To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their assessment of the finding of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research concerning the existence of caste-based discrimination in the United Kingdom.
Baroness Northover: My Lords, Ministers have been carefully considering the findings of this report on caste discrimination and the wide range of views expressed by interested parties. The Government's red tape challenge currently has a three-week spotlight on equalities. This presents people with a further opportunity to express their views on the possible need for caste legislation. We will announce our intentions once we have had sufficient opportunity to analyse the comments from this exercise.
Lord Harries of Pentregarth: I thank the Minister for her Answer. I appreciate that this report is being given very careful attention. In view of the fact that the UK's record on racial discrimination is to be examined by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, will the Government bring the report mentioned in the Question to the attention of that committee and will they respond to its recommendation in August 2003 that caste-based discrimination be included in domestic legislation?
Baroness Northover: First, I commend the noble and right reverend Lord for all that he and my noble friend Lord Avebury have done to flag up this matter. Caste discrimination, like any other form of discrimination, should not be tolerated. He refers to the UN committee, which is reporting in August this year. We are aware that that is likely to flag up caste discrimination. At the moment, as I said, the spotlight is on equalities. The report is being given very serious attention. The national institute report states that evidence suggested that such discrimination was found, but it also makes clear that putting this conclusion beyond categorical doubt is difficult, which is why this report, the evidence around it and the submissions are receiving such attention at the moment.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, the Equalities Minister told me that the Government would be in a better position to announce their findings on whether to activate the section in the Equality Act on caste discrimination once they had assessed the views that
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Baroness Northover: I thank my noble friend for that and for his dogged determination to ensure that anyone who is vulnerable will not be discriminated against. I can assure him that officials wrote to 22 caste stakeholders from the pro and anti-legislation lobbies on 10 June, advising them about the red tape challenge and inviting them to participate in the debate by expressing their views on the possible need for caste legislation. That will add to the submissions that are already in.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, is the Minister aware that one of the disadvantages of not exercising the power given to them by the previous Parliament to include caste discrimination as part of race discrimination is that there might be litigation in this country that relies on, for example, the views of the CERD committee to which she has referred?
Baroness Northover: I hear what my noble friend Lord Lester says, and I should think that anyone hearing that will quake in their boots. If there is indeed caste discrimination, anyone meting that out needs to be wary. That is echoed in what my noble friend says.
Lord Soley: From her general discussions, does the Minister have any idea of the extent to which the relevant community leaders are aware of a problem of caste discrimination? If so, what do they say when asked about it?
Baroness Northover: My Lords, I think that they are aware of that. Given the debate on the Equality Act and all our discussions over the past few years, it would be a miracle if it had passed them by and they were not aware of it. In my view, all the communities seem to be well aware of the discussion over this. It seems to be generally accepted that caste is there. What is disputed is whether there are practices of discrimination. Whether it is declining or maintained is also disputed.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: The red tape challenge is especially important for the Government. However, discrimination is discrimination, and I respectfully suggest that only anti-discrimination legislation would provide real redress for victims.
Baroness Northover: The noble Baroness makes a cogent point. One of the things that the report sought to identify was whether this could most appropriately be addressed by the legislation or whether it fell outside that. Some issues, such as bullying in schools, may well be dealt with by schools being much more alive to this problem. However, evidence is coming through on both sides about how legislation is required, because this kind of discrimination will not be caught by the current legislation. That is the key in this instance.
Baroness Northover: Well, there is an interesting one. This is a question that neither the academics nor I can answer. One of the things that is very striking about the issue is how little academic work has yet been done on it. That academic work is increasing and improving, which I welcome.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are two major Hindu organisations in this country: the Hindu Forum and the Hindu Council? Will she ensure that those organisations are contacted with a view to seeing how the community in the first instance can look at the issues that have arisen and deal with them as part of the community initiative, and, if that does not work, to see what other actions are necessary?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): My Lords, first, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of Colour Sergeant Kevin Fortuna, 1st Battalion The Rifles, Lieutenant Oliver Augustin, 42 Commando Royal Marines, Marine Samuel Alexander MC, 42 Commando Royal Marines, Corporal Michael Pike, 4th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, Lance Corporal Martin Gill, 42 Commando Royal Marines, Rifleman Martin Lamb, 1st Battalion The Rifles, Corporal Lloyd Newell, the Parachute Regiment, Craftsman Andrew Found, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers attached to the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, and Private Gareth Bellingham, 3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, who were all killed recently on operations in Afghanistan. My thoughts
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As a result of the strategic defence and security review, the Royal Air Force has reduced its long-term requirement for pilots of all platforms. Consequently, a decision was taken in February to reduce the numbers of UK trainee pilots undergoing the initial phase of flying training. It will take some time to remove the resulting additional spare capacity from the training programme and we are actively seeking to offer any surplus training slots to foreign students.
Lord Rotherwick: I would like to associate myself with the remarks of the Minister. I am not sure whether he is aware that I have been on an Armed Forces parliamentary scheme and visited RAF training stations. I have been made aware of the considerable number of training vacancies for fast-jet pilots. Does the Minister agree that when the UK sells military aircraft, it is prudent to have a world-class training facility where affordable places are available to foreign pilots? Does he recognise also the wonderful relationships with foreign pilots that are generated during pilot training, with proven long-term results for diplomatic relations in times of trouble and conflict?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I was aware that my noble friend was doing the Armed Forces parliamentary scheme and I very much commend the important work that it does. The Ministry of Defence recognises the value to the country obtained from training pilots from partner countries. We are at the early stage of discussions with the UK defence industry to explore how best to take this issue forward. Supporting the training needs of our partners and allies provides important defence and diplomacy benefits-for example, the involvement of Denmark in operations in Libya-and is also a critical factor in securing contracts for defence export sales, which are worth billions of pounds and thousands of jobs to the UK defence industry.
Lord Rosser: My Lords, on this side we, too, offer our sincere condolences to the families and friends of Colour Sergeant Kevin Fortuna, Lieutenant Oliver Augustin, Marine Samuel Alexander MC, Corporal Michael Pike, Lance Corporal Martin Gill, Rifleman Martin Lamb, Corporal Lloyd Newell, Craftsman Andrew Found and Private Gareth Bellingham, all of whom were killed recently on active service in Afghanistan. Like the Minister, we pay tribute to those who have been wounded and face lengthy rehabilitation. We have been reminded again this afternoon of the enormous sacrifices being made by the members of our Armed Forces.
The Minister said that the Government were seeking to offer any surplus training slots to foreign trainee pilots. Will such personnel pay the marginal costs of their training or the full economic costs, bearing in mind the additional expenditure that we now face in respect of our operations in Libya? How long will the training of foreign personnel continue-the Minister referred to the time that it would take to remove
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Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, flying training for foreign students under international defence training is provided at full cost. Training provided by the UK Armed Forces is rightly considered as some of the best in the world. As such, we expect demand to continue. We have no plans for that to diminish. I do not have with me the figures on how many foreign students are trained. I am aware that for this financial year- 2010-11-the requirement was for 155 students in total to be trained. I will write to the noble Lord with the exact figures on foreign students.
Given that, unfortunately, for the next 10 years or so we are going to be without our own aircraft carrier, can my noble friend tell the House what plans the Government have to maintain carrier training of pilots using French and American aircraft carriers, and what the appropriate financial arrangements are going to be?
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy pilots have for a number of years undertaken carrier training with our allies; and, as my noble friend said, we are currently in discussions with the French and the US navies on future training programmes ahead of the Queen Elizabeth carriers entering service. The Royal Navy currently has two pilots training with the US navy. In addition, the RAF and the Royal Navy have five exchange officers serving in the US navy flying the F/A-18 and AV-8B aircraft. As for the financial arrangements, as discussions are ongoing, the financial arrangements are still being considered.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I do not think that the Minister has, in a sense, answered the sheer complexity of the last question. Being able to operate a large-deck carrier with fast jets is incredibly complicated. I understand that we have a few pilots training with the Americans and the French, but will he please confirm that we are going to establish a focus, a package of training and all the measures attached, rather like we had for the CSSE when we did this with the Polaris programme, so that we can drive from now until the first large-deck carrier is fully operational? By removing the Harriers, it is very difficult. It needs a real focus, and we need to do something like that.
Lord Astor of Hever: I can give the noble Lord the information that he wants not just on the pilots but on the whole of the deck-handling operation. We are looking at this very closely with both of our allies.
Lord Teverson: My Lords, the European Defence Agency recently awarded helicopter training for six NATO and Partners for Peace organisations to AgustaWestland, which will take place in Wiltshire. Does the Minister agree that this is an excellent role for the EDA and an excellent result? Does he see other opportunities from the EDA for similar training in the United Kingdom?
Lord Astor of Hever: I thank my noble friend for that question. I am not fully briefed on what we could get from the EDA, but we welcome our foreign friends and allies sending pilots for training over here. We give an excellent service.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Henley): My Lords, universities are responsible for their own admissions policies and decisions. The Government are establishing a new framework with increased responsibility on universities to widen participation, including to the most selective institutions, as set out in our guidance to the Director of Fair Access. Ethnicity is one factor which will be considered in access agreements. The proportion of black and minority-ethnic undergraduates in higher education has grown from 16.4 per cent in 2001-02 to 20.4 per cent in 2009-10.
Baroness Benjamin: I thank my noble friend for that encouraging Answer. I am sure he will agree with me that many more children from BME backgrounds, and white working-class boys, need to be encouraged to start thinking of their education path to top universities from as early as primary school. The numbers of BME students going to university have increased, but research by the Runnymede Trust has shown that BME students predominantly do not apply to the top 20 leading universities.
At the University of Exeter, where I am chancellor-I declare an interest-very few British-born BME students apply. Research shows that only 8 per cent of BME students who do go to university attend Russell group universities, resulting in less prestigious degrees and lower employment opportunities. Can my noble friend the Minister tell the House what is being done proactively by the Government, by schools and by universities to
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Lord Henley: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that the process ought to start at the earliest possible stage, at primary schools and throughout schooling, to encourage all children to consider this option. I am also grateful to my noble friend for mentioning that other group who ought to be addressed-white working-class males, who are again, sadly, very badly underrepresented.
I would not entirely accept her figures for the more selective universities. The figures I have for the Russell group show that something like 14 per cent of those attending come from an ethnic minority background. Obviously that varies from one institution to another: for fairly obvious reasons, at Queen's University Belfast it is as low as 2 per cent whereas it is over 50 per cent at the London School of Economics. It varies throughout, but the overall figure for the Russell group is some 14 per cent.
Lord Winston: My Lords, I declare an interest as a professor at Imperial College London. Is the Minister aware of the outstanding work done in getting children from ethnic minorities and impoverished backgrounds into that university, a Russell group university, in particular the work of the Reach Out Lab, which allows children aged seven to 18 to do practical work in all forms of science as a way of training them to think about aspirations for a great university? Does the Minister agree that universities could do more to make the relationship between schools and universities seamless by opening their doors and making this kind of work possible across the country?
