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16 Oct 2008 : Column 822

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord is right that the definition of short selling is difficult to establish in legal terms. However, he will appreciate the obvious factor that—I refer to what the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott said—warts on a face are more dramatic when the patient is ill. It is important that we restore the patient to health.

Children: Physical Punishment

11.35 am

Baroness Walmsley asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My Lords, the Government believe that the laws on physical punishment in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are compliant with international human rights standards. Their formal response to the memorandum was published on 9 October 2008. UK government Ministers do not accept that legislation to remove the reasonable punishment defence or the justifiable assault defence in Scotland is necessary or appropriate. Across the UK, considerable importance is already attached to awareness raising and promoting positive parenting.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply, but does she realise that all the Government’s warm words are not credible without legislation? Is she aware of the recent judgment in the Court of Appeal in the case of R v the Secretary of State for Justice, in which the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale of Richmond, is quoted as saying that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is the “authoritative international view” of what the UN convention requires? That committee has recently for the third time demanded that the UK Government remove reasonable chastisement. So, for how long will the Government go on believing that their view of their human rights obligations is more authoritative than that of four UN committees, the European Committee of Social Rights and their own JCHR?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, with respect, the Government are absolutely clear about the fundamentals here. We believe that this boils down to an interpretation of what is seen as violence. We do not accept that, for example, mild smacking—smacking for which the defence of reasonable punishment is available—constitutes violence. We firmly believe that our law is compliant with both the UN CRC and the ECHR. In our view, the UN CRC does not require the criminalisation of mild smacking. Conduct that could meet the threshold of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under the ECHR is already illegal in this country.

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Baroness Verma: My Lords, I welcome the Minister to her new post. Does she agree that we should not be in the business of criminalising parents who are struggling to do their best but should instead concentrate our resources on the children who most need our protection, particularly in the light of the horrific cases reported in the media in recent days?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her warm welcome. As we saw again from his performance today, my noble friend Lord Adonis will be a hard act to follow; but I promise that I will do my best. I very much agree with the noble Baroness that we should not be in the business of criminalising parents who are trying to do their best. It is vital that we keep our legislative framework up to date to support not only children but parents, and that we put safeguarding children at the centre of government policy. I believe that we are doing that.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, I think it is the case that 18 European countries have banned the physical punishment of children and seven have undertaken to do so—my noble friend, whom of course I also welcome to her new position, may have more up-to-date figures. But that makes 25 countries. Why should our children have fewer rights than theirs?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, whether we use the language of rights or the language of safeguarding and child protection, it is absolutely right that we put the needs and interests of children first. The Government have updated the law on child protection. We had a debate very recently in this House, in 2004, when the Children Act was updated and a new clause, Clause 58, was introduced after much debate. I think that it provides the right framework for protecting children while not interfering unduly in the role of parents, who are, after all, the people who bring up children in this country.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, in their response to the commissioner, the Government made much of the fact that a survey showed that 70 per cent of parents did not want physical punishment banned, but the Government and we as a nation are also very concerned about the level of violence in our society from young people. Is it that surprising, when we know from reliable research that one in four parents disciplines their children by hitting them, that we have such a high level of violence from young people? “Like father, like son” is an old aphorism, but does not the Minister agree that it is apt?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, the noble Baroness has touched on an interesting point. What we know is that younger parents are less likely to use physical punishment than older parents, so I am not sure that it is, “Like father, like son”. It is essential that we provide support to parents who may find it difficult to manage their anger and to deal with the stresses of parenthood, but I do not want us to go down the route of demonising young people and talking about the violence that young people cause in society in such a way either. It is a very delicate area. It is absolutely right that we have research to guide us. Recent studies

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have shown that parents do not think that it is appropriate for mild smacking to be made illegal, but smacking as a source of parental control is on the decline.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I again welcome the Minister to her post—I have already welcomed her privately but now I do so on the record. Although she may not agree with me, does she at least share my frustration with those who are against equal protection for children under the law who seek to misrepresent our position as meaning that a caring parent who may use physical restraint to stop a child harming itself or another would be criminalised? She knows that that is not the case in the other 25 countries that have equal protection; and it would not be the case here.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, if we consider the use of Section 58 of the Children Act 2004 alongside the advice from the CPS on charging standards, which take account of the vulnerability of children, we see that in those cases children are protected in the same way as adults. That is a very important point. For the record, parents who cause injuries to children such as grazes, scratches, abrasions, bruising, swelling and superficial cuts now, because of the law as it is, risk being charged with ABH with no defence of reasonable punishment. That is because of the changes in the law that we supported in this House in 2004.


Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I have two announcements. First, my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath will repeat the Statement on the Department of Energy and Climate Change at a convenient point at about 12.45 pm.

My right honourable friend the Leader of the House of Commons has made a Written Statement today announcing next Session’s proposed recess dates for the other place. As with recent Sessions, I intend to match these dates—subject, of course, to the progress of business.

For the information of the House, these dates are as follows. We will rise for the Christmas Recess at the end of business on Thursday 18 December, returning on Monday 12 January. We will rise for the February half-term on Thursday 12 February, returning on Monday 23 February. We will rise for the Easter Recess on Thursday 2 April, returning on Monday 20 April. We will rise for the Whitsun Recess on Thursday 21 May and return on Monday 1 June. Finally, we plan to rise for the Summer Recess on Tuesday 21 July, returning on Monday 12 October. My office has now made these dates available in the Printed Paper Office. My Lords, enjoy!

Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 3) Bill

11.45 am

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

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Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)

On Question, Bill read a second time; Committee negatived.

Then, Standing Order 47 having been dispensed with, Bill read a third time, and passed.

Planning Bill

11.46 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

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

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD SPEAKER in the Chair.]

[Amendments Nos. 168A and 168B not moved.]

Clause 35 agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Amendments consequential on development consent regime]:

Baroness Andrews moved Amendment No. 169:

169: Schedule 2, page 149, line 7, leave out “and has been granted, for its construction” and insert “for its construction by virtue of section 14(1)(f) of that Act, and has been granted.”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 170 and 171 not moved.]

Lord Berkeley moved Amendment No. 171A:

171A: Schedule 2, page 156, line 34, at end insert—

“Greater London Authority Act 1999 (c. 29)

After section 334(2) (the spatial development strategy) insert—

“(2A) The spatial development strategy must be in general conformity with national policy statements.”

Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (c. 5)

(1) The PCPA 2004 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 1(2) (regional spatial strategy) insert—

“(2A) In subsection (2) the Secretary of State’s policies include national policy statements.”

(3) In section 19(2)(a) (preparation of local plan documents) before “national policies” insert “national policy statements, other”.

(4) In section 24 (conformity with regional strategy)—

(a) before subsection (1)(a) insert—

“(za) relevant national policy statements;”;

(b) after subsection (1) insert—

“(1A) A national policy statement is relevant if—

(a) it sets out the amount, type or size of development that is appropriate nationally or for a specified area that includes, or partly includes, the area of the local planning authority; or

(b) it identifies a location that is in, or partly in, the area of the local planning authority as suitable, potentially suitable or unsuitable for development.”

(5) After section 117(3) (interpretation) insert—

“(3A) Expressions used in this Act and in the Planning Act 2008 have the same meaning in this Act as in that Act.””

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The noble Lord said: My Amendment No. 171A is grouped with other amendments in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Boyd. All the amendments are designed to create a link between national policy statements, which relate to the larger sized projects and are the responsibility of the Bill, and smaller developments that are outwith the scope of the Bill.

On the previous day in Committee, we discussed the various relationships between the minimum size of developments that would be included, as well as energy generators, rail freight interchanges, waste disposal and hazardous waste. There were a number of views about the minimum size of developments. Whatever the minimum size is, will the policies in the national policy statements for all these different types of development filter through into regional spatial strategies and development plans for similar projects that are below the limits that will be set by the Bill? In debates on previous amendments, many noble Lords have mentioned the problem of nimbyism. If one likes the idea of wind farms or hazardous waste disposal schemes and believes that the Bill will make getting development permission easier for these projects, I suspect that we will want the limit to be as low as possible. But many other developments will be well below the limit and could get caught out in what one could usefully describe as local authorities not wishing to have them in their back yards.

I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group. I still believe that rail freight terminals have to be in a national network—unlike sewage works—to work. It would be a great shame if the smaller ones, which need to be part of that network, are subject to local authorities which believe in the principle of rail freight—or wind farms or whatever—but do not want them in their back yard.

These amendments try to relate the policies in the national policy statements to the regional spatial strategies, development plans and other similar documents, so that when local authorities or others consider applications for smaller schemes, they take into account the policies in the national policy statement.

