue to be stalked between these court appearances. Will the Government ensure that the law changes so that there is an assumption that when restraining orders are repeatedly violated, the sentencing should start with custody?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I do not want to move on to the question of sentencing policy, but I want to emphasise that the Government take the offence of stalking seriously; so does my noble friend, who I know is a member of the Justice Unions’ Parliamentary Group, which published a very helpful report on the subject. I note what she said, but I ask her to remember that the Home Office is in continual dialogue with the Crown Prosecution Service on the way these new offences are being implemented.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, the Minister said that a lot of talking was taking place but he did not indicate what action was taking place. Did he answer the question of how many prosecutions there have been to date under this new law regarding stalking offences? If he did not, why not?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: Those data are not available.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Why not?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I am sorry, but they are not collected and compiled until some time after the incidents have occurred. As I have said, the data will be available in May 2012—

Noble Lords: 2013.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I am sorry, 2013—as a result of the collation of the data for the first six months of implementation.

Baroness O'Cathain: My noble friend has been very informative about what has happened. After all, nothing was done—there is no point in the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, shaking his head—by the previous Government. Does my noble friend have any idea whether any advice is given to girls, particularly in the last stages of their schooling, about what could happen and what advantages there are in learning how to avoid stalking?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: This is part of a fuller education strategy in sexual health and education involving both young men and girls, which I hope is being practised by schools across the country.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, will the Government reassure us that they will be paying particular attention to the use by stalkers of the internet, where

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the stalker can reinvent themselves as a victim and cause even greater misery and upset to the entire families of those being persecuted in this way?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: The noble Baroness is also a member of the justice unions group, and I am grateful for the work that that group did. Cyber offences are explicitly included in the new offences and are designed to recognise that stalking can take many different forms. It is a form of harassment that this Government will not tolerate.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, does the Minister agree that emphasis should always be put on the fact that stalking, like domestic violence, has male victims as well as female?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: Yes. It is quite interesting that in the Crime Survey for England and Wales, 4.2% of females complained of being stalked and 2.7% of men also complained of being victims. It affects people regardless of gender.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I seem to remember that prior to 1997 Lord McIntosh of Haringey, a friend of the whole House, had a Private Member’s Bill that was supported by Her Majesty’s Government and Lady Blatch. What was the effect of that Bill on the offence relating to stalking?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: Until the existing offences came in in November, prosecutions had to rely on the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which shows how long ago it is that this specific crime was legislated for. We now have some new offences. I have tried to reassure the House that by May we will know what the impact of these new offences will be on prosecutions, and I hope that we will see this particular crime being stamped out in the way that it should be.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, can the Minister explain why victims of stalking are not eligible for basic protections available to victims of domestic violence? He might wish to write to me with answers. Apparently domestic violence protective measures such as TecSOS phones, sanctuary schemes and installation of CCTV cameras, which are made available automatically to victims of domestic violence, are not made available to the victims of stalking. It is right and proper that they should have the same protection.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I can certainly research that for the noble Baroness. The Home Office already provides funds to support victims of stalking through the national stalking helpline, which provides help and guidance. Indeed, the independent domestic violence advisers who are also funded by the Government, and the independent sexual violence advisers, have involvement in stalking cases also. It is a very short step between violence and the stalking offence. The Government recognise that and I think noble Lords will too.

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Regional Development

Question

2.45 pm

Asked By Lord Wigley

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they will reduce the geographic disparity in Gross Value Added per head within the United Kingdom.

Lord Newby: My Lords, the Government are committed to supporting sustained economic growth across the UK. Economic development is a devolved responsibility in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In England we are promoting growth across the regions by creating local enterprise partnerships, giving cities the powers they need to drive economic growth via the city deals, and directly investing in and growing enterprises via the regional growth fund, which has now allocated some £2.4 billion.

Lord Wigley: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the figures for the inner London west area that show a GVA per head of over £111,000 compared with a figure of £11,000 or £12,000 for Anglesey, the Gwent Valleys, the Wirral and Durham? Is this not a gross disparity and should the Government not give much greater priority to overcoming this?

Lord Newby: My Lords, it is a very great disparity—and a disparity, as the noble Lord knows, of very long standing. The good news in terms of Wales is that in 2010 and 2011 GVA grew faster per head than in either England or Scotland, so there is a bit of progress. However, changing and reversing those regional disparities is going to be a long job and it will take a large number of measures to achieve it.

Lord Peston: My Lords, my noble friend asked the Minister a very good economics examination question, to which I am glad to see the Minister tried gallantly to find an answer. It is a very difficult question. Is he aware that most economists would argue in favour of the so-called convergence theory that free markets would lead to the right outcome and there would be convergence of the different regions? The only trouble with that marvellous theory, like so much economic theory, is that it is totally refuted by the facts. What the facts show—and this is a problem for any Government—is that once a region is ahead, it stays ahead. It is rather like the fact that very few teams win the Premier League, even though everybody could play marvellous football just by copying the best teams. Does that not mean that while the Government should intervene, particularly with infrastructure investment biased in favour of the relevant regions, they must proceed with the utmost caution in interfering with the way the markets are working?

Lord Newby: My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, we have had active regional policies to a greater or lesser extent in the United Kingdom since the 1960s. When I studied this at university, the figures were very much in my mind. The reason it is such a difficult issue to deal with is that, for example, in the

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north-east the proportion of people employed in the basic industries—mining, steel, shipbuilding and engineering—fell from something like 33% to well under 10% in a couple of decades. The challenge for government in trying to reduce regional disparities is how to put in place the kinds of long-term policies, such as infrastructure apprenticeships, that can begin to redress these wider economic forces. However, I do not think that government can reverse them, certainly not in the short term.

Lord Bates: My Lords, I welcome my noble friend’s recollection of the north-east of England and some of the history there. Did he have an opportunity to see the recent study in the Economist magazine about the north-south divide, which looked at the data between 1997 and 2010, pointing out that during that time in the north-east of England GVA grew by 41% and yet in the south-east of England it grew by 187%? Is that not part of the origin of the divide and is it not part of the correction to get good, well paid jobs in the private sector? If so, will he welcome the fact that employment in the north-east of England is at record levels, as are exports?

Lord Newby: My Lords, I very much welcome that, but I revert to my earlier answer. The north-east has in effect had to reinvent itself in terms of the balance of employment, which it has done reasonably well. However, it has been comparing itself, as my noble friend did, with the City, which has had an existing strength in financial services—one which grew almost exponentially during the period that he is talking about.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, would the Minister not agree that, given the parlous condition of the Welsh economy, there would seem to be an unanswerable case for a reappraisal of the Barnett formula in the light of its incapacity to serve the acute needs of the land and nation of Wales?

Lord Newby: My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, the Barnett formula is much discussed. The Government are not planning to change the Barnett formula during the course of this Parliament. We are trying to find a more constructive way forward. The Secretary of State for Wales is working very closely with the First Minister of Wales, looking at a raft of specific measures—whether it is possible new borrowing powers for Wales or the business case for electrification of the north Wales railway—to bring about specific changes which, it is hoped, will boost growth in the medium to long term in Wales.

Lord Morgan: My Lords—

Lord Barnett: My Lords, the Barnett formula, which, sadly, bears my name, should have been changed a long time ago, as a powerful Select Committee of this House, chaired by my noble friend Lord Richard, and many other senior Members of the House have recommended. When is that recommendation going to be put into effect by the Government?

Lord Newby: Not during the course of this Parliament, my Lords.

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Education: Languages

Question

2.52 pm

Asked By Baroness Coussins

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the conclusion of the British Academy’s report Languages: The State of the Nation, published in February, that the United Kingdom will be unable to meet its aspirations for growth and global influence unless action is taken by them, businesses and in education to remedy the deficit in foreign language skills.

Baroness Coussins: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, the Government welcome the report and are committed to the teaching of languages. The national curriculum, to be statutory from September 2014, includes a foreign language at key stage 2 for the first time. In higher education, we have supported the continued availability of language study through HEFCE’s strategically important and vulnerable subject funding. There is an increase in the number of students opting to study abroad. We will reflect on the report’s recommendations to ensure that we are doing all that we can to support growth.

Baroness Coussins: That is a positive reply, but I am not sure that it is quite enough to deal with the perhaps surprising finding of this report, which is the need for language skills at all levels of the labour market, not just for an internationally mobile elite. In 2011, 27% of admin and clerical vacancies went unfilled because of a lack of foreign language skills. Can the Minister say how the Government can work with employers to encourage them to be more proactive in managing their language needs for the sake of their own competitiveness, and for the employability of UK citizens?

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My reading of the figures from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills survey is that it reports a lack of skills in admin and clerical roles, but not quite to the extent that the noble Baroness has indicated. We share the concern about skills at all levels, from professional fluency right through to a basic knowledge of language, which can make a welcoming introduction to somebody coming in and can be a valuable ice-breaker.

In response to the Wilson review, the Government have announced set-up funding for the establishment of a national centre for universities and business. That will cover all aspects of HE business collaboration, which will of course include languages.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, will the Minister look again at the discontinuation of the Asset Languages exams, which have so well helped to mobilise the rich

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range of languages that our schoolchildren have and point them into the way of employability or further academic work?

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, the Asset Languages programme was indeed valuable. However, we are introducing a range of other language provisions, from school through to university, to ensure that our language skills increase over the years.

Lord Storey: My Lords, my noble friend the Minister may not be aware that the Select Committee report, Roads to Success: SME Exports, was published on Friday. One of its recommendations was about the importance of foreign languages, particular those not traditionally taught in schools: for example, Portuguese, Russian and Chinese. Has the Ministry thought about how we can develop these languages, which are crucial to our exports? A thought might be Saturday schools.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My noble friend makes an interesting point. Many schools up and down the land have after-school clubs in languages, and some have Saturday schools as well. There are also supplementary schools that meet at the weekend. These are largely set up by specific ethnic communities and are where children who go to a state school during the week learn their heritage language: for instance, Arabic, Polish or Greek. However, I agree that there is more that we can do, and Saturday clubs might provide a way through.

Lord Morgan: My Lords, is it not ironic, in view of what we have heard, that modern languages are a particular casualty of the disastrous changes in the Government’s funding regime in universities? Does this not completely contradict what the Minister has been saying?

Baroness Garden of Frognal: No, that is not entirely true. Modern languages are categorised as one of the strategically important and vulnerable subject areas, so increased funding is going to universities to try to ensure that language provision remains.

Baroness Hooper: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Cross Bench.

Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve: My Lords, these initiatives are very welcome, but we have now had nearly 15 years of reports congruent with that of the British Academy and we need a remedy that is not piecemeal and not based on initiatives or on the thought that Saturday morning clubs can do a lot. This is really harming our economy at all levels. Does the Minister have a strategic reply to offer?

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, we are reversing the trend that came from the previous Government of languages ceasing to be strategically

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important in schools. We are already seeing an increase in the take-up of languages. By making them statutory at key stages 2 and 3, but with a statutory entitlement at key stage 4, we hope to put pressure on schools to make sure that the language provision is there. We have funded a £5 million British Academy programme, which of course led to this report. There is therefore funding behind these various initiatives, but we share with the noble Baroness a belief in the importance of language learning.

Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, will my noble friend refute the widely held view that very young children cannot cope with learning a second language? Will she ensure that the very best quality of language teaching takes place at a child’s first school?

Baroness Garden of Frognal: Indeed, and I repeat what I said before: the new national curriculum at key stage 2 will mean that for the first time primary schools will have to teach French, Spanish, German, Italian, Mandarin, Latin or ancient Greek.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, in addition to the British Academy’s conclusion that language tuition should be combined with vocational and STEM subjects, does the Minister agree that a sensible approach might also be to include a compulsory foreign language with all university degree courses?

