Amendment 33 sets out some of the criteria referred to by the Minister in responding to the last amendment. They are the criteria that the Secretary of State will have to look at when deciding whether to designate a council. Subsection (9)(a), which will appear in new Section 62A of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 proposed in Clause 1, refers to,

“planning performance agreements … entered into … before the submission of an application”.

The Minister has suggested that such agreements will be an acceptable reason for taking longer than 13 weeks, but it would be helpful if she would confirm that. Proposed new subsection (9)(b) refers to any,

“agreements that have been entered into following the submission of an application”.

Will this be an excuse not to be designated or will the local authority be told that once it has registered the application, the clock starts ticking remorselessly? Proposed new subsection (9)(c) is important in many cases, and refers to,

“informal agreements that have been entered into between applicants and the local planning authority to delay the issue of a decision”.

It is often in the interests of both the applicant and the local planning authority, along with everyone else, to sort things out before a decision is made. If things are not sorted out, there is a greater risk of a refusal which causes further delay through an appeal or a resubmission. Particularly on major applications, negotiations always take place between the applicant and the local planning authority to cover the detail and conditions of the application, such as those which may arise from a Section 106 agreement. If those discussions are artificially brought to a close before they are properly agreed, we will see worse decisions being made. Proposed new subsection (9)(d) refers to,

“any delays that have been caused by the failure of statutory consultees to respond within the specified time”.

The local planning authority is perfectly entitled to determine an application if it has not had a response from, for example, the Highways Authority, but it would be very foolish for it to do so if the application will have an important impact on the local highways network or even if it is just a matter of connections to the local network. If the Environment Agency is late in responding, what do you do? Do you pass the application anyway or, when you get a late response from the Environment Agency saying that it does not like the drainage system which is being proposed and that, as it stands, it would recommend refusal, do you refuse it on that ground? Alternatively, do you say, “No, we need more time for the applicants to work together with the planning authority and the Environment Agency to sort it out”? These are the kind of decisions and practices which take place time and time again on major applications.

5.30 pm

There is then the question of whether delays are,

“caused by the failure of applicants to respond promptly to objections and concerns raised by consultees or the local planning authority”.

If the Environment Agency’s objections are passed on to the applicants and they do nothing about it for four or five weeks, which puts the application over, what do

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you do? Do you turn it down, which you are entitled to do, or do you say, “No, we need more time”? There are many occasions when more time to get the right result is better than taking an instant decision, whether that is to turn it down, which delays everything for much longer, or to pass it in an unsatisfactory manner. Proposed new subsection (9)(f) then refers to,

“such other matters as the Secretary of State considers to be relevant”.

The further subsection that I want to add says that:

“The criteria that are to be applied under subsection (8)(b)”—

the criteria about revoking the designation—

“shall have regard to … the performance of the local planning authority in relation to planning applications that it has continued to determine”.

Those are all the non-major ones, or perhaps some major ones that the applicants decide to send to the local planning authority rather than the Secretary of State, despite the designation. I think the Minister has said that these will be taken into account but it would be useful to have further confirmation.

Secondly, the subsection says that the criteria should have regard to,

“the performance of the authority in relation to matters directed under subsection (6)”,

which are those where:

“The Secretary of State may give directions requiring a local planning authority … to do things in relation to an application”.

Those are the matters which the Secretary of State instructs the local planning authority to do in relation to relevant applications which are dealt with by the Secretary of State and the Planning Inspectorate but which then require the local planning authority to do some work on them. Clearly, there should be evidence there of the competence of that local planning authority to do work on behalf of the Secretary of State.

Proposed new subsection (10)(c) refers to,

“the performance of the authority in relation to its other planning functions”.

This relates to the question that my noble friend Lord Burnett, who is not here at the moment, raised about whether its competence in producing local plans should be part of this. I simply repeat what I said earlier, which I have said many times in your Lordships’ House, that most of the delays and serious delays in the planning system are in the plan-making system and not in development control. Until the Government are prepared to look very hard at the ludicrous bureaucracy, the time-consuming processes and multiple consultations that occur in plan-making, no progress will be made on that.

Proposed new subsection (10)(d) is slightly tongue in cheek, and refers to,

“the performance of the Secretary of State in relation to relevant applications”.

The point I made earlier about what happens if the Planning Inspectorate does not determine an application within 13 weeks was met with the answer from the Minister: “We intend that they shall do”. However, a council might also say, “We intend to determine all our major applications within 13 weeks but we have not managed to do it”. The Planning Inspectorate may say the same. My experience, and I think many

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people’s of the Planning Inspectorate over the years, is that it has not always been the speediest and most efficient organisation in the world. I once had an overdue planning application where the appeal had taken, I think, two and a half years; a matter that I ended up raising in your Lordships’ House about 10 years ago. Things have improved—I accept that— and the Planning Inspectorate deals with things more quickly now, but there is no guarantee whatever that, if it is dealing with a number of large applications in a particular locality, it is going to be any more efficient at doing it, for all the reasons that I have set out. A lot of the reasons for delay are not in the hands of the planners.

These are all important matters that need very clear answers from the Government. I hope the Minister will be able to give them.

Lord Deben: My Lords, I hope that the Minister will take all these amendments into account but will not go down the detailed route that the noble Lord who spoke last has suggested to her. However, I hope she will realise that the reason that these amendments have been put forward is because of the lack of precision in the Bill and that she will take away from this debate the very strong feeling, on all sides of the House, including among those who have been largely supportive of her, that we really need a greater degree of knowledge. These amendments have been put down to make sure that we understand the criteria, that they are fairly and objectively used, and that local authorities understand how they can recover their position when they have been used.

We make no criticism, I think, on either side of the House, of the credibility or competence of present Ministers. However, there have been times in the past, in all political parties, when Ministers have perhaps been less than perfect and there may be such times in the future. I think the House would be very happy if the Minister said that she would seek to ensure that there was at least a reasonable degree of certainty—if not on the face of the Bill, in the secondary legislation that is indicated in it—so that we are not breaking what the Constitution Committee quite rightly suggested was the fundamental rule that you cannot rely on the generalities and assurances of Ministers to bind their successors. That is just a fact. If she were able to help us in that way, a great deal of the criticism on the first clause, at least from those who are not as fundamentally unhappy about it as I am, would in fact be removed.

The Earl of Lytton: My Lords, this is the first time I have spoken on this Bill and I have a number of interests to declare. Unfortunately I was not able to be present at Second Reading, having been laid low by one of those 24-hour bugs which one hears so much about. I am here not to make good my Second Reading speech but to pick up on the specifics of this group of amendments. In so doing, I declare my interest as a practising chartered surveyor with an involvement with the planning system. I am also the president of the National Association of Local Councils, which is the national parent body of parish, town and neighbourhood councils.

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I have been following the issue of planning and how it has unfolded from the times when we had county structure plans, and the planning system under that regime, through the local development frameworks and regional spatial strategies, and now into this new era of local plans and the National Planning Policy Framework. As with all these situations, we are now in a transition. I fully recognise that and can understand some of the reasons why the Bill is framed in quite general terms. Picking up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, I think that there is a lacuna here, but it is slightly different from the one that he referred to.

There are lots of duties in the planning context but I see two particular ones in local plans. First, there is the duty to deliver on the national strategic needs, to which a local plan must have regard. We know what some of those needs are—housing, for instance, because of the statistics on household formation. The second thing, of course, is making local decisions for local people. Having not been able to deliver my Second Reading speech in person, I gave it to the Minister in writing. I have just had her reply, for which I thank her. I asked a question about what I saw as a lacuna between the National Planning Policy Framework, and what the Secretary of State is putting in place in that respect, and what has to be decided at local level in the local plan.

Picking up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, I would say that there is a high degree of variation between different planning authorities, be it geophysical, social or economic, and we cannot necessarily second-guess how those will bite. By virtue of localism and there being a greater say at community and neighbourhood level, the chances are that the way in which those are cast into the local plan will be different from what we have experienced hitherto.

However, the larger strategic and supra-local issues and imperatives cannot so easily be dealt with by localism in terms of the local plan if you are looking for a local voice and a local view. You require for that purpose the local view to be better informed and to look outside its own local existence in a way which I suspect is not the received wisdom of the fruits of localism being passed to communities and neighbourhoods. Some of these supra-local issues are going to be the least palatable to communities, particularly where they exceed the criteria for local organic need.

In putting in place the National Planning Policy Framework—here I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said earlier—it was necessary to try to render down a lot of the guidance and everything else into a matter of simple arithmetic. My fear is that it has gone slightly too far in that respect and that some of the more specific guidance about growth and targets—those things that local plans needed to build into their criteria that sat above the strictly local level—is not so well informed under the National Planning Policy Framework. There is insufficient definition of those issues in the framework, as opposed to the laudable aspirations that it contains, for a local planning authority to be able to resolve them.

Housing need as an organic local construct, as against the national imperative of household formation, was a matter that I raised with the Minister. She did

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not answer that question. I referred to a local authority of my acquaintance. I shall not name it and I would not be the judge of designation in such circumstances, but I have seen the numbers go up from one figure to another figure and back down again. This oscillation has taken no account of what has happened during the many years that have passed in the period starting with country structure plan targets and going on to regional spatial strategies. We are now back to a figure for that particular authority that is below the figure considered by the country structure plan and the SERPLAN decision-making process, yet we know that the numbers likely to be required, particularly in growth areas and key areas of economic growth, which is the circumstance of the authority that I had in mind, are mounting all the time—and there are aspirations. What has happened with the National Planning Policy Framework is simplicity—yes—but I am less sure that there is guidance that is of real use in informing local plans.

5.45 pm

In this situation, local planning authorities are obviously going to have to be judged. Where there is a lack of clarity, the risks of error, of an appeal going wrong or of a slow process as one tries to work things out on the hoof are likely to exacerbate the situation at precisely the time when we need slicker and speedier delivery of the economic fruits of growth and infrastructure development. It worries me that we do not know what the criteria are. I would therefore be in favour of something along the lines of Amendments 33 and 35, just by way of making sure that we are clear that there is not some elephant trap for a local planning authority inadvertently to step into, and to prevent it being designated as an underperforming authority for reasons that, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, touched on, are outside its control. We have to be very careful about that.

We have heard all sorts of things about the fact that we are in this together. We are indeed in this together: this is a community and a national momentum that has to be harnessed in order to take things forward, and we know what those things are. There are many issues relating to performance. I would be very worried about using the simple expedients of the speed of making decisions and the robustness of those decisions before an inspector is appointed by the Secretary of State. After all, it is ultimately the Secretary of State’s call whether the appeal goes one way or another. That offends against a degree of objectivity.

I therefore broadly support the amendments. I shall not make any more detailed comment than that—I have said quite enough—but that is why some of the amendments have considerable force in terms of the growth and infrastructure that we are trying to achieve under this Bill.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions on this amendment. Some of the ground was covered previously, but not substantially, so I am grateful for all the views that have been put forward. What is being underscored here is that a local authority should not be penalised for something which

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is well outside its own control. As I said in response to the previous amendment, it would be our intention that where a local planning authority was on the bar for designation it would at least be able to discuss some of the reasons for why it thought that it was slow, particularly over one or two applications. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is right: there are a number of areas where local authorities simply cannot do anything about that.

They can under the new planning agreement, however, as they will be able to say to a developer that there are areas which are outside their control and may take longer to consider. That can be a formal agreement, or there can an informal agreement saying the same thing, and it can take place at any stage in the planning process. If you get to a certain stage and discover that you have not got the response that you need, the planning agreement could be that you think that a few weeks might be needed to bring that in and it could be delayed. This is not about planning applications where we know that things go wrong; it is where the normal process of considering an application is deliberately slow.

I hear very clearly what is being said about this, and I hope that we will be able to make clear either in guidance or in some other way what would be excluded, because that is important. We have noted, too, what your Lordships’ Select Committee on the Constitution and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee had to say about this. We need to take note of that, consider it and come back at Report if there is anything that we can do to respond to it.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has set out a substantial list. I do not think that he really believes that it would be sensible to have that in the Bill. We need to understand where the exceptions and difficulties are. I am sure that we will think about that after the sitting.

Amendment 34, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord True, and to which the noble Lord, Lord Tope, spoke, concerns the question of judicial review and proposes that any judicial review should be excluded from any assessment of speed. An absolutely minute number of planning applications are subject to judicial review and, in the vast majority of those cases, the proceedings are instigated once the application has been determined. They do not take place during the course of the review, which might take up time. I do not think that judicial review will impede councils’ performance on the consideration of the application. It is therefore unnecessary to make special provision for applications subject to judicial review in any way. I suspect that if it happened in the middle of a process it would be as relevant to have that as a planning agreement to be sorted out as any other. I need to check that, but that seems a pretty logical conclusion.