Lord Henley: The noble Lord answers his question for me. The institution to which he refers and to which he is attached has a very good record indeed. I have the figures in front of me: the figure there is some 45 per cent. We offer congratulations to Imperial College on what it is doing. What he said about the work that the higher education institutions themselves should do plays very strongly indeed and I would commend his words to the House and to the entire higher education sector.
Lord Elton: To put the answer that my noble friend has given in context, could he very kindly tell us what is the proportion of the population formed by ethnic minorities in the same definition that he has used in relation to the academic world?
Lord Henley: It depends what you mean by the same definition. If one takes the general working population, the figure is some 11.1 per cent, compared to that 20.4 per cent that I gave; if one just takes the under-30 age group, which is obviously nearer to those who are at university, the figure is 13.4 per cent. I am afraid I cannot break the figures down any further.
The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, I very much welcome the Government's recent campaign to inform people of the exact nature of the new fees system and the help that will be available to students. However, it would be helpful to know what steps the Government will be taking to assess how effective that campaign has been in reaching all sections of the community, not just ethnic minorities but other unrepresented groups as well, and what steps will then be taken to communicate with those found not to have been reached by the recent campaign?
Lord Henley: My Lords, we accept that many people have not quite understood what the Government are proposing. We wish that they would and we will try to educate them in that process, so that they understand that eligible students will not be paying upfront or paying more than they did in the past. They will pay for longer but they will not pay more per year. Obviously, we will do research into what we have done to see just how effective that has been.
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara: Your Lordships' House will recall that the recent report by the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Madingley, recommended that graduates would begin to pay their loans back only when their earnings reached £21,000 and that interest would be charged at the cost of borrowing to the Government. Will the Minister confirm that the Government are now proposing that the interest rate to be charged after earnings reach £21,000 will be as high as 3 per cent plus RPI? Will he indicate what studies have been carried out on the impact that this will have on admissions from people from ethnic minority backgrounds?
Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord asks a large number of questions, which I propose to answer simply. We have broadly followed the recommendations by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, but not entirely, and we draw our own conclusions. But he is quite right to say that we decided that no one would pay until they were earning at least £21,000 a year and that there should be an appropriate level of interest beyond that rate. That was set out in a Statement some six months ago, which was repeated in this House, and is what we shall be ensuring comes to pass with the passage of the relevant clauses in the Education Bill. The noble Lord can also wait for the introduction of the higher education paper which will be published shortly.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, to the end of 2009, the latest year for which complete
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Baroness Randerson: The Health Protection Agency refers to a very much higher number of people-possibly 250,000-being infected with hepatitis C. That is its estimate, and there are other estimates of up to 450,000. I very much welcome my noble friend's detailed Answer, but since 1997 the number of cases of hepatitis C reported each year has almost trebled. The majority are still undiagnosed, and I ask that in future there is more systematic and proactive screening of prisoners in prison to ensure that we diagnose more cases.
Earl Howe: My noble friend is absolutely right that there is a range of estimates of both the incidence and the prevalence of hepatitis C. I could spend some time explaining why that is, but it is partly to do with the long incubation period of hepatitis C, the symptoms of which do not manifest themselves for many years. My noble friend is also right that prisons tend to be a repository of this condition. In recent years, the story there has been good. The provision of information for prisoners and prison staff on hepatitis C and other blood-borne viruses has increased. There has also been increased access to hepatitis C testing for prisoners. We have had improved access to treatment for prisoners with hepatitis C and to drug treatment generally, which is of course absolutely germane to this condition. I believe that the focus is there, but that there is more to do.
Earl Howe: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord will know that precise figures are not available for that group, but I hope he will also recognise that we have taken steps to improve the financial help available to these unfortunate victims of the contaminated blood disaster of the 1970s and 1980s.
Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, does the Minister agree that under GMC rules on informed consent, it is not proper to take a sample of blood for another purpose and then to screen that blood for the presence of hepatitis without the consent of the individual? However, does he further agree that for research purposes or for epidemiological research, it is perfectly proper to screen large batches of blood samples taken for other purposes, such as epidemiological research, provided that the results are anonymised?
Earl Howe: The noble Lord is quite right that generally speaking there is no problem about using human tissue samples for research purposes where
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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, obviously there is no general screening programme for hepatitis, and we appreciate the severity of cases such as that involving contaminated blood, which has just been referred to, but can the Minister explain what an ordinary person should be looking for before submitting themselves for screening? It must be advantageous to have such conditions diagnosed early rather than late.
Earl Howe: My noble friend is absolutely right that early diagnosis is always a good thing for this condition as it is for many others. We know who the risk groups are, and therefore the important thing is to target screening and testing at those groups. Predominantly, the at-risk groups are injecting drug users or former injecting drug users; they account for well over 80 per cent of cases of hepatitis C. Those groups are the focus of our efforts in primary and community care, and especially in prisons.
Lord Patel: My Lords, does the Minister agree that some ethical issues might arise in the mass anonymous screening of blood samples if a treatment was available for the disease that was being screened?
Earl Howe: In the case of hepatitis C, treatments recommended by NICE are of course available that, if taken early enough, can dramatically affect the course of the disease. I think we are in danger of straying into legislative territory that is perhaps the occasion for a wider debate as to how, if at all, we might expand the scope of the Human Tissue Act so as to reach those cases that I think the noble Lord is referring to.
Baroness Thornton: My Lords, we all welcomed the Government's Statement in January announcing increased support for those with hepatitis C. Will the Minister please tell us what progress is being made to deliver the exception from means-testing of the new payments and the provision of prepayment prescription certificates, and which national charities are in receipt of the additional funding of £100,000 to support the victims of hepatitis C and their families?
Earl Howe: My Lords, the Caxton Foundation has been established to address the group of hepatitis C victims identified in the Government's Statement earlier this year: that is, those victims of the contaminated blood disaster who went on to develop hepatitis C. I understand that the foundation will begin to make payments later this year that will include payments to those who are eligible for the free prescriptions service to which she referred.
(a) is based on the principle that each decision should be made at the lowest practical and effective level, and that where there is a conflict between decisions at a higher or more local level there is a presumption that the local level will prevail unless there are clear and over-riding reasons why it should not;
(b) is underpinned by basic rights for all persons and safeguards against arbitrary discrimination against any person;
(c) focuses public decision-making on bodies which are elected, representative and accountable;
(d) may incorporate minimum standards for the provision of public services that may be established by Parliament, government and elected bodies at a higher level than that at which decisions are made, but otherwise welcomes diversity of provision on the basis of locally determined needs and preferences;
(e) includes a restriction against regulations and orders by government and bodies at higher levels than the minimum absolutely necessary;
(f) shapes the structures of local government in ways that are designed to facilitate the involvement of local citizens, individually and as members of their communities and neighbourhoods;
(g) welcomes and encourages the involvement of local citizens in the design of such structures and participation within them; and
(h) encourages the formation of bodies by local citizens in which they may organise to influence public decision-making, take part in processes of local governance and help to provide local services.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, as it is the beginning of Committee, I should declare my interests yet again. I am an elected member of Pendle Borough Council, vice-president of the Open Spaces Society and a member of the British Mountaineering Council and its access, conservation and environment group. There may be others, which I shall declare if they arise as the Bill progresses.
"Last year's coalition agreement was brilliant at forcing a quick start, but useless as a guide to the government's founding values now the pace is slowing. It provided a to-do list of reform
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Localism is not new, although the word "localism" used in this context is fairly new. The first person whom I could find using it was David Blunkett in 2004, and what he said then is not much different from what the Government are saying now.
The amendment seeks to state at the very beginning of the Bill that its purpose is to promote a political and administrative system and culture which is based on localism-localism as defined in the amendment. Proposed new subsection (1)(a) states that it should be based on the principle which in Eurojargon is known as subsidiarity and that,
It is not clear that that presumption is uniformly and consistently applied throughout the Bill. We have some very localist provisions; we then have some very detailed national prescriptions; and they rest side by side as one reads avidly through the 430 pages of the legislation. I do not want to be too critical; I am trying in the amendment to provide the Government with a friendly challenge to look at some of the inconsistencies that may exist and to tell us clearly what their view of localism is.
All Governments in the past few years have said that they want to decentralise and get away from the controlling hand of Whitehall and Westminster in the detailed way in which it has developed in this country. It is not clear in all cases, either with the previous Government or with this one, that the predominant role of democratically elected authorities is high in their mind; in fact, it is not clear that local government is always held in high regard by the people at the centre. Yet true localism must be based on democracy.
Proposed new subsection (1)(d) deals with the knotty problem of minimum standards. There was considerable and interesting discussion in Committee in the House of Commons as to how localism interacts with a belief that in many areas-certainly, for example, in social care-national government has not only the right but the obligation to lay down minimum standards before local diversity can apply. The question of what those minimum standards should be and in which areas they
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Proposed new paragraph (e) seeks to include a restriction against regulations and orders from central government to the minimum absolutely necessary. If the figure in the Bill is 142, as the Local Government Association has calculated-or whatever it is-no one will persuade me that that complies with the requirement for them to be the minimum absolutely necessary. You have only to look at some of them to see that removing them would not cause the whole edifice to collapse.
Proposed new paragraphs (f), (g) and (h) concern local democracy, local involvement and the growing interest and realisation in local government, particularly in the past 10 or 15 years, that the framework for local government in which councils are elected-whether by thirds, every four years or whatever, and then simply get on and do their will without further involvement, often at many stages, by the local population-is no longer the way forward. Local democracy has to involve local citizens, individually and as communities and neighbourhoods, and the system should welcome and encourage that local involvement.
Very often when Governments think it is a good idea for communities to be involved, they do so on the basis that that involvement is different and separate from the system of democratic local government. That will not work. It is absolutely crucial that the system of democratic local government is fundamentally based on involvement and participation by local people. This has to be a genuine involvement, not only the organising of surveys and so on which are written so that they are effectively rigged to get the outcome required.
Proposed new paragraph (h) involves encouraging the formation of bodies by local citizens in which they may organise to influence public decision-making. This reflects the argument of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, at Second Reading when she gave a graphic account of how people had been actively involved in campaigning in her borough in London. However, this cannot always be organised by authorities, local government or national government; it will happen when people want to do it. The important thing for Government is to ensure that the structures make it easy to do and not restrict or block it.
Proposed new subsection (2) is the most important of all. It requires that public bodies and public officials should be under a duty to act in the light of the principles of localism and the points set out in proposed new subsection (1). At the moment that is not the case. People, officials and bodies cannot be challenged because they are behaving in a traditional bureaucratic way-or, at least, not legally challenged because there is no underlying requirement for them to change their culture and the way they do things and to help create a more democratic and better society.
