I will give the House two examples of where, in my time, we lost hundreds of millions of pounds for no good reason but the existing Treasury rules. One was

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during the shipping crisis in 2008. I realised that we could probably buy the MARS tankers that we had in the programme for two or three years later very much more cheaply by simply purchasing tankers on the open market rather than building them at enormous expense, which had already been examined and provided for. We had £1.2 billion in the budget for six tankers. I spoke to several shipping brokers and discovered that we could actually buy, on the second-hand market, tankers of the right capacity—30,000 to 50,000 tonnes, capable of refuelling at 15 knots at sea and so forth—for $50 million apiece. If you then spent some money putting on a helicopter pad, one or two bells and whistles, some armaments and so forth, it could not cost you more than $75 million as opposed to the £200 million which we had in the budget for each one of those tankers. It was a no-brainer but I was not allowed to do it. I went to the Treasury and said that we could save public money but it said, “No, no, no, that’s the rules, we can’t do it. Sorry, but you have to wait two or three years”. I told it that in two or three years’ time the shipping market would have revived and we would not be able to get that sort of deal. “Sorry, too bad”, it said.

The same thing happened with the Astute class. I wanted to buy the components and a lot of the systems for Astute-class boats 4. 5, 6 and 7 together in bulk, getting a considerable discount. I was told, “You can’t do it because all these things are allocated to individual years”. I worked up, with the National Audit Office, a proposal for the Treasury to change this and we had meetings with the Chief Secretary, Liam Byrne. I explained all this to my successor, Mr Luff, who was sadly sacked—I do not know quite why—at the recent reshuffle, but nothing has happened about it so I put it on the table now. This is something that needs to be examined. It can be done and I could go into great detail if I had the time. This is an opportunity and prospect which we cannot afford to ignore in the context of any genuine attempt to save public money and provide a more efficient basis for defence procurement.

5.42 pm

Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, I should start by saying that I work for an American defence company called Curtis Wright. The Wright in Curtis Wright was the Wright brothers. Curtis Wright supplied many fighter aircraft to the US Air Force during the last war. After the war somebody came along and said, “We think you should look very closely at the whole idea of jet propulsion for fighter aircraft”. Curtis Wright looked at it very carefully and said, “No, this is not the answer”. Your Lordships will not be surprised to know that Curtis Wright are not in the production of fighter aircraft any more, but they are involved in a number of other technical areas in defence supply. It is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, because—let us face it—he does not lack chutzpah when it comes to defending the actions of the previous Government.

I will deal, firstly, with the question of defence specialisation. This has a certain allure to it because what it means is that different countries in Europe would take over the sole supply of the capability of certain bits of defence. The very obvious answer to

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that would be that armour should be in the hands of the Germans. If the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, talks to his honourable friend in the other place, Gisela Stuart, who is German, she will tell him that the Germans have become completely pacifist. If we had this arrangement, and we decided we wanted to fight an armoured conflict somewhere, we could not do it because the Germans would not fight. There seem to be enormous problems. The noble Lord says that when this great unification of European forces was put together, they would have to sign up to looking after our colonies. The Spanish are extremely hostile to the idea of us defending the Falklands at all, and I am not sure that they are going to sign up to that in any way. There are enormous shortcomings.

I will move on to the great debate, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, about the size of the deficit inherited by this Government. Was it £37 billion or £38 billion of unfunded procurement over 10 years? Or was it a smaller figure? It must have been a pretty massive figure because otherwise we would not have had the devastating review of our whole procurement programme, cutting out ranges of procurement. The Harriers had to go, as did the maritime patrol aircraft and so forth. That would not have happened if there had not been a very serious problem which this Government had to address. I do not expect the Minister to answer this when she sums up, but perhaps she could write to me about it. Last Tuesday, my noble friend Lord Trefgarne gave lunch to Sir Clive Whitmore, who used to be the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence when I was there and in the time of my noble friend Lord King. Clive Whitmore, who understood politicians very clearly, was famous for saying all the time, “I have to remind you, Ministers, that I am the chief accounting officer of the Ministry of Defence, and if you want to spend money you have not got, I want a ministerial override”. As your Lordships know, a ministerial override is something that comes from the Permanent Secretary and has to be signed by a Minister. It basically says that “I, as a Permanent Secretary, advise against this particular procurement because the funds are not available and they have to be signed off by a Minister”.

The final signing off of the aircraft carriers was in 2009. The roof had fallen in on the whole economy, and we had complete disaster in every direction. It was obvious to a child of five that there was going to be no more money coming into the defence budget. At the same time, two aircraft carriers were ordered at a cost of around £5 billion. That was on top of a mass of other equipment which had been ordered but for which there were no funds whatever. What happened in the Ministry of Defence? Why were there no ministerial overrides? We look to our Civil Service to guarantee the continuity and solvency of departments of state. What went wrong that that did not kick in? What provision has now been made in the Ministry of Defence to ensure that this sort of thing does not happen in the future? Perhaps that could be put in a letter. We should be seriously concerned if we reach a position where things are being ordered in this way. This is always going to happen in political life as politicians believe they can buy people’s votes by putting out enormous orders and there could be no

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better way of buying votes than to have two aircraft carriers being built simultaneously in every shipyard in the country so the largesse could be spread as widely as possible. Why was there not a ministerial override saying, “The funds are not available for this, I therefore do not recommend it, and I am doing it only because I am ordered to by the Minister”?

Lord Davies of Stamford: Perhaps I can help the noble Lord and also defend civil servants whose reputations might otherwise be tarnished by what he has just said. We had the most conscientious and able Permanent Secretary and finance director in my time. There was no ministerial override because there did not need to be one as the carrier programme, like other parts of our programme, was funded and properly provided for within our defence budget.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom: That no doubt explains why the first thing this Government tried to do when they got in was to cancel the carrier programme, only to find that it could not be cancelled because BAS is very good at tying up such incredibly tight contracts that it would have cost more to cancel than to go ahead with it. I do not totally buy that: there is something seriously wrong here, and I do not think we would have the current difficulties if there had been a few more ministerial overrides in the past. Critics of my right honourable friend, Philip Hammond, the new Secretary of State, say that he is just a number cruncher who does not know anything about defence priorities. He understands very well the first defence priority, which is that you do not order kit if you do not have the money to pay for it. His second priority is balancing the budget, and he therefore takes total care that we are not going to run into any major crisis, such as the one we have experienced recently. His business experience will be valuable, and he is the ideal man to be holding the position of Secretary of State.

It is not just a shambles that we find in the administration of the Ministry of Defence. We used to be able to rely on men in uniform to do the right thing, but what have we seen? We have seen the humiliation of the retreat from Basra, which raises serious questions about the intelligence given to our military commanders before they went in. Was it a complete surprise that the Iranians decided to get involved in all the Shia militias there? The result was that we had to pull out. In terms of safe passage to get back to the airport, we had to do a deal whereby we would not go back in. The Americans were, to put it mildly, dismayed, and eventually the Iraqi Government took the view that such was the appalling shambles left behind in Basra that they had to go in with the Iraqi Army and US Marine Corps. Once they went back in, they certainly sorted out the problems there, and there has not been much of a problem there since.

Almost as a reaction to Basra, the British Army afterwards decided to deploy 3,500 men in Helmand province. What was the intelligence there? Did they not know that the Pashtuns in Helmand loathe all foreigners, and the foreigners they loathe more than any others are the British, because they still have not forgiven us for the wars we fought against them in the

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19th century? The result was that we nearly lost that whole force of 3,500 men, but for the fantastic air power provided by NATO, which pulverised all the mud villages in front of it but would not have done an awful lot for hearts and minds in Afghanistan.

I am actually seriously worried about where the Ministry of Defence has gone in the past. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has a serious problem of getting this thing back into some sort of order, both in terms of finances and, I hope, in getting involved in operational matters, because serious problems have been created for which we are paying a hefty price. I wish I could say that I looked to the future with confidence as regards the serious challenges facing my right honourable friend. He has an awful lot of work to do.

5.52 pm

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever for initiating this debate. I am particularly grateful for his reminder that this debate is wide-ranging, because what I am about to say is not in the mainstream of what has been discussed—so far, certainly.

I am a member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. Three weeks ago, we undertook a fact-finding visit to Belfast in connection with the decade of commemoration of the centenary of seminal events that took place in Ireland between 1912 and 1922. In the course of this visit we in the group were impressed by the growing interest on both sides of the border in the contribution of the Irish regiments in the Great War. The history of the 36th Ulster Division is well known and commemorated by the Ulster Tower on the Somme battlefield. Of the two divisions raised in southern Ireland—the 10th and the 16th—much less is known. It became clear in the course of our inquiries that for many nationalist families until very recently the service of great-grandfathers and great-great-grandfathers in the British Army in the First World War has been treated as a guilty secret never to be discussed and to be airbrushed out of the family history.

My honourable friend Conor Burns, Member of Parliament for Bournemouth West, is a Roman Catholic who was born in Belfast and raised largely in Great Britain. He is a colleague on the British-Irish parliamentary group and kindly agreed that I could quote his family as an example of the ignorance in which younger generations were kept, until very recently, about the service in the British Army of their forbears—in his case, his grandmother’s family, several of whom served in the Army.

However, in the recent past, there has been a perceptible change of attitude. What has caused this? Certainly, the internet has played a part. Records in places such as the National Archives in Kew and Dublin have become more readily accessible, and with the various ancestry search programmes there has been increasing curiosity about family histories, including regarding some aspects previously regarded as taboo. There continues to be research particularly on the five Irish regiments that were disbanded in 1922. In some cases, this has extended to individual battalions. For example, the 6th Connaught Rangers, a Kitchener or New Army

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battalion, was raised in Catholic west Belfast, and its recruits would have been almost to a man Redmond nationalists. The battalion fought on the Somme with the 16th Irish Division. Its history is the subject of a meticulously researched and well produced book, which in its appendix lists the careers and ultimate destinations of every member of the battalion, many of them sadly killed in action. This is but one of a number of initiatives of this nature in Northern Ireland and the Republic.

This significant change of attitude to a subject treated hitherto as an embarrassment by many an Irish family is part of the transformation of British-Irish relations in recent years. Much credit for this must go to the leadership shown by two successive Presidents of the Republic, Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese, and continued by President O’Higgins. It of course culminated with the visit to the Republic by Her Majesty the Queen in 2010, the impact of which on the people of Ireland is even now not fully appreciated on this side of the Irish Sea. Tangible evidence of this new outlook is the increase in the number of visitors from the Irish Republic to the battlefields of France and Flanders, in many cases to visit the graves of forbears of whose military history they were previously unaware. The defining moment of the Irish contribution in the Great War came with the Battle of Messines in 1917, when for the first time the 36th Ulster Division and the 16th Irish Division fought alongside in an action that many military historians regard as the most significant tactical victory in the whole of the Great War.

In the time available, I have not been able to research the detailed statistics of those who served and were killed in the First World War, but about 149,000 volunteered from the whole of Ireland, and just under 30,000 were killed. It is difficult to break down the figures of the war dead from the various provinces, but when one considers that there were one Ulster division and two Irish divisions, it is clear that the suffering must have been fairly widespread throughout the whole of Ireland.

Lord Tyler: I am very moved by what my noble friend is saying. It so happens that just a few weeks ago I visited the Somme—as I mentioned to him the other day—and was struck by the fact that Irishmen from both sides of what is now the border were standing side by side, with great courage and tenacity, particularly in the July Somme attack, as well as later in the 1914-1918 war. I visited a number of cemeteries because my three uncles were killed during the war, and I was moved when I met young people from both sides of the current Irish border who came together in coachloads to see some of these cemeteries. I entirely endorse what my noble friend is saying, and I am very pleased to be in the House to hear him.

Viscount Bridgeman: I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Tyler for that intervention.

I should also mention that a large number of Irishmen, particularly from the south-east seaboard counties of what is now the Republic, would have served in the Royal Navy. It is against the background of all this that I should say that there was no conscription in any part of the island in either of the two world wars.

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This debate, initiated by my noble friend, is timely, coming as it does on the week before Remembrance Sunday. I suggest that it is appropriate, within this debate, to place on record the contribution and sacrifice of so many Irishmen in the Great War, which for far too long has remained largely overlooked. The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, mentioned the phrase, “Lest we forget”. It is particularly comforting that this increasingly embraces the families of many of our friends in the Republic of Ireland at this time.

6 pm

Lord Bates: My Lords, it is a privilege to follow my noble friend Lord Bridgeman. While he was talking, I recalled my visit to some of the cemeteries and memorials when, last year and in the early part of this year, I undertook a most moving walk across Europe to promote the Olympic truce. In January, we arrived at the island of Ireland Peace Park, which is now a memorial on the western front which commemorates the fallen on both sides who came together there. It is now a centre for peace and it will be a focal point for centenary celebrations and commemorations of the First World War. It is a fitting tribute.

I am also privileged to take part in this debate in which immense expertise has been brought to bear. I thank my noble friend Lord Astor for introducing the debate and I welcome my noble friend Lady Garden of Frognal to her role. After the moving speech of my noble friend Lady Wilcox, I wonder whether it is traditional to welcome someone back to the Back Benches but, even if it is not in order, I do so because I thought hers was a particularly moving speech and one that I welcomed.

For me, this debate has hinged on two contributions, one from my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater, and the other from the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen. Their contributions have been very significant, particularly the point about the reception that our Armed Forces receive when they return to the United Kingdom. I have had a couple of encounters recently. I was devastated to hear about how people are treated, when in uniform, on their return, having sacrificed so much and given such incredible service. There are two points to this. One is that we need to make a case for the mission, but more fundamentally we need to bear in mind that no member of the Armed Forces has ever gone to war of their own volition. They go to war and engage in conflict because Parliament and Her Majesty’s Government dispatch them to do so. They serve the Executive and they serve the legislature. That point needs to be made. They do not question it; they go out and serve.