We have dealt a little with an authority’s past improvement in performance, and the proposal that any designation should be based on five years. That would be far too long. We are looking at the figures for two years because we are concerned about the performance occurring now, not about whether the authority has improved over five years, because if it is still not at the criteria level now, it will make no difference whether it started from nought or not or whether it has gone up

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or down. It is better to set a bar of two years and not much more so that we get a really clear impression of what is happening at present.

Where local authorities are deemed to be failing under the criteria, we do not want to hang about. We do not want them to be under pressure about it; if they are to be designated, we want them to be designated, the help to be put in place and the opportunity to be de-designated at the year review to be put in hand immediately. I keep saying this, but we do not want local authorities to be designated; we would much prefer that they were not. We need to ensure that if they are not performing well, they start to perform well or better very quickly.

We have made clear that we will take a picture of each authority’s performance over the most recent two-year period to even out any fluctuations in the data and account for the fact that some authorities deal with more applications than others. I said that in debate on a previous amendment. We recognise that that there are authorities, such as the national parks authority, which deal with a limited number of major applications during the course of a year. Of course we must take that into account compared with a local planning authority which is dealing with any number of major applications.

We have just completed a consultation. As I said, we will try to ensure that noble Lords at least know before the next stage what were the responses to it. If we can get any further than that, we will. We will consult again in future if the approach to the criteria should change. That was a point picked up by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie: what is to stop future Secretaries of State suddenly deciding that they want to raise all the criteria? What is to stop them is that they would have to go out to consultation; they could not just do it. That does not need to be in the Bill either.

I think that I have answered the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. If elements within the 13 weeks justify delay, we will certainly ensure that that is taken up. We shall consider very carefully the responses to the consultation. I hope that that covers the points made by noble Lords.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, on Amendment 29, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, I raised a point about the length of time of the designation and drew attention to the fact that I was subject to judicial review because I had not included length of time for the suspension of the health authority. There is a parallel.

Baroness Hanham: In the consultation, it is suggested that the length of designation should be reviewed after a year. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, is asking whether you could keep on renewing it so that there would be no end to the time. I do not know the answer to that, and I will drop the noble Lord a note, if I may.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, very briefly, I welcome what I think is a positive response from the Minister about local authorities not being put in a perilous

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position for reasons which are not their fault. I accept that my amendment was a typical Committee amendment to set out some of the issues in black and white; I did not expect it all to appear in the Bill. However, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, was that at the moment there is nothing in the Bill. If something can be included in the Bill to give me some reassurance and guarantee that the thinking—I am always in favour of thinking; it is what makes humans progress—that the Minister promised will take place on these matters, that would be extremely helpful. That could be by introducing regulations.

The only other pebble that I want to drop into the pond at the moment is to ask whether there is a danger that by emphasising formal planning performance agreements for major applications, the mere negotiation of those agreements in a much larger number of cases might cause more delays.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, I take a small degree of comfort from the Minister’s response to considering reports on parliamentary process. That is the most important point to flow from this group of amendments. I am sure that the noble Baroness will be well aware that if the Government do not signal that they can meet our aspirations, we will return to that matter on Report in any event.

It seemed to me that pretty much every other noble Lord who spoke broadly supported this group of amendments. To be clear, we are happy to support each of Amendments 8, 34 and 33—I think that I attributed Amendment 34 to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, but it was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord True—as well as our amendments in the group.

I am disappointed that the Government do not feel that they should look at the direction of travel of an authority, because it seems to me that that is at least an indication of its capacity to improve, which is what this should all be about. The noble Baroness referred to Secretaries of State and asked what is to stop them changing the criteria in future. As I understand it, the point about the consultation is that there is a positive plan to change it after the first year—to raise the bar. That is what the consultation document states. It asks questions about what the enhanced criteria should be.

On the need for more guidance and clarity, the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, gave us an historic sweep from county structure plans through to the NPPF and, in particular, the NPPF’s need for guidance to bolster it, especially given its newness.

I thought that the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, was particularly helpful. Not only does it demonstrate his now acknowledged expertise and practical understanding of what happens in authorities; it sets down a range of things which could impact on how the metrics come out for any local planning authority. It must surely be right that, one way or another, those are taken into account. It would be difficult to carry them all in a clear way within the Bill. However, either there has to be some process of representation so that local authorities in danger of being designated, armed with what has actually happened

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on their patch, could come and say “Don’t do it”, or we need to have some real clarity in guidance about this range of issues being taken properly into account.

This debate has, I hope, moved matters on. I hope that the Government will reflect seriously on this because if this clause is to go ahead—we hope that it does not but suspect that it might—we need to make these improvements and have some clear indications of how that might be accomplished. Having said that, I—

6 pm

Baroness Hanham: Before the noble Lord withdraws his amendment, I hope I made it clear that if a local authority is going to be designated, it will be able to put forward the sort of points that he and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, have suggested as a reason for why their applications have been slower than others. I hope that is clear.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: That is very helpful, but can we just be clear on the consequence? Notwithstanding that it might be close to the end of the year and that 30% of the applications will not be received within the designated time, can an authority come and say, “Because of these applications, these circumstances, these issues with a developer or these issues with the community”, so that designation may not then take place, even if the criteria have been breached? I am not sure whether the criteria are met or breached in these circumstances. However, that would be a way to avoid designation, and of doing so notwithstanding there being no formal and informal agreements. Obviously, those cannot now be dealt with in retrospect. Is that what the Minister is saying? That is actually very helpful; for me, it is a new point.

Baroness Hanham: I am saying that an authority could put that forward and have it taken into account. Whether it would actually stop the designation would depend on a whole number of other factors, but it is a fact that it would be able to make those representations.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 2 withdrawn.

Amendment 3

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

3: Clause 1, page 1, line 11, at beginning insert “subject to paragraph (c),”

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 5 and 25 in this group. These amendments would preclude the Secretary of State from including in the types of application that can be made to the Secretary of State, rather than a designated authority, certain types of developments. We have a parallel amendment grouped with this that would preclude any planning authority with responsibility for all or part of any of these areas from being designated. These include developments affecting flood risk areas, world heritage sites, national parks, areas of

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outstanding national beauty and sites of special scientific interest. Our natural environment and our heritage are precious assets that require special consideration in this context. Indeed, issues around conserving and enhancing the natural and historic environment, and meeting the challenges of climate change, flooding and coastal change, rightly feature robustly in the NPPF.

Our major concern, not allayed by discussion at the other end on this matter, is that the focus on process and timing under Clause 1 will drive the behaviours of local planning authorities and the speed of decision-making to run contrary to a wider, quality-led approach, which the NPPF demands. What it demands entails significant engagement, and not just from the applicant. It is clear from the Government’s consultation document that they see the speed of decision-making as paramount and are intent on increasing the threshold for designation in subsequent years, so excluding these situations from designation entirely is a necessary protection.

The Government have made great play of having clarity over designation, indicating that it will follow automatically after some transitional issues. However, we may have a qualification on that as a result of our last exchange. There seems no scope for local planning authorities charged with these responsibilities to explain their position on a case-by-case basis. From what the noble Baroness said a moment ago, perhaps she will say that that is now not the case.

I will comment in due course on Amendments 6, 7 and 26 when they have been spoken to, but it looks as though Amendments 7 and 26 have a substantial overlap with our Amendments 5 and 25. Clearly, we expect to be able to support them on that basis. I beg to move.

Lord Tope: My Lords, Amendment 6 stands in my name and has been suggested by both the Local Government Association and the Campaign to Protect Rural England. It would of course mean that only local authorities which do not already have a local plan in place could be designated as poorly performing. In other words, it would immediately remove from the possibility of designation all those authorities that have a local plan in place. As we all know, the preparation and adoption of a local plan is a lengthy process. It is sometimes too lengthy a process but it is fully democratic and shows that the planning authority concerned is performing to proper democratic accords. On that basis, it is believed that they should be excluded from this threat.

Good, sensible local plans are forward-looking. They are intended and designed to encourage and stimulate growth. It is felt that they are in themselves probably a better measure of how well an authority is performing than individual planning applications—I think that this point has been made in earlier debates today—however major the project for which they are submitted. As I said, the intention of this amendment is to exclude those authorities that have adopted a local plan over the previous 20 years, as it suggests.

Lord Beecham: My Lords, is 20 years a reasonable period? The point has already been made in debate that there is an issue with the effectiveness of local plans. If we are going back as long as that, it could be

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argued that that is not really a sufficient incentive to authorities to bring their plans up to date. They cannot be done annually but two decades is an extremely long time.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I apologise that I missed the speech by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie. He was moving an amendment that is very similar to my Amendments 7 and 26, which are in this group. I am sure that I agree with everything that he said about Amendment 3, since in effect it says almost the same thing as my Amendment 7, so I will say no more about that.

I want to say something briefly about national parks. There are two issues here. One concerns planning applications that may not become relevant applications and are therefore referred to the Secretary of State, as in the noble Lord’s amendment and my Amendment 7. My Amendment 26 says that authorities that may not be designated should include,

“a national park authority or the Broads Authority”.

The helpful information that we got about the number of major applications in the past year shows clearly that there are not very many in national parks. I think that the Minister referred to this; in some cases, the figure is as low as two. The statistics there could very easily be distorted.

However, there is more than that. National parks are very special places that have been designated for very special reasons. The national park planning authorities are already different from ordinary local planning authorities. They are not the ordinary district councils; they are the national park authority, which is a planning authority in its own right. A substantial proportion of the members of national park authorities are already nominated and appointed by the Secretary of State; I think it is the Defra Secretary of State, but is definitely a Secretary of State.

To take functions such as major planning applications away from the national park authority, in these very special places with their very special landscapes, and put them in the hands of a different Secretary of State —the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government—with a quite different agenda risks the balance of decision-making on these applications in national parks, shifting away from the importance of nature and landscape and towards development. Clearly, there always has to be a balance in every sort of area and national parks have to have development, but the criteria on which planning applications in national parks are assessed and decided are materially different from the criteria in much of the rest of the country. That is why they have been designated as national parks. The national park authorities have the responsibility for looking after those parks and for ensuring that those criteria are applied, in the interests not just of the landscape but of the people who live there. To take that away from them on technical operational grounds, based on the proportion of planning applications that were dealt with and determined within a two-year period or on other similar criteria, would be quite wrong.

This proposal is causing great alarm among the people who care for and about national parks, and

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I hope that the Minister will make it clear that they are not to be designated under any circumstances—and, preferably, will do so in the Bill.

Lord Deben: My Lords, on this occasion I hope that the Minister will not accept any of these amendments because they do not stand up at all. As she knows, I am not happy about this clause, but the national park authorities have one of the worst reputations when it comes to dealing with applications—we cannot avoid that; when I was Secretary of State I had a constant stream of particular authorities that were quite unable to do these things properly—and the idea that somehow or other they should be put aside seems to be unacceptable. If, as we are beginning to understand, the criteria are largely those of speed, it would do the national parks quite a lot of good to get their answers in rather more quickly than they do at the moment. The idea that they have to be slower than anyone else is not an acceptable position as far as national parks are concerned. If we accepted the quantum of these amendments, there would hardly be any application anywhere in the country that would not find itself in one way or another touched by one of the designations that we are talking about.

We ought to concentrate on the issue that really matters, which is how we make the clause work in a sensible and transparent way. That is what we have been pressing for, and to try to avoid its implication by putting a series of designations outwith it does two things that are dangerous: first, it would remove any value that the clause might have, and, secondly, it would detract from the things that we are trying to say elsewhere. I want a regime that can work properly wherever in the country it is applied. I hope therefore that the Minister will not accept these amendments but that she will recognise that the reason for them fundamentally is this unhappiness with the uncertainty of the basis upon which this clause is going to be imposed.

If everyone were happy about the objectivity, correctness and clarity of the basis on which a planning authority will be designated, there would be much less of a problem. It is the unhappiness with that which lies behind most of our concern. If the Minister could put that right, I think most of us would accept that within those contexts it is perfectly reasonable to ask the planning authority of a national park to do its job within a reasonable amount of time. If it has only two planning applications a year, then obviously no Minister is going to say, “We’re going to apply the 30% rule”—I am not sure how you would apply that—and I am not too upset about that; it does not worry me too much as long as it is in the context in which all these things are dealt with in an objective and manifestly properly constituted way.

6.15 pm

I hope that the Minister will take away from this bit of the debate not the proposition behind the amendments but the continuing concern that the Bill has this very clear impression of not really being finished. Therefore, because we do not have the finished product, it is very difficult for any of us—even those of us who are certainly determined that the national parks will be

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included like any other authority in the need to deal with people properly, succinctly and to time—not to be concerned about the lack of clarity and the fact that we are legislating for something that will end up by being merely at the whim of the Minister rather than within proper parameters laid down by Parliament.