I hope that the Government look favourably at this amendment. I can understand that they might want to change a few of the words. They might think that some of it is rather revolutionary. If they look underneath the surface, they will see that it is highly revolutionary,
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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has had a long, distinguished and occasionally challenging career-and I say that as someone who served on the same authority for 20 years. I put two points to him. First, would he agree with me that almost everywhere else in Europe, unlike in this country, the principle of subsidiarity refers to the most local level of government-that is, local government- at which a good decision can be taken or policy made? Localism based on community groups and neighbourhoods that are self-forming and sometimes self-selecting are not a version of subsidiarity under the widely used European term.
Secondly, the noble Lord referred to people in the locality and the difficulty of decisions being made above the locality level. How would he envisage that working? I cite two issues to do with planning from my experience in local government. In the 1980s, long-stay mental hospitals were being replaced by local hostels for people to be reintegrated into the community. I faced ferocious public meetings with people who were absolutely determined that it would not happen in their backyard. It was an extremely difficult decision, made worse by the sadness in Ribbleton of three of the people who had spoken out publicly against such hostels coming to me privately and telling me that members of their families had been locked away for decades.
The second planning issue involved a hostel for former prisoners around the corner from where I lived. If the localism that seems to be implicit in this legislation had applied, they would not have had it, and I cannot think of any other community that would have welcomed the proposal. An absolutely ferocious public meeting was held. I was the only member of the planning committee who had given approval to it and who was present at that meeting. It was verbally nasty. When I was out with my children, I was threatened with a beer bottle by a member of the public who had been at the meeting and had been drinking. At the end of the meeting a ferocious woman in a hat bore down on my husband and said, "Is she your wife-can't you keep her under control?"
That sort of public meeting and those sorts of services are the most intractable. They are very difficult unless a decision and delineation are made so that the
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Lord Lucas: My Lords, I look forward to addressing the questions that the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, has just raised when we come to the neighbourhood section of the Bill. It is important that for such people, and indeed for Gypsies and others who have traditionally been made unwelcome, we have a system whereby localism does not become exclusion.
I welcome the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. My noble friend Lady Hanham may remember that in 2006 my brother, Tim Palmer, published a pamphlet with Policy Exchange called No More Tears. If she has read that, she will realise that I am a considerable radical when it comes to localism-I share his views-and I regard the Bill as a small step on the way. In her reply to the amendment, I hope that at this stage of the Bill we shall have a good exposition of where the Government stand on localism at the moment, which will give us a good context for the rest of these debates.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, there was much in my noble friend's speech in moving the amendment with which one could not but agree. I particularly liked his point that there may be too many provisions in the Bill where it appears that the Government are trying to tell local authorities how to exercise their newly granted general power of competence. I look forward to identifying particular points in the Bill and saying, "Look, this is not necessary".
Where I have had difficulty with my noble friend's new clause is that it is not going to achieve anything in the direction that some of us would like to see. You have to look at the individual provisions of the Bill if you actually want to reduce the degree of central control or direction of a locally exercisable power. If my noble friend is seeking to oblige the House to look at the Bill with that in mind then his speech will have made a useful contribution, but I am not sure that the provision that he seeks to put in would add anything. The way that one deals with legislation is that one looks at the provisions in the Bill itself and that is what we will spend a large part of the next four weeks doing.
On the interpretation of the Bill, I remind the House that the courts decided long ago, in the case of Pepper v Hart, that if the provisions of a Bill are unclear, the courts are entitled to see what Ministers said in introducing and debating it. I had to downsize my own household when we moved back to London, and I offered around my bound Hansards, which covered well over 40 years, to see whether anyone wanted them. They are all now in the Supreme Court on the other side of Parliament Square. I have not been to look at them but I am told that that is where they are. They did not cost me or the court anything. That is in order that the Supreme Court judges can have in front of them the Hansard reports of what was said by Ministers to be the purpose of the Bill.
Looking at what Ministers can say about this Bill and what is actually in it, one wonders what the purpose of the proposed new clause is. My noble friend made an interesting exposition of a number of points, but it would not be appropriate to add a new clause of this sort when we have eight days of debate in which we will be dealing with the details. I have to say that if my noble friend sought to press his new clause to a Division, I would have some difficulty in supporting him. I hope that he will forgive me.
Lord Shipley: My Lords, I support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Greaves because I believe that defining the principles and the culture of this Bill matters profoundly to our understanding of the debates that we will have on each of its parts. I declare my interest as a member of Newcastle City Council.
"The Government believes that it is time for a fundamental shift of power from Westminster to people. We will promote decentralisation and democratic engagement, and we will end the era of top-down government by giving new powers to local councils, communities, neighbourhoods and individuals".
That is a powerful, clear statement and it should be the test by which we examine the Bill in Committee. However, I think that it would help us to have a closer definition of terms. The definition of "local councils" is clear to us all, because local councils have a statutory role. However, a community can be both a community of interest and a community of place and it is important that we do not confuse the two. Neighbourhoods are clearly places; one or more neighbourhoods, when joined together, make a community. Ultimately, neighbourhoods form the electoral base-the ballot box base-on which democratic decisions can be made. Those neighbourhoods joined together create a ward, through which councillors are elected. As for individuals, these are the people who work in, live in or visit the area, but I think that this predominantly relates to those who have a vote and therefore are residents in their council area.
My noble friend Lord Greaves talked about the importance of the principle of subsidiarity and devolving decision-making to the lowest level possible. I hope that we would all agree with that aim. One of my worries, which I have expressed before in your Lordships' House, is that we as a country are in grave danger of confusing localism with atomisation. Government and Whitehall departments create thousands upon thousands of little platoons. Those may be in the health service, schools or a whole range of organisations operating at a local level, but they are not co-ordinated by their local council-they are not strategically led by a democratically accountable body. They are run in and out of Whitehall and they are not ultimately accountable to the test that I said should be applied-the ballot box. These issues of principle are vital, which is why I believe that my noble friend's amendment is exceedingly important. It is about subsidiarity and the power of the ballot box-it may be through referendums or through the election of individuals-but it has to be about reducing, not increasing, the powers of the Secretary of State on local matters.
In Committee, we will come on to an interesting test. In the council tax referendum, people will have the power only to reduce the council's recommended council tax. With true localism, there would be a power to increase council tax as well as to reduce it-that, too, should be the subject of a referendum if people want it to be. It also implies that we have got a representative system in place in which the ballot box can operate. We do in rural areas, through parish councils. It is a great deal more difficult in urban areas, where the only democratic system based on the ballot box is the ward in which councillors, one or more, have been elected. It is important, as we go through the Bill, to make sure that we tie that democratic accountability through the ballot box to the decisions that are being made. That is particularly important in discussions on planning matters.
Finally, I hope that all Whitehall departments will understand that they have to be integrated into the localism agenda. It will not be enough for DCLG to be the Whitehall department that is pressing the localism agenda along with local councils throughout the country if it then finds that other Whitehall departments wish to retain direct budgetary control and control through the atomisation of public services.
Lord Ouseley: My Lords, I welcome the discussion on this amendment, which gives us an opportunity to consider the guiding principles of this legislation. It is quite clear that there is much confusion in the Bill about what localism is and whether we are being offered localism or greater centralisation. The opportunities to shift power to the people, so to speak, may in fact be giving greater opportunities for those local groups that are already well organised and sufficiently competent to challenge local authorities and other local service providers. Therefore, it is important that we establish some understanding of the principles of the Bill, to try to remove some of those confusions as we consider the detail of the clauses, as we inevitably will-some to a greater extent than others.
I particularly welcome the amendment because, if we are genuinely going to shift power to people, it provides us with an opportunity to consider how we become much more inclusive. Paragraphs (b) and (c) in the proposed new clause offer us the opportunity to consider how we can ensure that all have the opportunity to share in the power that is being shifted to local people.
Secondly, we need to reinforce local democracy. The confusion in the Bill may almost enable us to weaken our current system of local government, whereas we should be looking to strengthen it. Local government is the one area where we have proper accountability, even if it is not as effective as it should be; there is no basis on which we are able to demonstrate that we are seeking to engage with people more, getting them to participate in those local democratic processes. In talking about localism, we miss an opportunity if we do not also look to engage people and strengthen local democracy by getting them to engage in the current processes.
If we are to establish a culture of inclusion as the amendment suggests, it is important that we state these principles right at the heart of the beginning of the Bill, so that we have them as a guide to facilitate our detailed consideration.
Lord Plumb: My Lords, I welcome the comment of my noble friend Lord Jenkin that the good points made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, should be incorporated in the Bill. However, I do not really see the point of putting them in an amendment, although they are extremely important and should be thoroughly examined. As has been said, many seek to define "localism" and we look forward to the government guidance.
I am totally in favour of devolving greater freedom to local authorities and communities and giving them a right to challenge and bid for assets. Those of us who have been involved in local government at different levels for decades know that its self-reliance in making decisions has always been dominated by Whitehall. Surely we should consider favourably and with due justice a bottom-up approach to planning and to making the system clearer, more democratic, more effective and, one hopes, with less red tape. All that surely makes sense.
Of course, with power-that power may be thrust on local authorities to some extent-comes responsibility. We are all aware that local authorities are having a tough time getting to grips with that responsibility at a time of tight budgets. However, nothing concentrates the mind more effectively than revenue restrictions. The Financial Times correctly stated:
Giving more responsibility to locally elected representatives obviously raises many questions, given that local authorities often have to refer to another body for ultimate decision-making. For example, we have a very effective Health Protection Agency, which has the capability to ascertain, investigate and identify outbreaks of infectious food-borne diseases. It acts as a central point of expertise in disease management and its capability is recognised worldwide. The possible loss of such co-ordinating bodies, with the consequent loss of expertise, runs the risk of reducing the ability to monitor and identify outbreaks of food-borne diseases, which have to be reported by local councils. Co-ordinating bodies are key in responding to incidents such as the recent E. coli outbreak in Germany, which it has been suggested was due partly to poor communication between local investigators and a national body. Therefore, we need that link to a central body and we need expertise on the ground to deal with a problem at local level. I hope my noble friend the Minister agrees that the co-ordinating body is essential to deal rapidly with potential disease spread.
