28 Jan 2013 : Column 1307

House of Lords

Monday, 28 January 2013.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Wakefield.

Arctic Report Card


2.36 pm

Asked By Lord Giddens

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the 2012 Arctic Report Card of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States showing record-low sea ice extent in the Arctic Ocean during the past year.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Baroness Verma): My Lords, the Government have noted the contents of the NOAA report with concern. The observed reductions of Arctic sea ice extent and thickness and the consequent regional environmental and societal impacts re-emphasise the urgent need for strong international action to tackle climate change. The UK has a leading role in the international negotiations and is working through the European Union, the G8 and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to reach further global agreement to reduce emissions. Domestically, we are also taking action through the Green Deal and through the Energy Bill.

Lord Giddens: I thank the Minister for that Answer. The self-same report says, in heavy scientific jargon, that the extreme melting of the Arctic is a kick up the pants to the world. In terms of doing more to combat climate change, I take it that the Minister will agree with that assessment. Are the Government prepared to work bilaterally with the Americans on the possible implications for changing weather patterns in the north Atlantic, since such changes look quite likely? These changes will have radical implications for our own weather and are perhaps already beginning. Are the Government working, or planning to work, with the Americans on these issues?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, the noble Lord raises a very important issue—we must be mindful of the different weather patterns that we are witnessing currently. We work through the UNFCCC process, and at the recent conference of the parties in Doha all countries restated their commitment to negotiate a global deal by 2015 on a single comprehensive and legally binding climate agreement to come into effect from 2020. The noble Lord also mentioned our relationship with the US. He is aware that the United Kingdom has bilateral relationships with many countries, particularly in the north Atlantic. Our relationship with the United States is crucial and we will be having ongoing discussions with it and with other partner countries.

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1308

Lord Trimble: My Lords, in the context of the United States, would the Minister consider that the US has greatly reduced its carbon emissions in the past year by reducing its dependence on coal plants through the development of shale gas?

Baroness Verma: Yes, my Lords; the noble Lord is right that the United States has reduced its carbon emissions and increased its production of shale gas. However, this country takes the view that we need to ensure that our energy supplies are a mix of renewables and traditional fossil-fuel based. Therefore, although we are looking at shale gas, it will be part of a mix of energy rather than our having a dependency on it.

Lord May of Oxford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the cost of the actions that we should be energetically taking against climate change—the need for which is underlined by the faster than previously expected melting of Arctic ice—is significantly smaller than the discounted present value of the much more difficult actions that we will be faced with in future if we do not act? I declare an interest as a member of the Committee on Climate Change.

Baroness Verma: The noble Lord is of course right that we need to take action. I am pleased to say that this Government are taking action and working very hard with all partner countries to ensure that this global issue is tackled with a global response.

Baroness Parminter: My Lords—

Viscount Hanworth: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, there is time for both sides. Perhaps we can hear first from the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth.

Viscount Hanworth: My Lords, an example of extreme folly is the manner in which we are allowing petroleum companies to pursue the exploration of oil and gas in the Arctic as the reduction of ice cover renders this more practical. Can the Minister tell us what steps, if any, the Government are taking to restrain such activities?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, the fact of the matter is that we will need supplies of oil for the near future. Although we work very hard with our partner countries to ensure that everything is done in an environmentally safe way and with consideration to the environment and locations, we cannot dictate to the Arctic states or to the Arctic Council how they progress with their drilling. However, we know that they take the issue very seriously and are very environmentally effective when it comes to the security and safety of how they drill.

Baroness Parminter: What global greenhouse-gas emissions stabilisation levels do the Government believe will be necessary to protect Arctic summer sea ice for the remainder of this century? In asking this question

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1309

I also congratulate the Government on the launch today of the Green Deal, which will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from British homes.

Baroness Verma: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for mentioning the Green Deal, which will of course help very much in how we respond individually to a very serious issue. Greenhouse gases are the key cause of climate warming. We have invested heavily in research to ensure that, working with Defra, we have many ways of responding to the climate change which is happening around us and to ensure that other countries are working with us in that response.

Lord Harris of Haringey: In the past 60 years more than half of the ice in the Arctic has disappeared. That opens up the prospect of the north-west passage—which we all remember from our history books in childhood—becoming a reality. This has enormous strategic implications not only in the movement of goods but in extra exploration for both oil and other minerals. How do the Government see the United Kingdom’s strategic interests, and are they pursuing those through their associate membership of the Arctic Council?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, the noble Lord is right to raise that issue. Although we are not a member of the Arctic Council or an Arctic state, we have been invited in as observers and we are able to have a very constructive dialogue with those Arctic states and with other observer states as well.

Baroness Worthington: My Lords, the Arctic is experiencing rapid change due to the impact of man-made global warming. In recognition of the unique and fragile nature of this region, Greenpeace is calling for the establishment of a global Arctic sanctuary. The Environmental Audit Committee also recommended that a sanctuary be established in its report, Protecting the Arctic. Can the Minister please inform the House what actions the Government are taking to secure a marine protected area in the Arctic and what assessment they have made of the risks, both economic and environmental, of allowing oil extraction in the area?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, as I think I have said in answer to a number of the questions put to me today, we have to work very closely with the Arctic states and the Arctic Council. However, I recognise the noble Baroness’s point about the depletion of marine life. If she will allow me, I will make sure that she receives a much fuller answer, given that this is quite a serious issue that needs to be tackled.

Energy: Oil Price Projections


2.45 pm

Asked By Lord Sheldon

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their projection of the likely future of oil prices.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Baroness Verma): My Lords, my department has generated a set of projections

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1310

for oil prices to 2030. A supply and demand model is used to estimate growth rates, which are then applied to 2012 prices, calculated using year-to-date and future prices. These are then sense-checked against external forecasts. A range is captured by three scenarios: low, central and high. In DECC’s central scenario, oil prices are projected to rise, reaching $124 per barrel in 2020 and $135 per barrel in 2030.

Lord Sheldon: I thank the Minister. Despite the cold winter, we may have a future of warm weather, which could reduce demand in Europe. Although there has been an expectation in 2013, the latest prediction anticipates a slowdown in the global economy if warm weather can actually reduce demand. There can be a reasonable summer.

Baroness Verma: My Lords, while we encourage reduced use of oil in our country, the difficulty arises in emerging economies that have found greater demand for it, so it is about finding a balance between our own liberalised markets and the demand seen elsewhere. There has also been some slight uncertainty during the recent difficulties being faced in north Africa and the Middle East.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, will the Minister tell the House how the Government intend to mitigate these increased oil prices, particularly with reference to using future renewable forms of energy?

Baroness Verma: My noble friend will be aware that this Government are keen to ensure that we have a good range of energy mixes, thereby reducing our usage of oil. However, we have a realistic view that, for the foreseeable future, we will still need extra supplies of oil and therefore we cannot mitigate our usage completely. We will of course try to make sure that, through our policies and the Energy Bill, all other energy resources have an equal footing to compete on.

Lord Desai: My Lords, have the Government taken into account the effect of shale gas in the US, which is likely to influence oil prices downwards, if anything?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, while I agree that prices in the US have come down, worldwide there is still great demand, given the emerging economies. For the foreseeable future, globally there will be a great need for oil and, by and large, prices will be seen to go up.

Lord Teverson: My Lords, the Government have been very successful in bringing electricity consumers together to use their collective muscle to switch to better tariffs. Will the Minister undertake that her department will look at similar collective switching for heating oil, as these prices will go up even more? In rural areas in particular we do not have gas supplies and dual fuel is not available to us, so we have very high tariffs. Would she promote that switching for heating oil?

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1311

Baroness Verma: My Lords, my noble friend raises an important point. We are determined to make it easier for people to club together to get a better deal on their collective energy purchasing. Switching is a new way for consumers to group together and use their market power to negotiate lower energy bills. Through the Cheaper Energy Together competition, we awarded £5 million of support for the most innovative local authorities. Of those, six schemes were provided to support oil buying groups.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, just as it seemed as though the price of petrol and diesel was stabilising, we hear predictions of increases of four to five pence a litre. What are the Government going to do about that, because, given the forecast that they have produced, there is no excuse for them saying that they have been caught on the hop?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, these reports appeared widely in the media over the weekend. I accept from the noble Lord that they are worrying, particularly in times of hardship for most consumers. Perhaps we should look—I was going to say at how we make it easier for consumers not to be ripped off at the petrol pump, but I shall not—at how we can encourage retailers to pass down a drop in price if it comes through the crude oil route. However, the Office of Fair Trading is looking at retail pricing and at how reductions in price are passed down. We hope to be able to respond once we have viewed the report.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, about 12 months ago, Shell produced a forecast for oil prices which was between $70 and $90 a barrel. That has not proved right and prices now are between $115 and $120. If Shell cannot get its forecast right, are the Government likely to?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that very helpful question. Of course, we do not always dictate the global scenarios that often change in front of us. While we try to make our predictions as accurate as we possibly can, scenarios will be played out on the international scene over which we have no control. Therefore, our scenarios are based on price structures that take into account the low, the central and the high. The price forecasts that we have come to were made on that basis.

Baroness Worthington: My Lords, whichever way you make projections, it looks likely that oil prices will remain high. The only way of keeping transport affordable in the long term is to maximise vehicle efficiency and to develop alternatives as quickly as possible. UK motorists have benefited greatly from the introduction of Europe-wide vehicle efficiency standards. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that tougher, Europe-wide standards are set to the benefit of the UK motorist?

Baroness Verma: My Lords, as always, we are working with our European partners and manufacturers in this country. I say again that it is one of those issues on

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1312

which we have to make sure that the rest of the world is working with us. We work hard at all conferences and in all fora to ensure that the UK motorist gets a good deal, not just at the petrol pump but on the vehicles that they purchase.

NHS Mandate: Health Inequalities


2.52 pm

Asked By Baroness Williams of Crosby

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to reduce inequalities in health provision in line with the objectives of the NHS Mandate.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, legal duties in relation to reducing health inequalities will apply to the Secretary of State and NHS commissioners. Local authorities must have regard to reducing inequalities when commissioning public health services. The NHS and public health outcomes frameworks will be used to monitor progress. We are working across government to address inequalities through tackling the wider causes of ill health.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: I thank my noble friend for her reply. In November, the BBC pointed out that the gap between the least served and best served people was widening in this country. Cancer Research UK pointed out in a recent survey that the likelihood of an unskilled worker dying of cancer was twice as great as that of a professional worker in the same region. In light of these figures, the Liberal Democrats proposed, and the Government accepted, a specific duty on the Secretary of State to have regard to inequalities in health. Despite that, the outcomes framework has among its five domains no reference to health inequalities and, despite the very strong support expressed by the public in the mandate consultation, there was no specific reference to inequalities in health in any of the recent DfH documents. Can I therefore ask the Minister directly whether she will agree that, when the review of the outcomes is made next year, a greater attempt will be made to have a specific section dealing with health inequalities and, one hopes, measuring real progress in this most difficult of areas?

Baroness Northover: My noble friend is right to focus on health inequalities that remain. The last Administration and previous Administrations have sought to address them, as have we. In the Health and Social Care Act 2012, for the first time there were specific legal duties to reduce health inequalities. I am slightly puzzled by what my noble friend says about outcomes, because if she looks at the public health outcomes framework and the NHS Outcomes Framework —in particular the public health ones—the two overarching outcomes are increased health life expectancy, and reduced difference in life expectancy and healthy life expectancy between communities. That is the measure against which we will judge what is done in public health.

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1313

Lord Tomlinson: Will the Minister accept that the proposals to close the excellent and much-admired accident and emergency hospital in Lewisham, and to downgrade its maternity services, have been made not because there is anything wrong with the hospital but because a government-appointed administrator has said that that should be done in order to help the neighbouring National Health Service trust, which has run up £130 million-worth of debt? Will she accept that closing and downgrading good facilities is an act of almost criminal stupidity, which leads to nothing but increased health inequalities when the Government’s objective is to reduce them?

Baroness Northover: The noble Lord might have heard his noble friend Lord Darzi comment on the difficulty of reorganising services so that they are as efficient and effective as possible. I would ask him to have a look at that.

Lord Tomlinson: What is your answer?