Lord Tope: My Lords, before the Minister responds, may I respond briefly to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham? He questioned whether the 20 years suggested in my amendment might be too long. He may well be right and it may well be so. At this stage, my consideration is more to get the principle accepted rather than a specific time period. Part of the reason for that is that I think we would all want to incentivise the surprisingly large number of local authorities that still do not have a local plan in place. The positive intent, if you like, of the amendment is to provide that incentive. I suggest that whether the period is 20 years, 15 years or any other period is less material at Committee stage than the principle that the amendment is trying to achieve.

Having said that, perhaps I could comment on what the noble Lord, Lord Deben, has just said. Again, I think that most of us who propose amendments in Committee do not expect that they will eventually appear in the Act, but they cover the particular issues that we wish to raise in order to air our concerns, to hear the Minister’s response and, most importantly, for the Minister to be able to take it back to her ministerial colleagues so that the Government can come back on Report in exactly the way that the noble Lord is suggesting.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I wonder if I can respond very briefly to the noble Lord, Lord Deben. Surely it is the case that because the criteria for granting planning permission in national parks are much more rigorous and strict than in many areas, many developments will actually need more time for negotiation and discussions with the applicants to make them acceptable within a national park context. In national parks particularly, it may well be that some of the authorities are not as efficient as they might be—I can quite believe that—but in general I would expect that similar applications in national parks will take longer than in what I might call ordinary areas, for those reasons.

The statistics are interesting and worth putting on the record. In the past year the Lake District had 19 major planning applications—far more than most others, which is interesting—and the Broads Authority had 13. Of the rest, Dartmoor had two, Exmoor had two, the New Forest had seven, the North York Moors had seven, Northumberland had two, the Peak National Park had five and the Yorkshire Dales had three. With that level of application, it would clearly be ludicrous to apply anything like a strict 30% rule or any other simple cut-off.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: The fact of the matter is that this table is about decisions, not applications. The decisions may well have been refusals. Indeed, in many of the national parks, that is what happens. These are major applications, over so many hectares and so on.

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The national parks are planning authorities in their own right, as are bodies such as the London Docklands Development Corporation. They should be subject to the same sort of discipline as anybody else.

Lord McKenzie of Luton:My Lords, when Amendment 6 —which was spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Tope— was debated in the other place, my colleagues tabled a similar amendment and it was pointed out by the Minister that only one authority in the land had not had a local plan for 20 years. I am not sure how it got away with it for that long.

Lord Tope: It would achieve your objective.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: Indeed. My point was going to be that if this is a way of wrecking the clause, I am all in favour of that, but let us do it at clause stand part and do it properly. If it is structured as a means of incentivising people to get on with their local plan, I would have more sympathy.

I side with the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on the national parks. The number of applications seems relevant because you might have two applications to deal with in a year, which several of these authorities did. If you determine each within 14 weeks of application, you would be designated. I think that would be the consequence of the fairly strict rule.

The noble Lord, Lord Deben, said that it is important that we are happy about this because it is objective. We say yes to an objective approach, but that does not mean a blanket approach where exactly the same criteria apply to all because if that 30% criterion applies, when you have authorities with a very small number of applications, it could work in a perverse way.

Baroness Hanham: On this amendment I shall satisfy my noble friend Lord Deben and practically nobody else because I cannot accept it. I do not suppose many noble Lords will be surprised at that because, as the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, said quite properly and rightly, if this amendment were agreed to, that would be the end of Clause 1 because there would be virtually nobody left to be designated. If that is the purpose, I understand that, but if it is not, that is what the effect would be.

Amendment 6 would prevent the submission of applications directly to the Secretary of State in any area where the planning authority had not adopted a local plan within the past 20 years. I can advise noble Lords that the city of York is the only one that falls into that category. I am not sure that we want to allow that.

Quite apart from preventing the effective operation of Clause 1, these amendments are not entirely logical. Where applications are submitted directly to the Secretary of State, the planning inspectors dealing with them will have to have regard to flood risk and any designations that affect the site, and to the national policy that enshrines those important protections where local plans are not up to date. They are required to do so by law, just as the local planning authority is. Similarly, there is no logic in saying that local authorities should be

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exempted from designation just because they have responsibility for protected areas. Applicants for planning permission and local communities should be served by an effective planning service in these areas, just as much as anywhere else.

I note the arguments that noble Lords made about the specific circumstances of national parks. I heard very clearly what my noble friend Lord Deben said about this. We want the process of assessing performance to be fair, which is why the consultation proposes looking at this over a two-year period to ensure that judgments are based on sufficient data. We will, of course, be looking carefully at what the consultation responses say about this, but I do not think a case could be made to exclude national parks from possible designation just because they are national parks and because they may not deal with an enormous number of applications. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, read out the list that I have had passed to me, and it is clear that some have more than others. The same argument can be made for all the other areas that noble Lords want to exclude. I guess most, or a great part, of London is in conservation areas, and I am not sure that we necessarily think that it would be a good idea to exclude them all.

I do not believe that these amendments are necessary. Their effect would be such that I would not be able to accept them because they would make Clause 1 redundant.

Lord Greaves: The table I have is headed “total major decisions” not “total major approvals”. This needs clarifying perhaps, but I would not want to clash with my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding over a technical, statistical thing when neither of us knows whether it is right.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: I entirely recognise that they were both approved and not approved. They were decisions.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I think we have debated this group sufficiently. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 3 withdrawn.

Amendment 4

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

4: Clause 1, page 1, line 14, leave out from second “is” to end of line 15 and insert “a major application of a kind described in regulations.

“(1A) The Secretary of State shall consult representatives of local government and others who he considers appropriate before laying such regulations which shall be subject to approval by both Houses of Parliament.”

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, under new Section 62A, an applicant can bypass the local planning authority and make an application directly to the Secretary of State. As a practical matter, it is expected that this means it will be dealt with by the Planning Inspectorate, although it does not have to be the Planning Inspectorate, as I understand it, to which the

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Secretary of State delegates this task. To be able to do this, the local planning authority in question must have been designated and the development in question must be of a description prescribed by the Secretary of State. The prescription is by way of an order subject to the negative procedure. This amendment seeks to clarify in the Bill that the application must relate to a major development. I think the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has a parallel amendment requiring that before prescribing any types of application there should be consultation with local government and that the regulations should be affirmative.

The power for the Secretary of State to decide which applications he wishes to determine is very wide. The Government state that it will be limited to applications relating to major developments, but the Bill places no such limitation on the power to prescribe, just as the Bill places no limitation on the type of planning authority that might be designated. This is frankly not good enough. This is in line with the other discussions we have had. Indeed, as matters stand, there seems to be nothing to prevent a local planning authority being designated because of perceived poor performance on the timing of decisions on major applications but all its applications being open to be determined by the Secretary of State.

We are encouraged to believe that there will not be many applications that, as a result of these proposals, find themselves being determined by the Secretary of State or the Planning Inspectorate, but the impact assessment states that there is no evidence to support the Government’s assumed diversion to the Planning Inspectorate.

Limiting the rights of prescription to applications for major developments would still potentially encompass a wide range of circumstances. The definition of a major development is interesting and worth reflecting on. It includes,

“the winning and working of minerals or the use of land for mineral-working deposits … waste development … the provision of dwellinghouses where … the number of dwellinghouses to be provided is 10 or more; or … the development is to be carried out on a site having an area of 0.5 hectares or more and it is not known whether the development falls within sub-paragraph (c)(i)”—

that sub-paragraph relates to the number of dwellings—-

“or … development carried out on a site having an area of 1 hectare or more”.

Therefore “major developments” are not necessarily mega-developments. Developments as small as 10 or more dwellings would be included.

It is appropriate that we make clear that it is major developments that can be designated for this process by the Secretary of State, and that there should be a proper parliamentary process to deal with that. I think that accords with the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, which we expect to be able to support. I beg to move.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, as the noble Lord said, I have tabled an amendment with exactly the same effect as his; I will therefore not repeat what he said. “Major development” means to me those applications which automatically come to committee in our authority. I can confirm that some of them are not all that major,

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but they are nevertheless important in the community and the area. We need to be absolutely clear about this.

While I am on my feet, we have been talking about 13 weeks on major developments. Can an authority be designated because it is failing to meet the 30% on non-major developments in relation to the eight-week timescale for dealing with applications? It would be rather odd if it was designated because minor applications were not being dealt with within eight weeks, but major ones then got sent off. I wonder if that can be clarified.

6.30 pm

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I am happy to clarify the question of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, immediately: it does not apply to every single application. This clause applies to major applications. Minor applications would not be included in any consideration for designation. Major developments, as the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, has said, are already in secondary legislation. They are precisely as he read them out, and they would be the criteria by which we would seek to move ahead; that is the basis on which we are defining “major development”.

This is another point of consultation. The noble Lord is suggesting that “major” should be in the Bill. I would rather see all the replies to the consultation and come back on that, but the noble Lord has raised an important point.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that response. We look forward to further discussion on that on Report.

I think that it is right, as I have indicated, that the Secretary of State does not have to delegate to the Planning Inspectorate, but could delegate to others. Is that correct? Are there any proposals to do that at all? Whom might those others encompass?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I think that it would be the Planning Inspectorate, but nods and winks from over there suggest that I should write to the noble Lord as to whether there is another area to which it could go.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, while the noble Baroness is writing to us, can she also give us the statistics that have been mentioned several times and are quite important to this discussion: the proportion of major applications that the Planning Inspectorate itself determines within 13 weeks? Perhaps the noble Baroness has the figure to hand but, if not, could she let us know?

Baroness Hanham: I do not. I will do my best.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, again, I am grateful to the Minister and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 4 withdrawn.

Amendments 5 to 9 not moved.

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Amendment 10

Moved by Lord Greaves

10: Clause 1, page 2, leave out lines 10 and 11

Lord Greaves: My Lords, this amendment is about connected applications, which are dealt with in Clause 1(3). I also have Amendment 12 in this group, and there are two amendments from the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie.

Connected applications are those where a local planning authority has been designated so that major applications, we now learn, can be made to the Secretary of State and not to the authority. Where a major application goes to the Secretary of State and a further application is then submitted that relates to the relevant application, it is called a “connected application” in the Bill. Clause 1(3) states that a connected application is determined as such by the opinion of the applicants. This may be made direct to the Secretary of State, or it could be made to the local planning authority. The Bill states that this applies to listed building consents and applications for conservation area consent, which are applications under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, or, and this is the question behind my amendment,

“an application of a description prescribed by the Secretary of State”.

This is a probing amendment to find out what kind of applications might be prescribed by the Secretary of State which are not among those set out in the Bill. For the life of me, I am not quite sure that I can think of what they might be. No doubt the Minister can tell us.

Where does the applicant get advice on whether a connected application is connected before submitting it? Does that advice come from the local planning authority? In particular, where do applicants go for pre-application advice before they know whether the application has been accepted by the Secretary of State as a connected application? Clearly, if an application is submitted to the Secretary of State and then rejected and sent back to the local authority because it is not connected, it might well cause further delays.

Amendment 12 refers to Clause 1(4). If the Secretary of State has an application submitted as a connected application but considers that it is not connected, what happens? The Bill says that the Secretary of State “may” refer it to the local planning authority to determine. Mine is a traditional, old fashioned may/must amendment and says that he “must” send it back to the local authority. Under what circumstances might the Secretary of State presumably decide to determine it himself, or through the Planning Inspectorate? The Bill does not actually say that that is what would happen, just that he “may” send it to the planning authority. That needs clarifying. In particular, how come an application that is not connected should nevertheless be dealt with by the Secretary of State? These are probing questions to tidy up and understand exactly how the Government think that this would work. I beg to move.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, we have Amendments 11 and 17 in this group. Amendment 11 refers to circumstances where a connected application

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is made to the Secretary of State. It would clarify that the Secretary of State will be responsible for ensuring that all statutory requirements which a local planning authority or hazardous substance authority have to meet will be met by the Secretary of State. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that.

Amendment 17 is very much along the same lines as that pursued by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. It would bring some clarity to the boundaries of what counts as a connected application. The Bill clearly includes listed building consent and conservation area consent, but otherwise means,

“an application of a description prescribed by the Secretary of State”.

This prescription will presumably be via some parliamentary process. Our amendment would require a consultation to be held. However, the particular purpose of the amendment, like the probing amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is to get more on the record concerning the Government’s approach to this. It is understood that this may be driven, at least in part, by the Penfold review, but that was looking at non-planning consent, so I am unsure how that would fit; indeed, some of the other recommendations of the Penfold review are being carried forward in the Bill. Can the Minister say whether anything is in contemplation under Clause 1(3)(a)(ii)?