Baroness Garden of Frognal: The noble Baroness makes a very valuable point. Indeed, many universities are already doing this. We know, for example, that UCL, Aston University and the University of York already have a language provision for all students in their first year. Other universities are combining a language with a science, say, or with another discipline. However, we must encourage them to do more. As to making it compulsory, that is a step that we will probably not be taking.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that one of the reasons why we punch above our weight in global influence is our wonderfully disciplined defence forces? Does she also agree that successive cuts have put that influence severely at risk?

Baroness Garden of Frognal: The noble Lord takes us slightly away from the Question. However, I would say that it is very encouraging to see that the MoD has always had a language provision, and, indeed, that the Foreign Office provision in languages has been resurrected by this Government after being cut by his Government. It is therefore encouraging to see that the MoD and the Foreign Office are collaborating on the provision of modern languages for their people.

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Payday Loans

Question

3 pm

Asked By Lord Mitchell

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the findings of the Office of Fair Trading’s report on payday loans.

Lord Popat: My Lords, the Government are deeply concerned by the OFT’s evidence of irresponsible lending to people who cannot afford it, and by its findings of fundamental problems with the way the payday lending market works. The Government have worked with the regulators, including the OFT, to announce a strong action plan. Tough enforcement today, combined with the move to a new regulatory regime, equipped to deliver robust consumer protections in the future, will tackle concerns in this market.

Lord Mitchell: I thank the Minister for that reply. The report from the OFT is indeed a hard-hitting document. It says that payday lenders are guilty of widespread non-compliance with the law—not a few of them but most of them. However, I am left with two concerns. The first is that the Government seem to be indicating that they are reluctant to place caps on the interest rates charged. Is this true? Secondly, are payday lenders now sidestepping regulation by going offshore? What are the Government doing to plug this loophole?

Lord Popat: My Lords, that is why last week’s announcement was about the Government and regulators taking strong action together, both to address current problems quickly and to ensure that a more effective regime will be in place next year. A cap is not recommended by the Bristol University report; a cap will reduce access to credit and will mean fewer lenders. As for lenders going offshore, I do not believe that this is the case yet, but if we bring a cap into place there is a good chance that lenders would rather lend from abroad than from this country to avoid the cap regulation.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, is not the problem with payday loans that people take them out and then take out another loan to pay off that payday loan, so that the loans become larger and larger and the interest rate burden unaffordable? Is that not very similar to the Opposition’s economic policy?

Lord Popat: My noble friend makes a very valuable point. That is why the Government are now clamping down on these payday lenders, particularly through our Office of Fair Trading. Unfortunately, the noble Lord is right about the rollover of interest costs, which are quite astronomical to borrowers. That is why enforcement action is being taken as quickly as possible.

Lord Martin of Springburn: My Lords, what steps are being taken to encourage more credit unions throughout the United Kingdom so that people in the

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poorest communities in our land do not have to turn to payday loans and illegal moneylenders?

Lord Popat: I thank the noble Lord for that question. Yes, we are expanding credit unions, which offer affordable credit and real help for people who might otherwise borrow money from high-cost lenders such as the payday lenders. The British Bankers’ Association is also looking into this to see what bankers can do to help people with a short-term overdraft or a temporary loan when they are in a difficult situation.

Lord Richard: My Lords, many years ago, when I was a young law student, I learnt about the moneylenders Acts, which, as far as I can remember, meant that if you charged an excessive amount of interest you could not recover your money. Does that still apply and, if so, is the way to deal with these payday loans and the excessive interest charged on them to have one or two good civil cases in which the borrower refuses to pay and is taken to court, with the judge then declaring recovery illegal under moneylenders Acts?

Lord Popat: My Lords, the consumers—borrowers from payday lenders—are of many different types. A large number of them borrow money from payday lenders as a short-term loan or in an emergency. Some use the payday lending system rather than a credit card; quite often a credit card is very expensive, and they have more control over borrowing from payday lenders than they would have over credit cards. Quite often there are customers who borrow money from payday lenders because the banks, for reasons of liquidity, are often not very keen to give short-term overdrafts.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, is absolutely correct, is he not? For some years now, judges in our civil courts have had wide powers to cancel unconscionably unfair contracts and to rewrite the contract where the court considers that it is fair and just to do so. The powers are there; why are they not used?

Lord Popat: My Lords, the Consumer Credit Act requires lenders to be licensed by the Office of Fair Trading and we are passing these powers on to the new regime of the FCA in 2014. The noble Lord is right: quite often with heavy debt of this nature, the court tends to impose on the consumer a credit embargo or a county court judgment, and the consumer will often find it difficult to borrow money in the future.

Baroness Kramer: My Lords, during the passage of the Financial Services Act, the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, together with the then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, and, I believe, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, introduced clauses that gave the new regulator the power to cap the interest rates, fees and other charges of payday lenders. For clarity, will the Minister confirm that these powers are in the legislation and that, when the regulator comes into force laterthis year, we will, as I hope, all press it to make use of them?

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Lord Popat: The noble Baroness makes a very important point. Under the current circumstances, capping by the OFT would cause problems for access to credit, but we are happy to give powers to the FCA, the new regulator. It will have power to cap credit in the future if appropriate, but at present the OFT does not.

Electronic Commerce Directive (Trafficking People for Exploitation) Regulations 2013

Motion to Approve

3.07 pm

Moved By Lord Taylor of Holbeach

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 28 January be approved.

Relevant documents: 18th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, considered in Grand Committee on 6 March.

Motion agreed.

Automatic Enrolment (Earnings Trigger and Qualifying Earnings Band) Order 2013

Motion to Approve

3.07 pm

Moved By Lord Newby

That the draft Order laid before the House on 30 January be approved.

Relevant documents: 19th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, considered in Grand Committee on 7 March.

Motion agreed.


Growth and Infrastructure Bill

Growth and Infrastructure Bill

Report (2nd Day)

3.08 pm

Clause 8 : Electronic communications code: the need to promote growth

Amendment 35A

Moved by Baroness Whitaker

35A: Clause 8, page 10, line 33, at end insert—

“( ) Any changes to the electronic communications code shall relate only to broadband infrastructure.”

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, I declare my interest as president of the South Downs Society. Amendment 35A is in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Renton,

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who very much regrets that he is not able to get away from snowy Sussex today. The amendment would ensure that the stated intention of Clause 8, to facilitate the rollout of broadband in the national parks, does only that. Mobile phone masts would not be allowed; nor would any different economic purpose of any future Secretary of State be permitted. The Minister has explained, in a very helpful meeting held with her officials, that it is difficult to put this restriction in the Bill and that regulations will make it quite clear that only broadband is in mind. However, I think we need to debate this openly and see the text of the regulations before we accept the very wide power that is on the face of the Bill to install equipment in some of our most cherished and beautiful landscapes. Who knows what some future Secretary of State might want to do?

In Committee, we debated very thoroughly the danger to our national parks, briefed then, as now, by a wide range of organisations representing planning and the countryside, as well as by the Sunday Telegraph a couple of days ago. I do not propose to rehearse the arguments again, but I remind noble Lords that those concerns were shared all round your Lordships’ House. Nobody disputes the importance of broadband in rural areas or wants to impede it in any way. Equally, nobody was able to produce any evidence of difficulty which broadband operators had with any national park, and there were several examples of successful co-operation. Nor was any evidence of or anticipation of trouble given by BT when representatives kindly came to talk to us recently.

In short, there is no need for extensive powers, and the narrower the power, the better. We should be very careful about any precedent-setting power which could imperil the landscapes which parliamentarians before us fought to defend in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. Those landscapes are unique and they are vulnerable. I beg to move.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My Lords, as the noble Baroness has explained, the amendment has been tabled to prevent Clause 8 from being used to relax planning requirements for mobile masts. We discussed it extensively in Committee. If that is the intention of the amendment, I fear that it does not have the desired effect; nor would any amendment along these lines. I shall explain why.

At every stage of the Bill’s passage, we have made it clear that Clause 8 was brought forward to enable us to make changes to secondary legislation in relation to fixed broadband infrastructure, not mobile. Further to those reassurances in both Houses of Parliament, as noble Lords will be aware, we published a consultation on 29 January on the proposed changes to secondary legislation that Clause 8 will enable. That consultation also made it clear that the changes in Clause 8 relate only to fixed broadband infrastructure—cabinets and poles. As has been made clear previously in this House and in the other place, it is not possible to limit the scope of the clause to a particular infrastructure or technology. Clause 8 can make no distinction between fixed or mobile infrastructure, because Article 8(1) of the framework directive 2002/21/EC requires technology neutrality.

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That is not to say that different technologies or infrastructures all have to be treated the same. They can be treated differently where it is objectively justifiable and proportionate, but that is done at the level of secondary rather than primary legislation. For example, the relative visual impact of different types of communications apparatus is sufficient to justify a differing treatment in planning terms.

As I mentioned, the amendment does not achieve the desired effect. Use of the term “broadband infrastructure” could equally apply to mobile infrastructure, such as mobile masts which provide 3G or 4G mobile services. They would also qualify as broadband infrastructure.

We could not limit the scope of any changes to broadband infrastructure, as that would prevent changes being made to narrowband infrastructure, which might impact on the delivery of narrowband voice services, which would include the 999 service. I am sure that the noble Baroness would not want that.

I can only reiterate that the distinction between fixed and mobile will be delivered through secondary legislation, through regulations which I think are already out to consultation. This measure will be introduced to provide certainty and will be an additional deployment option to enable superfast broadband to be rolled out in the more commercially challenging parts of the UK. As the noble Baroness said, these areas have people’s hearts in them and they do not like to think that they will be changed. I hope the noble Baroness will understand that there is no intention to try to prevaricate in any way or to try to introduce mobile by this clause. It is limited by the secondary legislation but because of the necessity under the EU regulations we have to do it this way. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

3.15 pm

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for the very great care and attention she has taken in meeting representatives of the national parks and other interested parties and also meeting noble Lords to discuss this issue. It is a model of how a Minister should handle these conversations and I compliment her. In the notes that the noble Baroness circulated to us of the meeting with the national parks representatives, the record of the meeting says that the Minister from the DCMS, Ed Vaizey, gave an undertaking that the drafting of the code of practice would be a collaborative exercise. Can she put on record for the benefit of those who wish to collaborate that the Government will indeed be consulting them, intensively and extensively, as this code of practice is drawn up?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord has seen from the other amendments that are coming up that we will be discussing the code of practice on probably the next amendment or the one after. At that stage I believe that I will be able to give the noble Lord the assurances he seeks.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, I echo the thanks of my noble friend Lord Adonis for the very detailed explanation by the noble Baroness, who was very helpful to the many organisations which share my

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concerns. I am also grateful for her specific explanation of the role of the framework directive as this will now be in

Hansard

and will be official. That also will be helpful. Her remarks on the consultation on the regulations are reassuring and, if I may, I will have another look at the Government’s text. In the mean time I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 35A withdrawn.

Amendment 36

Moved by Baroness Parminter

36: Clause 8, page 10, line 34, leave out subsections (2) to (8)

Baroness Parminter: My Lords, Clause 8 as it stood would have set an extremely damaging precedent, removing key protections from our most cherished landscapes. My Amendment 36 sought to address that issue, enabling changes in secondary legislation to speed up the delivery of broadband in rural areas but not removing key protections against changing the long-standing duties in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.

As I made clear in Committee, I can see the argument for adding a further consideration to the Communications Act 2003 for the Secretary of State to have regard to promoting economic growth at the same time as other existing duties, which is what Clause 8(1) proposes. However, the disapplication of the duty to have regard to conserving beauty in other pieces of legislation would be a very disproportionate approach. Clearly the Government do not feel that my amendment gave quite the certainty that they thought they needed, while not undermining key protections for those landscapes. They have therefore drafted their own amendment, which in this group, and with the leave of the House I should like to make a few comments on it.