Baroness Northover: My answer is that, as I have said, the Act puts reducing health inequalities at the centre; that is a responsibility at every level, and those things will be monitored in certain ways. As the noble Lord, who is winking at his colleague and perhaps not looking at me right now, might remember, the Secretary of State is answerable to Parliament and will be answerable for all these areas. If the noble Lord is right, and actions that are taken do not reduce inequalities, there will be an opportunity to hold the Government to account.

Baroness Hollins: My Lords, the first priority in the mandate is about preventing people from dying prematurely. The Minister spoke about inequalities between communities, but I am concerned about two of the improvement areas mentioned in this priority, which are about reducing premature mortality in people with serious mental illness and people with learning disabilities. Will the Minister tell the House about the clinical leadership being put in place to ensure that these two areas are addressed energetically in order to reduce health inequalities within communities?

Baroness Northover: The noble Baroness is right to highlight this area. I point out that the NHS Commissioning Board has recently advertised nine posts which focus on health inequalities. I am sure that that kind of focus will help. The noble Baroness is right in that there are certain groups within communities that are particularly vulnerable. She will probably also be pleased to hear about the Inclusion Health programme, which focuses on particular groups which have particularly poor health outcomes, and which is chaired by Professor Steve Field, of whom she will be well aware.

The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, given that one aspect of the Government’s strategy to improve patient outcomes and reduce health inequalities is to encourage a shift from hospital-based to community-based care, will the Minister say what steps are being taken

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1314

to address the shortage of district nurses, whose numbers have fallen by more than a third in the past decade?

Baroness Northover: I will write to the right reverend Prelate with numbers, as I have seen them but I do not have them in my brief here. I point out that because health will be far more focused in the local area, it is extremely important for the health and well-being boards, for example, to look at how health is delivered in their area. If there are problems because of a lack of staff, they will need to address that.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, would the noble Baroness care to correct a mistaken idea that she may have put to the House? I listened very carefully to my noble friend Lord Darzi, who said that his general comments about centres of excellence in no way related to the Lewisham situation, on which he was not commenting. Could she correct that, please?

Baroness Northover: The noble Lord commented on the difficulty of reorganising, which is what I have just highlighted, and it was in relation to the controversy over what is happening in south London. He explicitly said, it is true, that he could not comment on that case but it is extremely important in these cases that a strategic overview is taken of where provision is best set. The Department of Health is obviously well aware of what is said about the strength of accident and emergency at Lewisham Hospital. No doubt if that is a proved case, it will be necessary to bear it in mind.

Healthcare: Support Workers


3 pm

Asked By Lord Willis of Knaresborough

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to train and register health care support workers.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has announced a £13 million innovation fund, which will provide opportunities for healthcare assistants to progress to nursing roles, and a review of induction training for care staff by the Care Quality Commission. In addition, new training and conduct standards for care staff will be published shortly. We are considering what further action is required in the light of the findings of the public inquiry into Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.

Lord Willis of Knaresborough: I thank my noble friend for that very helpful reply. However, does she accept that at the moment there are literally tens of thousands of elderly, frail patients, often with comorbidities, being looked after in domiciliary or care homes by an army of well meaning healthcare support workers who receive virtually no training and who are unregistered, unregulated and often unsupervised? Will my noble friend do three things in the forthcoming legislation: will she ask the NMC, first, to set standards

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1315

for all healthcare support workers; secondly, to make that training mandatory; and, thirdly, to set out a timetable by which if employers do not use trained staff, it will in fact be an illegal act?

Baroness Northover: My noble friend makes some very cogent points; of course, he has recently reviewed this whole area in the Willis report. As I mentioned just now, we are imminently to receive the report on the Mid Staffs situation, which continued over a long period. My understanding is that it will be published on 6 February. The Government will be responding to what its recommendations might be, but I have already mentioned that Skills for Health and Skills for Care are developing standards for the training and conduct of support workers. They should report on that very shortly. The CQC has also been commissioned to review induction training, so we are acutely aware of this and are working on it at the moment.

Lord Wigley: My Lords, in view of the fact that Skills for Health has a UK remit, whereas I believe that Skills for Care has an England-only remit, can the noble Baroness tell the House what consultation there has been with the Governments in Wales and Scotland to ensure, on the one hand, that lessons are learned from each other and, on the other hand, that the training needs are co-ordinated to the benefit of everyone?

Baroness Northover: We are in constant contact with the devolved Administrations; I have information from both Wales and Scotland. It is indeed extremely important that we learn from each other, as the noble Lord has flagged up.

Baroness Wall of New Barnet: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the Government on the steps that they have taken so far, although they have taken a long time to do them. In addition to the area that the noble Lord, Lord Willis, talked about, there are still issues inside hospitals of patients not understanding that healthcare assistants are qualified to do the work that they are doing, while the healthcare assistants desperately want them to understand that. The Government’s failure to push this forward quickly is damaging that relationship. It also makes patients feel unsafe when they really have no need to.

Baroness Northover: In many parts of the health service, there is excellent care. I have certainly seen that first-hand. We have to make sure, as the noble Baroness does within her trust, that all care is consistent, safe, effective and compassionate. I take seriously the point that she makes.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, does the Minister accept that, with regard to out-patients, a common path is often beaten to their door by NHS workers on the one hand and social service workers on the other? Very often, there is a total lack of co-ordination between them, with each group acting as if they came from independent—and sometimes even jealous—empires. In the circumstances, does she not agree that there is a

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1316

strong case for support workers to be jointly employed, jointly trained and jointly answerable in respect of these matters?

Baroness Northover: This is an issue which the noble Baroness, Lady Emerton, has flagged up and I think she made a very cogent case. Health workers and social care workers move between the two sectors. We are trying to make sure—as previous administrations have sought to do—that the two systems are better integrated, because a patient is one person. They may cross between the two sectors, but they should have the same standards of care, whichever part of the system they are in.

Baroness Brinton: My Lords, given that there is a visible difference between homes where all the staff are trained and those where it is a bit patchy—to be favourable about it—can the Minister confirm whether the Government will be looking for compulsory training, which seems absolutely key to success in protecting both patients and staff?

Baroness Northover: I can assure my noble friend that all options will be considered when we receive the Mid Staffs report.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, without registration of these care workers, they can go anywhere and work anywhere, when they are dangerous and not suitable for work because they cannot be tracked?

Baroness Northover: As the noble Baroness knows, employers have a responsibility to make sure that those whom they employ are suitable and do not have the kind of record that she has indicated. We also know that regulation per se does not necessarily mean that good care is given; therefore, a proportionate and intelligent response is needed if we are to ensure that the care given is of the consistency, safety and quality that we all wish to see.

National Health Service (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill [HL]

First Reading

3.07 pm

A Bill to re-establish the Secretary of State’s legal duty as to the National Health Service in England, quangos and related bodies.

The Bill was introduced by Lord Owen, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Growth and Infrastructure Bill

11th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee10th Report from the Constitution Committee

Committee (2nd Day)

3.07 pm

Relevant documents: 11th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 10th Report from the Constitution Committee.

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1317

Clause 4: Permitted development rights for changes of use: prior approvals

Amendment 51A

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

51A: Clause 4, page 5, line 25, leave out “, or of the Secretary of State,”

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I should make it clear that this is a probing amendment. The Explanatory Notes to the Bill state that although Section 60(2) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 enables development orders for physical development to be granted unconditionally or subject to approval of the local planning authority, there is no equivalent conditionality which can be imposed where the development is a change of use. New subsection (2A) rectifies this and states that an order for development consisting of a change in the use of land,

“may require the approval of the local planning authority, or of the Secretary of State”.

The inclusion of the Secretary of State in those potentially needing to approve does not appear to apply where physical development is involved. May I therefore ask the Minister why this additional potential power has been given to the Secretary of State and why there is a disparity between those two situations?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My Lords, I should like to explain why the Government believe that it is both necessary and appropriate to include the Secretary of State within the powers set out in Clause 4. As the Committee is aware, we are keen to free up the planning system from unnecessary constraints to ensure that local planning authorities can focus on the most important planning matters in their respective areas. We want to ensure that economic growth is not suffocated by unnecessary constraints on development that is change of use. We have already announced our intention to allow for the change of use of offices to residential accommodation, measures to make better use of existing buildings, and to make it easier to change use to a new state-funded school. I shall come on to that in a moment. These will be secured through the granting of a permitted development right.

As the Committee is aware, the permitted development right regime is a well understood tool for granting national planning permissions for small-scale development. Indeed, Section 60(2) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 already provides for the Secretary of State to make a development order containing permitted development rights which require the approval of the local planning authority with respect to certain matters. This allows potential impacts from the development to be managed effectively.

Similarly, Clause 4(1) will allow the Secretary of State to provide that local authorities can ensure that, where permitted development is granted for a change of use, the impacts from that development can be managed sensitively. For example, this could include ensuring that adequate measures are in place to manage the impact of any additional traffic generation or noise created by the change of use.

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1318

We are clear that there is also merit in providing that the power within Clause 4(1) applies to the Secretary of State. By doing so, we are providing that the Secretary of State can further prescribe the scope of a permitted development night for change of use within the boundaries of the existing use classes. This could ensure that only those particular uses where additional freedoms would be beneficial, where there are sufficient safeguards and indeed where they would not impact adversely would be permitted. Therefore it would be possible that the effect of a development order could be limited to buildings or categories of building approved by the Secretary of State or other Secretaries of State.

Let me be clear that the Secretary of State’s power in Clause 4 can be used only within the context of a particular permitted development right set out in the development order made by the Secretary of State under powers in Section 60 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Permitted development rights very often have conditions and limitations attached. Clause 4 will enable those conditions to include the approval of matters relating to the change of use by the local planning authority, the Secretary of State or indeed both.

The matters to be approved will be clearly set out in the actual development order. We intend that the power will be used to bring forward our proposed permitted development right to support the creation of new state-funded schools. This will in this instance take account of a decision by the Secretary of State for Education to have considered and committed to the funding of a school. In doing so, we are ensuring that the planning system supports our priority to ensure that every child has an opportunity to benefit from a good state-funded education, something that I am sure the whole Committee wholeheartedly supports. Indeed, in response to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, I am sure that he is aware of a place not too far from his area of Luton—Bedford. I can think of no better words than those of the chairman of Bedford Free School, who said that,

“these new rules would have helped us move into the building quickly and easily, so we could concentrate on a new school that the community and local parents wanted, with an excellent head, in one of the most deprived parts of our town”.

Indeed, that was a very good example of where the actual development of the school was delayed but, had these rules been in place, that would not have been the case. It therefore remains the Government’s view that the creation and development of state-funded schools is strongly in the national interest and that planning decision-makers can and should support the objective in a manner consistent with their statutory obligations.

Clause 4 is a sensible measure and will ensure that development can take place quickly while also managing potential adverse impacts locally. As the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, said, this is a probing amendment. I hope that, with the reassurances that I have given, he will be willing to withdraw his amendment.

3.15 pm

Lord Beecham: My Lords, the Minister has taken the opportunity to mention in your Lordships’ House a decision recently announced by the Secretary of State. The latest ukase from the tsar of Eland House goes

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1319

even further in eroding the position of local authorities. The proposal that he has just announced would allow the Secretary of State to grant permitted development status—as I understand it, for a year—during which a planning application would be processed. That seems to be an extraordinary pre-emptive procedure. I cannot think of a precedent for something of that kind. It would be bad enough if it were a final decision. It is ludicrous to pretend that it is a temporary decision because it is almost inconceivable that the Secretary of State, having granted that permitted development, would not end up approving an application even if it had been turned down by the local authority and the matter went to appeal.

It is another example of the Government interfering and intervening in local decision-making, and in this case in a quite unprecedented way. I invite the Minister to indicate the basis on which this change is happening. I know in my own city a sort of school has been established in what are effectively domestic premises. I do not know how big the school is intended to be, but it is certainly not complying with a number of regulations, including of course the planning regulations. While I would not expect there to be many examples of wholly unsatisfactory buildings being used in this way, there clearly is a risk that schools will be encouraged by the order from the Secretary of State to proceed willy-nilly with their proposals, potentially excluding the local authority entirely. If that is what is envisaged in this context, in how many other areas will the Government seek to assume these powers, and with what effect on the local planning system?

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I saw this only a few minutes ago when I was alerted to it by an e-mail from the Bill team. I congratulate them on doing that, since, along with the Minister’s comments, it gives us the opportunity to debate this under a rather different and less dramatic amendment from that of the noble Lord on the Labour Front Bench.