That leads to another point, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord King, which is how the military service is doing all that it can and so it behoves us in Parliament to do all that we can to communicate that message and to scrutinise it. I would like to flag up one point before going back to the First World War reminiscences and some comments on the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. I do not wish to get into a debate about the rights and wrongs of conflict but I would like to make a more general point about the role of Parliament in making the

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decision to go to war. That point has been widely debated and there have been significant reports on it by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee in 2004; by a House of Lords committee which produced a report in 2006 called

Waging War: Parliament’s


ole and



; and most recently by the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee of the House of Commons in its eighth report of Session 2010-12. They were all saying that there needed to be a systematic and constitutional way in which Parliament is consulted before forces in this country are deployed. That relates to the prerogative powers and it is a very good thing to do. When that report came out, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, when leader of the Opposition in 2006, said that he felt that in order for there to be trust in MPs, MPs must be consulted before, not after, military forces are deployed overseas. That is a very important principle. I noticed that when the report from the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee was published, there was a debate and the Foreign Secretary said in the House of Commons on 21 March 2011:

“We will also enshrine in law for the future the necessity of consulting Parliament on military action”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/3/11; col. 799.]

That was a strong, clear undertaking and it would be good to get an update from my noble friend on the Front Bench on how that discussion is progressing. Of course, we all appreciate that situations are fast moving and that these are immense issues with which Prime Ministers, Secretaries of State for Defence and Ministers of Defence have to wrestle. I do not envy them for a second but this place should put wisdom, expertise and learning at the disposal of people who make decisions on grave matters as to when to deploy our courageous forces overseas.

I return to the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which is my principle theme. This Sunday, I shall return to the Menin Gate, Ypres, where I shall take part in an act of remembrance. I am reminded of the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission which, I have to confess, I knew little about until the early part of this year. As I walked from Paris to Arras and on towards Ypres in Belgium, along the western front, and Passchendaele, I saw by the roadside meticulously kept cemeteries, with striking white Portland headstones, commemorating the fallen in the First World War. When I arrived in Ypres on foot in January, there was a very cold snap in continental Europe—it was about minus six and the wind was blowing madly. I met with Ian Hussein, who runs the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in northern France and Flanders. He looks after about 980 war cemeteries across France and Belgium. I also met John Sutherland from the British Legion and Benoit Mottrie, who is the chairman of the Last Post Association, who organised this remarkable event.

Every night, at 8 o’clock local time in Ypres, the Last Post is sounded under the Menin Gate. I was invited to go along and I wanted to go. I was slightly puzzled because it was blowing a gale and absolutely freezing, but none the less I showed support because they were delighted that a parliamentarian happened to be passing through town and could attend. I expected to see a few hardy souls but I saw a few hundred hardy

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souls. They have turned up every night from 11 November 1929 to sound the Last Post at the Menin Gate memorial in all weathers. The only exception was during the four years of the occupation of Ypres from 20 May 1940 to 6 September 1944, when the daily ceremony was continued in England at the Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey. I went to see that daily act of remembrance, and found it incredibly moving. Perhaps in her closing remarks the Minister might send a message to the citizens and organisers of the Last Post Association, the British Legion and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, who undertake to ensure that the sacrifice of 54,000 men around the Menin Gate is remembered.

The day after visiting the Menin Gate, Ian Hussein took me to visit some of the cemeteries, including Tyne Cot. It is one of the largest, where 11,894 soldiers are buried, most in unknown graves because people were trampled into the mud and drowned, such was the hell of the 1917 battle of Passchendaele at Ypres. I struggled to think of the right emotion when faced with this vast sacrifice. Should I feel immense national pride for the service and sacrifice of our courageous Armed Forces, including my great-grandfather and his two brothers? Was that the right emotion? Was it regret at the sacrifice? As I looked around, I came across a plaque recording the words of King George V when he opened the cemetery in 1922. He captured the correct emotions, and I will close my remarks with his words. The King said:

“We can truly say that the whole circuit of the Earth is girdled with the graves of our dead. In the course of my pilgrimage, I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon Earth through the years to come, than the massed multitudes of silent witnesses to the desolation of war”.

6.12 pm

Lord Judd: My Lords, it is always a real joy to follow the noble Lord. He brings a very interesting and important perspective to our deliberations. Like others, I warmly welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, to our debates. She has more than proved herself as a very effective member of the opposition Front Bench and now of the Government. There is also a personal reason for welcoming her, which I am sure she will not mind my mentioning. I was fortunate to get to know well, as a friend, her late husband. I had great affection and admiration for him. He brought tremendous professional experience, as well as a great deal of wisdom and perspective. It is good to see that tradition being followed, even if I might wish that it were being followed from another position.

The noble Lord, Lord Astor, started his characteristically businesslike speech with a very human dimension when he paid a warm tribute to those who had fallen or suffered grievous wounds, and to their families and the bereaved. He was echoed, in what I am sure those of us who heard her will believe was a particularly powerful and moving speech, by my noble friend Lady Dean—speaking again with all her experience of consistent work with the people of the services. It is right that this debate should have that context set out clearly at its beginning. This is indeed remembrance week. All those to whom I referred are the responsibility

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of every one of us, whether we are in the House of Lords or the House of Commons. We are all responsible, and we must never forget that.

We also have a responsibility to the countless civilians who die in conflict. It must never become acceptable to say—as one American general foolishly did—that we do not do body counts. Every innocent individual who died in conflict is a person who matters every bit as much as the members of our own society. Furthermore, we would be misguided not to realise that that kind of attitude plays inevitably into the hands of the agitator and the extremist. We have to demonstrate consistently our concern for humanity.

War must always be a last resort. We must not slide into a new philosophy in which war becomes an alternative management option. The slide could be accelerated by the development of remote, high-technology warfare techniques. It is easy to talk about collateral damage, but it means individual men, women and children and their relatives. We have to remember all the time that peace and stability cannot be imposed if they are to endure. They have to be built by the people of the regions. Our role is to support those people in finding the right solutions. There is a fatal flaw in the concept that somehow the world can be managed by the powerful. It cannot. The powerful are utterly dependent on solutions rooted in the people of the world who are building their own future.

In all this, hearts and minds—although it is an easy phrase to use—desperately matter. We must be vigilant about the dangers of counterproductivity. I will spell out one issue that increasingly preoccupies me. We talk about how we are defending the rule of law. That should be demonstrable all the time. What is the significance of that in the trend—I hope that I do not oversimplify—of rendition, of Guantanamo Bay, and now of drones? Are they not a means of circumnavigating the rule of law? Are they not a means in the end, if we are not careful, of not only accepting but utilising the technique of extrajudicial killing?

If we are about the rule of law, we are about the operation of systems that can be seen to be totally in line with that principle. Of course, the same can be said about torture and the mistreatment of prisoners. They are wrong and obscene—but also counterproductive because they play into the hands of the extremists who are orchestrating those on the other side. It is another easy thing to say in this House, but we have to be consistent, in the midst of all the acute human pressures on our service men and women, and on those in the security services, in demonstrating that they are upholding something different, and that we are about something different.

I hope that noble Lords will allow me to indulge in personal memories. One of the privileges of my political life—I really enjoyed the experience—was that in my first full ministerial post I was one of the last Ministers to be responsible on a dedicated basis for the Navy. We had service Ministers in those days. I am not sure what I was able to contribute, but I learnt one hell of a lot and I came to admire the services greatly.

In those days, a group that fascinated me was called “the future shape of the fleet group”. I am not sure whether it still exists in one form or another. I used to tease them in conversation and say, “You guys should

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go off to a country house somewhere with a blank sheet of paper. Forget about all the involvements in which we find ourselves, all the equipment and arrangements that we have inherited. Analyse what the real threats are and then say what we need in the United Kingdom to meet those threats and counter them”. Then, of course, as realists we come back to what we have inherited. We see how we can make the best and most constructive compromise between that and what we should ideally have, and we see how we can move forward in the most effective way. I am sure that that is as true as ever.

If we are making predictions about the future, two things are fairly obvious. First, that as we shall always operate within an international context we should constantly ask ourselves how far our personnel are being prepared for international operations in their training and education. How important a part does language play in training and education? The quintessence of the high-flying officers should be an ability to make a contribution at the centre and to be at a premium when they get back to their own service with that experience of the centre. Do we have that culture? I hope the Minister can reassure me. It is a struggle constantly to achieve it, but it is vital.

Secondly, we can predict that intelligence and security operations of a different kind will always be indispensable. We must always realise the importance of good intelligence and analysis in making the work of our services effective. Of course, those services themselves must all the time demonstrate in the way that they operate a commitment to something that is different from the evil forces that we are combating.

I finish with a couple of more immediate observations. One is that as a former Minister responsible for the Navy, I can see that in the future we will need flexibility and the ability to deploy rapidly. We will need independent, freestanding bases from which to conduct operations of that kind. Therefore, carriers are absolutely indispensable in the future. We can argue about how sophisticated they need to be and we can certainly all agree that they are useless unless we have the appropriate aircraft to operate from them. But the carriers are indispensable to our future if we are serious about international co-operation in security and the rest.

I hope that I can be forgiven for being a bit of a Greek chorus here. I have never been able to reconcile our analysis that they would be absolutely indispensable in 10 years’ time and our present security situation that meant for 10 years we did not have that capability. That is absolutely inexplicable. I do not hold the present Government solely responsible: it is a collective responsibility that we should face in that context.

I have never been a unilateralist: I have always been a multilateralist. In the imperfect world in which we live, I accept and endorse that there has had to be a nuclear deterrent. But I also recognise that one of the most important elements in a sound defence strategy is the cause of disarmament. The less armed the world is, the less likely severe conflict will be as long as one’s arms are concentrated on the real security task. We do not want lots of surplus arms circulating around the world and we do not want to encourage proliferation in any form of arms.

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We need to remember that when the non-proliferation treaty was achieved, a solemn pledge was given by the existing nuclear powers that they would embark on a programme of consistent and demonstrable nuclear disarmament. As we move into the next generation of deterrent, how do we reconcile that commitment with what we are doing? If in an imperfect world we take the approach that we have to have a nuclear capability for the time being, why are we talking about perfecting and increasing our nuclear capability? There are all sorts of ways of maintaining a nuclear capability—God forbid that we should ever have to contemplate using it—that would not be as costly and extravagant as the one on which we are embarked.

I know that there will be honestly held different views and I can see my noble friend Lord Robertson, for whom I have unlimited regard, dissenting from my analysis very strongly. Of course he brings a great deal of personal experience in the very directions in which I have been arguing in my remarks tonight, so I take his objections seriously. But we must beware of drifting into an inevitability of a self-generating expense when there are so many other pressures on our defence system that desperately need proper financing. There is nothing worse than putting people in defence in situations in which they are not properly sustained and supported. That therefore means that we must look very sharply all the time at the disproportion and immense cost involved in this form of next-generation nuclear weapon.

6.27 pm

Lord Burnett: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I believe that I was still serving when he was Navy Minister, and I assure him that he made a great contribution. He was an excellent Minister. However, I dissent from his views about the Trident replacement, which I hope will happen in the near future. Steps are being taken along those lines as we speak. I do not think that my comments are necessarily always welcomed by my own side.

I wish to pay tribute to Sir Nicholas Harvey who, unfortunately, in the recent reshuffle, has been moved from his role as Minister of State for the Armed Forces. He was an excellent Minister according to those who dealt with him in the Ministry of Defence. His move out of that department was and remains incomprehensible to me. We are, however, very fortunate to have my noble friend Lady Garden to take on the defence portfolio in this House. She is experienced, able and committed to defence, and I welcome her in this role. I join the Minister and other noble Lords in paying tribute to our Armed Forces. This is a particularly appropriate time of year to remember the sacrifices that our Armed Forces have made and continue to make for us.

In a typically powerful speech, the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, voiced the fears of many. We and our allies have taken terrible casualties in Afghanistan. The Afghans have endured years of tumult, misery and chaos, but thanks to the bravery, discipline and commitment of our forces, those of our allies and the Afghans, considerable progress is being made to bring peace and stability to that country.

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I hope that our Prime Minister will seek to persuade whoever wins the next presidential election in the United States to stay the course in Afghanistan for the benefit of this country, our allies and the Afghan people themselves. The prospect, for example, of Afghan women having to revert to a cruelly discriminatory regime should fill us all with horror.

I want to say a few words about manpower and equipment. The Minister in his opening remarks spoke about global power and said that we must be able to fight and win in different terrains and on different operations. Quite rightly, much of the burden of fulfilling these roles will fall on our expeditionary or amphibious forces. My question to my noble friend is this: will full Army support for 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines, be secured? I refer to our Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers and logistic support. My noble friend will be aware that there is no shortage of individuals who wish to be seconded to the Commando Brigade, which is good for Army recruiting. It is an interesting confidential statistic that the level of success of individuals who pass the commando course—and have, as it were, the Lympstone DNA—and then go on for Special Forces selection is surprising. It would be interesting if the Minister could find out what that statistic is.

On the matter of our expeditionary capability, did I hear the Minister tell us that the first aircraft carrier, “Queen Elizabeth”, will come into deployable service within the next five years? In this context, will the aircraft then be ready and deployable as well?

Like many, I am concerned at the level of cuts in the Army. I note that there will be a Green Paper on the reserves published later this week. There will have to be a major culture change in this country if this policy is to be successful. If an individual is to sign up for the reserves, that individual and his or her employer will, I hope, be entering into an irrevocable contract. There must be no resiling from the training and active service commitments, which are to be at the demand and absolute discretion of the Government of the day. We cannot have reservists marching out when they have made these commitments, and we cannot have employers discriminating against them, in any way, shape or form, if they take on the responsibility of joining our great reserve forces.

The Armed Forces have taken cuts over the past years, and the reasons for them have been explained. However, the first duty of every Government is to defend this country and its people wherever they happen to be. We owe it to our Armed Forces to ensure that they are properly manned and equipped and that they and their families are decently looked after and housed. I am pleased that we have a military covenant; it is now up to our Government to live up to it.

