My right hon. Friend the Minister has a reputation for being somewhat austere, which his earlier comments reinforced. He seems to believe that it is his solemn duty to prevent Back Benchers from becoming over-intoxicated by too much of a good thing and that he therefore cannot accede to our amendment (a). However, all the
changes to the Bills that I have listed demonstrate a willingness to listen, reflect and then act. All those changes reflect a degree of joined-up thinking in the crusade, as it were, to tackle climate change. The signatories to my amendment (a) believe that it is necessary for the Bill to do exactly the same thing.
It is particularly vital in the context of the 80 per cent. emissions target that we achieve a radical change in new infrastructure, in order to move to a low-carbon economy. In that context, we welcome certain provisions in the Bill, such as the climate change duty associated with local and regional plans. However, the Government have placed no duty on the IPC to consider climate change, because they argue that national policy statements will deal with climate issues. However, that argument is compromised by the fact that the IPC can depart from NPSs in defined circumstances.
Even if we take the argument about national policy statements at face value, however, we still need to place a strong duty on the Secretary of State to consider climate change when drawing up NPSs. However, Lords amendment No. 8 to clause 10, which relates to sustainable development, is so weak as to make little difference to the actions of the Secretary of State when it comes to the crunch. As my right hon. Friend the Minister has said, Lords amendment No. 8 says that
the Secretary of State must (in particular) have regard to the desirability of...mitigating, and adapting to, climate change.
Despite my right hon. Friends protestations, that feels very weak indeed. Desirability smacks of the language of aspirationmerely an objective to have in mind, but not necessarily to be achieved. The obligation on the Secretary of State is couched in language that would make it difficult for a court or anyone else to put a strong construction on the provisions.
Even if that were not the case, there is an inherent problem with almost any conceivable clause relating to sustainable development, precisely because the language of sustainable development is imprecise. The phrase is not defined in the Billas far as I am aware, it is not defined in any legislationand even non-statutory definitions are couched in open and vague terms. Amendment (a) to Lords amendment No. 8 seeks to replace the word desirability with a stronger construction, which places a duty on the Secretary of State to have
due regard to the need to...mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Julia Goldsworthy: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could enlighten us as to which legislation he lifted that wording from, so that the Minister can go away and double-check that the other legislation is untested.
Mr. Truswell: That is like the Schleswig-Holstein question. I have forgotten the answer, but I assure the hon. Lady that the wording was indeed lifted and that I will give her that information in due course.
The formulation that we propose strengthens the weak notion of desirability, replacing it with need or necessity. That would elevate climate change to an unavoidable consideration, even though it would be sufficiently flexible to leave room for argument. Lord Hunt suggested in the other place that the Climate Change Bill, and particularly the 80 per cent. emissions target, would deal with all those issues. He also asserted, if my reading of his words is right, that the Government could not be constrained by a duty to mitigate climate change, because that implied that all national policy statements would achieve that goal, when it was clear that they would not.
However, signing up to an 80 per cent. emissions reduction target has no direct impact on national policy statements, unless we create a direct link between the Climate Change Bill and the Planning Bill. For the reasons that I have just given, I submit that that link is weak to say the least. The Climate Change Bill makes no reference to the Planning Bill; indeed, it appears that we are being asked to take that relationship almost on trust. The reality is that achieving an 80 per cent. emissions reduction target will require radical new signals to industry. Much of that will have a positive economic impact, particularly in the field of renewable energy and other technologies, through research, design and manufacturing.
However, Lord Hunt seems to have suggested that a strong climate change duty might compromise energy policy, and that climate change has to be balanced by other priorities. That simply misunderstands both the opportunity for a low-carbon economy and the scale of the threat of climate change. In any eventI would be the first to admit thisour proposed amendment is not a straitjacket; it is a proposed subsection to an already quite weak clause setting out a sustainable development duty. In that context, our slightly more directive proposed subsection leaves, for better or worse, a considerable margin for discretion on the part of the Secretary of State. However, we believe that we have nudged that obligation in the right direction.
We cannot allow the Planning Bill to act as a massive bypass around the Climate Change Bill or climate change obligations. For that reason, I wish to push amendment (a) to the vote at the appropriate time.
Julia Goldsworthy: To follow what the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) has said, Lords amendments Nos. 2 and 8 concede an important principle, concession on which we struggled to get in this place and had to go to the other end of the Palace for the Government finally to concede.
have regard to the desirability of.