Having now read the Statement while the discussion was taking place, the proposal that is being put forward seems quite extraordinary. Anything that is announced as a new state-funded school and has the support of the Secretary of State for Education goes ahead outside the normal planning system. That is, I understand, exactly what is being proposed at least for the first year. Presumably it will apply to all of them and not just to those which are said to have had problems opening on time because of delays in the planning system. Once again, we find that if there is a problem with planning—which is presumably caused by something real and is not invented by the planning authority—it is the planning system that is to blame. As the Prime Minister said quite recently, the planners should be removed from the scene. Those were not his exact words, but he said that they should be swept away—that they should get out of the way and let growth commence.

If that is what parts of the Government want, they should be fairly clear and overt about it and we can have debates about it. However, what is happening is that bits are being chipped away here and there. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said that it is eroding the power of local authorities. I would say it severely

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1320

undermines the whole reason for and purpose of the planning system. If it is to be undermined for somebody who wants to run a small business that does not really affect anybody else, and that person wishes to run that business in very unsatisfactory circumstances—in a condition of squalor—I suppose that is their business. However, we are talking here about schools, children in schools and the people who live in the neighbourhood around schools. Even if it is a small free school, it will inevitably have some impact on the people who live around it.

I read that these changes will be subject to a prior approval process to mitigate any adverse transport and noise impacts. I am not quite sure how that will work. Presumably, if there are adverse noise impacts, they will come under environmental health legislation anyway, but I am not sure how the prior approval process will mitigate any adverse transport impacts and what that means. Perhaps the Minister can explain exactly how that will work.

For everything else that might result from a change of use to a school, not necessarily with changes of any sort to the building, presumably you just close down whatever it was previously and move in. It could have been offices, hotels, residential institutions, secure residential institutions—perhaps they are appropriate for some schools, but I will not comment further on that—or used for assembly and leisure. These uses can be converted overnight to a school without so much as a by-your-leave other than prior approval to mitigate any transport and noise impacts. Surely this is fundamentally wrong. It is stated that in a small number of cases free schools have had to delay their opening because there were planning problems; that may be the case. If there were problems, whatever they were, that suggests that that opening should have been delayed and those problems should have been sorted out, just as with any other change of use that would take place.

The Minister’s Statement, headed “Planning and Schools”, says that the Government believe,

“that the creation and development of state-funded schools is strongly in the national interest”—

—we all agree with that; it is a question of how you create and develop them—

“and that planning decision makers can and should support that objective, in a manner consistent with their statutory obligations”.

I think that is referring to the planning decision-makers, but this proposal would abolish their statutory obligations, at least for 12 months. As the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said, a free school supported by the Secretary of State for Education which opens without planning permission in the first year has to spend that year getting planning permission. If that planning permission is turned down because the premises are obviously unsuitable to be turned into a school, for whatever reasons, the idea that that will go to appeal and the inspectorate will uphold the decision of the local planning authority is not likely. The inspectorate will get its firm instructions. It is quite clear that the Secretary of State for Education and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government are in cahoots over this. The planning system is being pushed to one side.

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1321

Yet the Statement goes on to say:

“Experience to date has demonstrated that with the assistance of the Education Funding Agency new state-funded schools, and free schools in particular, have been successful in identifying sites that have gone on to secure planning permission”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/1/13; col. 25WS.]

Presumably we can discuss this further on Report, but since we are discussing it now, it seems that at the very least the Minister needs to be clear and tell us how many instances there have been, out of all the free schools which have been set up, of them having their opening delayed because of planning problems? Where is the evidence that this is happening? What is the scale of the evidence, and what were the circumstances in each of those cases? I suspect that there are not very many of them.

This is a shambles. It is a Secretary of State for Education and a Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, as I said, in cahoots, driving a coach and horses through the normal planning system. The problem is that if government policy always trumps good planning, where will it end? It will not end with free schools, it will end with anything that any Secretary of State thinks is a good idea and pushes through, regardless of the effects on the people using the premises and on the local community.

Lord Bates: Could I clarify one point in what the noble Lord is saying? He seems to suggest that this is something that the Secretary of State is imposing on a local community, whereas the whole point of free schools is that the demand for them comes from within the community; local parents of local pupils will have indicated their desire to see a school established. Contrary to the notion that this is top-down, this is therefore surely something that supports local people in their local community getting access to the education that they want for their children.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I do not think that in this Committee we want to go too deeply into free schools and whether what the noble Lord just said is true or whether other factors are involved and to what extent. Free schools exist and, whether some of us like them or not, they are part of the system now. I am not in any way arguing about that in this Committee because I do not think that it is our business. What seems to be happening, however, is that in certain circumstances, when a proposal for a free school comes forward, whatever the instigation or motivation for it, the Secretary of State is saying that the normal planning system will not apply for at least the first 12 months. That is the problem.

I believe that the two Secretaries of State are clearly in cahoots over this, although people might want to use a slightly less emotive term than “in cahoots”. They are, perhaps, working together across departments, which some of us sometimes complain they do not always do. Nevertheless, they are clearly doing this and saying that in those circumstances the planning system will be set aside. That is obviously what is being said. If I want to set up a free school and Mr Pickles thinks that my free school is a good idea, I will not have to get planning permission before it opens. In the circumstances of a school, with children being educated

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1322

and with the potential effect of a school on the local community, pushing aside the whole of the normal planning system seems to me to be outrageous.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for his support for this amendment and to my noble friend Lord Beecham. When I drafted this amendment it was with a much more innocent approach than has appeared from this debate. It was simply looking at the wording and the disparity between change of use and physical development. However, given the debate that has just ensued, I am very glad that I drafted it. We have yet another example of something that runs through this Bill—an anecdotal approach to a perceived problem in the planning system, with the answer being to circumvent that planning system to deal with it. The issue is not the existence of free schools but their location, and why the normal planning process is not to be applied to that. Although this was a gentle, probing amendment, which I thought we might pass over swiftly with a clear explanation from the Minister, we have opened up something here that we will return to on Report, as well as having some wider debates about permitted development on amendments that come later in the Bill, as we try to remove some of the centralist approach that applies to those amendments and make sure that the local voice is heard.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: Perhaps I can reassure the House. A number of issues have been raised and—as the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, suggested—we have noted them, which I believe I made quite clear in the Statement. I do not want to delay the House too long but a number of points were made and I think it is appropriate for people to reflect on the responses prior to the next stage of the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, referred to the one-year temporary right and how that is doing away with the planning process; that is not the case at all. This is very much geared towards ensuring that a school opens on time, and no planning application for a free school has been refused to date. In response to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, this is not about with doing away with the planning process; it is about making the issue in relation to free schools easier. Bureaucracy exists in the planning process. This is not about wiping away planning permission but ensuring that a local community’s demands are met, as my noble friend Lord Bates pointed out. We are seeking to ensure, through the Bill, that we highlight those barriers that prevent such free schools coming into being at the required time.

3.30 pm

As a father myself, I assure the House that if you are planning for your children’s education—as many noble Lords around the House will agree—you want to ensure certainty as to when a school will start and when the term will begin, and these regulations that we are putting in place seek to ensure that that happens. I assure my noble friend Lord Greaves that this is not about going outside the planning system but about permitted development for a year, and does not override the need to secure full planning permission from the local planning authority.

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1323

A number of other issues were raised but, bearing in mind that time moves on and we need to press ahead with the Bill, we will write to the appropriate noble Lords about their specific questions. However, I go back to my earlier comments to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie. I hope that I have addressed and cleared his initial concerns, and that, given the probing nature of the amendment, he will seek to withdraw it.

Lord Beecham: Can the Minister confirm whether the proposals apply only to free schools or whether, as I read them, they apply to any state schools, which could be academies or local authority schools? A county education authority could go into an urban district that has planning powers and put in a local authority school on the same basis. This is not just for free schools, is it?

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I thought about that and then thought that the present Secretary of State will not give permission if it is a local authority school. He will say, “No, you’ve got to do it properly and get planning permission”.

I am grateful that the Minister emphasised that the period will be only one year, and I think that we understood that. However, he also said that, to the best of his knowledge, no free school has so far been refused planning permission—those were his words—and, therefore, at least half the answer to the question on how many have been delayed is “none”, at least at one end of the spectrum of being refused. It would be helpful if, when he writes, he can tell us how many free schools—and where they are—it is claimed have been delayed because of what he calls bureaucracy in the planning system. We can then look at them and make our own assessment of whether this extremely draconian measure is in any way justified.

Baroness Donaghy: My Lords, when the Minister writes, will he also explain whether there are any circumstances in which, during this protective period, one of these schools could be established but not be in the right place or have the right safety environment for the children there? Can he absolutely guarantee that a school that is established without proper planning permission will uphold all the usual standards?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My Lords, again, this debate widens. I made the point earlier that these are not draconian measures. This is not about two Secretaries of State making policy on the hoof. This is about two Secretaries of State relevant to this issue working together to ensure that we get a policy that works for the local community. The measure applies to any new state-funded school.

As to the question raised by the noble Baroness, I have already alluded to the fact that any new application for any school is subject to the same criteria. Therefore, if the scenario that she indicated has arisen—historically, if it has happened previously and people have had to look at where to locate schools—I am sure that remedial action has been taken. The proposals do not contravene health and safety or issues of security and the safety of children because they are ultimately priorities for any Government of whatever colour or coalition. The measure does not compromise them at all.

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1324

I assure any noble Lord who is thinking in that way that while one can never plan for all probabilities, this does not do away with the planning process in terms of the health and safety of children—just to be clear, nor does the issue of free schools negate the role of local planning authorities. They will continue to play a key part in decisions on the location of schools. Let it be absolutely clear that a new school is only established where a community need is highlighted: our new policy allows people to set up a school in response to local needs.

Lord Greaves: The Minister is goading me into one final contribution—I apologise to him. Again, I will avoid the issue of free schools themselves, which I do not think is relevant to this debate. They exist and they can be built, but it is a question of the role of the planning system in relation to them.

I am lost for words when the Minister says that this clause will not negate the role of the local authority in deciding the location of these free schools. It clearly will, because they will be set up in a location without the need to get permission from the planning authority. When he writes to us, can the Minister set out what the role of the planning authority will be in relation to a free school? The “prior approvals” process applies to two particular things. Can he tell us exactly how that will operate and, in particular, what the timescale will be; will it be the same as a normal planning application, or will it be a very informal thing? Will he also tell us what will happen if there are strong reasons for opposing the location of a free school after it has been set up and is in operation? Presumably, it will be spending money, perhaps on the building. What will happen if that is turned down subsequently by the local planning authority?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: As I have already indicated to my noble friend, we will write and cover those matters.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I fear that the Minister has raised more questions than he has answered in this debate. We should be clear that, as amended, the provision concerns “change in the use”—requiring the approval of the Secretary of State—and is not limited to free schools or schools. It could indeed be anything at the whim of the Secretary of State. I have absolutely no doubt that, on the basis of the exchanges that have taken place today, we must return to this and constrain this provision in a very meaningful way. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw.

Amendment 51A withdrawn.

Clause 4 agreed.

Clause 5 : Limits on power to require information with planning applications

Amendment 52

Moved by Lord Greaves

52: Clause 5, page 5, line 38, leave out “be reasonable having” and insert “have”

Lord Greaves: My Lords, in moving Amendment 52,I shall speak also to Amendments 53, 54 and 55, and clause stand part. I am grateful for the support of my

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1325

noble friend Lord Tope and that of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, on the first three amendments.

The amendment allows the Committee to discuss the proposals in the Bill to set limits on the powers of a local planning authority to require information from applicants for planning permission. My first two questions are general. First, what is the evidence that this is a significant problem? There seem to be a lot of assertions behind some of the changes in the Bill that this and that are getting in the way of development and growth. There have certainly been complaints—I have heard them from time to time in my own area—from applicants who say that they are being asked for too much information, and that this is slowing things down. So there is anecdotal evidence from applicants that they do not like the amount of information for which they are being asked. However, there is no significant evidence—certainly I have not seen any substantial evidence—that this is a significant problem in many places. We have to ask the Government for more than just assertions and anecdotes about how much of a problem this is. That is my first question: what is the evidence that this clause is needed?