Lord Taylor of Goss Moor: My Lords, I support my noble friend's amendment, because it goes to the heart of the fundamental issue of how our body politic and administrative systems work. The amendment essentially sets out what we want to do in a Bill called the Localism Bill, before we discuss how to do it. That is an important reminder of what we should put in front of those who draft these things, because in this country, unlike many others, when we talk about empowering people, the assumption is that somehow Whitehall has to define every element of it, in particular because it may otherwise be subject to legal challenge. Other
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By definition, having a Bill of this size that calls itself the Localism Bill illustrates the flaw inherent in our body politic: we do not understand the principle of devolving decision-taking to others or that that decision-taking has to involve devolution of responsibility for the "how", not just the principle of the "what". One does not have to have spent much time talking with the Local Government Association or others to realise the many reservations of powers to Ministers that are inherent in the Bill, which is an inch-and-a-half thick. It cannot be right that a Bill that is about empowering local communities has to be defined in that kind of detail, although I suspect that that is not so much a flaw of the Bill but of the system-let us not forget that the Bill amends many other Acts and, if they were all here, I do not think that I could hold the Bill in my hand.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I take issue with my noble friend Lord Taylor only to the extent that we should start with not just the "how" but the "why". It does not matter what you call something, provided you do not then use your term as an excuse for sloppy thinking. That is a danger. It would be easy during our debates on the Bill to say that such-and-such is local or localist, without analysing what that means and what it should mean in each context.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, referred to Pepper v Hart. I must say that it worries me when people who have not been closely involved with our proceedings say, "Parliament clearly must have thought such-and-such", and one wonders whether Parliament has thought at all about a particular issue.
Representative democracy is so valuable for lots of reasons, but I have written down four: balance, priorities, nuance, and wide objectives. When the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, spoke about community groups being self-selecting, I thought that she was going to say that they were self-serving-just occasionally, they are and I, too, recognise the examples she gave. The issue of bail hostels precluded my party from taking control of our local authority in 1978. My noble friend Lady Tonge was elected in a by-election shortly afterwards, having failed to be elected at that earlier point. However, the issue was of concern in a community that one should have thought was most sympathetic to the problem that the establishment of the bail hostel was addressing. The centre has a role, but its role is not to protect local people against their own local authority.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, asked what the clause would achieve. It sets criteria against which the detail of the Bill can be tested. Something that is superficially local or localist is not sufficient.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I have considerable sympathy with the sentiment behind the proposed new clause. Ever since I was a schoolboy, I have been arguing for devolution in one way or another, and I
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Pepper v Hart, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, caused a massive upheaval in the whole concept of interpretation by a court of what was contained in an Act of Parliament. Up until then, the same rule had abided for utterings in an Act of Parliament as for the interpretation of a will. It was the golden rule of interpretation. That was very simple. It was that the strict grammatical meaning of the words should determine the matter unless there was some obvious or latent ambiguity. In other words, it was in any event restricted to solving the problem that arose from an ambiguity. It was not of general content. When Pepper v Hart came along, it did not change that rule; all it did was change the machinery by which one tried to deal with that conflict.
The new clause, whose intentions are admirable, seems to be an attempt to go well beyond that. It is not confined to situations of latent or patent ambiguity but deals with a whole host of general situations. I will be corrected if I am wrong, but it seems to be an attempt to act as if we had a written constitution at the limits of the Bill, and those limits are very wide indeed. But we do not have a written constitution. Therefore, we could have endless argument as to whether there is a patent or latent ambiguity. To speak for a moment of my former occupation, I have no doubt that clever lawyers would seek to persuade courts that there were ambiguities and conflicts where there were none. Here we have a presupposition that one can pretend in legislation that there is a written constitution, as set out in the new clause, when in fact we do not have such.
The new clause is titled "Purpose of this Act", but the purpose of an Act is set out in its preamble, which is not part of the Act itself. It is very much like the memorandum of a limited company: it sets out the metes and bounds of what can be contained in the legislation. With the best will in the world, the new clause, laudable though it is, would, if carried, create a massive constitutional problem to which there is no real answer.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, it seems a long time ago now, but I spent 28 years in local government. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has done the House a favour in tabling this amendment because it has enabled us to have this useful, fundamental debate before we get into the detail. As I was unable to speak at Second Reading, I should declare myself as a landowner in Essex, in case anyone wishes to raise it at any point.
The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, has pointed out the problem with the amendment. There is much in it with which one could agree in principle. I think similarly to the noble Lord that, the more one tries to define localism, the more one is at risk of destroying it. Once you start to spell it out in words of one
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If anyone wants to try to interpret the Bill, they should first read this debate. Everything that has been said is appropriate and relevant and it has been very useful to have this discussion. I look forward to hearing what my noble friend on the Front Bench has to say, but I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, will not take the amendment any further. It seems to me that he has achieved what he wanted in having this debate. If we tried to put this down in writing, I am sure that we could all think of additional words and words that we would prefer not to see, but if an issue came before the courts on this basis, I think we would be giving them an impossible task. Having had the debate, I hope that the matter goes no further.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I was very disappointed not to be able to speak at Second Reading as this is a matter very close to my heart. On this occasion, I do not believe I have an interest to declare in that I have never been a local councillor. My family has farming interests in Suffolk, which perhaps I should declare, as that will come up later. Clearly, over many years, I have been involved in local organisations and charities, some of which are declared in my interests.
The amendment has given us an opportunity-particularly those of us who could not speak at Second Reading-to speak on this matter. I am a staunch believer that decisions should be taken at the lowest level. I welcome the Bill and look forward to taking part in the various aspects of it, when we may want to strengthen, improve or alter it slightly. That is the nature of the Bill; it is huge and covers a wide section of specifics.
It does not explain what would happen then or what that would achieve. I do not think that it is appropriate to nitty-gritty one's way through the amendments at this stage. Various questions need raising on them, word by word and sentence by sentence.
I actually rose to say that, although we have had this worthwhile short debate, I do not believe that my noble friend's amendment is necessary. The Bill clearly sets out what it wants to do. When we come to the individual clauses within it, there may well be important issues that we want to look at and reflect on in greater
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Lord Tope: This is the first time I have spoken in Committee and I again declare that I am a councillor in the London Borough of Sutton and a member of its executive. I put my name to my noble friend's amendment for a very particular reason. I have heard it described as a Second Reading amendment-slightly a contradiction in terms, but I understand what is meant-and it prompts an important debate that we should have at the start of our proceedings.
Unusually, we have a Bill with a one-word title: "localism". It seems to mean different things to different people and it appears to mean different things in different parts of this Bill. Above all, it seems to mean entirely different things in different parts of the Government. Therefore, my noble friend and I thought that the amendment would prompt a useful Committee-stage debate at the beginning to try to discover between ourselves what we understand by "localism" and where we disagree about it. Of course, neither I nor my noble friend would pretend that this is the ultimate, perfect, absolute definition, but it sets out fully some principles that we believe are important when considering localism. It is not localisation, as I often hear it described. It is not simply decentralisation or devolution.
We have had an interesting debate. Almost every speaker has, in effect, said, "Yes, but". One or two, notably the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, welcomed the debate for the right reason-that it sets out what we are trying to do. As others have said, localism is not atomisation. As I said at Second Reading, localism is not populism and it is important to understand that. Alternatively, as someone else said, it is not majority-ism-I do not know whether that is a word or whether I can say it. Local democracy, which is what this is about, is democracy. It is about ensuring that all voices are heard and listened to with equal respect. It is a system and a process, not necessarily one that makes the decisions but one that informs those who are democratically elected and accountable for the decisions. In other words, it is a process that informs the decision-makers. It may be that, in particular circumstances, it is appropriate for those decision-makers to delegate that decision, but it is not simply dumping decisions and abrogating the responsibility that local councillors are elected to take.
After all these years in local government, I would be the very last person in this House to claim that all local councillors and all local government are always perfect and get things right. Of course they do not. There are too many examples, probably run by all parties, where local authorities are not good at engaging with local people and local groups, whether they be geographical or interest groups. This amendment tries to say that that is a very important part of the decision-making process. I shall not deprive my noble friend Lord Greaves from turning the clock back some 20 or so years to that time on Lancashire County Council when he was answering the questions put to him by the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington. However, as she
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I agree with the noble Baroness that, as in other countries, decision-makers should be informed by their engagement with their local communities in a much better way than is the case now. At issue is the way that they are informed in making their decisions. We need properly accountable and elected people and bodies. All of us who have been councillors for any length of time can cite similar examples to those cited by the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington. I am sure that we have all faced quite strong public opposition. As leader of the council and even in the ward that I represent, I, too, faced such opposition. I will not digress for too long, but I was faced with a similar instance of a mental health hostel being set up in a residential road in my ward. There was initial fear, suspicion, worry and concern among the neighbours. The way in which we approached this was to hold a meeting of residents in somebody's front room. We discussed the issue and went through a lengthy process. In the end, as a result of the engagement, the immediate local community were not just supportive of the proposal but remained very supportive of the house itself and of the people in it, and integrated them as an active part of the community. Of course, it does not always work that way; it is never that easy or simple, but it is part of the answer to how you approach the making of those responsible decisions.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that in the cases that he and I cited, that applied, but that in the case of our school for ex-prisoners, pressure was put on the seller of the property when permission had been given, and the seller refused to sell to NACRO?
Lord Tope: I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I did not mean to imply that these things are simple and easy and that all you need to do is talk to people and everything will come out right; I am not that naive or simple. I am just saying that the way in which decisions are made is often as important as what the final decision is, and sometimes helps and facilitates the making of those difficult decisions. They need to be made by the appropriate sphere of government that is democratically elected and accountable.
We set out here, at some length, what we believed should be the definition of localism-what we believe it means. We did so in part to see who would agree with us and who would not. We think that these are the criteria on which we should judge the Bill as we go through Committee: that is why we tabled the amendment in Committee, at the beginning. We are saying that
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Lord Beecham: My Lords, I, too, declare an interest as a councillor in Newcastle upon Tyne and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. A week ago in your Lordships' House, the government Chief Whip lamented the fact that not enough legislation was being debated in Grand Committee. Of course, it would have been quite wrong for this Bill to be assigned to Grand Committee. However, this debate could hardly be better placed than in Grand Committee in the Moses Room. After all, that Room bears a portrait of a majestic, bearded figure bearing tables of stone on which are incised 10 commandments.
This afternoon, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, comes to us not with 10 commandments but with 10 criteria by which this Bill is to be judged. Try as I might-and I have tried-I cannot find very much to disagree with. It is something like 120 years since Sir William Harcourt, a distinguished Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer, proclaimed, somewhat optimistically from one point of view, or perhaps pessimistically from another point of view, that, "We are all socialists now". Nowadays, we are all localist, but that definition of localism is, to put it mildly, somewhat elastic. I think the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has set out as good a definition as one might reasonably expect. If I had a reservation, it would be that in proposed new subsection (1)(d) in the amendment the reference is to,
I accept that that would be a partial definition, but I think one needs to look at minimum entitlements in addition to minimum standards. Standards imply provision of a service; entitlements are a somewhat broader concept that would, for example, avoid us reverting to a 19th-century poor law view in which benefits are calculated differentially across the country. Indeed, there is a case for variation, and I have sometimes thought of promoting a society for the preservation of the postcode lottery because it seems to me that localism of any definition implies different choices according to local circumstances. I therefore welcome the thrust of this proposed new clause.