The Government’s Amendment 36A equates the “have regard” duty to proposed Section 109(2B) of the Communications Act 2003, so that the Secretary of State will be treated as automatically having complied with the “have regard” duties if they have complied with Section 109(2B). It means that the primary legislation in place since 1949 protecting our iconic landscapes remains unchanged. I am extremely grateful to the Government and in particular to the Minister, who has gone well beyond the bounds of the usual standards to listen to Members of this House and to meet with us and hear the seriously held concerns that we championed in Committee about the wider impacts of the clause as drafted. Their willingness to respond to our concerns sends a powerful signal that while the Government are committed to bringing broadband to the greatest number of people they are not intent on nibbling away at essential protection policies for our most valued landscapes. I beg to move.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I am very glad to support this amendment. It seems that what we are dealing with here in this whole clause, as we argued in Committee, is not only the policy inherent in the clause now but the threat that it offers for the future. Since the Second World War, Governments of all persuasions have

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consistently adhered to the principle that there is something so special in this asset of these unique areas of countryside in our country—which are enjoyed by our people and have this incalculable value as a place for physical and spiritual regeneration—that there must be absolutely no doubt whatever that the protection of what they are about and of their scenic uniqueness takes precedence over everything. The trouble is that, once the door is pushed open and left, after discussion and argument, just a little ajar, there is this danger of still further erosion.

I support my noble friend on the Front Bench, who has paid a warm tribute to the Minister. She has been outstanding in her commitment and courtesy to the House and to the Committee. I have always thought that she was a decent, civilised person, and the way in which she has responded to the criticisms that have been made have left me in absolutely no doubt about that whatever. I would like her to accept that we are trying to uphold her in those values which she so obviously embraces. I was having a private word with her at one point and unfortunately—although I understand it—by the time that legislation is on the Order Paper and being debated there has been an awful lot of intellectual and policy input and people are very committed to the position which they have put forward and on which they have worked in a dedicated way to try to get the draft as true as possible. Sometimes there comes a moment when the logical thing to do is to stop trying to perfect something that is not really right and just to say, “That one was interesting but it is not going to be in the Bill in the future”. However, it is a very difficult thing for all those who have been involved to accept that sort of provision. I hardly dare say, and I do not mean this in any aggressive or patronising way whatever, but in all of us—not least myself sometimes—face is a very important issue, and sometimes it becomes so in the legislative process.

The logical thing for this House to do is to adopt the amendments that have been put so clearly by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. I hope that the House will endorse her position.

Lord Marlesford: I will just say a word in support of my noble friend’s amendment, which I have put my name to. First, I join in what has been said about my noble friend the Minister. In the years that I have been here, one has often had Ministers who, one feels, are mere parrots for the civil servants. That is not the case with my noble friend. She has taken a real interest and is really concerned to get the right answer. What is the right answer? I think there are three points.

First, as has been said, the protection and cherishing of these very special landscapes, particularly the national parks and the areas of outstanding natural beauty, is crucial for our very small island. The way in which we have retained them since 1949 is amazing. It must be remembered that we were 50 years after the Americans in inventing national parks, but a wonderful job has been done with them. We therefore have to make absolutely sure that we do not legislate for a short-term apparent problem. Nobody denies that the whole broadband thing is important, and we are united on

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the need for it, but we should not legislate on a short-term basis for that with any risk of undermining the very long-term principle of preserving these landscapes for generations to come. That is my first point, and I know that my noble friend is attempting to meet that in the amendment that she has put forward.

The second point is what could actually happen to the landscape as a result of what is going to happen in the way of installation of broadband. I had the advantage of going to a meeting with British Telecom—which my noble friend the Minister chaired, sponsored and arranged—and I found it, in a sense, quite helpful. There were one or two things that particularly struck me. First, although we questioned BT very closely, it was not able to produce a single example from the past or the predictable future of why this clause is needed. It is all very theoretical. The second point is that they showed us the various bits of hardware which are involved in broadband—one, of course, is the cabinets, which do the switching. They are quite big, about twice the size of filing cabinet, and they have to be scattered around; it is a little unclear how close they have to be to the service that they are trying to provide. They take the fibre optic cable and then transfer it to the copper cable, which is what most of the broadband ends up reaching the final premises in, unless it is a new premises in which case, they put the fibre optic straight in. The cabinets are quite big and could be very intrusive. It ought, in my view, to be quite easy to conceal them, and make sure that they are carefully sited.

The thing that worries me much more is the wires—the fibre optic cables that carry the signal. Wires that are strewn across open countryside can be very intrusive and damaging to the landscape and one simply does not want them. In the past, much care has been taken to ensure that that does not happen. British Telecom told us that where there are underground wires already, it will use the ducts in which those wires go to put the new fibre optics in. Where the services are already over ground, it will probably put the fibre optic cable on the poles that already exist. That is probably acceptable.

However, there is another point. BT is not the only organisation that will be putting in broadband in these rural areas. Another big company, the Japanese company Fujitsu, is keen to come in. We know that the ownership of existing methods of transferring wires is largely in the hands of BT. In theory it would be just as possible for the incoming company to take exactly the same care and trouble for its wires and cables as BT does. However, the fact is that this is something that belongs to BT and so it will have a commercial right to expect some money in exchange for using it.

The world of telecommunications—and the world as a whole—is highly competitive, and companies are trying to cut their costs to get the orders and the business. The point that I raised, which I hope that my noble friend may be able to comment on, is: to what extent—when we have finished with the Bill as it now looks with the amendments from my noble friend—will we be able to ensure that a third company, as it were, that comes in to install broadband in these sensitive areas is not able to cut a few cents of the cost by

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putting overhead lines where underground wires exist, or by putting up new poles where other people’s poles exist?

That is a really important consideration, which brings me to the third point about the importance of this debate. We know now, and have known for years, ever since various constitutional changes, that what is said in Parliament and can be read in Hansard is of value in the real world in years to come. Therefore, I am very anxious that, in expressing our concerns and wishes, we all spell out the problems and the Minister seeks to spell out the answers, so that when cases arise in which there are controversies and conflicts, at least Hansard will be able to be quoted and the intention and wish of Parliament can be interpreted.

3.30 pm

Lord Adonis: My Lords, because the noble Baroness has a very important amendment in this group, perhaps I might speak after her rather than before.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I would be delighted to speak to Amendment 36A. I will just find it in my notes. In essence, Amendment 36A ensures that the duty that already exists under Section 109 of the Communications Act 2003 for the Secretary of State to have regard for the environment and beauty of the countryside will be deemed to meet the “have regard” duties set out in protected areas legislation, when the Secretary of State comes to make regulations under Section 109.

Subsections (2), (3), (4), (6) and (7) of Clause 8 caused concern because they disapplied the express “have regard” duty imposed on the Secretary of State when making regulations. As the noble Lord knows, and the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, has been kind enough to indicate, we have listened to concerns and have removed those express disapplications.

The drafting approach could not be replicated in exactly the same way in relation to the “have regard” duty referred to in Clause 8(5) because that is not a duty of the Secretary of State but is specific to a statutory undertaker within the relevant Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Act 1988. However, by using a similar approach, the definition of statutory undertaker within that Act, for the limited period of five years, has been aligned with the policy so as to avoid the express disapplication of the “have regard” duty.

I hope that the amendment reassures the House that our intention was only to ensure that the right legal framework was put in place and that we had no wish to unpick the distinct and settled legislative framework that applies to the national parks. I emphasise that the purpose of our reforms is to ensure that fixed broadband deployment is not held back in the small minority of cases where local planning authorities and communications providers are not able to agree the best siting. The Government remain convinced that the natural environment and landscape are of crucial importance, which is why there will be a number of important safeguards. I could move on to other aspects, but I think that was the bit the noble Lord asked me to speak to.

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Lord Adonis: My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, who has pursued this issue throughout the passage of the Bill and has achieved a very significant step forward on the part of the Government.

What we need to be clear about is when the Secretary of State will continue to be under a duty to have regard to,

“the need to protect the environment and, in particular, to conserve the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside”,

as required by Section 109(2)(b) of the Communications Act 2003. It is absolutely critical, in the desire that we all share to see the extension of broadband to the national parks and other areas of outstanding natural beauty, that a real obligation with a statutory foundation will continue to be placed on the Secretary of State to have regard to the need to conserve and enhance their natural beauty.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I was remiss in not thanking noble Lords who have thanked me very graciously. I hope we are still in that position when we get to the end of today but for the moment I will accept it with gratitude. It has been my pleasure—and always is—to have discussions with noble Lords and relevant people associated with the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has said, the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, has moved and shaken this aspect of the Bill and I am delighted that we have now achieved what she and other noble Lords are happy to accept.

With regard to the point about “having regard to”, the Secretary of State’s responsibility for having regard to is not changed by this legislation. It is just amalgamated into one area so it does not have to wander its way through all sorts of bits of legislation. I hope the noble Lord will be happy to accept that.

The Government have never intended to ride roughshod over the protected areas legislation but to ensure that there was sufficient legal certainty in the primary legislation when bringing forward our proposed changes to secondary legislation. Our policy goal is to simplify the planning regime so that the rollout of fixed superfast broadband—so urgently awaited in many of our rural communities—is not held back unnecessarily in the small minority of cases where planning authorities and communications providers are unable to agree the best siting for equipment. The noble Lord asked me a question and I have answered. He is in a position to wind up for his side. Does he wish to speak again?

Lord Adonis: Carry on.

Baroness Hanham: In Committee, at the noble Lord’s suggestion, I undertook to meet representatives from the English National Park Authorities Association. We did so, with Ministers from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I met representatives from the English national parks and the National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, who highlighted their overriding concern that the express disapplication of the “have regard” duty would set an unwelcome precedent. Following this meeting, we undertook to consider if we could

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find an alternative way to ensure legal certainty—and that is a more formal response to the noble Lord—and give the necessary powers to amend regulations. I am delighted that, following further discussions between the officials, we have been able to table this amendment which directly addresses the concerns raised and has been welcomed by the English National Park Authorities Association. Amendment 36A picks up that duty.

The purpose of our reforms is to ensure that fixed broadband deployment is not held back in the small minority of cases where local planning authorities and communications providers are not able to agree the best siting. I hope that, after all we have done, this will not become an issue. Should it be, however, at any stage, this is the way it will be managed by the providers.

The Government remain convinced that the natural environment and landscape are of crucial importance, which is why there will be a number of important safeguards. First, the voluntary code on siting best practice for operators and planning authorities will have input from the national parks as the English National Park Authorities Association is involved in the working group which will draft the code. Secondly, communications providers will remain under a statutory duty to consult the local planning authorities on their proposed deployments.

The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, asked me whether anybody other than BT would be committed by these clauses and amendments. We recognise that there will be other communications providers as well as BT. All providers will be involved in drafting the code and will be committed to complying with it. I have not been given the answer to the question of whether other providers would be able to use BT’s infrastructure, but I hope to know it before I come to the end of my speech.

First, as I said, the voluntary code on siting best practice for operators and planning authorities will have input and secondly, communications providers will remain under a statutory duty to consult local planning authorities. Thirdly, “environmental sustainability” is a requirement of the Broadband Delivery UK contracts in the areas to which they apply, meaning that local authorities are able to specify particular requirements in their Broadband Delivery UK contracts if they wish to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who has expressed support for the amendment—for which I am grateful—presented figures in Committee regarding planning approvals in national parks and suggested that the proposed relaxation of planning controls was unnecessary. I have written to colleagues and responded to the noble Lord’s points. Only a small proportion of those figures which the noble Lord quoted relate specifically to the installation of superfast broadband, which is, as he knows, still in its very early stages in these areas, while the larger proportion will be for voice services for the most part. While the figures show a high percentage of approvals, there has been no indication of the time taken for the decisions to be made. Our proposals are about ensuring certainty across all areas to aid investment decisions and ensure that resources can be deployed efficiently.

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We have listened carefully to the concerns and have brought forward Amendment 36A to address them. Crucially, it has the support of the English National Park Authorities Association and the valuable support of my noble friend Lady Parminter. I hope that the House will support it.

The amendment will ensure that the duty that already exists under Section 109 of the Communications Act 2003 for the Secretary of State to have regard to the environment and beauty of the countryside will be deemed to meet the “have regard” duties set out in protected areas legislation when the Secretary of State comes to make regulations under Section 109.