My second question is about whether in this Committee we are wasting our time discussing this. I suspect that we might be. My question is: if this wording is put in the Bill, what difference will it make? Will it make any difference to the amount of information that planning authorities in general ask of applicants in different circumstances? There is already wording in legislation that is very similar to the wording here, including in secondary legislation and in guidance. I suspect that this perceived problem is a chimera, and that in practice this will not make any difference.

The amendments in this group probe one or two things. The Bill states that requests for information must be “reasonable”. Over the years, I—along with quite a few other noble Lords—have put down amendments to different Bills demanding that things should be “reasonable”, in an attempt to get the Government of the day to explain what they mean by their proposals. I remember being told by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who is with us today, when I tabled amendments to past Bills, that putting wording about being “reasonable” in a Bill is not necessary—it is redundant and otiose. It should not be in legislation because there is an underlying principle to all legislation that people have to act reasonably. They have to make reasonable decisions on the basis of reasonable evidence. That goes across the whole of the law. Therefore, putting the requirement into a Bill is not something that one should do. Yet here the Government want to put it into a Bill.

What difference would it make? Amendment 55 attempts to define “reasonable”. If the Government want to put in “reasonable”, perhaps they should attempt to define it. In relation to the information that is required, my proposed new subsection states:

“The meaning of ‘reasonable’ in subsection (4A) shall include any information … required as a consequence of any enactment”—

I assume that I will be told that that is not necessary because obviously it would be reasonable—

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1326

“and … required as a result of the request of any government departments, government agency or statutory consultee including any other principal local authority that is consulted on the application”.

If this is going to be in legislation, it is very important, if an application is turned down and goes to appeal and the appellant asks for costs on the basis that the local planning authority was guilty of unreasonable behaviour, that the local planning authority should not be penalised in any way as a result of—in effect—having acted on behalf of another body. It may be the district council, it may be the county council or the Highways Agency that wants more information and more work done on highways implications, on a transport plan or whatever. The Environment Agency may want more information about environmental issues such as biodiversity or drainage. On the basis of the information and the decisions made, the inspectorate may decide on appeal that it was wrong and that the information was not a material consideration, should not have been asked for and was not relevant to the application. The local authority should not be penalised on the basis that the Environment Agency or the Highways Agency or another local authority or other statutory consultee has asked for this information. Once the local planning authority gets that advice from the Environment Agency it must follow it up. If it does not it will be dragged through the media for being irresponsible.

3.45 pm

Amendment 53 concerns the issue of reasonableness again. The Bill suggests that information should be asked for,

“only if it is reasonable to think that the matter will be a material consideration”.

It is the local planning authority that makes that decision so I suggest that the Bill should read,

“if the local planning authority thinks”,

it should be a material consideration.

Amendment 54 is strangely worded, in my view. It suggests that if,

“the matter will be a material consideration”,

then particulars should be asked for. In many cases it is known to be of material consideration, which is why the information was requested, whereas in other cases it is marginal; the local planning authority will not be sure whether or not it is going to be a material consideration. It asks for the information, partly to find out whether it is material to that application. I suggest that instead of saying that it “will” be of material consideration the wording should be that it “is likely to” be of material consideration. Clearly, if it has nothing to do with the application the local authority should not be asking for that information anyway.

It is alleged that many local planning authorities are asking for all kinds of information. For example, when considering an application for a sports stadium the local authority should not ask for the football results of the teams that will be playing there; this is not a material consideration. However, the number of people attending, how they are going to get there and the effect of floodlighting on the neighbourhood clearly

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1327

are material considerations. There are marginal issues which may or may not be and this clause goes over the top. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply.

Viscount Hanworth: My Lords, I would like to reaffirm some of the points we have just listened to. The provisions of Clause 5, which seek to limit the power of local planning authorities to require information in association with planning applications, seem to be not only unnecessary but pernicious. I am at a loss to understand their provenance. As has been suggested, the key word that reveals the drift of the thinking is “reasonable”. The Bill enjoins planning authorities to limit their demands for information to those that are reasonable. The implication is an aspersion that, hitherto, there has been a significant number of unreasonable demands for information. Where is the evidence that would support such an aspersion? I am sure there is no such evidence.

Rather than relating to the practice of planning, the clause seems to relate to a prejudice against the planning process. As such, it seems to accord with the general tenor of this Bill, which has little or no grounding in facts or in evidence. Perhaps the worst aspect of this clause, as has been suggested, is that it gives no indication of how judgments would be made of what is reasonable and what is not reasonable. The consequence of this is that it invites planning applicants to withhold information on the spurious grounds that it is unreasonable to request it. A licence to behave in this way would surely wreck the planning system. One can fairly ask the Minister whether that is indeed the intention of the Bill.

Lord Cameron of Dillington: My Lords, I am totally supportive of this clause, but I am vague about how it will work as it is without any form of back-up information. It may be my ignorance of the planning system because I come to it from, as it were, the other side of the desk as an applicant rather than a local authority or planning officer. I am particularly concerned about small developments in rural areas, and here I ought to declare an interest for the purposes of this Committee as a farmer and landowner.

In many rural areas, which are of course underfunded as the result of an unfair and imbalanced central government funding system, planning departments have inadequate resources, staff and expertise. I believe that some local planning authorities are reluctant to engage in pre-application advice; indeed, they cannot afford to do so. I am concerned about the first encounter with the local planning authority for small applicants when they submit an application. It is likely that they will find themselves having to pay, say, 30% to 50% of the costs of a project—we must bear it in mind that these are small projects worth £50,000 or even less—in order to conform with the demands made by the local planning authority in terms of reports and consents. The project, of course, is also greatly delayed because they have to get all the answers needed to complete these reports. It seems to me that the belt-and-braces, tick-box approach applied by local planning authorities is not necessarily in order to cover themselves in case of a comeback on the result of an application, but all too often because they lack the expertise within the department to know what is relevant. That is why they

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1328

take a belt-and-braces approach. The fact that, due to the costs, a small project is killed before it even gets off the ground is often the cause of a secret sigh of relief in an overworked and underfunded local planning authority. In these circumstances, you have to ask yourself where our much-needed development will come from.

In my experience when talking to councillors—I have never actually been a councillor—I have found that few of the reports that are asked for are read by the members of the planning committee. One might say that that is fair because they are reported by the planning officers who know all about them, but even that is not necessarily always strictly accurate. I have known reports to be asked for by planning officers which are already in the file; in other words, the officers have not read the file. I have some questions. How is an underfunded rural local planning authority without knowledge and expertise to apply this clause? How will an overworked planning officer apply it to the multitude of different sorts of application that he has to deal with in a rural area? Is this clause all there is? Should there not be more guidance, which is what I would really like to see?

As I say, it may be perfectly clear to those who have worked for a local planning authority and are used to being on the other side of the desk, but it seems that we need a bit more detailed guidance. However, I repeat that I am totally supportive of this clause.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: My Lords, perhaps I can help the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. Lots of guidance on this issue is already available. I believe that Clause 5 is unnecessary in what, if I may say so, is a pretty unnecessary Bill, so I support the amendments, particularly Amendment 55 and, indeed, the proposal that the clause should not stand part of the Bill.

As I say, quite a lot of guidance is already provided in the NPPF to local authorities on information requirements, and we need to allow some time for that to bed in before taking any unnecessary legislative steps to control local authorities in the information that they may seek. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, it is possible to see what the evidence is that local authorities are being overly prescriptive and requiring information that is otiose, irrelevant or unreasonable. I have had experience across the planning system, mostly from the point of view of organisations requiring information from applicants through local authorities, and I would say that it is the lack of information, or delayed or poor quality information, which creates uncertainty and causes delays that result in poor quality decisions and make it virtually impossible for other interested parties to have a full and fair view of the impact of an application. That is particularly true for some of the environmental requirements that local authorities seek from planning applications.

With regard to “reasonableness”, I am sure the Minister will say that reasonableness is reasonable, but that the wording removes from the local authority the ability to be the final arbiter, to be in the driving seat and to be able to reduce the level of uncertainty that can cause these adverse consequences for decision making. It would be much wiser to allow the guidance

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1329

that has been issued so recently time to work through in order to see whether local planning authorities are making overly onerous information requirements. If they are, the guidance should be tightened because this issue is much more appropriate for guidance than for primary legislation.

It is interesting that the Royal Town Planning Institute is against Clause 5. Even the Law Society, while supporting Clause 5, quite rightly notes that careful guidance will be needed to avoid this provision becoming a new judicial-review weapon for third parties to stall developments. As an old hand at judicial review as a weapon to stall developments, I would not like to think that we were creating more opportunities to do that.

Lord Beecham: The noble Baroness, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and my noble friend Lord Hanworth have done a pretty effective demolition job on this proposal, without the benefit of planning permission.

Another issue arises from the impact assessment. That impact assessment purports to make another part of the case for the Government’s proposals, which relates to costs. On page 29 of the impact assessment, there is an analysis of the:

“Estimated savings for applicants under a central scenario assuming 10% reduction in costs”.

For the 347,800 annual applications, that comes down to something like £54.8 million, on the basis of a 10% reduction in costs. That is the net present value. The costs are £54.8 million and because of some mysterious rounding of the figures, the savings purport to come out to £6.5 million. It might be thought that that is not an inordinately vast sum of money in the scale of things, but it is perhaps worth saving if one could get it.

However, within that, it is significant that for major developments for dwellings, the annual savings would be £1.4 million, so it is hardly a material factor in holding up house building in the country. For a major development—not dwellings—the annual saving is even less, £0.9 million.

Where does the 10% figure come from? Why is 10% applied across the piece? Are the Government really suggesting that information required for a householder development, for which the savings per application are deemed to be all of £69 each, somehow will be of the same percentage order as those for a major development? That strikes me as highly unlikely. This seems to be a bogus figure plucked out of thin air to provide some sort of financial justification for this measure. In addition, the impact statement goes on to say that the Government intend:

“to introduce complementary changes to secondary legislation, which will have the effect of re-introducing a right of appeal where a council has failed to validate an application”—

presumably inter alia but not necessarily exclusively on the ground of lack of information—

“and the statutory time limits for determining a planning application has passed. This will address the impact of recent court decisions that have challenged the Planning Inspectorate’s ability to consider such appeals”.

If this is a significant issue—the Government appear to think that it is—why is there no amendment to the Bill? Why is it being done in the form of secondary

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1330

legislation, which, of course, cannot be amended if it comes before your Lordships’ House? From time to time, the Government take opportunities to add things to Bills, sometimes in considerable numbers. Why is this matter not being added to this Bill but being left to secondary legislation?

4 pm

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, we have signed up to most of the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, but did not sign up to his definition of “reasonable”, simply because one of his other amendments sought to delete that term from the Bill, which we thought was a better solution. Along with the noble Lord, we consider that the clause is superfluous, or unnecessary or pernicious, to use the terms of my noble friend Lord Hanworth. Again, we see a measure which is based on assertion and anecdote rather than on hard evidence.

The Government launched a consultation document entitled Streamlining information requirements for planning applicationson 3 July last year, which they closed on 11 September. When are we going to get the Government’s response to that consultation? Will it be before or after Report? Interestingly, the consultation states:

“There is no immediate vehicle for further reforms to primary planning legislation”.

That was back in July and it somewhat reinforces our contention that this Bill has been cobbled together in pretty short order. The consultation focuses on three areas: outlying planning permissions; local informational requirements; and agricultural land declarations. In respect of local information, which, effectively, is dealt with in this clause, the document cites that, although the primary powers of local authorities in this respect are broad, they are constrained, in particular by the publication of local information equivalents and the evidence and particulars regarding what is required and by national policy requirements that state that,

“local planning authorities should only request supporting information that is relevant, necessary and material to the application”.

This is what the procedure order requires, as does the related guidance. The consultation document muses that recent changes, including the NPPF, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the demise of regional spatial strategies, will mean that the information requirements of local authorities are likely to be out of date and should be updated every two years. However, it is clear from this document that, if it is necessary to change the current requirements—for example, with a regular updating of information lists—there are already powers to do this.

This also raises the question of why the policy position set down in the NPPF is not sufficient and why it is considered that primary legislation—available, it seems, after all—is needed. There is already a requirement to be reasonable, so what does Clause 5 add other than confusion? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, that some planning authorities struggle and are under-resourced. However, surely the answer is to make sure not only that they have clear guidance but are supported in their endeavours. It seems to me that this clause does not help them or move them on one jot.

