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Lord Davies of Oldham: We have no intention of letting the policy jog along. Nothing I have said suggests that the Government are in any way tardy or unenthusiastic about implementing the Bill. We are facing up to the blunt realities of the challenge that the Bill represents and the timescale. I am not saying that the Government are committed to making sure that the marine policy statement is in place by 2011, but the

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noble Lord’s arbitrary deadline of 2012 as the time when the system must be completed is unrealistic and we cannot—nor could any Government—commit themselves to that position, given the timetable of the Bill becoming law and the necessary work that has to go on in terms of effective planning and consultation. Of course I understand the concerns of the Committee, which are shared by the wider community. We need to make as rapid progress as we can. We are fully committed to making use of these powers, but I do not think that the nature of the challenge that the Bill represents lends itself to an arbitrary deadline, and certainly not one as early as 2012.

On the specific question of planning for the whole marine region, noble Lords will recognise that Clause 49, as drafted, is sufficiently flexible to allow marine planning authorities to make a judgment about what will best suit them and their region. Until we start to create plans we cannot be sure how extensive the coverage will need to be, so it is better not to prejudge the issue in legislation by requiring total coverage. As there are different planning authorities round the UK—

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: The Minister is talking about whether it is practical to arrive at the system by 2012. The Government themselves have identified the issue of having enough marine planners. There has been quite a difficulty over terrestrial planners, so can the Minister give some indication of the development of the courses that will accredit marine planners and how much progress is being made? It will be impossible to start on marine plans until planners are in place.

Lord Davies of Oldham: Of course we command a great deal of expertise on marine matters but I shall probably have to write to the noble Baroness about its extent and definition. Certainly I do not have it at my fingertips, but even if I had I am not sure that I would be able to read it at this stage.

I understand what the noble Baroness is saying. I was not making resource constraints the determinant of the progress that we make; I was trying to identify that the Bill calls forth a significant commitment, and resources, and within that I indicated how unrealistic it would be for us to provide total coverage by 2012, to say nothing of the fact that there are different planning authorities around the UK. Each of them will have to decide where and when plans are needed and whether they intend full coverage of their planning area. We may be in a position to produce full coverage but I emphasise that the system is new and we may discover that for some areas, say 150 or 200 miles out at sea, planning may be excessive, uncertain or not helpful enough to warrant the activity needed to meet demanding objectives. We may plan for larger and for small areas in detail as we obtain more information. We may plan using a lighter touch as we get out to sea. Of course that is why we are asking for flexibility.

7.15 pm

Lord Greaves: The Minister is suffering a little and we sympathise with him.

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Does this not come back to the question that we discussed previously on the detail of planning required in different parts of the sea being different? There are places, such as around estuaries or areas of special conservation interest and so on, where the detail will be huge, and others where the detail can be superficial. In comparison with terrestrial planning that is normal, but it does not mean that we do not have comprehensive plans. The Minister said earlier that he wanted a comprehensive system for land and sea, which means a marine plan for everywhere, just as you have a local plan for everywhere on the land. But the plans deal with the issues to a greater or lesser degree of detail according to the circumstances in their area. That is not to argue against having a plan for an area; it is just that there is not as much in that plan.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I understand what the noble Lord is saying but he will recognise the Government’s reluctance to commit themselves to the extent that is being demanded, particularly by the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor—to the objective by 2012. We are dealing with a substantial number of uncertainties, not least the issue of the responsibilities of the devolved authorities. Of course I understand the noble Lord’s point about the broad strategic framework and the detailed plans at local level, but he will appreciate that in building up that general picture we have to get a clear perspective on certain aspects of the component parts. They are quite challenging. His noble friend earlier raised the issue of the differences between planning around harbours and estuaries as opposed to other parts of coastal areas. They present different challenges and we have to take a range of important considerations into account when a great deal of the work involves a series of new concepts. I am merely seeking to illustrate why the Government have justifiable cause not to be tied to the arbitrary deadline of 2012.