We support Amendments 10 and 12 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, which would make it mandatory to refer a non-connected application to a relevant planning authority or hazardous substance authority. If it were not mandatory, I am not sure where it would go.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I need to start by explaining why we have made provision for connected applications in subsections (3) and (4) of new Section 62A to be inserted in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 under Clause 1. In the few cases where a planning application is submitted directly to the Secretary of State—that is, at the behest of the developer—it is important that if there are any other consents that need to be obtained under the planning Acts, and which are directly connected to the scheme concerned, it makes sense to have the ability for them to be considered by the Secretary of State at the same time. That would be a normal planning process. This is not a hidden provision that would allow an expansion in the use of Clause 1 by the back door but a common-sense measure to minimise bureaucracy and to streamline the process.

We have not sought to specify every single consent that could conceivably fall into this category but have instead cited the principal ones and given the Secretary of State the ability to prescribe any additional consents that may need to be dealt with in a similar way, which might include, for example, hazardous waste, advertisement consent or tree preservation order consent. There probably are some others but those would be the main ones.

This is a common approach in legislation, which avoids the Act becoming unnecessarily detailed and complicated. In practice, it will relate just to a small number of applications and consents that are required only occasionally, and which are, additionally, limited

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to consents required under the planning Acts and not under any other legislation. Nor is there any need, as Amendment 11 seeks to do, to say in the Bill that in dealing with such applications the Secretary of State should comply with relevant statutory requirements. We will ensure through the secondary legislation that all statutory requirements apply, whoever the decision-maker is.

Amendment 17 seeks to make decisions about the submission or transfer of connected applications subject to published criteria. Once again, I do not think that placing such a requirement in the Bill is at all necessary. It usually will be a matter of common sense as to whether a particular consent is “connected” or not. Therefore, we do not need to add to the mountain of planning guidance that already exists. Indeed, as noble Lords will know, the Government are undertaking a radical streamlining of the planning guidance under the noble Lord, Lord Taylor. He probably would not welcome our adding any more to his work.

I can deal quite briefly with Amendment 12, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has said, concerns the language—we have discussed this on many occasions as regards many amendments—and whether it should say “may” rather than “must”. However, this is consistent with the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which is the legislation that this clause would amend. This is a matter of drafting convention that we should respect. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, asked me where the advice would come from and whether an application is connected. We would expect that that would be covered in any pre-application discussions either at the time the application was moved to the Planning Inspectorate or initially.

I would like to reassure noble Lords that there is absolutely no question of the Secretary of State holding on to a “connected application”, should it be found to be unrelated—unconnected—to the planning application that he is considering. There would be no reason for him to do so and it clearly would not be at all sensible. I hope with those explanations that the noble Lord is willing to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I think I have got the answer that I was seeking on the “may/must” issue: the Secretary of State would send it back to the local planning authority and there would be no question—I think that those were the Minister’s words—about that, which is okay. As someone who believes that words must mean what they mean, I do not understand why it should say “may”. Nevertheless, I accept the Minister’s assurance.

I can understand how the conservation consents and the listed building consents fit naturally with the relevant application with which the Secretary of State is dealing. I started to get a bit alarmed when the Minister referred to advertisement consent and TPOs. Advertisement consent tends to concern things that happen over a period of time. For example, at the beginning of a big new development, there will be some adverts. But what happens if someone comes along two years after the development has taken place and asks for more or different advertisements, or whatever? Because the application originally had been a relevant application dealt with by the Secretary of

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State and assuming that the authority was still designated two years later, would it still go to the Secretary of State or would it be regarded as a completely new application, although not a major application because it refers to just advertisement consent, and be dealt with by the local authority in the normal way? In other words, what would the system be for minor additions or changes to the development once the development had been completed and signed off? That is the question that arises in my mind.

6.45 pm

There is not usually a question of consent as regards tree preservation orders. It is usually a question of the local planning authority making TPOs generally against what the applicants would really like or because there is a fear that the development will interfere with some particular trees. They may have been there for quite a long time and no one has threatened them in any way: therefore, they do not have TPOs. An application comes along for development and TPOs are put on at the instigation of the local authority in order to protect those trees from being harmed by the development. Obviously, that takes place in the context of the planning application. If a building is being built and there is a tree in the middle of it, a TPO is not put on it. But TPOs perhaps are put on surrounding trees which are important to the landscape or the streetscape.

Perhaps the Minister will comment again on TPOs. It seems that they are a classic case where making the TPOs at least should remain with the local planning authority, although perhaps the question as to whether those TPOs should be removed as part of a planning permission—a process which sometimes takes place—might be regarded as being connected to the development. When we talk about trees, they always make complications. This issue needs thinking about before a new regime comes in. Will the Minister comment on that?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, there is always a danger in being clever. I found a briefing note about the extra provisions and I thought that it would be sensible to read it out. I am now regretting it enormously because the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has raised further perfectly sensible and relevant questions about it. As regards the tree preservation order and the advertisement consent, I can see how they could be connected applications but the noble Lord might be happier if he gets a proper response and I will make sure that he does. I am very sorry but I have completely forgotten what else he asked me.

Lord Greaves: I asked about what will happen when further minor applications or advertisement consents come up—for example, if a big development has taken place and people want to change it or to put up adverts.

Baroness Hanham: I apologise for that. I was getting the small things right. They would be new applications and therefore they would be considered in the same way, depending on whether the authority at that stage was designated or not.

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Lord Greaves: Perhaps the Minister would include that in her clarification letter. Clearly, if the authority is no longer designated, it would deal with applications because there would be no procedure for sending them off. But if it was still designated, at what stage does a development break free from being a relevant development and is treated like any other development?

Baroness Hanham: My understanding is that any fresh application, even one which is associated with a development, would be considered to be a new application. It would therefore fall to be considered on the basis of whether or not the authority was designated and whether the developer under those circumstances wanted to take it back to the Planning Inspectorate. If that is not correct, I will let the noble Lord know.

Lord Greaves: We could go on talking about this for a while but I think that it would be better to clarify it outside the Chamber. I am very grateful for the answers that I have been given. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 10 withdrawn.

Amendments 11 and 12 not moved.

Amendment 13

Moved by Lord Greaves

13: Clause 1, page 2, line 29, leave out “and”

Lord Greaves: My Lords, Amendment 13 and this group of amendments are about money and the extent to which local planning authorities will be recompensed for work that they do which is related to applications that have been referred to the Secretary of State as relevant applications. Amendments 14 and 23 in this group also stand in my name and other amendments in the group stand in that of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie.

Amendment 13 is an even more classic traditional amendment, which seeks to leave out “and”. However, the grouped Amendment 14 is rather more significant. It also concerns connected applications. If somebody lodges a connected application with the Secretary of State and the latter, after due consideration, decides that it is not a connected application and sends it back to the local authority—as the Minister assured us would happen when we discussed the previous group of amendments—what happens to the fee that has been paid when that application was lodged and submitted? Is that fee returned with the application to the local authority or is it returned to the applicant and the latter is told to make a new application with an appropriate fee to the local planning authority? This is a technical issue but one that needs to be cleared up.

Amendment 23 refers to Clause 1(6), which, again, is where the Secretary of State takes over an application as a relevant application from a designated authority and gives directions,

“requiring a local planning authority or hazardous substances authority to do things in relation to an application made to the Secretary of State under this section that would otherwise have been made to the authority; and directions under this subsection—

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(a) may relate to a particular application or to applications more generally; and

(b) may be given to a particular authority or to authorities more generally”.

One can imagine that it is most likely to happen in the case of the local planning authority which has been designated and which will still be in existence. As lots of local work has to take place, perhaps on consultation or whatever, that authority is instructed by the Secretary of State, no doubt after discussions, to carry out that work. It seems to me that this is a perfectly reasonable way in which the new system might work: namely, that the planning inspectorate has somebody dealing with applications in a particular authority, but dealing with them through that authority’s staff. Perhaps this would be a way of giving support and training to help that authority become more efficient.

In an extreme form, one might imagine the Planning Inspectorate putting its own man in the town hall and that person handling those applications with the help of the council’s staff. It would be interesting to know whether the Government are considering that scenario in relation to designated authorities and relevant applications or whether they will try to run all this—all the local consultation and all the rest of it, including the fact-finding on the ground—through somebody based in Bristol, presumably living in a local hotel for the duration. It would be interesting to know how the Government see this working.

Whatever happens, if the local authority has to do work in relation to an application for the Secretary of State and the Planning Inspectorate, it will cost money. However, the fee for the application will have gone to the Secretary of State. Therefore, my proposed new subsections (6A) and (6B) suggest ways in which an appropriate amount of that money should be handed over to the local authority to enable it at the very least to cover its costs. Otherwise, we will have a poorly performing authority, on the Government’s criteria, which may be robbed of its major source of planning income—the major applications—and is struggling to keep going with its staff. It is very difficult to downsize an authority by, say, 20% if you have only three planning staff. How will this work? How will the Government ensure that authorities are not severely financially affected by being designated? I beg to move.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, we have Amendments 20, 21, 22 and 24 in this group. Amendment 24 simply requires the Secretary of State to reimburse the local authority any costs it incurs,

“in carrying out directions given under subsection (6)”.

From that point of view we are being somewhat more ambitious than the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who is simply looking to share the fee.

In Committee in another place, the Minister was taken to task over the rather strange wording of this provision under which the Secretary of State can give a local authority or hazardous substances authority a direction to do things in relation to an application. Such a loose and potentially open-ended obligation obviously gives rise to uncertainty about resources and costs. Later amendments require that there must be set out in regulations the range of responsibilities

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which can be imposed on a local authority under these provisions. The Minister in the Commons prayed in aid the planning performance and planning guarantee consultation, which has been much referred to this afternoon. As we have discussed, that consultation has now ended. We may know the outcome by the time we get to Report. The consultation suggests that a small number of administrative functions will need to be carried out locally, including: site notices and neighbour notification; providing the planning history of the site; and notification of any cumulative impact considerations, such as where environmental impact assessments or assessment under the habitats regulations are involved.

The local planning authority would remain responsible for maintaining the planning register. The discharge of any planning conditions would remain the responsibility of the local planning authority. If this is the range and type of functions envisaged, they should be clearly set out and subject to some process. At the very least we need something clearly on the record but the Bill is much more open-ended than this and needs to be constrained.

As for reimbursement of costs, I anticipate that the Government’s response will remain that planning fees will go to the Secretary of State or the Planning Inspectorate and there will be no need for any sharing of these. The logic seems to be that as planning is a loss-making activity for local authorities, notwithstanding the recent increase in fees, they will be relieved of this loss and in any event are funded by way of grant for these activities. Will the Minister update us on the position of grant support for local authorities under the current government settlement, given the draconian cuts that they have endured?

Amendments 21 and 22 seek to make sure that the authority which can be instructed “to do things” is in fact a designated authority and that the applications concern designated authorities. I seek clarification on that point.

7 pm

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I understand and agree with the intention behind Amendments 13 and 14. We have no argument with the suggestion that the fee for any connected application should be transferred to the local planning authority or the hazardous substances authority if it is found that the application is not, in fact, connected and the authority is the most appropriate body to determine the application. I hope that that covers those points. That is not, however, something that we want to provide for in the Bill, because such matters are most appropriately dealt with, alongside other fees issues, in the appropriate secondary legislation. It will be in secondary legislation and I should like to reassure noble Lords that that is what we intend.

Turning to the other amendments in this group, it is our intention that the Planning Inspectorate will deal with as many aspects of an application made directly to the Secretary of State as possible. In these circumstances, as the consultation document makes very clear, we intend to ask a designated planning authority to carry out only some basic administrative tasks. These include entering the application on the local authority’s planning

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register, undertaking neighbour notification and posting site notices. Therefore, subsection (6) of this clause has probably generated more excitement than is merited because none of these situations is very cost-intensive. While the provision indeed gives the Secretary of State a direction-making power in relation to designated authorities, it is intended to be used in a manner strictly limited to those aspects of handling an application for which it makes absolute sense for the job to be done locally. While I agree with the sentiment behind Amendment 20, I am not convinced that it is necessary to put such a requirement in the Bill.

I am also confident that there is no need to add “designated” before “authority” in subsection (6)(b), which Amendments 21 and 22 seek to do. The subsection can apply only to applications made directly to the Secretary of State, which would be possible only where an authority has been designated under this clause. It follows that the additional words are unnecessary.