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1331

Specifically, from whose perspective does reasonableness have to be judged? Is that not the role of the local planning authority that has to consider the application? At the end of the day, I fear that this clause is, like too many in this Bill, all about adding another bit of pressure on local planning authorities so that they are encouraged to ask for less, to decide more quickly and to avoid risking appeals, so undermining the quality of decision-making. If the noble Lord is minded at a point in time during our deliberations to seek to have this clause deleted from the Bill, we will support him.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): Clause 5 amends Section 62 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, just in case that had escaped noble Lords. The clause sets out limits to the general power, under Section 62(3) of the Act, of local authorities to request information in support of planning applications.

There has been some debate today about why the clause is necessary. The department published the consultation paper on 21 January—indeed noble Lords’ attention has been drawn to it—and I hope that provides some reassurance on this point. With regard to the other consultation paper that was concluded in September, the Government’s response was provided on 12 December, so a response has been made. The consultation paper demonstrates how the provisions in the Bill form a critically important part of a wider package of deregulatory measures brought forward with the purpose of simplifying the planning system. As well as ensuring a better alignment between the National Planning Policy Framework and the primary legislation that governs information requests by local authorities, the consultation emphasises the need to place limits on the broad power that currently exists in Section 62(3) of the Town and Country Planning Act. This is to address the impact of recent court decisions and ensure that applicants can access the planning appeals system where there is a dispute with the local authority regarding what information is necessary to validate a planning application.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, asked about the interrelationship between the National Planning Policy Framework and this clause. While the NPPF sets out a clear expectation on local authorities through policy, it is alone insufficient to overcome the interpretation given by the courts to the current legislative framework. The clause also safeguards the position of a local authority in requesting information, where a justification exists on the basis that the matter will be a material consideration when it comes to determine the application in question. Overall, I believe this change will bring a more balanced state of affairs whereby applicants and local authorities will work together to establish the amount of information necessary to get a particular planning application validated. Alongside our wider package, the clause will deliver a better and more proportionate approach to information requests and reduce the scope for disputes that can lead to delays at the validation stage.

Amendments 52, 53 and 54 would all considerably weaken the purpose of the clause and the achievement of the objectives I have just set out. Amendment 53

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1332

would amend the objective test in Clause 5 of whether a matter will be a material consideration in the determination of the application to become a more subjective test where the primary role is with the local authority to determine whether this is the case. That would undermine our attempt to address the broad powers of local authorities that have been the source of criticism by the courts. Similarly, Amendment 52 would essentially return us to the position that currently exists and has been found problematic: a subjective test decided by the local authority. A local authority would merely have to have regard to the nature and scale of the development when making an information request.

The purpose of requiring such information requests to be reasonable is to ensure that a local authority can justify whatever information it is seeking and can respond, if pressed, as to why it considers applicants should have to go to the often considerable expense of providing it. Presumably, that is something which we all agree is sensible and appropriate. Amendment 54 would continue in a similar vein, by weakening the requirement for local authorities to justify information requests on the basis that it is reasonable to think that they will be material considerations in the determination of the application to a looser requirement that they would be likely to be. Although I can understand the intention behind the amendment, we need to ensure that local authorities are clear, consistent and certain in why they think that information is going to be relevant to the determination of the application in question. Changing the test to “likely” will weaken the effect of this important principle.

Amendment 55 seeks to respond to the criticism that there is no statutory definition of what is “reasonable” by suggesting one. The definition attempts to set out circumstances which could definitively be considered “reasonable”. These would include information requests made by a government department, government agency or statutory consultee. As I have already said, the purpose of including “reasonable” in the tests is to require a local authority to justify why it considers information is necessary for the application to be validated. The likely requirements of a statutory consultee would clearly be a relevant justification as long as they are warranted by the circumstances of an application.

However, a tick-box attitude to the local list—there are indeed local lists of what information would be required—without consideration of the relevance of any particular item for a particular application will not do. Attempting to draw up in primary legislation a definitive list of what is and is not reasonable is not likely to be helpful and could create confusion. The tests that apply are already clearly set out in the NPPF and the clause as it currently stands clearly emphasises this.

What we really want is for local authorities and applicants to think these matters through together and, where differences emerge at validation stage, to have a sensible discussion about what is reasonable in the individual circumstances of the case. The concern that has prompted this change is that the law as currently drafted allows local authorities to refuse to

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1333

validate planning applications indefinitely and simply to impose information requirements unilaterally on applicants.

In summary, I fully understand and respect the need for us to safeguard the ability of local authorities to request information from the applicant where it is essential to the determination of a planning application. Clause 5 and the associated proposed changes to secondary legislation achieve this. No harm will be created by the requirement for such requests to be justified and, if necessary, enabling matters to proceed to appeal for a decision. Indeed, we consider that Clause 5 will encourage both applicants and local authorities to work more closely together to ensure that the likely impacts of development are fully appraised in the documentation submitted with the planning application in question.

Lord Deben: I assure my noble friend that many of us are very much in favour of this clause as it responds to a real need and an articulated concern. The Government have sometimes seemed to have felt that the planning system is a much more powerful deterrent to growth than many of us feel, but this change will be welcomed by those who feel that local authorities often have a standard list of things, whether it is applicable or not. I hope that my noble friend will be able to spread this approach to others, because many institutions, authorities and businesses constantly ask for a lot of information which is totally unnecessary but do it because they always have done. I hope she understands that there is great support for her position on this issue, although some of us are more unhappy about other parts of the Bill.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that contribution. I am not sure that I can commit other departments and other parts of government to doing anything, but I am glad of his support for what we are trying to do here. It is important that we get this right. I have been asked for the evidence on which the change is based. Not only have concerns been expressed on the part of the development industry about delays experienced at validation stage and the costs involved but this has been a long-standing issue and was a key theme in the Killian Pretty review, to which I am almost certain the noble Lord referred at Second Reading—somebody did anyway. That review, commissioned in 2008, was of the planning application process. Most recently, the department consulted on proposals to amend secondary legislation to streamline information requirements. It was clear from responses from the applicant community that they wanted us to go further and look at the primary legislative framework, which is what we have done.

The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, referred to the impact assessment. The savings predicted in the impact assessment are based on a reduction in costs generated by a shift in behaviour as a result of the clause and changes to secondary legislation. Both the clause itself and related changes to secondary legislation are necessary to introduce the ability for applicants to access the appeals system. If I am pressed—which I see the noble Lord is about to do—I will be happy to write to him on the detailed points made.

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1334

4.15 pm

I have dealt with reasonableness and the impact assessment. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, asked me about guidance. We are considering further at the moment whether additional guidance is needed. The noble Lord has said that there is guidance, but as new legislation appears, it may be necessary to provide guidance for that. However, discussions about that are taking place.

The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, suggested that we were prejudiced against the planning process. That is not true. We are trying to ensure that the planning process is fair to both sides—to the developers and the planning authorities. The purpose of this clause is to ensure that applicants are not asked for information that is clearly unnecessary for their application. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, quite rightly said that there are requirements from statutory authorities, but those will either be relevant or not relevant. If they are asked for that information and are given it, it will come as part of these discussions.

We want applicants and local authorities to get together and we want them to discuss, as my noble friend Lord Deben said, a list. All local authorities have a list of information which they will require. The danger is that that list becomes an absolutely set piece, and that you have to tick every single thing on it irrespective of whether it is necessary. We would like to prevent that happening further. The NPPF has referred to it. We think that this clause will strengthen the NPPF and that it is relevant and necessary in terms of the planning process.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that very detailed discussion of the amendments and the clause. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have supported the amendments and to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, for raising a slightly different issue, which he himself suggested would not necessarily be solved by this clause. Some planning authorities are finding it difficult to maintain an adequate standard of service at the moment. There is no doubt about that. I am not sure that that is only rural councils. In the past few days I have been told of a council that has only a handful of development control staff. Most small councils are in the same position. The council has reduced the establishment and encouraged people to take redundancy and so on. A high proportion of its few existing staff have got jobs in other places, which means that that authority is now down to one development control officer. That is clearly a fairly parlous position to be in. I am not quite clear how this clause will assist that local authority.

Having listened to the debate, I am coming to the view that, even if I were in any way tempted to seek to divide the Committee on clause stand part today, which I am not, I would be less likely to do so because it is less necessary. The more I think about the clause, and what it does, and listen to the experience of noble Lords around the Committee, the more I think it will not make very much difference at all. It might cause one or two authorities, which take a fairly slapdash approach to this and send a list without thinking about what is on it, to think a bit more sharply. However, in most cases it will not make very much

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1335

difference. The more I think about it, the more I come to the view that I cannot tell the difference between it being reasonable to think it will and to think it is likely to be. Nevertheless, it was a useful discussion.

I am not sure whether we have an infestation of animals here now. No, my noble friend has dropped a sweet on the floor.

Lord Burnett: It is not a sweet; it is a biro.

Lord Greaves: Okay, it is a ball-point pen.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: While the noble Lords opposite are rummaging under the Benches, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, might like to comment on the worry of the Law Society that I raised. He seems to be weakening in his resolve about this clause being unnecessary. I would like him to ponder on the fact that the Law Society is worried a bit about it becoming new judicial review territory which, as we know, is a great source of delay in planning applications.

Lord Greaves: I do take that seriously. If I am weakening, it is as to whether this clause will have any significant effect in practice and therefore whether it is worth while making the effort to remove it. There is lots of legislation which has no real effect in practice; we just accept that it goes through, I am afraid. However, with regard to judicial review, the ordinary applicants, about whom the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, spoke, who might be having a modest expansion to their farm, business or whatever, are not going to go to judicial review. If there is a problem about too much information being required, I suspect it will concern those people. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, is probably right that it is that sort of level of applicant. I do not think the householder applicant who wants an extension will be asked for lots of environmental information, and so on.

The big applications will have to provide the information anyway. If you are building a sizeable new housing estate, you are not going to get away without providing information on all the things that will be on the council’s list because they will include things such as drainage, the impact on the local roads and access into the site. They will want traffic counts and all the rest of it. You are not going to get away without that, whatever this legislation says. I suspect that they are providing all the information anyway and will continue to have to do so, while on the question of judicial review—for the people who would have the resources to go to judicial review—that is not going to happen in practice.

Having said that, I said at the beginning that one of my questions was whether discussing this clause at all is a waste of all our time. I suspect that it is but, nevertheless, I am grateful to everybody who has debated and to the Minister. These are important issues. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 52 withdrawn.

Amendments 53 to 55 not moved.

Clause 5 agreed.

House resumed.

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1336

Railways: High Speed Rail


4.23 pm

Earl Attlee: My Lords, with the leave of the House I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport in another place.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about our railways. Investing in transport infrastructure is not a choice. To create jobs and to rebalance our economy we need better roads, better airports and better trains. High Speed 2 is a central part of that investment: an engine for growth throughout our country. That is why, today, I am announcing our initial preferred route north from Birmingham and on to Leeds and Manchester. These new services will reach eight out of 10 of our largest cities: places such as Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester, as well as Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

In all, 18 cities—and many more towns, too—will be served by HS2 services. HS2 will be completely integrated with the existing rail network, it will bring people and businesses together, it will create an estimated 100,000 jobs and it has the backing of businesses and cities across Britain. We will introduce legislation for the first phase in this Parliament and legislate for the second in the next one. Construction is set to begin in 2017. The first trains will run in 2026 and the second phase will open fully by 2033.

I would like to make three further points. The first is about the need for the line. HS2 will be the first main line to be built north of London for almost 120 years. Some say we do not need another, but the truth is that we are already good at squeezing the most out of our Victorian railway network and, yes, we will get even more out of it in the coming years with massive investment. We are electrifying 800 miles of track and building Crossrail and the northern hub upgrade. These will help to keep us going for the next decade or two, but what then?

Rail passenger numbers have doubled over the past 15 years and demand will keep growing. The west coast main line is filling up. There is not enough space for all the commuters, freight trains and intercity trains that need to use it. That is why I am publishing, after very careful consideration, my initial preferences for phase two of HS2. The case for going ahead rests on the capacity it will provide and on the new connections it will create. It is not just about faster trains to London, but also about changing the way our great cities work with each other. There will be easy links on journeys that are difficult today. It will give muscle to the economies of cities beyond London, producing an estimated £2 in economic benefit for every £1 that is spent.