I recognise the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in her amendment. I was not too sure that the absence of planning led to a Klondike position, but there is no doubt that Klondike was brought about by the absence of planning. There were rather more incentives for people to rush to that area than might be thought to be the case with regard to the marine environment. I know what the noble Baroness is driving at but we would need an overall planning position. However, she will appreciate that it is not conceivable that we shall be able to see plans evolve for each area at the same time so as to avoid disparities. The different priorities of the authorities concerned will be reflected, as will the challenge represented by the planning.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: I have picked on the noble Lord in his hour of trouble, but I want to refer to the point of my amendment. Plans will have to roll out serially over time as we obtain information, as we head for the most important priority areas, and so forth. But it is not too much to ask of each of the planning authorities in that context, where the noble Lord has just stressed the importance of plans with their serial, evolving nature, to get a light-touch report once a year to discover how the authorities are getting on with them, where they are planning to go next, the

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likely timetable for the next set of plans or whatever. It would be a useful spur to the whole process, otherwise, a Bill that says only that they may plan will not get us very far.

Lord Davies of Oldham: The noble Baroness is being a little unfair to the construct of the Bill. She will see that Clause 52 requires that:

“A marine planning authority must keep under review the matters which may be expected to affect the exercise of its functions”,


Clause 58 requires that a marine planning authority must report at least every three years on the effects and effectiveness of each marine plan. I maintain that between them, these two duties seem sufficient to ensure that a marine planning authority keeps in mind the potential for creating more marine plans, which bring certain benefits, and provide the necessary stimulus to ensure that it does.

Of course, I have indicated that each marine plan will take around two years to prepare. A duty to report annually on progress would therefore seem to be somewhat onerous, particularly since the duty would not expire even with a whole region covered by marine plans on which reports were being prepared every three years. I recognise the great interest that the noble Baroness takes in these matters, but we are resistant to putting in the Bill the nature of her amendments.

A number of other points arose in the discussions. I do not have the figures that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, suggested I should have at my fingertips. We are discussing and working with the University of Plymouth—I cannot think of a more appropriate institution—to develop appropriate training for marine planners. We recognise the need and are approaching the university to develop training courses for marine planning. The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, indicated that there is no way in which we can achieve those objectives without having such action in mind.

I therefore do not believe that the absence of a marine plan indicates that there is no policy framework at all for the area, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. The MPS will apply to the whole of the marine area, so that will provide a broad, overall context. I agree with him entirely that we ought to make as much progress as we can with the individual marine plans, but against the scale of the operation involved in the concept of the Bill, he, above all, with his understanding of development and planning, will recognise the challenge that faces government and all the authorities. I therefore hope that he, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, whose amendment has triggered this debate, and the Committee will recognise that the Government have taken into account the issues raised in considering these amendments and that where the Government are resolute in their stance against them—particularly the precise timescale in the noble Lord’s amendment—they have thought about these issues seriously. His amendment has provoked a debate that obliges the Government to respond to this most important of all concepts with seriousness and urgency, but a deadline might be obstructive and unhelpful rather than constructive and helpful. I therefore hope that he will withdraw his amendment.

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Lord Taylor of Holbeach: We have had a useful debate. I see the measure as being one of the prime drivers for action. The Bill is about a framework for the nature of that action, but time is the driver for achieving things. The noble Lord put the telescope to his blind eye and said that he could not see the signal. I regret to tell him that I seek to test the opinion of the Committee on this amendment.

7.26 pm

Division on Amendment 87

Contents 45; Not-Contents 85.

Amendment 87 disagreed.

Division No. 1


Anelay of St Johns, B. [Teller]
Buscombe, B.
Byford, B.
Cathcart, E.
Craigavon, V.
De Mauley, L.
Denham, L.
Dundee, E.
Fookes, B.
Forsyth of Drumlean, L.
Geddes, L.
Glenarthur, L.
Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.
Hooper, B.
Howe of Aberavon, L.
Inglewood, L.
Kimball, L.
King of Bridgwater, L.
Kingsland, L.
Low of Dalston, L.
Lyell of Markyate, L.
MacGregor of Pulham Market, L.
Mancroft, L.
Masham of Ilton, B.
Montrose, D.
Morris of Bolton, B.
Noakes, B.
Northbrook, L.
Norton of Louth, L.
O'Cathain, B.
Palmer, L.
Rogan, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Seccombe, B. [Teller]
Selborne, E.
Selkirk of Douglas, L.
Selsdon, L.
Shrewsbury, E.
Skelmersdale, L.
Skidelsky, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Strathclyde, L.
Taylor of Holbeach, L.
Walpole, L.
Young of Old Scone, B.