In relation to Amendments 23 and 24, the local authority planning service is funded not only by fees from planning applications, which the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, alluded to, but from the local government grant, which authorities will continue to receive to help cover these basic administrative costs. There will be no diminution there. The cost of the work will be minimal but the potential need to meet these costs should be seen as part of the disincentive to performing poorly.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness. She referred to the grant made available to local authorities and said that there will be no diminution in it. Are we talking about a separate grant or one that is paid as part of the business rate retention scheme and revenue support grant? How does that come through, particularly given the assertion that it has not reduced?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I think that I am talking about just the main local grant that comes with the formula grant. I may need to write to the noble Lord on that aspect. With that reservation—it needs to be part of the compendium that will come after this session—I hope that noble Lords will withdraw or not move their amendments.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, there used to be something called the planning performance grant, but my understanding is that it had been abolished. I do not know if any answer on that will be forthcoming, but it would be helpful.

Local authorities will have this extra cost because their income from planning applications, particularly major applications, will decrease or be taken away. The authority will therefore have no choice but to attempt to downsize its planning department. However, downsizing a small department and saving money is not always easy because the authority may have staff in whole numbers and it may not be possible to split them up into part-time staff. The authority may have to choose, if it has four development control staff, to get rid of a whole person. That may be more of

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a reduction than is reasonable for the continued efficient operation of the department. Who knows? All circumstances may be different but it is ambitious for the Government to suggest that costs will be minimal.

In addition, confining the department to performing basic administrative tasks simply may not be possible in reality because, with the best will in the world, the Planning Inspectorate will as much as possible want to tap into local information and knowledge, which will reside within the local planning department; there is no doubt about that. Is the idea that the department will perform only a few administrative tasks and that staff will not receive telephone calls, e-mails or whatever asking for more information? When you are dealing with a major planning application, all the time you are seeking lots of information from lots of sources, and some of it will be ambiguous and you will want to know its planning history. You will therefore go to the local planning officers to get that information. That will inevitably take up their time and some of the resources of the local authority. The idea that the local authority planning officers simply bang up a few notices on site or put them in the local paper is utterly unrealistic. They are going to get involved because it will be in the interests of the Planning Inspectorate that they do so; and that will be the way to get a good, quick and efficient decision. The inspectorate should not have to seek information from scratch when it is there within the local planning department. That will happen all the time and it will cost money. We may continue to talk about this and—

Lord McKenzie of Luton: Before the noble Lord withdraws the amendment, perhaps I may follow his point about the extent of the engagement of the local planning authority, which is important. He has opened up some real questions. As I understand it, the planning authority will still be able to—it may be expected to—make representations to PINS or the Secretary of State about a particular application. The authority would presumably want some public engagement to be able to formulate its views. Are those activities that the local authority will have to carry out in addition?

The consultation document makes reference to Section 106 negotiations, which it seems to suggest will not be dealt with by the Secretary of State or the planning inspector and will go back to local authorities. There was also the suggestion that such negotiations are carried out at the end of the process. I am not hugely familiar with some of the detailed processes of Section 106 negotiations but I wonder whether they always happen at the end or along the way as part of the application. There seems to be other potential activity that the local planning authority will, of necessity, be involved in.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the question of whether the Section 106 procedure is carried out by the local authority or the Planning Inspectorate will depend on where the negotiations take place, because they sometimes take place during the process of the application. I need to obtain a firm response on whether, in some cases, that will be done by the local authority, subsequent to the planning decision. It is my recollection—this is not from the officials—that the Section 106 procedure is

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usually, at the end of the day, part of the conditions of the permission. It would therefore make sense that it had to be negotiated during the course of the application. If that is not correct, I will let noble Lords know before the next stage. However, that is probably as near as I can get at the moment.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: That would be helpful. The noble Baroness has prompted another thought: will the discharge of conditions for planning consent be left with the local planning authority, not dealt with by the inspectorate?

Baroness Hanham: Local residents will of course have the same right to put their representations directly to the Planning Inspectorate as they would to a local authority.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, has raised some extremely important issues. Perhaps this is a matter on which we could receive a letter but my understanding is that the imposition of conditions will be part of the planning permission. I am not sure what “discharge of conditions” means, but if it means checking that they are taking place, and monitoring and supervising that, if the local planning authority is to carry that out, depending on what the conditions are, it will take time and resources—particularly staff time. If there are then complaints from anybody that it is being done wrongly, the local authority will be responsible for enforcement. That costs money, which, in a normal state of affairs, would be partly paid for by the planning application fee. In the case of big applications, the fee can be considerable.

The other thought that I had when the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, was questioning the Minister was that it is inconceivable that a local planning authority—by which I mean the councillors—will not want to act as a consultee if it is a major planning application. It is inconceivable that the planning management committee, or whatever it is called in a particular area, will not consider that application, just as the local parish councils will do. In doing so, it will want quite a lot of solid evidence from its officers. It will not be prepared to behave like a parish council that simply gets the application and talks about it but does not really have any expert advice, the advice being based on local knowledge and so on; it will be a planning committee which expects a proper report and which expects to make representations to the Secretary of State—or Planning Inspectorate—who makes the decision. It is inconceivable that that would not happen.

As a councillor, I do not envisage that my authority will be designated. I would be ashamed if it were and I am sure that it will not be. However, if I was on a council that was designated, as a councillor it is inconceivable that I would not want the councillors to put in their two pennyworth. That, too, will cost money, and for the Government to say, “Oh well, that will just have to come out of the general funds”, is very unsatisfactory.

I am very grateful to the Minister for her response to my first amendment and I raise my glass to her on that. I think that there is more to be talked about on

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the general financial issue between now and Report and, on that basis, I am pleased to—

Baroness Hanham: Before the noble Lord withdraws his amendment, I need to correct what I said so that we are absolutely clear. I should have remembered that the proposal in the consultation is that the planning authority will continue to deal with Section 106 and the discharge of conditions, although we will of course need to look at what people have said in the consultation. However, the proposal is not as I think I presented it; it is that the planning authority will continue with Section 106.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, this gets a bit more mysterious. The decision on whether or not to grant planning permission sometimes depends on whether a satisfactory Section 106 agreement is available. That is what tips the balance one way or the other if it is a marginal application. Certainly, I do not know what “discharge of conditions” means. Perhaps we need to understand that, as I have already said. However, the decision as to what the conditions are is an integral part of granting planning permission. You do not grant planning permission and then sit around thinking, “What conditions shall we put on it?”. You discuss the conditions and all the arrangements and then, on the basis of the whole package, you say, “Yes, that’s okay”. You might take off one condition that is proposed and put on another, or you might say, “We’ll have another condition to make it reasonable for people within that particular street”, or whatever. That is how it works, and I simply do not understand how the Planning Inspectorate can give planning permission without conditions. I do not believe that it is going to do so because, with regard to appeals, when an application is turned down the inspector decides what conditions to put on at that stage. He will always ask the local planning authority that turned down the application for a list of possible conditions if he decides to approve it. That is how it works. I think that we need some clarity on this. Having said that, I shall make a further attempt to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 13 withdrawn.

Amendment 14 not moved.

7.15 pm

Amendment 15

Moved by Lord Greaves

15: Clause 1, page 2, line 30, at end insert—

“( ) Where an application is made to the Secretary of State under this section, the provisions of paragraph 8 of Schedule 1 shall apply to the Secretary of State as they apply to a local planning authority when determining applications for planning permission.”

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 30 and 31. Again, the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, has amendments in this group.

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These amendments concern information and publicity. They are about notification, consultation and the treatment of representations. I think that all those things fit together neatly because they can potentially cause a considerable amount of confusion and difficulty locally in particular. The question is: how are all these matters going to be dealt with when a relevant application goes to the Secretary of State? It has been suggested that some of them might be dealt with by the local planning authority, and that needs to be clarified.

Amendment 15 is a specialised but important amendment. It concerns the current practice of the notification of planning applications to parish and town councils so that they can put in their two pennyworth—or perhaps more—in the local consultation process on those applications. I am grateful for support on this amendment from not only my noble friend Lord Tope but the noble Earl, Lord Lytton.

The amendment states that paragraph 8 of Schedule 1 to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 will apply to relevant applications determined by the Secretary of State. This is slightly odd because most of the consultation rules for planning applications are set down in secondary legislation. However, this one appears in the schedule to the primary legislation—the main Act—and it sets out the rules for notification to parish and town councils of planning applications and any significant amendments to planning applications. It is a procedure that is well established and well understood, and it happens because it is in the legislation. Local planning authorities are geared up to do it, and it is obviously now easy enough to do so with electronic communications. It is absolutely vital that the Secretary of State is given the same duty. Given that this duty lies on the face of the 1990 Act, it seems sensible also to put the duty on the Secretary of State into this Bill and not simply to rely on promises, assurances and so on.

The remaining amendments refer to publicity; consultation, including with statutory bodies; the period for receiving representations; and the procedures for making representations. They say that the procedure for applications which are dealt with by the Secretary of State should be the same as that for applications which are dealt with by the relevant designated local planning authority. Some local planning authority applications may still be major applications that people have preferred to submit locally, and some will be relevant applications that go off to the Secretary of State. The important principle is that all the bodies consulted should be the same in both cases. In most cases they will be because most of the consultees are statutory. For example, there is the local highways authority and the Environment Agency and so on, and they have to be consulted, but practice varies in different areas. In some, local organisations will be consulted because of local circumstances—for example, the internal drainage board. One can imagine all kinds of local bodies that the local planning authority has decided at some stage are important enough locally to be added to the list of consultees, and so the consultation goes off automatically with all the rest.

It is very important that the system and the list of bodies is the same as it would be if the local authority was dealing with the application, even if it is the

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Planning Inspectorate that is involved. People need to know where they stand; they get to know the system and it ought to be the same.

A further part of this amendment refers to the rights of ordinary members of the public—citizens—to make representations about planning applications. It might be a big application and they might have strong views on how it might affect their area or their town, they might be in favour of it because of the extra jobs, or they might be against it because it is being built in an area that they value. In every area, there is a system by which people can put forward their views; it varies from council to council because councils over the years have brought in different ways in which people could make representations. In particular, in some areas, people have the right to make representations in person to the decision-making body—the committee which has responsibility for determining applications. If that right is to be taken away, or other similar rights are to be taken away because the application is being dealt with by the Secretary of State nationally, at the very least, that is not going to go down very well in those areas. It is unnecessary and a publicity own- goal. It means that the Planning Inspectorate has to make some arrangements whereby people can make representations direct to the planning inspector who is primarily dealing with this application. If that does not take place, then there is a dysfunction between the rights that people have—the rights in the general sense—and the rules that apply to the way in which they can put forward their views on planning applications in an area.

Amendment 31 is related to the ability to inspect documents. Again, there will be a system locally and people will know what that system is. They will know that if they want to inspect documents, they have to go to the town hall or perhaps the local library, or wherever it is. The council may have district offices where relevant planning applications in an area are provided. It is very important, if this system is to work smoothly, that people can find the applications in the same places, under the same terms, even though the application is being made to the Secretary of State and not to the local planning authority.

Nowadays, a lot of people look on the internet for this information, so it is important that whatever system there is locally, access to information on the internet—including all the planning documents related to the application—applies to a planning application made to the Secretary of State. This must not be on some obscure website that people cannot find because it is a government website hidden away somewhere when they are used to finding local planning applications on the local authority’s website. It can be made perfectly clear who is making the decision on the application—who is determining it—but the information provided to the public needs to be provided in the same places and in the same way as it would if the application were being dealt with locally. I beg to move.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, we have Amendments 16 and 18 in this group; I will start in reverse order with Amendment 18. This requires the Secretary of State,

“to ensure that there has been adequate consultation with the local community”.

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Both of these amendments were pursued as amendments in Committee in the Commons.

The consultation document, hot off the press at that time, acknowledges that the planning committee stage obviously will be denied these processes. It is at this stage that the merits of any proposal would generally be considered in public. However, in a case which circumvents the local planning authority, it seems that the process for engaging with the local public will be left to the Planning Inspectorate to determine on a case-by-case basis. The presumption is that applications will be examined principally by written representations, with the option of a short hearing to allow the key parties to briefly put their points of view. These strictures do not seem to be supporting community engagement in a very fulsome manner. Is it not likely that, given a choice, a developer with a potentially unpopular development plan will opt for circumventing the local planning authority?

Evidence given in another place stresses the point that local communities will become increasingly reluctant to accept new developments if their voices are not to be heard. The tasks which the Secretary of State will delegate to the local planning authority may include site notices and neighbour notification, but there is no mention of a wider consultation—the very detailed points that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has just reviewed. Site notices on a lamp post are no substitute for a proper consultation—the interaction with local communities which frequently leads to changes in applications for the better, both for the community and for the developer, and helps drive quality decisions.