I frequently hear calls from colleagues in this House for better services to their local stations. They are right to ask for them; High Speed 2 is part of the solution. By creating free space on existing routes, it will allow better services to places such as Milton Keynes and more trains for commuters in areas such as Staffordshire, Leeds and Manchester. I am determined to make sure the benefits of HS2 run much wider than the places directly served by the new line.

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1337

Let me turn to my second point: the detail of the route I am announcing today. This follows the Government’s announcement last year about phase one between London and Birmingham. On the western leg from Birmingham to Manchester, I propose two new high-speed stations. The first is in the heart of Manchester, right alongside the existing station at Manchester Piccadilly, allowing easy connections to places such as Salford, Stockport and Bolton and a journey time to London of just one hour and eight minutes, down from more than two hours today. The second station will be at Manchester Airport, giving direct access to the wider Cheshire area. HS2 also will serve Crewe via a dedicated link and high-speed trains will continue on the existing railway to Liverpool, Warrington and Runcorn. They will also benefit from greatly reduced journey times. Further north, near Wigan, HS2 will connect with the west coast main line. High-speed trains can then continue at regular speeds to places such as Preston, Carlisle, Glasgow and Edinburgh. I am working with our counterparts in Scotland on their aspirations for high-speed rail and I have already set out a long-term ambition to get journeys to Scotland below three hours.

Turning to the eastern leg, we will construct three new stations to bring people and businesses in the East Midlands and Yorkshire closer to Birmingham, the north-east and London. The East Midlands station will be located between Nottingham and Derby at Toton. Links will be upgraded to provide fast access to both. The second station will be at Sheffield Meadowhall. It already has good connections and these can be improved further, allowing it to serve all of Sheffield and South Yorkshire. The third station will be located in the centre of Leeds, alongside the South Bank area. As with the western leg, there will be a connection from HS2 on to the existing rail network. A connection to the east coast main line, just nine miles from York, will allow the north-east to benefit, too—London to York in just one hour and 23 minutes, and Newcastle in just two hours and 18.

Lastly, a decision on how best to serve Heathrow will be taken after the outcome of the Airports Commission has been considered by the Government. From day one, though, HS2 will provide far faster journeys than now via a major new interchange at Old Oak Common, linking to the Great Western main line, Crossrail and the Heathrow Express.

The third point that I want to make today is about design and help for those most affected. I know that this is an issue that many honourable Members want the Government to take extremely seriously, and we are. I know that although the line will benefit the country as a whole, it will also create great anxiety among those close to the proposed route, so we will consult properly, design carefully and compensate fairly.

Let me stress that today I am announcing an initial preferred route. This is the start of the process, not the end. We are ready to listen, ready to improve. I want this line to create jobs and prosperity, not harm them, so, where businesses may be affected, we will work with them to find a solution. We will now begin a period of informal consultation on phase two. This will inform the official public consultation, originally

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1338

planned for 2014 but which I can announce will be brought forward to this year. The aim is to reach a firm decision on the route of phase two in 2014.

I understand how proposals such as these can affect property markets. So compensation will be as generous as on the first phase, and more generous than when we built the motorways. Today I am launching a public consultation on the exceptional hardship scheme for those who must sell but cannot because of HS2. Under this scheme we will pay the full price, valued as if there were no HS2. This will be followed by the next stage of our property compensation scheme, once the final route is confirmed.

There are not many issues on which all the political parties in this House agree; it often feels like there are none at all. This, however, is one because, regardless of the nature of the Government when the first trains run in 13 years’ time, what matters are the jobs, the rebalancing of the economy and our country’s future prosperity. I commend this Statement to the House”.

That concludes the Statement.

4.32 pm

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made earlier in the Commons. I welcome the Statement, of course. The Minister made the presumption that there was agreement between the major parties on this project and indeed there is. He will know that I endorse the main strategy that is proposed in the paper, and I welcome the fact that this announcement is being made today.

Inevitably, however, there are differences between us, and I will seek to identify some of them for the good of the Government in the time in which they have to make judgments on this important project. I emphasise to the House that in the long run this project will bring strength to the British economy and relieve the pressure on rail lines, particularly the west coast main line, which the Minister rightly identified as running at very close to capacity, but it has nothing at all to do with the rhetoric that he brought into the Statement about jobs and improving our economy at the present time. The idea that the proposals contained in the Statement, which, after all, refer to a project that will not be completed for over a decade from now, will bring an enormous stimulus to the economy and create jobs at present is quite erroneous. I rather regret that the noble Earl has rightly emphasised that we welcome this. Of course we will do our best in opposition and in government to see the fulfilment of the project.

There are inflections in this speech which seem to be addressed to our contemporary economic troubles. This project is too far away to actually deliver a great deal of improvement prior to the next general election or even several years after that. However we welcome the project for the reasons put forward by the noble Earl, not least in terms of the pressure upon existing rail provision in the United Kingdom. He makes the important point that no railway line has been created north of London for more than 120 years.

The Government are still not committing themselves to aspects which we would have thought would give a real sense of urgency to this timetable. Why does this

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1339

Statement make no attempt to bring the legislation necessary for phase 2 into the timetable for phase 1? Surely one Bill—which might necessitate a carryover facility—dealing with the whole project is bound to be a better prospect than the Government going through all their travails over London to Birmingham, and then starting all over again with a fresh Bill for the lines north of Birmingham.

We also regret that the Statement makes no real approach towards another area of future transport on which we have sought to establish consensus, namely the future of aviation in the south-east. Why do the Government not address their mind to the possibility of a direct link to Heathrow? Surely that would improve connections as far as airports are concerned? It would certainly help with short-haul flights bringing people into Heathrow if they could then travel speedily by train. That would reduce the pressure on Heathrow for short-range flights and the slots which they occupy, giving the airport, with its present colossal problem, a chance to breathe. As the public know very well, every time we have two or three inches of snow, as we have had recently, there is a crisis at Heathrow because it is right up against the margins of capacity with no flexibility for dealing with such a situation. I regret that there is no suggestion of looking at a link to Heathrow.

Where northern cities beyond Birmingham are concerned, we welcome the fact that Manchester and Leeds are to be served. It should be recognised that we need to look at the rail infrastructure for link-up with other major cities apart from those two. High-speed trains will of course bring immediate and direct benefits to those, but we also need assurances from the Government that issues will be addressed so that those cities which are not directly on the line—only two are—will benefit significantly.

We are concerned about another dimension of the high-speed rail proposals. The lines from the north will connect with High Speed 1, the link to the continent. The intensity of interest in this possibility goes back decades. Since High Speed 1 has been in place, served by the magnificent station at St Pancras, there has also been great interest. However, what will happen to these trains from the north? When they get to London, they are meant to clank around the back part of the rail service which Transport for London regards as critical to all its services around London. That line, of course, has speed limitations, to put it at its mildest. The Government are still looking at a situation in which those from the north will have a slow perambulation around London if they are bent upon getting to the continent.

Nevertheless, there is a great deal in this Statement that we welcome. We welcome the fact that it is being made; at least that is an indication that the penny has dropped for the Government, and that there is some urgency about these matters. However we still feel that the Statement could have been much more clearly expressed in terms of urgency for getting this line constructed, to both Birmingham and the cities of the north.

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1340

4.41 pm

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful for the positive endorsement from the noble Lord, Lord Davies. He thought that he had identified some differences between us; I do not think that he has succeeded. First, he said that he did not believe that this announcement has any current effect on the economy, and the effect would be all in the future, after the completion of the Crossrail project. However, HS2 Ltd has spent £188 million on this project over either the past financial year or the past 12 months; I am not sure which.

The noble Lord suggested that we should have one hybrid Bill. Noble Lords must understand that the hybrid Bill for phase 1 alone will create extensive and detailed powers. The work required to prepare the Bill is proportionate to the length of the line. It is much better to get phase 1 under way and, once it is, to seek approval for phase 2. There are several very large infrastructure projects under way, but they need to be consecutive, not concurrent. Therefore, Thameslink is nearing completion, Crossrail is starting, and we will then work on phase 1 of HS2 and, finally, start on phase 2. There is an interesting question of whether the phase 1 hybrid Bill should refer to phase 2.

The noble Lord talked about connecting services between HS2 and other cities. Of course, he is quite right. We are clear that the HS2 project must not interfere with and divert resources away from the rest of the railway network. Noble Lords will know that we are doing an awful lot of work elsewhere.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Davies, talked about the spur to Heathrow. The Government believe that the HS2 network should link to Heathrow, and our preferred route is for this to be built as part of phase 2. However, since January’s announcement, the Government have also established an independent commission chaired by Sir Howard Davies to recommend options for maintaining status as an international aviation hub. We have therefore taken the decision to pause work on the spur to Heathrow until after 2015. The proposals for the spur and station are not planned to be part of the phase 2 consultation in 2013. However, there will still be an opportunity to consult separately at a later time and include the spur in legislation for phase 2 if that fits in with the recommendations of the commission.

4.45 pm

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, first, we thoroughly support the recommendations. They are about capacity. However, you cannot talk about capacity and ignore the freight dimension, and the freight dimension has been totally ignored by the opponents of HS1.

Secondly, I want to talk about railway fares. We must be careful that we are not building what will be described in the media as a “rich man’s toy”. Is the Minister aware of recently published research which says that British railway fares are in fact lower than those in France, Germany and elsewhere on the near continent? Only fares at the highest peak here are more expensive than in Europe. Will the Minister contact the Rail Regulator and ATOC to see if we can stop these very large increases, often in commuter fares, which are so far above RPI plus one? Fares at

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1341

RPI plus nine are not uncommon. The next time fares are revised we should attend to the fares basket, on which the fares are calculated, so that people are hit less. Commuters in places such as Manchester and Leeds have seen very little improvement to their services. They have rotten rolling stock that should have been got rid of years ago, and yet they are being called on to shoulder the burden of the investment when it will be a long time before they see any benefits.

Lastly, and briefly, outside the railway industry is where the benefits lie. If you look at Crossrail you will see already that the land and property values are rising very fast, but the railway gets no benefit in terms of the attribution of these in any economic forum.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, first, my noble friend touched on the needs of freight. He is absolutely right, because one problem that we face if we do nothing is running out of capacity on the west coast main line for both passengers and freight. So it is a major driver that we absolutely have to do this project to provide sufficient capacity for freight, because there simply are not the train paths for people to put on the services that they would like to run.

I am looking forward to answering an Oral Question on Thursday regarding railway fares, and my noble friend has been asking me numerous Written Questions about how the fares basket is calculated. One question that it is important to answer is: will it be more expensive to travel by HS2? The issue of fares will be considered in more detail as the project develops. However, our assumptions on the viability of HS2 and the expected fares income do not factor in or depend on a premium for high-speed services.

Lord Soley: Will the Minister assure me that, as in all other European countries, the Government recognise that our future hub airport, wherever it is located, must be linked to a high-speed railway line? Do the Government understand that?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, the most cautious approach for me would be to rely on the Airports Commission, but I am sure that it will take that very much into consideration. In the noble Lord’s submission to the Airports Commission, no doubt he will have mentioned that very point.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. Will he pay particular attention to the cross-Pennine route between Yorkshire, Lancashire and northern Cheshire? We will get the real benefits for the north only if, in addition to HS2, we improve the links between the east and the west of our country in the north.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, my noble friend is right in general terms. HS2 is predominantly a north-south route and will link eight out of 10 cities, but to get the full benefit we need a complete network. We are doing everything we can to bring to fruition schemes that have a good business case.

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1342

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, first, do I assume correctly that the £34 billion cost is estimated in terms of today’s money? If so, what is the cost likely to be by the time the scheme is finished in 2033? Secondly, how can the Government be so certain that the construction of HS2 will result in a better balance between the north and the south? Is it not possible that more people than ever would be attracted from the Midlands and the north to London and the south?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I cannot answer the noble Lord’s first question because I do not know what inflation is going to do. As to his second question regarding whether HS2 will benefit only London: no, HS2 will play an important role in rebalancing our economy, thereby enabling British cities to work together as an economic powerhouse. I have already said that eight of the 10 top cities will be linked together. London will have Crossrail; it is now the turn of Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield and the east Midlands, with further benefits to Scotland and a whole host of cities in the north. We are not simply building a railway—a way to get between two points more quickly—we are connecting people and markets, and providing a platform for development and regeneration around station sites.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I offer my wholehearted support for the Statement and the Government’s strategy on High Speed 2. It is 50 years this year since the Beeching report and 30 years since the Serpell report, which noble Lords may have forgotten had as one of its options a national network of just 1,400 miles. The transformation in the popularity of rail travel and the recognition of the role that rail can play in our transportation has been little short of astonishing. The fact that we can talk credibly about new high-speed railways to the north of England and Scotland demonstrates the fact that demand for conventional rail travel is almost at bursting point, as the Minister said.