The key to the noble Lord's amendment is surely the emphasis on representative local democracy. That is what local government is and must be all about.
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I think the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, was entirely right to borrow my phrase about the atomisation of local government. There is a real danger in this Bill and in other legislation that is currently being debated in Grand Committee and other places that that will be a feature. He is also right to say that all government departments need to adopt an integrated approach. In that context, it is worth reflecting on what appears to be happening to what is now called community budgeting and was called total place. There is little evidence, it seems to me, certainly based on an Answer that I received from the Minister, that anyone in government, apart from the Department for Communities and Local Government, is taking this very seriously, but it is a serious issue and I certainly wish the Minister well in her efforts to persuade her colleagues to sign up effectively to it. In that context, if we are talking about local government promoted and administered on the lines that the noble Lord's amendment suggests, we need to look closely at what is happening in that regard.
Having said that, I think there are difficulties in the noble Lord's amendment as an amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, and other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, have pointed out the-
Lord Jenkin of Roding: The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and I have known each other for a great many years, but perhaps I may establish at the outset of this Committee stage that there is no "s" on the end of my name. I hope that he will forgive my interruption.
Lord Beecham: I sincerely apologise to the noble Lord. I sometimes felt closer to him than to the former noble Lord who does have an "s" at the end of his name. He and other noble Lords referred to the implications of incorporating this amendment into legislation. There are difficulties in that respect. To refer for one moment to my previous argument about the integration of government, that will not be made any easier by the abolition of government offices, which were a very useful mechanism for two-way information flow between central and local government.
I return to the form of the amendment in a constructive spirit and ever willing to help cement relations on the government Benches between the two partners to this coalition. Bearing in mind, of course, that one of the great localists was Joseph Chamberlain-who started life as a municipal socialist and Liberal and became a Liberal Unionist and very much part of a significant coalition which did great damage to the Liberal Party-it is surely possible to bring the two views together. Without necessarily incorporating the terms of this amendment into the Bill, it would be possible to follow
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If the Minister were to make a statement saying that these are acceptable propositions about localism and, taken together, broadly constitute a reasonable definition of localism, surely that would suffice to meet the test of legality referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Jenkin and Lord Elystan-Morgan. It would reinforce the import of these propositions as criteria against which, if necessary, the legislation and Acts under it might be interpreted-if necessary, in the last resort-by the courts.
I hope and anticipate that the noble Lord will not press his amendment to the vote, but it would be helpful if the Minister at least indicated support for the principles about which there has been very little difference in today's debate.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My Lords, I thank everybody-it practically is everybody-in this Committee for starting this Bill off so thoughtfully, as the speeches have been today. Mind you, they have been mostly Second Reading speeches rather than a straightforward debate on an amendment. None the less, it has been an interesting and informative time.
It will perhaps not surprise the Committee that I am not going to accept the amendment, nor do I think that it is appropriate from this position to assert that I am happy with the principles underlying this amendment. If I am not careful, if I say that I support it, we could be landed with a series of judicial reviews, the Minister having said that the principles were all absolutely fine-I am not going to do that. I accept that somewhere and in some of them there is the spirit of localism and that is really what we are looking at. There really is no way that one can start a Bill with a purpose such as this because it will never measure out exactly what the purpose of the legislation is, and it rather puts one into a straitjacket for the rest of the debate.
Having said that, perhaps I may move on to the debate. It was suggested that localism is ideological, but it is not-it is extremely practical. For a long time we-certainly those who are in local government, and I declare an interest as I have been in local government-have inveighed against the centre and said that we should have much more powers in local government and be given much more responsibility. That is what the Bill does. Its purpose is to pass down as much as possible to local areas, not only to local government but also to neighbourhoods and communities.
That does not bypass local government. By getting neighbourhoods and communities involved, there is a better and more democratic discussion. Views are better understood and put forward. As for the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, on neighbourhoods making decisions, the decisions she mentioned would have been made in conjunction with the local development plan or the strategic plan and could not have been made by a neighbourhood on its own. That is tantamount to understanding that local councils will not be bypassed by what is going on.
Local democracy, by definition, is the involvement of as many people as possible. Too often there is complete disinterest in local areas about what local government is doing because no one believes that the functions belong to local government rather than central government. I do not believe that that will be the case by the time we have finished considering the Bill.
There has been support across the House for the measures in the amendment. My noble friend Lord Lucas said that the Bill represents small steps to localism, and I agree that we are on the way to achieving that. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, referred to the grave danger of confirming localism by atomisation, although the point may have been raised originally by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, who described it as involving "little platoons". But do we really believe that neighbourhoods and communities are little platoons? Do we not believe that they are what make up local areas and communities, and should we be ignoring what they say? The Bill gives the electorate ample opportunity to take part in democracy and make sure that its voice is heard.
I turn to the specific questions. I was asked whether a council tax referendum could be used to increase rather than reduce this tax. The purpose of the council tax referendum is to replace the very unwelcome capping regime which I think we all agree was to the detriment of local decision-making. The council tax referendum would ensure that if the council wishes to put up council tax more than is recommended, it will have to be at the behest of the local community. The noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, mentioned reinforcing local democracy, which again I think I have covered. As we go through, we will see how this reinforces local democracy.
I think that my noble friend Lady Hamwee-although I am not too sure where my noble friends are at the moment and where they are not-also covered the point about representative democracy. My noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith came back to the fundamental debate, which is that by producing such principles there is a risk of destroying what the Bill is trying to do, and I agree with him. The Bill does not discuss local government finance. Indeed, noble Lords know that a review is going on at the moment, so it is not appropriate in this Bill.
I have covered most aspects of what has been raised in the debate. I would only say that I think that the principle of localism is well established. The issue was debated at length during the Bill's passage through the other place. I do not know that anyone has picked up too much of what that debate was about. It pushes out as far as possible into communities and neighbourhoods, and into the hands of individuals and community groups, but in doing so it does not undermine local democratic principles. Localism means handing power down directly to councils, freeing local government from central and regional control. At other times, it means creating new rights for local communities to become more involved in local affairs, which is what I have been describing as what neighbourhoods and communities can do. In rolling back central direction, it will also be necessary to ensure that local authorities are accountable for all the decisions they take. We considered the Bill's principles in our Second Reading
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Finally, perhaps I may address the question of the amendment raising a couple of risks. I touched on the risk of judicial review proceedings, and I want to underline that by saying that it is our view that judicial proceedings could be brought on the grounds that a decision made under the Bill had been made without regard to the principles. I think that that would be a very retrograde and unfortunate step. An example of that might be if a Secretary of State exercised a power to make secondary legislation in a non-localist way. There is a risk that it could also be used as a guide to the legal meaning of a provision in the Bill, so if in the future there was doubt as to what a provision meant, a court would be able to take account of the purpose of the Bill as set out in this proposed clause. The risks are therefore quite high. I thank my noble friend for introducing the proposed new clause but I regret to tell him that I will not be accepting it.
I wonder if I could raise another point at this stage. At Second Reading I indicated that we would listen to noble Lords' concerns about shadow mayors and mayors as chief executives. We are keen to build on the common ground and consensus that the Bill has enjoyed. I should therefore like to say at this stage that when we reach the debate on mayoral provisions, the Government will be pleased to support amendments that have the effect of deleting from the Bill mayoral management arrangements; that is, mayors as chief executives and the concept of shadow mayors. In more detail, this means that we will delete mayoral management arrangements and we will be supporting Amendment 57 in the names of my noble friends Lord Jenkin of Roding, Lord Tope, Lady Scott of Needham Market and the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. We will also be supporting Amendments 62A, 66A, 84E, 87A to 87D, 108A and 187 in the names of my noble friends Lord True and Lord Howard of Rising, which complete the changes needed to delete mayoral management arrangements. I should add that deleting these provisions from the Bill will not prevent councils deciding to do away with the non-statutory post of chief executive should they choose to do so. Indeed, the newly elected mayor of Leicester has announced that he is proposing to do just that.
In order to delete shadow mayors from the Bill, we will also support Amendments 69A to 69C, 73A, 74A, 75A, 77A, 77B, 79A, 81A and 84A to 84D, again in the names of my noble friends Lord True and Lord Howard of Rising. It is the Government's view that these amendments best achieve the removal of these provisions while retaining provisions needed for an effective process for creating city mayors.
I recognise that there are a number of other amendments relating to shadow mayors and mayoral management arrangements. We will not support those as, given the above amendments, they would be unnecessary.
I am sure the Committee will understand that this decision has come about as a result of concerns that
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Lord Beecham: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply in general but, more particularly, for the last part of it. I think there was widespread support for the denouement to the protracted debate over many months about these two-if the noble Baroness will forgive me for saying it-rather absurd propositions, of which, I think in all fairness, Ministers were not necessarily the authors. There has been a remarkable story around whether the proposal for shadow mayors was on or off, with various statements being made by Ministers and then countermanded, but the final outcome will be warmly received. It augurs well, I trust, for the way in which debate on this Bill will be taken forward. We look forward to even more changes in the direction of good sense and local democracy.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: Without wishing to prolong the debate, I should like to endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has said and to thank my noble friend for the swift acceptance of two of the substantial amendments to which I have put my name on the Marshalled List.
When I had the opportunity to discuss matters very briefly with the Minister's right honourable friend the Secretary of State, he said that he thought that we were going to be able to reach accommodation on some of the points that had been made at Second Reading. My noble friend has done exactly that, and I express my gratitude.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, the Minister's last two announcements are extremely welcome and I am quite prepared to trade my amendment for them. It is good news all round. As the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has just said, it bodes well for future debate.
It is only in the House of Lords that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, or anyone else, would raise in evidence events that took place more than 100 years ago. While the short-term effects of Joe Chamberlain's and the other Liberal Unionists' defection was extremely damaging to the Liberal Party, the slightly longer-term result of it was that the Liberals gained their greatest ever victory in the 1906 election, in which Joe Chamberlain and his allies in the Conservative Party were roundly trounced. If we are looking for historical precedents, there is one.
Lord Greaves: The Liberal Government were returned to power with a smaller majority in both elections of 1910. That is a historical fact. Unfortunately, the First World War then intervened and caused all sorts of bother.
I thank everyone who has taken part in this useful debate, which has set the tone for a lot of the detailed discussion to come. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, quite rightly said that the details in the Bill will determine
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The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, hit the nail on the head and homed in on the most fundamental part of the amendment: the importance-I do not use the word "primacy"- within any local democratic system of democratically elected local government. We can argue about the structures and whether they are good or bad-about their size and the way they work and so on-but unless there is a presumption that decisions locally will be taken by those who are elected by and accountable to the people in general, the whole system risks becoming anarchic. As we go through the Bill, a recurring theme will be the extent to which what is proposed in it strengthens or undermines local government. That will be absolutely vital.