As the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) said, that smacks of a box-ticking exercise just to prove that regard has been given, rather than an effort to make a material impact on any decisions made. I urge the Minister to think again if he wants to send a clear signal, because amendment (a) would make it clear that the duty was categorical and not qualified.
There is also an important point about the need for good-quality design as well as environmental sustainability. Amendment No. 1 builds on that important principle in
the Bill. On the environmental theme, it is good that under amendment No. 102 regional development agencies would have such an obligation.
The review of national policy statements is another significant area covered by this group of amendments. We welcome amendments Nos. 3, 9, 10 and 11, which set out more clearly the circumstances in which the statements can be reviewed. The Liberal Democrats hope for a rigorous scrutiny process for the statements, involving both Houses of Parliament. Although the amendments do not build in the level of scrutiny that we think desirable, it will none the less be important that work that has been done is not undermined by an errant Secretary of State reviewing and changing the statements at will. It must be welcome that there will have to be a significant change in circumstances, which was not anticipated at the time of the initial statement, for those changes to take place.
The amendment, along with amendments No. 4 and Nos. 70 to 72, allows for part of a statement to be reviewed, so it would prevent the baby from being thrown out with the bathwater. If a review is needed, only parts of the statement for which the circumstances have manifestly changed should be reviewed. We also welcome amendments Nos. 20 to 24, which make similar changes to the provisions relating to any legal challenges that may be brought against the NPS. In a similar vein, amendment No. 7 would give the House of Lords the right to report on statements in its Select Committees, and to expect a response. That is important, right and proper, but I would have preferred a greater role for both Houses, with voting on the statements themselves.
Amendments Nos. 12 to 19 on retrospection are welcome. They respond to concerns that were raised in another place, not least by our former colleague from North Cornwall, Lord Tyler, that clause 12 could introduce elements of retrospective legislation by allowing previous Government statements of policy to become designated national policy statements without proper scrutiny. The air transport White Paper was of particular concern in that regard. We are particularly pleased that clause 12(4) is to be excised from the Bill to ensure that the Parliamentary requirements in clause 9 will have to be met afresh when an old policy statement is to be designated as an NPS.
We also welcome amendment No. 63, which removes the word exceptionally from the provision about people being given oral hearings. I was disappointed by the Ministers reluctance to give local people their say, but it is good that there has been some movement. However, amendments (a) to (c) to amendment No. 65 would strengthen the measure further, and it is absolutely right that the same rights should be extended to people who are cross-examined as are given to those making representations to the commission.
I pay tribute to my colleague Baroness Hamwee, who worked hard with the Minister in the Lords to have amendments Nos. 68 and 69 added to the Bill. We consider that to be a quiet, but significant, Liberal Democrat achievement. It is vital for local planning authorities policies to be considered along with national policy statements when the commission takes decisions. Amendment No. 69 ensures that the panel or council
that takes the decision on an application may have regard to conditions for deciding applications that are outwith the NPS. That is certainly welcome.
I also welcome the Ministers clarification of amendments Nos. 76 to 78, because it was not clear to me from reading them that they were the Governments way of saying that the IPCs functions will be reviewed in two years time. I am glad that that safety valve is there, but that could be made more explicit, as that seems a roundabout way of doing things. Some important issues have been raised, but I shall conclude now, as I want to give the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) time to speak to his important amendment.
Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): I shall speak to amendment No. 215, which deals with section 10 of the Water (Scotland) Act 1980, which hon. Members will know is my bedtime reading. The amendment deals with the responsibility of factoring companies such as Greenbelt.
In the past 15 to 20 years, there has been a big change in the provision of factoring services in planning applications to local communities. That used to be the responsibility of local councils, which adopted common land and land that was provided for local communities, such as land for swing parks. That service was paid for by council tax, or poll tax under the Conservative Administration. However, that changed about 20 years ago as a result of the explosion in private house building throughout the UK. After that, councils no longer adopted such areas because of the work load involved.
Since then, there has been a growth of companies such as Greenbelt. During the planning process, we have seen private companies taking over the responsibility from councils; we have seen lawyers selling the houses and not advising their constituents or clients that they would have to pick up an additional payment of up to £400 a year; and we have seen sales departments failing to mention the additional burden.
Until recently, it was possible to vote out these land maintenance companies, but sadly, companies such as Greenbelt have changed the rules. Now such companies buy the common land in agreement with the contractor and the house purchasers. In practice that means that, regardless of the service provided by such companies, people cannot sack them. Quite frankly, it is a disgraceful situation. People now find themselves responsible not only for cutting grass and the maintenance of swing parks in their areas, but even for their drainage systems. If the drainage systems go wrong, they have to pick up the tab. A company actually has the right to charge people for that.
Let me provide an example. There are 11 estates in my constituency and I recall that an abandoned car was found in one of them. The company charged more than 100 houses 2p a quarter: it had to phone the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and claimed that that cost £2, so it charged each household 2p. As I said, the company charges up to £400 a year and it behaves in a quite unacceptable and bullying manner. Anyone who refuses to pay because of the lack of service very quickly receives a threatening letter from the company, telling them that they will be blacklisted.
When I first mentioned the company in this place, it wrote to Mr. Speaker and told me that I had no right to raise issues about it in this House and that it had every
right to do whatever it wanted because it owned the common land and could charge what it wanted. If it did not provide a service, people still basically had to pay. This is Farepak for home owners, yet this company is operating from the highlands to Birmingham, in Wales and in Northern Ireland. Its behaviour is, quite frankly, outrageous.
One of my constituents, Paula Hoogerbrugge, set up a website to highlight the deficiencies of, and threats and intimidation from, the company. It then contacted her employersshe is a senior public relations manager with British Telecomto tell them that she was mixing with extreme left-wingers, when all she was doing was standing up for the residents.
John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friends flow, but he is talking about extreme left-wingers and I am wondering who they were. My hon. Friend makes a very good case. Does he agree that companies such as this have to be answerable to somebodyand somebody in this regard should be the elected representative, who can take on constituents cases? If that is not allowed, we need to look seriously into the law and find out how to bring these people to book.
Mr. Devine: I will come back to the amendment, Madam Deputy Speaker, when I talk about the other services provided. Amendment No. 215 is relevant. My hon. Friend is right. Companies such as Greenbelt buy up common land and gain ownership of it so that they can provide little or no service. As he says, it is very difficult to get rid of them, so we should be looking into changing the law in order to rectify the problem.
One crucial area of responsibilityamendment No. 215 is relevant, Madam Deputy Speakeris compensation for damage under section 10 of the Water (Scotland) Act 1980. In the past, it was the responsibility of councils to deal simply and purely with water drainage systems. That is no longer the case. People are now paying £400 a year to this company for the service. It was initially responsible for the management of common land and the swing parks, but it is now taking on the responsibility for water drainage systems. That affects my constituents and many others. Eleven estates in my constituency deal directly with this company.
In the past, under the Land Drainage Act 1991, the council would provide the necessary service. In the event of a flood, for instance, it would provide services to repair the damage caused by inadequate drainage. That duty has now fallen to Greenbelt and similar companies, and the charges are being passed on to my constituents.
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): My hon. Friend is speaking eloquently to Lords amendment No. 215. The amendment relates to schedule 12, which itself relates to Scotland. My hon. Friend has referred to the activities of such rip-off companies in other parts of the country, including my own in the west midlands. Do we need legislation in England, for example, similar to that which he is propounding for Scotland?
Mr. Devine: That is an interesting point. The problem is that some of the responsibility is devolved and some is reserved. I would argue that monopolies legislation is relevant. Why should my constituents, and literally hundreds throughout the United Kingdom, have absolutely no choice? Devolved issues include local government responsibilities, through planning legislation and the Water (Scotland) Act.
Mr. Devine: I shall conclude my speech, Madam Deputy Speaker. I believe that the Lords amendment has major implications for land maintenance companies, and for the planning procedure as a whole. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will agree to meet us to discuss the issue.
I echo the tribute paid by the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy) to Lady Hamwee. Let me add that Lord Dixon-Smith and Lady Andrewsrepresenting the Governmenttogether did a very good job in strengthening the Bill, and that, throughout the process, Lady Andrews and I have been supported very well by excellent officials, to whom I also pay tribute.
The other placeand this, Madam Deputy Speaker, relates to the content of the amendments that I wish the House to accepthas strengthened the Bill in a number of significant areas: the production of national policy statements, parliamentary scrutiny and debate on national policy statements, public consultation
Madam Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman certainly did, but at that point we were dealing with Lords amendment No. 1. Had time allowed it, I would have called the hon. Gentleman to move his amendment formally. Unfortunately, we ran out of time.