6.33 pm

Lord Bilimoria: My Lords, on 22 October, in the third presidential debate, Mitt Romney said:

“Our Navy is old—excuse me, our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917 … That’s unacceptable to me. I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy. Our Air Force is older and smaller than at any time since it was founded in”—

he got the date wrong—

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“1947 … we’ve always had the strategy of saying we could fight in two conflicts at once. Now we’re changing to one conflict. Look, this, in my view, is the highest responsibility of the President of the United States, which is to maintain the safety of the American people. And I will not cut our military budget by a trillion dollars … That, in my view is making our future less certain and less secure”.

President Obama responded:

“I think Governor Romney maybe hasn’t spent enough time looking at how our military works. You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military has changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers”—

we do not—

“where planes land on them. We have these ships that go under water, nuclear submarines”.

Long may they exist. We need them. He continued:

“And so the question is … what are our capabilities? And so when I sit down with the Secretary of the Navy and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we determine how are we going to be best able to meet all of our defense needs in a way that also keeps faith with our troops, that also makes sure that our veterans have the kind of support that they need when they come home”.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, and the noble Lord, Lord Davies, have said, morale in our Armed Forces is very low. There is no running away from that. I have heard it first hand from all the services. I am glad the Government have made the military covenant a priority, but are we honouring it? With the cuts that we are making, are we diminishing esprit de corps? The services are called the “services” because they serve and continue to serve us.

Peace in our time is a utopian dream that has never existed and, sadly, probably never will. As we have heard, we have been in Afghanistan since 2001, which is now longer than the First and Second World Wars combined. In his brilliant speech, the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, spoke about the whole debate of why we are there. Why are we there? What is achieved? What will people say about us when we leave? Are we leaving too early? Did we get the job done? We are meant to be securing the UK that is why we went there in the first place. We were right to go there in the first place, but were we right to stay there all this time and are we right to leave when we are going to leave? Are they going to laugh and say, “Oh well, the Russians were here and they left and look what happened. Now they have come, they are going, look at what is going to happen”? It is tough.

What is the role of the Armed Forces? We are a wonderful, caring nation. I have been privileged to support and be involved with institutions such as the Army Benevolent Fund, a soldiers’ charity that does amazing work; I have been a commissioner of the Royal Hospital; we have got Help for Heroes, we have got the Gurkha Welfare Trust—we are fantastic. We have Remembrance Sunday coming up where we remember not only the fallen but those who have served and sacrificed and those who continue to serve and sacrifice today. I was president of the commemoration committee of the memorial gates at Constitution Hill, and I continue to serve on its committee, founded by the noble Baroness, Lady Flather. The gates commemorate the sacrifice and service of the 5 million volunteers from the Indian sub-continent, Africa and the Caribbean.

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Without those 5 million individuals, we would not be sitting here doing what we are doing today; we would not be a free world.

In my tiny community of Zoroastrian Parsees, which now numbers fewer than 70,000 in India, my late father, Lieutenant-General Bilimoria, was commissioned into the Indian Army. His father, my grandfather, Brigadier Bilimoria, was commissioned from Sandhurst. My father’s cousin, Lieutenant-General Jungoo Satarawalla, from my father’s regiment, the 5th Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force), was awarded the Military Cross in the Second World War, as was India’s first Field Marshal, Sam Manekshaw, also a Zoroastrian. My maternal grandfather, J D Italia, served as a squadron leader in the Royal Indian Air Force during the Second World War. I could on with a long list of Zoroastrian Parsees from this tiny community who have served in the British Armed Forces.

As to the Gurkhas, what an amazing contribution they have made to Britain over centuries. My father’s battalion, 2nd Battalion 5th Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force), was awarded three Victoria Crosses in the Second World War—and those three names are inscribed in the roof of the pavilion at the memorial gates on Constitution Hill. I am so happy that the previous Government eventually recognised the contribution of the Gurkhas, allowing Gurkhas who wished to settle in this country after they retired to do so.

We now have Future Force 2020 and we had the SDSR in 2010—but the SDSR was all about means and not about ends. We have heard passionately from the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that we do not have any aircraft carriers. We got rid of our Harriers for a song and we do not have our Nimrods. What happened straight after that? In autumn 2010, I spoke in the debate on the SDSR and said that we are short-sighted. We did not predict the Falklands. No one predicted 9/11. We do not know what is going to happen or what is around the corner. What happened around the corner? We had the Arab spring and Libya. What we needed was our aircraft carriers. We were sending Typhoons all the way from Coningsby in Lincolnshire. When are we going to learn that we need these aircraft carriers?

Now, two years later, what do we have? We have troop cuts. When my father commanded the central Indian Army, he had 350,000 troops under his command. When he commanded a corps before he became an army commander, his corps was comprised of over 100,000 troops. We announced the troop cuts, and what happened? There was a problem with G4S and the security of the Olympic Games. As we have heard in the debate, who stepped in? Our wonderful troops stepped in. When I went to the Olympics and saw our troops, I thanked every one of them personally because they saved the day. We are now to have a British Army of fewer than 80,000 troops.

This country is famous for its soft power. We are so lucky because we have the BBC, the Royal Family, our history, London, which is the greatest of the world’s great cities, our tourism and the Olympics. We publish the Economist and the FT; we have the City of London, and we have Oxford and Cambridge. I could go on. We are one of the top 10 economies in the world, but

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soft power is useless without hard power. In terms of population, we rank 22nd in the world, and yet however we are ranked as an economy or a defence power, we are in the top 10 in the world. We punch above our weight the whole time, and yet today we are devoting half the percentage of our GDP spending on defence than we did 30 years ago, in 1982—the time of the Falklands war. You could argue that there was the Cold War back then, but we are in a war that is far more uncertain. We do not know what is around the corner. We did not know how long we would spend in Afghanistan when we went there. No one, however much we debate Afghanistan, should ever say that even one of our troops has made that sacrifice in vain. The troops have been doing their duty. They have been attempting to help a nation and to help our security over here. We should always be grateful for that and inspired by what they have done for us.

I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, to the Front Bench, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Astor, who is a true champion of the armed services; I have seen that for myself. His heart is in the right place and we always appreciate what the noble Lord does.

Our Armed Forces are the best of the best in every way. Our regiments are the elite, and their history is phenomenal. I asked one of our legendary sergeant-majors at the Royal Hospital Chelsea what he felt about all these cuts. He was dismayed and said, “What people do not know is the term ‘espirit de corps’. Yes, we fight for our country, but we also fight for our regiment and for the comrade who is right next to us. We fight for each other”. When you amalgamate regiments, cut out battalions and then lump them all together, you are cutting away history and espirit de corps. Backing for the Armed Forces in this country is almost at an all-time high; it is fantastic. Yet in many ways I feel that the Government’s support for the forces is low. That is both frightening and disappointing when we look at the sacrifices that are made.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, said, it is not just the soldiers and service people who make a sacrifice, it is also their families. I remember as a 10 year-old that when my father went to fight for the liberation of Bangladesh, I would read the papers every single day, terrified that my father’s name would be in them. That is how I remember being a child in an army family; I know what it is like. I also know what my mother felt like. Do we really look after the families well? The noble Baroness spoke passionately and stressed that what leads to low morale and problems is the uncertainty. It was the word she used most often. What are the Government doing about it? Putting our hand on our heart, are we fulfilling our side of the military covenant?

In his excellent speech, the noble Lord, Lord King, said that nowadays we talk about wars of necessity and wars of choice. We had to go to war in the Falklands, and we had to go to war in Kuwait. We had to go to Afghanistan in 2001. With hindsight, Iraq in 2003 was a huge mistake, but let us think of the practicalities. The United States, our biggest ally, went to Iraq. We regret having gone, but did we have that much of a choice? The bottom line is that we have to be prepared for the unexpected. The noble Lord,

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Lord King, also talked about conventional wars and unconventional wars. When my father took over command of the central Indian Army just over 20 years ago, one of the first things he did was to go to Sri Lanka, where there were a lot of his troops, and in his view that was resulting in conflict. Within two weeks of returning from his visit, the Indian troops were withdrawn. It has taken more than two decades for the issue to be resolved by the Sri Lankans themselves.

In many cases, we do not know what is going to happen. We might intervene, but then we do not know how long it is going to last. The noble Lord, Lord King, also talked about defence being the number one priority, yet we have had five defence Secretaries in five years. I am sorry to say that under this Government, we have had two in just over two years. You cannot say that you are taking defence seriously if you do that. It is one of the most important jobs in government. Cutting is easy, but training up troops again is difficult. I have full respect for the Territorial Army, but should we rely on it? The Territorial Army should be there as a support, not as something to be relied on. We have to rely on our main Armed Forces for the security of this nation.

Let us take a look at international comparisons just within NATO. I am using the 2010 figures, from before the cuts. In 2010, France had 234,000 service people, while Germany had 246,000. We had 198,000, while the Italians had 193,000. Soon the Italians will have more service people than us. The Americans have 1.4 million service people, and we are never going to compete with them. I think that we are cutting too much and that is not right for the safety of this country.

I am going to conclude by quoting from a poem sent by my mother’s cousin in honour of my father. There is no name for the author, so I shall just quote an extract from it. It is called “The Final Inspection”:

“The soldier stood and faced God, which must always come to pass. He hoped his shoes were shining,Just as brightly as his brass.The soldier squared his shoulders and said, I’ve had to work most Sundays, and at times my talk was tough. And sometimes I’ve been violent, Because the world is awfully rough.And I never passed a cry for help, Though at times I shook with fear. And sometimes, God, forgive me, I’ve wept unmanly tears.If you’ve a place for me here, Lord, It needn’t be so grand.I never expected or had too much, But if you don’t, I’ll understand.There was a silence all around the throne, Where the saints had often trod.As the soldier waited quietly,For the judgment of his God.‘Step forward now, you soldier, You’ve borne your burdens well. Walk peacefully on Heaven’s streets, You’ve done your time in Hell’.”

We can never thank our troops enough for their service and sacrifice or show them enough gratitude for what they do for us every day. All we can say is thank you, thank you, thank you.

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6.48 pm

Lord Dobbs: My Lords, I feel a bit like a tail-end Charlie in this debate. However, it is a pleasure to be able to participate because it is an important debate about an important subject in very difficult times. I am grateful to my noble friend for ensuring that this debate was possible and I add my welcome to my noble friend Lady Garden. She will continue not only to adorn but to invigorate our Front Bench.

There have been many hugely important contributions, some of which I have endorsed entirely, and some of which I have disagreed with. The remarks I want to pick up on most are those of the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, on the importance of the military covenant and how much more there is still to do. But I have to admit to a sense of compelling inadequacy because so many speakers are far better equipped to contribute today than I am. I have not served in the Armed Forces, but today I am wearing a Pathfinders tie in memory of my uncle, Pilot Officer Sandy Saunders, who did—and whose tie this was.

This Sunday, in my role as president of the Langford and Wylye branch of the Royal British Legion, I shall lay the wreath and pronounce the exhortation in memory of those who were left behind on the fields of war. In that exhortation, we promise that, “We will remember them”—and that is the theme I want to take for my brief remarks.

There is a simple headstone in the churchyard at Wylye dedicated to Ivy Pretoria May Hibberd. She was born at Hope Cottage next to the railway crossing just along from the station—in the days when we had one. Ivy was a volunteer in the Women’s Royal Air Force during World War I. She was one of so very few women in the WRAF at that time, and yet she became one of so very many: nearly 1 million British men and women gave their lives during that conflict and Ivy was one of them.

Ivy was not the first of her family to die in the Great War, but she was the last: aged 19, on 6 November 1918, less than a week before the 11th hour of that 11th day of that 11th month when the armistice was declared and the fighting stopped. She died in this country, not on the battlefront, but it does not matter where or how they died; what matters is that Ivy and all those others who were waved farewell by their families from their doorsteps never returned.

As my noble friend Lord King said in his very interesting remarks, it was supposed to be the war to end all wars, but of course it was not. This is still a dangerous world and we rely on our Armed Forces to keep us safe. Thank goodness, we no longer have to send an entire generation of our children to march, fly or sail off into the teeth of the storm, as Ivy and her comrades had to. As a father, I can find no words to express the depth of gratitude I feel for what they did and for what the members of our Armed Forces continue to do today.

However, in too many ways we have let them down. In the past 15 years all too often we have sent them off to fight with inadequate equipment, leaving behind families forced to live in inadequate housing. There has been inadequate planning, so we have been forced

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to make thousands of them redundant, even while some of them were serving on the front line. Now, as several noble Lords have mentioned, we offer them the absurdity of aircraft carriers without any aircraft.

It was inevitable that Chancellors of whatever party should look at the defence budget. It is a great pity, however, that this was not done at an earlier stage, years ago, when the damage that has been done by inevitable cuts could have been reduced. Far too many of our Armed Forces who return to this country end up with mental and social problems, sleeping rough on the streets or finding themselves in prison. Many others return gravely wounded, with life-changing injuries, and despite the efforts of the Royal British Legion, ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, Help for Heroes and many other charities there is still so much more that needs doing.

“We will remember them”—that was our promise. It has not helped that we have sent them off to fight wars that, in my view, we should not have fought: a war in Iraq that I always believed was unprincipled, politically ignoble and probably illegal; and a war in Afghanistan that I believe can never deliver the promises that politicians originally made. If we are to remember Ivy Hibberd, her brother and all the others, as we have promised, we must never forget the political lessons of recent years that have committed too many new names to our war memorials and threatened the well-being of so many other soldiers and their families.

As we mark and remember their service to us, let us not forget the enduring service that we owe to them. We owe them more than we have given and, in all too many cases, more than we can ever repay.

6.55 pm

Viscount Slim: My Lords, I thank the Minister for allowing me to speak for a few moments in the gap.

I would like to cast a fly over the Minister. By cutting the numbers in the Army, which a number of noble Lords have discussed already, we are starting to get a problem of recruitment, selection and volunteering into the Special Forces. As the pool gets smaller and smaller, getting the right people in the right numbers is becoming—I will not say acute, but it is becoming tricky. There are whispers in the corridors that perhaps the standards are too high and perhaps you could lower them a bit, and that is very dangerous talk. If you dilute the product, you are not special. You become ordinary.