Adams of Craigielea, B.
Adonis, L.
Ahmed, L.
Amos, B.
Barnett, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L. [Teller]
Bernstein of Craigweil, L.
Best, L.
Bew, L.
Bilston, L.
Blackstone, B.
Borrie, L.
Brett, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L.
Campbell-Savours, L.
Chorley, L.
Clark of Windermere, L.
Colville of Culross, V.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L.
Corston, B.
Crawley, B.
Davidson of Glen Clova, L.
Davies of Coity, L.
Davies of Oldham, L. [Teller]
Desai, L.
D'Souza, B.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Ford, B.
Gale, B.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Gilbert, L.
Golding, B.
Goldsmith, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Greenway, L.
Grocott, L.
Harris of Haringey, L.
Haskins, L.
Haworth, L.
Henig, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Howarth of Newport, L.
Hoyle, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Joffe, L.
Jones, L.
Kilclooney, L.
Layard, L.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
McDonagh, B.
McIntosh of Haringey, L.

10 Feb 2009 : Column 1078

McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
McKenzie of Luton, L.
Massey of Darwen, B.
Maxton, L.
Morgan, L.
Morris of Aberavon, L.
Patel, L.
Patel of Bradford, L.
Pitkeathley, B.
Prosser, B.
Quin, B.
Rea, L.
Rendell of Babergh, B.
Rosser, L.
Rowlands, L.
Royall of Blaisdon, B.
Scotland of Asthal, B.
Sewel, L.
Simon, V.
Smith of Finsbury, L.
Smith of Leigh, L.
Snape, L.
Stone of Blackheath, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Temple-Morris, L.
Thornton, B.
Tunnicliffe, L.
Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Wilkins, B.
Williamson of Horton, L.
Young of Norwood Green, L.

Amendments 87A to 88A not moved.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.39 pm

Rent Officers (Housing Benefit Functions) Amendment (No. 2) Order 2008

Copy of the Order
4th Report from Merits Committee

Motion for an humble Address

7.39 pm

Moved By Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope

Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: My Lords, in moving this Motion I again congratulate the Merits Committee on drawing this business to our attention in its fourth report. I am not sure who serves on the Merits Committee, but they deserve a special medal for their service to the House. Slicing and dicing statutory instruments as they come through and referring the toxic bits to the Floor of the House for further consideration must be a long-drawn-out affair, but they do it. This is the second or third time that I have had the benefit of their serious deliberations and reports. The House owes them a great debt for their service.

Before I turn to the order, I shall make a few quick procedural points. First, the only procedure open to the House is to seek to annul this order. It will not come as a shock to noble Lords to know that I have no intention of trying to annul it, but there is no other way of doing this. Perhaps the Procedure Committee should go away and think about how we can get a more sensitive way of addressing some of the issues involved in these things. I understand noble Lords’ reluctance to enter the list and seek to annul something when, if they succeeded in so doing, they would create even more uncertainty than there was in the first place. I hope that some thought will be given to how we can deal with, in particular, negative procedure orders. I make no special complaint about this order, but it was laid on 15 December and came into being on 5 January, which was over the Christmas Recess. I and, I suspect, the rest of the House have difficulty in trying to keep up with all these things. However, this is the only way I have of expressing my concern about this order.

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A second process point is worth mentioning. In reading around the subject, I came across consternation that, at the end of last year, before they laid the orders, the Government had a consultation process that was one week long. I do not know whether that is the case; it was certainly a cursory period for professional associations and interest groups to respond to the content of the order. There are well known, established Cabinet Office rules that give minimum times for proper consultation. There may well have been uncertainty to which the Government wanted to respond urgently as a result of the majority decision in the court case, the Heffernan judgment in the House of Lords. However, the department made no friends by the way in which it carried out the consultation. We need to avoid that in future.

Finally, by way of process, if the House of Lords finds—admittedly on a majority judgment—that some things may not be what they seem at law, the Government need to be careful about how they redress the balance. I make no complaint about the constitutional propriety of the Executive making policy clear. I have no doubt that the judiciary is subservient to the Government of the day when it comes to getting policy clear, but the Government have to be careful that they do not end up treating important, weighty, serious, heavily concerned judgments in a way that gives the impression of being casual.

The Explanatory Notes at the back of the order, which are instructive as far as they go, could perfectly easily in future include a paragraph that includes the provenance of the change, the House of Lords legal judgment, to explain why the Government are doing what they are. The Explanatory Notes state at the end:

“A full impact assessment has not been published for this instrument, as it has no impact on the private or voluntary sectors”.