Perhaps I may ask the Minister one question and make a further point. Today is very much an endorsement of the approach of my noble friend Lord Adonis, who introduced the very first White Paper on High Speed 2 and set this whole process underway. It would be right for the House to pay tribute to him and his foresight in paving the way for the announcement that the Government have been able to make today.

With reference to what the Minister said about high-speed trains running north on conventional railways, particularly on the west coast main line, can he give an assurance that signalling and other infrastructure on the west coast main line will be sufficiently upgraded to allow these trains to run—obviously not at 300 kilometres an hour but certainly closer to a line speed of perhaps 140 or 150 miles an hour? That will require improvements to the signalling. In that way, it might be possible to achieve the target of reaching Scotland within three hours, which I agree is a very desirable aim.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester. I have no difficulty at all in paying tribute to the work of the

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1343

noble Lord, Lord Adonis. This project is going to cover the life of certainly several Parliaments and maybe even several Governments.

The noble Lord talked about speed on the conventional system. One of the problems if we do not do HS2 is that we will have to do upgrade projects on the west coast main line that might look attractive in terms of a business case but, actually, one will eventually run out of capacity on that line, having spent billions of pounds on those projects. The noble Lord is right. I am not sure of the technical points on how we will reduce the journey times from Scotland to London to three hours, but I will happily write to him on that.

Lord Shipley: My Lords, I welcome the announcement very strongly. I have two questions for the Minister. The first relates to the date on which the second phase of the high-speed track north of Manchester and Leeds will join the east and west coast main lines near York and at Wigan respectively. Will the Minister assure the House that this will be done at the very same time as the link to Manchester and Leeds is opened? Otherwise, there might be a flight of investment capital from developers who wonder whether points north of Manchester and Leeds will actually be brought within the high-speed framework. The solution to that problem is for a guarantee to be given that it will be done in 2033, when Manchester and Leeds open. Secondly, I simply ask for confirmation that there will be no reduction in the plans for upgrading the east coast main line in the next 20 years, pending completion of the second phase of HS2.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, my noble friend asked me some important questions about opening events occurring at the same time. Unfortunately, I cannot give the assurance that the noble Lord wants; the date is too far away. However, I will take the point on board. My noble friend also asked me about the upgrading of the east coast main line. It is important to keep that line working properly, but of course we are talking about something quite a long way ahead. I therefore cannot give my noble friend any specific assurances, other than the key one that the HS2 project will not divert resources from the conventional railway system.

Lord Grocott: Like other speakers, I warmly welcome the Minister’s Statement. After all, in this country we built the very first railways and exported the technology to build railways across the world, although sadly in recent decades we have fallen behind. This is a very positive—and for me, exciting—development. I have two points to make from our history. The Minister might find the first reassuring; the second is a question.

The first, reassuring point was made by a railway historian working at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum in my former constituency. He helpfully reminded me that many cartoons and sketches of the 1830s and 1840s speak of cattle not producing milk, hunting and agricultural land destroyed, and the picturesque nature of the English countryside lost forever. I am sure that this is familiar to the House. We all understand the objections that will inevitably come from people along the line and I welcome the assurances that the Minister

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1344

has given about full consultation. However, in a relatively short period of time, these railways became a treasured part of the landscape.

Secondly, I put the following less reassuring point to the Minister. This is an exciting prospect of about 300 miles of railway—I have not added it all up. The Victorians managed to construct thousands of miles of railway. They did it with picks and shovels, and they managed to do it pretty quickly. Is 2033 the earliest date we can talk about? I have always wanted to live until I am 93, and this would give me an added incentive, but surely it should be possible with JCBs and whatever else modern technology offers to slightly improve on that timescale?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, it is an exciting project. However, we need to be doing it for the right reasons, and I believe—as I think most noble Lords do—that we are. I am sure all noble Lords will agree that it is important that we have an effective and fair system of planning for these large infrastructure projects. However, as the noble Lord will know from his experience as a former government Chief Whip, the process for getting a hybrid Bill through Parliament is quite protracted; it is not an easy thing to do. However, we will do it.

Lord Deben: My Lords, will my noble friend listen carefully to the point that has just been made about speed? I, too, hope to travel on that first train. I would like it to come earlier because that makes it more certain that I will be in a position to do so. Secondly, will he congratulate his right honourable friend in the other House on producing a Statement that was as non-party political as possible, because we need consensus? It did not refer to the fact that since privatisation the use of the railway has increased enormously, and that all the fears that people had have been entirely reversed. It was right to leave that out of the Statement.

Thirdly, does my noble friend not agree that the grandchildren of the people who objected to the railways being built in the first place became those who were most determined to defend them after they had been built? We have to be very firm with those people who, for understandable reasons, do not understand that this country has been held back by its failure over many years to invest in infrastructure. Recent years have seen great change, with the growing of Crossrail and the rest of it. We are a very much more advanced country as a result. Frankly, nimbyism must not be allowed to stand in the way of Britain growing. Will my noble friend be tough about this? It will be easier to be tough if we do this more quickly. The longer we push it out, the more it will be possible for these people to gain support.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, first, of course I always listen very carefully to what noble Lords say. I am grateful that my noble friend thought that it was a non-party political Statement. However, it did say that passenger activity had doubled. In the past, when I had to repeat a Statement that had rather more political content, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, did not resist the opportunity to give me a good and well deserved teasing.

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1345

We have failed to invest in infrastructure in the past. However, over recent years we have rather turned the tide and recognised the benefits of railways. I will be as tough as I can, but in my current position my capacity is limited.

Lord Ryder of Wensum: My Lords, in my experience, when I hear a Statement delivered by a Secretary of State in the other place claiming that the leaders of all the main parties are agreed on a major matter, it invariably turns out to be wrong. In this case, I am reluctant to spoil the celebration. However, in his first point, the Secretary of State in the other place made no financial and economic case at all for the scheme. While I do not expect to be around in 22 years when the scheme is meant to be finished, I am willing to bet that it will never be completed, because the expenditure that is now stated for the cost of the scheme will be inflated year on year, and ultimately a Government, either on this side of the House or the other, will put a stop to it. I am afraid that that has always been the case with the type of vast public expenditure that the Secretary of State effectively announced today without making any case in its defence.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, HS2 has a good business case. If local areas seize the opportunity it presents, we can expect the benefits to be even greater. We are continuing to work with stakeholders to realise these benefits. The latest available estimates suggest that HS2 will return around £2-worth of benefits for every £1 spent. HS2 has the potential to generate transport-user benefits with a net present value of up to £48 billion, and revenues with a net present value of up to £33 billion. The construction costs of HS2 are broadly similar to the sort of money we are spending on Crossrail, so the incidence of expenditure on the project will be affordable.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, there was one slightly opaque sentence in the Statement, which otherwise I welcomed. It referred to consultations with the Scottish Government. Might I persuade the Minister to enlarge a little on that? The last thing we want is a good, high-speed service as far as the north of England and then second-rate ones thereafter.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that there are ongoing discussions on that particular issue between my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and the Scottish Government. The southern portion of the HS2 system has the better business case and therefore it makes sense to start that first, safe in the knowledge that Scotland will still benefit from the reduced journey times to London.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, this is a visionary and exciting day, but is it not ironic that most of the existing railway network in this country outside London was built in about 20 years in the Victorian period, whereas it is going to take 20 years to build one and a half new lines now? Is it not time that people started to look at a long-term vision of high-speed rail in this country, extending from the north-east of Scotland to the south-west of England as well as routes to London?

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1346

Earl Attlee: My Lords, the first point is that our democracy is a little bit more developed than when we started the railway system in the United Kingdom; it was easier to secure parliamentary approval in those days. I recognise that HS2 does not do anything for the West Country in itself, however noble Lords will know that the Great Western is a very fine line.

Growth and Infrastructure Bill

11th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee10th Report from the Constitution Committee

Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

5.06 pm

Amendment 55ZA

Moved by Lord Best

55ZA: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—

“Time when development began

In section 56 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (time when development began) after subsection (4)(e) insert—

“(f) such works as may be described in a condition attached to the relevant planning permission having been agreed between the local planning authority and the applicant for that planning permission.””

Lord Best: My Lords, I declare my interests as president of the Local Government Association, whose officers have, as always, done brilliant work in preparing amendments for the Bill, and as chair of the Hanover Housing Association, which is a relevant interest for the amendments that now follow and relate to affordable housing. These amendments begin with Amendment 55ZA, in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and continue with those in the next six groupings. All of them address concerns about the provisions in Clause 6, which allow developers to appeal to the Secretary of State—that means to the Planning Inspectorate—for a reduction in the level of affordable housing, which the developer previously agreed to provide. This new right for house developers would be activated if the local authority does not accede to a developer’s demands for such a reduction in affordable housing provision.

As we launch into debates on this new right for developers, I think it is necessary for me to spell out why I believe this clause needs serious modification. If I do this now, the Committee will be spared my making these points under each of the six amendments in my name in the following groupings.

First, developers have freely entered into legal agreements with local authorities pledging that they will allocate a specified proportion of the new homes that they build—perhaps 25% or 35%—to be let or sold on a shared-ownership basis to those who cannot afford the full market price. The developer has signed a deal which he believed would deliver a good profit. In normal circumstances, the agreement, under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, would have to be honoured if property prices turned out to be lower than the developer had predicted. Equally, the local authority could not amend the agreement if prices went up by more than expected and the developer made a larger profit. For central government, using the Planning Inspectorate to overrule the agreement

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1347

between the two parties in order to improve the profits for the housebuilder would represent a retrospective intervention to change a legal agreement freely entered into by two competent parties. I do not think it has ever been suggested that Machiavellian local authorities have hoodwinked innocent developers unfairly into signing Section 106 agreements. No, the developers thought they had a good deal and the retrospective tearing up of a private contract by central Government diktat would seem to set a sinister precedent.

Secondly, there is the question of fairness. To say the least, this clause is galling for those would-be buyers of a site who were outbid by a developer who, it now transpires, paid over the odds. The reason housebuilders are now seeking to renegotiate the agreements they signed is that they speculated on property prices rising inexorably, but now find that their profit margins will be less than they hoped. In outbidding others, including the many housing associations which have been prevented from buying land by the exorbitant prices these developers paid, they have taken a gamble which has not paid off. If their rash behaviour means that with hindsight they should have paid less for the land, is it fair on other more prudent housebuilders and housing associations for the Government to bail them out? Is it fair that Clause 6 should reward speculative developers by letting them off their obligations to ensure that they can make a handsome profit from the development?

Thirdly, I can see the argument that it is important to save a developer, even if he has acted foolishly, from going out of business because we need to maintain the capacity of the housebuilding industry through these difficult economic times. However, while property prices have fallen in real terms in some areas, particularly in Northern Ireland although it is not covered by this measure, prices have seldom dropped dramatically, and in parts of the London and the south-east, they have even continued to rise. Far from going to the wall, a number of major housebuilders have recently reported substantial annual profits and their share prices have risen significantly. That does not suggest a need to make concessions to prevent bankruptcies in the sector.

Finally, and most importantly, we should scrutinise Clause 6 with great care because it is likely to lead to a reduction in the amount of affordable housing at a time when there are desperate shortages, fewer and fewer households can afford to buy, and market rents are absorbing disproportionate percentages of average incomes. Local authorities are already making concessions in order to be helpful to developers, and if they have got to the point of saying, “This far but no further”, they have good reasons so to do. Section 106 agreements have been hugely important in securing a high proportion of all the affordable housing built over the past decade. These agreements have meant that the bulk of social, subsidised housing has no longer been built in separate, segregated estates exclusively for the poorest and on the cheapest sites. Rather, it has been integrated into mixed-income communities of tenants, shared owners and owners. Backtracking on the gains for local communities that have been achieved by planners through this route is really bad news.