Something somewhere has to be done about this. We must not lower the standards of selection within the Special Forces. I say this very quietly but in public. I do not expect a reply. It is not something for public discussion. But I am forewarning the Minister that the standards and the success of the Special Forces, as we have long experienced, lie in the concentrated selection of the volunteer individual. That is what makes the exceptional operational efficiency of the Special Forces.

6.57 pm

Lord Rosser: My Lords, I am sure that all your Lordships who have spoken are pleased, as the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, said, to have had the opportunity

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to discuss and comment on the role and contribution of our Armed Forces. However, I fear that today’s debate, in the name of the Minister—timely though it is, this close to Remembrance Sunday—has rather less to do with a collective government desire to discuss defence issues for a second sitting day running and rather more to do with a collective government desire not to discuss the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill, and any troublesome amendments, for even one day running.

I hope that there are not too many Members of your Lordships’ House who would have wished to speak in this debate but have been unable to do so because of the very short notice. Our Armed Forces deserve debates on their role and contribution that are properly and jointly agreed in advance, not least because our military personnel continue to be engaged in major operations on our behalf at a time when they are also facing considerable change.

Unfortunately, all too often in your Lordships’ House we have those sombre moments when we express our sincere condolences to the families and friends of serving members of our Armed Forces who have been killed in operations in the service of our country. We also remember the courage and fortitude of those who have been wounded, particularly those who have suffered what we describe as life-changing injuries. It is only appropriate and right that we should use this debate to pay tribute once again to our Armed Forces and the whole service community.

The main centre of combat operations for our Armed Forces is Afghanistan. My noble friend Lord Robertson of Port Ellen powerfully expressed his concerns on the present position. We should all be determined to ensure that when combat operations by our forces cease and the majority of our personnel return permanently to these shores, they will leave an Afghanistan that is able to function as an effective state, governed by elected representatives in the interests of the population as a whole, and at peace, with a respect for law and order. That would be an appropriate legacy for all our personnel who have been involved in operations in Afghanistan, not least for those who have lost their lives and suffered significant injuries.

Our Armed Forces face major change, and not only as a result of the reduction in their number. New threats are emerging. Weak and failing states outnumber strong states by two to one. Non-state actors are also on the rise. The United States of America is attaching greater emphasis in its approach to military and diplomatic policy to the Pacific region and the Middle and Far East and less to Europe. That has potential implications for our defence strategy. The nature of warfare is also changing, with nuclear proliferation, increased terrorism, more use of unarmed aircraft and the increasing sophistication of cyberattacks.

Maximising security and influence today demands coalition-building. We have argued for greater burden-sharing and deployability of assets within NATO, and exploration of how a “coalition of cuts” between European NATO nations can co-ordinate reductions in defence spending. The practice of allies fighting conflicts together but preparing for them individually is surely no longer the way to proceed.

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The Government’s intention, as the size of our Regular Armed Forces contracts, is to increase the strength of our Reserve Forces to be able to meet laid down military objectives. We had a debate on our Reserve Forces last Thursday, and one on defence and Europe the week before. The Minister said that he would respond in writing to the many points raised in the debate last Thursday to which he was not able to reply at the time. Obviously, he has not yet had a chance to prepare and send that letter in time for this debate, which would have been ideal, but I suspect that this debate came almost as much of a surprise to the Minister as it did to probably everyone else.

However, on a crucial part of the Government’s strategy—namely, the increase in our Reserve Forces—we have read in one newspaper this morning, as the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, reminded us, that a problem with the recruitment of part-time soldiers, including a backlog of applicants, threatens to undermine plans to expand the Territorial Army.

I repeat that we support an enhanced role for the reserves, whose skills must be maximised and who can be an important link between military and civilian communities. We have to ensure that the system to encourage and enable service leavers and those made redundant to join our reserves is effective, that we support businesses in employing members of the Reserve Forces and that any unnecessary bureaucracy is removed.

With a Green Paper apparently just around the corner, the noble Baroness the Minister, whom we welcome to the Government Defence Front Bench, may not feel inclined in her reply to go further than did the Minister in last week’s debate, although I invite her to do so in the light of the newspaper report this morning.

Since meeting our military objectives in the future is reliant on an expansion of our Reserve Forces as the Regular Army is reduced in numbers, could the noble Baroness be precise about the timescale in which the reserves, with the increased level of commitment required of them compared to today, are being built up and Regular Army numbers drawn down in order to address concerns that there may be a period where the territorial contingency will be too small to cover the capability gap?

This is an important issue, since even the Secretary of State has admitted that these proposals constitute a risk against a background of falling morale, to which my noble friends Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde and Lord Davies of Stamford referred. Recent figures show that the three-year trend of declining morale has continued, with only 18% of soldiers questioned reporting high morale across the Army and only 33% feeling valued. Even the Secretary of State has admitted that government actions have hit morale.

We are clear that there must be some reduction in the overall number of service personnel, but does the noble Baroness believe that those reductions are being appropriately borne? The percentage reduction in the number of senior officer posts in all three services has been considerably less than the percentage reduction in junior ranks. The Armed Forces must be reshaped to make them as effective as they can be in the light of future numbers and future planned objectives and

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assumptions. It is right to demand painful efficiencies of those at the bottom, but not while appearing to give greater protection to those at the top.

It is all of a pattern that started with the strategic defence and security review, which was rushed and rendered out of date by events in Libya—not even mentioned in the review—where British forces used some equipment that Ministers had planned to scrap. Ad hoc decision-making appears to be all too common. The fact that Ministers have further reduced Army manpower on top of the cuts outlined in the SDSR shows just how rushed and incomplete was that original document. Perhaps the noble Baroness could say whether the SDSR defence planning assumptions that applied to an Army of 95,000 can be guaranteed by a Regular Army of 82,000.

Until all these issues are addressed or clarified, it will be difficult to overlook the impression that this Government’s defence policy largely adds up to a deficit reduction proposal and policy statements and objectives that have not been thought through, either as far as their relevance and consequences are concerned or the logistics and practicality of their implementation.

Ministers regularly claim the financial situation as justification for the speed and depth of the cuts that they have made. We are continually told by Ministers of a financial “black hole” that was bequeathed, but the National Audit Office, the Defence Select Committee and the Public Accounts Committee have all described the figure as “unverifiable”, which says it all.

The Secretary of State has said that he has balanced the equipment budget, but we have seen no detailed figures to support this and how it has been achieved. When will the National Audit Office report on the core equipment programme in the light of the Government’s claim?

Defence reform is not simply about cutting Armed Forces personnel and prioritising the pursuit of savings above all else; it is about aligning present and future capabilities with present and future strategic threats within realistic budgets. We do not believe that that has been this Government’s approach in at least some areas, whatever their intention may have been.

However, in two areas, we are at one with the Government. We supported and welcomed the Royal British Legion’s campaign on the military covenant, albeit that it took a bit of a push to persuade the Government to enshrine it in legislation. It provides a clear duty for us all, as my noble friend Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde reminded us, to ensure that members of our Armed Forces and their families are cared for and are not penalised or discriminated against as a result of their service in the forces, and as members of the military community, on behalf of our country. We have proposed greater resources to tackle veterans’ long-term mental health issues and believe that we need to rebalance the system of allowances in favour of the low paid and those on the front line.

The other area where we are at one with the Government is in our support and admiration for our Armed Forces and in our united backing for them in the military operations that they have undertaken, such as in Libya, and in their current operations in Afghanistan. We know that they are risking their lives to ensure the security of our nation and the protection

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of our people and our interests, and that, in doing so, they are seeking to give others the opportunity of enjoying the freedoms which we take for granted.

7.09 pm

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, it is a privilege to wind up this informed and insightful debate. I thank my noble friend and other noble Lords for their kind words of welcome and I thank them, too, for their tributes to my late husband, who was a military pilot, policymaker and strategic thinker. For the three years before his death, he made a great impact in a short time as the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman in your Lordships’ House. Would that he were still here. He was always the one who flew the aeroplanes, but for more than 40 years I had the good fortune to share his life and thinking, which has given me an understanding of the matters raised today.

The commitment, professionalism and courage of the Armed Forces were much in evidence during the Cold War. How much more these qualities have been tested during the operations of recent years. Defence of the realm remains the first duty of government and its importance has been reflected in the speeches today. I have listened with great interest to the contributions made and I welcome the expertise, insight and analysis from all sides of the House.

Before I address specific issues, let me repeat this Government’s priorities for defence. Our current number one priority is operations in Afghanistan. That is where the men and women of our Armed Forces are making the greatest sacrifices and that is where we must focus our main effort. Transition is under way. The plan, although difficult, is on schedule and combat operations will end in 2014.

We are also forging ahead on transformation in defence. Many difficult decisions have already been taken—difficult but necessary decisions. The defence budget has been balanced for the first time in a generation; a new fiscal discipline has been brought to bear; and the structure for our future Armed Forces has been laid out. Future Force 2020 will be leaner, more adaptable but still formidable. At its core will be the talented and dedicated people of our Armed Forces. Looking after them will be central to ensuring their effectiveness. The new employment model will make service terms and conditions more flexible, better reflecting the complexity of modern family life and helping to reduce the burdens on our service personnel and their families.

I turn now to specific points raised during the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, who brings great expertise to these debates, reminded us of the great losses in past conflicts and the power of Churchillian rhetoric. Perhaps we do not make orators like Churchill any more. He talked about success on the ground in Afghanistan, saying that we must not let the messages in this country detract from the real successes and advances in Afghanistan and that we must not leave with the work half done. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, also mentioned the lack of media coverage of what is actually being achieved in Afghanistan.

As the NATO Secretary-General said earlier this year, the decisions made at Lisbon will remain the bedrock of our strategy. This will involve UK and ISAF forces continuing to operate in a combat role,

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albeit a reducing one, in support of Afghan forces until the end of 2014. ISAF troop contributions will be made in a co-ordinated and cohesive manner and will be aligned with the Lisbon principle, but our firm commitment is to support the Afghan National Army officer academy and help the Afghan forces in their transition to a more peaceful existence.

My noble friend Lord Palmer asked a number of questions—I may not be able to answer all of them—about the covenant. Several other noble Lords rightly mentioned its importance, including the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, who brings great wisdom to these debates. It is essential that we ensure that our people serving in difficult places and times are properly looked after and valued when they are returned home. My noble friend also asked what our priorities for defence are. I emphasise that preventing conflict upstream is a central tenet of our approach to safeguarding national security. It is important to recognise that, alongside the capability and credibility of our Armed Forces, we seek to strengthen the UK’s diplomatic, economic and development assistance and technological and cultural influence, all of which contribute to a more peaceful and prosperous world.

My noble friend Lord Palmer and many others talked about the Reserve Forces. My noble friends Lord Palmer, Lord King and Lord Burnett and the noble Lords, Lord Bilimoria and Lord Rosser, all referred to the importance of the Reserve Forces. We know that, at this time, the importance of the reserves is becoming ever greater to the effectiveness of our Armed Forces. As part of the drive better to align the Territorial Army and the Regular Army, the recruitment system was updated in April to ensure that all soldiers, regular and reserve, are selected and trained to a consistently high standard. The new system is more rigorous and ensures that those who successfully complete the selection process are physically and mentally ready for the challenges of being an Army reservist. As with any new process, it will take time for a new system to be introduced, but the signs are that, broadly, it is working well. We are certainly working hard to ensure that reserves are well recruited and well trained for the tasks that they will be asked to perform.

On the matter of problems for employers, we are offering a number of financial rewards to ensure that they are not penalised when the reservist is mobilised on operations, along with guidance and support on how those funds can be accessed. Of course, the closer the civilian role to the military role, the greater the mutual benefits and value of service will be to the civilian employer.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, mentioned the equipment costs of 2% GDP for procurement and questioned whether we were relying on urgent operational requirements. He will be aware, as are many others, that we are having to balance the defence budget, and that distribution will be monitored carefully. He and my noble friend Lord King also queried whether people were being sent into combat without being adequately equipped and trained. Once again, we are setting great store on adequate equipment, training and good leadership, which is another vital element, before we send troops into zones of conflict.

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My noble friend Lord King mentioned the importance of continuity in relation to the Secretary of State for Defence. We, too, welcome coherence and continuity within a department of this nature. He also mentioned post-traumatic stress treatment. In general, mental health in serving personnel is as good as and, in many areas, higher than in the civilian population, but that is not in any way to underestimate or minimise the real despair of post-traumatic stress. I pay tribute to the work of Combat Stress, which works so incredibly effectively with people who are the most troubled by traumatic stress.

I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, for all the work that she has done in support of the Armed Forces; her contribution has been invaluable. She mentioned in particular the war widows. I shall have the honour of representing the Government at the war widows’ commemoration on Saturday at the Cenotaph. Once again, this aspect of the Armed Forces is sometimes overlooked, yet we all know of the grief and the strength of women who have lost their partners and of families who have lost loved ones in conflict. She stressed a number of aspects of delivering the covenant; I do not have time to pick all of them up today, but I will of course write to her.

The noble Baroness and the noble Lords, Lord Bilimoria and Lord Rosser, also mentioned morale. In many parts of the services, morale is incredibly high, but of course we are aware of the uncertainties on which she laid great stress and how difficult it can be. I certainly remember that, when I was a military wife, one of the most difficult things to contend with was not knowing where you might be living, where you might be going and where your children would be going to school. Those problems of planning can undermine the effectiveness of our Armed Forces. That is something that we are looking at very closely under the military covenant: supporting families with operational welfare, extending priority for affordable housing and trying to ensure that an all-round package is there to support our military forces both when they are serving and when they transfer to civilian life.

My noble friend Lady Wilcox had vivid memories of Plymouth and stressed to us the importance of the Royal Navy for securing the seas, for protecting trade routes and, indeed, for building friendship in far-flung places. I link that to the mention made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, of drug busting in the Caribbean and tackling piracy, notably in the seas off Somalia. That, too, is work that we should not overlook.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, mentioned the reserves and the European common defence policy. Of course there is a very strong case that we should work very closely with other European countries in collaborative projects to the benefit of us and our neighbours. Indeed, the alliances of which we are members play a key role in the effectiveness of our troops. The noble Lord criticised the coalition Government for reducing some defence orders. Despite what he said, the previous Government’s defence orders were not fully funded, alas. We have had to cancel some projects; the coalition is determined not to spend money that it simply does not have. I also assure the noble Lord that the Falklands are well defended and that we keep that constantly under review.