I am not sure that that is an uncontestable statement, because I know that a lot of people think that it does. I do not know who signed off that statement, but it does not reflect my experience of what people are saying about the order.

Anyway, having got all that off my chest, I should like to make a couple of brief points, starting by recognising that the evaluation of the 18 pilots in the local housing allowance rollout was entirely satisfactory. The experience was properly evaluated. I studied most of the reports as they came out. One related to Edinburgh, in which I have an interest. The general experience in the pilots made sense. It looked as if things were going in the right direction, so that the rollout in the rest of the country was a safe thing to do. We are now approaching 40 per cent of private tenants being covered by the new regime, which is still running in tandem with the old local reference rent system of yesteryear. We must start the debate by acknowledging that the evaluations were reasonably positive.

7.45 pm

However, the first evidence beginning to come in as a result of the national rollout suggests some causes for concern. The House may want to consider the new political context in which we are considering people applying for tenancies in the private rented sector.

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Given some predictions of the repossessions that we may be facing in the upcoming months and years, it is essential that we do everything that we can to generate as many tenancies as we can and make them as accessible as possible. One of the best ways to deal with repossessions is to ensure that those who suffer the trauma of repossessions get early access, through policy sensitive to their needs. The regulations go directly to the heart of that argument, so this is not small beer. It could affect a lot of people dramatically in a key moment of our economic development.

The evidence that I have seen from Shelter and others demonstrates that we need to monitor exactly how the rollout of the local housing allowance is working. In a recent report, Shelter concludes that there are wide variations in the affordability of private rented housing for local housing allowance claimants. It tested that in 1,500 adverts in four or five areas in different circumstances and concluded that the broad rental market areas introduced under the new system need to be carefully evaluated in the policy context to see what impact the new definition that flows from the order has on access to appropriate tenancies and affordability.

If the Minister has not seen the research briefing by Shelter, A Postcode Lottery?, I recommend it to the department; it repays careful study. It certainly impressed me. The evidence, especially that derived from the Cambridge example, which is the first model that it looked at, makes compelling reading and suggests that, where there is a big town surrounded by a rural area, the new policy may be driving new local housing claimants out to the rural areas and therefore away from jobs and educational opportunities.

The first plea that comes from Shelter, and I endorse it, is that we need to monitor and evaluate this new broad rental market area policy carefully during the upcoming weeks and months. Secondly, the broad criteria—not just a geographical criterion but the broad criteria—that rejoice under the acronym of HERBS have not been considered since 1995. That is a long time when trying to set out the policy objectives in such a volatile area. New emphasis should be placed on mixed-income, mixed-tenure areas and access to employment, because that goes with the grain of the Government’s policy. These rental areas should be determined to encourage people to access jobs where that is possible, as well as education, recreation, business and services. That is absent from the criteria; it should be added.

Thirdly, the department could work the Rent Service database a lot harder in learning lessons and drawing conclusions about the consequences of policy, especially in affordability. That is a resource. The Rent Service is getting more transparent, as is acknowledged and welcomed, but a lot more could be done by sweating that asset and getting more value out of it. No evidence is available to me at the moment that that is being done properly.

Two more things from the evidence that has been presented to me need to be looked at. First, the Rent Service needs to be required to consult all parties to these considerations. I know that it does a lot of very good work with local authorities, which have an absolutely

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key role in working out sensible geographical areas for their policy. However, a wide range of interested parties, associations and pressure groups needs to be at the table when these policies are being finalised, because they know how claimants view these things and how the experience is rolling out in practice.

Secondly, the department needs to look again at actual supply and accessibility and not just at the theoretical rent-level matching, which suggests that many of the 1,500 properties are available to those who claim tenancy in a local housing allowance application. I do not know whether this is a direct result of the new policy of paying money to the prospective tenant—I understand the Government’s driver in the policy of encouraging more responsibility and getting people to understand just exactly what their money situation is when accessing accommodation —but there is a real worry now. Indeed, the Shelter evidence suggests that in reality, when push came to shove, once the applications were pursued only 28 per cent of the total number of advertised vacancies were available to local housing association tenants. That may need to be tested over a wider front. The Shelter evidence assessed more than 1,500 advertised tenancies. That may not be a statistically valid sample, and there may be other ways of looking at this, but the department certainly needs to look carefully at the alleged bias against claimants on the part of some owners of rented property.

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