The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, raised a fundamental question about what you do when people in a neighbourhood or a community, which are two different concepts-a neighbourhood is a place where people live and a community is the way in which people interact with each other, although they are sometimes, but not always, the same-rise up in a way that you might think is populist, unreasonable or hysterical but which is, nevertheless, in the noble Baroness's words, ferocious. Those of us who have been around in local government and local campaigning for a long time have all known this and have all seen it. It is very difficult. Without the buttress of democratically elected local government there is no way in which such forces can be resisted unless there is an imposition by bureaucratic bodies from above, which, philosophically and fundamentally, is not the way to do it.
I remember a proposal a few years ago to open a residential home for people suffering from schizophrenia in a former Quaker meeting house. The reaction of the people living in a wide area around it was ferocious. It was a difficult situation but the councillors across the board stood firm, behaved in a reasonable way and gave permission for it. That home is still in operation and no one has a word to say against it. Councillors have to take decisions on the basis of reason and not on the basis of public reaction on every occasion.
This is very difficult just before an election. When we run a council we have a fundamental principle that in the three or four months before an election we never introduce a new traffic calming scheme. This is because everyone is in favour of a traffic calming scheme until it is put in and then everyone finds things wrong with it. However, you sort out the problems and a few months later everything is all right. Another thing you never do is change the arrangements for waste collection and recycling. You do all these things in the summer and well before elections come along. You sort out the problems in a sensible way and everyone then is, hopefully, fairly happy.
There has to be a certain amount of such manipulation, otherwise you cannot do things-at least, you cannot do things and get re-elected. Nevertheless, democratic government is fundamental to it all. We on the Liberal
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These amendments probe in what circumstances a local authority would use the general power to do anything outside the United Kingdom. I do not imagine that local authorities will be encouraged to carry out military adventures in new parts of the Middle East, or indeed anywhere else. What are those things outside the United Kingdom that local authorities cannot do at the moment and which they might want to do under the new general power?
Secondly, I want to probe in what circumstances an authority might want to do anything other than for the benefit of its own area or residents. Surely, local authorities are elected to serve and represent the interests of their own residents and to carry out services in their area. There are already means by which local authorities can do work for other local authorities, for example, and can carry out activities outside their area, but it is invariably with the consent of the local authorities in the areas outside their own area. What is it that the Government think that local authorities might do that they cannot do at the moment outside their area and not for the benefit of their residents? I do not know why residents would want to elect a local authority that spent a lot of its time and energies doing things for other people outside its own area. These are two basic questions. I beg to move.
Lord Beecham: Perhaps in the absence of any other contribution, I might make a suggestion to the noble Lord. I do not know whether my suggestion will appeal to the Minister, but there will be occasions when a
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I am frankly rather surprised that the noble Lord should take such a narrow view of these issues. We play a reasonably prominent role in the affairs of local government internationally-something that I have always personally eschewed, having neither the time nor inclination to travel to or from Strasbourg, Brussels or places further afield. But there are many in local government who do and who make a significant contribution to international co-operation, so I would have thought it was fairly obvious that it would be desirable to widen the possibilities here. Obviously, local councils in exercising any such powers remain answerable to local communities, and sometimes those communities would be among the first to press for action to be taken by the local authority or local government bodies as a whole. I myself, when I was involved in the Local Government Association, was keen to promote capacity-building in the Israeli-Arab municipal sector, for example. The association, through international local government bodies, has helped out in other places where there have been conflicts-Kosovo is a place in point. The noble Lord could be a little more ambitious in what he thinks local government might be able to do in cases that strike individual local authorities or groups of local authorities as ones where the expertise of local government and local communities in the UK might make a contribution. I hope that he will not press his amendment.
Lord Greaves: Does the noble Lord agree that everything that he has mentioned has taken place and is taking place, and therefore can be done under existing powers? What new projects or activities does he think ought to take place that would require the new general power of competence in these areas?
Lord Beecham: My Lords, I do not think that it is necessary for me to answer that. We are talking about a general power of competence; the less fettered it is, the better. It may be that individual actions have not been challenged, although at times of international disasters, when suggestions have been made that local authorities should contribute financially towards appeals that have gone out, that has been felt to be outside their powers. I am not suggesting that that would be a common practice but, if it is seen as a priority by a particular local authority, it should be open to that authority to do so.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I am tempted to thank the noble Lord on the opposition Benches for answering the question for me. The noble Lord,
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My friend opposite has done well to point out that there are times when this would be valuable, but also that what we are talking about is a general power of competence and, whether or not it was available under the well-being power, it is reiterated under this power to ensure that there is no mistake about it.
Amendment 2 attempts to limit unnecessarily the extent of the general power of competence by restricting the exercise of power to the United Kingdom only. Amendment 3 also attempts to limit unnecessarily the extent of the general power, by requiring that the authority be able to demonstrate that activity has directly benefited the authority, its area or persons resident. If you are benefiting someone or a country abroad with your help, I hope you would also be affecting your residents, who would be glad that you were doing so.
The effect of the amendments is to attempt to turn this into a well-being power. We need to give local authorities confidence in the powers available to them. Rather than grant a power to do specified things, the new power is drafted on the basis that local authorities will be able to do anything that an individual with full capacity can do. That is the general power of competence, and that is the way that it is drafted. We believe that this will give local authorities freedom to act in the interest of their local communities and to generate efficiencies and savings, the benefits of which will be passed on to those communities. I would not be willing to accept the amendment and I hope that the noble Lord will be happy to withdraw it.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, before my noble friend responds, perhaps I may ask the Minister about Amendment 3. I entirely understand that a local authority should be able to do something that is only indirectly for the benefit of its residents and I understand that the Government might want to make sure that a local authority is not open to a claim that what it is doing is not, even indirectly, for the benefit of its residents. Is that the sort of technical protection that lies behind these words? Surely what a local authority does should be at least indirectly for the benefit of its residents, even if there is disagreement as to whether something is for the benefit of its residents. In the minds of the people who are taking the decisions, that must be the case, must it not? Perhaps this is a technical protection, which I had not understood until the Minister spoke.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, of course we expect councils to act in the best interests of the communities that they serve, but we do not believe that it is for the Government to dictate what that means. Local authorities
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Lord Greaves: My Lords, I am not sure that I understood that last exchange; I shall read Hansard carefully so that perhaps I will understand it. I am grateful to the Minister for her response and to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for assisting her. These were probing amendments-nothing more-and I shall read carefully what has been said. On that basis, I ask leave to withdraw Amendment 2.
(2) In this section "sustainable development" means development that meets the social, economic and environmental needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs including the application of the following principles-
(a) living within environmental limits,
(b) ensuring a strong, healthy and just society,
(c) achieving a sustainable economy,
(d) promoting good governance, and
(e) using sound science responsibly."
Lord Greaves: My Lords, this is an important amendment on sustainable development. There is growing concern that this Government are sidelining sustainable development despite their welcome ambition to be the greenest Government ever. At the moment, there is considerable uncertainty out there as to how sustainable development will be achieved by central and local government and how their commitments and goals will be taken forward. Funding has been withdrawn from the Sustainable Development Commission, which was the watchdog and adviser to the Government on their sustainability goals. Without this body auditing government output across Whitehall, it may be difficult to highlight and address government decisions that do not support the achievement of sustainable development.
In February, Defra released Mainstreaming Sustainable Development-The Government's Vision and What This Means in Practice. There are concerns that this seeks to redefine sustainable development by placing greater emphasis on the economic pillar, as in the document priority is given to stimulating economic growth and tackling the deficit, both of which are, obviously,
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The delivery of local priorities within a localist agenda that involves local people on a far greater scale than at the moment must continue to be linked with the delivery of larger-than-local national and international priorities. Certain critical goals need a shared approach. Achieving sustainable development is one of them. In 1983, the World Commission on Environment and Development, convened by the UN, was created to address growing concern about the consequences of the accelerating deterioration of the human environment and natural resources across the globe. The outcome of the work, the Brundtland report, Our Common Future, was published in 1987 and provided us with the well known international definition of "sustainable development". Importantly, the report launched a comprehensive gateway to sustainability which included social, economic, political, institutional and environmental criteria. It established important broad principles which, to this day, have influenced environmental laws and planning in a wide range of countries, including this one.
In this country, in 2005, we adopted the sustainable development strategy, Securing the future. This strategy established the twin goals of living within environmental limits and providing a just society by means of a sustainable economy, good governance and sound science. These five guiding principles of sustainable development are repeated in the amendment. They are intended to underpin all policy and legislation and act as a lens through which all new proposals are viewed.
My fundamental question is whether this is still the view of the present Government. Do the Government accept that this view of sustainable development underpins all their work, not just planning activities? Does sustainable development underpin everything in the Bill? Do the Government still hold to the Brundtland definition and, if not, what is their definition now? Do the Government still accept that sustainable development is a means of balancing economic, social and environmental needs equally and bringing them together? Or is there now to be a presumption for development which is economically sustainable, even if not socially or environmentally sustainable-or less socially and environmentally sustainable than economically sustainable?
That fundamental question lies behind a great deal of current government legislation and activity. The coalition Government have been working on a presumption in favour of sustainable development to be included in the national planning policy framework, the NPPF. A draft of the presumption was released last Wednesday by the Department for Communities and Local Government. There are widespread concerns
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This is also a probing amendment. I hope that the Minister will be able to give me satisfactory answers. The more satisfactory they are, the more progress we will make on the Bill. This fundamental matter arises in a number of parts of the Bill, particularly in Part 4, "Community Empowerment", Part 5, "Planning" and Part 6, "Housing". I look forward to the Minister's reply.
The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, I welcome this amendment with its intention to remedy what is at least a perceived gap at the Bill's heart. Without it, or something like it-it may need a bit more work-the Bill does not yet contain an adequate definition of "sustainable development". In fact, almost no definition of the concept is given in the Bill at all.
In Clause 95 there is a requirement for local authorities responsible for planning-district, county, unitary authorities and others-to co-operate in relation to planning for sustainable development, but little clear indication is given as to what this co-operation will entail or what it will achieve in practice. The notes to the Bill indicate that local planning authorities will also be expected to consider whether to prepare joint local development documents, but again such development is not defined.
As so much of the Bill is about planning, empowerment of local communities and new building, it is perhaps unwise to proceed without an associated statutory description of what sustainability means, particularly in these contexts. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has already referred to the most widely accepted and used definition of sustainable development-the Brundtland commission's statement. That definition is still worth quoting. It says that sustainable development is development which,
It contains within it two key concepts-the concept of needs, particularly the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given, and the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organisations on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs. This definition of sustainable development has as much to do with spirituality and culture as with the environment and economy-the two categories already mentioned.