I hope that I have dealt with questions that I have been asked. I shall therefore move Amendment 36A and hope that, with the explanations that I have given, my noble friend Lady Parminter will be willing to withdraw Amendment 36.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the Minister’s explanation was clear and the position that she has taken is extremely important in preserving the requirement to enhance and conserve the natural beauty of the national parks. We therefore welcome her concessions in the amendment.

Perhaps I may put on the record the conclusions of the meeting which the Minister held with the representatives of the national parks, because they are quite important for how we proceed hereafter—as the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, so rightly said, what is said in this House forms a benchmark for what happens afterwards. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Minister for Culture, Ed Vaizey, emphasised that the clause is not about stigmatising national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty as obstacles. Representatives of the national parks and the areas of outstanding natural beauty reiterated their belief that there was no evidence that they cause issues with deployments and said that they do a lot of work on the issue. Ed Vaizey agreed that national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty do some excellent partnership working. He offered to facilitate regular meetings with representatives of the national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and BT to discuss the rollout of superfast broadband in their areas and to ensure that they continue to support deployment and that any issues can be resolved quickly.

Those assurances given to the national parks by the Minister are extremely important. I think it is important to put them on the record and to state very clearly that your Lordships expect that the Government and BT will hold fast to those commitments and will consult intensively and extensively with the representatives of the national parks and the areas of outstanding natural beauty to see that we get the rollout of superfast broadband in the national parks—where there are large numbers of residents and businesses that badly need it—in the most sensitive way possible that conserves and enhances their natural beauty.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I know it is not up to me to intervene again but as we come on to the next amendment it may be helpful to say that I will probably be able to give the noble Lord the assurances he seeks on that as well. With the leave of the House, I should

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like to answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, which was whether any other operators apart from BT will be able to use the BT infrastructure or whether they would have to put in their own. BT is under a regulatory obligation to share its infrastructure.

Baroness Parminter: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 36 withdrawn.

3.45 pm

Amendment 36A

Moved by Baroness Hanham

36A: Clause 8, page 10, line 34, leave out subsections (2) to (8) and insert—

“( ) In section 109 of the Communications Act 2003 (regulations specifying the restrictions and conditions subject to which the electronic communications code is to apply) after subsection (2) insert—

“(2A) Subsection (2B) applies if—

(a) the Secretary of State has complied with subsection (2)(b) in connection with any particular exercise before 6 April 2018 of the power to make regulations under this section, and

(b) the regulations in question are expressed to cease to have effect (other than for transitional purposes) before that date.

(2B) The Secretary of State is to be treated as also having complied with any duty imposed in connection with that exercise of that power by any of the following—

section 11A(2) of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949;

section 85(1) of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000;

section 17A(1) of the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Act 1988;

section 14 of the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000 (asp 10);

Article 4(1) of the Nature Conservation and Amenity Lands (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 (S.I. 1985/170 (N.I. 1)).”

( ) For the purposes of its application to section 17A of the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Act 1988, the definition of “statutory undertaker” in section 25(1) of that Act is until 6 April 2018 to be read as if paragraph (d) were omitted.”

Amendment 36A agreed.

Amendment 37

Moved by Baroness Parminter

37: Clause 8, page 12, line 4, at end insert—

“( ) The Secretary of State shall by regulation introduce a statutory code of practice specifying how operators of broadband networks to whom the electronic communications code is applied shall consult with local planning authorities.”

Baroness Parminter: My Lords, we all support the deployment of broadband in rural areas, and the key for us is how best we deliver that. I still do not think that the Government have made a conclusive case for the need to change the existing planning regime in terms of proving that existing arrangements are a barrier to delivering broadband. Few cases have been cited outside the national parks, and as my noble friend Lord Marlesford and the noble Baroness,

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Lady Whitaker, said, the national parks authorities are not inflexible regulators, bystanders or obstacles to broadband rollout.

Equally, I am disappointed that the Government have not published the responses to the latest consultation on their planning proposals prior to Report. Hearing stakeholder views could have helped our deliberations, thus enabling legislation. However, I understand why the Government want to introduce these changes to the planning regime, so we should seek to ensure a strong code of practice that delivers the best outcomes in deploying broadband infrastructure in our most valued landscapes.

I think a statutory code of practice to ensure best practice in siting infrastructure would be best, but I hear the argument that for such a code to be as effective as possible, it needs to be owned by planning authorities and broadband operators. Therefore, I hope that, in responding, the Minister will be able to confirm four things. The first thing is that the code of practice will be clear on mechanisms for dispute resolution between planning authorities and broadband operators when there are disagreements over siting. Given that the proposed changes give operators the final say on siting, it is important to seek agreement to ensure we do not end up with cabinets pepperpotting across our most treasured landscapes, causing detrimental impact to the landscape’s qualities and thus to the tourism industry that underpins economies in rural communities in our most highly visited and iconic landscapes.

The second is that the code will require the sharing of infrastructure where feasible: a critical issue that is not mentioned in the scope and guiding principles that have been drawn up to date. In this, I include pole sharing, where existing poles are available, and introducing processes so that broadband operators can be made aware of the opportunities to piggyback on to the work of energy providers who are undergrounding lines in the area.

The third is that the process for reviewing the success of the code and the trigger mechanism for deciding to make the code statutory is made clear. The final thing is that the anticipated date for the finalisation of the code is stated. Once this code is finalised, adherence to it can be incorporated as a contract requirement into publicly funded broadband deployment projects. As such, it is a key tool to ensuring the best siting of broadband infrastructure, and we need it finalised as soon as possible. I beg to move.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I warmly endorse this amendment and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, for introducing it. Across the whole history of legislation, I am afraid there is far too much evidence that codes and the like, without statutory authority, become useless in time. We have to remember—and we all pay tribute to the present Minister—that once new legislation is there, we are not necessarily going to be dealing with people like the current Minister. We cannot be certain who we will be dealing with. The current Minister is determined, and I am sure she means every word she says, that these things will be used to ensure what we all treasure about the parks, and so on. However, when she is gone, who will there

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be? I suggest to her that there are people with whom she must deal at the moment in her own Government who do not see it quite as she does. They have quite different thoughts about what this wonderful land might be used for. It is therefore really important to give the codes statutory authority.

As a vice-president of the Campaign for National Parks and as a patron of the Friends of the Lake District, I might say that the people who are, with their quality and commitment, turning concern into practical reality in all that they do to further the parks and the rest are deeply disturbed at the dangers that are there. They are not questioning the current Minister’s good intent but asking, “Where are the guarantees that these things that are being said in good will will actually be there for all to observe in future?”. Is this going to be another of those occasions on which we satisfy our own public profile by saying, “Well, we have this code”, or do we really mean what the code says? If we really mean it, let us for goodness’ sake make certain that it has the authority of the law behind it. This amendment is very important indeed.

Lord Tyler: My Lords, I strongly support my noble friend Lady Parminter. I should say that in the past I was vice-chair of a national park committee and therefore hold very dearly the responsibilities of the wider public within the national parks for their effective preservation and conservation in the national interest. I would also emphasise that there are many SMEs in national parks that will benefit from the extension of these very important communication facilities. However, there is a real urgency to have real clarity in the new regime to make sure that there is proper co-ordination between those who are going to provide for these new facilities along with the existing undertakings.

From my previous experience of seeing how the statutory undertakings, before they were privatised, never really got to grips with the need for co-ordination, the point that my noble friend made just now—about making sure that those who provide the new facilities are also properly co-ordinated with those who have responsibility, for example, for improving energy supplies—is absolutely critical. Otherwise we would have the ridiculous situation of upheaval and then renewed upheaval as the new undertakings take over. The equal need for greater clarity, to which my noble friend just referred, is extremely important, because otherwise we will have a very confused situation.

There is such urgency for this that I hope my noble friend the Minister will be able to give us an undertaking that preparatory work is well in hand to ensure that all the issues to which my noble friend referred are already being carefully examined. I am sure that all the communities within the national parks, and those who have concerns about the future of the national parks outwith them, will be met in the next few weeks and not be left with many months of consultation and revision before we see a final result.

Lord Marlesford: In supporting this amendment, I underline that we are talking not only about national parks but specifically about areas of outstanding natural beauty. Perhaps I could remind your Lordships that one

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is not more important than the other in the hierarchy of beauty. The difference between national parks and AONBs is that national parks are wilderness areas, which AONBs are not; they are very often highly cultivated and farmed areas.

I remind your Lordships once again of a phrase that was used and which is central to the whole issue in its broadest context. It is a phrase that was used by Nicholas Ridley while ex cathedra, as one of the best Environment Secretaries there has been since that government department was created. He stated the importance of protecting the countryside for its own sake. That really embraces it, whether the new broadband is being put into a national park, an AONB, a special landscape area or anywhere where there would be or could be gratuitous damage to a precious landscape.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, first, I reinforce the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, about the importance of seeing that there is a proper communications infrastructure for the national parks, including superfast broadband. He said there were many SMEs. I have been struck by quite how many there are. According to the information that has been supplied to us, there are 22,000 businesses in the national parks, of which over 70% are SMEs. In areas of outstanding natural beauty, there are more than 61,000 businesses, of which 74% are SMEs. There are also 153,000 homes in national parks and over 467,000 in areas of outstanding natural beauty. We are therefore wrestling here with the need to get the balance right. All these businesses and residents want to see modern communications infrastructure, but they want it installed in the most sensitive way possible after proper processes of consultation and collaboration locally. That is what we are seeking to get right.

We have been talking a lot about processes, and a key question is what is going to happen in the rollout of this infrastructure, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. It is clear that big choices will have to be made about how much undergrounding takes place when it comes to overhead wires. That will be a critical issue as this infrastructure is rolled out. There are real causes for concern. It is hard to predict quite what will happen after this legislation is passed and plans come forward. The impact assessment that followed DCMS’s consultation referred to possibly 1,600 kilometres of new overhead wire lines in protected landscapes over the five-year period for which the changes apply. However, it is impossible to gain an accurate understanding of the impact because the document quotes two different figures for the expected annual increase in overhead lines.

However, the Campaign for National Parks points out that there is a good deal of discretion when this work is being planned as to how much is undergrounded. The relevant regulatory bodies make allowances in the control periods for the amounts that can be spent on undergrounding overhead electricity lines. This also applies to decisions that BT will take about undergrounding other telecommunications lines. The sums of money involved are very large. The Campaign for National Parks also points out:

“Given the resources … now being put into undergrounding power lines, it would be more cost-effective to plan for broadband delivery in protected areas in a way that reduces the visual

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impacts from the outset, even if this results in higher costs initially. Installing broadband infrastructure as quickly and cheaply as possible would be a false economy and a waste of consumers’ and taxpayers’ money if further funding has to be generated at a later date to put these lines underground”.

The national parks make the very sound point there that to go headlong into the cheapest possible means of installing infrastructure only to have to replace it in due course because of a public outcry as a result of the failure to underground where it is needed to protect and enhance the landscape, would be a false economy. Let us be clear about that. Not to plan properly for this and then to have to come back a second time and spend a very large amount of taxpayers’ money in undergrounding lines because it was not planned properly the first time around would be a false economy. We are not very good in this country at planning infrastructure in such a way that we do not have to go back and do it a second time because we did not plan it properly the first time around.

I hope that the noble Baroness, in her concluding remarks, will recognise the problem that we face here: the obvious need to get infrastructure to those in national parks who require it for their livelihoods, but not to do so in a way that will only require us to go back and do it all a second time because we did not get it right the first time.

4 pm

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for moving this amendment, which gives us an opportunity to talk about the code of practice and whether it should be statutory or voluntary. At present, we do not believe that the proposed code of best practice for the siting and appearance of fixed broadband infrastructure needs to be given statutory effect. It is important that the code is agreed collectively by all those concerned and given a chance to work as a voluntary code.