The amendments of my noble and learned friend Lord Boyd may be slightly different in detail but the intent is the same. I am sure that his explanation will be much better than mine because he is a real professional in these matters. I beg to move.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: Amendments Nos. 408 and 409 in this group are in my name. They would apply to the part of the Bill that amends existing planning legislation and are not directly concerned with the national policy statements or the Infrastructure Planning Commission. Amendment No. 408 would delete Clause 172(3)(a), which omits two sections of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, and Amendment No. 409 applies to Clause 172(4)(c), which would omit two more sections.

My difficulty concerns community involvement. It is not entirely clear why the Government seek to reduce the reporting of community involvement. If the amendments were accepted, those statements of community involvement would be retained and, under Amendment No. 409, would be subject to independent examination.

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I have had and will have amendments concerned with the difficulties of disabled people, particularly blind people, relating to the planning system. I will not repeat what I said earlier because the Minister was well aware of those difficulties. However, organisations representing disabled people are upset by the removal of the requirement for local development documents to include a statement of community involvement and would like to see them there.

That was debated in another place. On that occasion, the Minister suggested that the Audit Commission’s comprehensive area assessment process might be an alternative way to deal with that. He gave no details whatever on how that might work and what form the process might take. In those circumstances, it is a little difficult to see that as an alternative to the retention of the existing requirements and statements. Perhaps the noble Baroness will put a bit more flesh and blood on that. If that is an effective way to achieve the same objective, clearly we will have to take account of it. At the moment, it is all rather hanging in the air. No one has a very clear idea of what it would mean and why that would replace the existing statements and requirements.

Lord Boyd of Duncansby: Amendments Nos. 409A to 409C stand in my name. Like the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Berkeley, they deal with the relationship between the national policy statement and the local development plan, particularly in relation to renewable energy. The principal purposes of the Bill are to ensure that we speed up the planning process and provide the infrastructure to deal with climate change, which we all face. However, the fact is that after the Bill comes into effect, many onshore renewable energy projects, particularly those concerned with wind and solar generation, will continue to be consented as part of the ordinary planning system by the local planning authority. That is because the Infrastructure Planning Commission will deal only with generating stations producing above 50 megawatts, the same threshold as in the Electricity Act. As I interpret them, national policy statements will deal with all development, and the result is that an NPS can be a material consideration in the determination of a planning application.

There is concern that the planning system has tended to place insufficient weight on national policy on renewable energy, and that is partly because few adopted development plans deal adequately with the issue of development for wind and other forms of renewable power generation. The problem is compounded by the primacy given to the development plan under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, so the amendments aim to ensure that national policy statements that deal with renewable energy generation are given due weight in the planning system both in the preparation of development plan documents and in individual decisions. They seek to amend Clause 172 and thus would amend the relevant sections of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act.

I am aware that Clause 173 obliges the development plan documents to include policies designed to secure that the development and use of land in a local planning authority’s area contributes to the mitigation of and adaption to climate change. Nevertheless it seems

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appropriate that we should ensure that the national policy statement that relates to renewable energy is given primacy and proper weight by local planning authorities when they deal with renewable energy applications before them.

Lord Bradshaw: At Question Time earlier, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, drew attention to the fact that guidance given by the Government is in fact ignored by a number of local authorities. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, quoted the instance of Oxfordshire County Council ignoring government advice on the provision of cycle lanes. If it is so easy to ignore advice, is it not necessary for that advice somehow to be strengthened?


Baroness Andrews: These amendments seek reassurance in different respects. I hope I can reassure noble Lords that what they are seeking is achieved in the Bill. I shall start by referring to Clause 172. It removes the requirement for the statement of community involvement to be set out in local development schemes and for it to be the subject of independent examination. Amendments Nos. 408 and 409, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, would retain the requirement. The noble Lord has argued that this is an attempt to reduce local opportunity to engage in the planning system by removing the opportunity to make representations on the statement of community involvement and to have them independently examined. Perhaps I may clarify the status of SCIs and the reasoning behind the decision and reassure the noble Lord that this is a rather complex clause which may not do what he thinks it does.

When we created the SCI as part of the new planning system introduced in 2004 to ensure that community engagement was central to the new system, we created the notion of a statement of community involvement which set out how the local authority would involve the public in the preparation of local development documents and planning applications. The local development scheme sets out what documents will be produced and when, and has to be agreed with central government. By removing the statement of community involvement from the local development scheme, the clause as a whole means that local authorities will no longer have to get permission from central government if they want to update, or change the timetable for updating, their SCI. The clause also means that central government cannot any longer use the local development scheme to dictate to local authorities when to update the SCI. That brings us more into line with the Government’s approach to local government in general, which is to give greater space to local innovation and to foster civic leadership.

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