A sustainable community has to be one that offers both a positive present and a positive future for all people-economically, environmentally, socially, spiritually and culturally. It is responsible to the needs of all and exercises careful stewardship of a community's environment and its soul. In short, I suggest that true sustainable development is about sustaining the common good.
In an earlier debate on Clause 1, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, spoke of the distinction between a neighbourhood and a community, between where people live and how people interact and behave. I suggest that
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Lord Taylor of Goss Moor: My Lords, this is an extremely important amendment. Although my noble friend proposes it as a probing amendment, I hope Ministers may come to recognise that incorporating a clear and balanced definition of sustainable development in the Bill is fundamental to the workings of a Bill that is predicated on sustainable development. It is important to set out this definition in statute and not simply in the proposed national planning policy framework.
I declare my interests in this area: I chair the strategic partnership that is delivering an eco-community in Cornwall, which is all about these issues; I chair the National Housing Federation, which takes an interest in these issues; and I chair in a voluntary capacity the Rural Coalition, which brings together some 14 national bodies with a particular interest in the sustainable development of rural communities, including Britain's major planning bodies and organisations such as CPRE and CLA. All these bodies have expressed concern about the absence of a proper and balanced definition.
I have taken an interest in this issue for more than 20 years, but did so most particularly when I was asked by the previous Government to carry out a review of rural planning on a non-partisan basis in relation to economic development and housing-the Living Working Countryside report. The first chapter concentrated on the way in which the term "sustainable development" can lead to perverse consequences when people do not use a balanced definition. Too often, developments have been refused because sustainability is seen in purely environmental terms, not in terms of the sustainability of communities and the rural economy. Exactly the same criticism could be made the other way around, if sustainability is seen too often simply in terms of economic development. I share the concerns expressed about the proposed definition.
This issue is not without consequences. It directly filters down to the way in which decisions that profoundly affect the sustainability of communities are taken at the local level. In the review, I said something else that is important here. The sustainability of communities, when we are looking at how they develop, is not about a judgment on whether that community is sustainable, because one might argue that many communities, if started from scratch, would not be created in the form that they are. The question is always: does change contribute to enhancing the economic, social and environmental sustainability of that community, or does it detract from it? It is a moving target and we should not seek perfection before we allow change. It is perfection that we are striving towards-not that we can achieve it at any given moment.
For all these reasons, it is fundamental that Parliament is clear about what we mean by a presumption in favour of sustainable development, and we cannot have that clarity if we do not set out in statute a proper
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It is fundamentally obvious that if we believe that this sustainable development is important to the legislation, if we believe that it is an important principle in how this country should go forward, and if we believe that it is important to how we develop communities, we should at least be clear about what we mean by it. Having been involved in these debates for 20-odd years, I learnt long ago that if one talks simply about sustainable development, a large part of the audience is unlikely to know what you are talking about at all, and the rest of the audience thinks it knows what you are talking about, but if you do not explain it, you are liable to find out that everyone has a completely different idea of it, depending on their particular vested interest.
I regard it as something of an achievement of the Rural Coalition that we bring together such a diverse range of views, which is perhaps best epitomised by the involvement of the CPRE on the one hand and the CLA on the other. We have always agreed that getting the balance right is fundamental, and that it should be set out at this stage in the legislation. While this may be a probing amendment, I hope that we will get from the Minister a commitment to bring something into statute and agree that the definition should be balanced and forward looking about what we can achieve, not simply an assessment of the status quo.
Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, this has been an instructive exchange, so far. No one has been able to define sustainable development and, indeed, the Bill does not define it. There is a simple reason for that, because the term "sustainable development" is totally meaningless. It is one of those cant expressions that grew up with the Brundtland report-perhaps a bit earlier; but that report referred to it-and is meant to feel good, but has absolutely no meaning whatever.
The right reverend Prelate attempted to define sustainable development as the type of development that he approves of. He is perfectly entitled to approve of some forms of development more than others, but that is not the sort of thing that you can put in a Bill, and quite rightly so. We live in a developed economy that has been developing for at least 1,000 years. That seems to be pretty sustainable to me. I cannot think what is unsustainable about it. It has also, importantly, led to a considerable rise in living standards among a greatly increased population.
Look at the developing world: that is what they want to do, too. They have great poverty and they want the sort of development that we have had in the developed countries. They say, "Now we are going to do that". The idea that there is something unsustainable about it is proven to be false by the fact that it has been going on for 1,000 years or more-much more, in fact. The idea that sustainable development has any meaning
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Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, before I say anything else, I should probably declare an interest, which I hope that I do not have to declare every time, which is that my wife is a former chairman of Braintree District Council and currently the cabinet member for planning and strategy. I hasten to add that, on this subject, we have not considered our views together, and I am not expressing her opinions-as I do on everything else, of course.
This is an unusual occasion for me. I do not usually find myself tempted to my feet by my noble friend, who is historically rather more robust than I am. I am normally seen as being on the softer side of the party. I have every sympathy what he just said. I will not elaborate, therefore, but I add a second heretical view, which is that, from what I have heard so far today-and I have reservations about parts of the Bill-we are in danger with all these definitional clauses of creating a pure lawyers' paradise in which every decision is capable of endless judicial review to determine what these meaningless words mean. I do not encourage that.
Lord True: My Lords, I declare an interest as the leader of a local authority in London. I also thank my noble friend for her earlier comments on shadow mayors, which were extremely welcome. I do not want to come between my noble friends Lord Greaves and Lord Lawson, but I express concern about the way in which the amendment, with its merits or otherwise, is framed. Here, I follow the remarks of my noble friend Lord Newton of Braintree.
The amendment as framed, which requires a local authority to exercise the power, is applied to the core general power of competence at the start of the Bill. That means that everything done by any local authority under the Bill may be subjected to the tests. Many of the tests are desirable-I certainly do not go as far as my noble friend Lord Lawson in his comments on sustainable development, which is in principle an admirable objective-but I fear that, if the amendment is applied to the Bill in general terms, the willingness to use the general power of competence may be tainted by fear of legal action. The fundamental point that I hope that we will pursue is, as I said at Second Reading, that we should do nothing to limit the power of general competence or to discourage local authorities from employing it.
It is a worthy try by my noble friend Lord Greaves, but I hope that if he wants to return to this important principle, it should not, for the reasons expressed by my noble friend Lord Newton, be applied to this part of the Bill.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I enjoyed what my noble friend Lord Taylor of Goss Moor said, and I would like to hear more about that, but I hope that we do not
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Lord Taylor of Goss Moor: If I may say so, that is precisely why, if we are to have a Bill that makes the definition of sustainable development the whole basis of our planning system, we should say what we mean. It was precisely the issue mentioned by the noble Lord that led me to start my report by saying that we need to ensure that our approach to sustainable development is properly defined as a balance between economic and social environmental interests, is forward looking and is not an assessment of the countryside as unsustainable.
Lord Lucas: I therefore think that this is a very important thing to get right. I shall listen to the Minister with great interest. If we get it wrong, it has the potential to destroy a very important part of the Bill.
Lord Tope: My Lords, in moving the amendment, to which I have added my name, my noble friend made it clear that it is a probing amendment. It might therefore be that the Minister is not about to accept it. If that proves to be the case, I am conscious that the Minister has received considerable advice from behind her that she should not attempt to define sustainable development now or at any time in the future. Therefore, perhaps she could confirm that the Government intend, in the not very distant future, to publish their definition of sustainable development, a definition that will subsequently appear in the national planning policy framework document. If she can confirm that, can she also confirm that it will at least reflect the balanced approach that the amendment seeks to achieve?
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, we should congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on giving us an early opportunity, during the course of the Bill, to debate this very important issue. We agree that it is important to enshrine, at an appropriate point in the Bill, a definition of sustainable development and the principles that he has outlined in the amendment. We agree with the definition and with the principles that he has set out. I anticipated that we would have this debate a little later when we got to Part 5 of the Bill, but important points have been made about this not being just about narrow planning; there is a broader dimension to it.
I agree with what the noble Lord said in moving the amendment. There are concerns about sustainable development being sidelined by the Government. He referenced the Budget pronouncements. Clause 124 could be a change in the balance of the assessment of sustainable development, and we have a lack of clarity over the NPPF; indeed, the advisory group's draft has moved us some way away from what the previous Government had accepted and which I thought was generally accepted as sustainable development.
With some hesitation, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, that sustainable development is a meaningless concept. The fact that we may have had 1,000 years of growth generally in the economy and growing prosperity is fine, but are there not judgments to be made along the way about what that has done to the environment? Certainly in latter years, has not that growth often been achieved by recognising that you have to balance the impact, for example on the environment? I do not believe that it is a meaningless concept.
I agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord True, about the framing of the amendment, and I shall come on to that in a moment. There is a real risk that you create a lawyers' paradise. One of the assessments of well-being powers, and why they were not better used, was that lawyers, who were very cautious, got involved and that that precluded the use of the power more extensively than was anticipated at the time. I therefore very much agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter in his approach to sustainable development, and with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Goss Moor. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Lawson.
When thinking about the Opposition's response to this amendment, I considered how it sits with the local authority's duty to prepare community strategies. That is set down in the Local Government Act 2000. There has hitherto been a requirement to prepare community strategies for improving economic, social and environmental well-being and contributing to the achievement of sustainable development in the UK. I asked the DCLG whether that obligation still exists. It does, but perhaps the Minister will confirm the Government's intention to repeal the duty to prepare a sustainable community strategy. Instead, the Government have set down light-touch, best-value statutory guidance, on which they are consulting. The consultation document is extremely interesting, and shows about four pages of rubric on one page of a draft definition of "best value statutory guidance". Only one sentence potentially touches on sustainability. It states:
which is the general power. Again, analysis of the well-being power showed that it was not used in preference to statutory powers that local authorities may have. If
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I understand that this is a probing amendment, and we support its thrust. We certainly want to see those definitions in the Bill and are happy to work with the noble Lord to achieve some refinement to the approach set down in his amendment.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I understand that this is a probing amendment and I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. The Government are not unsympathetic to the attempt to describe "sustainable development". In fact, they have already done so on two occasions. They support the Brundtland definition, and their statement on maintaining sustainable development, published in February this year, includes a commitment to embed these principles across government policy. Therefore, it is not only in this Bill that the sustainable development is likely to come about.
We accept that there is a strong relationship between the Government's approach and the ambitions of this Bill. However, whether we can spell it out in a way that is acceptable on four fronts is probably more difficult. It would put it on to a statutory framework that is a lawyers' paradise. The expectation and understanding is that local people will be best placed to understand what is right for sustainable development locally, and noble Lords may have become aware of the definitions that have appeared in the consultation on presumption in favour of sustainable development that has just been published.