In any case, it would not be possible or necessary to bring forward a statutory code of practice in the way that I think is intended. Rather than a statutory code, the material principles of the code of practice would instead need to be included in amended Electronic Communications Code (Conditions and Restrictions) Regulations. The power to provide for these matters in regulations already exists in Section 109 of the Communications Act 2003.

However, additional regulations are not needed. I am pleased to report that work is progressing well in developing a voluntary code. The working group drafting the code has agreed its scope and some broad principles, which I shared with noble Lords last week. While the final detail is still to be worked through, we anticipate that it will provide a good foundation on which to build for the future of broadband. The code working group is made up of communications providers—that is, over and beyond BT—local planning authorities, Ofcom, the Office of the Telecommunications Adjudicator, English Heritage and the national parks. It is a representative group, which is engaging keenly in bringing the code to fruition.

The key to rolling out broadband quickly will be partnership working between communications providers and planning authorities. We want to see that work, and the voluntary code will be an essential tool in

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achieving that. I believe that there is real commitment from all sides to addressing the issues around how broadband is delivered, the co-operation and co-ordination necessary and the involvement of those affected in the provision and siting of the infrastructure.

Communications providers have committed to taking forward the drafting, but the scope of the code of best practice that was agreed last week includes the size and appearance of cabinets and new poles; their location, including the proximity to homes and businesses, road junctions and placement in the footway; early engagement with all interested parties including local planning authorities, highways authorities, other infrastructure providers in the area; and, in the case of new poles, engagement with communities through the local authority—that is, consultation between us. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, asked whether there would be mechanisms for dealing with disputes. Part of the code that is being worked up at the moment deals with precisely that: there will be mechanisms for dispute resolution, in the event that there is disagreement. The agreed scope also includes ensuring consistency of definitions and how the code relates to the various pieces of legislation that underpin it; and the consistency of application through the supply chain, including contractors.

Consultation with other infrastructure providers probably includes, most specifically, consulting electricity companies because they work in this area. The purpose of this is to ensure that, before deploying any new infrastructure, providers explore opportunities for sharing existing infrastructure, and that would include underground provision as well. Early consultation with the electricity companies provides an opportunity to co-ordinate deployment with any plans to underground electricity cables in the area, so where everyone is linking up, they ought to be able to use the same trenches and ensure that as much is hidden from view as possible. In the meeting that we had with people from BT, they made it clear that this is what they would want to do—where there are opportunities for undergrounding, they will do it. That is something else that would have to be negotiated with the local authority regarding the contracts that those local authorities hold with BDUK.

I reiterate that local authorities that are procuring networks through the Broadband Delivery UK programme still have the opportunity to influence the type of infrastructure that is deployed; they are the procuring authorities, after all. Local authorities can also make adherence to the code of practice a contractual requirement of the Broadband Delivery UK projects for contracts that they enter into themselves.

In addition, bringing forward regulations at this stage would delay implementation of the broadband support package that the Government set out in September last year, particularly if the voluntary code first needs to be produced and agreed to by all parties, which we are confident will be the case. Indeed, we asked about when these regulations in the code will come into effect. We expect the code to be completed and ready to come in at the end of May—so not too long now.

We are anxious to see broadband implemented as quickly as possible. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, quoted some very interesting figures as regards the number of people who live and work within the national

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parks. It is not an insignificant number. All of those people, particularly in businesses, need access to fast broadband as soon as they can get it. The difficulty of placing a code on a statutory footing would be getting it in time and at this speed; it could disrupt the productive work that is taking place, which is supported all round.

Having said that, we recognise the concerns that have been expressed again today. We will be monitoring the operation of the code closely for both commercial and publicly funded broadband deployments. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, also referred to the meeting with Ed Vaizey, the Minister in the other place. Reviewing how the code of practice is working will be undertaken by him; he will include this in his regular meetings, which I gather are taking place once a week with all the communications providers. In the first instance, we would expect communications and planning authorities to report back on any early lessons learnt so that they can be reflected in changes to the code of practice. As I made clear, the opportunities for them to do that are very real and there will continue to be very close monitoring at the other end.

If concerns are raised with the Government on adherence to the code, we will of course need to consider whether those concerns are best resolved through bringing forward additional regulation, so this is not being ruled out. I assure the House that if it is concluded that regulation is needed, the necessary regulations could be brought forward with urgency and it would be our aim to put them in place. That could be done within a matter of months should the need arise and subject, of course, to Parliament agreeing to those regulations.

I hope that I have made clear why we do not support this amendment, which would, particularly at the moment, introduce delay. We believe that there are enough checks and balances in the code itself and from the monitoring that will take place within the Minister’s office and by the local authorities themselves—they have a very real role and interest in this. For the time being, anyway, we do not need a statutory code: we believe that the voluntary code will work. I hope that, with the assurances I have given, the noble Baroness will be able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Parminter: My Lords, I am grateful for those reassurances from the Minister and for the Government’s commitment to a strong code of practice. I am also grateful for the clarification that should this voluntary code fail to deliver the outcomes that we in this House wish it to, and to which at this stage both the broadband operators and the planning authorities are committed, the Government will look seriously at bringing forward—at the earliest opportunity, through secondary legislation—opportunities to make this statutory. With that, I seek the leave of the House to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 37 withdrawn.

Amendment 38

Moved by Lord Judd

38: Clause 8, leave out Clause 8

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Lord Judd: My Lords, one might ask why I am moving the amendment in the light of the good exchanges we have been having in our deliberations so far. I go back to the basic issue: why is this clause in the Bill at all? If we have had to have this tremendous amount of discussion, this avalanche of reassurances from the Minister, meetings at which reassurances have been given and all the rest of it, why have the clause in the Bill?

That means that it is necessary to look at the motivation for the clause. I suggest that the motivation is not what we have been talking about. It is not about preserving the unique role and position of the parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. There is a feeling that this could become an obstacle to other priorities in government administration and that, therefore, we need to look again at this absolute commitment and qualify it, whatever reassurances are given.

Like my noble friend, I read with great interest the note on the meeting with the English National Park Authorities Association. Again, it was far from clear to me after reading that why the clause was being proposed unless it was for the reason that I have put to the House. I therefore suggest that, at this stage, we need to hear from the Minister why it is essential to have it in the Bill, with all the qualifications that have now been made. I am sure that, as a reasonable person, the Minister will agree with me that those qualifications are all based on her word. They are not reinforced by the legislation. They are her interpretation, her good will, her undertakings and her reassurances, with a bevy of officials around her to add dignity and, I am sure, a good deal of intellectual input to the occasion.

The clause and its purposes, and why it is there in opposition to the priority we have all had in the past, are the real issue. I seek from the Minister some kind of convincing argument as to why the clause is necessary. I beg to move.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I have not tried to get into the discussion on Report so far. I made my view clear in Committee that this clause was a good thing. I, too, warmly commend my noble friend on the Front Bench for the amount of care and trouble that she has taken. I particularly valued the meeting that she arranged with the representatives of BT. I found it extremely informative, both as to their attitude to all this and as to some of the technology, of which I confess I was not wholly aware. For instance, one does not need a continuous line to take superfast broadband across the country. If you have the right equipment in a cabinet, you can, I think, go up to a kilometre by wireless transmission. That may well be a way in which one can protect a particularly sensitive area from the need for lines.

The other thing that was made absolutely clear, and which we have heard all along from my noble friend, is that for overhead lines we are not talking about anything other than poles. This is not the kind of thing one has for mobile telephones; they are straightforward wooden poles with the wires on top. I recognise what has been said about the need to site these sensitively, because one is talking about sensitive areas.

I totally admire the sincerity of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, on this. He feels very strongly about it. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, read a bit of a passage from

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the conclusions of the meeting with the national parks and others, which was held under my noble friend’s chairmanship on 1 March. He quoted the first sentence of the paragraph headed:

“Working together on the deployment of superfast broadband”.

It states:

“Ed Vaizey emphasised that the clause is not about stigmatising National Parks and AONBs as obstacles”.

That is absolutely right. He then went on to the next paragraph, but it is worth reading the words that come between because I think that to some extent they answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, as to why we have the clause at all. It states that Mr Vaizey said:

“Government recognises the important work that they”—

the national parks—

“already do in encouraging broadband deployment. However, we need to find a way forward to encourage investment in broadband and provide the certainty we need that will ensure the public money being used to support Broadband is not tied up with bureaucracy”.

4.15 pm

It is a question of encouragement, of removing obstacles and of trying to reduce the time taken for this. I entirely understand that, in view of the very limited experience that they have had so far; as has been said, the sample of past experience is very small. However, if they are going to take broadband to all the many tens of thousands of businesses—the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, quoted the figures—there are going to be a lot more. I will happily give way.

Lord Judd: I wonder whether the noble Lord, who is a good friend of many years’ standing, might just reconsider the impression he is giving that it is a question of the practical needs of the nation against bureaucracy. I do not believe that that is the situation at all. Of course there are practical needs of the nation, and in this sense I declare an interest, as I have done before in our deliberations: I live in a national park and I want good broadband—of course that is true. Having said that, what we have had in the past is the paramount consideration of the unique role of the past. Regarding what is taking up time—and I again come back to the point which my noble friend has so convincingly made ever since we started deliberation on this Bill—it is precious difficult to find any evidence that there has ever been unnecessary delay or a hold-up of the kind described. In fact, I would suggest that there is no evidence that this is out of kilter with what happens anywhere else.

It seems to me that we want to ensure that, notwithstanding this need to take seriously the issue of broadband for the sake of a strong economy, we do not push to one side this paramount concern that we have had in the past. I do not believe that it is impossible to reconcile the two, but I think that it has to be argued very hard, and on occasion it will need a lot of serious deliberation. I do not think that it is just a straightforward administrative point. From this standpoint, it is not just a bureaucratic delay but a battle of priorities.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: I was happy to give way to the noble Lord and he has confirmed what I have always regarded as one of the most heartening aspects

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of this whole question: the universal desire to make sure that broadband reaches even the most remote rural areas so that they can participate in the modern economy. That is hugely important. It is absolutely right that it is a function of Parliament, and perhaps of this House in particular, to ensure that there are proper safeguards and controls and that AONBs are properly protected. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, talked about the unique value of these national parks. It is a question of finding a balance between those two.

I believe that this clause is right, and it would be a pity if the noble Lord were to press his amendment—I am not sure whether he will—and if it were carried. We have had a good discussion. The amount of care that my noble friend has taken and the number of meetings that she has convened and chaired herself have been extremely helpful in getting people to understand what is involved in this—and that certainly applies to me. I hope that we will resist the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, while at the same time recognising his passion for defending his beloved national parks.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I agree with the very last words of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. I have huge admiration for my noble friend Lord Judd, but even he would accept that they are not his national parks but the nation’s parks. That is why the concerns that have been raised this afternoon are so significant. They are held in trust for the nation, and we want to see that their beauty is preserved and enhanced for subsequent generations so that all the good work done by my noble friend is not wasted in the years ahead.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, nobody in this House would disagree with the last remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. We all have an interest and are all convinced that we want to keep hold of the beauty of the national parks and preserve them from totally inappropriate infrastructure. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, rather suggested that what I was saying was mere words. I hope that noble Lords will take it a step beyond that. In fact, mere words can be made to translate intention into real life. The scrutiny that this House has given this clause is invaluable because it will be exactly and precisely recorded how the broadband operators are going to work and how everybody is going to co-operate. The reasoning behind the clause will be made clear.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, kept saying, “Why is this clause necessary at all?”. When we started this afternoon, I gave a rather truncated version of why the clause is necessary. It will make sure that the providers know how long this whole process will take. Everybody wants this completed as soon as possible. If there are problems at any stage that hold that up and that cannot be dealt with by the code of practice, the consultations or the discussions between all the parties, at the end of the day the operators will know that they can proceed—although it will probably be over everybody’s dead body. We believe that that is important. Goodness knows, we all know of many projects that get held up because people disagree and nobody will come to a conclusion, but this will ensure that there is a conclusion

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and that the process can proceed. Again, I expect there to be a hold-up in a very limited number of cases but, should those cases arise, these provisions will be helpful for carrying on and ensuring that we deliver broadband as quickly as we possibly can.