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My noble friend Lord Hamilton of Epsom mentioned the aircraft carriers, which were also mentioned by my noble friends Lord Dobbs and Lord Burnett and by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I assure noble Lords that, as a result of the decision to revert to short take-off and vertical landing, we now plan to start initial JSF flights from HMS “Queen Elizabeth” in 2018, once she has completed her sea trials, with expected operational capability in 2020. As my noble friend Lord Hamilton reminded us, the contract for the aircraft carriers was phased such that there was no way that we could retreat from it once we came into office.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, reminded us of the British-Irish parliamentary group and the history of the Irish in times of war. A number of other noble Lords referred back to the sacrifices of British and Irish soldiers in the First World War. The Prime Minister spoke at the Imperial War Museum three weeks ago about preparations now under way to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. Discussions are under way with Commonwealth countries and European Governments and a cross-party advisory board has been established to oversee commemorations within the United Kingdom. I am told that there are also active discussions under way on an all-Ireland basisabout the appropriate way to remember the impact of the First World War on Ireland as a whole. Once again, we should not forget the contribution and sacrifice made by Irish troops.

My noble friend Lord Bates, whose work I commend in support of the Olympic Truce, reminded us that the Armed Forces serve the will of Parliament and that Parliament should be aware of its responsibilities before they are deployed. I, too, remember visiting Commonwealth war graves and the very moving experience of seeing the rows upon rows marking where people, often very young, had fallen in the service of their country. He made mention of, and I would commend, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Royal British Legion for their commemorations, particularly of the last post sounding every evening at the Menin Gate, which is an extremely moving and effective reminder of the sacrifices that were made.

I commend, too, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for his tireless work in support of peace and justice. He reminded us of the importance of upholding the highest standards in any deployment. I trust that I can reassure him of the importance that the Government, and indeed the Armed Forces, place on integrity as well as professionalism in all their actions. I also say that those returning from operations may well be reassigned to pass on their expertise at training establishments. We would have no wish to lose the expertise of those coming back from operations in enabling the next generation of our Armed Forces to act within conflict zones.

My noble friend Lord Burnett mentioned our joint right honourable friend Sir Nick Harvey. I, too, join in with the tributes to his work, particularly the work that he has done—and, I hope, may continue to do—in connection with Trident. My noble friend asked a number of specific questions. I will not go into all of them today but he asked specifically whether the

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Government will give support to 3 Commando Brigade. Future Army 2020 has withdrawn 24 Commando Engineer Regiment, which is currently based at Royal Marines barracks Chivenor. The Army will continue to provide the support required by 3 Commando Brigade from within its new structure. Time does not permit me to go into the detail of the other questions that he asked and I will reply later.

The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, reminded us movingly of the Zoroastrian Parsees serving in the Armed Forces and of the Gurkha record of courage, which of course includes Victoria Cross gallantry awards. Once again, the Gurkhas are a force that we do not forget readily in this country. My noble friend Lord Dobbs, too, mentioned the military covenant and the efforts that we must make to ensure that our military personnel are properly looked after. He gave us a graphic story in support of that. The noble Viscount, Lord Slim, mentioned the recruitment, selection and volunteering of the Special Forces. I note his concerns and assure him that we have no plans to reduce the standards of training for the Special Forces. They are often the jewels in the crown of those who serve us.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, reminded us of new threats and of the value of joint preparation with allies, which is increasingly important given the expense of and the demands on the deployment of our troops. He asked a number of other detailed questions. I shall need to come back to him in writing about the guarantees of the SDSR defence planning assumptions and the reductions being appropriately borne across the services. By and large, the reductions in the services are going to be proportionate across the ranks. However, I note his concern that senior officers seem to be managing rather better than the junior officers. I assure him that that is certainly not within the Government’s plans, which are to end up with proportionate and balanced forces that we are working.

In preparing for this debate, I read again a book that my husband wrote 20 years ago, entitled The Technology Trap. I will quote one passage from it:

“The key issue is, with limited resources, how can the technologies which offer the greatest promise for military use be exploited, and hence increase national security. This is a difficult problem, and any analysis must depend on assumptions about the nature of the future security concerns, the prospects of technological progress in particular areas, the character of international relations, national and global economic prospects, and a host of unquantifiable social and political factors”.

Twenty years on, this is no less true. Resources continue to be limited, the costs of major projects continue to rise, the international situation is no less unpredictable and, as we have heard in examples around the House today, natural disasters or national emergencies can also require the deployment of Armed Forces at little notice—be it flooding or the Olympics.

I am conscious that I have not addressed all the points raised in the debate and I shall undertake to write to noble Lords. I thank all those who have contributed to the debate today. As ever, when we are discussing our Armed Forces, the debate has drawn on personal experience and the understanding of many Members. One thing is clear: we all share a respect for the determination, professionalism and bravery of our Armed Forces. They perform their duty under difficult

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and dangerous circumstances with extraordinary selflessness. We owe an immense debt of gratitude for the sacrifices that they and their families make and, in this time of remembrance, we must never forget that they and their predecessors are, and have been, willing to make the greatest sacrifice of all so that we might deliberate and make considered decisions in a free and safe country. Your Lordships have expressed your admiration for those who are serving. For those who have died or been wounded in the service of the country, we must, and we will, remember them.

Motion agreed.


Motion to Take Note

7.29 pm

Moved By Baroness Hanham

That this House takes note of Her Majesty’s Government’s policies on planning.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My Lords, most decisions on planning are taken at a local level against a defined plan and in consultation with local people. Planning helps to protect the environment and ensure appropriate development, and helps with growth in the economy through business expansion. I wish to concentrate today on measures that the Government are taking to reform and speed up the planning system. We are undertaking these reforms because the planning system that we inherited as a Government was deficient in two key areas.

First, many local people did not feel involved with or sympathetic to the decisions that were being made. Policies such as imposed regional housing targets created antagonism. Local people saw only the disbenefits of growth, not the improvements it could bring. In the end, the real costs were borne by local communities, with fewer jobs, and fewer homes—an unsustainable future. Secondly, the system could be slow in reaching decisions. Not only did this create uncertainty, it did nothing to encourage the growth and housing provision that this country needs. Some change was required.

We took as our starting point Open Source Planning, a policy document that proposed a new approach to planning. This was adopted in the coalition agreement, with a promise to radically reform the planning system. We have already achieved much of this aim.

Last November’s Localism Act has reshaped the way in which planning is carried out. That was a major milestone towards achieving the commitment at the very heart of the coalition agreement. Its measures put power in the hands of local people and groups to engage in and shape their communities. Particularly in this respect, it introduced neighbourhood planning, which, backed by incentives such as a meaningful proportion of receipts from the community infrastructure levy being passed to neighbourhoods, will give local communities both the opportunity and the encouragement to think positively about future development.

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We are keen for local people to take the opportunities to influence their local plan, as well as bringing forward a neighbourhood plan for their immediate area. It may be of interest to noble Lords that over 200 funded neighbourhood planning front-runners are now under way, and more than 100 non-front-runner neighbourhoods have begun the process. By mid-October, 52 neighbourhood planning areas had reached the first stage in the process of formally designating their neighbourhood planning areas, and another 100 had submitted applications for designation. We expect that up to three of these could reach independent examination stage this year. Thirty-five areas are aiming to go to referendum by 2013, and we expect around 80 to have plans in place by the end of next year.

Through a £3.1 million programme, four support organisations are providing advice and support to communities on neighbourhood planning. We are providing a £50 million programme to support local authorities in making neighbourhood planning a success, including funding new local authority burdens.

A further requirement will be for major developers in particular to undertake pre-application consultation with local residents and members of the neighbourhood forum. The new duty to co-operate ensures that councils have to collaborate when producing their local plans, so that issues such as the needs of strategic housing market areas that straddle local authority boundaries are addressed.

In March this year the National Planning Policy Framework streamlined over 1,000 pages of policy down to 50, reducing duplication, making it easier for ordinary people to understand the system and setting the strategic context to guide neighbourhood planning. The framework includes the presumption in favour of sustainable development, reinforces the role of local plans in meeting the needs of each area and ensures a positive approach to applications where up-to-date plans are not in place. The new, simplified framework was published in March and is already helping to deliver the homes and jobs that the country needs and an enhanced built, natural and historic environment. The emphasis on local plans in the framework, and the new incentive provided by the presumption to have an up-to-date plan in place, have resulted in intensified plan-making activity.

By May 2010, six years after Labour’s 2004 Planning Act, only 57 core strategies had been adopted out of 335 local planning authorities. By contrast, 65% of all local planning authorities now have at least a published plan, and 44% of all authorities have completed all the statutory stages and have agreed plans in place following community consultation. The framework also underlines the importance of town centres, while recognising that business in rural communities should be free to expand. However, it also guarantees robust protections for our natural and historic environment and protects the green belt. It also ultimately achieved the accolade of being praised by organisations across the planning spectrum, from the Campaign to Protect Rural England through to the CBI; and from the National Trust through to the British Property Federation. I readily acknowledge that many changes were made to it after close co-operation and consultation with those and other organisations.

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In July we announced a package of measures to speed up and simplify the planning application process, many of which take forward the commitments in last year’s Plan for Growth. An effective planning system is a key part of the Government’s growth strategy. All too often we heard that the planning system is a brake rather than a motor for growth, but it should not be. Planning can help create the conditions for economic growth but only if it works in a cohesive way, recognising that opportunities in each area are different and that proposals are for local decision.

We are proud of the achievements to reform planning since 2010, but it was felt that more was needed to help trigger the provision of new housing and business development, to ensure that opportunities could be seized to encourage investment for the future. Therefore on 6 September we announced a major package on housing and growth. This included measures such as the Planning Inspectorate being given power to decide applications where local authorities consistently perform badly; the increased use of planning performance agreements for large schemes; planning inspectors being able to award costs at appeal—for example, where councils have refused schemes with little justification—the Planning Inspectorate prioritising those appeals that will help deliver growth; continuing the policy that enables planning authorities to allow unimplemented permissions to be extended easily; enabling developers with sites with unviable numbers of affordable homes the right to appeal against these obligations; a consultation on allowing developers to renegotiate non-viable Section 106 agreements; a review to rationalise local and national building standards; considering the use of call-in for major new settlements with larger than local impacts; encouraging councils to use flexibilities in the NPPF to tailor the extent of green-belt land to local circumstances, while continuing to preserve its protection; introducing permitted development rights to enable a change of use from commercial to residential; and consulting on a significant relaxation of planning controls over residential and commercial extensions, but for a limited period. Some, including this letter, will need consultations, and where that is the case we will be undertaking them shortly.

Some will require primary legislation, and these are included in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill that is receiving its Second Reading in another place today and will come to this House thereafter. However, I assure noble Lords that the measures in that Bill do not mean that we are throwing the planning system up in the air again and starting afresh; it is not a change of direction. These measures build on our existing reforms.

We have given councils and communities more power to plan and to identify, after widespread consultation and taking of views, what development their areas need and where it should go. With power, though, comes responsibility—the responsibility to get on and plan, to focus on the key decisions that affect the future of their areas and to deal in a positive and efficient way with individual planning proposals.

This is a long list of reforms but there is still more that we will do. Having streamlined the policy documents, we are doing the same with the 6,000 pages of guidance that has built up over the years. We have recently

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launched the review and my noble friend Lord Taylor of Goss Moor is leading a group of practitioners in identifying what can make this less complex.

It is not just a case of changing the rules, however; there needs to be good or better co-operation. We want developers to invest time in helping local authorities and planners understand the economic benefits of their proposed development and, most especially, to give local communities the opportunities to discuss and shape those plans in advance of the plans going forward. We are making clear to elected members and council officers the circumstances in which they can speak to developers without raising propriety issues. In turn we want the developers to seize every opportunity to make it easier for councils and local communities to understand their aspirations and be positive about economic development.

By developers and business working together with local authorities and local communities we firmly believe that we can deliver the sustainable development the country needs without treading on the toes of local communities and their absolute need to protect their environment into the future. Everyone involved in planning—whether a homeowner with a small-scale addition, a developer of small or larger projects or the planning authority itself—has to remember that the decisions that they make today will still be there scores of years later.

Lord Davies of Stamford: The noble Baroness did not mention at all by name the affordable housing obligation, and she only referred to it very obliquely, as if it did not really exist at all or had no significance. Is the report in the current issue of Private Eye—that the Prime Minister’s office in 10 Downing Street put out a statement that the affordable housing obligation could be abolished without the loss of any affordable houses, even though there is a ministerial Statement which states that the result of that abolition would be loss of 10,000 affordable homes a year—correct?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I did not know whether the noble Lord was going to intervene in the gap; this is a debate, not Question Time. However, I am not aware of the Private Eye article. I have not seen it, nor have I been advised about it. I usually take Private Eye with a fair degree of scepticism. I beg to move.

7.41 pm

Lord Beecham: My Lords, like the Minister and at least two other Members of your Lordships’ House present for this debate, I have been leader of a council —in fact, of course, my noble friend Lord McKenzie is also a former leader of a council.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: Yes, briefly.

Lord Beecham: Briefly but, I am sure, stunningly successfully. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, served on a local authority as well, so there are many of us with some local authority experience. I was, for a couple of years after I was leader, chairman of the development committee. I declare an interest as a

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current member of Newcastle City Council and, once again, as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

Despite the moderate tones in which the Minister opened the debate, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Government are really viscerally opposed to planning. They are essentially an anti-planning Government in many ways, and that shows through their policies—not just strictly in the planning field. They have adopted wholesale the Treasury fantasy that the planning system is somehow responsible for low growth in our economy and for the lack of new housing. This is not an evidence-based approach; it is one that they partially successfully sold to the previous Government as well as the present one. However, the fact is—it is well known, although whether it has appeared in Private Eye I am not sure—that 400,000 outstanding planning permissions are available for residential housing to be built. Moreover, 87% of planning applications were approved in 2011; that is a significant statistic.