On the planning system, we believe that there is a presumption in favour of sustainable development at the heart of the new planning system. We will look to local planning authorities to prepare local plans on the basis of objectively assessed development needs and with sufficient flexibility to respond to rapid shifts of economic change. They should approve without delay development proposals that accord with statutory plans-noble Lords opposite mentioned that-and should grant permission where the plan is absent, silent or indeterminate, or where relevant policies are out of date.
That issue is one of planning. Noble Lords also referred to the generality. February's Statement made clear the Government's view that there are three pillars-the economy, society and the environment-which are interconnected. We recognise that long-term economic growth relies on protecting and enhancing the environmental resources that underpin it, and on paying regard to social needs. Those are the principles of sustainable development that we need to take forward.
I will resist, at least for the moment, having a definition such as that put forward by the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Tope. If there was ever going to be a definition, we would need to be very clear and sure that it would be legally unchallengeable, because definitions never define the whole process and all the opportunities; sometimes they are restricting rather than helpful. Some of my noble friends behind me may be slightly sad about this. I say to them that in general the Government have some sympathy with
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Lord Taylor of Goss Moor: My Lords, I will speak briefly. I welcome two aspects of what the Minister said. The first is her reiteration of the Government's support for the principles of sustainable development, which is important. The second is the fact-I have listened carefully and will read Hansard later-that she did not rule out setting out these principles in the Bill. We will have to see whether we can convince the Government to do it. Their open-mindedness at this point is very welcome.
I say to those who think that a thousand years of economic development prove that we do not need sustainable development that in that time some civilisations collapsed as a result of the overuse of their resources; I refer to central America, the desertification of the north African coast and, in my own area of Cornwall, the disappearance of the herring trade. Today we see more profound impacts on the environment, such as the destruction of the rainforests, and we should not sit content in this country and assume, just because until now we have survived quite well when others have not, that we have greater wisdom than civilisations that collapsed before us.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, again I am grateful to all noble Lords who took part in this debate, which has been slightly enlightening and has taken us forward a little. I am particularly grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter and to my noble friend Lord Taylor of Goss Moor for their strong support. As I listened to my noble friend just now, I thought that the greatest economic growth in this country during the past few hundred years was the Industrial Revolution, and how much better that revolution would have been-surely it would not have been stymied in any serious way-if environmental considerations had played a much greater part in development during that period instead of the massive attacks on the physical environment: the quality of air and all the rest of it. It has cost an enormous amount of money to clean it up since. It is not just economic growth, is it? It is the way you do it; it is regulation in ways that protect the environment and finding ways in which economic growth can be environmentally beneficial.
I am afraid that I disagree fundamentally with the noble Lord, Lord Lawson of Blaby. He said that the phrase "sustainable development" is meaningless. I have some sympathy with that part of his argument because I have said that in many ways from the Benches in the other corner of the Chamber on almost every Bill affecting the environment since I came into this House. People have continually been willing to use the phrase "sustainable development" without pinning down what it means. I do not believe that pinning it down would result in a legal nightmare; I think it would result in clarity. Both the previous Government and
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My noble friend Lord Lucas said that he fears that any definition would result in interminable legislation. As my noble friend Lord Taylor said, if there is no definition, that is when interminable legislation is likely. The noble Lord, Lord True, noted that the amendment applies to the core of the Bill, not just to the planning part. That was absolutely deliberate. I understand his point, but it was deliberate because we believe that sustainable development affects far more than simply the functions of local authorities and other bodies in planning.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, Amendment 5 is grouped with an amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. I do not normally take the lead on matters Welsh in your Lordships' House, but there seem to me to be two important issues here. One is the matter in Schedule 1 -why local authorities in Wales are to be deprived of what we are told is going to be a wonderful thing: namely, the new general power of competence. I understand it is because the Welsh Assembly Government have said that they do not want it, but it is often the case in legislation that even if Wales and the Welsh Government do not want to make use of legislation in the short run, they are given a permissive power to adopt later, if they decide to do so, powers that are going to be introduced in England. There are a number of matters in the Bill for which that could be the case, and my question is simply: why is that not being done in this case?
However, there is a more fundamental thing. We often get Bills in which we get tangled up with devolution matters halfway through and have to try to untangle them at that stage. The basic reason for putting down this amendment was to ask the Government whether at this very early stage of the Bill they can make a clear statement on devolution and Wales to explain the basis on which Wales is included, and in many cases
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Lord Wigley: My Lords, Amendment 18 stands in my name and is grouped with Amendment 5. Before getting into my own comments, I warm to the latter comments by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in proposing Amendment 5, about the very complex model of devolution that we now have for Wales. Scotland has a fairly clear-cut model for which something is devolved or not devolved. In Wales, there are bits of Acts here, there and everywhere that are a nightmare for those who need to interpret them. It is something that the Government might like to look at at some stage in the interests of everyone and of getting some symmetry in the relationships that we have within these islands.
At Second Reading, I said that I would ask questions in Committee on the applicability of Clauses 1 to 8 to Wales. Your Lordships will be aware that local government in Wales is wholly devolved. That was established by the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994, when we were still under the Welsh Office. With the establishment of the National Assembly in 1999, responsibility moved from the Secretary of State to the Assembly. Following the referendum this March, full legislative competence came to the Assembly over these matters. I realise that that was after the Localism Bill had started its passage in another place, and I understand that some adjustments have been made to take that on board.
Amendment 18 is therefore very much a probing amendment. The Explanatory Notes with which we are provided state that Clauses 1 to 8 are relevant to England only. I realise that the notes do not have status in law, but they are none the less important for us in debate and therefore one takes notice of them. Yet Clause 5(8) refers to the effects of these clauses upon Wales. Clause 5(2) provides that:
statutory provisions if he thinks this may prevent local authorities exercising their general powers of competence in England. If these powers apply to England and Wales, quite serious questions arise about the implications for local government in Wales, and that runs through other parts of this Bill. As Clause 5(8) refers to,
those are the words in the Bill-clearly this is a possibility. Will the Minister give us some indication of the circumstances in which this could apply to Wales-some examples, perhaps, or some issues-and how often it is anticipated that these powers might impact on Wales?
Clause 5(8) also states that the Secretary of State must consult Welsh Ministers before using such powers in a way that impacts on Wales, so I shall press a little more on the meaning of consulting. If consulting allows the UK Minister to agree or disagree with his Welsh counterparts, if he agrees and carries on regardless, does that not undermine the devolution of local government issues to Wales as provided in legislation and as was assumed in the referendum that we have just had? I suggest that if there was provision for requiring a legislative competence Motion to be passed in the Assembly on each such order brought forward
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I will briefly address Amendment 5, which was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and is also in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno. As things stand, by virtue of Schedule 1, as I interpret it, local government in Wales will continue to retain the power for the promotion of well-being, as laid out in the Local Government Act 2000, even though local authorities in England will be subject to changes under this Bill. Amendment 5 appears to have the effect that changes to local government in England will also apply to local authorities in Wales, but under paragraph 12 of Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006 this cannot be done without a legislative competence Motion in the Assembly. The referendum in March confirmed the Assembly's legislative competence in these matters. Is it the intention, therefore, of the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Roberts, to re-reserve these powers to Westminster? I would be glad to have the Minister's comments on this, and indeed on both amendments.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, a few years ago I had the pleasure and privilege of chairing a review into local public services in Wales. I visited Caernarfon and, after a meeting with the leader of the council and officers of that borough, I sauntered through the streets of Caernarfon. It was an unnerving experience because everyone was, perfectly naturally in that part of Wales, speaking Welsh and I could not understand a word of it. I am bound to say that I have rather the same sensation having heard the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Wigley, this afternoon. I do not pretend to understand all that they have asked.
I confine myself to one question to the Minister, but perhaps also to your Lordships who have moved and spoken to these amendments: has the Welsh Local Government Association been asked to give a view on these matters? That would have been sensible. I confess to not having done so myself, so I am not in a position to criticise others who may not have. However, it would seem important, at least by the time we get to Report, to have inquired whether the Bill is acceptable to the Welsh Local Government Association or whether it would prefer the amendments moved.
Lord Wigley: In fact, the Welsh Local Government Association is very exercised about having clarity in this Bill. There is a lack of clarity and it would welcome some clarity on the points that have been raised.
As I was saying before the noble Lord rightly interrupted me, I hope that we will be able to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. The Government have been asked to amend the Local Government Act 2000 to enable Welsh Ministers to make orders under this particular power rather than them having to ask English Ministers to do so as at present. We are considering that and I hope that I will be able to give the noble Lord a final response on that later.
It might be helpful if I quickly went through how this Bill applies to Wales. I also confirm that we have been in regular contact with the Welsh Assembly Government about the application of the provisions of the Localism Bill to Wales. The devolution extent of provisions in the Bill is set out in the Explanatory Notes, and where provisions do not apply to Wales this reflects the wishes of the Welsh Ministers about whom we have talked.
The following provisions apply to Wales: providing fire and rescue authorities with additional powers- that was by amendment on Commons Report; predetermination; pay accountability; abolishing the duty to promote democracy; repealing the petitions duty; business rate supplement ballots; the discretionary power for local authorities to grant business rate discounts; assets of community value; the community infrastructure levy; major infrastructure projects-the abolition of the IPC; housing reform, particularly homelessness; repairing obligations in leases of seven years or more; the abolition of HIPs; and the abolition of the standards board provisions applied to police authorities in Wales.
There have been two legislative consent Motions in relation to the Localism Bill. First, for provisions relating to local government pay accountability, to the abolition of the duty to promote local democracy, and to the abolition of petitions duties and homelessness duties, a legislative consent Motion was debated and agreed in the Assembly on 8 February. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, nods his head, so that is clearly right. Secondly, for government amendments relating to the general and charging powers of fire and rescue authorities in Wales and to assets of community value, a further legislative consent Motion was debated and agreed in the Assembly on 14 June.
We are not changing how the well-being power works in Wales. It will continue to act as it always has, and Welsh Ministers will continue to submit proposals to the Secretary of State where they encounter barriers to the exercise of that well-being power. Welsh Ministers were offered the opportunity to have the general power of competence but they decided against it.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, spoke to Amendment 18. Although the general power of competence does not apply to Welsh local authorities, in theory it might be possible for Clause 5(1), the barrier-buster power, to be used to amend the law in Wales as it applies to English local authorities. In effect, therefore, the general power of competence can be adopted in future if that is what Wales wants. Although, as I said, the circumstances in which this might happen are considered to be very limited indeed, the requirement to consult Welsh Ministers
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Lord Wigley: I am very grateful to the noble Baroness. If this is just an in-case provision-in case a change in future required this to be exercised-and given the emphasis that she has rightly put on having agreement from Assembly Ministers, what would the circumstances be if, having consulted, there was a disagreement?
Baroness Hanham: I will have to take advice about that because I was not expecting that question. I will write to the noble Lord and not hazard a guess because we might end up offending each other. If I may, I will make sure that he gets an answer to that specific question.
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