It may be of interest to noble Lords to know that for the first time Ofcom has published something called the European Broadband Scorecard. I am sure that noble Lords have all lit on this as something which has the lightness of touch that they want to read at night as they go to bed. It is intended to allow the Government to measure progress towards their ambition. The scorecard currently shows that the United Kingdom is performing well among the major European economies. We currently benefit from low prices and a high degree of competition in the broadband market, and so far the UK has the best deals available for consumers across a selection of pricing bundles in the major European economies. On superfast broadband coverage, this country currently ranks in third place behind Germany and Spain. Clause 8 is intended to help to improve on that position by making sure that we achieve our goals by 2015.

We recognise that more rural and remote areas, including protected areas, are where an infrastructure upgrade is needed the most. We also recognise that they are some of the areas in the country where there is most sensitivity. However, we do not want those rural areas to be left behind.

The national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty have been key partners in the rollout of broadband and we very much welcome their involvement, their commitment to the process and their conclusion that the first amendment I moved, in particular, was satisfactory and solved their particular problems.

Things are already happening. Connecting Cumbria is a partnership which has brought together a range of partners who are already working together and improving the broadband process. When Ed Vaizey, the Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, and I met with representatives from the national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, he confirmed—and I confirm again what I said in relation to the previous amendment—his intention to continue working closely and having regular meetings with them throughout the deployment of superfast broadband.

The Government remain convinced that the natural environment and landscape is of vital importance. That is why the code of best siting practice for operators and planning authorities will have input from the national parks. That is why the duty that we are adding to promote economic growth sits alongside the other duties, including,

“the need to protect the environment and, in particular, to conserve the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside”.

That is why “environmental sustainability” is a condition of the Broadband Delivery UK contracts.

The rollout of superfast broadband is of national importance because of the contribution that it can make to GDP growth, apart from anything else. It is, however, an infrastructure that is built locally. Local authorities know their areas and that is why the Government have given them a central role in all this. They are in charge of the Broadband Delivery UK

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contracts in their areas and will be able to set their own conditions on those contracts. For example—and here I underline the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis—if they want to, they can specify in the contracts that in certain areas cables must be underground. They can also specify requirements in respect of the visual impact of installations. This can include compliance with the code of best siting practice, when it has been agreed, which it is hoped will be in May.

A number of questions have been raised as to why, given the excellent work under way from the national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, this clause is necessary. I hope that I gave the answer to that in my opening response. It is crucial not only that we achieve value for money from the investment that we make but that we get speed broadband developed as quickly as we possibly can.

It is important to make the point that we are not suggesting that without this clause applications for cabinets or poles will be turned down. We recognise that the vast majority of applications for telecoms equipment have been accepted to date and that the national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty are extremely keen to work with us on broadband coverage. I have given the reasons for this clause twice now, so I will not go through them again.

It is also about providing local authorities with a choice of deployment options. The relaxation of the restriction on new overhead lines does not mean that it will become the default deployment option. Perhaps I may also make it clear, for the avoidance of doubt, that the intention is not to use the Clause 8 power to remove prior approval requirements for mobile masts. This measure is being introduced to provide flexibility and an additional deployment option to enable superfast broadband to be deployed in the more commercially challenging parts of the UK.

We have had an excellent discussion on this clause. We have spent quite a lot of time on it in this House and I do not regret that at all. At the end of the day—and I hope at the end of today—we will all have provided answers to some of the many questions that have been raised. I hope that, as a result of what we have done in the House today and the work that has been undertaken, we can be sure that superfast broadband will be rolled out as quickly as possible. With that, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, will feel satisfied enough to be able to withdraw his amendment.

4.30 pm

Lord Judd: My Lords, I thank all those who have participated in the debate on the amendment, not least the Minister for her characteristically full and sensitive reply. In our deliberations today, she has drawn the attention of the House on more than one occasion to meetings with the English National Park Authorities Association and has sought to reassure the House that its concerns have been met. Of course, the ENPAA is firmly on record that it would like the clause removed. Therefore, the Minister has not met that particular concern. To her credit, she has not attempted to claim that.

This has been an important debate because, listening carefully to the Minister and to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, with his tremendous commitment

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to the economic success of the British economy and the contribution by an efficient energy sector to that success, it has become clear to me what I have always worried about. In this game, we can have all the reassurances and all the arrangements that we like as to what ideally should happen, but it must be firmly understood that going ahead with projects, in the end, prevails. That is where I get off the bus. I take second place to nobody in wanting a strong economy, not as an end in itself but in the interests and for the well-being of the British people. I am convinced that the parks, the areas of outstanding natural beauty and, indeed, much of our countryside make an unrivalled contribution to the well-being of the British people. I do not want to fudge this. There will be moments when the interests of that wider well-being—measured not just in cash terms, in financial terms, but in the richer enjoyment of life and the fulfilment of potential—will need to take precedence if we want a civilised society in which to live. That is the whole point. The Government do not share that view because they believe that in the end the financial considerations of the economy and the rest must at all costs take precedence. That is probably why I am on this side of the House and the noble Baroness is on that side of the House. That is an honest position. I do not take a totally materialist view of the well-being of the nation.

I have listened to the arguments put by the Minister and others. I have also, because I have been here a long time now, listened to the atmosphere conveyed by words—if you can listen to an atmosphere; I think that noble Lords will know what I mean—and at this stage I have to say that I see a lawyers’ paradise ahead and some very tough battles ahead for those who share my perception of what our civilisation and society should be. Just at this moment, we will have to make good with the assurances that the Minister has given. I genuinely hope—I am not being in any way sarcastic—that she will go to her grave, a long time hence, convinced that all she said is being fulfilled in the spirit and not just the detail. I hope that one day she will come to share my view of what is the well-being of the British people and what hard decisions may be necessary in that context. However, at this stage, I seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 38 withdrawn.

Amendment 39

Moved by Lord Shipley

39: After Clause 8, insert the following new Clause—

“Definition of indebtedness

(1) The Localism Act 2011 is amended as follows.

(2) For section 171 substitute—

“171 Definition of indebtedness

(1) A local authority shall determine and keep under review the amount of housing debt held by that authority.

(2) A determination under this section must have regard to the duty to determine an affordable borrowing limit under section 3 of the Local Government Act 2003 (duty to determine affordable borrowing limit).

(3) A determination under this section must have regard to any guidance issued or approved by the Secretary of State and this may include provision requiring a person making a determination

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under subsection (1) or (2) to have regard to one or more specified codes of practice, whether issued by the Secretary of State or another.

(4) A local housing authority may not hold debt in contravention of a determination under this section.

(5) In this section “housing debt”, in relation to a local housing authority, means debt—

(a) which is held by the authority in connection with the exercises of its functions relating to houses and other property within its housing revenue account, and

(b) interest and other charges in respect of which are required to be carried to the debit of that account.””

Lord Shipley: My Lords, the amendment would help to solve three problems: the urgent need for more social housing; the lack of growth in the economy; and the need to boost the construction industry. It is supported by a number of organisations: the Local Government Association, of which I declare my vice-presidency, Shelter, the Home Builders Federation, the Federation of Master Builders, the Chartered Institute of Housing, the National Housing Federation, London Councils and, crucially, the National Federation of Arms-Length Management Organisations, ALMOs. All urge a relaxation on borrowing by local authorities to enable them to build up to 60,000 more homes over five years.

Last year saw the lowest house completion rate since 1923. The Government urgently need to get more social homes built and there should be absolutely no reluctance to build them. The shortage is now being exacerbated by the underoccupancy or bedroom tax. Many people on low incomes want to move to a council home with fewer bedrooms but too many are unable to do so because the homes do not exist. The numbers on housing waiting lists, the rising demand for temporary accommodation and high rents in the private sector all point to the social and economic benefit of building more homes at below-market levels. This amendment would help to build the homes that people want to move into.

The question is whether it is affordable for local government. Councils have the capacity to build more homes, given that council housing is now self-financing. They could raise £7 billion. This could be done if the Government removed the borrowing cap on housing revenue accounts, relying instead on a prudential borrowing code to guarantee that only sustainable investment gets the go ahead. Many councils have successfully used prudential borrowing and have shown that they can manage such borrowing without risk. The Local Government Act 2003 already empowers the Secretary of State to cap any local authority which undertakes risky borrowing.

I understand the need for the Government to be careful about public borrowing levels. However, relaxing the housing borrowing cap need not be counted as public sector borrowing any longer. The UK uses a much wider measure of public debt than other countries. Council housing is a trading activity and international regulations already permit this to be discounted from government borrowing levels, although unfortunately the UK does not currently adopt such an approach and I remain puzzled as to why it does not. Council housing has been self-financing since April last year, and that is welcomed. The average debt on a home is

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just over £17,000. There is clearly scope for additional borrowing against the asset represented by the existing housing stock.

This is an opportune time for the Government, with the support and input of partners such as CIPFA and the Local Government Association, to produce a new, additional, prudential borrowing code, focused on borrowing undertaken specifically through the housing revenue account. The prudential code framework is a successful model that has worked well and supported councils to manage their borrowing sensibly. A similar model alongside strong backstop provisions already in legislation—the 2003 Act—would be an effective safeguard on borrowing through the housing revenue account.

I spoke on this matter in Committee and this new clause differs slightly from that tabled in Committee to emphasise that local authorities must have regard to government guidance such as a new prudential borrowing code. Ministers raised concerns in Committee that removing the housing borrowing cap could jeopardise the Government’s deficit reduction programme. This amended new clause, alongside a new, tailored prudential borrowing code, discussed by providers and authorised by HM Treasury, would offer a compromise approach to the Government that could address the concerns of Ministers.

Advice has been received that there would be no adverse reaction from the capital markets. This is because the increase in borrowing would be comparatively low and, in any case, the sums involved fall well below the size of the OBR’s forecasting errors on local government debt. This amendment offers a major opportunity to build more homes, to cut waiting lists, to get builders building and to drive growth. I beg to move.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, to which I have added my name. I imagine that my noble friend on the Front Bench will have seen the letter published in the Financial Times this morning under the heading, “Give councils freedom to build homes”. In addition to the list of organisations which the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, quoted at the beginning of his speech, this letter is signed by 13 separate organisations, which one might say cover the whole field of housing all the way from the Home Builders Federation to Shelter, and including, as just mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, the National Federation of ALMOs—arm’s-length management organisations. They make this important point in the letter:

“Investing in housing not only helps tackle the housing crisis, which requires us to double the number of national homes and build 249,000 homes in London alone by 2020, but also stimulates economic growth and creates jobs. Building 60,000 homes would add 0.6 per cent to gross domestic product and create 19,200 jobs. For every £1 invested by the public sector in construction, 56p returns to the exchequer”.

I find the arguments in favour of modifying and lifting the housing cap really quite overwhelming. I recognise that my noble friend on the Front Bench has very little option but to defend the existing policy and I do not blame her for that—she is a loyal member of the coalition and that is exactly what one would expect. I therefore address my remarks to the Chancellor of

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the Exchequer. It will rest with him, in his Budget in a few days’ time, to convince the country that he really has a strategy for growth as well as a strategy for cutting the deficit and, eventually, reducing the debt. I cannot think of any better way for him to convince the country, and large numbers of people who are currently looking for housing of various sorts—not just affordable housing but housing they wish they could find if only it was available—that this strategy actually does mean benefits for the country. It would be something that would considerably lift the spirits of all those who are deeply concerned, as I am, about the level pattern of GDP under the present circumstances. It is a very uncomfortable position for a developed country to be in. One can understand why we have got here but, as well as reducing the deficit, we must attain a proper strategy for growth. I am convinced that my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer accepts that.