Written representations are not the preferred means of communication for everyone. Who does the Minister consider should be treated as “key parties” in this process? Will this always include the local planning authority? Given that the process and the scope of any consultation will be largely delegated to the Planning Inspectorate, what will the Secretary of State do to satisfy himself in the interests of good planning that the consultation with the local community is at least adequate?

Amendment 16 requires that any decision on an application falling to the Secretary of State because of designation must take full account of local and neighbourhood plans of relevant local authorities. One might have added the NPPF. We acknowledge that planning law requires that applications for planning permission are determined in accordance with the development plan, unless, of course, material considerations indicate otherwise. To that extent, the amendment might be seen as superfluous, but it gives me the chance to ask the Minister what will happen where updated plans are not yet in place, and whether the Secretary of State or the Planning Inspectorate will look to the NPPF, presumably as the local planning authority would.

There are issues around determining material considerations in any given situation. Might these be different when we are talking about a Secretary of State’s perspective and that of the local planning authority? There is doubtless a range of other considerations as well, but the amendment is probing whether the designation might not only involve a different speed of

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decision-making but could also mean that the criteria which in practice might be brought to bear could be different around the different perspective on material considerations and, if there is no local plan in place, around the perception and requirements of the NPPF.

Lord Deben: This is an important series of amendments because they bear on the very issue that we have all raised with the Minister as to the difficulties which arise because of the procedure initiated by this clause. There is a real issue here, and it is one for her to consider deeply. I heard what she said about this not being contrary to the localism agenda; I cannot say that I was entirely convinced, but she obviously is concerned that it should be consonant with the localism agenda. Surely, the one important thing in the localism agenda is that the public locally feel themselves involved. The nature of the kinds of applications which are likely to be referred to the Minister rather than to the local authority is that they will be controversial and particularly controversial locally.

I say to the Minister that, in my experience of being a Member of Parliament for nearly 40 years, the one thing people will not put up with is not being able to be heard. I would commend to her my experience of the campaign about how we should build Sizewell B. This was very successful; we got every local parish council—50 or so—to support that planning permission. We did it because we went round to every single one of them and discussed it. We put the case for and against. We listened and made sure that none of the discussions were dominated by incoming protesters from either side and were just done by the locality, so that by the time they finished hardly anybody could say—nobody could say truthfully—that they had not been involved.

7.30 pm

Of course, in the light of that report to which my noble friend Lord Jenkin referred, one could say that that was another cost on the back of the production, but it was a very successful cost. It was not very expensive. A lot of volunteers, including me, worked on it, but it delivered a locally agreed attitude and a locally agreed solution. Sizewell B has been overwhelmingly supported throughout its operation by people locally because it started by people being able to put the issues that they were concerned about. I cite that example to the Minister because what came out of those discussions were the things the public were concerned about, which were not the same things that the media said they were concerned about. It was not the nuclear issue but where the lorries would go, where people would park and what would happen to the buildings that would be used temporarily for workers on the site. All sorts of things like that came out.

I am concerned that if this process, about which I am unhappy anyway, is removed from the locality in a way that makes it something imposed by people outside, Swampy will not be the only one. This will have a reaction locally in the very way that the Government hope to avoid. It is incredibly important that there is a clear protocol that does not leave it to non-elected experts—the Planning Inspectorate—to decide whether it is satisfactory to have a small discussion, a big discussion or a written discussion. It should be quite

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clear that the normal circumstance would be that at least as much discussion should take place with the locality as would happen had this been decided by the local council.

Secondly, I am very unhappy about being so uncertain about who should have this discussion. My experience is that you have to find the people who really will be affected, which is not necessarily done by applying to the preservation society, or the local residents’ association. We need to make sure that everybody who has a view and needs to put it forward can do so. Written submissions are all right for people in metropolitan places, but those of us who have worked for so long in rural areas know perfectly well that it is not a means of communication that people necessarily find easy and that they want opportunities to put their own views in their own way.

Thirdly, they do not want to have those opportunities restricted in the sense of there being some sort of spokesman who will put forward what they happen to think. They want to feel that there is an opportunity to have their say. My experience is of enabling people to have their say, which I always did as a Member of Parliament. I was not one of those who said he had nothing to do with planning applications. I had a lot to do with planning applications and I made sure that the local party knew what people thought. I did not tell it what to do but I made sure that it knew what people thought. I am very worried because I do not see that people will have their voice heard at all unless there is a much tougher statement from the Government that will be included in the supplementary legislation and the guidance to ensure that the inconvenient facts, which are that the public do not always welcome a particular development and do not always have the same problems with a development as the experts would want them to have, ought to be certainly faced. If this House does not face them I am not sure who will insist that people locally should feel part of the decision. I cannot guarantee to the Minister that people will agree with the decision, but I can guarantee that if they do not feel they have been part of that decision it will be difficult to carry it through and there will be more and more direct action by people who feel that they did not have a chance to do anything other than protest.

The Earl of Lytton: I added my name to this amendment not least because it was originally drafted by the National Association of Local Councils, in relation to which I have already declared an interest.

I apprehend that Clause 1 is not intended to create a new type of planning application or that such applications should follow a fundamentally different evidential or representative process. It needs to be stressed that neighbourhood plans, as well as local plans, will continue to be relevant to that process. I am glad to see the Minister nodding her head. It is right that the amendment seeks to clarify this. In writing to me in the context of Clause 1, the Minister helpfully said:

“Local people will be able to comment on an application in the usual way if it’s being decided by the Planning Inspectorate instead of the local authority”.

That seems to be an incredibly helpful overarching consideration.

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There is one bit of detail that needs to be addressed. Parts of the online version of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990—I am referring to Schedule 1(8)(i)—have been altered by subsequent legislation. I appreciate that the Minister may be unable to answer right now but it is not clear to me precisely what has been appealed and whether the amendment fulfils that purpose. I would like to clarify that because, under the original 1990 legislation, the parish council had to notify the planning authority that it wanted to be notified in relation to appeals. I do not see how that process will operate with the Planning Inspectorate. I am sure that there must be a way, but I would appreciate having some clarification as to how it will work in practice. The effect of Clause 1 is to move this one stage further away from the parish and neighbourhood in an application going direct to the Planning Inspectorate. In other words, it has not been dealt with by the principal authority with which it may already have existing arrangements. If the Minister could give us some clarification I would be enormously grateful.

Baroness Hanham: I have been trying to make it clear all the way through this afternoon and evening that, when the application is taken to the inspectorate, the same consultation processes will have to take place as would have taken place if the local authority had conducted the application itself. The consultation document makes it clear that there will be no dilution in the ability of communities to become aware of applications through notifications or discussions, or in their ability to comment on them in very much the same way.

I appreciate what my noble friend Lord Deben says about people being consulted. I draw his attention to the Localism Act, in which there is a requirement for planning developers to undertake pre-application planning discussions. One would expect that to happen in the first instance. The size of the applications being discussed by my noble friend would be beyond the purpose of the clause; they would be major infrastructure applications. However, some applications that will not go quite so far will still be big enough to arouse local feeling. We intend that all the current statutory requirements on local authorities should be transferred to the inspectorate. There will be the same standards of publicity and consultation, and the same opportunities and periods to make representations; and all the relevant documents will have to be available at the offices of the relevant planning authority and on the Planning Inspectorate’s website, so one will be able either to look them up on the internet or check them out locally.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: Will the Minister confirm that the current standard arrangements for consultation involve the presumption that applications are examined principally by means of written representations, with the option of a short hearing to allow the key parties briefly to put their point of view? Is that a characterisation of how the system works at the moment?

Baroness Hanham: Every local authority has its own methods, which must fall within the statutory consultation process. It would not be out of order for

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a planning inspector to hold a direct hearing to hear from local people; I do not see why he should not be able to do that. That would happen now anyway if the local authority thought that it was required. The process would be exactly the same as that available now. We do not think that this requires anything other than secondary legislation. It will be in secondary legislation. I am prepared to keep that under review for a little while to make sure that that is correct.

In answer to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, planning inspectors will need to take into account all material considerations, which will include any local or neighbourhood plans. I am sure that any statutory obligation to undertake consultation with parish councils will remain. With those reassurances, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I am grateful to a number of speakers who took part in this debate. I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for his support on the issue of parish councils. I think that I have an up-to-date version of the 1990 Act, but one can never be totally sure about these things. I think that my amendment stands up, but I will look at it again, and perhaps the Minister will clarify the issue.

What the Minister said on parish councils did not quite meet the case. She said that the present statutory position would still apply. However, the statutory provision is in relation to planning applications made to the local planning authority. The question is: will it automatically transfer as a statutory provision to the Planning Inspectorate? If not, should paragraph 8 of Schedule 1 to the 1990 Act be amended to make it absolutely clear that it does apply to the Planning Inspectorate, and that parish councils will have a right to notification—which I think now is an automatic right, but I will check this—rather than having to ask for it?

I was particularly grateful for the splendid speech of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, who said some things that I would like to have said in your Lordships’ House but stepped back from saying because noble Lords might have thought that I was threatening to organise all the Swampys of the world to go and make a nuisance of themselves—which of course I would never do, but might have done in my youth. However, I will march hand in hand with the noble Lord, Lord Deben, leading a band of people behind us.

I will be serious, because this is a very serious matter. The Minister said that people like to be consulted. They do—that is absolutely true—but nowadays they demand to be consulted, and are very unhappy if they feel that they have not been consulted and, whatever the final decision is, that their representations and views have not been taken seriously. That is the important thing that we must get right, and I am not sure that the Bill does that.

The Minister said that all the same processes would take place, but the question is: given that they are different in different planning authorities, can the Planning Inspectorate cope with doing different things in different areas? The basics of what it does will have to be the same. There will have to be site notices, appropriate notices in the newspapers and so on.

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However, because some planning authorities go much further than they have to under the legislation, will it be local custom and practice—local policy—that applies, or will the Planning Inspectorate try to apply the same thing everywhere? That is the fundamental question that needs more thought.

7.45 pm

Lord McKenzie of Luton: In relation to the consultation, the response was frankly a bit thin. This is an issue that we need to consider further. I will revert briefly to the point about material considerations, the Planning Inspectorate and the NPPF. I accept that it may be an entirely irrelevant point, or at least a technical one. Will there be any difference in the weight given to material consideration issues or to issues in the NPPF that balance a range of things between the perspective of a planning inspector and that of a local planning authority? This is quite apart from any difference in process. We might align them as much as we can, but is there something inherent in the process that could give a different result? I do not assert that there is, but I would be interested in a response on that point.

Baroness Hanham: I will give the noble Lord a response, but I may have to change it. My instinct is to say that the Planning Inspectorate already deals with innumerable applications from different local authorities. I do not see why the processes that it will follow when taking an application initially will be any different from those that it follows when it considers an appeal. That seems to be the sensible answer. If there is another answer that does not come under the heading of “sensible”, I will let the noble Lord know.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, that was a very interesting dialogue. Most of the things that the Planning Inspectorate deals with now are appeals, for which there can be a standard system everywhere. Dealing with initial applications is different everywhere. These are things about which we need to think further, not least to avoid revolution in the land, particularly in rural areas. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 15 withdrawn.

Amendments 16 to 18 not moved.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.49 pm.

Freedom of Religion and Conscience

Question for Short Debate

7.48 pm

Asked By The Lord Bishop of Guildford

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their strategy for promoting freedom of religion and conscience internationally as a fundamental human right and as a source of stability for all countries.

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The Lord Bishop of Guildford: My Lords, I am very grateful for the opportunity to address this important Question to Her Majesty’s Government. First, I will say how delighted I am that the Minister will be responding, as I am aware that today she presided over a major conference at Lancaster House with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on precisely this topic, which has only just concluded.

At the outset I stress that my Question is what it says on the label: it is about freedom of religion and conscience. It is not about creating an opportunity to make a partisan appeal for Christians alone, nor even for religious believers alone. The word “conscience” is intentional. Noble Lords may recall Cardinal Newman’s remarks to the Duke of Norfolk at the time of the debate on papal infallibility. He said, “I shall drink to the Pope if you please—still, to conscience first”.

Precisely because conscience and truth go together, it must be right that there is more concern about freedom of religion than there has been for some time. This debate is topical because of a considerable increase in the encroachments upon religious freedom all over the world. Many sources could be cited. Objectively, I draw particular attention to the United States State Department’s annual report of 2011 from its Office of International Religious Freedom. This records a rising tide of anti-Semitism in many parts of the world and pressures on many religious groups: the Baha’i and Sufi Muslims in Iran, Coptic Christians in Egypt, Ahmadis in Indonesia and Pakistan, and Muslims in a range of countries, including Europe. I emphasise that that is not an exhaustive list.