There is not, in general, a huge backlog in terms of the way in which planning applications are dealt with. The bigger problems actually come with the bigger schemes. We have now an almost interminable debate about a huge infrastructure project, on if and where to have additional airport facilities. This is taking years. It was to try to deal with these major problems that the previous Government introduced the Infrastructure Planning Commission which, of course, the present Government have abolished. However, if there were to be delays in the planning system it would partly be a function of the staffing which is having to be curtailed. Of course, the Government abolished the planning development grant, which encouraged and facilitated the adequate staffing of appropriate people in local authority planning departments.

Local government has a good record of promoting economic and housing development: witness the enormous regeneration of many of our provincial cities over the past couple of decades under, it must be said, Governments of both political colours. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, who certainly was instrumental in moving on this agenda during his time in office. It is interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, is not in his place tonight—indeed, one hesitates to say it, but he is rarely in his place, which is unfortunate because he has much to say and contribute, and was an outstandingly successful Secretary of State for the Environment in many respects. He does not cite the planning system as a major obstacle to growth in the interesting and idiosyncratic document which he has published with recommendations for a new approach to growth in the economy. He makes some recommendations about planning, but they are pretty modest in relation to the general thrust of his report.

One aspect of that report, of course, is the regional imbalance which is again becoming a current topic, and which the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, certainly addresses. It is interesting that, in some respects, he seems to seek to revert to previous practice. He refers to the abolition of regional development agencies; he does not call for their reintroduction, because it is quite clear that the Government have set their face against that—unfortunately, in the view of some of us.

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However, he talks about having local growth teams, which arguably could be said to replace the government offices which have, alas, also been abolished and which I and others have commented on in debates in this Chamber before. He calls also for, as he puts it, Ministers to be associated with local enterprise partnerships. Some of us are somewhat sceptical about local enterprise partnerships, certainly in terms of their accountability. However, he is almost turning back to the inner city partnership days when there was a Minister—the noble Lord was one of them—who was closely associated with a particular area. I do not know quite how many Ministers would be required to cover the 38 local enterprise partnerships but, whatever the mechanism, the intention is clear that you have to see the country as a whole and not simply leave it in an unstructured way, which has led to the imbalance that we are all familiar with.

Indeed, one aspect of this matter is that there is simply no planning framework for England. I have referred before in debates in your Lordships’ House to the report of the Town and Country Planning Association some years ago, which strongly suggested that we needed a national planning framework for England so that there could be a deliberate attempt to secure balance in development. I recall that when I pressed the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, during his second term as Secretary of State for the Environment, to support a particular development in Newcastle relating to a brewery site—since demolished and subsequently redeveloped—his officials said that it was of no concern to government as to where this investment should go. There was a rival contender for this investment in the Midlands, and the department was simply not concerned about where it should go. That seems to me an abdication of responsibility indicative of the failure to have a sensible national framework for these decisions to be made.

Coming to the current proposals, my noble friend Lord Davies has referred to one aspect which is a matter of concern—but only one of a number of issues which arise in terms of the Government’s apparent dilution of the current system. Affordable homes are no longer apparently to be required. There is to be a relaxation, perhaps, of Section 106 agreements and, of course, we have the wonderfully developed thought, translating Marie Antoinette into housing planning terms, that the answer is of course to “let them build extensions”. This seems to be the answer to both the housing problem and the plight of the construction industry. I suspect that that is a recipe for considerable difficulty between neighbours and around authorities as people fall out about unsightly or large extensions which would not otherwise get planning permission. I note that apparently it has been suggested that the Secretary of State is counselling people who still find difficulties in obtaining such permissions that they might sue their local authority for damages, which strikes me as a little excessive. There is also a suggestion from Mr Nick Boles, who is now a Minister in the department, that the three-year period for this absurd policy might well become indefinite.

Other matters also concern the Local Government Association and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, including the notion that applications might be made

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in certain circumstances direct to the Secretary of State rather than to the council. One might think that that is not the most localist approach to planning. Another matter of concern is a limitation of the power for local authorities to require information with planning applications. How they are supposed to deal properly with planning applications on sketchy information is not at all clear. Of particular concern to the CPRE is the fact that major business or commercial projects might be regarded as nationally significant infrastructure and therefore would be taken out of the local planning regime altogether. That also poses considerable threats—one thinks of large warehousing and other developments —which could significantly damage local authority areas.

There are many questions about other aspects of policy. What sort of housing are we to have in the Government’s view? Again, this is well known and I have referred to it in previous debates. In the past couple of decades—this occurred under the previous Government as well—houses and accommodation have been built with much smaller areas and lower space standards than most of the rest of Europe. Generally speaking, we have worse design features and less concentration on environmental aspects of housing. None of that apparently attracts the Government’s attention. It is carte blanche to build what you like where you like, which is not a satisfactory way of dealing with the substantial problems of local economy, housing need or the construction industry.

Although there are certain sensible ideas in the Government’s national policy framework—I know that my noble friend will address those later—the current atmosphere is one in which the Government are clearly potentially creating a situation in which we will see unsatisfactory development. We will not see the right number of houses built or the right kind of houses built that are desperately needed. I do not see the Government’s proposals at all achieving the aims which they profess they wish to see implemented. I regret that the role of local authorities in all this is clearly very much under threat. We are capable of producing a new partnership with the private sector and others with the right kind of development in the right place at the right time, given the power to do so.

Lord Davies of Stamford: I am grateful to my noble friend for his clear and convincing analysis of the situation. Does he agree that the abolition of the affordable housing obligation will lead to windfall profits for developers who will have signed the Section 106 agreement and costed in performing their affordable housing obligation, which they now will find retrospectively they do not need to perform? They will be able to write back that provision straight to their bottom line. Does my noble friend think that the public interest should in some way be allowed to share in these windfall gains?

Lord Beecham: I would rather that the windfall gains were not made at all. My noble friend, in his ingenious intervention, makes a perfectly valid point. This is almost the most lamentable feature of the Government’s current policy and I invite them to rethink it.

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7.54 pm

Lord Shipley: My Lords, I should first declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I am grateful to the Minister for the opportunity to have this debate, albeit at very short notice. The reason is that we shall not be discussing the Growth and Infrastructure Bill for several weeks and, given the importance of growth to the economy, this is a valuable opportunity to debate the background, particularly the proposals around planning, which exist in the context of the Localism Act.

The period after the Summer Recess, and through the party conference season, is often one for announcements. There is a tendency for ideas to be floated and an equal tendency for some of them to start to sink when the detail is examined. So it was with announcements on planning made on 6 and 7 September, many of which were welcome and were described by the Minister, but some of which most certainly require further thought and revision.

I agree entirely that the Government’s overriding objective should be growth and to get Britain building again. That is right. Growth drives jobs and it drives higher tax income to spend on public services. Therefore, we should welcome the £300 million to provide 15,000 affordable homes across the country and the extension to the refurbishment programme to bring an extra 5,000 empty homes back into use, together with the £280 million for FirstBuy, the shared equity scheme, to give a further 16,500 first-time buyers the chance to own their own home. We should welcome the £10 billion of loan guarantees to housing associations, property management companies and developers to enable them to secure lower borrowing costs, which should lead to thousands of extra rental homes being built. All this creates jobs and helps to deal with the shortage of affordable homes.

There are many positive aspects in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, such as bringing the town and village green legislation into line with the planning system, some positive proposals around the importance of broadband to growth and the short-term postponement of business rates revaluation. However, we need to be clear what the problems are that we are trying to solve in the planning system and to secure broad agreement to these. The main barrier to growth seems to me to be access to finance, not the rate of determinations and approvals. For example, we debated at length in the Local Government Finance Bill the need to extend tax increment financing. We know that the lack of investment finance in construction and mortgages is the major cause of the low number of housing starts. The Local Government Finance Bill contains a clear incentive to local councils to drive growth, in which they themselves will share. It is in everyone’s interests for development to succeed.

We should note that there are existing permissions for 400,000 new homes yet to be built by developers and that planning approvals for residential and commercial applications ran at 87% in 2011-12. Indeed, approvals for major office, general industry and retail distribution were more than 90%. It is no surprise that the British Property Federation has commented that the reforms proposed to the planning system would increase uncertainty rather than reduce it, because it does not

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ring true that the main problem that we need to solve is a failure of local councils to manage the planning process speedily or well enough.

The Bill seems too centralist in its thinking at the very same time that the Localism Act is coming into effect, encouraging local decision-making and neighbourhood planning. I am very pleased that the Minister has been able to announce this evening that 200 neighbourhood plans are in the process of being developed. However, the Bill would give much greater power to the Planning Inspectorate than seems justified and it is unclear why this is thought to be necessary when it is likely to increase conflict with local authorities. An unintended consequence could well be to increase the time taken to determine applications. I think that the involvement of the Planning Inspectorate would be of positive benefit with very large schemes that cross several council boundaries. Under the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, the Secretary of State would be able to direct that some major infrastructure developments, such as energy, transport and waste projects, would require consent under the major infrastructure planning regime. I understand and support that, but clarity is still needed on what would fall within the national framework and what the role of local planning committees would be. I hope that the Minister may be able to give some greater clarity today, because the power of the Secretary of State should not be used to remove from local decision-making, for example, retail and business applications. Such a proposal would in any event be contrary to the aims and ambitions of the Localism Act.

I would like now to address the issue of the so-called poor performers, who could lose the right to determine applications. It is true that some planning departments are less good than they should be. It is also true that some planning committees can make poor decisions. But the majority are good and deliver to time. The DCLG has stated that large-scale commercial projects would be fast-tracked for determination within 12 months, but we should note that councils currently approve over 90% within 52 weeks. Planning magazine for 19 October 2012 listed the slowest decision-makers for all applications in 2011-12, and even the slowest got nine out of 10 applications determined within 26 weeks. I do not feel that the accusation of slowness is proven here. On major applications, the slowest decision-makers are spread across the country, with the lowest being Torbay at 31% within 26 weeks and the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea with 33% within 26 weeks, with the 25th slowest being New Forest, determining 58% within 26 weeks.

The Minister will be reassured that I do not think that statistics such as these should be taken at face value. I would prefer to know more about why the figures are as they are, because they might reflect complex Section 106 negotiations; there may be Highways Agency delays, of which there are far too many; and they might relate to any one of a number of government agencies that are not subject to the same standards of response times as local government. I am at present unconvinced that action is required by the Secretary of State as long as advice and mentoring are available to authorities deemed to be slow.

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However, there is another test that we should pay more attention to, which is that of planning authorities with the highest proportion of defeats on appeal. There is some evidence that too many councils lose too many appeals, which suggests that an improvement may be justified. Of course, it could be that some planning appeals are incorrectly judged. Whatever the case, the first step should always be to enable a poorly performing council to improve, with special measures being introduced only when there is a very serious failure in the quality and speed of decisions. We have just passed the Local Government Finance Bill. That encourages growth, because local authorities can share in it. Councils have a clear reason to drive growth, so I remain puzzled as to why so much emphasis is placed on giving the impression that councils are doing a poor job when the evidence does not really justify that.

On Section 106 agreements, I understand the problems faced by developers financing affordable housing, but I would not wish to see enforced renegotiation meaning that benefits from Section 106 agreements are lost for ever. We support the Government’s objective to get the construction industry moving, but there is a significant body of evidence to show that councils are responding to local conditions and trying to find local solutions. Enabling the Secretary of State to give the Planning Inspectorate power to override Section 106 agreements in terms of the number of affordable units and to decide the number of affordable homes in schemes seems to me to be over the top. Central government’s role must be to make sure that there is a demand for housing by addressing the financing for social housing and access to mortgage finance for private buyers.

There has been a cross-party LGA response asking the Government to rethink their proposals to force renegotiation of Section 106 agreements with developers that provide an element of affordable housing. Councils can do this anyway and many are. Councils can in any case be purchasers of last resort to rent out the homes that they buy. If these proposals go ahead, there is a possibility that developers could try to delay building to pursue renegotiation. Section 106 in any case can relate to community facilities such as schools, street lights and access roads and there are clear dangers in taking power over such matters from local planning committees. Anyway, who will be the judge of viability of a scheme containing affordable homes? Is there evidence that central government knows better than local government? I do not think that the case is proven. There is now evidence to suggest that, when voluntary renegotiation has happened, on average councils are accepting a level of affordable housing around one-third lower than stated in their local plan. If plans in relation to Section 106 renegotiations are continued, a system of independent verification of claims of unviability should be established, possibly through the Homes and Communities Agency.

I also suggest that the HCA scoring system for the allocation of the additional funds announced—the £300 million cash and £10 billion loan guarantees that I referred to earlier—should reflect the willingness of a local council to renegotiate a Section 106 agreement in its area. I also support consideration being given to HCA funds being used to make viable an otherwise unviable site so that the full measures in a Section 106

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agreement can be maintained. I recognise that guidance will be given once the Bill is agreed about how viability of Section 106 agreements should be assessed. I hope that the Minister will agree that there is a danger that a national assessment undertaken outside the area might not reflect local circumstances and, secondly, that while the affordable housing element is the one emphasised so far, new schools, roads and community facilities can be just as important.

I refer now to the amendments proposed to the Communications Act on 7 September, when it was announced that broadband street cabinets could be installed in any location other than a site of special scientific interest without the need for prior approval and without any conditions. These are large junction boxes, so surely there has to be some local and neighbourhood consultation in the spirit of localism. I understand that this change may have to include—and I seek the Minister’s clarification of this—that all telecommunications equipment and infrastructure could be part of this. I hope that the Minister will agree that this should not give rise to the uncontrolled installation of mobile phone masts and related equipment in unsuitable locations, particularly areas of natural beauty.

Finally, there are proposals on extensions and permitted development rights. On these, it is not clear what problem the Government are trying to solve. It would not increase the number of extensions by very much, but it would increase the number of disputes between neighbours. Once built, such extensions would stand for many years. In any case, Article 4 directions could be used in such cases, so I question why this proposal has been made and why there have been suggestions that it could last longer than the three years initially proposed.