Many policies—I will not weary the House with reciting them all—have been introduced with the objective of trying to restore growth to the economy, but here is one which evidence shows, really conclusively, could have a really quite dramatic effect on what is a hugely important area of our national life, namely the provision of houses. The building of houses has declined substantially over recent years. Although, as my noble friend has pointed out, council housing is now self-financing, the fact of the matter is that councils have huge resources but are not entitled to borrow against them, even though they would of course be subject to the general restrictions on borrowing that apply to all of the public sector—this is a special restriction that applies to local authorities and housing. I cannot see that it is justified and issue a plea to my right honourable friend at the other end of the Palace to please look at this extremely carefully. It would be a valuable addition to his armoury and would go quite a long way to convincing the country that he is genuine about searching for growth.

4.45 pm

Lord Best: My Lords, I rise to give fulsome support to this amendment. It addresses an issue which is high on the priority list of the Local Government Association, and I declare my interest as its president. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, on those remarks, which will probably have more weight than anything I say, but perhaps I could add a little elaboration to the excellent points already made.

During the passage of this Growth and Infrastructure Bill, noble Lords from all parts of the House have noted that a key element in the growth agenda is the necessity to reduce the housing deficit—the acute and growing shortage of the homes that we need—and as in all previous recessions, to use housebuilding as a key engine for economic recovery. If we returned to housing output levels of just a few years ago—even then we were not building enough—we would add 1% to GDP. That is enough to lift the country above the threshold for an officially defined recession. That is the reason why the backing in the Financial Times today came not just from the bodies representing housing providers, but the CBI and representatives of British business and industry.

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At present, there are few levers to pull to get housebuilding going again. Another part of this Bill is based on the hope that allowing housebuilders to cut back on their obligations to provide affordable housing will persuade them to start work on stalled sites. I hope that that part of the Bill, following our earlier deliberations, and the Minister’s helpful clarification of the Government’s intentions, will prove fit for purpose. However, it seems unlikely to make a huge difference. It is, of course, about less not more affordable housing—fewer homes at prices or rents that the next generation can afford.

This amendment, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Shipley, Lord Tope, Lord Jenkin of Roding and myself, goes for a bigger prize—a real opportunity to get a lot of homes built for those on more modest incomes, and almost miraculously, without recourse to large amounts of public subsidy. The amendment would allow local authorities, within constraints required by the Secretary of State, to borrow prudentially and to use the security of their housing assets. Thereby, they will make a significant local contribution to meeting housing needs and boosting the output of the construction industry.

Not so very long ago, councils were building 200,000 homes in a single year. By 1990, the annual output was down to 14,000 new homes in 1990. Today, it has dropped to virtually zero. In London, for example, just 80 new homes were built by local authorities in the years 2003 to 2010. The Government’s admirable self-financing housing revenue account reforms should now make possible a programme of an average of 5,000 new homes, from councils, for each of the next five years. This is a good start, but local authorities have the capacity to do far better.

Many councils have sites—plots of vacant land, redundant council buildings and all those unsightly garages on estates that can be demolished. They now need the opportunity to borrow and repay from rental income, and indeed to use cross-subsidy from house sales in mixed tenure developments to boost affordable housing numbers. Very often, they would achieve these results through working in partnership with a housing association or a private sector builder. What they need is the current artificial constraints on their borrowing powers for housing purposes to be lifted.

The Chartered Institute of Housing, with the Local Government Association and others, set out the case in a report Let’s Get Building:The Case for Local Authority Investment in Rented Homes to Help Drive Economic Growth, by John Perry. This shows that another 60,000 homes would be built over the next few years if the lending cap was lifted. This represents an addition of 10% on top of the private sector’s efforts and the important work of housing associations, and that would make a real difference.

Why would the Government not wish to see this modest extension of local freedoms taken forward at a time when there are so very few other ways of stimulating growth and tackling the backlog of unmet housing need? The answer is that the extra borrowing would add to the total UK public sector debt. However, since this borrowing can be comfortably repaid, it does not add to the structural deficit. Also, extra taxes, benefit savings and reduced expenditure on temporary

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accommodation, et al, would immediately return much of the extra spending. As London Councils and CIPFA have pointed out, the borrowing caps are unnecessary given that councils are not subject to caps on their non-housing borrowing.

Moreover, there is an anomaly here, which the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, has pointed out. In the other countries of Europe, this kind of borrowing by the municipalities is counted as trading and falls outside the definition of public expenditure used by the EU, the IMF and the OECD. By inventing borrowing rules that are unique to the UK, we are tying one hand behind our backs, as Professor Steve Wilcox of York University, the real expert in this field, has been pointing out for many years.

I understand the dilemma facing the Treasury. The problem is that raising the cap or changing the definition used in this country to mirror that elsewhere could send out the wrong signal. Even if it is entirely justified and sensible, the impression could be given that the UK is taking a more relaxed view of borrowing in the public sector. However, the sums involved are small. Council borrowing accounts for just over 6% of the total, and the estimated extra £7 billion that would be borrowed over five years, if this amendment was accepted, is a small part of local government borrowing. Managing the presentation of this change should surely be possible.

Turning to housing associations as the key providers of affordable homes has worked well but has relied on them borrowing heavily as grant levels have been cut back. Many will run out of borrowing capacity in about two years’ time and many of these so-called registered providers will not then be in a position to keep up their current modest but important level of development. We are going to need to bring on stream another source of investment in rented affordable housing. Fortunately, just such a source of investment is at hand.

This is a carefully calibrated amendment that enables the Secretary of State to be cautious in raising the cap for each local authority’s housing investment as he so determines. But it opens up the possibility of a real opportunity to get some significant growth going of the most positive sort, boosting the economy by some £20 billion in return for borrowing £7 billion, without the need for subsidy, raising taxes or burdening the next generation. I believe that the time has come for the benefits that this amendment could undoubtedly achieve.

Lord Tope: My Lords, my name is also on this amendment, which was so ably moved by my noble friend Lord Shipley and spoken to very eloquently and powerfully by the noble Lords, Lord Jenkin of Roding and Lord Best. That leaves little more to be said other than to repeat what has been said, and I shall try to refrain from doing too much of that.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, referred to the letter in the Financial Times today. I have been able to supply the Minister with a copy of that letter during this debate. I think it is noteworthy to list the organisations that have signed that letter. Reference has been made to there being quite a number, but it would be useful to have the signatories on record. They are: London

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Councils, which represents all 32 London boroughs and the City of London; the British Property Federation; the Chartered Institute of Housing; the Home Builders Federation; the Local Government Association; London First; the Federation of Master Builders; the National Housing Federation; the New Local Government Network; the Royal Town Planning Institute; Shelter; and the Association of Retained Council Housing.

I read that out, deliberately, to get it on record and to show what a wide range of support the amendment has from local government, planning, and the housing sector. It is hard to think immediately of an appropriate organisation that has not signed the letter. There is now overwhelming support for the lifting of the borrowing cap. As the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said, there are overwhelming reasons for doing so and it is hard to see why we should still be resisting it. As he and I recognise, the Minister who has the misfortune to have to reply to this debate is not the person who will be in a position to do anything about this. We all recognise that we are addressing our remarks, not to the Minister who will reply in a few minutes, but to the Chancellor of the Exchequer who has a speech to make next week. He must urgently recognise this need. The noble Lord, Lord Best, has referred to the message he is concerned about sending out. The message the Government want to send out, which is shared on all sides of this House, is that there is an urgent need to get building. That is the important message from this debate. The Bill must recognise the need for more housing. It must also recognise the need for growth which is in the title of the Bill and which many of us feel the Bill is not yet doing enough to achieve.

We therefore urge the Chancellor, through the Minister who will reply shortly, seriously to consider lifting the cap or, at the very least, sending a clear and strong message that that is the Government’s intention. Reference has already been made to the international consideration that the United Kingdom is the only country in the EU not to use the internationally recognised rules. If we were to do so, it would have very little effect in terms of the message to which the noble Lord, Lord Best, referred. I understand that, standing on this side of the Chamber, praying in aid of the European Union is not always to my advantage, but on this occasion the Government should give serious consideration to that. I hope the Minister will surprise us all, stand up and say that the Government are now ready and able to accept the amendment and that the cap will be raised in the way suggested. If that does not happen today, I hope we will see a more positive move in a few days’ time in another place. If that cannot happen now—I would need to understand in the next week or two why it cannot happen now—will the Government at least reassess the borrowing ability under the current cap? Will they speed up consideration of the consultation on the use of other means, such as using local government pension funds?

The Government want to send a message that they are serious about housebuilding. They also want building to start happening and to start getting building completions. If that is to be achieved in the period of office of the current Government, it needs to be happening this year. It is urgent. The amendment proposes an

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internationally recognised way of achieving that. I hope the Minister can give us some indication of support and that next week we will get a better and clearer indication from the other place.

Lord Smith of Leigh: My Lords, I support this amendment and congratulate the four noble Lords who put their names to it on their contribution. I declare an interest as vice-president of the LGA.

It is difficult to find much more to say, but I want to remind noble Lords of what has been said. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, made the point that this is important for its economic impact. As it concerns housebuilding, 92p in every £1 is spent within the UK, making it a very effective way of recycling money within the British economy. It has a strong multiplier effect. This goes to the heart of what the Bill is about. The provision would have a great social impact, because, as noble Lords have commented, we have not produced enough social housing in this country for many years now, with great shortages across the country. We need to do more on that. This provision would achieve it.

The financial arguments, too, are strong, because the provision would be almost cost free for the Government. They would not be committing any tax revenue, but it would impact on deficit reduction. Not only would it produce the tax revenue that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, mentioned but it would reduce housing benefit payments, because, as people moved into social housing rather than the private sector, housing benefit payments would go down and fewer people would be stuck in temporary accommodation and so on.

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, mentioned the bedroom tax. He is absolutely right that, in many parts of the country, the mix of housing is not right to meet the problems addressed by the tax. There will be pressure to build one and two-bedroom properties to do that. However, the bedroom tax will have a greater impact than that. It will have a financial impact on the HRAs of many authorities as people choose not to pay. In my own authority, of the 4,500 households which will have problems with the bedroom tax, more than 550 are in properties on which we have spent a considerable amount of money adapting to the needs of some disabilities. If those people have to move, we reckon that it will cost us more than £1.5 million simply to place them in a smaller property that meets the needs of their disability. Within the pressures on housing revenue accounts, the most flexible side will be new capital builds. Rather than building new houses, we might have to spend the money on adapting properties.

If we do not accept the amendment, or something similar, what will happen to social housing during the next few years? The noble Lord, Lord Tope, read out a list of organisations supporting the amendment, but the key thing is not the presence on it of the usual suspects from the local authority world or the housebuilding world, of whom you might say, “Well, they would support this kind of amendment, wouldn’t they?” but the fact that the CBI has recognised that it would be one of the most effective ways of stimulating growth in an economy which really needs it. That should give it a lot more weight.

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I hope that the Government will consider this very carefully as a way forward. If they do not, I hope that my noble friends on the Front Bench will adopt it as a really good way of producing growth.

5 pm

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, we return to a local authority’s freedom to borrow for the purposes of its housing revenue account, an issue that was spoken to powerfully by the noble Lords, Lord Shipley, Lord Tope and Lord Jenkin of Roding, my noble friend Lord Smith and, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Best.

We have by any measure what we must call a housing crisis in the UK. According to the Government’s own figures, the growth in households in England is expected to mean an additional 232,000 households per year for the next 20 years. Last year, 2011-12, there were just 118,000 completions, which is 31% below the peak under the previous Labour Government. Thus completions are woefully short of coping with new households, let alone the backlog, the pent-up need.

We should acknowledge that the inadequacy of new provision is not confined to this Government, but matters seem to be getting worse. Last year, there was a decrease in the number of affordable homes created compared to the previous year, a pattern replicated in the decrease in the number of affordable homes provided for social rent.