My diocese of Guildford is linked with a number of dioceses in Nigeria, where we have seen a tragic increase in sectarian violence, triggered initially by questions of political power after the presidential election, but now unequivocally having a definite religious complexion with the militant group Boko Haram attacking government offices, bombing churches and threatening to kill Christians in the north and any Muslims who oppose it. On Saturday, the Emir of Kano was attacked: his driver and two armed guards were killed, though the Emir survived.

There has also been a recent and well-documented study on increasing pressure on Christians throughout the world entitled, interestingly enough, Christianophobia, by Rupert Shortt. My point, however, is not to indulge in a tit-for-tat debate about who is persecuted most but to emphasise that no one should be discriminated against on grounds of religion or conscience, for the sake of the stability of societies and their common good in a multicultural and multifaith world. Towards this goal, it is essential that religious communities speak out on behalf of others and not only their own adherents. Also, faith communities should not be slow in condemning behaviour within their own communities which is discriminatory to others.

I sadly recognise that no religious communities have a perfect track record in this regard. Even this House, with another place and the Church of England no less, does not have a clear historical conscience as regards religious toleration. Look back beyond the 19th century, for example, to the Act of Uniformity. Although it returned the Book of Common Prayer to

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the Church of England and the nation in 1662, it was also the instrument of the expulsion of many ministers and people who could not accept it. Nor was Catholic emancipation so strongly supported from these very Episcopal Benches in the beginning of the 19th century; nor were Methodists much welcomed as partners in the Gospel. I am aware of religious glass houses—the Crusades, the wars of religion, the martyrs of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation.

At the same time, there have been very sharp and terrible secular attacks on religious freedom from time to time, and not only as long ago as the French Revolution or the French anti-clerical laws at the beginning of the 20th century. Think of anti-clerical Mexico in the 1920s and 1930s; Nazi Germany and the Confessing Church; the Stalinist Soviet Union and eastern Europe in relation to the Orthodox Church; the Roman Catholic Church, and other churches too. Think also of Marxist China and Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. These regimes, of extreme Left or Right, with their materialistic, political and economic ideologies, had no room for either political conscientious objection or faith communities, or for churches as alternative loyalties to the authority of a monolithic and deified state. Millions of people died under these regimes.

The question is: how do we make more effective the excellent work done by a number of individuals and NGOs already researching and publicising breaches of religious freedom, so that all—and not only one faith or conscientious group—might enjoy this acknowledged right?

The European Union is developing guidelines on freedom of religion or belief but, like many things in relation to the EU, greater transparency would be welcome. The Minister may be able to tell your Lordships’ House of any developments since the recent statement of the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, on promoting human rights. The Organisation on Security and Co-operation in Europe is currently reconstituting its council of advisers on freedom of religion or belief. As reconstituted, it will need to address the problem holistically rather than through episodic interventions for particular campaigns which would relapse into the apparent partisanship of which I have already spoken.

On the European Court of Human Rights, Members of your Lordships’ House will, of course, have been pondering on the recent judgments from Strasbourg. I discern two things. Religious belief is not simply a “residual” or even marginalised human right only to be considered when no other rights come into play. It can, on the contrary, have precedence over another right, such as the corporate image of a company. I am thinking here of the Coptic Christian, Ms Nadia Eweida, her modest cross and British Airways. In the other three cases the balance was held to be different—health and safety, for example, in the case of the hospital ward or surgical theatre. My point here is that a balance of rights and recognition of context is indicative of religious freedom as a real and not only a nominal human right. Nor is religious freedom ultimately in opposition to other rights, such as freedom of expression, non-discrimination, women’s rights and gay rights.

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At the global level, does the Minister agree that there is a need to continue to support the United Nations rapporteur in moving beyond the issues of defamation or incitement, important as those issues are? For 45 years the aspiration of drafting a convention on the freedom of religion or belief has been on ice. Surely now its time has come.

Before concluding I wish to welcome and encourage further what I know is already going on in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s human rights and democracy programme. Clearly, Her Majesty’s Government now take religious freedom seriously. Developments at Wilton Park, leading to the establishment of a human rights advisory panel, and the discussion group at the Woolf Institute in Cambridge are to be welcomed, as are practical advances such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s tool-kit on religious freedom. I am also aware that the Minister is in the process of looking again at religious freedom issues in United Kingdom foreign policy.

In a Written Answer to a Question I raised, the Minister helpfully spoke of using the excellent expertise and experience of the United Kingdom in interfaith dialogue and co-operation. The Church of England is in the middle of all that and I strongly encourage such partnership. The Foreign Secretary has an important advisory group on human rights, but should there not also be some group, under the Minister, on religious freedom to work with the Foreign Secretary’s group— not, I hasten to add, a group of disparate partisan representatives but a group which could work, as I have suggested, holistically? I hope that this short debate tonight will stimulate such questions and encourage their exploration and development.

In conclusion, I ought very briefly to address the question that some will ask—not many, perhaps, in your Lordships’ House, but outside. How can a bishop of the established church address freedom when the church has not always been its champion? This is not the time or place for a theological exposition of how freedom is a genuinely basic ingredient of the three monotheistic faiths and others and so I simply offer two brief testimonies. The noble Lord, Lord Sacks, the outgoing Chief Rabbi, has described religion as,

“part of the ecology of freedom”.

He backed that contention up with a powerful argument about what happens when religion as a key contributor to civil society is absent.

Secondly, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, until recently my archbishop, has more than once drawn attention to Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. The Grand Inquisitor speaks to Jesus, who has returned to Seville during the Inquisition after the burning of heretics. The inquisitor has imprisoned Jesus and castigates him for the freedom he brings to the earth—so unsuited, says the Grand Inquisitor, to the masses. Jesus says nothing, but in the end kisses the inquisitor’s aged lips and goes away. Dostoevsky’s parable gets the relation between true faith and freedom right.

8 pm

Lord Parekh: My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford for securing this debate and introducing it with such wisdom and eloquence. As the subject of the debate rightly points out, freedom

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of religion and conscience is both a human right and a source of stability; in other words, it is desirable in principle as well as for its consequences. I have two small but critical footnotes to add to the proposition.

First, when we talk about religion and conscience, there is a danger—I do not think that the Bishop made this mistake—of equating conscience with religion as if a non-religious conscience does not have the same rights as a religious conscience. I would like to insist that atheist and secularly minded people can feel just as strongly, hold certain beliefs just as strongly and be committed to a certain way of life just as strongly as religious people, and they need to be protected. Secondly, I am slightly uneasy about calling freedom of religion a fundamental human right. If something is important enough to be a human right, by calling it fundamental one is either guilty of tautology and thus not adding anything or one creates confusion by saying that there can be human rights which are not fundamental. To call something a human right is by definition to say that it is absolutely fundamental and non-negotiable. As an academic I wanted to get those small linguistic and conceptual quibbles out of the way and get down to the politics of the proposition.

We have an obligation to promote freedom of religion internationally. How can we do that? I think that there are two ways, although there is a tendency to concentrate on one and neglect the other. We promote freedom of religion positively as well as negatively. We do it positively by persuasion, through moral and political pressure and by setting an ideal example. However, I do not think that we have always been a good example in terms of promoting freedom of religion in our own society and therefore sometimes we have spoken to the world in inconsistent voices.

I want to concentrate on how we can promote freedom of religion negatively, and on how we have failed to do so. We can easily undermine the conditions in which freedom of religion can grow and flourish in other societies. We do that by following certain kinds of economic and foreign policies that create the conditions in which religion becomes an object of suspicion, conflict is created between religious groups, and religion becomes the site where deep political and economic group conflicts are played out. By and large, in every society people know that they have to live together and they work out a kind of modus vivendi whereby those of different religions somehow rub along and learn to live together. Things begin to go wrong when the normal rhythm of that human relationship is disturbed, and that is where the outsider comes in. The outsider can disturb the rhythm of human relationships by creating conflict, wittingly or unwittingly. Situations can be created in which people feel threatened, frightened and besieged, so they turn on each other as objects of hatred. Consciously or unconsciously, I think that we did that in Iraq by invading the country and in how we ran it afterwards, creating conflict between the Shias and the Sunnis. That is what we did in uncritically supporting Saudi Arabia and the Wahhabis where religion is hardly respected; or at least only a particular kind of religion is respected.

It is also what we have done by supporting aggressive secularism, as we did in the case of Algeria several years ago when the army took over. We are so frightened

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of religion that we encouraged secular forces which came down heavily on religious people, who then felt threatened and became terrorists. That gave rise to a vicious cycle whereby religious and secular fundamentalism have played each other out. If we are really concerned about freedom of religion, we have to make sure that our foreign and economic policies do not create the conditions, wittingly or unwittingly, in which religious groups are at each other’s throats and, as a result, freedom of religion becomes the first casualty.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we are very short of time so I would remind noble Lords that when the clock registers four minutes, the speaker needs to bring their remarks to a close quickly.

8.05 pm

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank and congratulate the right reverend Prelate on initiating this timely debate. Today, diverse faith communities suffer persecution in many countries, including the Baha’is in Iran and Egypt, Ahmadyyia Muslims in Pakistan, the Falun Gong and Uighur Muslims in China, Rohingya Muslims in Burma and multi-faith communities of Muslim, Christian and African traditional believers in the states of Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan in Sudan. All deserve the support of the international community for protection of their fundamental human right to practise their faith freely.

However, without indulging in tit for tat, the reality is that the faith tradition now suffering the most widespread and systematic violations of religious freedom is Christianity. It is estimated that there are at least 250 million Christians suffering persecution today, from harassment, intimidation and imprisonment to torture and execution. Major ideological contexts include residual Marxism-Leninism in China and Cuba, the totalitarian repression of any religion in North Korea, and extremist Hinduism erupting into episodic attacks on other faiths in India. But the most widespread and escalating violations of freedom of religion for Christians are associated with militant Islamism. The so-called Arab spring has left a legacy of increased pressure on Christian communities in countries such as Egypt. President Mubarak’s rule posed many challenges for the Coptic Christian community, but since his downfall there have been even more attacks on Christian communities and the exodus of many Copts from Egypt.

Time only allows me to give two further detailed examples based on my firsthand experience of visiting communities suffering from militant Islamism in Nigeria and Sudan. Last June, I and HART colleagues visited the states of Plateau, Bauchi and Kano in Nigeria. The Islamist Boko Haram group, to which the right reverend Prelate referred, had already attacked many churches with the express intention of eliminating all Christians from northern Nigeria. Suicide bombers had driven into church services, detonating their bombs and causing multiple deaths and injuries. But the Boko Haram assaults are just the latest in many attacks against Christian communities in Nigeria over the past 20 years. Thousands of Christians have died and hundreds of churches have been destroyed.

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Just last week I was in Sudan in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile where civilians are suffering from the ICC-indicted President Al-Bashir’s commitment to turn the Republic of Sudan into a “unified Arabic Islamic State”. Constant aerial bombardment is forcing civilians to hide in caves or by rivers, and many have died from starvation. Some 200,000 have fled to refugee camps in South Sudan. Those suffering include Christians, Muslims and African traditional believers who resist the Khartoum Government’s intention to impose Sharia law. The people of the Nuba Mountains are committed to their tradition of religious tolerance and as a consequence they are the victims of Al-Bashir’s agenda to impose hard-line Islamist policies.

The security implications are grave. In Nigeria there is a fear that the Islamist agenda pursued by Boko Haram and other militant groups may destabilise the nation, with serious repercussions for the whole of West Africa. In Sudan, the Khartoum-based Islamist guru Hassan Al-Turabi has reportedly declared that he sees South Sudan as the equivalent of an “Iron Curtain”, claiming that if he could only break South Sudan, he could spread his militant Islamism “all the way to Cape Town”.

I conclude by asking the Minister whether Her Majesty’s Government will follow the good example of the United States and Canada with initiatives such as appointing a religious liberty commission or special adviser on religious liberty; publish an annual FCO report on international religious freedom; consider a linkage between aid and respect for religious freedom, and consider imposing targeted sanctions on key individuals or Governments who are responsible for serious, widespread and systematic violations of religious freedoms. The need for action is urgent. Those suffering oppression look to those of us who have the privilege of living in freedom to use that freedom to promote and protect theirs. I hope that tonight’s debate and the Minister’s response will give them the encouragement they need and deserve.

8.09 pm

Lord Patten: My Lords, the entirely virtuous pursuit of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, whether by Governments or by churches, should be underpinned by two fundamental principles. The first is that everything should be all right at home, which is the launching pad for these suggestions in the United Kingdom. The second is that the Government and the churches should be even-handed in their approaches to these issues abroad.

On the first issue, as to whether everything is all right in the United Kingdom as far as freedom of religion and conscience is concerned, there are some who would say that it is not. How so? We have a head of state who is also head of the established church and we have three gorgeously enrobed bishops here in their places to show that they are part of the body religious. However, if you go a little further than that you see that we live in a very secular society. Religion is a minority sport—I happen to play it myself but it is not played by the majority of people in this country.