I conclude by saying that these issues need full debate, involving all parties. We need clear statements and agreements as to what the problems are that we have to solve. With agreement to those, solutions can be found, so I hope that the Minister will agree that we need further discussion and that we can build on that further discussion to devise the right way to proceed.

8.08 pm

Lord Best: I declare interests as president of the Local Government Association and chair of the Hanover Housing Association, which puts in for planning consent on lots of sites, as well as vice-president of the Town and Country Planning Association. I find myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, on a number of points that he has made, as well as with the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. I shall try not to repeat too many of their points but to underline them.

I shall start with a positive. I am grateful to the Minister, who I know has been part of the process. The good news in forthcoming legislation is that the town and village greens legislation is to be amended. This will be more than helpful in getting rid of the mischievous objectors who have used this legislation in the past, while still protecting genuine green spaces, which is very important. I put down amendments to this effect in the Localism Bill and was assured that forthcoming legislation would address these matters, and so it has, so many thanks to Ministers for that.

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In relation to the ways in which planning may encourage or inhibit growth, it is true that the Local Government Association does not believe that planning is the real barrier to growth. As we have heard, there are 400,000 homes with planning consent sitting there. Local authorities are proud of their record in approving 87% of all applications for planning consent in 2011-12. It does not sound as if local authorities are putting up unreasonable barriers to housing activity. Indeed, this leaves us with the suspicion that at least some housebuilders are hoarding land with planning consent. Their shareholders like to see land with planning consent on the balance sheets. It is rather like gold bars; you do not always have to develop the sites in order to give yourself the advantage of those planning consents. It is not helpful if developers are holding out for easier terms than were earlier negotiated with the Section 106 agreements that we have been hearing about. I think that 75,000 homes are supposedly held up because the Section 106 agreements now look too onerous. The hope on the part of many developers is that, having got their planning consent, they will be able to negotiate down the affordable elements within those sites and therefore obviously increase the profit margins for those developments.

At the moment, housebuilders are not doing so badly. Profits are up again, and the housebuilding industry has moved away from the rather shaky times immediately after 2008. It would be unwise for local authorities, and unwise for central government to encourage local authorities, to be too generous in now renegotiating terms that have already been agreed under those Section 106 deals. In any case, it must be essential for those negotiations to happen at the most local level. These are very site-specific discussions regarding what is viable and what is not viable. Local negotiation is required here and not central government intervention. I hope the Minister can reassure us that the powers that the forthcoming legislation may introduce are there as reserve powers to be used only in exceptional circumstances and that one will see local authorities left to get on with the job of granting planning consent without having to think about the Planning Inspectorate marching in and without having to renegotiate Section 106 agreements where that really is not necessary in financial terms.

Wearing my housing association hat, I know that the processes can be very frustrating. Delays are a reality in a number of places. I think that local authorities do not wish it to be that way, but we sometimes wait inordinately long to get the consents that we need, even if in 87% of cases the answer is going to be yes. In the mean time, it is tedious and costly to have to wait. In the past, I have been told that I must expect delays because the council has staff shortages, maternity leave is a problem and the cycle of council meetings means that nothing can be done for a few more weeks yet. All those delays are frustrating, but they may be a necessary part of ensuring that local opinion is taken with development and is not left on the outside.

Hanover Housing Association has a development where I am told that, having put in for planning consent in February, it is likely to get a definitive outcome in January. This is after a year of prior negotiation on this cohousing scheme for senior citizens

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who have clubbed together and will be living in the homes. It is very tough to be in the middle of this and to keep telling these elderly people that unfortunately it will take a bit longer and a bit longer. However, I understand the political pressures faced by local authorities. It seems that the culture in this country is always on the side of those who want to say no, not on the side of those who want to get on with the job. Real leadership is required by local authorities, and that is not always easy. My advice to local authorities, for what it is worth, is that one needs leadership at the council level. One cannot expect the local councillor, put on the spot by his or her local electorate, to side with good council policy and be pro-development when that is suicidal in terms of their electoral future. So one has to expect leadership at the council level, with positive planning at the council level, and not at the level of the individual ward councillor.

With that backdrop of local opposition, how can one achieve more growth? The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, points out that a lot of the problems in getting more homes built and development of all kinds undertaken are financial and not concerned with planning, but there are some planning elements here. Starting at the top, one needs a robust planning Minister. I note that the Minister in the other place, Nick Boles, is not afraid to speak his mind and is taking a robust attitude towards those who obstruct the need for development. I believe that central government is seized of the need for more homes. This is not just talk. There is a genuine desire to try to address the acute housing shortages and to get economic growth going on the back of that. That is a good start. Central government has given local authorities the new homes bonus not just to give them extra funding when they say yes and schemes for new homes go ahead, but to bolster leadership at the local level by enabling councillors to tell local communities that if they are positive about new development extra resources will come into their area and there will be local benefits. I see that the CPRE is suggesting that the new homes bonus might be increased if the homes are built on brownfield, not greenfield, sites. As long as the new homes bonus is not used in places where new homes are not needed, it can be an incentive to get councils on side, and for councils to get local people on side as regards the requirement for more growth.

Neighbourhood plans involve people intimately in drawing up their local plans. The Minister has told us that 200 are now in advanced stages of negotiation. I am keeping an eye on one particular neighbourhood forum and its work and seeing how this is working through. It is a way in which lots of local meetings can bring people together instead of the usual total opposition to any development anywhere around here. Being part of building up a community-based neighbourhood plan can get people onside, and it is a useful way forward. At the time of the Localism Bill, I wanted an amendment to say that if a local plan has been devised, has been through the proper processes and has been properly inspected and if all three of the county council, the district council and the parish council—where there are three—agree that this neighbourhood plan is fine and give it a tick in the box, there should be no

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need for a local referendum involving all kinds of local people who have played no part in the discussions to date, who come out of the woodwork and say “no”, who get up a petition in the local shop, who are opposed to anything happening anywhere near them, who have had their chance to be involved in the consultation exercise and have rejected that chance, but who turn up at the last minute. We have not yet had any referendums, but I fear they will undermine the very good way of approaching the creation of a neighbourhood plan that people feel better about than they usually do.

There are many financial ways in which growth and the housebuilding that could flow from it could be generated. I will list the ones that appeal to me in particular. Those housing revenue account freedoms for local authorities could be extended so that local authorities that have retained council stock could be allowed to use their capital assets to borrow against that stock, just as housing associations are allowed to do. As long as that borrowing is prudential, and there is no reason at all to believe local authorities would go wild if they had that opportunity, it would be safe and sensible and they could be part of the much needed development of land, including land that they own themselves. The housing associations can borrow. My own has a big headroom, and we could borrow lots more money but we can only borrow what we can repay. There is a continuing need for some grant. Grants have been cut back, but if we had more, we would take up the opportunities we have to borrow more, and the Government get terrific gearing out of that. Most of the money is private money, but it needs some public money to make that happen.

I would like to put on the table one last financial way in which growth in housebuilding can be encouraged. I would recommend that, as well as the FirstBuy and NewBuy initiatives which help first-time buyers into a new flat by helping with their deposits and guaranteeing their mortgages, we should also have a scheme that enables first-time buyers to buy the homes that older people are leaving so that they can move into brand new, specialist, retirement housing. That gives you two bangs for your buck. The elderly person gets a much more manageable home which is cheap to heat and maintain as well as all the things that older people need, such as accessibility and companionship, and the young family can buy into a family home with, probably, three bedrooms and a garden which is just what they want and just what housebuilders are seldom building these days. You would get two for one if we could encourage a move of that kind.

It is good news that the Government want more action, are serious about the acute shortages of new homes and want to get Britain building, but the most important measures for central government will not be in diminishing the role of local government on the planning side. I hope the Minister and her departmental colleagues will be open to other positive ideas as well.

8.21 pm

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I have a meeting tomorrow with some people who are seeking to extend the life of a ragstone quarry in Kent, ragstone being a stone which is widely used in repairing and building

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public buildings. There has been substantial opposition to that but I learnt today, from the local Member of Parliament, that the largest element of opposition has come from people who have absolutely no connection whatever with the land in question. Indeed, they have come from areas considerably apart. That rang a bell with me. When the M11 motorway was built through my constituency and we had to face protestors who declared themselves the “Free Country of Wanstonia”, it turned out that all but about 5% were from outside the borough. The point just made by the noble Lord, Lord Best, about the need to make sure that you have local support and not pay too much attention to others would be a very big and valuable step towards getting away from development always being opposed.

I am very glad that my noble friend, when introducing the debate, referred to the National Planning Policy Framework. It has been an almost unqualified success. Some of the people who were initially extremely hostile to the first draft are those who now sing its praises most loudly. Some of them must feel slightly ashamed that they went over the top when the first draft was issued. My noble friend is absolutely right; this has been a great advance.

I am very aware that the Second Reading of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill has been taking place in another place today. I expect that it will not reach this House for some while. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, will forgive me: it is not really appropriate to go into too much detail about that Bill this evening, but I should make one or two points. The House knows that on the recent Localism Act and Local Government Finance Bill I found myself, with others, repeatedly championing the cause of localism and arguing that central government must be prepared, having given local authorities a general power of competence, to allow them to get on with it and make up their own minds. The Localism Act gave that power not only to local authorities but, as we have heard, local neighbourhoods. They have much more autonomy in how their local plans are drawn up and, when my noble friend opened the debate, I was encouraged by the figures she gave on the number of neighbourhood plans. Of course, we did not get all that we wanted. There were other measures that one would have wished for, but the general thrust was very much in the right direction. All the amendments passed in this House were accepted by the other place, as were, only a few days ago, the amendments to the Local Government Finance Bill, including the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. It is a pity that she is not in her place.

However, on first reading, the Growth and Infrastructure Bill appears to go in the opposite direction. My noble friend said that it did not represent a change of policy. A good deal of persuasion is to be done if local authorities are to be convinced of that. The Local Government Association has given us some early indication of its views, and has stated:

“The Bill in its current form represents a blow to local democracy, as well as being at odds with the Government's localism programme”.

That may be a misreading of the Bill, but the fact of the matter is that that is widely believed, and we will have to look at the Bill carefully when it comes to this House.

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A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Beecham, Lord Shipley and Lord Best, said that it is not the planning system which is holding up development, but it is primarily a matter of builders and developers, and particularly house buyers, having access to finance. However, the Government seem determined to believe that it is the fault of the planning system. If there really is a dispute about that, is there not a case for some serious inquiry looking at this matter? We may well look at this during consideration of the Bill, but it is not satisfactory when the great mass of local authorities say, “Look, we really are doing our best”—the figures have been quoted—only to be told by the Government that it is all their fault. This tendency to reassert some form of centralism is rather unfortunate. Although this is not the occasion for debating the interesting report prepared by my noble friend Lord Heseltine, he again has said that the thrust to localism is exactly the right way to proceed. Local authorities becoming more responsible for growth in their area and having more say is very much part of my noble friend’s recommendations.

My next point relates to the duty under the Localism Act of local authorities to collaborate with each other, which my noble friend mentioned. Noble Lords who took part in consideration of that legislation will remember that there was a good deal of scepticism about that. However, the experience of even the most recent period since then is showing that those fears were misplaced. There are now many examples of collective cross-boundary plan making. Indeed, the Planning Advisory Service, funded jointly by the Local Government Association and my noble friend’s department, is supporting this work and is a powerful voice for sharing experience of cross-boundary planning. I have been furnished with a list of very good examples of where that is happening. I shall not weary the House by reading it all but I take one example at random. The North Northamptonshire Joint Core Strategy is a statutory joint committee covering Corby, Kettering, Wellingborough and East Northamptonshire and involving Northamptonshire County Council. This is the first core strategy to be adopted in the East Midlands and currently it is under review, but the joint committee has been supported by a joint planning unit. That is a perfectly good example of collaboration and there are a number of others.

I spent a good deal of last weekend reading the report of the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, in between reading a report about how this building is falling down, which perhaps is even more alarming. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, made the point that not only do we need collaboration between local authorities themselves but that there is a demand for collaboration between local authorities and local enterprise partnerships. Accounts reaching me suggest that most of these are getting under way extremely well. It is very important, particularly with the emphasis on seeking to build policies of growth, that the LEPs and the local authorities get on well.

Finally, I have a couple of detailed points for my noble friend that are of particular concern to London. I declare my interest as a joint president of London Councils and, along with almost everybody else here,

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I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. The first point is permitted development rights for converting commercial property to residential property and the second one is the question of the localisation of the fixing of the level of planning fees. I shall say a word about both.

The Government are proposing to allow developers to convert commercial buildings to housing without the need for planning consent. That may be acceptable in many parts of the country but the idea is deeply opposed by London Councils and, in particular, by the City of London. In London generally the arguments seem to me to be pretty strong. London houses significant low-value but important design and creative industries which add a lot to the country’s GDP but whose ability to continue to function would be hampered seriously if developers simply bought them out and changed the use to housing. In parts of east London that is an important sector of an increasingly thriving part of the country. That automatic right to convert would be pretty unsatisfactory.

The City has even more specific anxieties. Over the years, the City authorities have handled the residential estates, which are a very small part of the whole, extremely skilfully. They have sought to confine that to quite specific areas on the periphery of the City while they remain determined to encourage commercial development to provide for the financial services industry’s crucial contribution to the nation’s GDP. Recently, I had an opportunity to raise this with the new Planning Minister, my honourable friend Nick Boles, and he confirmed that the City officials are in close touch with my noble friend’s department and I am expecting proposals to come forward for there to be exemptions from this automatic right to convert from commercial to redevelopment. I hope that my noble friend may be able to give me an update on this. Will the exemptions go wider than the City and include the London boroughs? To my mind, they have made a strong case.

Finally, I turn to planning fees. New draft regulations are coming before the House tomorrow. They are primarily a consolidation measure that was asked for by our committee. Sadly I cannot be at the debate because I have other commitments in the House. However, I will talk about not what is in the statutory instrument but what is not. Is there not a case for letting local authorities establish planning fees rather than for operating, as we have in the past, a “one size fits all” policy? The figure for planning applications in London is much higher. Inevitably, costs are higher, and some local authorities are making a significant loss, which has to be paid for either by council tax payers or by the taxpayer. It is thoroughly undesirable that that should happen.

Local authorities have been told that many developers would welcome a higher charge if it meant a prompter service, perhaps with more staff handling planning applications more quickly. Would that not be a better policy? I wonder whether my noble friend will reassure me that although that suggestion has been set aside the moment, for reasons that were spelled out in the Explanatory Memorandum to the regulations, the decentralised option will continue to be studied. Of

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course I understand that it is more complicated than just putting up fees to compensate for inflation. However, it would be appropriate.

I hope that local authorities will be given the chance to make a significant contribution to the growth agenda of the country. At the moment they are being held back by a number of measures—not necessarily planning measures—that reflect an increasing tendency to centralise. No doubt we shall have further opportunities to discuss this when the growth Bill comes before the House in two or three months’ time.

8.37 pm

Lord Judd: My Lords, we all want a strong economy; that is obvious. In so far as planning is essential to getting that right, we want a planning system that facilitates rather than delays. But why do we want a strong economy? Is a strong economy an end in itself? Or do we want a strong economy so that we can have a decent, civilised Britain, in which we are able to value and enjoy our heritage, our environment and the aesthetic dimensions that make life worth living? Do we want a Britain in which there is room to regenerate our spiritual and physical batteries? Do we want to preserve and protect the challenges of wild spaces and the glory of the countryside?

There is a tremendous amount of technical and wealth-generating preoccupation—understandably—in what is being discussed about planning. I sometimes feel that we are neglecting the soul of Britain, and what will make Britain a country worth having. I want a planning system that values that soul every bit as highly and is determined to ensure that it will be not only preserved but regenerated for our young and their future. Perhaps we should look at the nightmare of the last industrial revolution. With hindsight, we can see that it could all have been done without scarring the countryside and without ruining lives to the extent that they were ruined. Surely we have learnt from that and are determined for the future of our economy that the same mistakes will not be made again.

I have always learnt from life, and I had an experience a few years ago. I may have it shared it with the House before, in which case, I apologise. It made a profound impression on me. I was at that time national president of the YMCA, which had a training centre on the edge of Lake Windermere. I was talking to one of our workers there, a very fine woman with a great sense of vision and commitment. She told me a story which has always stayed with me. She said that not long before my visit a youngster aged about seven or eight had been there and had come back very invigorated from a day out. She said, “What did you do today?”. With a sense of awe and excitement, this youngster said, “I saw far”. A few days later, she saw the youngster coming back again looking even more enthusiastic. She said, “And what did you do today?”. The youngster said, “I saw very far”.

That story certainly brought home to me that still, for countless youngsters in our society, life is stunted because they do not have the opportunity to experience the imagination, challenge and regeneration of open spaces, the countryside and all the glories there. I would like an absolutely firm undertaking from the Minister

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tonight that she and her colleagues will set to it to ensure that these considerations are given the same priority with all that is being done in planning as any other considerations.

To give specific indications of where that would apply, we are going into a new generation, and we are preoccupied with future energy—how we will make it possible and enable it to happen. This is not just a matter of new plant; it is a matter of the infrastructure—the pylons and wires that will criss-cross the countryside. There is also the matter—and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Best, referred to it so firmly with all his experience—of the need for affordable housing, which is something that we all recognise. Surely, it is important to ensure that where affordable housing is provided it is done without actually scarring the landscape and doing damage to the total creative experience across the land. Therefore, brownfield development is obviously crucial in this context.

All that I am saying suggests, as in so many other walks of life, frankly, that it is all too sensitive and complex to be left to the vagaries of the market. We need more than that. Nimbyism plays too strong a part in how things are in the free market interplay. The articulate and already strong can look after their interests by saying, “Not here thank you”, and the less articulate get landed with everything. We have to keep this in mind and make sure that we have a just and even-handed approach that looks to the interests of society as a whole.

What all this demands is a master plan for what will be right in the interests of Britain. Take, for example, the generation of alternative energy. We may have targets. We may have aggregates that we are certain that we want to achieve, but exactly how will they be achieved? That is not something to be left to the haphazard interplay of unco-ordinated local planning authorities. It requires a national plan. That is why it is so important to take this interplay between the different approaches as seriously as I suggest.

Only last week I had an assurance from a colleague of the Minister—from that Bench—that, as far as the national parks were concerned, the Government were determined that in all aspects of development, progress and future work the interests, well-being, traditions and role of the national parks and society would remain inviolate and that this would be respected by all departments of government. I got that specific assurance. It is there in Hansard to read. I hope it has been internalised within the many different departments of government and local government involved. It is crucial. Of course, the same goes for areas of outstanding natural beauty.

However, this affects not only the national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty—and, of course, I have been very much involved in the life of national parks—but the countryside as a whole. That is why in post-Second World War Britain, when we were talking about the rebuilding and regenerating of Britain, the green belts were seen as an essential part because the spiritual, imaginative and creative side of life was seen as important as the material-side priorities that were operating. I am afraid that that side of the argument, as I have been suggesting, has

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been neglected of late, and we need to make sure that it is reprioritised. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure me on this.

I should like to take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, for whom I have a great and enduring respect. It is not the planning systems that matter but the priorities of the people who are driving things and taking them forward. We will not get this right until there is a culture which says that it is not only about numbers and the materialism of our society. We do not want to be judged as a nation that became wealthier than ever and increased its GNP by this or that amount as though it were an end in itself. This is about building a society worth having, and national planning should be there to support, encourage and ensure that.

8.47 pm

Lord True: My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Leader’s Committee of London Councils and as leader of a local authority, which is a planning authority and which, working with neighbourhoods and villages, will fight to remain a local planning authority using all necessary means, including resort to the law on some matters if we must. I hope that we shall not have to.

I also declare an interest as one who believes that if you want to see the reasons for locally led planning you should compare the green 20th-century suburbs and back gardens of British towns and cities and their proud preservation by local communities—I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said—to the sprawl of high-rise, abusive building that girdles the city of Rome, for example, not to mention the third world. That is a success for planning.

I, too, am grateful to the Government for enabling a short-notice debate on a very short-notice policy. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lady Hanham for the typically wise and emollient way in which she introduced it, reflecting, quite rightly, a number of positive steps taken by this Government since 2010. One always knows with her—unlike certain colleagues, perhaps—that she knows something about planning and understands the good reasons for it. She does not see local councils, as some Treasury officials seem to, as institutionalised conspiracies against the people by bureaucrats, so-called jobsworths and enemies of growth.

Most local authorities are fighting day in and day out to support business and growth. In fact, unlike the expanding phalanxes of unelected inspectors which are implied in some of the Government’s new measures, local councils are directly responsible to local communities for the policies they make and the decisions they take. People, as my noble friend rightly said in her introduction, want local involvement and not remote decision-making.

That is why I am puzzled, as was my noble friend Lord Jenkin, that despite the fine words, it looks as though the Government have changed their mind on localism. If so, the policy change has been hasty, the analytical basis obscure and, although it is not his fault that he finds himself where he is, the new Minister’s views have sometimes appeared predetermined. Predetermination does not make for good planning

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decisions, and the patent lack of evidence or prior consultation behind some of these ideas will inevitably raise the spectre of judicial review.

We are told that some of the changes proposed are temporary, but some who are involved have made no secret of the fact that they hope they will be permanent. I have to say that I find that dismaying. I will not follow others in addressing the details of the growth Bill. I have not read today’s debate in the other place and many other noble Lords have already commented on it. Like others, I support the provisions on the misuse of village green powers, but also like others, I am far more cautious about the policy on affordable housing and negotiation on Section 106. This is already possible and many local authorities are doing it; some developers engage and some do not. I am not sure that we should reward speculators who are unwilling to play by the rules that other developers accept. I also share the concern about the switching of commercial property to residential with no requirement to provide parking or amenity space, or make any contribution to essential infrastructure such as access roads and schools. In some areas, the loss of commercial space will be keenly felt as the economy revives.

It may surprise few noble Lords that I want to concentrate on gardens. I have the honour to represent a suburban ward in a suburban borough, and like suburbs up and down our land, it is the character of its housing and its green spaces and gardens that make it what it is. People look to those they elect to preserve that character, and why should they not? They also detest the idea of selfish and uncontrolled garden grabbing. It is a practice which both my party’s manifesto and the coalition agreement pledged to curtail. Let me remind noble Lords and Ministers—I know that my noble friend will listen carefully, but some in other departments might care to note this—that the Conservative manifesto in 2010 said:

“To give communities greater control over planning, we will abolish the power of planning inspectors to rewrite local plans … allow neighbourhoods to stop the practice of ‘garden grabbing’”.

The 2010 coalition agreement states:

“We will return decision-making powers on housing and planning to local councils, including giving councils new powers to stop ‘garden grabbing’”.

That seems pretty clear to me, so on the basis of what evidence or consultation are the Government now abandoning that promise and opening the door to the very practice they promised to check? I confess that I could not wear my election promises quite so lightly. In effect, the Government now seem to be saying that they want to permit more garden grabbing by doubling the size of permitted development and allowing what, if they come to be built, may risk becoming known as “Boles blocks”.

As the LGA statistics have exposed, this policy is not rooted in the facts. As others have said, contrary to what you hear and read, it is already perfectly possible to apply for an extension that goes beyond the current permitted limits. Thousands of families do so, and of the hundreds of thousands of planning decisions that are taken, most are approved—many, of course, with modifications in the course of the planning process. In my own small authority in 2011-12 we had more

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than 4,000 planning applications, 1,730 of which were for household extensions—not all in gardens, of course. Of these, 80% were passed and more than 80% of applications were dealt with in fewer than eight weeks. Just 346 applications were refused. Of these, 79 chose to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate, and of those, only 34 were allowed—not all rear extensions.

The LGA’s emerging evidence shows a similar picture across the country. So, if coolly analysed, where is the problem? Where is the injustice to the aspirant families, many of whom, frankly, are rather more deterred from getting a larger house by penal rates of stamp duty? The truth is that those who play by the rules have a very good chance of getting most or all of what they want. Where is the blight on growth? Many firms doing extensions in London already have waiting lists. It is quite absurd to say that breaking election promises and relaxing controls on garden-grabbing will revive the economy, although it may do some good for remittances to Krakow and Belgrade.

I recognise that there are examples of poor planning and poor planning departments, and there is sometimes impatience with the time that negotiations can take. We all need to work to improve that. The local authorities also face some of these delays. Like my noble friend Lord Shipley, I think that bad cases do not make good laws—or in fact justify the abandonment of such clear election promises as those I have reminded the House of.

It may be that some of the officials who devised this policy do not understand the character of the suburbs of Britain. Perhaps some others find suburban values a little old-fashioned. Yet, as one my residents recently wrote to me:

“The squashed suburbs are governed by rules precisely because people live cheek by jowl and like to be informed and have a say when something which might impact on them or their neighbours is proposed. It doesn’t mean they demand a veto, just a sensible process in which their voice is heard”.

Was that not precisely the point?

The planning process exists to ensure fairness between neighbours and to accommodate differences, which are often sharpest in the case of extensions, while protecting the overall character of the place. Incidentally, I agree with what my noble friend Lord Shipley said about broadband boxes: the argument is not quite as simple as has been presented. A garden-grabbing free-for-all in some areas will just set neighbour against neighbour, as others have said.

The Government are fond of saying that they want to help those who play by the rules; that they act for the hardworking majority. I agree with that; it is why I am a Conservative. But this policy seems to promote the precise opposite. It is a policy for those who happen to be rich enough to be able to throw up a quick, expensive extension during a policy window in a recession. It is a policy that helps the minority who do not want to play by rules, those whose extensions have been refused because they are so overbearing or so out of character and who can now come forward again, or those who do not want to be bothered with respecting their community’s views at all. It is a policy not for the many but for the few.

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I fear that some of the palliative ideas suggested are ineffective. Light is rarely a single determinant feature in planning decisions and it is very open to appeal and challenge. Extending conservation areas is a lengthy process and has other consequences for people’s ability to improve their homes; in fact, it is an increase in regulation of a different kind. Article 4 directions are even more cumbersome, need government approval, are subject to compensation, and would lead to loss of planning fees—more than £250,000 in the case of our authority alone. Intensifying building control to prevent abuse by cowboy constructors would impose potentially heavy new burdens on local authorities in employing new staff—just when we are all, quite reasonably, being urged to cut our costs.

The Government have a wide enough range of ideas for change and improvement in planning without the need to break their election promises on this specific one. Unlike a tax break, it will leave a legacy in breeze blocks that cannot be reversed. For every fairweather friend they might make by an extension so incongruous or overbearing it would never have been allowed under existing rules, the Government will lose two, three, four, five, six—how many?—friends. It is not even clever politics.

I have been from the outset, and will remain, a vocal critic of this unnecessary idea if it is carried forward. I dislike intensely being publicly at odds with my party—it goes against every instinct that I have. Indeed, it was the first time in my political life that I found that all I had said was soon endorsed by a vote of the Liberal Democrat conference. That had me worried for a moment, but I am very grateful to my Liberal Democrat friends for it. I also note of course the Local Government Association’s clear and resonant views on this subject. Few issues have more united local government and all parties in local government, and I have had a most enormous postbag of support.

I welcome tremendously what my noble friend, who is so respected in this House and by me, appeared to say about potential consultation on this specific aspect. I hope that she will take that back and urge colleagues to reflect further and change their minds. Of course, I do not ask her to answer on that when she replies, but I do ask without prejudice to any reconsideration how and when this idea might be brought before Parliament for determination if the Government go ahead.

I remain wholly opposed to this proposed extension of garden-grabbing, and I would beg on behalf of those many people who have written to me in support that the eventual answer to that question would be never, so that this idea, however well intentioned, might quietly be laid to rest.

9.01 pm

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, it has been very interesting listening to the excellent speeches from all sides of the House tonight criticising or worrying about the Government’s policies on planning or various bits of them. I have been reflecting on the lack of business confidence, which may stem from projects taking too long to get permission or uncertainty about what will happen. I do not see that as improving in spite of some good changes in the planning system in the past few years.

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