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1348

Moreover, inclusion of this element in a development was a key component in the planning consent being granted in the first place. A block of flats in east London with little or no affordable housing may be sold virtually in its entirety to overseas investors and occupiers and will make little contribution to supporting Londoners who need somewhere to live. In rural areas it is likely that local opposition to development was considerably moderated because housebuilders signed up to some affordable housing on the site so that local people who had been priced out of the housing market could stay in the locality. I know that the rural case has been addressed in relation to the special case of exception sites in the government amendment we will consider with the Minister shortly, but I am making the more general case about all developments in more rural communities: take out the affordable housing ingredient and a significant reason for both local authority and community approval for housebuilding will be removed.

These are the reasons why Clause 6 needs to be amended, and the first amendment for consideration seeks to address the key argument against my list of criticisms. This is the counter-argument that despite the disadvantages I have set out, unless the developers in question are let off all or part of their affordable housing obligation, they will simply sit on their hands, do nothing and leave sites undeveloped. How much better, runs this counter argument, for development to get started, and for at least some affordable housing to be built, rather than for the land to lie idle.

5.15 pm

I fully recognise the value in getting the open-market houses constructed, as that contributes to easing acute overall shortages as well as providing jobs in the construction industry and helping the country out of recession. It is said that it is worth sacrificing some affordable housing in order to get housebuilders on site now but would the easing of planning obligations for affordable housing have this effect? Are housebuilders holding back because a minority of the homes are earmarked for affordable housing on which they will make little or no profit? If builders could sell all the houses without having any obligations of this kind, they would make bigger profits than they had previously expected.

Often the reason they are not proceeding with the development is that they are pretty sure they will not be able to sell all the market homes when they are built. The market is sticky and if builders know that weekly sales of new homes in the locality are at a low ebb, they will not want to build so quickly that they can sell only by reducing the price. Mostly, it is the market conditions that are being addressed by other policy measures, not the fact that a proportion of the homes need to be passed to a housing association without a profit being made on them, that are causing housebuilders to sit on the land and wait for better times.

This amendment seeks to avoid the worst of all outcomes. This would put in place measures that would allow housebuilders or developers to renege on their obligations in relation to affordable housing, but with

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1349

no requirement on them to start building anything. Under that scenario, the builder who is not minded to do much with a site until market conditions are more favourable could wait up to three years, after their appeal to the Planning Inspectorate has been concluded, to switch homes from affordable housing to market sales, which would be many months from now.

The builder could then dig a ditch to keep the planning alive and wait for a rise in house prices. At some point in the future, he would not only make a bigger profit on the original quota of his for-sale properties but would add extra profits from the sale of the homes that he has been allowed to transfer from the affordable category to open market sale. That would be a double benefit for doing nothing now and would completely defeat the objective of Clause 6 of kick-starting stalled developments.

Amendment 55ZA couples with a significant one in the next group, Amendment 55F, in my name and the names of the noble Lords, Lord Shipley and Lord McKenzie. It states:

“Where a planning obligation is modified under this section following an appeal, the applicant must commence development within 6 months of the final appeal decision”.

That would mean that, although the community loses some of the affordable housing it had expected, at least construction would get going and some accommodation will be built. The housebuilder will not be allowed simply to negotiate an increase in the land in his land bank, thereby increasing the value of the company, without actually building anything.

However, Amendment 55 on its own, requiring a start on site in six months, would be flawed without Amendment 55ZA. This enables the local authority and the developer to agree on what a “start on site” should mean in this context. At present, planning permission does not expire provided the developer begins a “material operation”, which can mean simply starting to lay out a road or just digging a trench for foundations. We have all seen those desolate sites with a few feeble trenches full of rain water and nothing happening. Case law is clear, unfortunately, that it does not matter that the developer has carried out these minimal works simply to keep the planning permission alive, rather than with any genuine intention to complete the development.

We know there is a backlog of 400,000 new homes with planning permission yet to be built. If Clause 6 does not get developments with planning consent moving swiftly forward to completion, but only removes vital affordable housing requirements permanently, it will have failed miserably. This amendment, coupled with Amendment 55F, would mean that if the appeal process leads to fewer affordable homes, at least there is some tit-for-tat or some recompense for the concession; namely that the housebuilder must get going, must start on site within six months, and must do so in an agreed, meaningful way. That might mean the laying of all the necessary underground mains or pipes to the foundations, the construction of a road or whatever other definition of “material operation” is agreed between the two parties.

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1350

These two amendments, taken together, would mean salvaging at least something where central government overrules local authorities and allows developers to break the agreements that they have signed and reduce the levels of affordable housing. These are the first of a formidable list of amendments that aim to modify Clause 6, and perhaps they may be the most significant. I beg to move.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): Before the noble Lord sits down, I would draw the attention of the House to the fact that although he was making a very wide-ranging speech on Clause 6, his amendment is after Clause 5 and relates to one very specific matter. He has also coupled this with Amendment 55F, which appears in the ninth group today, way down the agenda, and which is not grouped with the first amendment. I wondered whether, before going any further, we might agree to speak to the amendment which is being moved and only that one for the moment. The noble Lord has tabled a whole parcel of other amendments to which he will want to speak to some extent, and we will get very confused if we do not go through the amendments in order.

Lord Tope: My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best, and will do my best to comply with the request. However, I thought it was very helpful, as it was intended to be, for the noble Lord, Lord Best, to set out fully and comprehensively the context in which we approach this. The Minister is of course right about where this amendment applies but one has to see it in the wider context and the noble Lord, Lord Best, did that very well.

The noble Lord has explained this amendment very fully. We are all too familiar with sites all over the country where planning consent has been given, somebody has come along a few months later and perhaps dug a couple of holes, and that is a “material operation” which satisfies the condition that the development shall have started. However, particularly in the current climate, nothing then happens for years and years. I have such sites in my boroughs. I look around the Chamber and see people nodding—we are all familiar with that position.

This amendment, or something very like it with the same purpose, would do great service in strengthening the intentions here—I nearly said the intentions of Clause 6, which is not quite right—to get development moving and to start getting the building. We are not really trying to start development here, we are trying to complete it. Starting by digging a few holes in the ground achieves nothing—what we want to see is the housing being built. Unless we have a clause or amendment similar to this one which requires developers and local planning authorities to decide in advance what is a “material operation” and what properly determines what starts a development, which would mean a lot more than just a tiny bit of infrastructure or my proverbial two holes in the ground—which is not just proverbial, I know places where it is quite literally that—then it is not going to be effective. The noble Lord, Lord Best, mentioned that planning consents

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1351

already exist for 400,000 homes that have not been started. No doubt on many of those sites there are those two holes in the ground, but there is no sign of any homes materialising. If we had this obligation as part of the requirements that will follow in Clause 6, that would serve, to a significant extent, to ensure not just the starts but the much needed completions.

Lord Deben: My Lords, I hope the Minister listens to the specific concern to make this “in between” clause actually work. However, I hope she will not discuss this issue without facing up to one entirely unspoken problem, which both sides of the House have always had a very clear plot to avoid ever discussing. I find it unacceptable that we should run our supported housing on the basis that we tax people who need a house to pay for other people who need a house. This is entirely a fiscal arrangement that the Treasury has entered into because it does not want us, as a community, to pay the costs of people who need housing and cannot afford it.

So what we do is say that those who are least able to pay more than they have to for their accommodation shall be taxed to pay for others. This is a total scandal. I find this bit and the clause that will follow extremely difficult to support—not because I object to the clause, but because, once again, it hides the plot between Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats never to admit the reality of Section 106. I very often agree with the noble Lord, Lord Best, and I respect him enormously, but to talk about Section 106 agreements being freely entered into is, frankly, nonsense. They are not freely entered into; they are a necessary requirement of getting any kind of development at all.

Lord Burnett: My noble friend Lord Deben makes a powerful case. Does he agree that it is sometimes forgotten by people looking at it from the local authority side that if developers or builders make a profit they pay corporation tax, income tax, capital gains tax or whatever the tax is? In addition, they have Section 106 burdens, and likely to be coming down the track—some have adopted it—is the community infrastructure levy. It will paralyse the industry again if we carry on loading it with these burdens.

Lord Deben: I repeat what I said in the earlier part of this debate. I declare an interest in the sense that I try to help people do sustainable development. That is what has led me to this deep concern. We talk as though the money that developers pay has no effect on the cost of the housing of the people who pay for it. Successive Governments of both parties have consistently spoken about this total myth. The truth is that prices of homes in this country are greater for first-time buyers than they would be if we did not tax them. It is undoubtedly for a good reason, but they are taxed and other people are not.

We have an intergenerational problem. Because of the way that all this works, people who do have houses have a value which is significant. Of course, many of us in that position mitigate it, because the bank of mum and dad has to make it possible for the next generation to have a home. Many people are not in that position. I want this Government to face up to the

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1352

fiction, which we have all accepted—I admit to it as a former Minister—that somehow the mechanism we have is reasonable and fair. It is unreasonable and unfair. At this moment, when the pressures on young people are so considerable, we must come away from the idea that it is reasonable to accept the basic concept of the noble Lord, Lord Best, that somehow new houses sold on the market should carry that tax and then increase it because—as my noble friend has pointed out—of the other infrastructure taxes that will take place. Nobody else seems prepared to do it, so it is time for this House to say to the Government and Opposition, “This will not go on”. It is not reasonable that we should not, as a society, bear the cost of affordable housing, but shovel it off—because then it is not on the national accounts—to those who are least able to afford it, thus widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

5.30 pm

Lord Lea of Crondall: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I used to dabble in this myself some years ago and I know how unenthusiastic the Treasury generally is about hypothecation. In so far as the proposition in this case is that that Treasury likes hypothecation, I suppose that the question could be posed—and it would be very interesting to know the answer: who are these other people in the rest of society who should be paying this if they are not in category A or category B under this supposed hypothecation?

Lord Deben: I am not sure that I entirely follow the noble Lord’s point, but it is true that the Treasury is keen on hypothecation when it suits it and against it when it does not, and this is one of those occasions. The trouble is that hypothecation ought to be between the payment of the bill and the advantages from the bill, but in this case it is not that, and many of those who have to pay the cost of Section 106 agreements are only just above the level of benefiting from them. It is because this is a fundamental flaw in the whole system that I come to be extremely disappointed in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill. As I have said previously, it is a pretentious title for a series of very small alterations, some of which are not terribly helpful.

However, there is a big alteration that we ought to make if we really want people to have housing, which is to say seriously that the cost should not be a tax on a small number and those who are most vulnerable; the cost should be a tax that we all bear for a proper social end. In case the Opposition say that I am moving in their direction, I say that they are as guilty as anyone else. They have imposed taxes in this area that are just as large and always excuse it as a tax on the developer. The developer does not pay taxes; he charges the cost to the people who buy his houses. That is the nature of the market; there is no way of avoiding it. I am very happy to support the drive of the amendment, which suggests that, if we are going to do this, we may as well make sure that we get bang for our buck by tightening it and toughening it. But, my goodness, what a disappointment it is that yet another Bill comes before this House masquerading behind this fraudulent concept that supported housing should not be supported by

28 Jan 2013 : Column 1353

the nation as a whole but should be a price borne largely on the shoulders of first-time buyers. It is not right, it should not be and we ought to find a different way of dealing with it.

Lord Davies of Stamford: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Deben, has taken a broad interpretation of the scope of the amendment. I am glad that he has and the Committee should welcome an opportunity briefly to debate Section 106, because it is an enormously important factor in housing development in this country and the House is unlikely to have another, foreseeable opportunity, either during the passage of this Bill or otherwise, to discuss it.

The noble Lord, Lord Deben, argues, and I think that I can follow his argument fairly clearly, that since there is clearly a cost for developers in entering a Section 106 agreement, whether it is to build affordable housing or to meet some other condition that may be imposed by that agreement, that cost must be reflected in the price of the houses that they sell and therefore be borne by those who buy those houses, who happen to be a limited part of the population. I am sure that that is the noble Lord’s argument—I am sure that he will interrupt me if I have got it wrong. He leaves out an important factor in the equation, which is that if there were no Section 106 agreements fewer houses would be built. Affordable houses are built and receive planning consent only because of Section 106 agreements. If more houses are built, there is a greater supply in relation to a given demand, and that will be factor in the equation bringing down the average price of housing, although not necessarily by the same amount as the other factor in the equation brings it up. The noble Lord should take that point into account if he is to try to design a model for how the housing market works.