Some people say that we have aggressive secularism. I see no problem at all with secularism, atheism or agnosticism—I see a splendid example, in the noble

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Lord, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, of the best sort of atheist, agnostic or secular person—but as we look around the United Kingdom, we see recent examples, such as the wearing of the cross by that Coptic Christian. That was judged by UK courts, to their shame, to be not right, although it was put right by Europe. Just imagine if someone in a place of work had said to Mr Sikh, “Take that turban off” or had said to Mrs Muslim adherent, “Take that scarf off”. I suspect there would have been outrage that these things were suggested in the first place.

Christianity and other religions are under various forms of attack. The Plymouth Brethren, for example, feel that they are facing prejudice in some parts of the United Kingdom. Some people find the Plymouth Brethren a bit odd and a bit strange. People used to think that Roman Catholics were a bit odd and strange, but we have to protect those people who are different in their religious beliefs. We must be convinced that all is well on the home front.

Abroad, we have to be equally convinced by the second fundamental principle, that the churches and Her Majesty’s Government must under all circumstances be even-handed in the way in which they approach the promotion of religious rights and freedom of conscience. I will mention three countries where some people have suggested that we have not been even-handed. Turkey is a fellow NATO member and one-time cadet member of the European Union. It is a terrific place to do business in but not very free as far as religion is concerned. Sometimes people have said that UK Governments—in the past, I am not just speaking about since 2010—have been pretty muted in what they have said about the terrible conditions of the Alevi Muslim minority sect. It is also pretty rough to be a Greek Orthodox in Istanbul today. An Anglican vicar—I hope I have the term right—came to see me not long ago in your Lordships’ House. He tries to minister to holidaymakers—it is a very good job that they go to church in a couple of the peninsulas in Turkey—but he says that he is not given the freedom to have a public service anywhere. He has to have the mass or celebration, as in the old days, in a house church. He asked why the Turkish Government cannot be nicer to Anglicans. I said that I did not know. I am nice to Anglicans and try to be nice to them all the time, and I think that the Turks should be nice to Anglicans.

In Egypt, we have the so-called Arab spring, which is an Arab winter for the Copts, on which I do not have to elaborate a moment longer. Then there is Bahrain, which is a great strategic partner of ours and an old ally. We value the close relationship. However, those of lesser standing among Muslims in Bahrain do not get the right level of attention compared to the minority who actually run Bahrain.

I look to Her Majesty’s Government and the churches to adopt these two fundamental principles.

8.14 pm

The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds: My Lords, I, too, am very grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford for raising this profound issue for our world, of freedom of conscience, as a human right

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involving the ability for human beings to make their own choices as to which, if any, faith system they wish to follow. That means that individuals must have the opportunity to change their adherence as a matter of personal conviction and call.

I want to concentrate on two areas. The first is the increasing abuse of blasphemy laws across the world. The Church of Pakistan has actively challenged the misuse of blasphemy laws in that country, which has led to the persecution of both Hindus and Christians and which, in particular, appears to be used to prevent Muslims from converting to another religion or to no religion. Although it is perfectly appropriate to deprecate the insulting of any religion, it is a denial of human rights to prevent anyone from changing or abandoning their faith stance. In principle, Pakistan continues to uphold the rights of religious minorities but, in practice, the existence of the blasphemy laws encourages illegal persecution and rejection.

The same sort of danger exists, for example, in Sri Lanka, where Muslim and Christian minorities fear the effect of blasphemy laws in a predominantly Buddhist society. Will the Government make it clear that countries which pass discriminatory legislation such as repressive blasphemy laws, or Pakistan’s anti-Ahmadi laws, risk their reputation in the international community?

My second point of emphasis is on the way in which our Government could, and I believe should, make it clearer that this country rejects all forms of religious bullying, by providing proper protection for those who flee here having suffered from it. In the discussions last night about North Korea, I was very pleased to hear the Minister say how wrong it would be to return any people to North Korea.

I am aware time and again of those who have fled to this country from Iran, Pakistan and elsewhere having suffered abuse and being terrified of being returned to their countries of origin because of it. My experience is that freedom of religion, conscience and non-religion is not taken as seriously as a human right in this country as is political persecution. Those who change their religion in particular are regarded with suspicion by tribunals and find that their faith is not taken seriously.

I recently met a taxi driver accused of blasphemy by Muslim leaders in Lahore, who fled here with his wife and children after hiding in the hills in their homeland. They faced deportation back to Pakistan. Among the reasons for the negativity of their tribunal seems to be that they found a home in a different Christian tradition here from that from which they came. Roman Catholics in Lahore, they attended an Anglican church in Leeds. This was taken to be evidence that they did not take their faith seriously. I do not ask for comment on a particular case; what I ask for is for it to be stressed by the Government that those who flee persecution in their country must and will receive an equivocal welcome here.

We have in the past couple of days recognised the need for faith groups to work together. The Minister knows that West Yorkshire in particular needs to be a welcoming society for those of all religions who come here. I look forward to hearing a firm assertion of the Government’s commitment to defending religious freedoms in this country as elsewhere.

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8.18 pm

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, we are extremely fortunate to live in a country where freedom of religion is not just accepted but respected and acknowledged as a key pillar of a free and healthy society. People from a whole range of faiths live alongside each other, as well as with those who do not consider themselves religious. I think it is fair to say that, in general, this has worked very well.

Since arriving here many years ago, I have always appreciated the freedom afforded to me to practise my own religion of Islam. In religious matters, I think that we have the right balance in our country. While the Church of England is our official state religion, others are able to flourish without fear of persecution. We should all be proud of what we have achieved. We are indeed a role model, although, of course, we are not a perfect society.

The main commonality between people of all religions is that they cherish the sense of unity provided to them by their faith, a sense of belonging and endearment that often carries over into a sense of comfort and stability on a regional or national level. I have always maintained that there are more similarities between people than differences and nowhere is this truer than in faith. Unfortunately, in some parts of the world, certain religious communities are undermined and persecuted for their beliefs. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides for freedom of religious expression, yet too often a growing number of individuals are denied this fundamental right. I am not naive to the fact that evil is sometimes conducted in the name of religion, but these minorities are merely using their manipulative interpretations of faith for their own gain. The message that we are calling for to be promoted here today will help to tackle this destructive behaviour, which is detrimental not just to religious communities but to their relationships with others who live alongside them.

In a number of countries, religious bodies undertake voluntary work in a range of sectors, helping to relieve pressure that would otherwise be placed on the state. Perhaps most notably, they provide high-quality educational institutions for children and healthcare facilities which have helped change the lives of many people in different parts of the world.

I am pleased that our Government continue to maintain a strong commitment to the promotion of freedom of religion, as outlined in Human Rights and Democracy: The 2011 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report. Using our embassies and high commissions to engage with Governments around the world is undoubtedly the most effective way of making an impact on the ground. The United Kingdom has trade and historic ties with a number of countries overseas, particularly countries in the Commonwealth, and we can use our influence in a gentle and appropriate manner. Going through such channels will help us reach the leaders who can make a difference.

I was very pleased to see the Foreign Office join the Canadian High Commission in London last month to hold a conference on this very subject. A number of potential measures were discussed. There was a general consensus that we shall have to play a greater part in promoting harmony between people both within our

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own communities and across the world. I agree with this sentiment. Governments and political leaders will have to work alongside religious leaders, civil society groups and, in some cases, the media to help promote good relationships between people of different religions.

8.23 pm

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I, too, thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford for initiating this important debate and for his inclusive definition of “conscience” to include non-believers. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”.

A small but significant advance was made with the subsequent United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.

The significance of that for a humanist such as me was in the interpretation of “belief” to include non-religious beliefs, for the reasons eloquently outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Parekh. Those of us with no religious belief are as diverse as our fellow citizens in churches, temples, mosques and synagogues. In Britain, we are second in number only to the Christians, according to the recently published 2011 census results, which show that 25% of respondents ticked the box for no religion. That is a remarkable increase, up from 15% in 2001 to 25%—or 14 million British citizens—in just 10 years. I speculate, but the fact that so many millions of our fellow citizens now refuse any religious affiliation may well be linked to the increase in violence by religious extremists. As we have heard tonight, noble Lords who are religious will be even more appalled than non-believers by the atrocities that result when their faiths are twisted to legitimise hatred and killing.

Reacting presciently to that increase in violence, the United States under President Clinton introduced a Freedom from Religious Persecution Act, and the State Department now publishes an annual international religious freedom report, which warns of the growing use and abuse of blasphemy and apostasy laws, which constrain the rights of religious minorities and limit the freedom of expression of non-believers, or even threaten them with death. Inevitably, that continual, low-profile oppression has been overshadowed by the sheer scale of sectarian killing in recent years, which countries such as the United States and Canada seem to monitor more closely and denounce more vigorously than we do.

Here in Britain, in defence of our freedom of religion and conscience, secular organisations such as the British Humanist Association are potential allies of those faith groups active in opposing oppression. After all, the 25% who declare that they have no religion are in almost every other regard identical to the 75% who tick the census box declaring their religion. Whether humanists or religious believers, we in Britain share common values—many of them anathema to the sectarians, who refuse dialogue. Our tolerant balance of the sacred and secular contributes to the stability that Britain has enjoyed for so long, a stability which, in recent decades, has also been enjoyed by a growing number of newly democratic countries.

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I join other noble Lords in asking the Minister: what action taken by the Government has proved most effective in advancing freedom of religion, conscience and belief for those oppressed? I hope that she can dispel the concern expressed tonight that Britain is not yet doing enough.

8.26 pm

Baroness Berridge: My Lords, I, too, thank the right reverend Prelate for securing today’s debate on a topic that has not received the attention that I believe that it deserves. I am fully aware of some of the poor history of the Christian Church in this arena and the legacy that this nation has left in some Commonwealth countries by the insensitive application of our then laws on blasphemy. However, the title of the Pew Research report in this area, the Rising Tide of Restrictions on Religion, says it all. The current global trajectory is not promising, so we must act now.

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights is a human right, but it is best framed as a freedom. It is not about compulsion or coercion; it is a freedom. That is why it is so interrelated with the freedom of expression. If you are not exposed to any other views, how can you really be said to have exercised freedom or choice? It is perhaps the most fundamental human right, but it is hard to understand sometimes in our secular society. The fact that individuals in the UK can choose to be secular is an indication that that freedom is in operation. It is the freedom to choose no God at all. Human beings’ innate right to choose was first exemplified by the tree in the garden of Eden; we have a choice in this ultimate matter.

That issue is affecting all religious communities, as described by many noble Lords. Late last year, there was one compelling story reported by the BBC of an Ahmadi Muslim, Ummad Farooq, who was shot in the head in Pakistan. I am proud to say that he is claiming asylum here in the UK. Is this the shape of asylum applications to come, and are the UK Government ready for that?

As chair of the All-Party Group on International Religious Freedom, I am so pleased that representatives of religious groups in the United Kingdom, such as the Baha’is, Sikhs, Hindus, the Coptic Church—so ably represented in the UK by Bishop Angaelos—as well as groups such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Aid to the Church in Need, are working together on the issue. The group’s first report will be entitled, “Article 18: An Orphaned Human Right”, and submissions are currently being sought. The title of the report reflects the fact that this human right has not become the basis of an international convention, such as those on the rights of the child or women. In the wake of the Arab spring, is this not to be the human rights issue for decades to come and the lens through which many world issues need to be seen?

There are encouraging changes at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which has hosted two Wilton Park conferences of the issue. Sue Breeze and her assistant are now dedicated FCO staff within the human rights team. Can my noble friend please outline what further steps or mechanisms the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is looking at to raise the profile

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of this issue at the EU and the UN? Also, what is Her Majesty’s Government’s approach to the emphasis within international institutions on defamation of religion and incitement to religious hatred laws, which I believe has left the rump of Article 18—namely, life, limb and employment—obscured from view?

While it is true, as Archbishop Temple said, that when religion goes wrong it goes very wrong, we cannot turn a blind eye. As Dr Martin Luther King so rightly said,

“freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed”.

However, we must all do what we can to help those demanding their freedom. It is not only the least we can do; it is our duty.

8.30 pm

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, I appreciate the opportunity of saying a word in the gap to draw our attention to just two events. These events prompt me to regard them as milestones in the move for greater liberty and conscience, and understanding between religions.

One was the inauguration once again yesterday of President Obama, whose breakthrough four years ago as the American president was hailed as a great move forward among people who wanted to dispel all discrimination. Even yesterday, he reminded us of the great march on Washington led 50 years ago by Martin Luther King. Things have moved and changed, often for the better.