These issues are of special importance at this juncture, because the need for new homes for individuals and families, so that they can have a decent life, is matched by the need to inject some economic stimulus which will give a spur to growth and help employment. As pretty much every noble Lord who has spoken has said, we need more homes, to buy and to rent, we need more jobs, and we certainly need more growth. Rather than imposing the draconian bedroom tax, one way of dealing with underoccupation is, as my noble friend Lord Smith said, to build more homes.

The availability of finance is obviously key. We have seen a plethora of initiatives from this coalition Government but their early decision to chop some £4 billion of funding for affordable homes has undermined their efforts to make progress. Switching to an intermediate rent model at a time when housing benefit support is under attack has not improved the situation. The Chartered Institute of Housing, Shelter and the National Housing Federation provide regular updates on coalition Government progress and their November 2012 report states:

“After two-and-a-half-years, it is extremely worrying that house building remains so low and that the Government’s record warrants no better verdict than ‘no progress’ towards improving the dire state of housing supply”.

We need to look at how this failure can be addressed on a comprehensive basis, and that is what we as a party are engaged upon. Our deliberations and policy conclusions will obviously be announced in due course.

What of the role of local authorities? It is more than 20 years since local authorities were able to make any significant contribution to new build. Where small progress has been made in recent years it is Labour councils which are leading the charge. We should not

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overlook the very substantial improvement to the quality of local authority housing stock over the past decade. However, if we believe in localism we must believe in the role of local authorities in addressing the housing needs of their areas as enablers and direct providers.

I acknowledge, as have other noble Lords, the role that local authorities have played in being sensible about prudential borrowing arrangements. The CLG Select Committee produced a focused report on the financing of new housing supply in April 2012 which included a chapter on the role of local authorities. This report had a range of recommendations including the lifting of the cap suggested in this amendment. The Government have—in a sense—already facilitated this by completing the reforms to the housing revenue account system promulgated under the previous Government. The report’s other recommendations covered the sharing and pooling of borrowing headroom, a changed role for ALMOs, a change in the classification of debt, looking to the bond markets as an alternative source of funding for the Public Works Loan Board, doing more to release land and ensuring like-for- like replacement of houses under the right-to-buy provision. We should—and are—looking at these issues comprehensively rather than in the piecemeal fashion suggested in this amendment.

Perhaps the Minister could make it clear where the coalition Government now stand on each of those issues raised by the Select Committee. They set out their original position, but given what has happened to the lack of growth, they may have changed their stance. Like other noble Lords, we would happily support the Chancellor whenever he gets up to make his Budget speech if he sees this as a means of getting some growth.

We certainly see the opportunity for an expanded role for local authorities and the benefit of building on the changed arrangements for the housing revenue account which is the thrust of this amendment.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I can confirm that while certain matters have been addressed to my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the other place, of course both my noble friend Lady Hanham and I will be consistent in the view which was expressed by the coalition Government that reducing the national deficit remains the priority. From that the Government cannot be deterred. I am sure the Chancellor, as he often does, will be following through Hansard the debates in which noble Lords have expressed their views.

Section 171 of the Localism Act 2011 provides powers to the Secretary of State to set a limit on the amount of housing debt each stock-holding local authority can hold. This was felt necessary because the self-financing settlement, successfully concluded in April 2012, gave local authority landlords direct control over a very large rental income stream and with it the potential to increase levels of borrowing beyond what we as a country can afford—indeed, far beyond what could be accommodated within the prudential code. I remind noble Lords that when the Local Government Act 2003, which introduced the prudential code, was enacted, local authorities did not have access to this extremely large income, which is now provided by self-financing.

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Several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Best, mentioned this scheme. This code has worked well but borrowing arising from self-financing must be affordable within national fiscal policies, which the prudential borrowing rules do not address.

Several mentions were made of housebuilding and new homes; the coalition Government remain committed to this objective. Noble Lords and others cite this amendment as a means to increase housebuilding. Let me assure noble Lords that the Government are committed to seeing an increase in housebuilding and have indeed made it easier for local authorities to build. Under self-financing we have given local authorities direct control over their rental income, some of which they may wish to invest in new homes. I remind noble Lords that the vast majority of council landlords—it is 139 out of 167, or more than 80%—have £2.8 billion of collective borrowing capacity within their settlement.

What is more, 157 authorities have taken up our offer to use additional right-to-buy receipts to deliver new homes needed in their areas, either themselves or by working with local housing associations. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, alluded to Labour leading the charge, to use his words, in housebuilding up and down the country. It is interesting to reflect on the 26 authorities which are delivering nearly 4,000 new homes with grant funding via the Homes and Communities Agency or the GLA. “Leading the charge” may be a slight exaggeration. If we look at those 26 authorities, three of them are Liberal Democrat and 11 are Conservative, with the remainder being Labour.

However, rather than getting into a political point here, the fact is that housebuilding is occurring. It is taking place within the limits which are being set by authorities of all political colours up and down the country. That remains reflective of the commitment that this Government have given. To put it in the wider context, in addition to that which we will deliver through the reinvigorated right to buy, 170,000 more affordable homes are being delivered between 2011 and 2015 with £19.5 billion of investment, over 75% of which is being provided by the private sector.

Several questions were raised and I will seek to answer at least some of them. Those which I do not answer, we shall of course seek to respond to in writing. Several noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Shipley and the noble Lord, Lord Best, asked why the Government do not use the general government gross debt instead of the public sector net debt to account for housing debt—a move that would bring us into line with some of our European neighbours, as noble Lords pointed out. I remind noble Lords that the general government gross debt excludes the net debt provision of public corporations, which includes housing debt. The Government use public sector net debt as the key measure of debt because their view is that it is the best principled measure of government indebtedness. One reason for this is because the Government are generally likely to step in if public corporations cannot service their liabilities, so a focus on public sector net debt provides a fuller and more transparent picture of the Government’s total liabilities. If there are not controls over public corporations’ accrual of liabilities, it means that the Government do

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not have control over their contingent liabilities, which if called upon would impact on the deficit as well as on general government gross debt.

Perhaps I could pick up on a few additional points. I believe it was my noble friend Lord Shipley who referred to the impact on financial markets. The financial markets have a view on this; the Government’s view remains that we are determined to ensure that the housing debt remains affordable. The figure of £30 billion is one which is perceived and we certainly do not wish to see any rise in that figure. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, mentioned various schemes and the Select Committee. On the specific points that he made on them, I will respond to him in writing if I can.

5.15 pm

I have a few general points. Some councils have looked at releasing land, and surveys have indicated that there is a great support for that. We welcome this and would encourage all local authorities to look to release more land for housing development. Where authorities cannot themselves afford to build, we would certainly encourage the release of land to housing associations for that purpose. We have also heard that councils are keen to invest and can do so quickly. We have heard about how they can work in partnership. We recognise that some local authorities have the willingness and capacity to deliver but equally—I come back to the point I made earlier—we cannot and should not allow them to do anything in a way that would increase public sector debt overall.

This is clearly an issue that we will return to again in future debates, but for now, I hope I have reiterated the fact that the priority of tackling the deficit means that the Government’s position remains unchanged, and we are unable to accept the amendment.

Lord Shipley: My Lords, I am grateful for the unity of views across your Lordships’ House. I am very disappointed by the Minister’s response although I am aware that agreeing to this amendment is not actually within his gift today because it is a matter for the Treasury and, specifically, for the Chancellor. I hope, however, that the strength of feeling demonstrated today will be taken seriously by them.

The Minister talked about the importance of reducing the national deficit, and we can agree with that. The point is that housing revenue account borrowing, because it has been ring-fenced since April 2012, need not count as part of the national deficit. I find it strange that the Government can promote sales of owner-occupied housing, where the average debt is £111,000, but with local authority housing, which has an average debt of only £17,000, they deem borrowing against the asset of those houses to be a challenge to the national deficit. There does not seem to be any logic in the Government’s position. I make no apologies for saying so, because housing revenue accounts are now ring-fenced and should not count as public sector debt. If the Government have a concern about the borrowing plans of any local authority, they have the power now, under the Local Government Act 2003, to cap that authority. However, they should not cap an authority which can use the prudential borrowing powers effectively.

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I am finding it very hard to understand what the disadvantage is of this amendment, but I am at least grateful to the Minister for having clearly spelt out the Government’s position. I know that discussions are going to continue on this matter outside your Lordships’ House, and I shall continue to press the case—I hope with the support of all sides of your Lordships’ House—for relaxing the housing borrowing cap for local authorities. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 39 withdrawn.

Amendment 39A

Moved by Lord Judd

39A: After Clause 8, insert the following new Clause—

“Controlling infrastructure: removal of redundant infrastructure

(1) This section applies to infrastructure on or under land—

(a) in a National Park or under the control of a National Park Authority or the Broads Authority or their successors in title; or

(b) designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

(2) It shall be the responsibility of the person, undertaking or authority who installed infrastructure to which this section applies to make arrangements for its removal in the event that it becomes redundant.”

Lord Judd: My Lords, I will be brief. We have been debating the importance of these new developments in the countryside in order that the economy will prosper. Technological development is sometimes faster than we believe or anticipate even now, and all sorts of changes can happen. It is entirely feasible that in quite a reasonably short period of time in historical terms, a lot of what we are talking about now will become obsolescent.

Who has the responsibility for putting the countryside back to how it was before we made special arrangements to breach our wider commitments? I hope that the Minister will have an opportunity to put forward how we can have watertight arrangements for ensuring that when projects of this kind are being costed by firms, the cost of removing the unsightly debris is part of their responsibility. One just thinks of the debris from the first industrial revolution, which despoiled vast areas of our countryside and indeed urban areas. Surely we have progressed. I would like to hear what the Minister has to say on this.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, that was a very straightforward question from the noble Lord, and an understandable one in light of what we have been talking about: the new infrastructure. Perhaps I can give him a couple of very straightforward answers, because that is probably what he is looking for.

There are already provisions covering electronic communications infrastructure under Part 24 in the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order. Where equipment has been installed using Part 24 permitted development rights, which I think is what we have been talking about, and the equipment is no longer needed, communications providers are required to remove it and to restore the land to its

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former condition or a condition acceptable to the local planning authority. Of course, national parks are their own planning authority. Failure to comply with a Part 24 condition would be a breach of planning control, and local planning authorities could use their enforcement powers to have the matter put right.

Where the equipment has been installed on private land, the Electronic Communications Code also provides for landowners to serve notices on communications providers requesting its removal. Paragraph 22 of the code specifically addresses what the noble Lord means by “redundant” equipment:

“where the operator has a right conferred by or in accordance with this code for the statutory purposes to keep electronic communications apparatus installed on, under or over any land, he is not entitled to keep that apparatus so installed if, at a time when the apparatus is not, or is no longer, used for the purposes of the operator’s network, there is no reasonable likelihood that it will be so used”.

In layman’s terms, that means that they are meant to clear it up if they do not need it any more. If the operator refuses to remove the equipment and the equipment is not lawfully on the land, the landowner is entitled to enforce its removal.

In respect of electricity underground cables and buried gas lines, it is generally more efficient and less environmentally damaging to leave any redundant equipment in place, but I presume that one must make sure that the land is returned as it would have been. In respect of overhead power lines, landowners can serve a notice under Schedule 4 to the Electricity Act 1989 to remove the equipment on their land, and the Secretary of State will consider each case on its merits.

I hope that that sufficiently reassures the noble Lord that there are provisions to ensure that what he fears might happen cannot happen and that they can be enforced. I hope that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I thank the Minister for having said what she has said and getting it on the record. We shall need to monitor this extremely carefully. This could well be another of those cases where we just cheerfully hand on to future generations the costs of our immediate priorities. I am not so sure that that is always a very good idea or a very responsible way to behave. I wish that at every point we could bring home to those who are taking steps that inevitably detract from the qualitative value of the countryside that they have real financial responsibilities for putting right what they have put wrong. Perhaps at some stage, when it is clearer how things are developing, we will have to consider specific legislation in this regard. In the mean time, I thank the Minister and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 39A withdrawn.

Amendment 39B

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton