3 pm

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): Having listened to the positive speeches that have been made about Lords amendment 18, I wonder whether it needs more support from either side of the House, but I rise to support it none the less.

As a member of the Scottish Affairs Committee, I welcome the Bill, as amended, and recognise how positive it is that the Government have delivered the additional powers for Holyrood that were promised in the coalition

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1160

agreement, thereby fulfilling a manifesto commitment of more than one party in the House. As has been said many times—but it bears repeating—the Bill will deliver the largest transfer of fiscal powers to Scotland since the creation of the UK. It has involved a huge amount of work by many people, not least by Ministers at the Scotland Office. I congratulate them on reaching this stage with the Bill and on its being supported by Holyrood and the UK Government without reservation.

I welcome Lords amendment 18, which will facilitate better scrutiny of the implementation of the financial aspects of the Bill. As we all recognise, economic growth driven by enterprise and predominantly by businesses in our local communities will be a key element in the resurgence of this nation. Creating a new Scottish rate of income tax from April 2016 will give the Scottish Government more responsibility not only over how they spend revenue, but over how they raise it. That is a crucial discipline, which we hope will increase the likelihood that fiscal decisions will reflect the needs and priorities of Scotland, the Scottish economy and, most importantly, the businesses of Scotland. This is an opportunity to deliver genuine and innovative fiscal accountability for the people of Scotland. The amendment will further facilitate and enhance that.

I welcome the fairness, transparency and accountability that the amendment will promote, which have been mentioned by a number of Members. It will insert a new clause requiring the Secretary of State to publish a report on the implementation and operation of the financial aspects of the Bill within one year of the Bill becoming an Act, and thereafter to publish an annual report until a year after the tax and borrowing powers are fully transferred to the Scottish Parliament. I welcome the fact that such reports must be laid before both Houses of Parliament and sent to Scottish Ministers, who will have to lay them before the Scottish Parliament, and the joint working and greater co-operation that that process will undoubtedly promote. As has been said, the new clause will require Scottish Ministers to make and lay reports of the same kind before the Scottish Parliament on an annual basis and to provide a copy of each report to the Secretary of State to lay before both Houses of Parliament.

The new clause also sets out the areas that each report must include. That detail is welcome, and I will mention some of the details because, although they have been referred to, they have not been covered as comprehensively as I would like. The reports must include an update on all aspects of progress towards the commencement of provisions on the financial aspects of the Bill since the previous report; detail of any steps towards the commencement that the maker of the report proposes should be taken; an assessment of the operation of the provisions that have been commenced; an assessment of the operation of powers to devolve taxes to the Scottish Parliament or to change the powers of Scottish Ministers to borrow—those borrowing powers are substantial and I will return to them in a moment—or of any other changes to the financial provisions in the Bill; the effect of transferring tax powers on the Scottish block grant; and any other matters concerning sources of revenue for the Scottish Administration that the maker of the report considers should be brought to the attention of the UK or Scottish Parliaments. The sheer width of the areas that will be scrutinised in the report is to be welcomed.

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1161

There will be a new £2.2 billion capital borrowing power for the Scottish Parliament from April 2015. A limited version of the power will be in place from April 2013 to enable the Scottish Government to fund £100 million of prepayments for the Forth road crossing, which will allow early work on the bridge to get under way. That will provide an effective boost for the economy across Scotland and the UK.

The other powers that will be introduced and that will be scrutinised include not only the new Scottish rate of income tax, which will be in place from April 2016, but the power to introduce new taxes, subject to the agreement of the UK Government, from the enactment of the Bill, and the full devolution of stamp duty, land tax and landfill tax from April 2015. Those are not token gestures, but substantial changes, as the figures show. Last month, the Office for Budget Responsibility produced a forecast of the sums that will be raised under the Scotland Bill powers in 2015-16. The figures demonstrate the importance of good scrutiny. The sums are great: £5,265 million from income tax, £480 million from stamp duty, £151 million from landfill tax and £49 million from the aggregates levy. They are huge figures by any standards, and it is right that there is year-on-year reporting on them, with scrutiny and accountability. That is why the amendment is so welcome.

The amendment will strengthen democratic accountability, better inform all those involved and the people whom they serve and bolster political engagement in Scottish communities, which is welcome. The amended income tax provision in the Bill will mean that the procedure for setting the Scottish Government’s budget will be more responsive to the wishes of the Scottish electorate, and the additional provisions of Lords amendment 18 will effectively augment the implementation of the change.

The Bill as amended is about improving the devolution settlement and promoting economic growth effectively. The income tax proposals in it retain the reservation of overall fiscal management to the UK Government, but ensure that Scotland’s needs are supported alongside a UK-wide strategy of promoting growth and economic stability for all those in the Union. In welcoming the Bill, the report of the Scottish Parliament’s own Committee stated:

“The Scotland Bill is about good government. It is intended to improve how Scotland is governed and align decisions on spending and taxation more closely so that the Scottish Parliament will be more accountable and, in the long run, take better decisions. Better decisions will, in the longer term, mean improvements to many aspects of Scottish public life.”

I am sure the scrutiny that the amendment will provide—it is good to hear that it is a Government amendment—will indeed furnish those improvements.

Devolution on the basis of the Bill as amended will give Scotland the best of both worlds. It is better off as part of a strong UK when dealing with economic and global security shocks, and the devolution settlement as set down in the Bill will facilitate Scotland in making its own decisions on matters such as health, education, transport and policing. I am therefore pleased that, after careful consideration, the Bill has been supported by both Houses in the UK Parliament, and that it was passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament just a few days ago following agreement in March between the UK and Scottish Governments on its details. That is an example of the effective joint working that Lords amendment 18 is intended further to promote.

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1162

I congratulate the Government on their determination to continue to bring operational effectiveness to the new tax powers in the Bill through joint working over the coming months and years. The Bill is a fair and substantial way of promoting devolution, with the intention of reaching effective implementation. I am sure that Members of all parties will welcome the good intent that the Government are showing towards that effective implementation and joint working on the Bill. I welcome the Bill as amended.

Pete Wishart: It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce). The Scottish people are always pleased at the interest and indulgence of English Members of Parliament in our affairs and business. We are all grateful for that.

It is a pity that the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) has left the Chamber. I did not know whether to reach first for my horned helmet or my longboat during his comments about Vikings. I do not know how many people in Denmark are rushing to join a greater union with Germany—certainly I have never come across a Dane who has been keen to be part of that particular union.

The most notable thing about these Lords amendments is how little they were discussed in the Lords. I do not know whether other Members spent any time looking at the debates in the House of Lords, but I did, and “interminable” would not be the word to describe some of them. At times it seemed like the Michael Forsyth show—he was on his feet all the time. Such is his pre-eminent place in the Tory-led cross-Unionist alliance that people like him are leading the debate just now.

David Mundell: Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that, unlike the Scottish National party, Lord Forsyth achieved extra devolution to Scotland in the Bill? Lord Forsyth introduced amendments that extended the Scottish Parliament’s powers, which were accepted in the House of Lords and will be proposed in this Chamber. The Scottish National party has failed—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. I would like both the Minister and the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) to return to the subject of the amendments. We should talk about the subject, not what debates went on elsewhere. I am sure, Mr Wishart, you will do so immediately.

Pete Wishart: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I want to speak to the Lords amendments and discuss where they came from. We did not get much of a debate in the House of Lords. I do not know whether the Minister is helping the cross-Unionist campaign by promoting Michael Forsyth as a champion of the Unionist cause. I can see Labour Members practically squirming—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Perhaps I did not make myself abundantly clear, Mr Wishart, so I shall do it now. If you wish to address the House, I wish you to address it on the basis of the business before us, which is Lords amendment 18 and associated matters, and to do so now, please.

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1163

Pete Wishart: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was just making the point that there was very little in the way of debate, but the Government amendments are welcome. I particularly welcome the fact that the re-reservations have disappeared. I heard what the Minister said. I remember debates in the House going back to last March on the re-reservations of health professionals. I remember the passionate case that was put for—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. We are not on Third Reading for the hon. Gentleman to reflect on the entire debates on the Bill. We are on very specific and narrow Lords amendments, and I would like him to address them.

Pete Wishart: I seek your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is there not an amendment about health professionals? Can I not address that?

Madam Deputy Speaker: I have not heard the hon. Gentleman mention health professionals yet, except on that point. If it is relevant to the amendments, he can address health professionals.

Pete Wishart: I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker.

We have effectively ensured that there will no longer be re-reservations of health professionals because the clause was dropped, but the point I was trying to make was on how we managed to get to that point. I remember the debate and the passionate case that was put for the re-reservation of health professionals. The right hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs McGuire) does not agree with that, but I do not know whether Labour Front Benchers take that position or whether they believe that re-reservation is no longer required. I would be interested to find out how we got to this position.

David Mundell: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not hear what I said earlier. The Government reached this position because the Scottish Government gave assurances that they would work with the UK Government to ensure that the regulation of health professionals was the same across the UK. On the basis of those assurances, which I understand still hold good, the UK Government agreed that we would not put that clause in the Bill, hence the amendment. We have acted on the basis of assurances given by the SNP Government. I do not expect that they will renege on those assurances, and I hope the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting they will.

Pete Wishart: That sort of clarifies things, but I do not understand why the Minister did not accept the amendments when they were debated in the House in March last year. We know the right hon. Member for Stirling does not like the amendments and that the Minister has grudgingly given the re-reservation away, but we do not know the position of Labour Front Benchers.

Mrs McGuire rose

Pete Wishart: I will give way to the right hon. Lady even though she did not give way to me.

Mrs McGuire: I appreciate that I pre-empted this debate by speaking to the earlier group of amendments, but for the sake of clarity, I said that I supported the

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1164

amendment because of the assurances given by the Scottish Government that there would still be a system of strategic regulation of health professionals. I would not like the hon. Gentleman to misinterpret me even if I pre-empted this discussion.

Pete Wishart: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. I listened very carefully to what she said earlier, and picked up that her acceptance of that re-reservation measure was very grudging, as was her acceptance of the rest of the re-reservation measures addressed in this group of amendments.

There is one issue that has escaped attention, and that is the partially suspended acts of the Scottish Parliament, so that they can be challenged in the Supreme Court. One act of the Scottish Parliament that was challenged in the Supreme Court was our legislation on compensation for the victims of asbestos—a very important Bill that was supported by the whole of the Scottish Parliament. I am glad that the Supreme Court upheld the Scottish Parliament’s position on that issue. If that partial suspension had been allowed to continue, such challenges would have become much more common.

3.15 pm

Professor Tierney of the University of Edinburgh said, when he was advising the Committee in the Scottish Parliament, that the idea of partial suspension was deeply disrespectful. I am pleased that it has now been abandoned as a result of the insistence of the Scottish Government and the good negotiations that have gone on between this Government and the Scottish Government.

We welcome the fact that so many of the things on which the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament, through the Bill Committee, have insisted have now been accepted by this Government. That has made this Bill better. Thank goodness we no longer have the two-way traffic that was supported and promoted by the Labour party on re-reservations. That was anti-devolutionist and I am glad it has abandoned that position. We support further powers for the Scottish Parliament. We now have the support of the Labour party in trying to achieve that, and it is once again a devolutionist party. I only look forward to the day when we get all the powers—the whole shooting match—returning to the Scottish Parliament.

Mike Crockart (Edinburgh West) (LD): I welcome the amendments to the Scotland Bill, which—I am proud to say—was brought forward at the earliest possible opportunity in the coalition’s programme by a Liberal Democrat Minister, reflecting our 100-year commitment to home rule. The Bill is the outcome of an inclusive and iterative process, and reflects the devolution journey embarked on in 1999. I am sure that it will not be the final iteration.

The Bill devolves huge further powers to the Scottish Government, which will make that Government much more responsible to the Scottish people for the taxes they raise and the money they spend, and that is hugely welcome. Powers should reside at the best level for them to be exercised, and in accordance with that sentiment, the original proposed reservation of powers relating to insolvency and the regulation of health professionals—as well as the powers relating to Antarctica, as we would not want to forget those—was a sensible part of that

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1165

iterative process. I happily supported them as they reflected the key Liberal Democrat principle that powers should reside at that level of government where they most sensibly lie.

I understand the reason for removing those parts of the original Bill, given the assurances that the Minister has now received from the Scottish Government, but I am left confused by the situation that remains for the SNP and the Scottish Government. We now have assurances that insolvency will be treated similarly cross-border, and that regulation of health professionals will also be maintained in the same way. Those issues are added to the currency, monetary policy, the monarchy and, yesterday, income tax levels as areas in which there would be no change if Scottish independence were achieved. In the same vein, NATO membership may even be up for grabs.

The Bill and the amendments are the result of a sensible consultation and compromise, and that is surely the correct and proven way to move the devolution settlement forward. I know we will see further iteration of that once the distraction of independence has been put to bed as quickly as possible.

Mr Ian Davidson (Glasgow South West) (Lab/Co-op): May I make the same apology to the House as I made to you earlier, Madam Deputy Speaker, for having been late for the debate? There was a break-in in Glasgow and I was involved in clearing things up.

As Chairman of the Scottish Affairs Committee, I very much welcome clause 18. Aside from the political discussions and disagreements in the Committee and elsewhere about the Bill, the main issue on which we wanted the Government to move was the question of transparency and whether the transfer of financial powers, both borrowing and revenue-raising, would have unintended consequences. We were concerned that the transfer might lead to errors and a diminution in the amount of money going to the Scottish Parliament owing to other changes not intended by the legislative movements being proposed.

We wanted to ensure that everything was above board and clear because we recognised that gainsayers of devolution wished to identify causes of dissent and disagreement. We thought that illumination of the facts might remove difficulty. The proposals to make everything transparent address our major issues with the Bill. Others might have said this already, but this seems to be a major step forward from the Government, indicating that they are prepared to consider the work of a Select Committee and take onboard its non-partisan points. My Committee colleague, the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), is present. I understand that the Committee is the high point of her week—she has said that to me and my colleagues several times—and I hope that she has made these points as well.

Michael Moore: I hope that the difficulties to which the hon. Gentleman referred are sorted out quickly. I thank him and his Committee for their work and for his observation that the amendment resolves one of the central issues that he was anxious about. We assured him at the time that we wanted to ensure transparency and a proper ability for scrutiny. The report will be the basis of that, and I look forward to discussing the matter with him further at the appropriate moment.

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1166

Mr Davidson: I thank the Secretary of State for his good wishes. Witnesses have told me that someone was seen running away from the scene: they were wearing a pair of tartan trews, a kilt, a Scotland football top, a See You Jimmy hat and an Alex Salmond mask, and were holding a set of SNP manifestos, but this might have been a disguise.

I hope that how the dialogue has taken place so far will continue. The Secretary of State makes a useful point. It is essential that we do not simply have a big-bang transfer. As the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart) said, this has to be an iterative process. We hope there will be a dialogue with the Select Committee, before the transfer and even before the papers are tabled with the Scottish Parliament and at Westminster, so that all reasonable complaints can be raised in a multi-party atmosphere. It is important not to give those who wish to pick a fight unnecessarily the opportunity do so. It is therefore essential that the maximum amount of information is made available at all times.

I thank the Secretary of State for introducing the clause and the Government for following it through—and I hope, in future contributions, to update the House on the reports of the criminal activity that has been taking place in Glasgow.

Mrs Laing: I rise to speak to Lords amendment 18, which I thoroughly support, like everyone else who has spoken. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), who is something of an expert in these matters, for his measured and helpful approach, to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) for all her work on these matters in the Select Committee, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), whose impassioned speech has, I am sure, left its mark on the House, as it should have done. Unsurprisingly, however, I take issue with the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) over his patronising remarks about the indulgence of Members speaking in the debate whose seats are not in Scotland—[ Interruption. ] The hon. Gentleman has just indicated that he was being pleasant in his remarks. If that was the case, I thank him for them.

Fiona Bruce: If my hon. Friend was referring to a comment made following my speech, I must tell her that I took it in good part.

Mrs Laing: Perhaps I am being cynical about the hon. Gentleman’s motives; I have listened to him speaking in the House over many years.

Pete Wishart: I am very disappointed that the hon. Lady should interpret my kind and pleasant comments in such a way. The people of Scotland are always on tenterhooks waiting to hear what she has to say on the great Scottish issues.

Mrs Laing: It is a matter of fact that, since the sad passing of my mother, nobody in Scotland listens to me at all any more, but I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and I hope that he will forgive me for misinterpreting what he said.

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1167

The fact is that this is the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and the matters that are discussed and examined here affect the whole of the United Kingdom. That is why Lords amendment 18 is so important. Just as the people of Epping Forest have no particular interest in what happens in Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, Hull, Cornwall or Belfast, those events affect all of us none the less. We live together on this small island, and any artificially created divisions cannot hide the fact that we are interdependent and that our economy is the economy of the whole of the British isles. Those things that affect one of us affect all of us, and that is why Lords amendment 18 is so important.

The amendment clearly highlights the equal partnership, particularly in regard to taxation and economic welfare, between this Parliament and the Scottish Parliament. I wonder why anyone would wish to go further and create an unnecessary and damaging artificial separation. Amendment 18 and the others pertaining to this part of the Bill relate to an enormous transfer of power and accountability from this Parliament to the Scottish Parliament. So it should be. As a result of the transparency introduced by the Bill, as a result of Lords amendment 18, both Parliaments will be required to examine the economic fiscal affairs of each part of the United Kingdom. I hope that those matters will therefore be clearly seen as the years go on. If separation were to take place, we would lose all the strength that has been built up over a long time. I hope, however, that it will become apparent, with more transparency and a greater ability on the part of each of our legislative Houses to examine these matters, that the interdependence of the United Kingdom brings benefits to all of the United Kingdom.

David Mowat: To paraphrase my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), I rise with passionate moderation to speak in favour of Lords amendment 18, although I will ask for some clarification of those provisions and of the legislative consent motion from the Scottish Parliament.

For the avoidance of doubt, the proposed new clause in Lords amendment 18, for which many claims have been made in the debate, is concerned with the implementation of the financial aspects of the Bill. It is extremely welcome that we are going to have a yearly review of those aspects. My points relate to some of the wording in the Secretary of State’s statement in March and to the prior negotiation between him and the Scottish Parliament.

3.30 pm

Members have mentioned the Barnett formula, but it is not my intention to talk about it, other than to say that I do not apologise for being a proponent of a needs-based formula. I agree that moderate language should be used, but I would like to put on the record the fact that I feel that the current settlement is wrong. It is not a question of subsidy or largesse. The Scottish economy pays for the money it receives through oil revenues. I accept that. My point is, however, that for a nation or country such as the United Kingdom, revenues should be allocated on the basis of needs, not of where the oil is to be found. I put on the record again that the current arrangements have no element of subsidy. The

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1168

working of the Barnett formula merely ensures that Scotland is whole, as it were, in respect of the Scottish oil revenues.

Let me deal now with the statement of 21 March, which I think provided the basis of the proposed new clause. The Secretary of State said that he would like to reflect in the new tax-raising powers the proposal recommended by Holtham, which would shield Scotland from macro-economic shocks. There would also be a no-detriment principle. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) said that he felt the House of Lords debate on this subject was poor. I have read their lordships’ comments and I have also read those of the Scottish Parliament—and I would say that it is pretty much 50:50 in length and quality. I thought both debates were good, but I want to speak further on the issue of no detriment.

This no-detriment provision represents a change to the working of the Bill between now and the last time it was discussed in this House about a year ago. I hope that Ministers will put my mind at rest as to how it will work. To recap, the last time we discussed this matter, we were going to adjust the block grant for the amount of income tax raised in Scotland. That was to be a once-and-for-all adjustment, and then we would be able to move forward. If Scotland were to raise more income tax, it would have more revenue, enabling it to spend more on public services and so forth.

That position has now changed. The House of Lords called it a fudge. Essentially, the change relates to the principle of no detriment. My question is this: no detriment to whom? My understanding is that the allocation will be reviewed each year, as advocated in the proposed new clause. If, as a consequence of how the system works, Scotland loses out due to its income tax revenues not having risen as expected, an adjustment will be made to ensure that Scottish taxpayers are not out of pocket. That, as I understand it, is the no-detriment principle. There could be detriment, however, as this is a zero-sum game. I welcome the transparency of an allocation of that type, but its consequence will be a movement of resources from the UK to Scotland. That does not seem to me to be equitable, but perhaps Ministers will be able to put my mind at rest on that point.

Let me raise three questions about the proposed new clause in Lords amendment 18. First, is there a fear that the no-detriment principle reduces the accountability of the Scottish Parliament? I think it was Mr Crawford who, during the debate in Scotland, suggested that, had the principle been introduced over the past four or five years, there would have been an increased transfer to Scotland of many billions of pounds. That may or may not be true, but we should certainly not simply nod the measure through without its being understood.

I hope that the Minister will give me some reassurance. I think that we have all been present when Members of the Scottish National party have described the Bill as a dog’s breakfast and a pig’s ear. I apologise if I have got that the wrong way round and it was a pig’s breakfast and a dog’s ear. However, the transcript of the Scottish debate suggests that there was a lot more enthusiasm about the Bill there, much of it in respect of the no-detriment principle. So was Mr Crawford right? Is it true that, had the principle been introduced three or four years ago, there would have been a transfer differing

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1169

by billions from what was discussed a year ago on the Floor of the House? If that is the case, there should be a transparent discussion about it.

Finally, I should like to know whether the no-detriment principle implies a two-way flow. Does it work in both directions? According to my understanding of its operation, if income tax in Scotland as a proportion of the total UK income tax becomes less important, there will be an adjustment. Will that adjustment also take place in the opposite direction?

I repeat that, notwithstanding the fairly technical points that I have raised, I support the Bill and the Lords amendments, particularly Lords amendment 18. Whatever else it may do, it will increase transparency.

David Mundell: With the leave of the House, I shall respond specifically to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat), because I understood all the other Members who have spoken to be expressing support for the amendments, some more grudgingly than others.

I do not wish to question the accuracy of my hon. Friend’s analysis of the debates that have taken place in the House of Lords and the Scottish Parliament, but according to my reading of Bruce Crawford’s contribution to the Scottish debate, he made no reference to the no-detriment principle. He did, however, refer to the Holtham approach. There are two separate issues in play. The Holtham approach is about the adjustment of the block grant.

Lindsay Roy (Glenrothes) (Lab): Can the Minister confirm that the same Bruce Crawford did not describe the Bill as a poison pill, a dog’s breakfast, and dangerous?

David Mundell: I accept the hon. Gentleman’s recollection of what Mr Crawford may have said about the Bill on previous occasions, but as I said earlier, I welcomed his constructive approach in his dealings with me, with the Secretary of State and with the UK Government in taking the Bill through the Scottish Parliament by way of a unanimously expressed legislative consent motion.

During the debate in that Parliament, Mr Crawford referred to the Holtham approach, which, as I said a moment ago, relates to the adjustment of the block grant and is separate from the no-detriment principle. The Government have accepted that, as in relation to Wales, the Holtham methodology should apply for calculating block grant adjustments. That is the basis on which we will move forward. I do not accept that over the past 12 years or so the Scottish Parliament and Government have been deprived of funds. As others have said, no matter how much money is allocated to the current Scottish Government under whatever mechanism, it would never be enough.

The no-detriment principle refers to how the financial system will operate after the Scottish rate of income tax comes into force. Under that principle, the UK Government would either compensate the Scottish budget for the costs of their policy change on the devolved tax base through the block grant, or receive funds back if the Scottish budget benefits from the policy change in raised receipts. The cost or benefit to the UK from decisions taken on the income tax structure is therefore

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1170

exactly the same as it would have been before this Bill devolved 10p on income tax to Scotland, and the Scottish budget would be no better or worse off.

The Office for Budget Responsibility will forecast the impact of UK decisions on the Scottish rate of income tax, and we will take steps to ensure that the Scottish budget is compensated. There is therefore a principle of reciprocity. Where one Administration either gains or loses as a result of decisions taken by the other Administration, across the shared income tax there are measures in place to compensate for that loss or gain. This is simply a matter of common sense. It is based on the principle of accountability, which lies at the heart of the statement of funding policy.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South that where decisions taken by any of the devolved Administrations have financial implications for UK Departments, or where UK decisions lead to additional costs for any of the devolved Administrations, the body whose decision leads to the additional cost will meet that cost.

Lords amendment 2 agreed to.

Clause 10

Continued effect of provisions where legislative competence conferred for limited period

David Mundell: I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 3.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): With this we may take Lords amendment 4.

David Mundell: Lords amendment 3 would remove clause 10, and Lords amendment 4 would replace it with a new clause making similar, but expanded, provision.

Clause 10 makes provision regarding the status of the Acts of the Scottish Parliament after temporary changes to legislative competence following an order under section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998. There is widespread recognition that clarity is required on the status of Acts of the Scottish Parliament in the event that its legislative competence is reduced. The Government introduced these amendments in the other place to provide clarity following comments from the previous Scottish Parliament Scotland Bill Committee and the Law Society of Scotland.

Lords amendment 4 would ensure that Acts of the Scottish Parliament that have been validly made within the legislative competence that existed at the time do not cease to have effect purely because of changes to the boundaries of competence. Therefore, provisions contained in Acts of the Scottish Parliament will not automatically fall following an alteration of legislative competence, and no gaps in the law will inadvertently be created as a result. Such provisions would cease to have effect only if explicitly provided for in an enactment.

I hope the House will agree that Lords amendment 4 is sensible and will strengthen the provision originally contained in clause 10, and that Lords amendments 3 and 4 will be agreed to.

3.45 pm

Mr Bain: Lords amendment 3 removes clause 10, and Lords amendment 4 inserts a new clause before clause 11 on the matter of provisions ceasing to be within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1171

Clause 10 would have permitted laws passed by the Scottish Parliament under a temporary transfer of powers—such as under a section 30 order—to remain in force after that transfer had come to an end. We note that the new clause widens the scope of the transfer, with the effect that any such laws, whether in the form of an Act of the Scottish Parliament or subordinate legislation, would have effect even where the competence of the Scottish Parliament to legislate had been removed, irrespective of whether this had been granted on a short or longer-term basis. We consider the new clause to remove any potential future ambiguities, and on that basis we are content to support Lords amendment 3.

Lords amendment 3 agreed to .

Lords amendments 4 to 8 agreed to .

Clause 17

The Lord Advocate: Convention rights and Community law

David Mundell: I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 9.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendments 19 to 25.

David Mundell: There has been much debate about the role of the Lord Advocate and the Supreme Court in Scottish criminal proceedings. That debate has come a long way, and there is now agreement that the Supreme Court should have a role in relation to the European convention on human rights and EU law issues arising in Scottish criminal appeals.

The amendments tabled by the Government in the Lords took account of the many views expressed on these issues, including those of the expert group set up by the Advocate-General for Scotland. It would be appropriate at this point to remark on the passing of Paul McBride QC, who served on the expert group. Paul McBride was a well respected lawyer in Scotland and a highly regarded member of civic Scotland, and he is greatly missed by all who knew him and by the wider legal community. The amendments also took account of the views of the review group led by the noble and learned Lord McCluskey. On Report in the other place, he commented on the Government’s amendments. The end result of that process is something that even I could agree to about 98% of—which for anyone, never mind a lawyer, is a pretty good outcome, given where the debate started. In addition, the amendments tabled by the Government reflected the agreement that was reached with the Scottish Government to ensure that the legislative consent motion in support of the Bill was passed in the Scottish Parliament.

Lords amendments 9 and 19 to 22 replace clause 17 and make further provision about Scottish criminal proceedings. Subsection (2) of the new clause inserted by Lords amendment 21 would make the same provision as provided for by clause 17(2). That would mean that acts or failures to act by the Lord Advocate in prosecuting any offence, or as head of the system of criminal

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1172

prosecutions and investigations into death in Scotland, would not be ultra vires should those acts be incompatible with the European convention on human rights or EU law. However, it will still be possible for acts of the Lord Advocate to be unlawful under section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998 if the Lord Advocate acts in a way that is incompatible with the convention.

Lords amendments 19 to 21 provide for a new route of appeal to the Supreme Court for compatibility issues—questions raised in criminal proceedings about convention and EU law issues. Those issues would no longer be able to be raised as devolution issues. Lords amendment 21 would provide a right to appeal a compatibility issue from the High Court, acting as an appeal court, to the Supreme Court. The permission of the High Court or the Supreme Court would be needed for most appeals. An application for permission to appeal would have to be made within specified time limits, which could be extended if the Court considered that equitable.

Lords amendment 21 provides that the Supreme Court would only be able to determine a compatibility issue and would then have to remit the case back to the High Court. The High Court would then decide what steps needed to be taken in the light of the Supreme Court’s decision. For example, the Supreme Court would not be able to decide to overturn an accused’s conviction; that would be for the High Court to decide.

Stewart Hosie: I welcome that part of the group, but will the Minister make it absolutely clear—I believe he is just about to do so—that what we are seeing with these changes is an ending of the Supreme Court’s ability to substitute its decision for that of the High Court?

David Mundell: On this occasion, I am able to welcome the hon. Gentleman’s welcome. The provisions in the Bill, if these amendments are approved, will mean exactly that: the Supreme Court will not be able to substitute its own judgment for that of the High Court.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): Many of us in the House would wish to associate ourselves with the very generous and entirely appropriate remarks that the Minister made about Paul McBride. May I put it to the Minister that these amendments are an entirely effective antidote to the ill judged and ill informed comments made about the Supreme Court and its members by Scottish Ministers last summer?

David Mundell: I absolutely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. The remarks made by the First Minister about members of the Supreme Court were beneath him; they demeaned his office and were wholly inappropriate.

Mr Davidson: Just for clarification, were the First Minister’s comments successful, in that his criticisms resulted in these amendments? If so, we would obviously take note of that. If not, that deserves to be spelt out.

David Mundell: I am happy to make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that views expressed by the First Minister about the Supreme Court played no part in these amendments or the completion of the Scotland Bill. Indeed, in dialogue involving the Scottish Government and Lord Advocate a much more moderate and sensible

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1173

tone was adopted in relation to these matters, hence the ability to agree on what I would regard as a sensible and fair set of provisions that deal with the matters at hand.

Mr Davidson: Leaving aside the vehemence of the language used by the First Minister, was the substance of his comments the cause of the changes being introduced?

David Mundell: No. The changes being introduced today are a result of a process that was instigated by the Advocate-General for Scotland.

Sir Menzies Campbell: The Minister will recall that the attitude taken, to which both of us have referred, was to suggest that there should be no role of any kind for the Supreme Court in relation to any criminal issue arising out of Scotland. The proposals that he is now arguing for so eloquently represent an effective and entirely acceptable compromise.

David Mundell: I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his comments. The proposals that form part of these amendments were part of the legislative consent motion that went before the Scottish Parliament and received unanimous support of that Parliament. Indeed, they were not opposed or spoken against by any Member of the Scottish National party, including the First Minister.

Lords amendment 20 would provide powers for compatibility issues to be referred to the High Court and the Supreme Court. That will enable such issues to be dealt with more quickly, where appropriate, which will be useful when a compatibility issue has implications for other cases. There are currently no time limits for appealing devolution issues in criminal proceedings to the Supreme Court. It is important that there is finality and certainty, especially for victims, in relation to criminal proceedings. Lords amendment 22 would impose time limits for seeking permission to appeal devolution issues from the High Court to the Supreme Court for devolution issues raised in Scottish criminal proceedings. The time limits are the same as those that will apply to compatibility issues.

Lords amendment 23 makes provision for a review to be arranged by the Secretary of State of the new compatibility issue procedure and of the introduction of time limits for certain devolution issue appeals. The review is to be carried out as soon as practicable after the provisions have been in force for three years. The review may be carried out earlier if that is considered appropriate. It will be wide ranging and will look at all aspects of the provisions and consider whether changes should be made. The UK Government and the Scottish Government have agreed that the review will be chaired by the Lord Justice General.

Lords amendments 24 and 25 make consequential amendments to clause 41.

Mr Bain: First, let me associate the official Opposition with the Minister’s remarks about Paul McBride. I also thank the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) for reminding the House of the importance of the Supreme Court in ensuring that institutions of government are exercised in accordance with the rule of law. That is a vital element of our constitution and one that must not go unheard in the House today.

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1174

Lords amendments 9 and 19 to 25 collectively omit clause 17 from the Bill and add new clauses before clauses 38 and 41 in respect of the relationship between the Supreme Court and the functions of the Lord Advocate in criminal prosecutions in Scotland, Acts of the Scottish Parliament thereby affected, and the role of the Advocate-General for Scotland.

Lords amendment 19 amends the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 to provide that the Advocate-General may take part as a party in criminal proceedings in Scotland in so far as they relate to a compatibility issue over the actions or omissions of a public authority relating to convention rights or EU law or over whether an Act of the Scottish Parliament or any provision thereof raises issues of compatibility with EU law or convention rights in Scottish criminal proceedings.

Lords amendment 20 makes further amendment to the 1995 Act to provide that when a compatibility issue arises in criminal proceedings in a court, other than any High Court of Justiciary proceeding heard before two or more judges, compatibility issues may be referred to the High Court of Justiciary. That may be required by the Lord Advocate or by the Advocate-General, if he is a party to the proceedings. In turn, the High Court of Justiciary may refer a compatibility issue to the Supreme Court, and may be required to do so by the Lord Advocate or by the Advocate-General, if he or she is a party to the proceedings.

Lords amendment 20 makes it clear that the role of the Supreme Court is restricted to determining the compatibility issue, whereby the case is then remitted back to the High Court of Justiciary for determination in the light of the Supreme Court ruling on the compatibility issues. That amends the relationship between the two courts, and while it preserves the ability of the Supreme Court to make entirely authoritative and decisive rulings on questions of the compatibility of the decisions of the Lord Advocate in relation to Scottish criminal proceedings and the prosecution system, it also ensures that the High Court of Justiciary is the judicial forum in which any convictions required to be reduced in the light of such a compatibility ruling are reduced.

Lords amendment 22 introduces a new clause that creates a time limit for application to the High Court of Justiciary in some cases, and to the Supreme Court in more serious criminal cases, of 28 days following the initial decision or, in the latter case, against the refusal to give permission for a compatibility reference. However, as the Minister suggested, that time limit can be extended by either court on the ground of equity.

4 pm

Lords amendment 23 introduces a further new clause that obliges the Secretary of State to hold a review of those new processes three years after the entry into force of the new clauses that might include the requirement for prior certification. The amendments deal with the constitutional implications of the Supreme Court decisions in Cadder v. Her Majesty’s Advocate and in Fraser v. Her Majesty’s Advocate. In November 2010, an expert group appointed by the Advocate-General for Scotland produced recommendations on the revision of the devolution settlement and its handling of the Lord Advocate’s role in criminal proceedings. The group recommended preserving the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court over that area against the prevailing wisdom, if

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1175

we can term it that way, of the First Minister and the Scottish Justice Secretary, but refining the process of reference to that court.

The Scottish Government established their own review group chaired by Lord McCluskey which endorsed the continuing reference of some criminal cases to the Supreme Court on matters of compatibility with EU law and convention rights. The McCluskey review, however, suggested introducing a requirement of prior certification by the High Court of Justiciary before a case could be referred on appeal to the Supreme Court. That proposal was not endorsed in the other place because of arguments that the processes in Scotland and in England and Wales were not comparable, as there was no general right of appeal to the Supreme Court in Scottish criminal cases, unlike their equivalents in England and Wales. In particular, my noble friend Lord Boyd made a compelling argument that a requirement of prior certification could result in people losing the right to protection under EU law and the convention rights enshrined in the Scotland Act 1998 that they enjoyed. The requirement for prior certification by the High Court of Justiciary before seeking direct leave was further questioned by the Law Society of Scotland and by the Faculty of Advocates.

The amendments remove the Lord Advocate from the scope of section 57 of the Scotland Act in relation to the determination of devolution issues by the Supreme Court, and create a new category of compatibility issues that determine the Lord Advocate’s compliance with EU law obligations or those arising from convention rights in Scottish criminal proceedings. The new process is therefore more efficient and less cumbersome than the existing one. The amendments strike the right balance between protecting the existing rights of individuals in criminal cases while affording the High Court of Justiciary the ability to make final determinations on convictions in the light of Supreme Court rulings on compatibility.

Sir Menzies Campbell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, as I deduced that he was about to conclude. Is it not important to remember that the case of Cadder raised the issue of the right to legal representation and advice for someone in police custody, and that the case of Fraser raised the issue of the responsibility of the prosecuting authorities to make available to the defence all relevant evidence, perhaps to assist the defence in making a stronger case? Given that those are fundamental human rights issues is it not the case that the Supreme Court is exactly the place to determine compatibility?

Mr Bain: I entirely agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. One of the strengths of the devolution settlement is that it allows a court of the seniority of the Supreme Court to make these determinations. It would have been wholly irresponsible to remove these basic protections from people in criminal cases in the way that other politicians in the Scottish Parliament sought to achieve.

We are content with the amendments that have been made by the Lords and we will support them in the Chamber today.

Lords amendment 9 agreed to .

Lords amendments 10 and 11 agreed to .

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1176

Clause 25

Speed limits

David Mundell: I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 12.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments 13 to 16.

David Mundell: Clause 25 allowed the Scottish Ministers to determine the national speed limit on roads in Scotland and to make regulations to specify traffic signs to indicate that limit. Clause 25 limited these powers to cars, motorcycles and vans under 3.5 tonnes.

We listened carefully to the arguments presented by noble Lords, together with the case made by the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government for the Bill to provide for the devolution of powers to set different speed limits for different classes of vehicles—for example, cars towing caravans or goods vehicles. Lords amendments 12 to 16 would give the Scottish Ministers the power to make regulations regulating the speed of all classes of vehicle on roads in Scotland.

Mr Davidson: Will there be any restrictions under the Bill on the speed with which Scottish Government Ministers can change policy on issues such as income tax for a separate Scotland?

David Mundell: As the hon. Gentleman knows, in the devolution of powers such as speed limits, which are devolved in the clauses to which the amendments relate, it is entirely a matter for the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government to determine how they use those powers and whether they apply them to themselves as they would to others.

John Stevenson: Although I fully support the Bill and what we are trying to achieve by devolving power to the Scottish Parliament, with regard to the road traffic regulations I have one concern, being the Member of Parliament for Carlisle, which is on the border—that is, that we ensure that there are sufficiently sensible signs on the border to indicate whether we should be speeding up or reducing our speed as we cross the border. I hope my right hon. Friend will ensure that the Scottish Parliament makes sure that that happens.

David Mundell: I am responsible for many things, but I am not responsible for the Scottish Government acting in a sensible manner. We are seeking to devolve these powers, which apply not just to the setting of limits, but to the signage. I am a Member of Parliament for a border constituency, as is the Secretary of State. We want to ensure that appropriate measures are in place so that people know what the law is on both sides of the border. As my hon. Friend pointed out on Second Reading, there are numerous legal differences between Scotland and England, which our respective constituents have managed to cope with over many years, not least the licensing laws.

Mr Davidson: Is it not the case that the Scottish Government want these powers in order to keep the speed limits the same? Just as with the monarchy,

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1177

tax, the currency and NATO membership, they want the power to decide themselves that there will be no change.

David Mundell: I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I took part in a radio programme with a member of the Scottish National party to debate the currency, and her principal argument was not over which currency Scotland should have, but about the fact that she should have the right to choose which currency; she suggested the Chinese renminbi, but I did not think that that would go down too well with the Politburo.

Lords amendments 12 to 16 would give Scottish Ministers the power to make regulations regulating the speed of all classes of vehicle on roads in Scotland and some consequential amendments. Together with the existing provisions in clause 25, that would enable them to set a national speed limit that is different for different classes of vehicle and the power to make regulations to specify traffic signs that indicate that limit. We think that that is a sensible addition to the Bill and, as right hon. and hon. Members might know, it was promoted in the House of Lords by my noble Friend Lord Forsyth, no less.

Mark Lazarowicz: These are sensible measures and I am sure that Scottish Governments of whatever political colour will use the powers sensibly. If a significant divergence was to develop between practice in England and practice in Scotland in relation to road signage and speed limits, what steps could be taken to make the necessary changes to the Highway Code, the driving test and more generally to inform drivers on both sides of the border?

David Mundell: It will obviously be for the Scottish Government to advise on changes to signage, among other things, that they make. Changes that are specific to Scotland can be included in the Highway Code, and we currently have differential traffic regulations in different parts of the United Kingdom. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, like me, will have constituents who have fallen foul of the congestion charge that applies in London but nowhere else in the United Kingdom. There are differential traffic regulations in place at the moment, and these are well advertised.

Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): What discussions were held when it was decided that it would be the right thing to devolve the power that would allow the Scottish Government to determine what traffic should be flowing and at what speed? Was there any sense behind the decision that, for example, heavy goods vehicles should be allowed to travel at 60 mph on single track roads?

David Mundell: I share the hon. Gentlemen’s concerns about traffic speeds in our part of Scotland, Dumfries and Galloway, particularly on the A75. I hope that these powers will allow the Scottish Government for once to focus on Dumfries and Galloway and address such issues. They will have the powers and it will be for them to make the decisions. I commend my noble Friend Lord Forsyth for achieving this significant amendment to the Bill. It is the only amendment made

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1178

during the passage of the Bill that will ensure that the powers of the Scottish Parliament are increased, and I do not think that the irony of that was lost on him.

Mr Davidson: Given that speed is a product of both distance and time, has there been any further submission from the nationalists on their ambition to have Scotland in a separate time zone, because it is obvious that if it was in a separate time zone—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Three strikes and you’re out.

David Mundell: Before the debate becomes any more raucous, I should recognise that this is possibly my final opportunity to speak to the Bill, so I should like to use it principally to thank the officials in the Scotland Office who have worked so hard to deliver it. We are often the subject of scrutiny, but we are a very small Department and we, along with the Treasury and, indeed, Scottish officials, have worked to deliver this major piece of constitutional legislation. I thank all those who have participated in that process. As I said at the very start of our proceedings, I participated at the beginning of the process that led to the Bill, and I am very proud to be here at the end.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Not quite at the end yet.

4.15 pm

Mr Bain: Lords amendments 12 to 16 would amend clauses 25 and 26 to devolve completely to the Scottish Parliament all aspects in relation to speed limits on all roads in Scotland. They follow the recommendation of the Calman commission and resolve the ambiguities and uncertainties that might have ensued from a partial devolution of the national speed limit for Scotland in respect of certain vehicles or roads.

We are pleased to support the amendments, and I echo the right hon. Gentleman’s thanks to the officials and team in the Scotland Office for piloting this hugely significant Bill on such a relatively smooth course through not just this House, but the other place. It now has the approval of the Scottish Parliament, too—no mean feat. On that basis, we on the Opposition Benches wish the Bill a speedy journey on its passage into law in the coming days.

Iain Stewart: I am very happy to support this group of Lords amendments and, indeed, the provisions in the Bill.

I must confess that this is an issue on which I have changed my mind. On Second Reading, I had concerns about creating different speed limits north and south of the border. I did not say so from any great constitutional position; I was very much wearing a “road safety” hat. I serve on the Transport Committee, and road safety is an issue that we take with great seriousness. Indeed, we are conducting an inquiry into it.

Drivers can get lulled into a sense of security on a long journey, and for long-distance drivers in particular, going up the M6 and then the M74, I was concerned that if the speed limit changed suddenly at Longtown or Gretna, depending on which way they were going, it could result in some road safety issues. But as part of

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1179

the Committee’s inquiry we have been looking at different speed limits in different parts of the country, through managed motorway limits and other road safety measures, and by considering the evidence I have been persuaded that it is not the issue I thought it might be, so I am happy to welcome the changes before us. Rather than having the United Kingdom Government responsible for some speed limits and the Scottish Government responsible for others, it makes sense to group them under the auspices of one Government.

My only additional point, which echoes that of the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz), is that if we reach a situation in which there are differing speed limits on either side of the border, we will need proper signage and, through the Highway Code and the driving test, to explain those differences properly so that there is proper education and awareness.

With that small caveat, I am happy to support the Lords amendments, and in the last few seconds before I am cut off in my prime, I too congratulate and thank the officials who put together the Bill.

Mrs McGuire: I add my support for the Lords amendment. It makes sense. We have to realise that drivers of all kinds cope with different speed limits, even within one county. This Bill has had a long journey, but there has also been a long journey for those of us who, like you, Madam Deputy Speaker, were here in 1997—

4.20 pm

Three hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83F), That this House agrees with Lords amendment 12.

Question agreed to.

Lords amendment 12 accordingly agreed to.

The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith the Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F).

Lords amendments 13 to 26 agreed to.

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1180

National Planning Policy Framework

[Relevant Documents: Oral and written evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee, on Sustainable Development in the National Planning Policy Framework, HC 1480; the Eighth Report from the Communities and Local Government Committee, on The National Planning Policy Framework, HC 1526, and the Government response, Cm 8322 .]

4.21 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Greg Clark): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of the National Planning Policy Framework.

As I was saying on Tuesday evening, Madam Deputy Speaker—[ Laughter. ] Much as I enjoyed the debate that we began on Tuesday, I think that it would try the patience of the House if I repeated my speech, so I will take that as being on the record.

May I take the opportunity to say two things in opening this part of the debate? First, I convey to the shadow Secretary of State the congratulations of the whole House. He is not with us today because he is attending the wedding of his son. I am sure that we are all united in sending him our congratulations.

Secondly, I will mention some less happy news, since this is a debate that concerns local government. The sad news was conveyed to us this morning that the leader of Tonbridge and Malling council, Councillor Mark Worrall OBE, died in an untimely way this morning. He was an inspirational, effective and brilliant leader of local government. The whole of local government in Britain will miss his wise counsel. I am sure that all Members of the House will join me in paying condolences to his family. Sadly for us in Kent, that news follows the recent death of county councillor Kevin Lynes. Kent has lost two titans of local government.

To return to the matter of planning policy, I am happy to conclude my remarks and to allow the hon. Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods), at long last, to share her views with us.

4.22 pm

Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): On behalf of the Opposition, I echo the Minister’s sentiments about Councillor Mark Worrall. It is deeply sad news and this is a sad day for local government.

It is unfortunate that the debate on the national planning policy framework was squeezed by parliamentary business on Tuesday and is being squeezed again today. A number of Members who wished to be in the Chamber to contribute to this debate have not been able to make it because of the short notice. Although I am grateful that the Government found time to hold this debate in the House, two hours is not sufficient to do justice to this major change in planning policy. That should be noted.

On Tuesday night, the Minister sought to sell the NPPF in his usual erudite way. However, surely even he does not believe that everything is rosy in the NPPF garden. A number of challenges remain for the planning system, despite the many amendments to the draft framework. It is hardly surprising that changes were made, given the huge outcry following its publication

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1181

from a range of individuals and organisations, such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Town and Country Planning Association and the National Trust. Like us, those organisations are all concerned with the quality of our built environment and the need to protect our countryside. They fought an outstanding campaign to have important changes made to the draft, and we acknowledge that the Minister listened to the concerns and that the final document was an improvement on the ill-thought-through first version.

Despite the changes, however, the question today is whether the NPPF, as a blueprint for planning policy, is truly fit for purpose. The answer is definitely not. I will outline for the Minister some weaknesses that remain in the document. Given the immense criticism of his first attempt, the significant redrafting that followed and the remaining weaknesses, it is clear that the process of reform, taken as a whole, was shambolic even by the Government’s standards of incompetence.

First, the Minister has made much of strengthening the definition of sustainable development, and indeed the more comprehensive definition that we and many others argued for has now been incorporated in the NPPF along with five principles of sustainable development. However, it is not clear how local authorities will apply that definition in practice when they determine planning applications. Paragraphs 8 and 10 of the NPPF are rather woolly, even by the Minister’s standards.

Secondly, much has also been made of the strengthening in the final version of the requirement for development to happen on brownfield land first. Since its publication, however, many have described the assurances on the subject as “paper-thin”. The NPPF only expects authorities to “encourage” development on brownfield land first. That is significantly weaker than the Labour policy of development being prioritised on brownfield sites. Nor is it clear what will happen if authorities do not encourage the development of brownfield land first, or whether they will have to apply any sequential tests or produce any evidence in that regard.

Thirdly, the existence of transitional arrangements is welcome, but two major issues remain. The first is that most commentators do not consider one year long enough for local authorities to get their plans up to speed. The second is that the announcement on guidance has created more of the unwelcome confusion that has characterised the whole review of planning policy. The Minister announced that all guidance in planning policy guidance notes and planning policy statements was being abolished, then he said it was not, and now he says it is being reviewed. Which is it? I would appreciate an answer from him. Further clarity on the status of the guidance would be most welcome.

Now for the key question that the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government posed in its excellent report on the NPPF. I am very pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), the Chair of the Committee, is in the Chamber. That question was whether the brevity of the NPPF had created greater clarity. The Minister must accept that the answer of planners is a resounding no. A recent survey of town planners revealed that 86% believed the NPPF would lead to more appeals because of the lack of certainty in the planning system and the vagueness of much of its language. No wonder that many are calling it a planning lawyer’s dream.

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1182

Nicky Morgan (Loughborough) (Con): Perhaps the hon. Lady will come on to this, but the planning system is in place not just for planners but for the people and residents. I am sorry that I was late for the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I was trying to read some planning policy guidance and having difficulty with some of the language in it. Having simple language in a 52-page document will allow residents of all our constituencies to understand the planning system in much more detail than under the old, complicated system, so that they can make their case.

Roberta Blackman-Woods: The hon. Lady is right that the guidance must be interpreted by local communities as well as planners. We are saying that brevity should have led to clear language, but it has often led to obscure language, which will make it equally difficult for local communities and planners to argue a clear case.

Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth) (Con): Will the hon. Lady give examples of that obscure language? One thing that struck me and the parish councils to which I have spoken is the simple, clear and normal English language used in the document. They applaud that because it is in stark contrast to some of the Dickensian language used in most planning and other legislation in the past.

Roberta Blackman-Woods: Many commentators have written about how vague a lot of the language in the NPPF is and we have rehearsed it many times in previous discussions. My point is that far from increasing the power of communities, which has been much championed by the Minister, the NPPF could lead to even more decisions being made by the Planning Inspectorate, which is removed from local communities.

On local communities, the principle of encouraging more neighbourhood planning is one that all hon. Members share. The Minister was right on Tuesday to point out that I am very much in support of neighbourhood planning—I am encouraging local groups in Durham to get involved—but he should acknowledge that neighbourhood planning is not new, because parish councils have been undertaking it for a number of years. Indeed, I have been involved in drawing up local plans in Durham with local groups for many years.

Mr Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) (Con): I am heartened by the hon. Lady’s and the Labour party’s enthusiasm for neighbourhood planning and for encouraging councils and communities to take it on. Will she therefore send a message to Labour-controlled Nuneaton and Bedworth borough council and ask her Labour councillors to engage with the local community in Nuneaton and allow it to take up neighbourhood planning?

Roberta Blackman-Woods: The hon. Gentleman has made that plea very well himself.

Neighbourhood planning is something that all hon. Members support, but if the Minister wills the end, he must also will the means. Neighbourhood planning is labour intensive, and, if undertaken correctly, will place considerable demands on local authorities, as the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) pointed out. If neighbourhood planning is to work beyond affluent

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1183

neighbourhoods, it will need to be properly supported. What plans does the Minister have to resource local authorities and other organisations such as Locality and Planning Aid in the long term to make neighbourhood planning a reality in all communities, including disadvantaged ones?

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Are we going to be consistent? All hon. Members want genuine, positive neighbourhood engagement in planning, but the trouble is that historically, too often, such engagement has been dressed up nimbyism. The worst case of dressed up nimbyism that I know of concerns Conservative councillors on Kirklees council in Huddersfield, who switch and swap all over the place only for political advantage, not for the good of the community or good planning.

Roberta Blackman-Woods: I hope the local community in my hon. Friend’s constituency has heard that point on Conservative councillors.

I am making a plea to the Minister to ensure that neighbourhood planning can be a reality in all areas and for all communities.

Lastly, I come to the duty to co-operate. As the Minister will be well aware, there is growing concern that England does not have a national spatial plan, and that planning beyond the local authority level will be very difficult. Yet strategic issues, such as housing, transport, waste and energy, often need to be taken beyond that level. The Minister will claim that the duty to co-operate addresses this issue, but it is totally unclear what will happen if the co-operation fails or never takes place.

When taken together, all of the above shows that despite the changes made to the NPPF there are still a number of concerns—and the above list is by no means exhaustive. I could continue with examples, such as how, despite the Minister’s reinstatement of Labour’s successful “town centre first” policy, the lack of guidance continues, or the changes to the assessment of housing need, for which the definition has been improved but the method of implementation is again absent.

We will continue to monitor what is happening in practice. If the NPPF is stalling the growth in jobs and housing that we so desperately need, and failing to protect the environment that we all love, we will say so. Cutting pages from our planning guidance is no substitute for a proper economic policy focused on growth, and that is what we need the NPPF to deliver.

4.36 pm

Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): Planning is, quite rightly, a very sensitive issue. It is about conserving and improving our existing habitat. It is about preparation for the challenges and demands of an increasing population. It requires measured and well balanced consideration, both of what currently exists and of what is required for the future. But it is also about preservation and the delicate matter of safeguards. I believe that the national planning policy framework delivers on all of those important considerations

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1184

There is no doubt that the planning system needed simplifying and making more accessible, so we have moved away from a cumbersome, bureaucratic mountain of guidance, some 1,300 pages in total, to a leaner, more flexible and clearer document of some 50 pages. But it was essential that in doing so, the long-term sustainability of our planning system was not sacrificed, and that is why I am delighted that, from root to branch, the central thread running throughout the NPPF is the doctrine of sustainable development, enshrining at the heart of our planning system the principle that growth must never be achieved at the expense of future generations.

Unlike the shadow Minister, I commend the manner in which the Government’s consultation on the draft framework was conducted. The most telling tale is that those organisations that did express concerns about the draft framework, including the National Trust, English Heritage, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the long list of organisations name-checked by the Minister on Tuesday evening, have all welcomed the changes that have been incorporated into the final framework. Dame Fiona Reynolds, director-general of the National Trust, said:

“All these changes improve the document and give it a better tone and balance”.

One of the most contentious issues of the planning system in my own constituency, and I am sure in the constituencies of a great many right hon. and hon. Members, is that of green belt protection. As the NPPF explicitly states, the Government attach great importance to green belts, the essential characteristics of which are their openness and their permanence. I represent a small city enclosed by green belt, and this commitment by the Government is extremely welcome news for many of my constituents. While green belts have their own character, they also play an essential role in preserving the special character of towns and cities across the country, including my own city of Chester. Green belts also represent a necessary check on unrestricted urban sprawl.

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): Will my hon. Friend join me in urging councils that are currently consulting on potentially adding sites that are in the green belt to their local plan to stop doing so now that they have seen the final guidance? They should think, “We are not going to change the green belt because we don’t need to. Let’s look at brownfield sites first.”

Stephen Mosley: I have huge sympathy with my hon. Friend’s point of view. Green belts are there to prevent not only urban sprawl but the merging of neighbouring towns. They provide much-needed safeguards to protect the countryside from encroachment and indirectly assist in urban regeneration by encouraging the use of brownfield sites. The NPPF makes it clear that

“inappropriate development is, by definition, harmful to the Green Belt and should not be approved except in very special circumstances.”

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): I agree with everything the hon. Gentleman has said. On getting the balance right, which is part of his theme, of course developers have the right to appeal when they believe that a decision has been wrongly taken. Does he agree that it would be welcome if the Government were to consider whether,

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1185

in certain circumstances, there might be an opportunity for a third-party right of appeal against developments causing concern within local communities?

Stephen Mosley: Of course they currently have a right of appeal, but it is via judicial review, which can be difficult and very expensive. Nevertheless, that right is there. I personally think we have the right balance now, but it is something we need to consider.

In addition to green belts, the fundamental importance that the framework places on all green spaces is extremely reassuring. I particularly welcome paragraphs 73 and 74, which enshrine in the planning system the intrinsic value of open spaces and playing fields. The document reads:

“Access to high quality open spaces and opportunities for sport and recreation can make an important contribution to the health and well-being of communities.”

The commitment in the framework that all open spaces lost to development must be replaced by “equivalent or better provision” will be received warmly by everyone in this country, young and old, who recognises the importance of these spaces for our local communities.

Furthermore, the introduction in paragraphs 76 to 78 of the new local green space designations adds even greater weight to the importance of the local neighbourhood plans introduced under the Localism Act 2011. The NPPF is unequivocal in its defence of green spaces and will ensure they are there to be enjoyed for generations to come.

Representing a city steeped in history, I am obviously concerned to ensure that the importance of heritage is recognised in the planning system. Heritage should be seen not as a barrier to growth but as an intrinsic part of it.

Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): I am enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s celebration of the virtues of heritage. Will he clarify whether he voted for VAT to be put on alterations to listed buildings and churches?

Stephen Mosley: I will stick to the NPPF debate, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.

In Chester, we do not insist on the preservation of our Roman city walls, our Roman amphitheatre, our mediaeval roads or our Georgian townhouses simply because they are old. We insist on their protection because they are what make Chester Chester. Planning is much more than a tool to cater for short-term demand. It must always consider the long-term consequences. Our heritage and historic environment are unique and irreplaceable, so I welcome the statement in the NPPF that

“Local planning authorities should set out in their Local Plan a positive strategy for the conservation and enjoyment of the historic environment”.

Also, when determining planning applications, developers and local authorities will have responsibilities to ensure that the development does not adversely impact on heritage assets or their setting. That protection will be particularly welcome in Chester, where almost every development will have an impact on our unique historic environment. The Minister and his colleagues have worked closely with English Heritage throughout the formation of the framework, and I am delighted with the importance that it places on conservation and the enjoyment of our nation’s heritage.

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1186

I welcome the importance the framework places on the need to provide quality homes. Building homes is vital to the sustainability of our country, but of equal, if not greater, importance is the type of home we build. As the Minister wrote in the forward to the NPPF,

“confidence in development itself has been eroded by the too frequent experience of mediocrity”.

All too often, both in the private and the social housing sectors, the temptation has been to cram as many homes as possible into as small a space as possible. Blocks of flats have come to symbolise housing development in Chester and, I am sure, in many other parts of the country, but that is not what people want or need. What is required and wanted are good quality family homes, yet these are the types of properties in least supply.

The statement in the NPPF that local authorities should objectively assess the need for market and affordable housing in the housing market is hugely significant. However, that is one area of the framework that could be difficult for the Minister and his Department to monitor. I encourage him to keep his sights keenly focused on the housing developments that local authorities are providing, to ensure that the housing needs of any particular area are being assessed and subsequently acted on.

As I have said, planning is a sensitive issue. The national planning policy framework lays the foundations for sustainability, growth, protection and preservation, but most importantly, it provides clarity. The NPPF is an excellent document. The consultation on which the final document was based was carried out to a standard to which all consultations should aspire. The Minister is to be congratulated, and the framework should be welcomed by all.

4.45 pm

Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab): First, I want to note the very unsatisfactory nature of the debate on this important issue. Our debate has taken place in two bits at the end of two days, and the Government’s business managers could have found more time for it over the past few weeks. I know that the Minister was also keen to have the debate.

On behalf of the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, I would like to express our thanks to the Minister for the process that he went through, for informing the Select Committee at an early stage of his intention to produce a draft national planning policy framework, for inviting the Committee to look at the proposals and for listening carefully to our views and accepting in full or in part 30 of our 35 recommendations. I suppose we could look at this in two ways: either the Select Committee’s report was excellent, or the draft document was somewhat flawed. Perhaps it was a bit of both. I do not want to be churlish, however. There have been distinct improvements, which we welcome, particularly in relation to the definition of sustainable development.

I also want to thank the Chair of the Environmental Audit Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley), for the work that her Committee did, and for ensuring that the presumption in favour of sustainable development was set into the framework of the local plan, because the local plan must be at the heart of any plan-led system. There are some concerns about how far the issue of

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1187

brownfield priority was taken, but the test will be in the practical application of the framework. Another welcome measure is the incorporation of offices and other development, as well as retail, into the sequential test to protect district, town and city centres. Those and other changes in the final document are very welcome.

I do not have time to go through all the points in the document, as our time is constrained and other Members want to speak, but I shall draw out one or two areas in which things could go wrong, or that are in need of clarification or perhaps further review at some stage. That is not to say that there are not other good things in the document, but I want to draw out the issues that need further testing or scrutiny.

The test of this document is not whether it is better than the first draft but whether it is better than the existing guidance that has been in operation up to now. The test is also whether it delivers better planning for communities and individuals, and for developers as well, because they are important in creating homes and jobs. What test do the Government want to apply to judge the success of the system? Is it a requirement to meet the Housing Minister’s target to build more housing in this country than we were building before the recession? Is it a requirement to ensure that we develop enough renewable energy projects to hit our climate change targets? I assume that those are the Government’s objectives. However, during our discussions on this matter, in the debate on the initial draft and in the comments on the Minister’s statement, an awful lot of Members on the Government Benches seemed to be saying, “We want a planning system that stops development in our areas.” I just worry that there might be some conflict—

John Howell (Henley) (Con): No, that is not true.

Mr Betts: Well, we have seen a lot of letters to newspapers saying, “Please stop all these wind turbines being put up”—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I got an immediate response to that one. How, in the end, does a planning system relate all the individual local decisions and wishes of local communities to the Government’s national targets to deal with climate change and house the people of this country?

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con) rose

Mr Betts: I thought the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) might respond to that question.

Chris Heaton-Harris: As a former Member of the European Parliament I can remember the directive that we passed, but it does not tell a country how to achieve its renewable energy targets by specifying which sectors it should promote; it simply sets a target, and there is an implication that it should be hit. Allowing local people to choose which types of renewable energy they would like to see in their local community would bring on more renewable energy projects, not fewer.

Mr Betts: In the end, I am a committed localist. I believe in consultation and taking account of the wishes of local communities. All localists—not just Ministers—face a challenge: if the sum total of local decisions does not

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1188

add up to the national requirements on issues such as climate change or the number of homes, what should the Government do about it?

Andrew George: The hon. Gentleman poses a very difficult question. He knows that it is almost intractable, and I know that Ministers have been wrestling with it—when his party was in government, as well as now. In Cornwall, for example, the housing stock has more than doubled in the last 40 years, yet the housing problems of local people have become significantly worse. It is not that the locals in that area are nimbys, as growth has been faster there than almost anywhere else in the country; the problem has been that it has been the wrong type of housing, which has not met housing need. We thus need the power of local people to determine the kind of housing that is necessary, not simply to meet a number target.

Mr Betts: I am sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman’s point. He has a long history of arguing for more of the right sort of housing for his community; I would not accuse him of nimbyism at all. There is, however, an issue for the Government to think about.

It is helpful that the Minister has kept in place the technical guidance about the assessment of housing need, so that there is a consistency up and down the country. It would also be helpful if he could write to hon. Members, and place his response in the Library, to explain exactly what technical guidance has been left in place to date, what his plans are to review it, in conjunction with various professional bodies and the Local Government Association, and what the time scale for the process will be. It was an important decision, as I say, to leave the technical guidance in place, and it would be helpful to know more about what is going on with respect to it.

Although the Government have not gone quite as far as the Select Committee wanted, I welcome the fact that local authorities will have to come forward yearly to show in their monitoring reports what they are doing about the important duty to co-operate. There will be challenges for authorities that cannot meet their housing need because of land constraints, as they will need neighbouring authorities to take house building on to meet housing needs. Without proper co-operation between those authorities and in the absence of the top-down targets from the regional spatial strategies, whose removal I know Government Members welcome, some areas are going to have real problems meeting housing needs in a constructive and co-ordinated way.

Ministers and Government Members need to accept that, however much they welcome the changes they have brought in, any change in the planning system will almost certainly lead to uncertainty and cause an initial slowdown in decision making. That is almost inevitable, so we should not be surprised if things do not go smoothly at first. Almost certainly, too, there will be unintended consequences from what they are putting forward. There will be misreading of the wording; inspectors will come to decisions on appeal that do not conform with the Minister’s aspirations; judicial reviews will reach different conclusions from those Ministers, local MPs or local councils might want. At some point, the Minister will have to put in place a review system and perhaps bring in some changes, simply to take account in practice of those sorts of issues. This is a technical

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1189

issue, but it could be crucial to how the system works. In the end, how it works in practice rather than what it says on a piece of paper is what will count.

I welcome the idea of having transitional arrangements, and it is good that the Minister agreed them with the Local Government Association. That is very positive. Let us look at some of these transitional arrangements. For example:

“For 12 months from the day of publication, decision-takers may continue to give full weight to relevant policies adopted since 2004 even if there is a limited degree of conflict with this Framework.”

What does a “limited degree of conflict” mean? There is an awful lot of room for an awful lot of lawyers to argue about that and make quite a bit of money. In the next paragraph, it states that

“after this 12-month period, due weight should be given to relevant policies and existing plans according to their degree of consistency with this framework”.

What does “degree of consistency” with the framework mean? Ministers may think they know what it means, but lawyers may have a different view and two lawyers may have two different views, and that can lead to an awful lot of expense, delay and, perhaps, the wrong decisions.

Chris Heaton-Harris: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Betts: I will, but for the last time, because I know that other Members want to contribute.

Chris Heaton-Harris: I think the hon. Gentleman will find that two lawyers will have a number of different views.

Mr Betts: I stand corrected on that point.

The fact that some of the wording is open to interpretation may cause real problems. It may mean that, ultimately, that the wishes of local communities are not adhered to.

Most of the complaints made in evidence to the Select Committee about the planning system were not about guidance and policy, but about process relating to individual applications. I do, however, have a lot of sympathy with the Government in regard to the slow pace at which local plans have been put in place. The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 resulted from the fact that local authorities were not adopting unitary development plans quickly enough. We now know that local plans are not in place in about half the authorities concerned.

How can we change that for the future? The Minister has gone some way towards accepting our proposal. We have talked about the “light touch review”. If local plans are to be at the heart of the process, it is ridiculous that we should be dealing with plans many of which are 20 years old. That is not acceptable. We must find a way of bringing those plans up to date more rapidly. I do not know whether the system of local development frameworks, strategies and site allocation plans is too complicated to provide the necessary flexibility, but the Select Committee may wish to return to the issue, and the Government may wish to work along with us in exploring the technical issues further.

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1190

Everyone is in favour of neighbourhood plans, but I am worried about the resource implications. Such plans will not feature in poorer areas with fewer resources. It also worries me slightly that people see them as a way of stopping development. Apparently they must be consistent and

“conform to the strategic priorities within the Local Plan.”

What exactly does that mean? I think that it provides more room for legal argument.

In the end, what is important is not what the NPPF actually says, but how that is interpreted and what happens on the ground. At some point the Government will have to explain, in their terms, what a successful planning system will achieve, and how they will monitor it in order to display that success in the future.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. This is a very short debate, and I want to accommodate as many speakers as I possibly can. I know that it is not ideal, but I am going to introduce a four-minute limit, with the usual penalty time of one minute for each of the first two interventions. The winding-up speeches will begin at 5.40 pm.

4.57 pm

Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): I welcome the opportunity to contribute to a debate on the future of planning policy, which is a topic of great interest in my constituency. I am sure that I am not alone in having received many representations on the draft NPPF, but, coinciding as it did with the publication of the borough council's core strategy, it has been of particular interest in Romsey and Southampton North, and especially to residents of the market town of Romsey and the surrounding villages.

In many respects, Romsey and Southampton North could be described as a microcosm of the whole country, exhibiting both the benefits and the problems associated with rural, urban and suburban dwelling. Nothing demonstrates those competing dynamics better than planning policy. I assure the Minister that the revised NPPF has allayed many of the concerns of Romsey residents, and it is a vast improvement on the consultation draft. However, it leaves some questions unanswered. I hope—in the spirit of constructive debate—-to present the perspective of a diverse and mixed constituency.

The shift in the Government’s approach to planning since 2010 is welcome. It is now a case of Government doing something for local communities rather than to them. The revision clearly shows that the Government have listened. Of course, the balancing act between the competing desires to protect the countryside and, at the same time, to make possible appropriate and sustainable development is the devil's own job, and I have considerable sympathy for the Minister and his team. Twelve years as a borough councillor taught me that a simplistic position on planning is always ill advised, and that polarised debates do little to help. On one hand, we must protect our natural environment; on the other, we must make possible development that will provide housing and jobs.

In the context of the March revision, I welcome the retention of the clauses that seek to protect the green belt and other designated landscapes. However, we have

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1191

a small problem in what is arguably one of the most beautiful counties in the land, Hampshire. There is very little green belt there, and the green belt that does exist is designed to protect the New Forest from the spread of the conurbation of Bournemouth, which is of course in an entirely different county. Many of my constituents believe that Hampshire has a great deal of green belt, but it simply does not; in fact, it has almost none. We would like an increase in our green belt.

I therefore have some major concerns about land designation. How can we make it easier to establish green belt, to prevent the coalescence of settlements and to make sure our cities, towns and villages retain their individual characters? I am an unashamed fan of the green belt, so I am disappointed that paragraph 82 of the framework states that the “general extent” of the green belt is already established. The conditions under which new green belt can be designated are exceptionally restrictive, and therefore the ability of local communities to protect their boundaries and identity in that way is undermined. I am keen to hear why the Government’s default position seems to be against the creation of more green belt. I can assure the Minister that on the edges of Southampton, and in particular from the village of Nursling, there is a clear call for additional green belt.

I want to say a few words about “ordinary countryside”. I assure the Minister that, especially in Test valley, there is no such thing as “ordinary countryside”; it is all quite extraordinary. I am pleased that the intrinsic value of the countryside is being recognised in the revision, but I urge the Minister to make sure that there is a clear description of how it is to be valued so that those residents who live in beautiful parts of the Test valley can be sure that the area will be protected for its diversity and landscape.

Finally, I assure the Opposition that in Southampton there has been massive enthusiasm for the production of neighbourhood plans, and the people there think that it is not only the chocolate-box villages of the Test valley that will benefit.

5.1 pm

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): Insufficient time is available to us to debate this subject. The Government business managers have failed to provide enough time to discuss the NPPF. I regret that our deliberations on the detailed work that has been done in at least two Select Committees is being so rushed, and that raises further issues about how today’s statement will be followed up.

On sustainable development, the Environmental Audit Committee looked into the question of what will be the parliamentary process in following up on the new revised 50-page draft of the NPPF. Will the Minister tell us what sort of scrutiny he envisages? I, for one, was very disappointed that we did not receive early warning of what was in the statement when it first came before the House. It would be very helpful if the Government would say how future proposals will be scrutinised by Members in both the Chamber and Select Committees.

One of the key problems in the NPPF is that the Chancellor talks about sustainable economic development, but that is different from sustainable development in terms of planning. The view tends to be that if there is a

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1192

business or future investment in three or four years, then that is sustainable development. However, we are looking at how we can embed environmental issues and issues of social justice into the future of the entire green economy. That is an important point in respect of the NPPF.

It is equally important that the Government should, in their cross-cutting agenda at Cabinet level, look not only at what the Treasury is doing, but at how the Green Book initiative is influencing national infrastructure investment and how that then relates to planning at the local level. Such matters have not been properly addressed.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) for giving the Environmental Audit Committee the opportunity to look at these issues in detail. We were restricting ourselves to looking at the sustainable aspects of this topic. Our report—published in October 2011, and included in the Communities and Local Government Committee report—looked at what we mean by sustainable development and how that definition could be tightened in the NPPF. We felt that if we could do that, it would help to address all the other concerns from around the country—from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the National Trust and other organisations—about how we link things to sustainable development.

We made various recommendations, which the Government have taken on board to some extent, although the proof of that will be in whether they really have done that and how that pans out in planning decisions around the country. One issue we are concerned about is resources. We asked the Government to set out what resources they felt local planning authorities needed if they were to be truly able to come up with a local plan that got people collaborating, across business, civil society, local councils and everything else, to look at the long-term future of what was needed. However, I do not have the time now to talk in detail about all the issues that were raised.

5.5 pm

Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. Like many hon. Members, I am sure, I spent a good number of years as a councillor, and planning occupied most of my time. Much of that was because of the top-down approach, which local residents felt was always going against them and their communities. I sat on a planning committee and sometimes we felt powerless, so it was no wonder that our residents felt that way.

When I think of how my constituency has changed over the years, it is really quite staggering. The expanding population and the desirability of the location make it an attractive proposition, coupled with the fact that we have a lot of former factories and mill sites that have closed, and which now present us with a host of new brownfield sites. The old companies in Guiseley, Menston, Farsley and Pudsey have all gone and the sites have been turned into residential developments, which has put huge strain on local infrastructure. I remember as a councillor warning that we would run out of school places and being reassured by the education department that it was fine and that there were plenty, but lo and behold, three years later the department came and said, “Councillor, we’ve got a problem—we haven’t got any school places left.” Similarly, GP practices were struggling, but the greatest contention was caused by traffic. The

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1193

number of new developments in the area resulted in congestion on our roads and the trains serving the constituency being absolutely packed at peak times.

All those factors contributed to local people’s resentment towards the planning system. Too many employment sites were lost to residential developments. In addition, the dreadful regional spatial strategy housing targets put real pressure on our communities. People felt powerless. They had no say in the future of their area, and they were baffled by the complex guidance put before them.

I welcome the NPPF, although when I first saw it I thought it would put me on a collision course with the Minister. However, my right hon. Friend has been true to his word: he has listened to the concerns that many of us have and he has changed the NPPF. That must be welcomed. However, there are a few questions I want to ask.

I have a large residents group in my constituency, Wharfedale and Airedale Review Development, which works tirelessly on development. WARD is keen to take part in creating the neighbourhood plan, because we do not have parish councils in all our towns. I would like to know where we are going to find the money to fund those plans, because although there is interest in them, there is concern about where the money will come from.

There are other improvements to the NPPF—for example, housing targets can now be set by local councils, which is an important development. Even so, we have massive challenges ahead of us. We need to build more houses for local families who want to stay in the areas that their families live in, so we face a difficult balancing act, because if we are not careful, the result could be further urban sprawl. The environment around my constituency is incredibly important; it creates a nice green barrier between Leeds and Bradford, and I would hate to see it lost. However, it is not yet clear to me how the NPPF will help those communities to prepare for the infrastructure that is needed for all these houses, or how we are going to protect green-belt land when we do not have any brownfield sites left. How do we marry those things up? I have yet to see an answer to that.

5.9 pm

Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Lab): This week, we heard the extraordinary statistic that only 56 affordable homes had been built in the entirety of London in the past six months. As a result, Newham council has been trying to entice housing associations across the country, including in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley), to take families on housing benefit off its lists and into different parts of the UK. All that points to the major housing and planning crisis that the UK faces.

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): I am looking forward to hearing my hon. Friend’s speech on planning policy, but may I say that the problem that Newham council has faced is not only the lack of affordable homes, but the housing benefit changes that have been forced on it by this Government?

Tristram Hunt: I am very grateful for the intervention, which highlights exactly what we warned of: such changes need to be managed properly. In that context, what we

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1194

hoped for from the Government was a considered and rational strategy for planning reforms to safeguard our great towns, cities and countryside, while ensuring economic growth. Instead, what we received was a botched draft planning policy framework, complete with ugly denunciations of such great English institutions as the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, and of anyone else who dared to question the Government’s damaging proposals. We expected more from the Minister. Instead, as Fiona Reynolds, the director general of the National Trust, put it, the Government’s statements were “arrogant”. She said:

“The language exposed some of the Government’s failure to connect with how people feel.”

We now have the finished document, and I am happy to support some of the major U-turns the Government have adopted, such as the explicit recognition of the value of the countryside as a whole; the strengthened protection for the green belt; and the more balanced, if still ambiguous, definition of “sustainable development”. Those are all to the good, but there are some worrying omissions.

Part of the great urban regeneration story of the past 10 years, under Labour Governments, has been a specific programme of encouraging brownfield development. Last year, some 76% of new dwellings were built on brownfield sites, which is an increase on the 55% in 1989. The figure for Stoke-on-Trent was 90% and the one for Liverpool was 91%. It is therefore worrying that the final draft of the NPPF talks only of “encouraging” the effective use of brownfield land, rather than, as Labour did, “prioritising” it. That does not amount to a robust “brownfield first” policy and is a weakening of the guidance in previous regulation. Hon. Members who are concerned about their towns and city centres would do well to reflect on that: an encouragement is not an obligation. As a result, and with no explicit brownfield development targets, there will be serious scope for legal battle involving developers, who will appeal to sections of the NPPF that emphasise economic viability and deliverability over sustainable brownfield development. That is all the more frustrating given that there are almost 62,000 hectares of brownfield or previously developed land in England ready for building on.

I am glad that the Government have taken on board the Labour party’s criticisms of the draft framework in relation to the sequential test on all large retail development. I make a general point about policy development by this Government when I say that we are here to help: if they listen to us at an earlier stage, they can get rid of some of these complexities. I met my local planning officers at Stoke-on-Trent city council last week, and they were adamant that we would not see the kind of urban regeneration we want in Hanley without a proper system of sequential testing.

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con): Given what the hon. Gentleman has said, will he join me in urging Labour councillors in Broxtowe not to accept a housing target that would result in 4,000 houses being built on green-belt land?

Tristram Hunt: I am very grateful for the intervention, as I am an adamant defender of the green belt; almost like an Israeli settler. I believe that we should not take any parts of it.

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1195

To complete the point I was making before the intervention, in view of the number of high street shops that are unoccupied, we want to see a much greater focus on the regeneration of our high streets.

All of this debate points to a broader truth: the Government are underwritten by an ideological aversion to state regulation. Because of the monstrous failure of their economic policy, sadly revealed this week with a double-dip recession made in Downing street and £150 billion of extra borrowing, they have been thrashing round for excuses for economic decline. The Treasury stumbled on the idea that planning was stopping growth, but we know that good planning is no impediment to growth. Poor planning and a lack of planning as in Ireland and Spain have not resulted in the kind of economic growth that we would like. The Government would be better advised to devise a decent strategy for sustainable economic growth, rather than blame the planning system.

Secondly, the hostility towards proper regulation has turned a planning document into a lawyers’ charter. For all the clever wheeze of cutting down more than 1,000 pages of guidance, the end result might be far more paperwork than the Minister imagines, thanks to law suits, legal cases and casework. Indeed, we know that a survey of town planners revealed that lawyers are expecting much more work from the framework than they have had previously.

Finally, I welcome the explicit recognition given by the planning policy framework that the historic environment makes a positive contribution to society, the economy, our culture and our environment, but where does the Budget’s plans to slap VAT on approved alterations to listed buildings fit with that? May we please have some joined-up government? If we believe in the historic environment, may we not have this ridiculous addition to the Budget?

5.16 pm

Dr Daniel Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con): I rise to speak in support of the Government’s national planning policy framework. I want to put on record my constituents’ gratitude to the Government for listening to some real concerns about the need to protect greenfield sites and for the presumption to be in favour of brownfield development.

Before I make my substantive points—I know that we have only a brief time available—let me address some of the points made by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt). He made a good speech, but it appears to me that Labour is trying to rewrite history now that it is in opposition. He made some good points, as did the hon. Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods), about the previous Government’s laudable and commendable intention to prioritise brownfield development over greenfield development, which is absolutely right. There is a difference, however, between rhetoric and reality, which this Government have recognised in the planning policy framework. In north Ipswich, thanks to the previous Government’s centrally driven housing targets, 15,000 new homes were to be built against the wishes of my constituents by Labour-run Ipswich borough council. The plan is still to develop them, and the decision was made because

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1196

of the previous Government’s planning policies and decisions. That is not protecting greenfield sites; it is ensuring that they are developed. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central quite rightly said that he wanted that to be avoided, and I want the same. We must ensure that when we can develop brownfield sites, as we can in the centre of Ipswich, they are developed effectively and in a way that provides family homes and affordable homes so that young people can get on to the housing ladder.

Roberta Blackman-Woods: I hope that the hon. Gentleman would accept that the percentage of development that occurred on brownfield sites was massively improved during the period of Labour Government.

Dr Poulter: I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. My key point is that of course it is important to develop brownfield sites, and the previous Government did that, but unfortunately, as some of my colleagues have highlighted, flats were built on those brownfield sites rather than affordable family homes. My constituents in north Ipswich and many of my colleagues’ constituents want affordable family homes so that people who live locally can stay living locally and so that we can help young families on to the housing ladder. That is key. The previous Government’s intentions were laudable, but the practicalities did not work.

I want to make three points in support of the framework. First, it is a good document because it simplifies the planning system. It is clearly better to have 50 pages of guidance than to have about 1,000 pages. It is better and easier for my constituents to understand how the planning system works, it is easier for developers to understand it, and it is much easier for local authorities, when they are discussing planning issues with residents, to communicate those issues when there are 50 pages of national policy guidance.

Secondly, there is a clear presumption and protection that as Conservatives we prioritise, and have always prioritised, brownfield development over greenfield development. In many parts of the country, including central Suffolk, we have valuable farming land that would suffer directly as a result of greenfield development. We in Suffolk value farming and agriculture and the amenity that the green fields around Ipswich, for example, provide for local communities. People can take their families out at the weekend and enjoy the countryside. If we continue with Ipswich borough council’s policy of pushing for greenfield development on those sites, we will lose valuable agricultural land as well as valuable community land that is enjoyed by local people from Ipswich.

Finally, I come to sustainable development. The document contains a much clearer definition of sustainable development, which is a good thing. We need development where there are infrastructure and jobs, and to make sure that we bring affordable housing on stream. The best way to do that is to tie development to key infrastructure projects, as we shall see in the green enterprise zone in East Anglia at Great Yarmouth and Waveney. We accept that in that area there will be houses, which go hand in hand with jobs, key road and rail infrastructure and the broadband infrastructure that the Government are giving us, as well as money for schools and local hospitals. That is good sustainable

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1197

development. My constituents support the Government in what they are trying to do, not least the protection against the development by Ipswich borough council of the northern fringe of Ipswich.

5.21 pm

Mr Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): The ultimate test of the NPPF will be the outcomes it delivers, not the remarks made by people who were so relieved that the latest draft was less bad than its predecessor that they provided those quotes that the Minister enjoyed giving us the other evening.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) made the point that we are debating this framework in the week in which the economy has gone back into recession, which in large part reflects the poor state of the construction industry, within which the housing sector is particularly badly affected. I shall come on to that. Two days ago, the Minister of State sought to deny the disastrous state of house building in Britain, which has been seriously aggravated by the uncertainty and confusion that have existed since the Government began to tinker with the planning system in summer 2010.

The Minister claimed that there has been a 25% recovery in housing since the recession. Let us look at those figures. He is right in that there has been a recovery from the depths of the recession. What he needs to bear in mind is the fact that that recovery took place throughout 2009 and in the first six months of 2010.

Tristram Hunt: Will my right hon. Friend reflect on Ministers’ approach to information and statistics, given that this week we heard an extraordinary account from the Minister for Housing and Local Government, who thinks that rents in London are falling?

Mr Raynsford: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I was going to say that I hoped that the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), for whom I have considerable respect, does not go down the same path as his colleague, the Minister for Housing and Local Government, who shows a certain levity with regard to his respect for the truthfulness of statistics.

As I was saying, there was a recovery, and the second quarter of 2010—which, as the Under-Secretary knows rather well, is the period in which there was a change of Government: in the first part of that quarter we were under a Labour Government, in the second part, we were under a Conservative Government, although I do not think that even he would claim that the Conservative Government were responsible for the figures in that quarter—was the high point. The recovery reached a peak of 30,880 units in that quarter. Since then, the housing market has been static or falling. The best output of new starts in any quarter was 26,980 in the third quarter of 2010, going down to just 20,900 starts in the last quarter of 2011—the last quarter for which figures are available.

That, I am afraid, is the record. Since the Government’s changes to planning policy and their disastrous cuts in investment in social housing, we have seen a collapse in confidence and poor output figures for housing. Planning consents—the lead indicators—are equally bad. Figures

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1198

compiled by Glenigan for the Home Builders Federation show that in calendar year 2011 only 115,000 new homes received planning permission, which is the lowest level since the survey began in 2007. The figures for the end of 2011 are particularly bad—the Home Builders Federation itself highlights the extent to which the number of homes that received consent in the fourth quarter of 2011, 27,000, was down on the third quarter and down on the previous year’s equivalent quarter. The figures are seriously bad.

The Federation of Master Builders reminds us that the figures for new social house building in the first three months of this year are

“the most negative balance since the survey began”,

and work loads in the private new build housing sector are also declining, with 55% of firms indicating work loads smaller than in the fourth quarter of 2011. It is a bleak, bleak picture. The Minister should reflect on that and recognise that the current framework provides no incentive for new house building.

We are seeing in many cases uncertainty in the planning system. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) rightly highlighted the degree to which uncertainty and potential litigation will be a damper on development in the coming months. We also know that a number of councils are quite openly seizing the opportunity to cut back housing consents. Against that background, I have to say to the Minister that his Government will be on record as producing the lowest number of new homes of any Parliament since the 1940s—far, far lower than the figures during the previous Parliament, 2005 to 2010, which included the depths of the recession, when 750,000 new homes were started. The present Government are on course for, at best, 600,000 homes, and the total may well be fewer than that. I urge the Minister to reflect on the consequences of his planning policy.

5.26 pm

Nicky Morgan (Loughborough) (Con): I am conscious of time so I will keep my remarks as short as I can. I draw the attention of the House to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Interests.

Planning policy is an important subject. People care deeply about their local environment, the houses they live in and the houses around them, and the way that their villages and towns are developing. We have heard from Government Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley), that there is a need for more family homes. We need more houses. My constituency inbox and caseload tell me that, but as others have said, we need houses in the right place and houses that deal with people’s lives as they live them, not as Government and local authorities want them to live.

I thank the Minister. He deserves recognition for listening so carefully to all points made to him between the draft NPPF being published and the final version. A number of constituents have thanked me for the way in which the Government have listened on this important subject.

As I speak, the plans committee at Charnwood borough council has been meeting for the past 27 minutes. I was asked to be there but I felt it was more important that I was in the House today to speak in the debate. The

26 Apr 2012 : Column 1199

council is considering two important planning applications, among a number of others, which will affect the village of Quorn and the town of Shepshed in my constituency.

I say to the planners in Charnwood and elsewhere that this is not business as usual. The NPPF came into force immediately after the Minister’s statement to the House on 27 March. Summarising the NPPF is not enough. We now need to think about the way in which proposed development fits within the definition and achieves sustainable development, taking into account the three dimensions—economic, social and environmental. All three dimensions in that definition go together.

I want to make four points in the time available to me. First, I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify—he may wish to write to me—the status of the regional spatial strategies. I understand that they are due to be abolished. They can be abolished under the Localism Act 2012, which is now law. The reason I raise the subject is that some officers still mention the RSS and in particular the housing targets when they give advice to plans committees. I know that my constituents are keen to know about that.

As I said in my question to the Minister in the House on 27 March, the five-year land supply target is still a worry. I understand from my conversations with the Minister that these targets are now to be set by the local authorities, once they have gone through the housing assessment process. The targets must be deliverable. The new arrangements mean that councils are still vulnerable to having to say yes to developments because developers are saying that they do not have the five-year supply in practice. I am worried that officers are not taking into account recent applications that have already been approved.

The importance of neighbourhood planning should not be underestimated. My parish council and town council are getting on with neighbourhood planning, which I think is fantastic. We have already heard about the over-interpretation of some words. Paragraph 74—I do not have time to read it out—relates to the loss of open space and is particularly relevant to an application in my constituency concerning allotments. The wording is very straightforward; I do not think that we need to over-interpret it. It says what it says, and that is that open spaces are not to be lost.

Thirdly—I will have to write to the Minister on this point—it has been pointed out to me that the NPPF does not say as much about geology as it does about such matters as biodiversity. We have some very interesting rocks near Loughborough, in Charnwood—so interesting that Sir David Attenborough started one of his programmes there recently—so I think that we might want to hear a little more about geology.

Finally, I welcome the fact that the underlying guidance is to be reviewed. I have mentioned before that the highways guidance and the manual for streets is often very important in deciding planning applications.

5.30 pm